The main reason people visit Cairns is for the daily or overnight trips to the Great Barrier Reef. If diving isn’t your thing you can wander around the city and the seafront, avoiding salt-water crocodiles by swimming in the free ocean-front swimming pool. If you’re flying into Cairns most hostels offer a free pick up from the airport.
In and around Cairns
Cairns is one of my favourite cities in Australia. It’s small enough to get around on foot but big enough to have everything you need. I stayed in a great little hostel that did airport pickups and met some amazing people.
It’s gonna be so hot and sweaty when you arrive, but don’t even think about taking a dip in the sea unless there are lifeguards and a swimming net present, there’s a serious threat from crocs up north. Why take the risk when you can swim in the free sea-front pool?
If you’re a broke backpacker, or you just want cheap food and drink then head to the Woolshed. The hostel I stayed at supplied you with a free meal there each night with an optional upgrade, which is a big deal as eating out and even cooking for yourself in Aus is expensive. They have different events every night and it’s always packed full of hot, sweaty twenty-somethings.
North of Cairns
If you need some time in the ocean then catch a bus north to Trinity Beach. Don’t expect the sea to cool you off as it’s as warm as bath water during the summer. There are warning signs everywhere telling you to avoid sharks, salt-water crocs, killer jellyfish and falling coconuts, so be careful and only swim inside the designated swimming nets. You could still get stung, but at least there’s a lifeguard who might be able to save your life.
Diving the Great Barrier Reef
There are endless dive schools in this city and choosing the right one can be daunting. Check out Trip Advisor for reviews and visit a couple of the best ones. Talk to the dive instructors there and pick the one that fits you best.
If you’ve never dived before you can do a Discover Scuba dive, a quick dive to shallow depths with an instructor by your side to keep you safe. If you’re a qualified diver the possibilities are endless. Think about your budget, if you can afford to do a multi-day trip it’s worth it, as these boats go further out into the reef to parts that are less damaged by the daily tours.
I chose a small dive shop with friendly staff for my Discover Scuba as I had only done one dive before then. Early in the morning we met at the docks and boarded the huge catamaran dive boat where they filled us in on all the information we needed for our dives. You can also rent underwater cameras.
We arrived at a small patch of sand called Michaelmas Cay and had a short and shallow dive, hand in hand with the dive master as he pointed out clown fish, parrot fish, stingrays, and giant clams. For our surface interval, we were allowed to relax on the desert island and snorkel in the shallow waters around it. The second dive was much the same. It was nothing special, in fact, the island we spent lunch on was the best part of the day!
On the ride back to Cairns we were given a glass of champagne and spent our time sunbathing on the deck. I’ve dived a lot since this, and have seen much better coral reefs, so I would definitely recommend a multi-day trip if you have the time and the money so you can go further out spend more time exploring reefs undamaged by hordes of day-trippers.
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