The Complete Backpackers Guide to The Great Barrier Reef

The Complete Backpackers Guide to The Great Barrier Reef

While it’s a popular backpacker destination for multiple reasons, there’s one particularly impressive reason why so many visitors flock to Tropical North Queensland every year: the one of a kind, underwater realm that exists just kilometres from mainland. The Great Barrier Reef – it’s widely considered one of the original Natural Wonders of the World, and rightfully so. What’s even better is this dream-like paradise is attainable for all budget types, including backpackers. Boasting an array of options for reasonably priced tours, adequate hostel accommodation, and incredible nightlife, the Great Barrier Reef region and its surrounding towns on the mainland has all the traits for a perfect backpacker holiday! In this section, we break down our top tour and accommodation recommendations for backpackers, as well as other helpful tips to ensure your trip to Tropical North Queensland is one you never forget.


Hostels and Accommodation for Backpackers

There’s no denying that there are a number of incredible resorts and spas located on the mainland and islands surrounding The Great Barrier Reef offering first-class facilities and accommodation. However if you’re anything like most backpackers, your budget doesn’t run that steep. Instead many backpackers opt to settle at Cairns or Airlie Beach where there are a number of fantastic hostels available catering to all budgets and personalities.

Located approximately seven hours apart from each other, Airlie Beach and Cairns are both apart of mainland Australia, sitting at opposite ends of the reef. Airlie Beach is known for its swimming lagoon on the foreshore, laid back vibe and the beautiful world famous Whitehaven Beach. Cairns on the other hand offers the best of all worlds; close to the iconic Daintree Rainforest and some of the best snorkelling and diving spots on the Outer Reef system. Often Airlie Beach is used for short 1 or 2 night stays, compared with longer stays in Cairns. Whether you’re visiting for a relaxing trip coupled with sightseeing, or perhaps are after a bit more of a wild time, complete with parties, late nights and lots of stunning views, you’re bound to find a place at either Airlie Beach or Cairns that caters to your needs brimming with other like minded travellers.

No matter whether you choose to reside in Airlie Beach, Cairns or even a mixture of both, these two fabulous cities will truly showcase the very best of Tropical North Queensland!


Airlie Beach Hostels and Accommodation

Located approximately 40 minutes from Proserpine Airport depending on traffic and driving conditions, Airlie Beach is renowned for its beauty, crystal clear waters and relaxed atmosphere. Perfect for backpackers, this little town offers the best of both worlds with quiet and secluded areas perfect for those wanting a calmer trip, and an upbeat city centre great for those after a party! With stunning waterfront, close proximity to the Great Barrier Reef and a city centre offering everything you could possibly need including cheap and clean hostels, restaurants, swimming lagoons and much more, Airlie Beach sells itself!

Backpackers by the Bay

12 Hermitage Dr, Airlie Beach, Queensland

Located a short 1.5 kilometre walk from Airlie Beach centre, Backpackers by the Bay is ideal for travellers looking to be close to the action, whilst not always directly in it. With a courtesy bus service meeting all coaches between the hours of 6am to 8pm, getting to Backpackers by the Bay couldn’t be easier! Offering a fun and energetic but also quiet atmosphere, this hostel is perfect for anyone after a trip revolving around relaxation as well as a little partying.

With plenty of beds available in double, 4 or 8 person dorms that are serviced daily, clean amenities and cooking and BBQ facilities, this hostel covers all the bare necessities backpackers require. On top of this however Backpackers by the Bay also offers free Wi-Fi, air conditioning during warmer months, free tea and coffee and a huge perk – a swimming pool! This hostel is sure to cover everything you’re searching for at a reasonable cost! Prices start at $27 a night per person in an 8 share room.

Magnums

366 Shute Harbour Rd, Airlie Beach, Queensland

Situated in the very centre of Airlie Beach, Magnums ensures visitors are always in on the action! Known for being one of the more popular hostels, you’re bound to meet plenty of other travellers, perfect for anyone travelling alone or in a small group. Spread across a rainforest setting, Magnums offers travellers a large range of modern and varying sized rooms all at cheap prices. Choose between a double, twin or 8 person share dorm. Or for something different, Magnums also offers tent and powered camper van sites as well as female only cabins. Located close to restaurants and bars, this hostel is perfectly located to ensure anything you could possibly need is only a short walk away.

Guests of Magnums can enjoy free Wi-Fi, book exchange and free DVD hire perfect for those lazy days and nights. The benefits don’t stop there however, with kitchen and BBQ facilities, nearby car parking and an on site tour desk also available at this great hostel. With prices starting at $24 a night per person in an 8 person share dorm, Magnums is not only conveniently located, but highly affordable also!

Airlie Waterfront Backpackers

6 The Esplanade, Airlie Beach, Queensland

In a location similar to that of expensive hotels and resorts, Airlie Waterfront Backpackers is not only perfectly positioned in town but also offers unreal views of Airlie Beach waterfront. Perfect for anyone who wants to remain in on the action for the entirety of their trip, this hostel offers this and much more. With clean and spacious 13, 10, 8 and 4 bed dorms, privates and female only rooms available, choose to lodge with other like-minded travellers or spend some time on your own – whichever you choose, this hostel will not disappoint! Even better, some of the rooms even have balconies with sea views!

