I was assigned to work in Brisbane (and Papua New Guinea) for a couple of weeks, so I went to Cairns on a weekend.
It was the beginning of August, which is the coldest month in Australia. Although, Cairns is in the North of the country, and if you are planning on visiting the Great Barrier Reef I read this a good time to go because there are not jellyfish in the water.
Luckily for us, the weather was relatively good on the first day (when we went to barrier), and the water was really nice; but the second day was rainy and very humid.
Where to sleep?
Australia is expensive, and so it´s Cairns. I stopped there in one of my business trips I stayed in the Pullman Hotel for 1 night, which was nice, very well located and with a nice breakfast, but also expensive.
So, when I went back to Cairns just for fun, I did my research about hostel and the best deal I found was the Caravella Backpackers. The environment was very hippie/surfing style, people cooking together in the kitchen, playing guitar by the pool, very colorful, etc. I booked a room to myself but with shared bathroom for 66 A$ per night. The room was clean and the bathroom was OK. Free Wi-Fi only available in the common areas. And even though it looks like the kinds of place where you can find cats around, I didn´t see any (you probably already know about my cat phobia).
The staff was very friendly. They sent us an email offering several tours, but I explained them what I wanted and they managed to find me the right tour with a 10% discount.
Also, they sent us an email a couple of days before arriving, explaining all the procedure to get into the hostel and your room since we were arriving late (reception closes at 20:00).
Both, Pullman and Caravella Backpackers are on the Esplanade St. The location of the Pullman is better, but anyway Caravella is from a reasonable walking distance to the restaurants, the Esplanade swimming lagoon, etc.
We arrived on Cairns Domestic Airport at 23:40 on a Friday of August and took a taxi (around 23 AUD$) to Caravella Backpacker hostel.
After a long research, I wanted to take this tour to the Great Barrier Reef, that cost 279 A$ per person + 10% discount if you book it through Caravella Backpackers, but, they were fully booked for the weekend, and we ended up doing it with Nautilus Aviation. This one costs 354 A$.
Since the tours was supposed to start at 12:00pm, we had time to buy a bathing suit, flip-flops and a waterproof camera to take to the barrier. Also we walked to the Esplanade swimming lagoon, which is a lagoon of 4800sq salt water swimming facility that offers an all-year round, safe, swimming location without stingers and crocodiles (very common in Cairns coast). We didn’t see much of the pool because it was close for maintenance. But here are some (not very good) pictures from my business quick stop in Cairns:
We had an awesome experience in the Great Barrier Reef but there are a few things you should be aware of when booking this tour:
- They picked us up around 12:30pm
- Six person (+ pilot) fit in their helicopter, but only 3 windows (+ pilot´s window). I read in Trip Advisor comments about it before booking so I sent them an email (through Caravella Backpackers hostel) to request seats by the window. They charge us 50 AUD extra per person to guarantee us a window seat. Good that we did because we were the last one arriving to the helicopter and you can imagine which our seats were. They changed us to the front, next to the pilot where we had this amazing view of the barrier
- So totally we paid: 354 AUD (including the 20 AUD fee you have to pay in the boat)
- The chopper arrives on a platform next to the barrier and the boat. The ride last around 25 minutes from Cairns airport, and a little boat takes you from the helicopter platform to the big boat where they give you your equipment
- Snorkeling time, after the inductions, was around 1 hour. At 14:30 you have to go back to the boat, take a basic lunch (beef, fish, sausages and salad) while they put together all the equipment to go back to Cairns
- If you go by helicopter to the boat you get a separated cabin for the group (6) and the wet suits are included (if not, it´s 8 A$ each)
- The boat ride was around 2.5 hours, and we saw a whale. We were back in Cairns around 18:00
- There were people who went there and came back by boat, but they also did a short helicopter ride after we arrived with it. I think this way is pretty good because they had more time to snorkel but also enjoyed the chopper ride. I don´t know how much they paid for it, probably less, but the only downside is that you spend more time sailing and it is awful if you get seasick, as some people did
After all this explanation, it may sound like I am criticizing the tour, but not; we really liked it and enjoyed it, because we were aware of all of these facts before booking it, because we are not huge fans of snorkeling and because we got to see a SHARK!!! Some of the guys that took the boat from Cairns to the barrier, and had more time to snorkel, saw also turtles. We saw the turtles from the chopper.
Also, we planned this trip just a couple of days before going there and we knew it was an express weekend in Cairns, not so many choices.
Our flight was at 15:30, which didn´t let us enough time to visit the Kuranda Rainforest, but I think it was better because the weather was awful, raining all day and very humid, I´m not sure if we had enjoyed.
We decided to walk from our hostel to the Botanic Gardens, around 45 minutes under the rain, and visited the Gondwana Heritage Garden, walk around some of its trails, visited the Tanks Art Centre and finish our walk in Ozmosis Cafe having this delicious mango smoothie. We didn´t eat there, but the food looked delicious too.
At 13:30 we were taking our taxi to go to the Airport (very close to where we were) and catch our flight back to Brisbane.
Where to eat?
As usual, I did my research about the best restaurants in town, but honestly they didn´t look very nice from the outside and they were very expensive. In the Esplanade st., where all the live is in Cairns, are a lot of basic restaurants to get pizza, kebabs, fish, etc. That´s what we did for dinner, pizzaaa!!
- Do the helicopter ride, it is amazing to see this natural wonder from the air
- I am terrible with animals, I am even scared of NEMO, but if I was able to snorkel here I am pretty sure you are too. Even with a SHARK!
- If you don´t have too much time, you can always fly the same day you visit the barrier. We were back in Cairns at 18:00 and there were a lot of domestic flights after 20:00
- Take your waterproof camera or rent one. There are a few stores in Cairns where you can rent a waterproof camera (from a waterproof case for your phone to a GoPro) per 20-50 A$, including an 8 GB SD card to keep to yourself. One of these stores is WetRez. Caravella Backpackers also offers you cameras to rent.
- Don´t expect a lot from Cairns City. It is basically a city built due to the great barrier. There are hotels, very touristic restaurants and a casino. But if you have an extra day, the Kuranda Rainforest tour seems nice
- If you are struggling on which one is the best place to visit the barrier, I´m pretty sure it is the Whitsunday Islands, where you can enjoy the Heart Reef, Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet from above
Total Expenses (3 Days / 2 Nights)
Flight from Brisbane: 274.34 euros
Great Barrier Reef Tour: 239.99 euros
Caravella Backpacker Hostel: 89.51 euros
Food: 100.25 euros
Transportation (2 taxis from and to the airport): 45 euros
Total: 749.08 euros
Back to: Australia, general info
Previous Post: Melbourne