Sunday, June 8, 2014

Australia September 2013 - Travellers Oasis Backpackers Hostel & Exploring Cairns & Kuranda

***This post is part 15 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

Travellers Oasis Backpackers Hostel has out-of-this-world TripAdvisor reviews. Rarely do you ever see such universal praise for any property, let alone a hostel with shared dorms and bathrooms. I was skeptical, but I went ahead and booked a bed in a triple share dorm on their website for only $27 AUD plus a $2 credit card service fee.

I was dropped off by the FNQ airport shuttle just before noon, which was a good thing since the reception shuts down for a siesta between the hours of 12:00 and 4:00 pm. A super friendly front desk attendant by the name of Helen greeted me and apologized as there were two other guests ahead of me. Luckily there was free WiFi and a number of computers for guest use in the lobby while I waited.

Travellers Oasis Backpackers Hostel

Reception entrance

Many guests book local tours directly with the hostel since they don't tack on any surcharges, and the front desk attendants are just so damn nice and helpful. In fact, I would say out of all the hotels, hostels, and lodges I stayed at throughout Australia, the staff here were hands down the friendliest.

When it was my turn to check in, Helen guided me through the features of the hostel, and then proceeded to answer all my questions regarding several tours I was interested in, despite the fact that she should have been on her noon break already. She even took me on a quick tour of the property and showed me to my room afterwards.

A couple of things about the hostel: There is a $10 key deposit. Every Monday is barbecue night and Thursday is pizza night. Both events are held at Tropic Days Backpackers Hostel, a sister property several blocks away. Travellers Oasis runs a free shuttle to drop off and pick up guests. I would strongly recommend the barbecue, where for $12 AUD, you can try all the kangaroo, emu, and alligator your stomach can handle (the emu was especially delicious). Plus, it's a fun and lively atmosphere to meet other travelers from all over the world.

Free shuttle

Stairs up to my room

One of the great things about Travellers Oasis is the lack of bunk beds in most dorm rooms. To me, this makes a huge difference in comfort when staying at a hostel. There is nothing worse than getting woken up in the middle of the night when your bunkmate returns to the room in a drunken stupor, stumbling into bed while shaking the frame like an earthquake.

When I entered, the two other beds were already occupied, so I settled into the third. The room was super clean for a hostel and the sheets looked positively pristine. There were individual safes for guests under each bed, which was a very thoughtful feature. While there was an air conditioning unit (Cairns is quite hot and humid), it was coin-operated and cost $1 AUD for 3 hours.

Triple share dorm

My bed

Room #6

The entire second floor of our building shared one bathroom, which made for a somewhat crowded experience while waiting for the shower or toilet. But outside of the morning and nighttime rush hours, it remained mostly empty. In addition, guests were welcome to use any of the bathrooms on site, and there was never a time when all of them were occupied.

I also liked how the bathrooms were compartmentalized, so different people could be utilizing the sink, shower, and toilet simultaneously. It definitely saved time and made for more efficient use of the facilities.

Shared bathroom

Private toilet

Private shower

The property was quite large, with a number of buildings spread across several acres. In the center was a small but delightful pool that was in use throughout day. There were coin-operated washers and dryers towards the back, but I had just done a load of laundry in Airlie Beach, so I didn't need them.

The two fully-equipped kitchens were immaculate. I've stayed at plenty of hostels with shared kitchens, and I have never seen one so well-maintained. Credit has to go to the owner, management, and employees, who clearly take care of the property as if it were their own home. In fact, I noticed there were constantly staff members walking around cleaning and socializing. That, in turn, created a strong sense of community among the guests, who did their own part to maintain a tidy environment.


Back of the hostel


Sink and dish rack

Counter and storage

Shared refrigerators

A spacious guest lounge was located next to the second kitchen behind the pool. While I didn't spend any time there, the space looked very comfortable, and featured large couches, a flat-screen TV, a DVD player, and tons of board games. Free DVD rentals and a book exchange were available at reception.

I didn't plan on seeing much of Cairns proper because I already had day trips planned for my entire stay. However, I did get a chance to do a downtown walking tour the first afternoon I arrived. Travellers Oasis is conveniently located across the street from Cairns Railway Station, and just beyond that, Cairns Central shopping mall.

Be aware that you can walk through the mall to get to Shields Street (the main pedestrian thoroughfare) during the day, but at night, you must take a detour around the property to get back to the hostel. I found Cairns Central to be a fairly ordinary shopping mall, serving both locals and tourists alike. The food court had a number of quick and cheap options for lunch and dinner.

Cairns Central shopping mall

Cairns Central

Food court

If you decide not to book trips directly with Travellers Oasis, then Shields Street is the place to go for every tour imaginable in the region, from Great Barrier Reef diving expeditions to rain forest treks in Daintree National Park. Along the way, there are tons of restaurants, bars, and shops catering mostly to tourists.

Shields Street pedestrian walkway

At the end of Shields Street is the Cairns Esplanade waterfront. Unfortunately, there are no beaches in Cairns city. If you travel further north, there are a few small options, but you'd be far better off visiting the more spectacular beaches elsewhere in Australia.

Like Airlie Beach, an artificial lagoon serves the swimming needs of the local population and tourists. With a maximum depth of just 1.5 meters, the expansive pool is perfect for families with young kids. There is plenty of open lawn space around the lagoon for sunbathing, picnicking, and people watching.