With free Wi-Fi, security card access, kitchen facilities, transit lounge and secure parking, Airlie Waterfront Backpackers offers guests hotel like inclusions. On top of this, making tour bookings couldn’t be easier as well, with an on-site tour desk right at your fingertips. Airlie Waterfront Backpackers truly packs in all the features for a very reasonable price. Starting at $20 a night per person, where else could you find so many added perks!


Cairns Hostels and Accommodation

Located approximately a 10 minute drive from Cairns Airport, you’ll find the popular Cairns City Centre. Offering up magnificent waterfront views, close proximity to the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns Esplanade swimming lagoon and a very happening backpackers culture, this is the perfect tourist destination! With affordable restaurants, hostels, tours and activities available, settling here is a common choice for many backpackers. This easy to navigate town provides all the necessities you could need including shops, public transport and hospitals. With a very evident laid-back vibe, coupled with a happening bar and club scene, you can be certain that you will not get bored in Cairns!

Travellers Oasis

8 Scott St, Cairns, Queensland

Voted one of the best hostels in Australia, Travellers Oasis offers visitors a fun environment coupled with clean facilities, a great location and added perks such as free Wi-Fi. Located just a few streets back from the water, Travellers Oasis is one of the more popular Cairns hostels. Offering a range of different sized rooms, guests will have the choice of 3, 4 or 6 person dorms, singles, twins, doubles and deluxe doubles.

The property offers a full on-site tour desk, fully equipped kitchens and laundry, a sparkling pool surrounded by hammocks and decks and a TV and lounge area. On top of this, they also provide the ever-important free Wi-Fi, discounted meal and drink vouchers and pick up from the city and certain bus stations. If you’re looking for a fun place to stay that is bound to be full of other like-minded travellers, Travellers Oasis is perfect. With prices starting at $27 a night per person in a share room, this hostel is also very affordable.

Gilligan’s

57-89 Grafton St, Cairns, Queensland

Centrally located and boasting one of Cairns most popular clubs and clean amenities, Gilligan’s is the ultimate party hostel! Be warned however that Gilligan’s prevents anyone from bringing their own alcohol onto the premises due to liquor licensing laws. If you’re after somewhere you can have a couple of drinks in your room or even a quiet night in, this probably isn’t the place for you. Gilligan’s offers 10, 8, 6 or 4 bed dorms in either standard or deluxe. They also offer female only dorms, twin, triple or king rooms, and deluxe hotel rooms.

Surrounded by shops, restaurants and clubs, you couldn’t find a better location than Gilligan’s if you tried. With free Wi-Fi, free airport pick-up, 4 kitchens, a resort-like swimming pool, themed nights, and an on-site bar, what more could you ask for? Oh and did we mention, simply buy a drink at the bar and you’ll receive a free evening meal! With prices starting at $22 a night per person in a 10 person share room, Gilligan’s is affordable also!

Dreamtime Travellers Rest

189 Bunda St, Cairns, Queensland

For a clean, green and sustainable hostel only a short walk from the centre of Cairns, look no further than the Dreamtime Travellers Rest. Offering excellent amenities similar to the previous two listed Cairns hostels, all at a fabulous price, this place is excellent for any one looking for a cheap nights stay in an eco-friendly environment. With 7 and 4 person dorms available, single, twin and triple rooms as well as deluxe and budget double bedrooms, there are a variety of rooms available to choose from.

Dreamtime Travellers Rest also provides guests with complimentary tea and coffee, free Wi-Fi, on-site travel desk and discount meal vouchers to make your stay more affordable. On site you’ll be able to enjoy the free pool table, 3 kitchens, a tropical swimming pool, hammocks and BBQ and a licensed bar. With prices starting at $24 a night per person in a 7 person share room, Dreamtime Travellers Rest not only provides an excellent list of facilities and inclusions, but also a very affordable price.


Tours and Experiences for Backpackers

With a number of incredible ways to explore the Great Barrier Reef including helicopter flights, overnight reef tours and seaplanes, it can unfortunately get very expensive particularly for a backpacker’s budget. However, there are also a number of inexpensive options that still allow you to enjoy the beauty of this unique place without sending you bankrupt.

With tours departing from both Cairns and Airlie Beach, the most popular areas for backpackers to settle, you’ll discover a number of great activities that will allow you to experience all the magic of this incredible part of Queensland. With both locations offering easy to find pick up points, and often transfers from accommodation, getting to and from your experience couldn’t be simpler!


Airlie Beach Tours and Experiences

Whitehaven Beach Ocean Rafting

$139 Half day tour. Southern Lights Tour departs 10am, returning at 4.30pm. Northern Exposure Tour departs 8.45am, returning at 3.30pm.
Includes transfers from your hotel (dependent on where you are staying) to Abell Point Marina North (next to Sorrento Restaurant & Bar) for departure.

Located a short boat ride away from Airlie Beach, you’ll find the very famous Whitehaven Beach. Constantly named as one of the world’s best beaches, this stunning beach is renowned for its undeniable beauty. Offering dream-like scenery, you’ll be mesmerised by the pure white sand coupled with the crystal clear water. Often regarded as Australia’s most photographed beach, Whitehaven Beach is a MUST visit.

