Hostelworld Guide for Cairns

By Eoin White


For many people, Cairns is the last stop on their journey up the East Coast of Australia. There can be no doubt that during the day it has a laid back atmosphere, making it seem like the ideal place to slow things down and take it easy for a few days. But this isn't the case. Cairns may seem a little pedestrian when compared to the rest of the manic East Coast, but don't let that fool you. Look around and you'll see streets overflowing with tour operators offering a range of activities to rival any other destination in Australia. Right on your doorstep you've got skydiving, whitewater rafting, paragliding, hiking, wakeboarding and, of course, The Great Barrier Reef - the jewel in the crown of this Northern Queensland backpacker magnet.



In this Guide...      

Useful Information
After Dark
Places to Eat
Top Attractions
Budget Tips
Where to Shop

 The Essentials


Getting There

By plane: Cairns International Airport is located 15 minutes from the city centre. The airport has two terminals (domestic and international) which are a short walk from one another so make sure to double check which terminal you're meant to be at (some domestic flights leave from the international terminal). Transfers to and from the city are frequent and numerous.

By train: Queensland Railways serves the main train station which is right in the centre of town and connects Cairns to Brisbane and Townsville.

By bus: Travel to Cairns by bus and you will be dropped off at the pier, right next to the centre of town. Coaches depart from the exact same place for those heading on somewhere else.

Getting Around

On foot: Cairns is neatly laid out in a grid fashion and walking anywhere of note in the city centre shouldn't take more than 10 minutes. The nicest place to walk is along the esplanade which is always buzzing with life.

By bus: Travelling by bus can be useful if you're visiting the suburbs or if you can't face walking around in the searing heat. Sunbus buses depart from Market Square.

By taxi: Finding a taxi in the centre of Cairns is never a problem. If you need to organise a transfer to the airport it's best to ask at your hostel as they usually offer a reasonable price.

 Cairns facts

Name: Sir William Wellington Cairns was the first Irish-born governer of Queensland and, as such, was deemed important enough to have a city named after him.
Population: Cairns is home to approximately 140,000 people.
Founded: Cairns was first formed to act as a base for miners headed for surrounding gold fields but once easier routes were found it was transformed into an important rail connection and port for the exporting of local riches such as sugar cane, gold and agricultural produce. It was eventually turned into a liveable city in 1876 when the Esplanade was built.

Despite being surrounded by some of the wettest places in Australia, Cairns is an ideal place to visit at any time of the year thanks to its never-ending supply of all-weather activities. The tropical climate does bring its fair share of monsoons, generally between December and April, but these usually come at the end of brilliantly hot and humid days. Temperatures generally rest between 23C and 31C at this time of the year and you'll always need to have suncream and insect repellant at the ready. The drier season falls between November and May, bringing with it cooler weather and more frequent, smaller rain showers.

 Good to know...

Language - English
Currency - Australian Dollar (AUD)
Electricity - 240 volts, 50 cycles; plug: v-shaped flat prongs
Telephone Code - +61 (Australia)
Emergency Code - 000
Time Zone - GMT +10 hours
Central Post Office - 22 Abbott Street
Main Tourist Office - 51 The Esplanade

Embassies / Consulates

USA: +61 (0)2 9373 9200
UK: +61 (0)2 9247 7521
Canada: +61 (0)2 6270 4000*
South Africa: +61 (0)2 6273 2424*
Ireland: +61 (0)2 9231 6999
Germany: +61 (0)2 6270 1911*
Spain: +61 (0)2 9261 2433
Italy: +61 (0)2 9392 7939
New Zealand: +61 (0)2 8256 2000
France: +61 (0)2 9261 5779
*Number is for embassy in Canberra

Hostelworld Guide for Cairns

 Cheap Eats

 After Dark

Bobby's Restaurant, 5 Aplin Street If you happen to miss out on breakfast, Bobby's Restaurant is an ideal place to fill up on lunch. With six courses and a free drink on offer for the same price as most single dishes, you'll be stuffed to the gills with Chinese and Vietnamese food. Open daily 7am-10pm.

Hot Wok, Night Markets Food Plaza If you possess good structural engineering skills, this is the place for you. Here you pay per size of plate as opposed to per course. This means you pay the one price for as much food as you can fit on to the plate. You won't leave hungry. Open daily 5pm-11pm.

 All aboard!

Sushi Express, Shop 28 Orchid Plaza, 79 Abbott St. As it's a little bit expensive, sushi is more a treat than a dietary mainstay for backpackers. Luckily for all sushi lovers 'Sushi Express' does a daily special between 5pm and 6pm when everything is reduced in price. You'll have to be quick to grab a seat and then even quicker to grab dishes off the super-charged sushi train. Open daily 11am-9pm.

Siamese Kitchen, Rusty's Markets, Sheridan St. As this is one of Cairns' best kept secrets, while the rest of the backpackers gorge on fast food around The Esplanade, those in the know eat at places like Siamese Kitchen, which is the best place for Thai food in the city. Try the green curry which comes with a free side portion of fruit - it's beyond delicious. Open dailiy 8am-3pm.

