Guide | Cairns
So, what to do in Cairns?
TL;DR Not a ton to do in Cairns itself, but it's a good place to take a lot of beautiful day trips from. Also a good place to leave from to visit the Great Barrier Reef. Read on for our complete guide to Cairns.
First stop - Cairns! Or the last stop if you started in Sydney. I'm not going to lie, Cairns was... interesting. This is a tried and true backpacker town. I felt as though almost everything was geared towards trying to get the attention of backpackers. But sort of in an overwhelming way - a lot of travel agents on the street stopping you and trying to get you to book trips, a lot of rowdy hostels, and a lot of generic bars where everyone gets really really drunk and shouts along to Justin Bieber (which don't get me wrong! I do enjoy every once in a while, just not every single night).
Okay now that I'm done being a sourpuss, I actually really did enjoy my time in Cairns. While there may not be a ton to do in the actual town itself, it's a great jumping off point for a lot of really cool day trips. So what is there to do in and around Cairns? I'm glad you asked! But first:
We stayed at Gilligan's which is by the far the biggest and rowdiest hostel in Cairns. It's where almost everyone stays and where everyone else in the town goes to party at night. And it can get pretty crazy. Like, jello wrestling on a Wednesday night crazy. It wasn't exactly my cup of tea but I have to admit that the hostel was super clean, had great AC, and a really relaxing pool area. But people do come here specifically to party. So there's a pretty good chance you'll either: be in a room where you can hear the club going all night, or be in a room where everyone wants to drink. Which is great if that's what you want! But just be warned. There are a lot of beautiful day trips that require getting up pretty early so take that into consideration.
Alternately, one of our friends stayed in a hostel called the Lazy Duck. We visited and it is much quieter and much more chill. So if you're looking to hang out and have a few beers by the pool at night as opposed to what's going on at Gilligan's, consider staying here.
The lagoon! Kenyon and I were surprised to find that there is no actual beach in Cairns. Well there sort of is, but signs told us that there could be crocodiles in the water - so we listened. To make up for that fact though they have a really beautiful lagoon! We spent a lot of our downtime here. Head to Woolworths, get some snacks (and water!), head to the lagoon, and spend the day snacking, swimming, and reading. The lagoon is all salt water, is very warm, and they even have sand so you can trick yourself into thinking you're at the beach!
This is a huge market located right next to Gilligan's that has fresh produce, fresh juice, food stalls selling sandwiches, tacos, etc., and even some crafted goods. We had a great time shopping here for ingredients for some delicious vegetarian burrito bowls. Highly recommend - the food is fresh and delicious and you're also supporting local farmers/business owners, really doesn't get much better than that. Note: only open from Thursday through Sunday.
Fetta's Greek Taverna
I was in Greece a few years ago where I consumed around four gyros per day for six weeks, so I am no stranger to the gyro. I have been diligently searching for a gyro that would live up to my expectations ever since and I have to say, Fetta's did just that. Seriously, just go there for lunch, spend the $11, get a gyro, and thank me later.
Gilligan's + Woolshed
These are two completely separate places but I am counting them as one because they both offer essentially the same experience. These are really the only two places to go out in Cairns. Don't get me wrong, they are fun if you're prepared for that kind of night - and you know which kind of night I'm referring to. The "why did I post that on Snapchat, why did I spend $100 on drinks, and where's my debit card" kind of night. But you'll have a good time so check them out on at least one of your nights there.
The Great Barrier Reef
Ah! Just as beautiful as I ever could have expected. There are endless opinions on where you should dive, which reef to go to, which company you should go with, etc., but I'm here to give you a definitive answer: it truly does not matter. Do a little research, pick a company that suits you, and just go. You're literally going to be scuba diving (or snorkeling!) on the Great Barrier Reef - it's kind of hard to pick a place that won't be beautiful. Now I will say: some companies do take you to parts of the reef that are a little less traveled and therefore a little more preserved. But at least for me, this was my first time seeing anything of this nature, so I was more than content just going with the cheapest option. I still saw incredible reefs and amazing cutie fish so I have absolutely no complaints.
Should you dive or snorkel? Kenyon and I both planned on diving but only one of us followed through (it was Kenyon). To be fair - I tried! I paid the money, sat through the little class, put on the gear, got in the water, passed the mini-test they give you under water to make sure you won't freak out once you dive, but then, I freaked out. We started to descend and I just couldn't do it, so I went back up to the surface. Honest advice: if it's your first time and you're on the fence about whether or not you want to dive, I can tell you that I do not feel like I missed out whatsoever snorkeling for the day. Obviously Kenyon had an amazing time diving, but I also had an amazing time snorkeling. Knowing what I know now, I wish that I would have done a practice dive in a more low-stakes environment (e.g. a pool, or in a smaller group with more practice time) before trying it for my first time, out on a boat in the middle of the reef. But to be honest, I can be a bit of a baby sometimes so just do whatever you feel comfortable with and enjoy the day either way :)
One of my favorite days on the whole East Coast Trip! The "Waterfall Circuit" refers to a cluster of waterfalls about an hour outside of Cairns that are all absolutely beautiful and so much fun to swim in. We met this amazing girl in our hostel (hey Marie!), rented a car for the day (through Jucy - super cheap, super easy), and went to all the waterfalls! We started off with the infamous Millaa Millaa falls and worked our way to Zillie, Elinjaa, and Mungalli falls.
Also, along your path to the waterfalls you will run into Crater Lakes National Park and I highly highly recommend stopping. It is this giant circular lake surrounded by trees on all sides that was formed by a volcano and is an unbelievable color of blue. Don't tell the waterfalls, but I might have liked swimming in Crater Lake just a little bit more. Go there.
Another fun day trip that we took was to the Daintree Rainforest! It's the oldest rainforest in the world and really f*cking beautiful. My personal recommendation for visiting the Daintree is to not make a plan. There are so many beautiful stop-offs along the way that we did not plan at all and they were the best part of the trip. So just rent a car and start heading in the direction of the Daintree Rainforest! Some general tips: definitely stop at Port Douglas. It's this cute little resort town on the way to the rainforest that has a nice beach, some cool shops, and an amazing Asian salad cafe called Lotus Leaf. I would seriously go back to Port Douglas just to get another salad.
Also make sure you don't miss Cape Tribulation (also on the way) or "where the rainforest meets the sea". It is exactly that and it's really cool to see. Other than Port Douglas and Cape Tribulation, just drive slowly and enjoy the scenery on the way. You drive through some truly beautiful, natural places. So take your time, stop at the lookouts and beaches, and appreciate the beauty of Mother Earth as you drive and listen to some good tunes!
To sum everything up, Cairns is surrounded by a lot of breathtakingly beautiful natural places. I highly recommend making the most of your time here by taking day trips to these places, sprinkled in with some time by the lagoon and the few shops around Cairns. Enjoy and as always, email us if you have any questions. We love helping!