Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef

I spent a week in Sydney and I thought that was more than enough. I’ve already met up with most of my friends and I’ve been to all the places that i wanted to check out. The weather was also starting to get crappy— it was starting to rain all day and it’s hard to explore a certain place when it keeps on raining, especially if you prefer walking. I was way over my budget as well so I felt that I had to get out quickly.

Cairns was on my itinerary since i wanted to go to the Great Barrier Reef. (it’s pronounced as “cans” by the way. As in tin cans.) My original plan was to travel by land all the way up north to Cairns, stopping at several places in between.  Byron Bay, Gold Coast, Brisbane, Whitsundays, plus a bunch of other places. I normally travel by land when I’m in a certain country. I don’t mind long bus and train rides. In fact, I prefer it since I get to see more of the country. And there’s the benefit of it being way cheaper than flying. That’s not true in Australia though. If I traveled by land from Sydney to Cairns, i would wind up spending a small fortune. I checked the flights to Cairns 2 weeks before i arrived in Australia and they were unbelievably cheap. It seemed that I made a good decision. I checked the weather 2 days before i left Sydney and it was crappy as well from Sydney all the way up to Brisbane. I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the beach if it was raining. Good thing the forecast in Cairns was sunny. If you want to check out the beaches in Australia, do some research beforehand. Each territory has a different weather. In New South Wales where Sydney is located, the best time to go is during the Summer months from December to February because there would be very little rainfall. For Queensland where Cairns is located, the best time to go would be from June to August since these are the months with least rainfall. I really messed up with my planning for this trip, I went to Sydney at the start of Autumn when there’s usually a lot of rainfall.

Since it only takes around 20 minutes to reach the airport I took my sweet time. I figured I should leave a little more than 2 hours before the flight. I’ve already checked in anyway. If you need further proof how unprepared i was for this trip, here it is. I didn’t even bother to check if the trains were running. It turns out that they were doing maintenance work that day so the entire train line to the airport was closed. Still I didn’t panic. They even provided free bus rides to the airport. I would be able to save money woo-hoo! It would have worked perfectly if I left the hostel maybe 3 hours before the flight. Traffic was horrible. I did arrive at the airport 20 minutes before the flight departed, but they wouldn’t let me in anymore. I was pretty sure i would have made it to the boarding gate before they closed it, but those guys manning the area where they check your bags wouldn’t let me pass. So yeah I ended up missing my flight. I searched for the next available flight and my heart sank. The cheapest one way ticket to Cairns that was leaving the next day costs 5 times the amount of my original ticket. I already spent so much money and purchasing a ticket to Cairns would put me way over my budget for this trip. But I was already looking forward to spending the weekend in Cairns and spending my birthday on the Great Barrier Reef. So yeah I ended up buying a ticket for the first flight out the next day. I’ve missed a couple of buses on my backpacking trips but i didn’t really mind since bus fares are cheap. Missing a flight really puts a dent on your pocket. One should never be complacent on the day of his or her departure. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way.

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Gilligan’s Hostel

Once I was able to brush off that unexpected expense, i did have fun in Cairns. It was my birthday weekend so damn, i should have fun no matter what. I booked a couple of nights at Gilligan’s. It’s a well known party hostel in Cairns with its own bar and club. Looking at pictures online, it actually looks more like a hotel resort. Dorm beds were quite cheap, noticeably cheaper than dorm beds in Sydney. They also offer backpacker meals during dinner for only AUD 5. Alcohol is also cheap as long as you order before midnight. It seemed like the perfect place to spend one’s birthday and i was right. I met a lot of cool folks, and the nightly themed parties were really wild at times. On some days they do a wet T- Shirt contest for girls. Now to make it easier to convince ladies to join, they give free drinks to all the ladies at around 10 PM. Once it was midnight a lot of those who were hesitant were suddenly up for it. And what was supposed to be a wet T shirt contest turned into a topless contest. This did put off several ladies in the audience, I saw a couple of girls walking out it disgust. But everyone else seemed to have fun that night. Here’s the bottom line: if you want to party in Cairns, there’s no other place to stay. Lots of people staying at other hotels and hostels even go to Gilligan’s at night. Why stay anywhere else? Staying at Gilligan’s puts you in the center of the action. If you’re worried about the noise, it was barely audible and I had a room on the third floor.

There’s no real beach in the Cairns city, though there is an artificial lagoon by the esplanade and it’s free to swim in there. Never got to take a dip though since i was perfectly fine swimming in the hostel pool heh. If you want to swim in a real beach, take a Sun Bus to one of the Northern Beaches. It costs AUD 2.20- 7.70 each way, depending on the distance. Buy a daily ticket instead to save money. Take note of the Stinger season which roughly lasts from November to May. it’s not really advisable to swim on these beaches during this time. A lot of people still do swim, so if you choose to take a dip just take extra precautions. Some of those jellyfish can be deadly.

The most popular activities in Cairns are day trips to the Great Barrier Reef or to the Daintree Rainforest.  I wasn’t particularly interested in going to a forest at that time so i chose to skip that activity. It’s very easy to arrange a trip though, all hotels and hostels offer day trips, plus there are a number of travel agencies in town. You can look around and pick the best deal. The cheapest tour I saw costs AUD 120. All of these places also offer tours to the Great Barrier Reef. The cost would differ depending on the type of boat, the quality of meals included, and which part of the reef you’re going to. The ones going to the outer parts of the reef are the cheapest ones and are the most popular options for backpackers. I picked one of those offered at my hostel, it cost about AUD 180. There are cheaper options elsewhere, but I choose to just book the one offered by the hostel since my room mates would be on the same tour. If you wanna scuba dive, you need to pay a bit more. It’s okay if you’ve never done it before since they give lessons to beginners and a guide will be with you the entire time. We visited two sites. The first one wasn’t really that spectacular, but the second site along Michaelmas Cay was amazing! The area was full of marine life. I saw lots of different fishes, several harmless sharks, a stingray, even a turtle! Wasn’t able to take many pictures though, and the few ones I managed to take were kinda crappy. I had to do a lot of post processing to make the colors right lol.

The Great Barrier Reef is one of Australia’s top attractions and with good reason. If you plan on visiting the country, it’s really a must visit. And since Cairns is a great place to party, if you wanna have fun on the side it’s the ideal jump off point to the reef. tours to the reef may be quite pricey, but i felt it was worth spending that much money to see one of nature’s greatest wonders.

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