“Hipsters can look different in different places,” says tour guide Peter Schleifer of Cairns Urban Walking Tours. “I’m talking more about the hipster mindset.”
Peter has a tough sell ahead of him on this warm day, as we stand near lush foliage in the city’s Shields Street mall. He’s just told me Cairns is the second-most hipster city in Australia (the first is apparently the Gold Coast!).
Thinking of my inner-city Melbourne ‘hood, populated with black-clad beard-wearing tattooed barista types, I can feel my lip curling and my eyebrows rising. What is this man talking about? There isn’t a hipster in sight in this tropical paradise.
Or is there? According to Peter, the relocation service MoveHub took a survey of the things hipsters most liked, and concluded in Australia their density was second-highest in Cairns. Tattoo parlours, cafes, vegan food, vintage clothing outlets, record shops… that’s the measure of a true hipster hangout, it seems, not what its inhabitants are wearing.
He also points out the hipster movement of the 1990s had its roots in the concept of ‘down-shifting’ in search of a better work-life balance – and that’s exactly why many people moved to Cairns.
Well… we shall see. He’ll try to persuade me further via his Hipster & Street Art Tour, a 90-minute stroll through the city centre to unearth cutting-edge goodies concealed from the casual tourist.
Peter quickly turns up Cairns City Tattoo, on a prominent corner. It was opened in 1984 by a local family who’ve been creating tattoos from World War II onwards.
“When I grew up in Vienna,” he says, “Only prisoners and sailors had tattoos.”
Skin art has certainly come a long way since then, and this outlet has a selection of Asian and European designs, for example a Chinese dragon or a Western wolf.
We pause next outside Evo Burger, serving hip burgers (two vegan options) within a beautiful retro interior with a curvy metal counter and terrazzo floor; then linger outside BLVK Temple, a tattoo joint that creates upscale complex tats including photo-realistic versions.
“The Cairns hipster spends time at the gym but doesn’t like to wear mainstream brands, so tattoo studios have their own clothing brands,” says Peter, pointing out the gear on sale within.
Then we lob into The Source Bulk Foods, an outlet which could easily star in the uber-hipster TV series Portlandia. Big tubs of rice, lentils, nuts, pasta, muesli and the like are lined up on shelves, and customers buy only what they need in reusable containers.
Down an arcade there’s a juice bar whose smoothies make it a doubtful candidate for a hipster must-do, but then Peter leads me through an exit into a dingy alley festooned with street art. This is more like it. It’s an interesting selection with a certain Cairns spin – including a monochrome portrait of a boxer, a woman in sunglasses, a giant fish, and a depiction of a spray-painting artist beneath a palm tree.
Cafes are next. My guide points out Caffiend, which brews beans supplied by Tattooed Sailor Coffee Roasters, a local outfit with a sailor’s tattoo logo. Then there’s Cruze Coffee, with 20 international coffees that can be ground to order.
More hipster-friendly food is on offer at Slap and Pickle, a ‘low and slow’ barbecue joint on the American smokehouse model, famous for its brisket. Then we roam through Rusty’s Markets, started in 1974 as a hippie market selling clothing, incense and beads; now a rambling set of stalls laden with locally-made craft goods, fresh produce and takeaway food. At the far end we linger at Duke’s Doughnuts to taste an artisan coconut and yoghurt-based snack, which is delicious.
Nearing the end of the tour, we swing by too-cool barber Refuge and enter Oceana Walk, a low-ceilinged arcade linking Grafton and Lake Streets.
Here we strike hipster gold: within this short passageway is the finely-brewed coffee of Blackbird Espresso, the funky homewares of Eggplant & Poppy, the bulk organic wholefoods of Community Foods, the vintage volumes of Pearls Books, and – most telling of all – the LP Records shop packed with vinyl discs. We have hit the Cairns hipster motherlode.
I’m still not convinced Cairns is the natural home of the hipster, at least as I know the species. But I have to admit, a hipster could have fun here.
Qantas flies to Cairns from across Australia. See qantas.com.au
Novotel Cairns Oasis Resort has rooms from $239 a night, and a big central pool. See novotelcairnsresort.com.au
Cairns Central YHA is a good budget option near the hipster outlets, with ensuite doubles from $103 per night. See yha.com.au
The Cairns Hipster & Street Art Tour costs $32.95 for adults, $17.95 for children. See cairnsurbanwalkingtours.com.au
The writer travelled as a guest of Tourism Tropical North Queensland.
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