In this half day Whitehaven Beach Tour you will travel by modern ocean raft to Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island enjoying an included jet boat cruise along the way. Depending on whether you choose the Southern Lights or Northern Exposure Tour, you will be completely blown away by what you will witness once you reach the island. The Southern Lights Tour includes a more in depth tour of the island, visiting the Southern Whitehaven lookout offering breathtaking views of Pentecost Island and the tropical waters of the Whitsundays. As well as this, you’ll have the opportunity to join the guided walk to the iconic Hill Inlet lookout – something you can’t pass up. With included snorkelling time at nearby Border or Dumbell Island also, this option helps showcase the diversity of Whitsunday Island and Whitehaven Beach.

The Northern Exposure Tour on the other hand is more a favourite for those really interested in snorkelling and less about exploring the island. With all snorkelling equipment provided you’ll visit two seperate sites to explore the vibrant coral world. Afterwards you’ll experience the beauty of Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet – a truly unmissable sight.

With neither of these tours including lunch, our recommendation is to bring a pack lunch otherwise there is a buffet lunch option for an extra $15. Be sure to bring a towel, change of clothes and hat and you’ll be set for a fun filled day. Don’t forget your camera either!

Hamilton and Daydream Island Full Day Tour

$140 All Day tour. Departs 8.30am, returning at 6.10pm.
Pick up from Airlie Beach Port of Airlie or hotel transfers are available for $10 extra dependent on where you are staying.

Visiting two of the Whitsundays most beautiful Islands, Daydream and Hamilton, this tour will introduce you to a whole new side of the Great Barrier Reef. Departing from Port of Airlie, you’ll begin your journey to Daydream Island where you can expect to be mesmerised by the beauty of this quaint island. Stopping at the Daydream Island Resort & Spa, this is quite possibly one of the most unique destinations in Queensland. Here you can take full use of the resorts amenities, including it’s one of a kind Living Reef Coral Lagoon.

After you’ve discovered Daydream, it’s off to Hamilton next. Only a short half an hour cruise apart, the boat will stop at the Marina where you can enjoy a delicious lunch at the Marina Tavern. Once you’ve had a bite to eat it’s on to exploring the rest of this gorgeous island. With so many things to do, the decision is ultimately up to you. Do a bit of shopping, visit Hamilton Wildlife Park or even visit some of the galleries, there’s absolutely no control over what you can decide.

With transfers to and from hotels available at a small price, you truly couldn’t ask for more. These two beautiful islands are must visits!

Outer Great Barrier Reef Trip

$230 All day tour. Departs 8am, returning at 6.10pm.
Pick up from Airlie Beach Port of Airlie or hotel transfers are available for $10 extra dependent on where you are staying.

Unfortunately, due to Airlie Beach being significantly further away from the main section of the Great Barrier Reef than what Cairns is, tours out to the reef are a bit more costly. A full day trip with Cruise Whitsundays will set you back around $230 for an adult’s ticket. Should you hold a student card, discounts are available. Despite the price tag, this trip is highly recommended. If any budget cuts can be made to food or drinks or something else to afford this, we suggest you do so!

Included in this experience is an unguided snorkelling session with all snorkelling gear supplied and free wetsuit usage, or for a small price extra a guided tour is available. On top of this is an all you can eat buffet lunch as well as morning tea and afternoon tea, an underwater viewing chamber and presentations by reef experts. Departing from Airlie Beach’s Port of Airlie and travelling to the famous pontoon in the reef, you’ll travel in complete comfort aboard one of the spacious boats complete with tanning deck should you wish to use it.

Additional add-ons such as a helicopter flight, massage, diving certification and guided snorkelling can be purchased for a small price extra. However, if all you’re looking to do is snorkel the reef and take in its sheer beauty, the basic inclusions of this tour are more than enough. Bring your swimwear, towel and a camera and prepare yourself to witness an underwater world like no other!

Bike Hire:

A great way to get around Airlie Beach that is not only affordable but healthy also, is to hire a bike from Fun Rentals! With the perfect environment to spend hours riding along the esplanade exploring, why wouldn’t you want to give it a go when it’s only going to set you back $20 on your first day, and then $10 every day after that. With the options of beach cruisers or mountain bikes, and helmets and locks included in the hire price, it’s really a no brainer! Just be sure to wear your helmet at all times or risk receiving a fine from the police!

Camera Hire:

If you haven’t brought your own camera with you, or it perhaps isn’t waterproof, hiring a good quality camera from one of the camera stores in Airlie Beach is a possible solution. With some offering a starting price of only $20 a day for the more basic models, this is a great option for capturing those lasting memories. Depending where you choose to hire from, you can pick up Go Pro’s, high quality digital cameras and so much more. Tip, split it between your friends and the affordability of hiring one of these cameras is incredible!


Cairns Tours and Experiences

Green Island Day Trip

$88 or $110 All day tour. Departs 8.30am, returning at 5.20pm.
Pick up from Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal or hotel transfers are available for $22 extra dependent on where you are staying.

Green Island is a short 45 minute cruise from Cairns mainland and is easily one of the most magnificent Great Barrier Reef Islands. Surrounded by stunning pure white sand and glistening waters filled with vibrant reef life, this quaint little island is a must visit! With this Green Island Day Trip tour, you’ll have the flexibility to make this day truly your own. With optional departure times, you can leave at 8.30am, 10.30am or 1pm allowing you to decide how long you want to spend at Green Island.

