After 3 months on a remote island and the last week spent in small towns along the east coast of Australia, arriving in Cairns is a welcomed change. Although the population is just under the 200,000 mark, it’s the biggest town north of Brisbane by a significant amount. The city of Cairns is a mash up between the major tourist hub of the north, with half of the storefronts as tourist agencies, and a metropolitan centre, with museums, art galleries and upscale restaurants.
We’re staying at Gilligan’s Backpackers – which if you haven’t heard of before you get to Cairns, is “The” backpackers of the north. With 700 beds, a giant bar, and it’s very own lagoon, Gilligan’s takes up almost an entire block in the heart of the city. The facilities are brand new, and each dorm room has its own ensuite, a nice change from communal bathrooms. Hostel competition is fierce in the city, expect to get free meals at most places and vouchers for free entry to bars, cheap drinks etc. and while Gilligan’s may cost a few dollars more a night, you generally get what you pay for.
We arrived just in time to catch the kick off of the Cairns City Festival. It feels like all 200,000 residents and backpackers are out in the city, enjoying the street performers and the dozens of booths set up selling trinkets and food. It all comes to a climax with a parade down the Esplanade and fireworks works to end the evening.
The only thing Cairns is lacking is a beach – surprising for a city in Australia. There are a number of great beaches north of Cairns, but you’ll need to catch the bus or hire a car to get there. The city has compensated for this by building a large lagoon style pool that overlooks the water – similar to the lagoon in Airlie Beach. With the temperature getting up into the mid 30’s everyday the lagoon is always busy with people looking to cool off from the afternoon heat.
It looks like there will be no shortage of activities to fill the 12 days we have to spend here in Cairns, from scuba diving, hang gliding, white rafting, shopping and relaxing pool side, Cairns offers lots of ways to spend your hard earned cash.