Cairns is a small city that is very focused on the tourist industry, but is also surrounded by agricultural activities including sugar cane, banana and other tropical fruits. Cairns is particularly popular with international tourists, particularly the Japanese.
There are a lot of budget accommodations, and plenty of drinking establishments and cheap restaurants for backpackers. The atmosphere is relatively inexpensive tourism, with t-shirt shops, etc. Lots of clubs and places to go out for young travelers. Older travelers might prefer the more sedate and upscale Port Douglas, 10-15 miles to the north.
Cairns Airport (CNS) is the primary international gateway into the region. The hub of Qantas' leisure flight spinoff Australian Airlines, the airline now has international services from Singapore, Hong Kong, Taipei, Bali, Kota Kinabalu and the Japanese cities of Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka. Domestic flights also connect Cairns to the Gold Coast and other major Australian cities.
The hourly-or-so Airport Shuttle bus into town costs $7, while a taxi will do the same trip directly to your destination for around $15.
The 1700-km Bruce Highway running south along the coast connects Cairns to the state capital Brisbane.
The center of Cairns is small enough to cover on foot. Hourly, Sunbus buses depart from the market square to the suburbs and Northern Beaches.
Diving and snorkelling
A number of Cairns operators run day and liveaboard scuba diving trips from Cairns. For seeing the Great Barrier Reef, the smaller dive boats provide the best experience, both for diving and for snorkeling.The larger operations have more amenities--better food, larger and faster boats, more activities, but sometimes provide a poorer underwater experience, as the underwater areas that the larger boats visit are heavily overused, and somewhat barren of coral and fishes. Your mileage may vary.
If you are sick of the sea, head up in the air. Skydive Cairns offers tandem single jumps and AFF courses. One of the most beautiful plane rides up to 13,000 feet overlooking the reef just long enough before you loose your lunch on the way down.
The number of Japanese tourists here makes Japanese food a fairly reliably option, although prices can be steep.
If you are looking for a place to find all the travelers, go to the "Wool Shed" in downtown. Legend has it that if you can't pull here, you won't anywhere in Oz.
Cairns is the backpacker capital of Northern Queensland and there are over 20 hostels, all offering basic bunks in the $14-18 range.