After almost a year of my poor passport gathering dust in the corner of my room, I finally got to use it again a couple of weeks ago. As of this point, I was only missing 1 (inhabited) continent, so the choice as to where I should go was an easy one for me. On Friday evening after work, Michael and I made our way to the airport to begin the 32+ hour trip to Australia. Every time I start looking at plane tickets or discussing a trip, I’m always reminded of my friend’s comment to me several years ago, when he said “Lauren, you look at flights around the world like most girls look at clothes – ‘Oh this looks nice, I’m going to get it!'” Makes me laugh every time….
Anyway, other than seeing someone bring an odd life-sized packing-tape man onto the train with them, the trip was fairly uneventful. American Airlines seems to have a love-hate relationship with their partner airlines, Qantas – it is apparently a known issue that you cannot use the self-check-in kiosk if you are going to Australia. Oh well. Lesson learned for the next time I go Down Under.
Before we even got to Cairns, our final destination, we met Gaylene, a lovely Australian who was a wonderful introduction to the country. She was traveling from Brisbane to Cairns for work…we struck up a friendly conversation with her on the last flight over, and upon landing she offered to share a taxi and then ended up paying for our side completely. It was a very nice welcome for two tired, travel-weary Americans.
We landed on a Sunday afternoon, and were definitely feeling the 14-hour time difference. It was all we could do to go to the store and get some groceries, cook dinner (crocodile sausage, mmm!!), and then fall into bed at like 6:00 pm. We travelled the entire trip through Airbnb, which is a website that allows people to rent out their empty homes or guest rooms for a fee that is usually much less than what you would see in hotels…plus you sometimes get the added bonus of meeting some really awesome people! It was my first time using Airbnb, and I must say that I was thoroughly impressed with it. The Airbnb place in Cairns was a full flat all to ourselves, with a nice bedroom and pullout couch in the living room, a fairly well-stocked kitchen, and even a little balcony in the back. It provided a lovely view of the parking deck behind us, haha.
The first day after our arrival, we did very little in the way of…well anything, really. We went to a big pool that Cairns locals refer to as the “lagoon,” walked through a lovely park, and tried not get run over by the cyclists who were constantly trying to avoid us as we inadvertently walked on the wrong side of the walking paths. Do you know, I never even realized that walking paths mimic the rules of the regular road until I was constantly having bicyclists beep their tinny little horns at me in Cairns because I was walking on the wrong side of the walking path. I suppose it was good practice for New Zealand, when we would be having to navigate not just walking paths, but actual roads!
The next day, Tuesday, was definitely the highlight (and the original purpose!) of the entire trip. We spent a day on the beautiful tropical waters of Australia, going to 2 separate locations to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef, on both the inner and outer reef. I must say, the inner reef stop, Green Island, was less than impressive. Michael and I both left that island thinking “Is that really it?” (Although in hindsight, it was actually very good that we went there – gave us good snorkeling practice before we moved on.) But we were not at all disappointed when we got to the outer reef. The Great Barrier Reef really is everything that is it cracked up to be. Sparkling (albeit rather chilly) waters cover acres and acres of pristine marine life. Animals of all types – sea turtles, angel fish, damsel fish, and plenty of others whose names I haven’t the faintest idea of, flitted in and out from among every type of coral you could imagine – stag coral, elk horn coral, plate coral, brain coral, lots of soft corals, and even a giant clam or two. In some places the coral is so close to the surface of the water that you cannot even swim over it. My personal favorite was when a mini-school of absolutely giant fish swam right past me – they were so close I could literally touch them! I even got a video…check it out below!!
Our last day in Australia was fun, but honestly still somewhat of a letdown after the Reef from the previous day. We took a scenic train through the foothills up to Kuranda, a cool but admittedly very touristy little town above Cairns. The time went quickly in conversation with a lovely British / American couple, Susan and Steve, who gave us great recommendations on local foods to try, as well as some helpful driving tips for driving on the wrong side of the road (for example, “it’s always the passenger’s job to say ‘keep left!’ whenever the driver turns”).
We had a few hours to kill in Kuranda, so we amused ourselves by browsing the many tourist shops that dotted the small streets. My personal favorite was the store that sold things entirely made out of fur – including a super fancy man’s vest / tie and woman’s bikini set. Oh my word…I couldn’t imagine actually wearing that atrocity! After lunch, our bus came and took us to “Rainforestation”, where we got to see some more exotic animals and take a trip on an antique army duck, a 6-wheel drive amphibious vehicle made by women during WWII. This Rainforestation park has the largest collection of army ducks in the southern hemisphere – only around 2,000 were ever made, and they have about a dozen of them to take tourists on trips into the rainforests and swamps around Kuranda.
I enjoyed seeing and hearing about “Jack the Ripper”, a 15 foot long crocodile that lives up to his name – he has eaten his last 12 girlfriends! I made sure to stay a safe distance away from that one! The rainforests in Australia, while comprising only a tiny fraction of the total global jungle area, are the most diverse in the world. We saw water dragons, and bright blue Ulysses butterflies, and all kinds of ferns, and stinging trees, and golden orb spiders, which must have been what Rumplestiltskin used to spin his golden thread, just to name a few. It was incredible – pictures of all and more are included in the photo album below. Aside from the incredible diversity of flora and fauna, however, my favorite part was definitely when we drove straight into the water in the army duck. It’s definitely a rather unsettling experience to intentionally drive straight into a body of water!
The return trip from Kuranda was made not by train, but by one of the longest cable cars in the world. We had a fun time enjoying the breathtaking views and admiring the rainforest from above on our way down. So, when I said that our rainforest excursion was something of a letdown, do not misinterpret me and think that I did not enjoy it. It was lovely, fascinating, and definitely an experience to remember. It is only when it is compared to the absolutely breathtaking and completely otherworldly experience of the Great Barrier Reef that it pales :). See below for lots of pictures!