Splash Bar & Restaurant, 103 The Esplanade If you're after lunch on The Esplande but find yourself baulking at the prices being charged do not fear; there are a handful of places that aren't going to break the bank. 'Splash', for example, serves extremely good seafood and its lunch specials are well worth checking out with the locally caught fish being a real winner. Open daily 9am-10pm.

The Woolshed, 24 Shields St. As this is one of Australia's most famous backpacker bars, it's heaving every night. Between the special drinks promotions, thumping beats, table-top dancing, on-stage games and performances, you're sure to remember forgetting most things about your night here. Open daily 8pm-5am.

P.J. O'Briens, 87 Lake St. Extremely popular with backpackers during both day for its brilliant meal promotions and night, 'P.J.'s' is seen as a budget option by most people. That doesn't mean they don't put on a good show though, with prizes handed out for the best bar dancers and great specials on all your favourite drinks. Open daily 6pm-3am.

The Green Ant Cantina, 183 Bunda St. Mostly frequented by locals rather than backpackers, here you'll encounter great food, imported beers, South American cocktails, live music at weekends, regular open mic nights, and quirky and colourful decor. Easily one of the city's best kept secrets. Open daily 4pm-late.

 Game On

Gilligans, 25 Spence St. Cairns' largest venue really does have something for everyone. A sprawling dancefloor, huge bar, plenty of outdoor space and a host of top DJs. There's even a pool for a 'dive-in' movie if you fancy cooling down after participating in some of the crazy nightly drinking games. A guaranteed great night. Open daily 8pm-5am.

RhinoBar, Cnr of Lake and Spence St. This is a backpacker bar through and through which means cheap drinks, loud music and good times. It bills itself as the 'best party bar' which means they do their utmost to make a night out of every night of the week. Due to this, there's something going on every single night. Open daily 6pm-3am.

 Don't Miss

 Budget Tips

Go white-water rafting Not far from Cairns is the Tully River which is known as one of the world's best rivers for white-water rafting. On a day trip you'll face grade 4 rapids, rock diving, a BBQ lunch and a whole lot of water. There are two main companies operating tours so pick the one which suits you best.

 An underwater paradise

Great Barrier Reef The unmissable Great Barrier Reef is the reason why Cairns is so special, and not seeing it while in the area is unthinkable. If you can afford it, go on a three or four day scuba dive. They can be expensive but you'll never forget it. If not, try one of the day tours which includes snorkelling, scuba diving and lunch.

Do a skydive The stunning Great Barrier Reef, beautiful rainforests and the rugged East Australian coastline: these are what you'll be falling towards at over 200kph during your skydive over Cairns. It's one of the best views in the country and the only way to see it is to swallow that fear.

Cape Tribulation Known as the place where 'the reef meets the rainforest', a trip here is a popular daytrip from Cairns and includes nature walks, a wildlife cruise, and pristine tropical beaches. You'll also go for a walk in the Daintree Rainforest - the oldest rainforest in the world.

Wake boarding If you've never tried wakeboarding before don't fret - this is the perfect place to learn. One of only four cable ski parks in Australia is located a mere 15 minutes north of central Cairns and will have you skimming along the water's surface, pulled by overhead cables, in no time.

For tour information visit Carins' tourist office at 51 Esplanade.

Chill out at Cairns' lagoon A midday swim to escape the searing heat usually involves a trip to Cairns' northern beaches or a boat ride out to the sea. But if you've got the energy for neither, there's always the city's man-made lagoon. Open all year round and patrolled by lifeguards, the lagoon is the ideal place to waste away an afternoon, mingle with the locals and plan your assault on all those activities Cairns is famous for.

Buy a 24-hour bus ticket If you're planning a trip to the suburbs or the northern beaches, it's worth your while purchasing a 24-hour ticket. You can buy them from bus drivers and are valid for a full day from the time they first stamp them.

 Those who eat first, win

Eat out before 6pm Get in before the throngs at the restaurants and you'll save - it's that easy. The majority of Cairns' restaurants offer discounts on evening meals if you order between 5pm and 6pm. It's a good way to treat yourself while also saving some money in the process. Plus, it makes a nice change from cooking noodles and pasta in a hostel kitchen.

Check out the free art galleries If it's the end of your your funds are a little low and you simply can't afford any more of Cairns' tours and activities, there are some free art galleries that are perfect for when you've got time to kill. Cairns Regional Gallery is home to the visual arts of North Queensland, while the brilliantly named Kick Arts is where you'll find all of the region's major contemporary arts.

Rent a bicycle If you find yourself in a hostel too far outside of town to walk and are tired of paying for buses every day then your best option is to rent a bicycle. Ask at your hostel's reception and remember that the longer you rent for, the more economical it gets.

Hostelworld Guide for Cairns