We left the Whitsundays on January 1st for the increasingly tropical Cairns at the northern end of the Australian East Coast. This sweatbox is famous for its easy access to the outer part of the Great Barrier Reef, and home to many of the big boat trip companies. It was already pretty humid on the Whitsundays, but there, the ocean had cooled us a little. By the time we reached Cairns, the heat was stifling and a long travel day meant that by the time we reached our scheduled dinner at Red Ochre, we were all exhausted.
The dinner, though, was a real treat. I had a big succulent fillet of barramundi on a bed of bok choi, drizzled with chunky wild lime salsa. For pudding, I opted for a Wattle seed pavlova out of curiosity. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but on this occasion it also pleased the fatigued traveler. Wattle seeds originate from Australia’s acacia trees, and on this occasion had been milled to a flour and whipped up with egg whites, cream and chocolate to make a delicious dessert. It has a coffee / hazelnut / cocoa type taste to it. Being a fan of all the above, it was a surefire winner for me and most of my companions. However, the long day meant that our evening pretty much ended at The Red Ochre, bar a quick meander through Cairn’s night market. Offerings here included everything from foot massages to delicate beaded bracelets to tubs of fresh mango to tuck into en route.
An early night was perfect preparation for the huge day ahead of us on our first morning in Cairns. Today was our day trip out onto the Great Barrier Reef. I had taken the metaphorical plunge a few days earlier when I had booked and paid to do the Scuba Try Dive option. If it wasn’t for you, the day-long boat trip complete with morning and afternoon tea, a bar and a barbecue was a less expensive option. Snorkelling equipment was also included in the charge, as well as a mini trip out from the main boat on a smaller vessel with a glass bottom; a little fishy viewing window in order to seek out Nemo.
However, I had so far avoided the bungee jump and the skydive, two activities that are pricy and terrifying in equal measure. Scuba diving, for me personally, also fell into this category. I had decided before I came that I would be doing at least one of these, and after not one but TWO try dives (that’s right – I loved it that much I went for the second one) I am confident I made the right decision.
The instructors on the boat were brilliant – I am 100 percent certain I was giving off enough terror vibes to put every passenger on the boat off the dive but somehow, I finally managed to get myself hanging on the bar attached to the stern of the boat a few metres under the water. After a few clumsy panics where I was overthinking the breathing process, my instructor motioned for me to hold my nose for a little while. This stopped me breathing out through my nose and letting water into my eye mask. I couldn’t fault the instructors, who calmed my nerves and I soon felt at ease with my instructor holding on to me and one other girl as we swam 8 or 9 metres down to float over the beautiful reef. Fear subsiding, the serenity and the colours of the barrier reef became my main focus. Cliched as it is, it really is another world, and one that I would categorically demand that you experience given the chance.
On my second dive, I was able to let go of my instructor’s arm and swim next to him. Swimming on the reef was incredible, and gave me the chance to meet not only a manta ray whose home was under one particular well-known rock, but also shoal upon shoal of fish of every size and shade and A SEA TURTLE. Embellishment of how brilliant this day was isn’t particularly necessary; incredible.
My only regret in relation to the scuba dive is that I did not have a GoPro with me to replicate some of the AMAZING photos that other people managed to snap – I’m talking Nemo in his anemone and casual sea turtle selfies. Thankfully, I’ve got my Hero 4 Black edition already stowed away in my suitcase for my NZ trip…
The remainder of our stay in Cairns was punctuated by a pretty heavy bar crawl around Cairn’s nightlife, starting in Gilligan’s, and ending in the Woolshed. Unfortunately, although not yet seriously tanked, my venture into the second venue was cut short. My advice to you on bar crawls: don’t walk around with the rest of your drink from the last bar – it’s probably illegal to drink alcohol on the street in the UK, but Australia actually appear to enforce it. Don’t be the weepy drunk trying to negotiate with the fat bouncer. You won’t win.
So far on my trip, apart from the day that followed the Full Moon Party, I had been taking pride in the dwindling severity of my hangovers. This honeymoon period that my liver and my cider seemed to be experiencing came to an abrupt end when I had to drag myself out of bed to go White Water Rafting at 6am, my last drink a mere three hours previous. Let’s just say that approaching the breakfast buffet was a bold move, and one that was quickly followed by another move to the bathroom.
Thankfully, the river Tully, our destination for the days activities, was a two hour drive from our hotel. By the time I was donning my helmet and lifejacket at the Raging Thunder centre, I felt 100 x better, although perhaps not quite sober enough to be operating a large paddle on a raging river… There was only one way to find out. We were on the river for a good few hours, stopping for a makeshift barbecue and brew on the banks of the river. Our instructor was a chatty Argentinian on a working visa. He was positioned at the back of the boat, while 6 of writhed around infront of him. It’s a pretty physically challenging activity, and in parts, really not for the faint hearted, but the day was fantastic and a favourite for many. Bobbing down the less tumultuous parts of the river just in our life jackets was great fun, as was a particular rapid that our instructor informed us we were going to purposely capsize the boat. The fear in the inflatable was palpable, but it was hilarious, and obviously something he had done with groups a million times before.
The East Coast: Beeches and Reefs section of the tour ended here, and our group dwindled from 47 to around 20. Dinner and goodbye drinks in The Woolshed quickly transformed into dancing on tables in The Woolshed. Either way, a fitting end to one of the best two weeks I’ve had in a long time.