Escaping Cairns

You know how there’s nothing to do in Cairns? That was a big big lie! Kind of. There’s tons to do AROUND Cairns, so there’s that at least. Now, you’re a broke backpacker, you’ve managed to wander your way to your hostel via transfer services and also walking. You’re in Cairns, which is beautiful, and laid back, and a little boring because you’ve already spent three days straight at the lagoon and would like to see what else is beyond the 20 minute walking sphere of your hostel that doesn’t cost an insane amount of money to participate in (heyo check out that run-on sentence aye?). Here’s a handy dandy idea! Hire a car! “But Zoe, I thought we were supposed to be broke backpackers!” Well, thank you for paying attention and participating in my game, you get an imaginary lolly. Moving on, hire a freakin car okay? Don’t argue with me, just do it. And then wander around your hostel and walk up to a friendly looking, also probably broke like you, fellow backpacker, and say, “Have you seen Daintree or Cape Trib yet?” I’ll tell you what, they’ll either say “Yes,” and you move on to the next one, or they’ll say “No,” and then you can invite them along on your car hire. And you know what they’re gonna say, “Hell yeah! I’ve been wanting to go up there, but it’s too expensive! What a great idea you had to hire a car and share the cost among other friendly, broke backpackers!” And boom, there ya go, you have a friend and a road trip buddy to share costs.

Most cars carry five people too (I know, groundbreaking information here) so you can honestly save so much money if you can fill that car up all the way. I personally ended up with two friendly faces for each day I had the car and it ended up at around $25 per person per day with the gas included. That being said, it would have been even cheaper if I had booked it when I first thought of it instead of waiting until the night before. It originally had been around $30 per day to rent and when I finally decided to book, it had ended up at $46 per day. Also, another reason not to stall, and to just rent it and then find the friends later, is that the cars that are in town book up pretty quickly. I originally figured it would be as simple as walking or taking our hostel shuttle to town to grab the car, but I ended up having to go back to the airport. Uber was the cheapest and easiest way to do so and I simply split it among the cost for everyone, BUT that was unnecessary and if I had just booked the car when I was originally looking at it, I would have avoided that extra cost. So seriously, just look up some car prices on and book it and find some friends to share the cost with. I seriously guarantee that there will be a ton of people in the hostel who would love to join.

So, upon getting my car, I of course decided to be a basic bitch and take an instagram story of myself walking up to it. In doing so I tripped over myself, almost dropped my purse, the keys, and the paperwork, and after recomposing myself I opened the left side of the car and got in. Wrong, I got back out of the car and looked around, as you do when you just did something terribly embarrassing, and of course there was a lady sitting in the car directly behind mine, watching every moment. Lovely.

Anyway, I got in the right side, turned on the radio, put the window down and then immediately back up when I felt the AC compared to the humid air of northern Queensland, and popped the car into drive. I pulled out of the parking spot and then went to turn onto the main road and immediately turned on the windshield wipers instead of my blinkers. Ah yes, for those of you who have never driven in a country which drives on the opposite side of the road, not only is the drivers side on the opposite side, but the blinkers and windshield wipers are switched, that’s fun. By the end of the two days, the girls were congratulating me every time I actually managed to used the blinkers accurately. Struggle might as well be my middle name.

Anywayyyy, as mentioned, I got the car for two days, that really is enough as long as you actually get up early and head out at a decent time. Three days might be too much, but hey, it’s completely up to you. The first day I had the pleasure of having the company of a lovely Canadian named Christiane, and previously mentioned sweet German Luzie.

Our first day we decided to head north of Cairns to Port Douglas, Mossman Gorge, and Cape Tribulation (Cape Trib)/Daintree National Park. We honestly didn’t even get going until after 10 and we still did pretty much exactly what we wanted. Our first stop was Port Douglas, along the most beautiful stretch of Bruce Highway there is.

Seriously, it was along the coast the entire way and was breathtaking, we stopped once to take photos,

as you do,

otherwise Luzie took some while I was driving to make sure we all stayed safe.

Port Douglas was an adorable little town with some gorgeous views off the beach as well.

We parked and walked down to the beach and then found a little ‘hike’ up some stairs for a nice little lookout.

