By Dale Hardy
When I was traveling the spectacular east coast of Australia in 2009, I was the kind of backpacker who never really made an effort to be organized. Basically, planning ahead and forward thinking was a no-go for me... Just relaxing all day every day and not having a single care in the world! So because of this attitude of mine, booking accommodation to stay at hostels in advance was way off my agenda. I barely found the effort to pull myself away from the current beach or lagoon I was relaxing at to get ready for another nightly bender. Life became very complacent for me, especially once I arrived in Cairns.
In the month of June, I and my pal Jon Crane, who I met in Australia, rocked up at Cairns bus station around 6.30am on the Greyhound bus we had been traveling on for about 10 hours or more from Airlie Beach. We were completely exhausted and aching all over from trying to sleep in some of the most uncomfortable positions imaginable on a coach. The place was warm and the sunrise was in full motion. The fruit bats were flying from the mountains back into the trees after their nightly feed. The place was incredible already, and things had not even started here yet. We had no clue of where to go or where to look for a place to stay on a tight budget. We had no knowledge of any decent hostels nearby. All we had heard was that Cairns was awesome and a real party town, and that we would love it... Typical information from fellow naive, young backpackers! We decided to head towards the Esplanade where there would be more things going on. There were quite a few souls walking around for such an early hour of the morning, so we knew we could find out some info on where to go and where to stay. We found a guy walking along in a drunken state and asked him if he knew any hostels of good value quality... Which is quite a difficult question to be asked I think if you are staggering home blind drunk at sunrise! He simply slurred, "follow me." So we did, and a short while later we rocked up at Caravella 149 Backpackers.
After the tiring 5-10 minute walk with heavy backpacks on our shoulders and no sleep, we were relieved to be able to relax for a while. We spoke to a guy named Paul at reception and he said he would find us a room at 10am when the other guests checked out. He didn't mind at all that we hadn't booked and had just turned up hoping for the best (as we had always done traveling up the coast). We hung around for a while and checked the place out. It had a decent pool, kitchen area and communal area for drinking and having fun in the evenings. In addition, we found an internet area and fridges in every room. Great for storing beer and goon! We got our room key around midday after the beds had been changed and the rooms cleaned. Because of the wait for our room, Paul gave us a twin room for the price of an 8-bed dorm, which I thought was amazing, especially since we hadn't even booked in advance. It is just typical of me to always land on my feet while traveling. As an extra bonus, we were handed meal vouchers and free entry passes to one of the main backpacker bars in Cairns called the Woolshed. How much more did we need for just randomly turning up?!
We headed out for our first day to check out Cairns and what is good to do there. Our first destination was the lagoon, which was the town's main chill-out area backpackers. There we found hundreds of backpackers soaking up the sun and relaxing in the water, just enjoying the freedom of their fantastic lifestyles. It seemed like the perfect place to meet and hang out without worrying about anything apart from what time you are going out partying that night. Any signs of fatigue from horrid overnight bus rides left my system. I knew I was going to call this place home for a few months and have one of the craziest, most fun-filled experiences of my life here. Many backpackers who travel up the east coast of Australia tend to make Cairns a resting place for a while, since it seems to have everything they need. It may not have a beach, but it has a fantastic lagoon, and it's right on the doorstep of the Great Barrier Reef where you can find hundreds of tour operators offering trips, excursions and dive courses. You can book trips to go to the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation which are must-see places while up in North Queensland. The main thing that Cairns offers, though, is its awesome nightlife at reasonable prices for backpackers on a budget. Many bars have nightly events and games, such as wet T-shirt competitions, where you can win cash, drinks and sometimes a skydive! It is just a perfect place to stay for a while, meet new awesome friends and just live the dream having the most fun you have probably ever had. Even if you just make use of the free BBQ facilities dotted around the Esplanade to cook your Woolworth's homebrand beef sausages, you will still have a great time.
After my first few weeks staying at Caravella Backpackers, I got really comfortable and knew this was the right place for me to settle for a while longer. As the hostel is quite small compared to some in Cairns, it makes the place great for mingling and making great friends to hang out with. Most of the people who stay at Caravella's are there for a while. They may work in some local bars or restaurants and need a place to stay at a reasonable cost. When the long-term backpackers and I arranged big nights out in fancy dress, almost all of the hostel would get involved. Whether we were dressed as smurfs for the night or making homemade costumes (skirts made from goon bags, tops made from shopping bags), we didn't care what we looked like because a good night out and a great laugh were guaranteed. During the entire 3 months I stayed at this hostel, I can honestly say that every day and night, all of the Caravella family (as we called ourselves) had fun and laughter and created memories that will live with all of us forever. Even on some nights, if we were hard up on cash or couldn't afford our usual benders, we would go to the Woolshed for our free, not-bad-tasting spaghetti bolognese. We would return to the hostel afterwards and wack out a deck of cards for games like Ring of Fire, and drink simple, vile-tasting goon form a coffee mug. We would drink and have fun until our all-time favorite lady and Queen of Caravella's, Gloria, would come round and say to us, " Guys, guys, no more now please!" So if you are planning to visit Cairns in the future, remember the name Caravella 149 Backpackers, because I will give you my word. You will not be disappointed with your experience there and you are guaranteed to make friends and memories for life.