Included in this trip is access to the island swimming pool, a self guided eco island walk, and your choice of a glass bottom coral viewing tour or use of snorkelling equipment. Or for only $22 extra, try both the glass bottom boat and snorkelling! If you find yourself with some extra cash, there are other optional extras that can be purchased including scuba diving and helicopter flights.

This tour is perfect for those looking to discover the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef in a relaxing manner. With stunning waters to snorkel and explore, and just as beautiful mainland on the island, you’ll have a ball discovering the unique Green Island. You might even spot a few sea turtles during your swim! Perfect for backpackers, this tour won’t break your budget however will definitely showcase to you just how magical Tropical North Queensland is! Pack a lunch, bring a towel and prepare yourself for a rejuvenating experience like no other.

Budget Great Barrier Reef Tour

$99 All day tour. Departs 8am, returning at 5.15pm.
Pick up from Cairns Marlin Marina or hotel transfers are available for $10 extra dependent on where you are staying.

This budget Great Barrier Reef Tour is possibly the cheapest Reef tour you will come across! At only $99 for a whole day out on the reef, it is not only budget friendly but a steal really! Offering up everything the more expensive tours include, you really couldn’t ask for anything else. However, one compromise you will have to make is that the boats are a little slower meaning you will get less time on the reef compared to other tours.

Included in this Great Barrier Reef tour is unlimited snorkelling with equipment provided, a delicious barbecue lunch, snacks to keep you full during the day and most importantly, up to 5 hours on the reef exploring two different snorkelling sites!

With the two sites included, you’ll be sure that you will have the chance to witness the magic of this underwater world. You’ll even get a chance to try boomnetting (weather permitting), an activity that sees a cargo net dragged behind the back of the boat that you climb out onto and hang on! This is definitely one thing you have to give a go if the opportunity arises.

This tour is perfect for a tight backpackers budget. Just because you might not have a lot of funds, doesn’t mean you have to miss out on discovering the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef! Departing from a very central location in Cairns, or transfers at an extra cost, getting to your tour couldn’t be easier either.

Be sure to pack your camera, some swimwear, a towel and a change of dry clothes and you’ll be guaranteed to have a day you’ll never want to end!

Fitzroy Island Snorkel & Glass Bottom Boat Tour with Lunch

$110 (+ a $5 Insurance Levy) All day tour. Departs 9am, returning at 5.15pm.
Pick up from Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal.

This little piece of paradise known as Fitzroy Island is a must visit for anyone looking to explore the Great Barrier Reef. Only a short high speed ferry ride away from Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal, you’ll be ready to enjoy all the magic and wonder of this little island in no time! With this tour package you’ll be able to take advantage of all the different activities Fitzroy Island has to offer including snorkelling, a glass bottom boat tour, the awesome ocean trampoline and much more! As well as this, you’ll enjoy a delicious packed lunch of a ham & salad roll or chicken & salad wrap, cheese & crackers, energy bar, piece of seasonal fruit & a bottle of water.

Showcasing an impressive section of the Great Barrier Reef, you’ll fall in love with the magical world beneath the water, one overflowing with vibrant colours, gorgeous marine life and different types of coral. With enough time to complete all the fabulous activities at Fitzroy Island without feeling rushed, this tour will even allow you downtime where you can simply sit back and relax and take in the magnificent surroundings that are on offer.

Great Barrier Reef Dive and Snorkel Cruise (Two Locations)

$150 (+ a $20 Environmental Management Charge) All day tour. Departs 8.20am, returning at 4.45pm. Check-in commences from 7.30am.
Pick up from Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal or hotel transfers are available for $22 extra dependent on where you are staying.

For the ultimate way to discover the outer Great Barrier Reef at an affordable price (even for a backpacker), this tour is it! In this full day experience, you’ll enjoy over 5 hours of snorkelling at two of the reefs most magnificent dive sites. With state-of-the-art snorkel equipment and flotation devices included in the price, alongside the help of one of the talented guides, you can be certain you’ll be introduced to only the very best spots. Below the waters you’ll discover a whole new world filled with vibrant coral life, a variety of weird and wonderful fish as well as other marine life.

Back aboard the modern and comfortable vessel, you’ll be able to enjoy the magical surroundings from a drier setting. Included in this tour is a delicious Australian style barbecue lunch with fresh steak and seafood, cheese platters, fruit, drinks and much more! On the deck you’ll discover complete luxury with sun beds for sunbathing, large modern lounges to relax on and a fully licensed bar! If you have money to spare you can also opt to add extras on to your tour including experiences such as helicopter flights and a semi submersible boat tour – thats if your budget can stretch that far of course!

With everything you could possibly need provided on this tour, all you have to bring is some swimwear, a towel and your camera and you’ll be guaranteed a day like no other in this magical part of Tropical North Queensland.

Mission Beach or Cairns Skydiving

Prices starting at around $300 for a 14,000ft dive.