When facing the ocean, just walk to your left and you’ll see the stairs, if it’s hot, it’s not the most fun thing in the world I’ve ever done, but it’s deffo worth it.

Oddly enough, we didn’t feel like swimming…

Couldn’t tell ya why though. Actually you’ll see signs like this all over northern Queensland. That’s why most places up there have a lagoon, or some sort of man made beach to swim at. I’m a pansy though so the thought didn’t even cross my mind to throw my suit on and get in the water.

We had zero clue as to what our plan was so we went into a travel agency to ask what they would suggest for us to do. The one we originally went into said they usually had a map that had a good route, but they were out, so they sent us in search of their sister office up the street a little ways. We drove around the block twice before finally deciding to just park and wander into the next travel agency we could find. We kind of finally figured that they probably all had the same map. And we were right! The lady at the place we went to had a ton of info and was super helpful and gave us pamphlets and we really just loved her. So after fawning over her and how great she was, we made it back to the car and set out on our next stop: Mossman Gorge.

Oh my lord. Go here. I don’t care who you are, I don’t want to hear any excuses, I just want to hear that you went. Okay? This place was awesome! So we got there and I very meticulously picked a parking spot that was kind of in the shade, like a pro, right? Anyway we walked in and were immediately confused, because there was a visitors center, and we didn’t know what to do.

So after wandering around quite a bit we finally found the desk in the visitors center/gift shop area and asked how we were supposed to get to the gorge.

You can’t drive to the gorge because there is an indigenous community located in the area.

There was a shuttle bus which was something like $10 to take, but we’re broke backpackers and we decided we’d rather spend $10 on something better so we asked if we could walk. They said yes, but that we had to stay on the road, and that it was a 30 minute walk. Bring it. We peed, filled up our water bottles, and headed out. The first like….7 minutes of the walk were a little rough,

it was direct sunlight and just a boring road,

but then we turned down into some beautiful scenery. It was all lush rainforest, beautiful little streams, so gorgeous.

I’m actually so happy that we walked, simply because we wouldn’t have seen any of that if we had taken the bus. And we got our steps in. If you look at the website for the area it says there is no footpath or pedestrian access and that the road is ‘narrow and dangerous’. This is bull shit okay, I mean yes, there is no footpath, you are walking on the road, but basically the only traffic on the road is the buses and they see you and you see them and you just step off the road and wait for them to pass. Easy. Just don’t be an idiot.

Anyway, the gorge is amazing. There’s a nice swimming area and we climbed up a little ways. People were doing some ‘cliff jumping’ but we opted to just swim, despite this fun sign.

We did take an interesting route down and ended up butt sliding down a bunch of little waterfalls. I would love to show photos or video, but I stupidly forgot to bring my GoPro with me so…sorry. You’ll just have to go yourself at some point and experience it as well. This place is really so amazing and so beautiful though. If I was living in Cairns this is a place that I would come to all the time with a picnic and some beverages and spend the day. So relaxing and such a cool vibe.

We would have stayed longer, but we did have plans to keep heading north so we got out and dried off and wandered our way back to the car, which was sitting in direct sunlight, because, believe it or not, the sun moves across the sky during the day. I’m 0 for 3 at this point in case you’re keeping track. We sat there for a minute letting the hot air pour out of the car and finally got in and headed north to the ferry which would bring us across to Cape Trib and the Daintree.

This ferry was kind of ridiculously expensive at $26 for a return trip, but it was the only way for us to get across the crocodile infested river to Cape Trib, so they are obviously cornering that market spectacularly. Even though all they need to do is build a bridge. Like there has to be a reason there isn’t a bridge, right? Because I’ve seen way bigger bridges in this world than I can imagine would need to be built over this river. This was a total goober tourist moment for me though seeing as how I have never been on a vehicle ferry before, in an actual vehicle.

So hey, it was a fun experience at the very least. And between the three of us it ended up only being $9 each, which is what we saved from not taking the shuttle to Mossman Gorge so we won that round I guess.

