Cairns: January 5th, 2018
Ugghh, I have to admit, I thought I still had it in me! But at 35 (and newly 45 for my husband Josh) the mixed-gender bunk room simply wasn’t working on this particularly night. Pounding monsoon rains crossed beats with the thumping intensity of the old ceiling fan. Josh’s snoring made me wish I had a ”Super Soaker” water gun to target him with (at least one of us could get a shower that way!) I had the distinct thought..we are NOT in Sydney anymore.
We’d heard from several folks that the Northern Queensland town of Cairns was a “bit of a hole.” A jumping off point for the Great Barrier Reef and not much more. Arriving around midnight on a Friday of Christmas holidays was still a rude-awakening. 18-year-olds having “tied one on” were zig-zagging their way around the several blocks of clubs and pubs. We found a pair of friendly US guys working a pizza restaurant and enjoyed a pie before retiring to the the forementioned bunkhouse and relentless, hot rains.
The next morning was a pleasant relief, with coffee and a shared croissant to start. We took a spectacular dip in the city’s Esplanade Lagoon after some self-directed yoga. (Swimming in the ocean here is prohibited due to saltwater crocodiles!)
With a spontaneous new plan and a bag full of farmer’s market produce, we boarded the 45-minute afternoon ferry to Fitzroy Island for a night of camping and distance from the university crowds.
Fitzroy Island: January 6th, 2018
Neil Young and Muddy Waters graced the stereo as our ferry made it’s way with a handful of passengers bound for the little island. Fitzroy Island Resort has a sweet campground with space for maybe 6-8 tents. While their resort rooms looked gorgeous, they would have certainly broke the bank so early in our year abroad. This way we were able to have an overnight, remote island experience for pennies on the dollar. After all the day visitors departed on the evening ferry we took a dip in the resort pool, splurged on a fancy passionfruit cocktail at the swim-up bar, and took an evening walk on the beach. Our dinner of camp mac and cheese, fancied up with farmer’s market veggies and fresh mango for dessert, did the (budget) trick for us...but there is a restaurant on site if you were so inclined!
The next day we had a full morning of hiking the island’s gorgeous national park trails. Hitting the trail at about 7:30 am, we had it to ourselves as we ascended to lighthouse lookout via the Summit Track, returning via the Lighthouse Road Trail to create a loop back to camp. Next, I took an opportunity for some R & R on the beach while Josh jumped in the ocean with rented snorkeling gear, complete with “stinger suit” to protect against the dangerous jelly fish possible this time of year. The resort has a full-service dive center for your adventure needs. Josh had some wonderful fish, ray and turtle sightings, and I eventually joined in on the fun. Fitzroy hosts a turtle rehab center and they release some of the recovered animals in this area of the island. Sadly, we headed back to Cairns on the last ferry of the day, positioning ourselves for the REAL snorkeling the next morning! I could have easily spent several more days at Fitzroy! We arrived in Cairns that evening in a paralyzing torrential downpour and decided to pitch our little tent in the picnic area of the local waterfront park and position ourselves for our morning boat to the reef.
Great Barrier Reef: January 8th, 2018
After being rousted at 6:00 AM by a reasonable local authority from our dockside tent in the park (no public camping in Cairns, FYI!) we changed clothes for a full day on the open water and shared a breakfast plate at one of the many hotels lining the Cairns Marina.
Boarding at 8:00 AM, the boat was buzzing with excitement and nerves as it’s MANY passengers were assigned equipment and settled in with coffee and announcements. There are tons of companies offering Great Barrier Reef trips. We were wildly pleased with our choice of Diver’s Den for the focus on a true OUTER reef, in-water experience....ie: there were no glass-bottom boats or other on-board sightseeing options. Everyone on this trip was there to spend the most time possible in the water either snorkeling or scuba diving.
Without getting into too many details of our underwater sightings (the pics below should speak for themselves!) I’ll say it truly was an exhilarating, stunning, and mesmerizing experience to see this magic. Remarkable coral, sharks, turtles, and endlessly curious fish painted a rainbow to be forever thankful and in awe of. And to give pause for thought on the very real and immediate risks to it’s health. I was happy to learn more about the science of coral bleaching and to better understand the real threats and hopeful solutions for reefs everywhere.