I shan't dwell on the bus journey from Brisbane to Cairns; it was pretty long and tedious, but at least I managed to get some sleep. Coaches are designed to stop light sleepers like me from getting any shut-eye, with their hissing pneumatic brakes, stops every three hours or so that jolt you wide awake, seats that recline only as far as is uncomfortable for both yourself and the person behind you, movies that don't even tax the mentality of test-tube babies, leg room that makes a coffin look like a two-up two-down... love 'em or hate 'em, they're cheaper than flying, and for good reason. Still, I got there without terminal cramp, and at least you can look out of the window and really appreciate what it is that those crazy cyclists see as they pedal their way round the continent.
Cairns turned out to be just another Australian town, but this time it had one big difference: unashamed and excessive tourism. I haven't seen so many hostels, tour operators or touts since the Costa del Sol, and a worryingly large percentage of them seem to be run by the English, another reason not to spend too long in Cairns itself. If I had a car I'd have been camping up in the bush in Cape Tribulation, but I don't, so I decided to stay in a hostel.
In truth, it wasn't so bad. I had visions of drunk teenage backpackers stumbling off the Oz Experience bus and lolling about in the hostel, telling everyone what a wonderful place Fraser Island is if you're into driving fast and getting pissed, but I got lucky. The U2 Hostel – terrible name, pretty terrible rooms, bloody good price – wasn't right in the centre of town, and its short distance from the main drag meant it didn't get such a throughput of backpackers, but instead provided a roof over the heads of a more interesting clientele of dole bludgers, broke hitchers looking for work and ex-drug addicts searching for lost family. Salubrious it wasn't, but it was far more fun than the normal Youth Hostel scene, and at least the rooms had locks on the doors to prevent too many wandering possessions.
My first night in Cairns went the way of most people's: I got drunk. It wasn't intentional, but the U2 provided a free meal down the Woolshed pub as part of the deal, and the next thing I knew I was too drunk to stand and having a ball. After having the boat sway for four months it was novel to see land pitch and yaw.
This fortunate start to Cairns life did have one bad repercussion; when I woke up on my 27th birthday I felt pretty awful, so I just spent the day wandering around town, nursing my hangover. As a place to relax, Cairns isn't too bad; the foreshore is mud, not sand, which isn't the most delightful central feature for a town, but there are plenty of parks and pubs to break the monotony.
I did buy myself a birthday present, though. By an amazing piece of luck I arrived in Cairns just in time to catch Powderfinger on the last night of their Australian tour; Powderfinger are, in my humble opinion, the best band in Australia today, and their second album Double Allergic was another soundtrack to my Kiwi tour. The ticket was the best birthday present I could have hoped for and the concert turned out to be as good as I had hoped it to be; I certainly lost a few pounds dancing myself stupid in the mosh pit. Some things never change...