Cairns: An Intro to Scuba plus a Rainforest
When we were traveling around Australia, we repeatedly received one piece of advice: Go see the Great Barrier Reef. Fellow travelers reiterated this sentiment, as did friends and family from home who heard we were in Australia. Go! It won't be around much longer. With no concrete plans after Melbourne, we followed suit and booked a flight to Cairns. What was just one more week in Australia?
The forecast predicted essentially 100 percent rain. Although this is to be expected in the tropics, the area was also experiencing excessive flooding from reoccurring cyclones. Most travelers only pass through, but we were grateful for the extra time. We stayed in a private room at Globetrotters International. We found it to be a wonderful community, and came to feel like our own apartment, since the hostel had several kitchens to prepare our own meals. By the end, we always ran into the same characters at breakfast, cooking, or poolside. It was a nice space to simply be.
We took nightly walks along the Cairns Esplanade, and we welcomed finding a routine again.
On a day we were feeling more adventerous, we took the local bus to Palm Cove, a less built up beachside town. We arrived with blue skies.
However, sun was short lived and it started to really downpour. We found shelter, but when the rain came down horizontally, we popped in a coffee shop.
It finally cleared by late afternoon, so I immediately ran in the water fearing it would rain again and I'd miss my opportunity. There was designated areas to swim, within barricaded nets since it's stinger season.
We went to Chill Cafe for mates rates--Australian for happy hour.
Naturally, the highlight of Cairns was our introduction to scuba diving.
Neither of us had been. We booked a day trip to the Reef through Passions of Paradise, which we highly recommend. The catamaran sails to two outer reef locations. Without becoming officially certified, we were able to go down with an instructor. The takeaway was to not panic under water, you most definitely have enough oxygen. Our instructor was fantastic, and once we were under, it was so serene, like we were the only people in the water.
We lucked out with the weather. There's really no way to predict what it will be like at sea, especially since the locations are roughly 40 miles away from shore. Diving is an addicting feeling. Once we got the hang of the hand signals and breathing under water, it felt like we were free falling, weightless. I can see the allure of getting certified. Although Hastings Reef was beautiful, during our first dive, I think the novelty of being so deep under water was all encompassing. Honestly, it wasn't until the second location when we went snorkeling that we could appreciate the coral and iridescent fish. Snorkeling gave a wider scope perspective, whereas when we were diving, the coral were mere inches away. It did indeed make the trek to Cairns worth it.
Another true adventure day was heading up to the Daintree Rain Forest. To reach the Daintree, you need to do so by vehicle or a tour. We booked through Uncle Brain's Tours, which is honestly one of the best organized tours I've taken. It was well thought out, and though a fair amount of driving, a jam packed day. We started in Port Douglas, a touristic beachfront gateway to the Daintree, yet far quieter than Cairns.
It rained all day, but fortunately, the entrance to the Daintree was still open.
We stopped at PK's for lunch, which felt like one of the only points of civilization. The population in the Daintree is scarce.
We walked around Cape Tribulation. The beach in the Daintree was named after British Lieutenant James Cook, who was stranded in 1770 when his ship scraped a reef. It's recorded that he named the point Cape Tribulation given that, "here begun all our troubles."
The beach felt remote and I could totally imagine a boat getting beached, and the overwhelming sense of being lost in the rainforest. Although, Will and I were slightly more impressed by the unintentional sand art by crabs digging holes.
We drove deeper into the rainforest, passed croc and cassowary crossing signs. We did spot Cassowary! We were also able to swim in a fresh water lagoon in the rainforest.
Since the mouth of the water was so shallow, we were assured there were no crocs.
After we went of a crocodile boat tour.
We spotted a mother and her young. Albeit random, halfway through, the boat driver said it was a booze cruise and handed out Great Northerns.
Ultimately, Cairns was a success. We left feeling like we saw everything we came to see. I felt pressured at times, at the heels of two great natural wonders, to experience it all. The Great Barrier Reef is a UNESCO site and the largest known coral reef in the world. The Daintree is the world’s oldest living rainforest, approximately 90 million years older than the Amazon. In fact, they’re the only two world heritage sites that adjoin one another.
That being said, I feel a bit relieved leaving Australia. I certainly felt self-inflicted pressure to make the most of everyday in New Zealand. And in Sydney, Melbourne, Cairns, though we made some locations home, it still resembled sight seeing at times. Now that we're moving onto Bali, I feel like we can just be. There will certainly be historic sights to see, mountains to climbs, cultural experiences to partake, and all the new delicious flavors to taste. But, it feels less like a compulsion. Less of you have to do this or go there. Maybe because I've been to Bali before. Maybe because Bali is synonymous with a paradise state of mind. Or maybe because I've come to terms with longterm travel. With finding comforts and normalcy in constantly changing scenery and new experiences. In some ways, Southeast Asia feels like the official start of this year. Although looking back, it's difficult to comprehend how much we've already seen and done. But as Will reminds me, it's just the beginning.