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Cairns Queensland

Cairns Queensland,  is a well-known tourist town in far north Queensland (Australia), made famous for its ease of access to the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Forest. Cairns offers a large range of activities, sights, dining and tours making it hot spot for luxury travellers and backpackers alike.

This is a guide aiming at backpackers wishing to visit Cairns as part of their adventures in Australia, looking to save money and enjoy everything Cairns has to offer. I have included accommodation, tours, transport, markets, free things to do and information on hiring a vehicle to explore surrounding attractions and beaches…. lets go !

Cairns 101: The Backpackers Guide to Cairns

Starting in Cairns?

Start in Cairns makes a lot of sense, as the airport is connected to many other cities in Australia, and carriers such as JetStar and TigerAir offer inexpensive flights from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne (i just booked a flight for $75 from Cairns to Brisbane).

Airport to the city

The cheapest means of getting from Cairns Airport into the CBD is on the Cairns Backpacker Shuttle Bus. From $6 from Airport to hostel, and $10 return – this sure beats the public shuttle bus advertised at $20 near the airport exit.

On the website, you will also find a list of the top hostels and backpacker hotels you can be dropped off and picked up from via this shuttle service.

Simply book online, or call via telephone, 07 4099 1191

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If you are a backpacker, then i highly recommend staying at Gilligan’s Backpacker Hotel and Resort or The Jack Backpackers. Both of these hostels are located in the centre of town, walking distance to markets, shops, the esplanade and lagoon.

Both of these backpacker hubs  seem to always have something happening, event nights, activities and offer excellent value for money in an expensive touristy Australian town.

For more options and information about hostels and hotels in Cairns, check

Work for stay exchange

Engaging in a work exchange at a hostel can be a great option for backpackers. Most exchanges work on the basis of working in the hostel for a around 4+ hours in exchange for a free stay and sometimes breakfast (if you are lucky).

Tasks you will be doing around the hostel include cleaning, reception and booking, welcoming/checking in guests, organising pub crawls and assisting guests.

Websites to help arrange such exchanges:

Websites to help find jobs in hostels:

Longer stays

If you are looking for a longer and more cost effective option than paying for a hostel – consider renting a room. Often you can rent a room weekly or monthly.

For rooms advertised for rent, take a look on:

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On a Working Holiday Visa?

If you have arrived here on a Working Holiday Visa and are hoping to do some fruit picking at nearby farms in Mareeba, Tully, Innisfail or the Tablelands, then check out the awesome resources put together by the guys at Dream Time Hostel – Working in Cairns: Backpackers Guide .

Another helpful hostel in regards to farm work for Working Holiday travellers is Banana Barracks in Tully (banana picking jobs with accommodation on site).

Want to know more about a Working Holiday in Australia – see Australian Working Holiday Visa jobs: How to work in Australia

Where to find more Working Holiday Visa Jobs:

Here is a quick video – An Introduction to Cairns CBD. (article to follow). 

Free Attractions

‘The Lagoon’

Even if you are only seconds into researching about your future trip to Cairns and things to do in the area, there’s no doubt that you would have came across photos of The Lagoon.

Located by the esplanade and beach (ahem .. muddy bay), is a man-made pool, complete with crystal blue waters, life guards, a white sandy beach and palm tress.

Around the lagoon you can also find a myriad of B.B.Q facilities, bathrooms, shaded areas, picnic tables and a large open space grassy park to enjoy.

The Lagoon is a very popular meeting place for locals and holiday makers alike. This is due to the temperature staying relatively hot year round (and very very hot in the summer months of November-February) and the unfortunate fact that the beaches are full of dangerous jelly fish as well as the odd crocodile.

There are many beaches outside of Cairns itself with jelly fish swimming nets enabling people to swim – however some months have seen the high populations of extremely small but deadly species of jelly fish that bypass the nets – resulting in whole beaches being closed down.

The Night Market

The Cairns Night Market is on every night and located right in the heart of the city – opposite to the Lagoon. Here you can expect to find an undercover, open air market filled with products ranging from opals, silver and pearl jewellery, clothing, souvenirs, and Australian food and beauty products.

