I visited over Easter this year and spent way too much on flights, which is why I worked hard to keep costs under control on the rest of the trip.
Here are my tips for frugal travel and sightseeing in Cairns and Port Douglas.
You will be spoiled for choice when it comes to eating out in Cairns. There are lots of budget takeaways, though I reckon it’s worth splurging a little and indulging in some of the local seafood. There is no shortage of pubs and restaurants in town, many of which offer pretty substantial earlybird discounts (eg order before 6pm and get 25% off).
Your best bet for cheap accommodation in Cairns is in the backpacking hostels. The more central your accommodation, the more expensive it’s likely to be. However, Cairns is pretty walkable – it’s flat and everything is within a reasonable distance. Some of the more out-of-the-way hostels offer free shuttle bus services, or you could rent a bike to get around more easily.
You can’t go to Cairns and skip a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef.
The hard part is deciding what tour operator to book with. If you’re staying in commercial accommodation, the desk staff can probably help out with recommendations, or you can turn to Google and TripAdvisor.
Reef trips can be pricey! Generally, the cheaper reef tours go out with larger groups on bigger boats, while you’ll pay a little more for a smaller, more personal experience. It all depends what your priorities are and what kind of excursion you’d like (I’m not at my best off land, so decided to splash out for a higher end tour and was stoked with the treatment we got).
Keep an eye out too for extras – some will charge extra for gear like optical masks and wetsuits while others include these in the total cost, and then there’s the reef fees on top of that. I found that often the cheaper tours were all-inclusive – some even advertised an introductory dive at no extra cost.
For a change of scene, head over to the Botanical Gardens.
The Red Arrow walk takes around half an hour, climbing through rainforest to an epic lookout at the top. You can then continue on along the Blue Arrow track if you’re so inclined.
Further afield, a lesser known spot is Crystal Cascades – there’s no public transport here – about half an hour’s drive from Cairns. A paved track runs through the forest, with steps leading down to a number of waterholes and waterfalls at several points along the way.
While you’re in Cairns, you might as well head up to Port Douglas too. It’s just an hour’s drive (or there are bus services) north along the coast.
There’s a frequent shuttle bus, but if you’d rather save your cash, make the journey from the visitor centre up to the gorge on foot. It’s only a few kilometres, but it can be hot and humid.
At the gorge you’ll find a couple of easy-to-follow tracks winding through the forest.
Finally, if you happen to be here on a Wednesday, Port Douglas yacht club members volunteer their time and yachts to take members of the public out sailing at sunset. Head over to the club from 4pm for your chance to get on board.
Featured image by Kyle Taylor