Cairns: Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef

While I’ve only been in Cairns for a few days, I’ve already had an amazing series of experiences. On Monday I went out to (finally) see the Great Barrier Reef. I booked a tour with a company called Passions of Paradise that would boat me (and about 60 other people) out to the reef for some snorkelling and glass bottom boat rides. We left the marina around 8am and rode for about 2 hours before getting to our first location: Michaelmas Cay. On the way, I met some other tourists from the UK, Canada, and America. Everyone had lots of awesome stories about their travels so far and it was fun to make some friends. The area we were headed to is actually part of a turtle and bird sanctuary and, while I saw many birds on the island, I was not fortunate enough to see a sea turtle during my time in the water. However, I was able to use my phone to get some pictures and videos during my first hour or so on the reef. I saw tonnes of different fish, rays, coral, and anemones. These pictures don’t show how much colour is really in the reef. Everything is about ten different colours at once, and as soon as you get closer you see just how many more colours that animal actually has.

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Next, we had lunch on the boat and watched a fish feed. Basically, the crew through some (fish) food into the water to attract some of the larger fish for us to see. Again, these animals were very colourful and very impressive to see. We then rode about 10 more minutes out to the next snorkelling location: Paradise Point. This area had several spots that were a little more shallow, so a lot of my pictures came out brighter. Here I saw lots more cool and colourful fish, sea stars, and corals. I was also able to do a little free diving and swimming at this location (which was really just an excuse to act like a mermaid for an hour).

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Of course, I finished off my swim with a selfie before getting back on the boat to make the two hour ride back to shore. I spent the time sitting in the sun with a cold beer, in true vacation fashion. This tour was one of the highlights of my entire trip to Australia so far; check “swimming the Great Barrier Reef” off my bucket list! That evening, I got dinner and did some souvenier shopping at the Night Markets, a set of indoor markets thats only open after 4:30pm every day. While there, I got myself a black opal ring. Opal is a really big export of Australia; most of the world’s supply comes from right here! It was on sale (famous last words) and I’ve been wanting one since I got here, so I splurged a bit. It looks like outer space and I’m absolutely in love with it.

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On Tuesday, I had a tour of the Tablelands and Waterfalls, the rainforest area of Cairns. I was totally unprepared for what the day would bring when the bus labelled “Uncle Brian’s Tours” picked me up at 8am. I was greeted by the very friendly “Cousin Brad” who made a point of not only learning everyone’s names, but introducing them to everyone else on the tour whenever a new edition arrived to the group. In the end, myself and 20 other ladies were to be making the trip as a little “family”. Before even heading to the rainforest, our trip was derailed by some wild wallabies running about. Of course, we stopped for some pictures.

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We drove about 45 minutes to get to the rainforest, passing mountains, the tallest single peak in Australia (called The Pyramid), and through the wettest town in Australia (Babinda; rained about 6.9m there last year). We arrived at the first site, the Babinda Boulders, where we “hiked” through the rainforest and Cousin Brad told us about the different animals we might see there. After our hike and tea, we took a quick dip in the river to escape the marsh flies (they’re almost worse that horse flies) and some of the other girls took turns jumping off big rocks into the crystal clear water. Somewhere during this jaunt of the trip, we picked up three German boys who were also on holiday. After swimming with us for a bit and following us around the park, they decided to follow us in their car to our next location: Josephine Falls.

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This area was absolutely gorgeous: just waterfalls tumbling into pools over and over. At this location, we were able to use a natural rock slide and ride down the slippery rocks into the pool below. While a challenge to get to the top, it was well worth the struggle. Cousin Brad took pictures for those of us who didn’t bring underwater cameras. If you look closely at the pictures, you’ll see the exact moment where I wonder if sliding down a waterfall was a good idea afterall.
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After some good fun there, we went to a tea house for lunch where I got to chat with some girls from Sweden and Germany while we ate. Immediately after eating, we headed down the road to our next waterfall: Millaa Millaa. Apparently, this waterfall was the backdrop of a music video of some ridiculous, European, one-hit wonder called “Mysterious Girl” and the inspiration for many a commercial for hair-care products. As such, we all had to brave the chilly water and take some glamour shots of our own. In person, the waterfall was amazing; I swam up to it with a few other girls and it was like standing next to a hurricane with the amount of water falling down and resulting wind. After warming up a bit in what little sun we could find, we hopped back on the bus to our next stop.
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Lake Eacham sits in the crater of an inactive volcano; after being dormant for thousands of years, the rainforest kind of just grew up around it. Another gorgeous spot with clear water all the way down to the bottom, we were able to see lots of little turtles swimming around. While the water here was much warmer than our last stop, many of us elected to sit in the sun and have hot chocolate instead of getting wet again with a swim. After this stop, we stopped at a creek to try and spot a platypus. These strange little creatures are nocturnal, so our best chance to spot one would be just before sunset. Unfortunately, we were not lucky enough to see any of the little guys, and soon it was time to head back into the city.
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Even during our times of transit, Cousin Brad made sure to keep us entertained with stories, games, and sing-alongs. All this even made the extremely windy road (about 262 turns total) bearable. Overall, it was an amzing day in the rainforest, even if it was 12 hours long. I got back to my hostel and barely made it an hour before crashing into bed.