If you do have room to splurge a little, there is one experience that is a must do – Mission Beach or Cairns Skydiving! Imagine soaring from 14,000 feet with remarkable views of The Great Barrier Reef and its surrounding islands. Whether you’ve skydived before or are interested in taking your first leap, what you will witness as you fall is unlike anywhere else in the world. With prices starting at around $300 it is an expensive experience, however if you can afford it is well and truly a once in a lifetime opportunity worth the expense!

Bike hire:

One of the perks of Cairns, is that most of what you’ll require for an awesome backpackers holiday is all relatively close to each other. This makes getting to everything super easy – especially if you hire a bike! What better way to get around town and keep active and healthy at the same time? There isn’t a better one! When bike hire is as cheap as $10 a day for a cool beach cruiser from Cairns Bicycle and Scooter Hire, it’s really a no brainer! Saves on buses and taxi’s by opting for one of their awesome bikes. Hot tip, always wear your helmet unless you like paying fines!

Camera hire:

Both underwater and normal camera hire is available from multiple locations across Cairns. With so many beautiful sights to see, not being able to capture a lasting memory of them is quite unsettling. Fortunately with this service, whether your camera is broken, or perhaps doesn’t have underwater capabilities, there is a solution at a very affordable price. With cameras starting at $20 a day, there’s no reason why you and a couple of friends can’t split the price to capture your once in a lifetime trip. Choose between go pro’s, high quality digital cameras and so much more!


Food and Nightlife for Backpackers

In terms of food, without a doubt the cheapest solution is to venture to the nearest Coles or Woolworths supermarket and purchase food to cook yourself. With most hostels offering kitchen amenities, this is easily the most viable option. However, should you have money to spare and are looking to eat out, there are a number of great restaurants that you can’t go past in both Airlie Beach and Cairns. As always though, when searching for the top food picks, the locals make the best recommendations! Ask around at your hostel, shops, tour desks – these are the people who live in Cairns or Airlie Beach every day, these are the people who know the hidden sweet spots.

Nightlife on the other hand is something that you shouldn’t try and cheap out on. With bars and club used to the backpacker market, alcohol and entry fees are already at very reasonable prices! Best of all for just $35 you can even purchase a pub/club crawl ticket in either Airlie Beach or Cairns that sets you up with discounted entry, cheap drinks and other fantastic bonuses! However, should you really be running low on funds, or not really be interested in braving the crowds at the local pub or club, then both Airlie Beach and Cairns have a number of closely located bottle shops so you can still relax with a cold glass of your favourite!


Airlie Beach Food and Nightlife

Airlie Beach is well known for its delicious restaurants and happening nightlife. With a wide variety of restaurants offering different cuisines as well as bars and clubs suitable for all levels of partying, Airlie Beach continues to prove itself as an incredible backpackers destination. As previously mentioned, the best food recommendations you’ll receive will be from the locals who live and breathe Airlie Beach, however from our experience, our favourites were Mr Bones Pizza Bar, Bohemian Raw Cafe and Little Vegas Burger & Bar.

Restaurants

Mr Bones Pizza

This pace serves up delicious pizzas that are sure to hit the spot! This hip but reasonably priced cafe is one of the more popular restaurants you’ll come across in Airlie Beach. Situated in a prime position, the location allows for beautiful views of the Airlie Beach lagoon, stretching through to the magnificent ocean this region is famous for. Offering delicious thin-based pizzas that have assisted in Mr Bones Pizza earning their prestigious reputation, there’s bound to be topping that suits everyone. However, the menu doesn’t just stop at pizzas with some delicious tapas and desserts. Our recommendation? Try the incredible dessert burger – unlike anything else you will have seen or tasted! Made from a brioche bun, passionfruit jelly for the cheese, a chocolate patty, strawberry jus for the tomato sauce and deep fried custard chips, you’re sure to be in for a treat!

Bohemian Raw Cafe

This is the ultimate destination for anyone a little more health conscious. Offering a menu filled with delicious sweets and savouries that are sure to please your taste buds without sacrificing any flavour, these little delights won’t stick to the waistline either! Best of all, even those who aren’t too fussed by nutrients and health benefits will find this place irresistible! Try their delicious take on some of your sweet favourites, fill up on their flavour packed breakfast foods or cool down with one of their acai bowls – best of all, these are only a few of the incredible treats you can enjoy from their expansive menu. Search for the quirky cafe on Shingley Drive with eccentric seating and hanging chairs out the front and you’ll have found this little gem!

Little Vegas Burger & Bar

This bar is everything you’ve been looking for and more. What better combination than a delicious burger coupled with a refreshing drink of your choice! Offering American style street food, as well as a fabulous range of home made burgers ranging from normal to very quirky, Little Vegas Burger & Bar is perfect for anyone looking to indulge. Located opposite the Airlie Beach Lagoon, this fantastic restaurant is perfectly situated and couldn’t be easier to find! Often frequented by all types of tourists from families through to backpackers, Little Vegas Burger & Bar is sure to be a hit with your gang. Best of all, the prices are very reasonable, meaning it’s perfect for a backpackers tight budget!

Nightlife

When it comes to nightlife, Airlie Beach definitely knows how to put on a show. Here you’ll find a number of bars and clubs targeted to the backpacker market. For backpackers, this is a fantastic thing as it means discounts! If you’re thinking of heading out in Airlie Beach, (which lets face it, we all know you are), the must visit hot spots are Boom, Down Under Bar/Grill, Magnums, Paddy Shenanigans and Mama Africa Bar and Nightclub.

