I hadn’t intended to go anywhere over Christmas break, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised I was wasting a forced ten days of time off from work. So, heeding the advice of those who suggested I try somewhere different from my beloved Bali (where I had just been), I pretty spontaneously booked a trip to North Queensland in an attempt to emanate the backpackers who travel the East Coast in a similar way to South-East Asia. So, it transpired that while others were having Christmas lunches with family, I had finished mine up early and was flying to Cairns.
The whole plane seemed to let out a communal sigh of relief as the pilot announced that the torrential rain that had been falling for a week amid flood warnings and ongoing forecasts had stopped and clear skies would greet us as we disembarked. And at about 7pm I implemented phase two of my cunning party-while-staying-in-comfort plan by checking into the dorm of relaxed party hostel Asylum – after I had already checked in for real at my private room in another, non-social hostel (there had been no air conditioned private rooms available in the party one).
After having to endure the longest hostel walk-around and explanation I had ever experienced – for one I wasn’t actually intending to sleep at – I joined a small table of people having a Christmas evening BBQ. Interestingly, Queensland has strict anti-venue rules on Christmas Day, so none of the bars or clubs, always packed with backpackers and holidaymakers, would open until midnight. But three other people who all worked at the hostel and I whiled away the hours chatting until we finally commenced our late night pub crawl, ending up at the famed Woolshed in appropriately tacky Santa hats.
I had set aside the next day to explore Cairns, so I walked around a bit and found a cafe for a late lunch. I didn’t find Cairns to have too much in it. There’s no beach and the lagoon was full of children, and it didn’t help that not much was open as it was Boxing Day. I felt bad when I returned to Asylum to ‘check out early’ – they had had a two night minimum stay and I didn’t want to have to be up early the next day to ‘check out’ – as the friendly owner who checked me out had been the one leading our previous night’s revelry and appeared visibly crestfallen. But I then headed to the pool area of the famous and popular large hostel and bar Gilligan’s to lounge. Everybody raves about this giant hostel, but after research I chose not to stay there due to reports of prohibitively loud music at night and now knowing that I prefer smaller hostels – like Asylum – for meeting my kind of relaxed yet fun people.
After lounging on a lounger for a bit and declining the invitations of some merrymaking travellers to join in an in-pool ball game, I headed back to my hostel to get ready for the pub crawl onto which I had booked. It started off at Gilligan’s with a BBQ and I met some friendly people, including some Australians like myself. The crawl was relatively fun but had many people on it who were a little bit harder core than myself (and therefore not exactly kindred spirits) and I was struggling a bit to push through my tiredness after three previous night’s partying (including immediately before my trip – whoops).
The next day, despite my continuing sleep deprivation, I had to be up at rather the crack of dawn for my Great Barrier Reef trip. It was the cheapest trip but that meant it was unbeknownst to me also on the slowest boat, so it took hours to get to and from the reef. During this time I lay and enjoyed the beautiful sunshine (so much for rainy season and predicted flooding!). Boat workers warned me about sunburn, but being a seasoned Australian (our ozone layer hole means being outside in the sunshine is never advisable without sunscreen) I kept myself well lathered up. The reef itself was quite beautiful when I snorkelled, and I regretted accidentally coming in early as I mistook a sign that we had to come in before we did. And I did enjoy the service on the boat: the staff were very friendly, the food good and we even got wine and cheese.
I also noticed two young guys sitting by themselves. These, two other female travellers I chatted with and me were the only people on this trip who were not families. However, I was not in a very energetic nor social mood, so the guys and I did not meet.
Back in Cairns I only had time to quickly get ready to meet Scott, our hero from Gili T and Ubud, for dinner. He happened to be a Cairns local – a fact only coincidental to my booking this North Queensland trip – so he took me to a Greek restaurant where we had merry conversation and delicious food.
The next morning was another early one to jump on one of two mini buses for the well-reviewed ‘Uncle Brian’s Fun, Falls and Forest’ tour of the Atherton Tablelands. This tour was meant to be great fun for young travellers, and it was. Both minibuses were full of young backpackers and we were kept entertained by our indigenous guide as we visited the Josephine Falls (the big rock that you slide down) and various other bodies of water and forests. Unfortunately, it was a bit rainier today and being a reptile I found the water generally too cold to be in, so when others were frolicking in lagoons and waterfalls I was unable to stay in long.
In the first – and warmest – pool I began chatting with David and Adam, a Canadian and an Englishman. When we started to talk about our Great Barrier Reef trip, we quickly realised that they had been the two young men on the boat to whom I had not spoken. When I mentioned the two night Whitsundays sailing trip I was doing in a few days’ time (as all backpackers do), we learned that we were booked onto the very same boat leaving on the very same day – no easy thing considering the number of boats and their bi-daily departure. Moreover, they would arrive in Airlie Beach the morning after I would.
That night some people from the tour had agreed to meet at Gilligan’s, and I ended up at the Woolshed again with some random people I met there. However, I did note that the venues of Cairns didn’t thrill me terribly – they were very generic and full of the kind of Australians I wouldn’t normally chat up in a bar, shall we say – and I couldn’t help but think that a similar amount of money would have gotten me back to Bali, and to my beloved Gili T.
Would my luck turn in Airlie Beach? Stay tuned.