This morning (Wednesday) I got up early to shower and eat before being picked up for my next adventure: sky diving. Now, I’m sure most of you have your own opinions about jumping out of a plane and leaving your life in the hands of a little parachute cord. However, I though it would be a marvelous idea and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

After checking in and watching a safety video, 7 other divers and I suited up and met our dive instructors. We would all be doing tandem jumps, which means that we’d be safely strapped to an expert who does this for a living (sometimes up to 9 jumps in a single day). My instructor, Todd, was a very friendly guy who put me instantly at ease. After getting me set up and explaining the safety guidelines once again, we all got into the little plane that would take us to the dive site. I ended up in the back of the plane, meaning that Todd and I would be the last to jump.

We flew for several minutes above the city of Cairns. On this gorgeous day, the mountains were completely visible and made for an incredible view. As we got higher and higher, boats and cars became less visible and soon only the square shapes of buildings and crop fields could be made out. I was totally enjoying the view and feeling pretty relaxed and surreal. Then, all at once, the light telling us to put on our goggles came on and the door flew open. I got my goggles on quickly, and before I realized it, half the divers had already left the plane! In a 5 second interval I went from calm to a bit terrified; why had I thought this would be a good idea? Before that thought could even escape my brain, I was free falling at 14,000 feet.

I think I screamed, but I’m not really sure since I couldn’t actually hear anything. After the initial shock of my leap of faith, I started to appreciate how amazing the drop really was. A mixture of the pressure change and the adrenaline rush almost caused me to pass out, but I overcame that feeling very quickly on my own. After what felt like minutes of falling (but was probably just around 15 seconds), Todd pulled open the parachute and we began our slow descent. He let me steer for a bit, allowing us to spin and swing and enjoy the view from all 360 degrees. We eventually reached the ground safely, sliding neatly next to the 7 other divers.

On the ride back to the airport I still hadn’t quite processed what had just happened to me; even after seeing the video of my jump I wasn’t totally sure that it was real! Before being taken home, everyone collected their personal belongings and a certificate for their jump before wishing the next group good luck. Later in the afternoon, I picked up my pictures from the dive center’s local office. Unfortunately, they’re on a flash drive so I won’t be able to actually look at them until I get home on Sunday.

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I spent a few hours allowing myself to return to reality before grabbing some lunch and walking down the street to the Cairns Regional Art Gallery. I lucked out, because for some reason the gallery is free right now (they usually charge admission, I guess) so I got to see everything. The first floor contained photographs from a recent portrait competition, the winner of which recieved a $25,000 prize. The photos were blown up and all of them came with a story or description. I spent most of my time on this floor, glimpsing into the lives of strangers. Many of the pictures and stories gave me chills to look at, so I’m very glad that I got to see them. The second floor had lots of strange art, all of which was for sale as part of a fundraiser for the gallery. Not exactly my cup of tea.

The loft contained artwork by a young woman named Serena Kuring, who is studying visual arts at a university in Cairns. She has a condition called synaesthesia, which basically means that hearing sounds causes her to see colours. Her work was all a representation of what she sees when she hears different kinds of music, most of which was of the electronic genre. When she hears a song, her brain often translates it not only to a colour, but also a shape; for this reason, many of her pieces were composed of simple lines and geometric shapes in bright, vivid colours. Just another extremely cool thing I’ve seen on this trip!

I’m wrapping up my day by sitting in the hostel lounge, blogging for you readers, and enjoying the marvelous weather. As you can see, my week has been very busy already, and it’s only Wednesday! I still have a few more days of adventuring before I head home on Sunday and I’m looking forward to keeping you all posted! Until next time!

Luisa

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