One section of the night market is dedicated to food – and it the perfect place to grab yourself dinner or a late night snack. Here you can find a mix of Italian, Chinese, Thai, Japanese and Taiwanese stores set up around a central food court style dining area.

Cairns Night Markets, 71-77 The Esplanade, 5:00pm – 11:00pm daily.

Rustys Markets

Rusty’s Market is a busy and extremely fresh fruit and vegetable market, which first opened in 1975. An attraction almost itself, now selling a wide range of gems, jewellery, clothing and accessories, as well as snack foods, drinks, specialist jams, sauces and other tasty morsels.

Test taste a variety of fruits before you purchase, and try out some of the fruits you are unfamiliar with. I have been lucky enough to purchase Black Sapote (chocolate pudding fruit) at the market a few times – as well as many other fruits at a fraction of supermarket retail prices.

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Stock up on rare tropical fruits for a picnic at the lagoon or that self drive day trip to surrounding areas. Rusty’s Market is my favourite place to frequently visit during my time living in Cairns.

The Market is open Friday to Sunday, from 5am to 6pm on Friday and Saturday, and Sunday trading from 5am to 3pm. Head to Rusty’s on a Friday for the freshest produce – and on Sunday for some super discounted goods! (read: a box of mangoes for $5 type of discounts).

Cairns Botanic Gardens

The Cairns Botanic Gardens are really quite beautiful to visit. The various tropical gardens, forest, and river can be found on the edge of the city (about 5 kilometres from the city centre), and is open from 7:30am to 5:30pm everyday of the year. Entry is free. There are a lot of mosquitos, beautiful butterflies and over 170 species of birds found at different times at the gardens. There is also a visitors centre at the gardens, however this closes at 4:00pm weekdays and 1pm weekends.


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Machans Beach

Machans Beach is the closest swimming beach to Cairns city. However, this is more a local area, and is far from being one of the more beautiful beaches in the area. I would skip visiting Machans Beach altogether.

Trinity Beach

Trinity Beach is a beautiful beach with nearby charming village that backs onto the beach road. The area is small, with only a few bars, restaurants and cafes along the foreshore. Here you can find beautiful white sands, crystal blue waters (with sting ray nets) and shaded trees hanging over the sands.

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There are a few hotels in the area, however, being so near to Cairns, it makes for a great day trip to the beach. Bring a picnic or eat out at one of the cafes or restaurants set up along the beach. You can catch the public TransLink bus from Cairns city centre to Trinity Beach.

For more information on Trinity Beach, head to the official website

Palm Cove

Palm Cove was my favourite beach in the Cairns area. Driving from Cairns the trip will take 30 minutes by car (26 kilometres).

Here is the link to a very informative Palm Cove tourism website, which features attractions, hotels, restaurants, directions, services, and even information about having your very own wedding in Palm Cove (a very popular thing to do apparently).

Palm Cove beach is set up with a swimming net at one end, and a pier at the other. Stroll along the pier watching local fishermen (of course don’t join in with their fish slaughtering) or hire a paddle board and take to the sea. There are morning and half day tours you can book which involve paddle boarding in a group to a nearby island, having lunch, observing turtles, manta rays and fish, before strolling the beach on the island and then paddle boarding back to Trinity Beach.

She absorbed the magic of the sky. Life was an array of never-ending enchanting beauty #NomadGirlCo

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Palm Cove is the perfect place to do some kayaking or paddle boarding. Check out the sunrise tour where you can see turtles, manta rays and other tropical sea life with Palm Cove Water Sports. These guys offer kayak and paddle board hire, along with hire of snorkels and stinger suits – as well as a range of lessons and tours to suit everyone.

I highly recommend a trip to Palm Cove. It is an easy and fast trip from Cairns (yes you can make the journey on the public bus), and it is a much more beautiful beach than nearby Holloways, Yorkies and Trinity Beach. I would visit Palm Cove over all other neighbouring beaches.

