It is rather sleep-deprived that I arrived at Cairns international airport and queued at customs to declare my muddy shoes (which turned out not to be a problem at all). Having to count my pennies now, I decided to wait around for an hour and a half to make the most of the first free shuttle at 8am. Australia is certainly no Asia when it comes to prices! On the plus side, it’s also not like Asia in that you can throw paper down the toilet. Hurrah! The drive into town only took about 15min and I was surprised at how tiny Cairns actually is. Small, very flat, with rainforest-covered mountains looming in the background against the bright blue Queensland sky.
I checked into my hostel, and soon met two lovely English girls, Louise and Natalie, who kindly adopted me for the rest of my stay. My first day was spent brunching in a hipster cafe down a graffitied alley (smashed avocado and poached eggs, get in my belly, I have been dreaming about you), sleepily mooching around and lazing by the beautifully turquoise lagoon before an early night! Then, at 07:30 the next morning, I was to board my catamaran for a day’s sailing and snorkelling around the Great Barrier Reef. And what a day that was! I’d chosen the Reef Daytripper tour especially, as it has a maximum of 20 guests. And when I turned up, there were only 6 of us and 3 crew! Which I’m guessing is something to do with the forecast of storms but the weather out at sea was perfect. We set sail and it took, to my surprise, 2.5 hours to reach the Reef, and that’s not even the outer Reef!
At Upolu Reef, it was time to suit up (so as not to die from a jellyfish sting) and jump in. I’m not joking, within five minutes of being in the water, whilst waiting for the others to get ready, I popped my head under to try out the mask, only to see a large reef shark swim by below me, its telltale black fin only somewhat reassuring. “Shark!”, I shouted, flailing around, “I’ve seen a shark!” But, weirdly, it was more out of excitement than actual fear. I thought I would freak out a hell of a lot more. And it just got better as we then weaved through bunches of harmless jellyfish, and bumped into a giant green turtle, a puffer fish along with multiple other species I can’t remember the name of!
Back on the boat, we sat down to a hearty lunch of cold meats and salads before our second snorkel of the day. I considered the introductory dive, as what better place to do it, but unfortunately was not allowed to due to taking migraine medication and not having a doctor’s note. We saw fewer fish at the second spot but the corals were beautiful. And we did see a bluebottle jellyfish, which is something you’d usually want to avoid! I was very pleased at that point to be wearing my stinger suit. After this, the complimentary glass of cold white wine, and cheese and crackers were very much appreciated as we set sail back to Cairns and I sat in the nets at the front, getting splashed by the cool waves.
The most amazing thing about this trip was the colour of the water – an inimitable turquoise blue set against dark indigo, which made you crane your neck in an attempt to see it from further up. The corals and wildlife were amazing but, due to some algae floating around, I have to say the visibility wasn’t as good as in Crystal Bay, Nusa Lembongan, where the loud clicking of the diverse, sprawling coral in shallower water was more impressive. But you certainly can’t beat the sheer surface the GBR covers!
For dinner that night, the girls and I headed to The Prawn Star, an aptly-named trawler docked in the marina, to enjoy the most delicious selection of prawns and bugs I have ever had the pleasure of tasting. And we may be appearing on local TV as they were filming the Queensland Weekender.
On my final day, I made the most of the free (!) hostel tour to Crystal Cascades and Trinity Beach with perhaps the chattiest, most know-it-all-done-it-all guide. But it was a great day all the same! As we parked for Crystal Cascades, a thunderous crash sent me into panic, thinking a landslide or flood was about to come around the corner, but turned out to be “merely” a huge tree coming down. As we walked on, a sign warned us of the dangers of stinging trees. I mean, seriously, does anything NOT want to kill you here?!
I dipped my toes into the water with some apprehension, but I bumped into no nasties and the water was wonderfully crisp and refreshing. From there we made our way to Trinity Beach where Louise and I enjoyed tasty Italian salads for lunch (I had missed that!) and I got called a chicken by an older, local lady when I didn’t venture too far from the edge and stinger/croc warning signs. I more or less trust the nets but the water was so murky (and hot) that I preferred not to stray too far!
Another trip to the lagoon and Chinese dinner at the night markets made up the rest of my final day in Cairns, and the girls kindly kept me company and let me use their shower and lockers until I left for my night bus to Airlie Beach.
Lots of love,