Who would have thought that what was supposed to be a short two-month stop in Cairns would drag on for seven months! The main reason for the extended stay was because we needed to earn some money and fix the Troopy, but another important reason was because we needed to be close to an airport so we could fly back to Melbourne for Dave’s sister’s wedding in April.
Living in Cairns
With the intention of making contact with some new friends that we met up in Cape York, we arrived in Palm Cove just in time for the Reef Feast Festival. Symon and Robyne were perfectly hospitable and let us stay at their place, which was a lifesaver while we sorted out more long-term arrangements.
After a few days, we moved into a hostel on Lake Street, about 3km from the city centre. We worked for our accommodation – Juz was behind the reception desk while Dave drove the shuttle bus for guests between the airport and town. As long as we worked 21 hours a week each, we had our private double room paid for, but Juz picked up a job at Subway for some extra cash, and eventually a visit to the emergency room because of a cut thumb.
However, after a month of living with scores of partying backpackers from various countries, working irregular hours and missing a clean and tidy kitchen, we moved out into a house down the street. The rent for the room was affordable on Juz’s wages, the kitchen was tidy and had a gas stove, and our housemates were lovely and quiet. Unfortunately, with the road to the airport just outside our window, and the flight path for incoming planes overhead, sleeping in was impossible and conversations would occasionally be interrupted by the roar of jet engines. We also had an alien fungi farm growing under the sink!
After a month or two, we were presented with an offer we couldn’t refuse. Cheap rent of a room with an ensuite for a few household favours meant that we moved away from the city to the suburb of Redlynch. We lived at the base of the Great Dividing Range, close to major supermarkets and a gym but far, far away from the bustle of the city and noise of the airport. We stayed here until the end of our time in Cairns, and enjoyed weekly cooking challenges with our housemate.
Working in Cairns
Once we had moved in to the Lake Street House, we were relieved to be free of our hostel duties. Juz continued her job at Subway while Dave picked up three days of work per week as a landscaper. He also worked two nights a week as a dish pig at the Palm Cove Surf Club, thanks to Symon putting a good word in.
When school holidays started, Juz’s shifts at Subway were cut to accommodate for the less expensive teens, so she looked for another way to earn some money. A search on Gumtree turned up a casual data entry job whereby she could chose her own hours, her own hourly rate, and invoice the client at the end of the week. It was a dream job that got even dreamier when the client suggested that Juz do it from home – score!
On top of the Subway job and data entry gig, Juz also enrolled to knock off another subject in her Nutritional Medicine degree. Needless to say that when the school holidays were over and her Subway shifts were increased, she got stressed out and ditched Subway to focus on data entry and uni work at home.
In the meantime, Dave’s landscaping job dried up just in time for the Wet Season so he had to find another way to make an extra buck and keep himself busy. He cleverly devised a plan that would solve both his problems. Every fortnight, auctions were held in town to sell off a variety of goods, such as repossessed stolen goods, hospitality gear from closed restaurants, tools, furniture, computers, everything you can think of – including bikes! The bikes would usually sell for between $5 and $20, so Dave would buy one or two each fortnight, fix them, clean them and sell them on Gumtree for what he thought the bike was worth. One time – he sold a bike for $200!
Fun in Cairns
Our main, regular activity was trivia at the Red Beret Hotel on Monday nights. On our first visit, we won the jackpot round ($150!) and were hooked. Over time, we got another core player – Phillip – each week, we would try our luck at winning various vouchers. Most of them were for Port Douglas, but the prizes for first and second place included a voucher for the Red Beret, so occasionally we would be rewarded with a free dinner.
When it came to making new friends in Cairns, it was fairly difficult with the locals because many of them seem to resent foreigners (the ones supporting Cairn’s tourism industry)! Most of our friends in Cairns weren’t actually from Cairns at all – like Viki and Akos – a Hungarian couple that moved to Cairns around four years ago, and another couple from Darwin. It was also great to meet up with local blogger, Kate Richards from Adventure Mumma (but not from Cairns), and chat about what’s great about Australia. We made a few friends while we were staying at the hostel too.
We had so many visitors while we were in Cairns. Both of Juz’s parents visited at around Christmas time, and we got to see Dave’s auntie and uncle when they spent a week in Port Douglas.
We were also happy to be visited twice by Peter and Saeng who we stayed with up in Cooktown. They always brought us a goody-bag of home grown produce and some of Saeng’s home-made delicacies.
Pros & Cons of Cairns
Cairns is an awesome place to visit but can be difficult to reside in. Unemployment is high unless you’re interested in hospitality work, and even then you have to complete with backpackers and low wages. During the peak season there are lots of tourists, and we believe that some locals don’t enjoy this side of Cairns.
We arrived during the dry season and were looking forward to another opportunity to experience the wet season from December to February. Unfortunately, all the cyclones that were picked up on the radar dodged Cairns and all we got was a splash of rain and lots of humidity.
With all this time spent in the tropics of Australia, we are ready to say goodbye to the misty mountains and sugar cane fields and we look forward to heading south to cooler climates.