With all the nightclubs and bars situated along Shute Harbour Road, they are all easy to access and perfectly located to minimise distance having to be travelled on a night out. Whether you frequent all of the nightspots or only a few, we are certain you will have an incredible night out. As previously mentioned, if you are interested in a big night out, for only $35 a pub-crawl can guarantee you this. You will receive discounts on drinks, free entry and a number of other perks that make the price more than worthwhile.

 


Cairns Food and Nightlife

Cairns restaurants and nightlife are equally as impressive as that of Airlie Beach. Offering a vast array of fabulous restaurants, cafes and takeout’s, as well as bars and clubs accommodating to partygoers as well as the tamer crowd, you’ll be spoilt for choice in this backpackers hot spot! With very reasonably priced food and drinks available eating out fortunately will not come close to breaking your budget! Whilst the best recommendation we can make to you is to ask locals for the hidden gems, our personal favourite places to eat are Caffiend, The Night Markets and the backpackers favourite, Rhino Bar.

Restaurants

Caffiend

Located a couple of streets back from the waterfront on Grafton Street. Similar to the type of restaurants you’d find in Melbourne, Caffiend is situated in a laneway, complete with graffiti backdrop. This fabulous restaurant is easily one of the very best in Cairns serving up a selection of different meals perfect for even the fussiest of taste buds. Selling all the trendy dishes plus more, diners will be delighted with meals such as chilli eggs, house-made breads and slices, and all your other breakfast favourites. For a delicious breakfast or brunch that is sure to leave you more than satisfied, you can’t go past this hidden gem.

Cairns Night Markets

For a range of different cuisines all in the one place, Cairns Night Markets is the location you’ve been searching for. Selling more than just home wares and cheap goodies, the markets are open 365 days a year giving you no reason as to why you can’t make a stop! Try delicious Asian foods, sample some of the incredible sweet treats or simply sit back and relax with a coffee. However you choose to spend your time at Cairns Night Markets, you won’t be let down. A great way for backpackers to embrace some of the culture in Australia, break up your nights of partying with an evening recovering here. Oh, and did we mention that they have some of the cheapest massages in Australia here as well!

Rhino Bar

This is easily one of the most popular places to eat in Cairns for backpackers. Be warned, if you’re looking for something fancy, this probably isn’t the place for you. Rhino Bar focuses on cheap pub food that will leave you feeling full. With prices so low that you’ll be able to afford to eat out more often than you initially thought, and the location for some of the best parties later on in the evening, Rhino Bar is the perfect backpackers hangout!

Nightlife

Cairns is easily the ultimate backpackers destination. Famous for this reputation, it’s only right that this tourist hot spot has a bustling nightlife to go with it. A night out in Cairns is a must, particularly in peak season when the hostels and clubs are overflowing with other travellers to interact with. The clubs and bars that you’ll find are most frequented and are fantastic for a fun night out are Rhinobar, Gilligan’s, The Woolshed, Lyquid and The Jack.

Like Airlie Beach, Cairns nightspots are all closely located making it possible to frequent all of these great clubs and bars on a night out. Guaranteed to be filled with other backpackers, you’re bound to have a night like no other! Take advantage of the $35 pub-crawl offer and give all these great nightspots a try. With fantastic discounts, free entry and cheap drinks you have nothing to lose really!


Things to see and do near Airlie Beach and Cairns”

All the fun and beauty of Tropical North Queensland isn’t just limited to the Great Barrier Reef, Airlie Beach and Cairns both boast a number of other points of interest that are just as unique and interesting as the reef! With plenty of national parks, beaches and rainforests only a short travel away, you’ll be spoilt by the versatility of Tropical North Queensland. These can also be fantastic alternatives for days where the weather may not be ideal for a trip to the reef!


Airlie Beach Other Points of Interest

Airlie Beach Lagoon

Shute Harbour Rd, Airlie Beach, Queensland

Located right in the centre of Airlie Beach, you’ll find the much loved Airlie Beach Lagoon. Perfect for cooling down on those hot days in water protected from any stingers or dangers, you’ll almost live in this beach-like lagoon. With views across the harbour visible from the lagoon, as well as shallow areas, near by BBQ’s, and plenty of grassed areas perfect for laying around and relaxing, the Airlie Beach Lagoon will become the perfect chill out zone.

When you’re searching for a way to spend the day that won’t cost you a cent, this is the perfect option. Simply throw on some swimwear, grab a towel and head down to this picturesque part of Airlie Beach for a brilliant day out.

Cedar Creek Falls

Conway Rd, Proserpine, Queensland

This little gem is one of Airlie Beach’s most beautiful swimming spots. Hidden away approximately 20 minutes out of town, you’ll require either car or taxi to access the location. Offering a beautiful waterfall and swimming hole in a secluded location, Cedar Creek Falls is the perfect spot for a peaceful day out on a hot day. The natural swimming hole is always a refreshing temperature, and is safe from any stingers or dangers the oceans sometimes present.