Once on the other side we had the pleasure of driving a terribly windy, skinny road. It was beautiful, but here’s the thing about driving in Oz for me. Yes, I realize I turn on my windshield wipers more often than not when I’m trying to use my blinkers, but honestly that is not the hardest thing for me about driving here. Actually, the hardest part is my spatial awareness of the actual car. I am obviously used to having the drivers side be on the left side of the car and having the body of the car all on the right side of me. For ten years I’ve trained myself that way! A decade! Now, driving from the right side of the car, I have to figure out my spatial awareness with the whole car on the left side of me instead. This means I hug the left side of the road, hard. I basically am constantly on if not over the line the entire time. This is good for the fact that I won’t be hitting anyone head on anytime soon. On the other hand, it’s bad on super skinny roads that have a giant rock wall on the side that I keep almost grazing in my rental car which I was too damn cheap to get insurance on. Sue me, I’m broke. We did perfectly fine on the road, I just had lots of ‘oh shit’ moments where I practically stopped on the road because someone was flying around a curve coming toward me and I panicked and didn’t want to chip the left side of the car. At least no one was behind us at all though.

We made a few random stops on our way driving up toward Cape Trib, the first was because we saw a sign for one of the points mentioned on our handy dandy map, couldn’t tell you the name of it but there was a decent view.

Then we stopped at a beach because we drove by it and totally fangirled over how beautiful it was. We had been staring at the mud flats in Cairns for a few too many days and we were just stoked to see actual sand. We had to drive quite a ways though before we found somewhere to pull over and turn around, but it was worth it.

There was only one other person there. So amazing. I would make this my place to go swim, but…well……crocs.

We did stop at one of the “rainforest walks.”

and we’re pretty sure, though not positive, we saw a croc, but it was so quiet and quick all we really managed to see was the barely disturbed water afterwards.

And we were somewhat sketched out by the rickety boardwalk that was supposed to keep us safe from the crocs.

It was beautiful, and very cool, but once we made it back to the car, we had to make a decision about heading back. While we were talking to the lovely girl in Port Douglas, she told us there was a beautiful spot to watch the sunset, which we kind of wanted to try to make it to. So we decided to turn around before we made it to actual Cape Trib and make our way back to the ferry.

I forgot to mention that the entire road from the ferry up to Cape Trib had signs everywhere about cassowary crossing, along with some seriously obnoxious speed bumps to keep you from hitting them. These dinosaur birds are especially important because they have a huge helping hand in germinating and spreading the seeds of trees in the rainforest. For one thing, they transport seeds around the rainforest via their poo. If it weren’t for cassowaries eating fruits and seeds and then pooping them out elsewhere, those specific plants and trees would only be able to grow down hill from where the parent plant was. Along with that, there is also one tree in particular which has a less than 10% germination rate if a cassowary doesn’t first eat and poop out the seeds. Apparently they have a gentle digestive tract, and their poo is a fertilizer, so there’s that. Anyway, we didn’t think we’d see a dinosaur bird in the wild at all and were getting sufficiently annoyed by all of the speed bumps when a wild cassowary popped out in the road just ahead of us. So screw me I guess. I was driving and didn’t take any photos though due to my diligence at being a safe driver, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Anyway, we sped along, trying our best to make it back to Port Douglas for the sunset, and missed it entirely. We had a long moment wondering what the heck the girl was actually talking about, seeing as how we were on the east coast, so the sun was setting behind the mountains to the west (thanks primary school), and it was gone by 5:45.

We had some words to say about it, until we got a momentary glimpse of the sunset at a high point on the highway, and then we felt bad for somewhat bad-mouthing the lovely travel agent we had talked to. She was lovely, and if you’re in Port Douglas around sunset, it will apparently be quite beautiful. After slowly making our way back to the hostel with the worlds worst headlights, and after having spent an entire day out and about though, I slept like a baby in preparation for day two.

The next day Christiane had to start her work for accommodation at our hostel, so Luzie and I had the company of another German girl in our room named Lily for our waterfall adventure day. We didn’t make it out until around 10 again and this time headed south to start of at the well known Josephine Falls. We followed signs until we finally found a small road leading to a parking area for the falls. There was a small hike out to them, and we opted to check out the overlook up top before heading down to swim.

