Cairns is a smaller city in Australia that a lot of people use as a base point for excursions to the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). There’s also a scenic railway to Kuranda – a village in the rainforest not too far from Cairns. And if you still have time (and money), there are things like skydiving, bungee jumping, etc. that you can do as well. In the actual town of Cairns, there’s a public swimming lagoon that you can use and great restaurants (and some gambling if you’re into that… gambling is EVERYWHERE in Australia though, so you don’t need to come here just for that).
We stayed in Cairns City Backpackers Hostel, and it was awful. It’s a 20 minute walk from the closest part of town, but because it was US $20 cheaper than the next cheapest hostels (at US $33 for a double room with a shared bathroom), we decided we could walk 20 minutes. Honestly, the walking is not great, but it is not what makes this place awful. It’s filthy – our room’s floor has sticky spots on it from something like juice (which we haven’t had) and black hair that is not mine or Colin’s (obviously); the kitchen sponges look like they are at least 6 months old (except for the one that they used to keep in the bathroom and moved into the kitchen – yeah, I’m not using that); the girl at reception is kind of clueless (although did suggest a great company to use for the GBR); the pans either burn everything or don’t cook; and the wifi is slow (but to be fair, more on that below).
Wifi is very slow in all of Australia. There’s some technical reason for it, but all you need to know is that it sucks. Most of the hostels have it, but I haven’t had any that weren’t super slow. There is public free wifi around the main area of Cairns, but after about 2 hours of using it, I ran out of my data usage allowance for the day. Pantry 15 is a nice café that has air-conditioning free wifi. It’s slow, but a lot of the cafés don’t even have free wifi.
We did 2 main things around Cairns: 1) Scuba diving in the GBR and 2) Kuranda Scenic Railway & Koala Experience.
1) Scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef
Check out our 2 YouTube Videos from the trip here: Great Barrier Reef Scuba Diving - Sea Turtle Up Close & Personal! and Clips From Scuba Diving the Great Barrier Reef.
We did an overnight trip out to the Reef (2 days, 1 night) with Reef Encounter. Their name can be kind of confusing because you’ll see it advertised as Reef Experience as well – Reef Experience is if you are on a day trip with this company, and Reef Encounter is anyone doing any overnights. You can see more about our specific trip here.
The trip was about $550 per person, and that included 6 dives + 2 snorkel times if you chose. There were 5 dives during the day plus 1 night dive included in our package. We paid $60 per person extra to have a guide for all 6 dives. If you only want a guide for a few dives, it is $15 extra per dive. Each guide is paired with 4 people, so it’s a small enough group to see everything, and the guide gets to know your capability levels.
I think that the overnight option is the way to go because you get to see so much more. The Great Barrier Reef is about an hour and a half off the shore of Cairns, so you have a lot of travel time to get there and back in one day. I would also HIGHLY RECOMMEND Reef Encounter. We had an amazing time!
Reasons I would recommend Reef Encounter:
Schedule for a 2 Day, 1 Night trip during the summer (Australia’s summer) with Reef Encounter:
2) Kuranda Scenic Railway & Koala Experience
Definitely a tourist trap in my opinion, but also something that kids would probably enjoy… and maybe some adults would too… just wasn’t our cup of tea.
Kuranda is a “village in the rainforest” that seems to me to have been turned into a “village for tourists” and has lost all authenticity. We booked a tour of the place through Kuranda Scenic Railway for AUD $162 per person. It left from and returned to Cairns. Our day looked like this:
Birdworld: you get to feed the colorful birds while they sit on your shoulders, hands, or head. They are beautiful as Australia has a lot of beautiful wild birds. Not sure how I feel about this ethically.
Australian Butterfly Sanctuary: just like any butterfly sanctuary you’ve seen before. Not of interest to me, but maybe you’d love it.
Koala Gardens: This was the main reason I wanted to go. I wanted to see the koalas! And hold one. Which cost $22 extra and another $3 on top of that if you wanted a digital copy (are you effing kidding me?). We did it anyway though. You got to hold it for about 30 seconds while they took the photo and then they whisked it away to the next person in line.
If you can’t tell, I don’t recommend this place at all. Stick to the Great Barrier Reef.
See our Australia photos here.
Hi, I'm Sara Monica Patton. I love animals, traveling, and eating. Read more about me in my first blog post here.