A beach getaway was the perfect way to mark the end of my internship, summer class, and simply to celebrate the warm weather appropriately. I had the pleasure to visit Cairns with my favorite person, and I still can’t believe it took me so long to explore this tropical paradise just 1.5 hours flight from Brisbane.
Cairns (lesson learned, pronounced ‘cans’) has it all: gorgeous beaches, beautiful waterfalls and rainforests, swimming lagoons, marine life galore, waterfront boardwalks, and natural beauty all around. And even though it was a quick four and half day trip, we had enough sunshine to make it feel longer. I believe that every place can be visited on a budget and Cairns is no exception. Here’s a glimpse of what our itinerary looked like.
Day 1: Brisbane to Cairns
We flew TigerAir (because budget) and was welcomed by one of the most beautiful sunsets overlooking the mountains and coast of Cairns, flying just hundreds of feet above the Great Barrier Reef shortly before landing. Since we arrived in the evening on Sunday, we took full advantage of the free time to unwind in the city, took a stroll and dined in the Night Market, just a short walk away from our accommodation.
We stayed in Global Backpackers hostel, which was $30 per night. Staying in a hostel was fine, despite having to share kitchen and bathroom with about 50 other people. Perks: just a two-minute stroll from the Esplanade lagoon and Woolworths just around the corner.
Day 2: Great Barrier Reef
While there is a huge variety of cruise excursions available, considering Great Barrier Reef was going to be the highlight of the trip, we thought we’d splurge on this one. We chose the Ocean Spirit cruise, and it surely didn’t disappoint. It was an epic full day tour, and I’m already low key planning to go back with my siblings to scuba dive together.
We boarded the catamaran early in the morning and sailed our way to the Michaelmas Cay, where we got to jump on board their semi-submersible and snorkeled straight off the beach. The cay itself is essentially a National Park and a protected sanctuary for migratory seabirds, fringed by white sandy beaches, and pristine blue waters. We saw lots of colorful fishes and giant corals (mind the stingers), which kept us entertained for hours.
Day 3: Chasing Waterfalls
The Great Barrier Reef may be this region’s major calling card, but don’t let your adventures stop there. We went with the Waterfall Wanderers tour and traveled south of Cairns to discover North Queensland’s hidden rainforest gems. First was sliding down a natural rockslide of Josephine Falls, and next was swimming in the iconic Milaa Milaa Falls.
For lunch, they took us to a classic small-town pub where we enjoyed some good old-fashioned country cooking. As the afternoon rolled in, we were headed to the Mount Hypipamee crater and Dinner Falls, and finally to check out the Curtain Fig Tree in Yungaburra (the inspiration behind Avatar’s giant tree). Our last stop was Lake Eacham, where we could apparently swim with harmless freshwater crocodiles.
Day 4: Palm Cove – Cairns Esplanade
This was Valentine’s Day and our day was pleasingly unscheduled. After a brief stop for coffee and froyo in the morning, we decided to get on the bus and headed for Palm Cove. The picturesque little beach town is a hub for spa resorts, cafes, restaurants, boutiques, and a gorgeous beach lined with palm trees and jetties.
After loading on the sunscreen, we laid down our beach towel and took a blissful nap under the shade. We went back to Cairns for an afternoon swim in the Esplanade, taking in the stunning view as the sun went down.
We then had little birthday/Valentine’s Day dinner at the Salt House restaurant & bar by the pier and went for a long walk along the beach. It was the perfect way to end our last full day in town.
Day 5: Flying Back Home
After checking out, I Googled for a local’s favorite for our last meal in Cairns. We had an exquisite brunch at Perrotta’s at The Gallery, where I wrote down postcards to be addressed to my family back home and to Canada. By then it was too humid to be outdoors, so we went inside the Contemporary Arts Gallery to enjoy a much-needed air conditioning and kill time before flying back to Brisbane.
If you’re ever planning to visit Cairns, get some itinerary ideas here. And I would love to hear your say on your favorite destination in Australia!