Surrounded by bush land waiting to be explored, a day out at Cedar Creek Falls truly lets you get in touch with nature. Pack a lunch, throw on your swimwear and grab a towel and you’ll be sure to have a magical day out. Make sure you have organised a reliable ride to and from Cedar Creek Falls as phone reception cannot always be guaranteed. As there are no lifeguards patrolling this swimming hole, we advise you to swim at your own risk. This same caution adheres to jumping off cliff and rock faces.

Airlie Beach Markets

Airlie Beach Foreshore, Airlie Beach, Queensland

Located along the stunning Airlie Beach foreshore, you’ll find the Airlie Beach Markets held every Saturday morning. Selling a range of cute and quirky different bits and pieces, as well as delicious foods and treats to sample you’ll have a ball discovering some of the Australian culture. With items such as jewelry, clothing and souvenirs available you’ll even be able to purchase a little something to always remember your Great Barrier Reef trip by.

With free admission into the markets area, this great little Saturday morning activity will provide you with a great way to start your weekend in an incredibly picturesque area.


Cairns Other Points of Interest

Cairns Lagoon

The Esplanade, Cairns, Queensland

Located right in the centre of Cairns along the esplanade, you’ll find the incredibly popular Cairns Lagoon. Favoured for its ability to provide a fun and enjoyable way to cool down on a hot day without the risks of stingers this lagoon is somewhere you’ll find yourself living. With grassed open areas surrounding it, plenty of shaded spots and the large swimming area complete with shallow and deep ends, it’s all you could possibly need on a hot Cairns day.

When you’re searching for a way to spend the day that won’t cost you a cent, this is the perfect option. Simply throw on some swimwear, grab a towel and head down to the Cairns Lagoon and enjoy a relaxing and rejuvenating experience that’s well within budget!

Crystal Cascades

Redlynch Intake Rd, Lamb Range, Queensland

Not a massive tourist hotspot because of the requirement of a car or taxi to access it, Crystal Cascades are a stunning waterfall and swimming hole located in the rainforest. This hidden gem is approximately 20 minutes from Cairns, and is the perfect location to spend a relaxing day out away from the hustle and bustle of the city. With small rapids perfect for sliding down, as well as plenty of shaded areas, a day here is guaranteed to be unique. Pack a lunch and spend a couple of hours relaxing and rejuvenating from all the fun and partying of the rest of your trip.

Be warned however, phone signal isn’t always possible at Crystal Cascades therefore ensuring you have a reliable ride home is crucial. You don’t want to get stuck out there as it’s one long walk home! With high cliffs and natural spring water below, this is sure to be a unique sight for many backpackers. As there are no lifeguards patrolling this swimming hole, we advise you to swim at your own risk. This same caution adheres to jumping off cliff and rock faces.

Sugarworld Waterpark

Hambledon Dr, Edmonton, Queensland

For a different way to cool off on a hot Cairns day, look no further than Sugarworld Waterpark just 10km south of Cairns. Different to the Cairns Lagoon and water bays, Sugarworld Waterpark offers visitors a number of waterslides that are sure to help beat the heat! For only $15, visitors can spend as much or as little time as they like at the park, with opening hours 10am until 4pm, and 4.30pm in September to April. Only open Saturday and Sundays, public holidays, as well as every day in the Queensland State School Holidays, this attraction is generally going to be a fantastic way to spend your weekend.

With an admission price that won’t push a tight budget, Sugarworld Waterpark has individual slides, doubles and even racers for those with a competitive side. For an awesome way to spend a weekend when you need a break from the reef, this is the perfect solution!

Cairns Night Markets

54/60 Abbott St, Cairns City, Queensland

Cairns Night Markets are easily one of the more popular attractions Cairns has to offer. As previously mentioned, the markets are open nightly and provide visitors with a diverse array of different stalls. Easy to waste a few hours exploring, you’ll come across vendors selling different knick-knacks, delicious foods from a number of different countries, and even massage and beauty stalls if you have a little bit of cash to spare.

Depending on your budget, the markets can be as cheap or as expensive as you like. Cairns Night Markets are the perfect way to have a quiet night that’s affordable whilst still introducing you to this unique side of Cairns. With plenty of cheap little gifts and souvenirs available, you’ll even be able to pick up a little something to always remember your trip by!


FAQ

Can I swim in Airlie Beach and Cairns beaches?

Swimming is possible, however it is recommended you do so with caution. The waters of Tropical North Queensland should be avoided during stinger season (November to May). Fortunately, both Airlie Beach and Cairns have a swimming lagoon that can be used all year round for safe swimming!

Are there any gyms or fitness options in either Cairns or Airlie Beach?

Cairns offers free fitness classes along the esplanade 6 days a week. This is a fantastic way to work off those few extra naughty drinks and meals you might be having!

Does swimming at the Great Barrier Reef present any animal risks? Like sharks, etc?

There are sharks in the Great Barrier Reef however they’re the smaller species that pose no threat to divers or snorkellers. Your tours will not take you to areas that present any danger. Most tours will only stop for snorkelling in very safe, clear waters. Tour guides will always run a tour dependent on weather conditions. If they feel your safety could be compromised at all, it will be cancelled.

During the summer month’s stingers are often present in the water. Simply wear a full wetsuit and you’ll be protected from them. During this time it’s best to use the Airlie Beach or Cairns Lagoon to minimise any risks at all, however if completing a tour, your guide will tell you in advance if they supply them or if you’ll be required to bring your own.

