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Is Cairns a Backpacker Town?

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Tom Linkins
Updated Tue 14 Feb 2023

Young people partying on boat

Cairns is absolutely teeming with backpackers, easily identified in the crowd by their ear-to-ear grins, bronzed skin and sun kissed hair. And with such a lively nightlife, fun and affordable accommodation and easy access to the Great Barrier Reef, it should come as no surprise that backpackers would want to base themselves in this paradise of endless summers. Not to mention, local businesses are always looking for friendly backpackers on working visas to join the crew! So, whether you’re to party, here to work, or more probably, here for both, Cairns has got you covered.

Best Hostels for Backpackers

Backpackers partying at hostel pool

You can secure a hostel in Cairns for as little as $20 to $30 a night. That’ll get you a single in a shared dorm where you can bond with your backpacking brethren. If sharing’s not really your thing (fair play, I’ve never been good at it) you can book basic the sweet seclusion of a twin room for around $100 a night, so if you’re on a budget maybe it’s time to bite the bullet and break out of your comfort zone! Despite being a glutton for my own space, most of my best backpacking experiences have been made even better by the legends I’ve shared dorms with! Friendship comes fast and easy in paradises like these.

When it comes to hostels in Cairns, you’ve got options, baby. Just 400 metres from the Greyhound station is the Freedom Hostel, making it the perfect destination for tired feet and late-night arrivals. We also have Summer House, Global Backpackers, Travellers Oasis, Bounce, Mad Monkey, and — perhaps the most popular — Gilligan’s. Each accommodation has its own perks, from waterfront views and in-house bars and clubs, to easy access to pools and transport. They’re all, however, blessed with a central location amongst Cairns hustling and bustling eateries, bars and nightlife, so you really can’t go wrong with any of these options!

Backpacker Jobs in Cairns

Clerk assisting customers

Your best bet for work in Cairns is with the hospitality or tourism industry, so brush up on your barista skills or put your diving certificate to use! Jobs in bars, cafes and on boats are some of the best places to meet likeminded backpackers, visitors and youths, so get networking and expand your circle of friends to include an enriching mix of diverse cultures and backgrounds. Some backpackers even get their hands dirty with farm work! Queensland is home to thriving crops of tropical fruits and veggies, especially Cairns neighbours Tully, the Atherton Tablelands and Mareeba. The pay might not always match up to that of a hospo job, but you’ll usually score free accommodation on luscious and fruitful farmland! Plus, think of how your tan will look after all that hard yakka under the sun.

The Fun Stuff: Why Backpackers Love Cairns

white water tubing

Okay, so we’ve covered where you’re going to sleep and how you’re going to make bank, now let’s get to the fun stuff. This primary reason Cairns is a backpacker’s paradise is because of its location in Tropical Far North Queensland. You’ve got prime access to the most vibrant, healthy and largest reef in the world, the Great Barrier Reef. Let’s be honest, this is Cairns crowning glory, so you’d be remiss to not get yourself out there for at least several reefy adventures. Earn your diving certificate or simply snorkel through the underwater wonderlands just waiting for you to discover them. Many operators target their tours to backpackers and youths, offering day trips and liveaboard tours with an emphasis on partying and playing.

And not only to you have access to the reef, but access to the world’s oldest and longest surviving rainforest! That’s right, the Daintree (in the Wet Tropics) is over 180 million years old, that’s 125 million years older than the Amazon! An adventure into the Wet Tropics and the Daintree is a must. From antique trains that venture through the depths of the rainforest up to quaint little mountaintop towns and amphibious army trucks that traverse through croc infested waters, to freshwater and croc free swimming holes with towering waterfalls and white water rafting, this sprawling mass of greenery is a treasure trove of thrilling excitement. No car? No worries! We can hook you up with plenty of day trips and overnighters with inclusive travel to and from you accommodation and destination.

When you’re ready to kick off your hiking boots and flippers and slip into some dancing shoes, hit Cairns’ pumping CBD (walking distance from all the hostels listed) for a night on the town. Of course, there’s Gilligan’s — backpackers central AND number one party palace. Settle in at the Pier Bar for some classy afternoon cocktails and snap those golden hour Insta shots before you go wild at the Woolshed with cheap food and naughty little games of wet t-shirt comps. Or gather up a big crew of all your new nearest and dearest and hire the Ultimate Party Bus to deliver you to all of the hottest clubs in town over six sensational hours.

East Coast Adventure

Three swimmers running into water

Once you've settled into the backpacker lifestyle and conquered Cairns, consider expanding your horizons and exploring the other gems along Australia's stunning East Coast. We have plenty of affordable backpacker buses that travel from the tippity top of Queensland right down to Sydney and Melbourne, with stops at Brisbane, bohemian paradise Byron Bay, and many more along the way.

Pack your knapsack and get your booty on a plane to Cairns today! Start planning your adventure and chat with our super handy travel experts to get even more tips and tricks. 

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