It was beautiful, but we were hot and wanted to get in so we wandered down and did some rock hopping, changed into our suits, and rock hopped over to the swimming area.

I actually managed to remember my go pro this time (unlike the day before at Mossman Gorge), but I forgot the case so I had to death grip it for fear of dropping it. Anyway, the water here was a little colder than it had been at the gorge, but it felt so good to swim. The best part? There was an actual proper waterfall slide.

On the left there, yeah? I was stoked, this was the greatest. We got there at the same time as a tour group so we had to stand in a little line, but we got to watch some serious, painful looking trick slides. For example, a guy laid down on his stomach, and then had a girl sit on him and they went down like that. Which looked….painful. We opted out of that obviously. And we didn’t need any trick slides anyway; we went down on our bums and it was the greatest!

Man I wanted to go over and over again! BUT, again we sadly had places to be so we made our way back to our stuff, got dressed and headed back out. We stopped to grab gas, where I ended up on the wrong side of the road twice, so that was fun. Also I couldn’t figure out how to pump gas because it was too much for me to understand that you pumped the gas before paying. Like what? Absolutely not, you prepay in the United States. So Luzie got out and pumped gas for me because I am stupid.

After I sufficiently embarrassed myself at the gas station we headed in the general direction that we thought the waterfalls were. We only had enough service to be able to pull up a map on our phones, but not enough to search for the waterfalls and get directions. So finally we were stopped at a road construction site and Luzie decided to ask one of the construction workers where we should go. He told us that up ahead there was a “waterfall circuit” with something like 20 or 25 waterfalls along it. We were very excited about this, thanked him, and set off. We eventually found a sign that said “Waterfall Circuit”, so we obviously turned and followed the road. I’m not sure if we actually ended up in the wrong spot or what, but there were only 3 waterfalls along this ‘circuit.’

The first was Ellinjaa Falls, which had a nice little swimming area.

The issue was, though, that the waterfall was in the shade by that point and we felt that we would get cold.

So we took a few photos and decided to move on to the next one. Zillie falls!

This one was super tall, the main parking area actually brought us to the top of the waterfall.

We wanted to go down to the bottom though, so we found a little primitive trail and decided to follow it.

It came out at a spot where we couldn’t even see the waterfall, so we busted out our rock hopping skills again and tried to get a better view.

It didn’t end up being the view we expected, but it was quite beautiful.

We took our pictures and then made the trip back up to the car to move on to the most popular one in the area — Millaa Millaa Falls.

This waterfall had a man made swimming area under it, changing rooms, toilets, and a landing pad for people to stand on and take photos. We adequately used the photo taking pad, then judged a few people for taking super #basic photos, but really I’m pretty basic a lot of the time too, so I can’t really judge that much.

After about three minutes we were bored and decided to start making our way back to Cairns. We saw a sign for another waterfall that I had seen on a list when I was last minute looking up places to go that morning, so I quickly threw on my windshield wipers and swerved off to the parking area and grabbed a parking spot. This waterfall was called Malanda Falls and it was less than impressive.

It simply looked like a giant swimming pool. I’m sure it’s a nice place to bring the family if you live in the area, but honestly I’d way rather go to Millaa Millaa or Josephine falls before I’d decide to spend time at Malanda.

So, underwhelmed, we quickly headed back to the car and made it back to Cairns before the sun went down (so we didn’t have to deal with the terrible headlights).

Luckily, the rental company told me I could drop the car off in town instead of at the airport without an extra cost, in order to keep me from having to pay for an airport transfer back to town again. So I got up and filled the tank up, all by myself this time, but also I parked like a mile away from the pump…

Then I drove into town and while speaking to the very nice Aussie lady she noticed my tattoo of my dog and asked “is that a dingo tattoo?” Ha! A real life Aussie recognized my dog as a dingo and that means I will continue to call her as such. Nala is a little three-legged dingo bad ass. Okay rant over. Rent a car in Cairns! Go north! And then go south!

Spend some time exploring while you can, get out and see what’s beyond the town. It’s a beautiful area, and the town itself is nice and relaxing and has a great vibe that draws some seriously awesome people there.

Also the hostel had a cat.