Do I need a qualification to dive the Great Barrier Reef?

Yes, you will require your diver certification, most commonly recognised as PADI. This can be completed at the Great Barrier Reef but will set you be a significant amount of money. So if you’re already struggling to grow your savings, snorkelling will probably be your most viable option. If you have completed this course, dive away! Snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef is equally as mesmerising and a great compromise however, offering incredible views of reefs and animals. It is also cheaper!

I’m looking to stay in Tropical North Queensland a little longer than initially planned, is finding work possible? If so, is it difficult?

When your money starts to run thin, don’t fear, finding a job suitable for backpackers is Airlie Beach and Cairns’ specialty! (Just make sure you’re travelling on a visa that allows you to work of course). Whether it is waitressing, crewing on a boat, or serving drinks in one of the fantastic bars, you’re bound to find something that will pay for your travel addiction! Fortunately Australia’s minimum wage is quite high, meaning whatever role you fill your pay cheque should be plenty to continue funding your dream!

The best way to find opportunities is to simply ask around. Often hostels will require staff in exchange for free accommodation, or as both Airlie Beach and Cairns are both so heavily frequented by backpackers there is usually a revolving list of jobs that need filling as travellers finish up their journey. Keep an eye out on noticeboards and job sites and you’re bound to pick something up in no time!

How do I get around Airlie Beach or Cairns?

Depending where you choose to settle and the location of your accommodation, getting around is best done by foot, bike or public transport. As most of what you need is all closely located, accessing it by foot or bike will be your most favoured and cheapest option. However if you require travelling distances a little further, buses are a great alternative. With reasonably priced fares, and extensive services and timetables you’re sure to find a time that suits your schedule. Check out Translink and search your specific start and end point for information on the cost and time length. Taxis are also available throughout both Airlie Beach and Cairns by calling 131 008.

How do I go about hiring/purchasing a car for my travels?

Hiring a car in Australia is quite a difficult task for anyone under the age of 25. Whilst it is very much possible, you will incur a further fee for insurance purposes. Your driving history will also impact the expenses you’ll pay to hire a vehicle. However, should you be above this age or happy to pay the additional fees, hiring a car couldn’t be simpler! There are a number of great hire companies offering all different sizes and models of cars including Thrifty, Hertz, Wicked Campers and so many more. With pick up points in most major cities and airports also, you can be confident you won’t have to go far to find one! Just remember, in Australia we drive on the left side of the road, so if you’re visiting from somewhere that drives opposite to this, only hire a car if you feel confident that you’ll be able to adapt to our driving conditions!

Another option that some travellers opt for is purchasing their own vehicle for the duration of their trip. Finding a cheap vehicle in Australia can be easy on sites such as Gumtree and eBay, however the reliability of some can be questionable especially if you can’t afford a mechanics opinion before purchase. If this doesn’t scare you though, you can easily pick up a vehicle for under AUD $1000 that will easily do the job. A tip is to ensure that it has enough registration left to cover your trip otherwise this can be quite a hefty expense. Insurance is a requirement in Australia, and so long as you have a good driving history the cost of this shouldn’t be too significant. Check out companies like QBE, RACQ and NRMA for immediate quotes specific to your history. Best of all about purchasing your own vehicle, once you’re done with it, you can often sell it on for almost the price you paid!

How far is it to Brisbane and the Gold Coast?

The Great Barrier Reef is located towards the top of Queensland. Dependent on whether you choose to settle in Airlie Beach or Cairns, your travel time to get to either Brisbane or the Gold Coast will be slightly different.

Getting to Brisbane from Airlie Beach is possible via flight, car or bus. Departing from Airlie Beach’s closest airport – Proserpine (Whitsunday Coast), your flight will take you a short 1 hour 40 minutes. If you have access to a vehicle or opt for the bus option, you’ll be looking at approximately 13 hours depending on traffic and driving conditions. Likewise, travelling from Cairns is possible by plane, or vehicle. If you opt to fly, the flight will take you a mere 2 hours 10 minutes. Driving however will set you back a significantly larger time, taking approximately 20 hours dependent on traffic and driving conditions.

Fortunately as the Gold Coast is only around an hour further than Brisbane, your travel time won’t increase significantly! The drive from Airlie Beach will take you around 14 hours dependent on traffic and driving conditions. Flying however becomes a bit of an issue, with no direct flights possible between the Gold Coast and Proserpine. The best option to overcome this is to fly to Brisbane and then travel to the Gold Coast by car, train or bus! Travelling from Cairns to the Gold Coast will set you back around 21 hours dependent on traffic and driving conditions. Flying however will take 2 hours 15 minutes, only five minutes longer than the Cairns to Brisbane flight!

Obviously depending on your interests, budget and time frame, you’ll find either driving or flying more suitable for your individual situation.

Which bus companies will get me to either Airlie Beach or Cairns?

If you’ll be reaching Airlie Beach or Cairns via bus, two of Australia’s most well known companies are Greyhound Buses and Premier Motor Service. Both of these companies offer packages and options that will cater to your individual needs. It is best to research their prices, itineraries, routes and features to determine which company best suits you.



In addition, if you’re looking for all the top things to see and do in and around Cairns including activities, attractions and more, be sure to check out our main region section to browse and book online!

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