After our stay in Newcastle, we took the train back down to Sydney and then flew from Sydney to Cairns (pronounced Cans) because this was a far better option than flying from Newcastle to Cairns via Melbourne. For those of you not familiar with Australian geography and too lazy to go look at a map, this would be the rough equivalent of flying from Los Angeles to Portland, OR via Albuquerque. For those of you not familiar enough with U.S. geography for this to mean anything, you should be ashamed. Go find a freakin' map and learn some things. If you are not from the U.S., you can ignore the implied exasperation.
In Cairns we stayed at an out-of-the-way little place called the Cairns Queen Court Accommodation. By out-of-the-way I mean not in the heart of downtown and also not anyplace I ever would have booked on my own. However, if all you need is a cheap place to overnight, this is a fine facility for that. The rooms were spartan-anyone who is familiar with military recreational facilities will have a good idea of what to expect from this property. Their web site shows a swanky studio room and foyer, but I'm not sure what those are all about. The studio room may just be a much higher grade room than what we had, but the foyer pictured is definitely not the area that we checked into.
Our room was similar to the standard room pictured here. We had a "family room" which consists of 2 adjoining rooms, one of which has a bathroom with a double bed and one of which has 2 twin beds and no bathroom. There are communal bathrooms down the hall if sharing with your traveling companions doesn't quite work for you. We stayed there on 2 separate nights, and one time our shower had a "ledge" to keep the water from running out all over the bathroom floor; the other time it didn't. Neither set up is particularly effective at keeping the bathroom floor dry. That said, the rooms were clean, the staff was extremely friendly, and the food at the restaurant was quite good. Also, they have a lovely little pool-side area where you can hang out and read, drink some wine, or just relax. So, all said and done, if you are on a budget and just want a clean no-frills place to stay, I would totally recommend the Cairns Queen Court Accommodation. If you do decide to stay there, be forewarded: there were no elevators. If we hadn't been toting around 7 bottles of wine, this wouldn't have been as big a deal, but it's one of those little things that, if you're not prepared for it at the end of a long day (or week or month) of traveling, can bring you to tears.
Another reason that I would recommend this place is that you can store your luggage here. We were limited in the amount of luggage that we were allowed to take on our dive boat since we would be returning to Cairns on a small commuter plane, so it was nice to not have to worry about what to do with our luggage while we were on the ship.
The Cairns town center is about a 10-15 minute walk from the hotel. There's a nice esplanade where you can walk along the sea shore, but signs warn you not to play near the water because of the crocodiles! Across from the esplanade are all the hotels, hostels, and tourist shops. One place I would like to mention before I move onto our Great Barrier Reef experience is a little ice cream store called Movenpick. Despite our hellacious experience as Cold Stone Creamery franchisees, we still like ice cream. This baffles some people, but it isn't the ice cream's fault that we had a terrible experience; I guess this might be the entrepreneurial equivalent of hate the sin, love the sinner? Anyway, we stopped at Movenpick, and their ice cream is fabulous! They have a bunch of different flavors, and we chatted with the owners, who still had that glazed, new-owner look, and they confirmed that they'd only been doing this for about 3 weeks. They seemed like nice people, and I hope they have a better experience than we did, so if you are in Cairns and a hankering for ice cream hits you, stop in and try some Movenpick. Sorry I can't give you any good directions, but I'm sure if you ask, someone there could tell you.