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Port Douglas

Port Douglas is a well-known, touristy village, located approximately 70km north of Cairns (about one hour). There are many restaurants, cafes, bars, and touristy souvenir shops. However, do not mistake, Port Douglas has quite a small, very small, central village town area. There are big resorts and a golf course set up along the main road leading to the village, and many hotels, in the surrounding streets are the village.

Sail away ⚓️⛵️ #nomadgirlco @portdouglasdaintree @portdouglasaustralia @iloveaustralia

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Port Douglas is surrounded by forest and the Coral Sea shoreline. It is quite near to the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation. There are ample tours and day trips you can book from Port Douglas CBD – just stroll into one of the many tourism booking shops or visit the offical website (linked below). The beach is fine for swimming, with a long foreshore (aptly named Four Mile Beach).

Getting married in Port Douglas is also a “thing”, as is visiting some of the village boutique stores, strolling the local galleries and historical buildings, wandering the Port Douglas Sunday market as well as hitting up the beach for some relaxation time.

Port Douglas is viewed to be an expensive destination – however, there are backpacker hostels set up quite near to the main beach (Four Mile Beach), a supermarket and BBQ areas if you wish to save money and self cater, and plenty to do and see in the area without breaking the bank.

The Coral Beach Lodge, which can be found on HostelWorld here has received frequent high ratings from fellow travellers for value for money, cleanliness, facilities and location. The lodge is just a 12 minute walk from the Port Douglas CBD, and offers both dorm rooms and privates.

For more information on visiting Port Douglas, what’s in the area and tours and day trips available to book, see the official Port Douglas Tourism website,

Best value paid Activities and Tours

The Great Barrier Reef

Experiencing the Great Barrier Reef is high on most travellers ‘things to do’ list when visiting far north Queensland. Cairns offers a huge range of fast boats, tour packages, snorkelling and dive trips to cater for various travellers preferences. There are luxury small group multi-day and night dive trips to large group snorkel day trips.

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The best option regarding budget experiences is by far a one day snorkel tripSight Seeing Tours Australia offer a one day trip (7:30am – 5pm) for $100 AUD. This includes guided snorkelling tour, mask, snorkel and fins, tea and coffee, wine and cheese, fruit platters, a buffet lunch, all reef fees and taxes. You will have the chance to experience 4.5 hours snorkelling to find coral gardens, wildlife such as fish and turtles. To book online simply go to

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Want to scuba dive the reef instead? You can join this trip, and simply pay a small extra fee. Add $40 for one dive during the trip (for certified divers, or $70 for two dives) – or $55 for one dive if you are not a certified diver (or two dives for $95).

Daintree Rainforest – Mossman Gorge

The Daintree Rainforest is made up of almost 900, 000 hectares of rainforest ! The area is on the World Heritage List, and is viewed to be one of the most important biological areas of the world, both for its uniqueness as well as its age. The Daintree Rainforest is estimated at over 60,000 years old!! 

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The Mossman Gorge is located in the southern area of the Daintree Rainforest. The area features a tropical rainforest, creek and swimming hole. Here you can also find an information centre, small restaurant, and a small easy hiking loop taking your through the rainforest, of either 1km or 2km.

The Mossman Gorge is free to enter, although to get the entrance of the main walking area you must purchase a ticket for the shuttle bus. You can avoid this if you choose to walk the 2km to the   boardwalk starting point. Tickets for the shuttle bus cost $8.90 AUD for an adult, however a family pass of 2 adults and 2 children is $22.25. This is payable at the information centre. To reach the information centre and Mossman Gorge access point you can self drive from Cairns, or join a tour. Mossman Gorge is just 20 kilometres from Port Douglas, and 2 kilometres from the small village, Mossman.

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Map courtesy of Mossman Gorge Voyages

There is free parking at the information centre, as well as a very small cafe (please don’t expect fast service or a huge range of food/refreshments), a small art gallery, retail shop and showers. Bring your swimwear if you plan on cooling down in the swimming hole. I did not swim, but it looked like a safe area to swim in (if you know how to swim that is).