Tree art around the esplanade


Sadly, with no white-sand beach, the coastline of Cairns is instead a muddy tidal sludge swamp. Photographic evidence from over a hundred years ago revealed that a beach did once exist on the esplanade. However, it is believed that the dredging of the Grafton Channel for shipping caused mud and sediment to completely inundate the sand, leaving the coastline in its current condition.

Still, it was a pleasant stroll along the waterfront boardwalk, and I enjoyed the informative signposts with interesting historical factoids about the city. In addition, there was an Anzac Memorial and some cool street art further up the esplanade.

Cairns coastline

Muddy tidal swamp


Anzac Memorial

Street art

On my last day in Cairns, I decided to take a day trip to the village of Kuranda, about 40 minutes inland by bus. In the 19th century, Kuranda was a popular resort destination for the local population, attracted by the milder climate and easy access by railway line. By the 1960s, however, the village had transformed into a hippie community, and markets featuring local handmade arts and crafts became well-known throughout the region.

Today, the hippie community is still there, but Kuranda itself has become a full-fledged tourist attraction, supplemented by wildlife and theme parks, markets of mass-produced souvenirs, and busloads of tourists arriving daily. Still, the village maintains a rather quaint atmosphere with a counter-culture vibe that warrants a day of exploration, in my opinion.

There are plenty of ways to get to Kuranda. The most popular (and expensive) methods are the Kuranda Scenic Railway and the Skyway Rainforest Cableway. Both operators work in conjunction with each other and sell package tours that include a mix of both transport options and also access to local theme parks. Be aware that most of these packages are in excess of $100 AUD for adults.

Kuranda Scenic Railway

Since I was traveling on a budget, I went with a more economical option. Trans North is a private shuttle company that services Far North Queensland, and operates five daily return trips from Cairns to Kuranda. One of the departure points is Cairns Railway Station, located just across the street from Travellers Oasis. I decided to start the day early and took the 8:35 am bus. The total round-trip cost was only $12 AUD.

Trans North departure schedule

Shuttle to Kuranda

Kuranda was still fairly empty when I arrived, and most of the famous markets had not even opened yet. I decided to check out the Kuranda Koala Gardens first, and was convinced by the friendly cashier to splurge on a three-park combined pass, which also included the Birdworld aviary and the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, for $46 AUD total.

Kuranda Koala Gardens was a nice little zoo housing several species of native Australian wildlife. There were of course koalas, as well as kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, crocodiles, and more. This was also one of the few places in the world where you can still hold a koala and have your picture taken (for an extra fee).

Kuranda markets and wildlife parks

Freshwater crocodile




Miniature wallaby with joey

Birdworld and the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary were both pretty engaging, and contained an enormous number of free-flying species. I especially enjoyed the sanctuary, where we were swarmed by colorful butterflies that were definitely not shy about landing on humans.

Black swans



Colorful butterfly

Afterwards, I walked over to the original Kuranda Rainforest Markets established by hippies in the 1960s. It's hard to tell which items are mass-produced in China nowadays, but I believe much of arts and crafts for sale there are still hand-made by locals. The newer markets nearby, however, probably have a high percentage of imported goods.

Original Kuranda Rainforest Markets

Market stalls

Guitars and ukuleles

Organic smoothie


Newer nearby markets

A visit to Kuranda would be incomplete without a detour to Barron Gorge National Park and Barron Falls. While there used to be a shuttle service from town costing $10 AUD roundtrip, the operation ceased in December 2013. Now, without a car, the only way to get to the falls is by walking the 3 kilometers along a quiet road.

While the walk isn't technically strenuous or long, I would strongly recommend bringing along plenty of water and sunscreen, since the sun and heat can be overpowering, especially in the afternoon. Expect the walk to take approximately 45 minutes each way.

3 km walk to Barron Gorge

Cassowary crossing

Barron Gorge is a stunning sight to see. In the dry season, however, the waterfall slows to a trickle (as I witnessed), while the wet season brings a massive torrent. The Kuranda Scenic Railway also has a stop at the gorge, making a side trip unnecessary for those passengers. If you have more time, a 1 kilometer detour off the main route leads to Wrights Lookout, which I found to be a letdown.

Barron Gorge and Falls

Kuranda Scenic Railway stop

Wrights Lookout

While making my way back from Barron Gorge, I must have appeared somewhat disheveled, because a hippie in a beat-up car pulled up and asked if I needed a ride. Gladly accepting his offer, I hopped into the back seat, where I joined his girlfriend and baby.

The enigmatic hippie, who turned out to be American, then recounted a story of how he was banned from entering the United States. I didn't have enough time to question the veracity of his tale, however, since the ride into Kuranda only took about five minutes. Regardless, I was glad to have met some truly unique and friendly people in town.

Unfortunately, I had missed the 2:15 pm Trans North shuttle back to Cairns, and the next departure was scheduled for 4:10 pm. Since most of the markets shut down by 3:00 pm, I didn't have much to do besides wander around the empty streets and parks. Finally, around 4:00 pm, the bus pulled up, and I joined just a few other passengers on the last ride down.

Trans North return shuttle

With so much see and do outside of Cairns, most people use the city as a base for day or multi-day trips to the Great Barrier Reef and surrounding national parks. If you find yourself with additional free time, it may be worthwhile to visit the City Botanic Gardens and Centenary Lakes in Cairns North, where guests can follow a boardwalk through the rainforest. Be aware that there are crocodiles in the lakes though!

1 comment:

  1. I really appreciate your work. This post is really handy and useful, I am sure people will get help from this. And thanks for sharing.