Cairns & Great Barrier Reef Travels
We challenge you to find a more relaxed town in Australia. A coastal town that feels like it could be in outback Australia, but has everything you could possibly need.
When you arrive in Cairns it’s warm, delightfully humid and laidback. There are people and tourists everywhere but somehow at the same time, it feels like you’re a select few out and about enjoying the incredible sunsets or sipping on a delicious cocktail listening to the ocean.
OUR CAPTAINS; FLIGHTS TO CAIRNS
We flew Qantas on our Amex travel credit, over the Australian Anzac long weekend so paid a little more than normal, during peak season. If you’re flying from the east coast of Australia flights are much cheaper than from Perth.
We took the red-eye which we actually aren’t against the idea of; sleeping while we fly and having a full day once we land, rather than wasting a full day in travel. With our flights, we also got lounge access so it was actually a very easy flight.
WHERE WE STAYED; CAIRNS ACCOMMODATION
We chose to stay on the Divers Den live-aboard for our diving. If you don’t dive though, they also offer the same service for snorkelling and would take snorkelers to specific spots to see the most marine life from the surface. Our total for the live-aboard was $715 per person which included the accommodation, dives, all dive gear and food. It also included a dive and lunch on a smaller boat the morning of you boarding, then ferrying you over to Divers Den.
On the mainland, we stayed at the Holiday Inn, both before and after Divers Dan. We looked into Airbnb’s but for a similar price and better locations, we opted for a hotel.
The Holiday Inn is opposite the coastline and park, and a really easy walk into the shops and eateries. Holiday Inn prices start at about $124 per night during peak season. We didn’t look too much further into Airbnb’s once we saw their locations against the hotels, and that most of them offer just a single room within someone’s house. No thanks. The Holiday Inn had its usual restaurants and bar offerings but our favourite was the outdoor bar, where you could sit and enjoy a lazy afternoon drink, watching the ocean. The rooms were what you would expect, so booking this was more about location and cost over aesthetics and amenities.
OUTSIDE THE HOTEL; CAIRNS TO-DO’S
We hired a car from Avis in town for the few days after our dive, to explore more of Cairn’s and the mainland. We drove up to the Daintree Rainforest for a hike [a slightly off road walk which only requires some attention to where
you’re stepping…we did it in thongs because. Australian]. We also did the Atherton Tablelands drive which, while very windy road, the views as you quite literally climbed above the clouds, were beautiful. Then ended the day
with eats and drinks in Port Douglas.
Before we set of in the car, we sat down and planned where we wanted to drive. It was hard for us to choose which direction to go in as we only had the one day, so chose a mix of places which suited us best in the event we don’t make it back over that way. A mix of nature with the ability to go for a hike through the rainforest, stops at some small local town coffee shops, rum distilleries, bars and also driving through scenery that was exciting and not just on dry tarmac roads. Side note; you may want to pack some mosquito repellent if you plan on doing a hike through the rainforest.
We left after breakfast and were back at the hotel late afternoon and the drive was as exciting and entertaining as the destinations, so out tip here would be to not push yourself to get everything in and sacrifice time at each stop.
If you’re partial to a bit of seafood and beers [not necessarily in that order] then head down to the jetty and visit Prawn Star. A small restaurant on a little boat mourned at the jetty, cooking up what they caught that day. It’s adorable romantic sitting there on the boat amongst the fairly lights but, the space is, as you can imagine, very small so you may have to wait or share a table with another group.
Most of our evenings involved starting with cocktails at the hotels front bar, sitting under palm trees with a clear view out to the ocean, then a sunset walk along the coastline boardwalk. There were always people out and about, with families swimming at the free waterpark or people exercising on the workout equipment.
There is a main food court in town which is exactly that, a food court. It’s meant to be a hotspot for cheap eats which we visited once for dinner closer to the end of our trip, and would have been happy to have left. It’s just a food court with the usual Asian, Indian and Japanese options. They have some retail markets near the food court which are maybe more exciting for people not from Australia as they’re mostly souvenirs. The restaurants on the parallel streets of the food court is where we found the places we preferred to eat at, or at the individual restaurants along the coast.
The Joneses Rating
The Holiday Inn accommodation was really well priced for a great location and room facilities. We like the option to explore nearby cafes for all meals so we didn’t opt for the included breakfast options, but it’s there if you like.
We chose Divers Den based on reviews and also comparing what they included in theirs costs against other companies. We also compared the costs of doing daily trips out to the reef for dives – in the end it would have cost a lot more and taken up so much more time to do daily excursions, for the number of dives we did.
The cafes, bars and costs for the car hire were all very reasonable if not slightly cheaper than what we would pay in Perth.
WHAT WE WOULD RETURN FOR; CAIRNS MUST DO’S
We would love to explore the reef more and perhaps even spend a little longer on the live-aboard. It’s your choice if you go out for every dive or not, but given our short time, we opted to do every one. So having a little longer would mean we could relax a little more onboard…and hopefully allow the wetsuits to dry so we weren’t putting on wet and soggy ones every time.
Exploring more of the mainland is something we still have on our bucket lists and would return to do – planning the next day drive in the other direction to see what else Cairns has to offer. Or even, driving to another major town if we decided not to base ourselves in Cairns.
WHAT WE WERE HAPPY TO LEAVE
The beaches, when not out on the reef, are for looks only. No swimming.
Due to saltwater crocodiles and jelly fish, most beaches are closed for swimming. The jelly fish are seasonal so if you are outside of the season and want to swim, look out for the beaches which have nets.
Cairns weather all year round is humid. While we were there it rained a few times, but never anything that lasted more than an hour during the day.
Cairns is a very relaxed town, with a casino for those late-stayers in the evenings and a lot of backpackers accommodation. but. you’re not here to read about backpacker options and we’re not here to write about them. We also can’t report on the casino because, well, it’s just a casino. No food. No us.
If you would rather spend your days within the hotel and in a quieter town, Port Douglas is your go to. The hotels will cost you more and aren’t as easy to walk into the main part of town, but it is a much quieter and very pretty place.
Whether you stay in Port Douglas or stop for a day-visit, make sure you enjoy a drink and some bites on the deck of the Yacht Club.
CAIRNS CITY GUIDE
The Joneses Cairns & GBR
Below are some experiences we would recommend on your trip to Cairns or out on the Great Barrier Reef. Of course, we always encourage getting lost in a new city and finding your own adventures as well.
Remember; those places you see on Instagram are already full. Find a place that is still yet to be discovered.
DO EAT & DRINK …
If you’re after well made and tasty cocktails, with delicious food [that isn’t a bowl of cold wedges] then take a visit to Three Wolves. They’re also anti-plastic and pro-turtles.
Do, Do …
Snorkel, dive, swim on the Great Barrier Reef. Explore one of Australia’s most precious pieces of natural and learn why we must do everything to protect it. Oh, and also float along watching a million Nemo’s going about their day.
Do Local …
On the east coast of Australia, RSL’s are very large. Join the locals in cheap drinks and a good vibe at the Cairns RSL right across from the coast.
Do STOP …
Along the back roads are lots of small cafes and shops. Stop and explore these, buy from them and support the locals. You’ll also find unique places and people by getting off the main tourist streets.