For more information on visiting the Mossman Gorge, check out the official website,

Kuranda Railway

The railway travels from Cairns to Kuranda, with pickups at Freshwater Train Station. The train travels through 15 hand made tunnels and 37 bridges along the way. Kuranda is a small village in the middle of the rainforest with views of surrounding mountains.

The journey to the village is complemented with a trip map, map of Kuranda and English commentary. Once in Kuranda, you can explore the village, browse the small boutique stores, stroll nearby paths and take in the views at many of the lookout points.

cairns queensland

When you purchase your ticket, you have the option to purchase Heritage Class, Gold Class and Royale Class. The difference with these is the seat and service you receive while on board. Heritage Class allows you a seat in the timber refurbished carriages, audio commentary, a stop at Barron Falls and filtered water and chilled refresher towels.

cairns queensland

This will cost you $76.00 return. While a Gold Class ticket will allow you to travel in individual lounge-style chairs, a small gift pack to take home (badge, pen, postcard), welcome drinks, morning cocktails, as well as a range of local produce to try (muffins, fruit, wines, lager, coffee). A return Gold Class ticket will cost $174.

For more information check out the official Kuranda Scenic Railway

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

The Skyrail is a 7.5k kilometre cableway running from the park between its Caravonica and Kuranda terminals. The Skyrail experience will allow you to enjoy the rainforest, gliding just metres above the canopy and experiencing a bird’s-eye view over the Coral Sea and Barron Gorge.

If you wish, you can opt in to experiencing a ranger guided boardwalk tour at Red Peak Station. While at Barron Falls station you can visit the rainforest interpretation centre and three lookouts over the Barron Gorge and Falls.

Skyrail ticket prices vary greatly, depending on if you wish to take a return Sky Rail trip, or if you would rather take the skyrail one way, and return on the Kuranda Scenic Railway train. For more information check out

Do it yourself Road Trip

Hiring a car and driving yourself to and from Cairns, or slowly moving up the coast from Cairns to Cape Tribulation, or even just from Cairns to Mossman Gorge, has its conveniences. If you are travelling as a group of 2 or more people, then it is also a cost effective means.

Wicked Campers were the cheapest hire cars in the area (during my trip from December to February). Wicked Campers Australia hire out both small cars as well as their infamous graffiti art covered camper vans. Hiring a car was perfect for our needs (my mother accompanied me on this trip) as there was only two of us, and we did not plan on staying overnight in the vehicle – as we travelled back to Cairns in the evenings and simply went exploring in the day during the day.

If your world doesn’t allow you to dream move to one where you can #nomadgirlco @wickedcampers

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If you are considering a camper van, why not organise a friend or two to not only share the costs but to also share the driving. Hiring a camper van also saves on accommodation costs every night you sleep in the van over booking a hostel or hotel. This can drastically cut down on costs.

If you have an Australian or International license you can hire a car through WickedCampers. Simply head to their website, choose the car/camper that you want and for the days you require and book online.

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The car will be waiting for you are the Wicked yard (just one block from Cairns Central Shopping Mall). For this trip we hired a 2 seater, 2 sleeper camper car, for around $55 per day (including the $25 per day full insurance cost). This is a lot cheaper than many other car hire companies in Cairns.

If you are interested in my YouTube video focusing on the ins and outs of hiring a wicked camper or car in Australia – costs, requirements and license, then you can see the video below.

If you are interested on the actual road trip itself, from Cairns to Mossman Gorge, what we saw, visiting the beaches and information to help you make informed decisions about your future trip, then you can see my video on Cairns to Mossman Gorge Road Trip.

For more information about Cairns and the far north Queensland region,  be sure pick up one of the free Cairns Magazine that have guides, maps of the town and maps of other beachside villages and ideas and information on tours and things do to while in Cairns (we found a copy at the Cairns Night Markets)

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I hope you enjoyed/found this article informative and helpful if you are planning at trip to far north Queensland. As always, i wish everyone safe and happy travels (just book that trip and go).

jasmine xxx

cairns queensland

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Lifestyle Travel Blogger at The Jasmine Edit
Travel and lifestyle blogger / YouTuber with a zest for adventure and a passion for making the most out of life.
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