Best Break Ever Part Four: Cairns

I’m just going to come out and say it: my three days in Cairns were my favourite part of break.

I loved every moment I spent there. Why? Well, for one thing, the weather was gorgeous. Melbourne was kind of miserable: never about 65 degrees, and usually cloudy. I boarded my plane shivering in my sweater. When I arrived in Cairns, I was hit with a blast of 85-degree tropical (yes, that means humid) air. That sweater quickly became superfluous. It immediately occurred to me there’s a reason Queensland is called “the sunshine state.”

The airport’s surroundings were beautiful, too. Cairns International is relatively small (not as small as, say, Columbia, but not as big as St. Louis), and it’s surrounded by mountains. I’m used to looking outside at airports and seeing grass and more grass. But here, there were palm trees around the parking lot and mountains fading into the distance. I like this place already.

When I got to the city itself (via a 20-minute ride on a two-lane road through fields of sugar cane), my happiness intensified. Cairns earns a fairly big dot on the Australian map, but it only has a population of about 150,000 and feels much smaller than that. Lots of people visit the city, but most use it as a jumping-off point (as I did) to attractions like the rainforest and Great Barrier Reef. After spending three months in large cities, it was refreshing to be back in a town with no tall buildings, one shopping mall, and–unfortunately–not much public transportation.

The shuttle dropped me off at my hostel, a charming place on the outskirts of downtown. I loved this hostel: it was adorable, the staff was incredibly friendly, each night’s stay came with a free dinner, and it was only $17 per night. The only disadvantage was the relatively long walk from everything else in Cairns, but I got used to that eventually. The building was rustic, brightly coloured, surrounded by palm trees, and had animals instead of room numbers painted on the doors. I was in Two Kangaroos. I threw my luggage in the sweltering room, chatted for a minute with my German roommate, then immediately changed into shorts and went to find some salt water. Unfortunately, my hostel was a 25-minute walk from the waterfront, so it took me awhile to find the ocean. The walk was nice, though. As you get closer to the ocean, the town’s status as a tourism base becomes more and more apparent. Hostels, McDonald’s, and tire stores are replaced by fancy hotels, ice cream shops, souvenir stories, and fancy waterfront dining. It’s everything you want a tropical destination to be.

When I finally reached the ocean, I realised something odd about Cairns city: it doesn’t really have a beach. There are a few small sandy spots where you can dip your feet in the water, but the only swimming area is a manmade salt-water pool along the Esplanade. It looked very inviting, though I was a little perplexed about why we needed a fake ocean when the real one was right there. I wanted to swim in it at some point while I was there, but never got the opportunity.

After impulse purchasing some gelato at a waterfront cafe, I walked along the ocean on the Esplanade, just enjoying the view. I had a hard time remembering this tropical paradise was part of Australia. This country really does have everything.

Cairns is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, as well as an excellent place to do anything involving the ocean, so there is an unusually large number of boats in the harbour.

Apparently Scottsdale is a sister city to Cairns. Whatever that means.

The sunset was absolutely gorgeous.

I then walked allll the way back to my hostel to meet the second reason I loved Cairns: Ariana! She arrived in the city shortly after I did, and we were joyfully reunited in the hostel lobby. We walked downtown to take advantage of our free meal vouchers at a cool local pub called The Woolshed. There we also met another friend, Alicia, who had been staying in Sydney. Ariana had been at hiking and camping at Uluru–the one Australian icon I won’t make it to this time. The three of us had fun sharing stories about our various experiences, then went to sleep to prepare for the next day’s adventures.

As much as I loved Cairns, it wasn’t the city itself that was so amazing. It was the things I did nearby: on, in, and under the ocean. Two of my favourite days in Australia so far happened while I was staying in Cairns.

In the next two posts, you’ll hear about them. Stay tuned.

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