Our final week in Australia and a few final thoughts about about our time here.
28.01.2012 - 02.02.2012 30 °C
With one giant step off the boat, we plunge into the South Pacific. The waves at the surface are crashing over our heads as we hold on to a rope tethered to the boat. We are struggling to catch our breath using the dry air from our tanks. We are both looking at each other thinking the same thing, “What the hell did we get into?” After the last person leaps from the boat we duck under the water and descend to the ocean floor, leaving behind the chaos at the surface. It’s immediately peaceful being surrounded by enormous coral formations. We have arrived at the Great Barrier Reef. Our final adventure is in the books and we have saved some good stuff for the end!
Our final week in OZ gave us a lot to appreciate. It has been an amazing time in Australia and spending the last few days on the Great Barrier Reef is the cherry on top. During our last week we traveled through the capitol of Queensland for a two night spell and ended the trip in one of the most popular tourist sites in Australia, Cairns (pronounced Cans). We continued to ride the train, and thankfully did not have to travel over night. We even lucked out and were upgraded to a car with bigger seats for our last leg.
After living it up on the Island, we were off bright and early in morning headed to Townsville. The capitol of Queensland isn’t much of tourist sight, but it does provide some good food, a nice board walk area called The Strand, and one very excellent coffee spot. Our first night there we dined at Benny’s Hot Wok. We shared two dishes, sizzling pepper crusted steak with oyster mushrooms and duck stir fry with leeks and garlic oyster sauce. It was amazing! Sorry, no pictures. We were so hungry it totally slipped our minds.
Our one and only full day in this city was Australia Day, celebrated every 26th of January. It commemorates the first settlement of New South Wales. It is much like our 4th of July, people are decked out in their country colors, they are grilling on the barbie, and sharing drinks with friends. We strolled down The Strand and did some people and bird watching. We thought about jumping in the ocean to cool off. There are designated swimming areas protected by stinger nets. However, we watched several individuals receive treatment for stings, so we elected to forgo that activity. We eventually made it back to our room, our energy zapped from the high heat and humidity.
The next day we boarded the train for the last time. We headed up the coast about 8 hours into the coastal tourist den of Cairns. Cairns was founded in 1876 as a port city for exporting gold and eventually turning to agriculture, specifically sugar cane. After WWII turned this costal city into a staging place for allied forces it slowly developed into the international tourist destination it is today. The weather here can be best described as mild to moderately unbearable during the summer. The heat and humidity combine to create an energy vacuum. Zapping your strength each minute you’re out and about.
Self proclaimed as the reef-diving capitol of Australia, it offers a variety of ways to see and experience the Great Barrier Reef. Besides the Reef, Cairns is surrounded by lush rain forest, numerous waterfalls, and volcanic-crater lakes. Cairns has also spent considerable money upgrading their board walk. Reclaiming land taken by the ocean and sprucing it up with the grand Cairns Esplanade. The Esplanade is a long boardwalk lined with well manicured trees and shrubs, full of unique workout stations, kiddie parks, and even has one of the best public pools we have seen. The Lagoon, as it is called, is shaped like the state of Queensland and is full almost everyday from morning until late in the evening. The main street running along side the boardwalk is home to many fine dinning options, pubs, gelato spots, hotels ranging from posh to backpacker, and a delightful yet tacky Night Market.
The people traveling through this city are as variable as the plethora of colorful coral growing in the ocean. Sitting in one spot you can see backpackers walking barefoot hunting for deals, professionals and wealthier tourist dining in fine restaurants, and a rowdy group locals partying in the park. Cairns is inviting and full of atmosphere. A great place to get your party on or get your adrenaline pumping. As with everything, there is a price on fun, and we were running low on budgeted funds. Sacrifices were made, but one thing was certain, scuba!
We spent the first day grocery shopping, scoping out free internet sights, and most importantly scheduling our scuba trip. We elected to just do a day trip, rather than do a live aboard trip. It would be our first dive experience in the ocean and we didn’t want to bite off more than we could chew. After we booked our trip we settled into the hostel, laying by the pool and eventually cooking dinner before the rains came in.
The next morning began bright and early, 6:30 in the morning. We made our way to the Wharf to finish checking in for our day on the Reef. We had signed up for two dives on the Silver Swift Boat in the Outer Reef. The weather was overcast but the winds were calm. We were both nervous, no way around it, we were both new to the idea of jumping into the ocean and heading into Great White Shark territory. It all seemed a bit nuts to be honest. Our dive leader was relaxed, he joked in the dive briefing and commented on how loopy he felt today. Not comforting at all, but he did seem to be a competent diver and that was important. We may have been nervous, but we were committed.
We arrived at our first dive sight, Flynn Reef. The weather had picked up a bit and the boat was rocking with the increasing wave activity. We geared up and one by one walked off the edge of the boat, plunging into the South Pacific. There was a moment when the waves were crashing over us that it seemed like this wasn’t such a good idea. Once we ducked under water and made our decent to the bottom all that doubt dissipated. It was peaceful, quite, and a whole new world was emerging. Here it was, the Great Barrier Reef, right in front of our eyes. The fish brightly colored to match the colorful coral. The coral stretched as far as we could see. We descended down a wall of coral and it was one of the most impressive natural wonders we have ever seen.
On our first dive we reached a max depth of 20 m and the visibility was around 8-10 m. We kicked our fins and glided through the water crossing an area in Flynn Reef known as The Flats. Next to us a wall of coral was rising up, displaying green, blue, white, and yellow coral formations. All around us fish of all shapes and color were darting in, out and around the coral. Our first dive introduced us to a world of wild life that included clown fish, parrot fish, and a spiny rock lobster, just to name a few.
After our first dive, we were hooked. All the nervous tension had settled and we were ready for more. Our Second dive did not disappoint. We reached a max depth of 17 m and the visibility remained the same. For the second dive we were in a new reef formation called Milln Reef. We explored a section called the Channels. It was during this second dive that we encountered the most variety of wild life. The fish remained the usual suspects, but the best encounters lurked just around the corner. We crept slowly along the reef until we came upon an unsuspecting Hawks Bill Sea Turtle. Once he spotted us he darted down in to the darkness. The short lived turtle sighting was immediately followed by our first look at a reef shark, the White-Tipped Reef Shark. The second dive was full of excitement and was the talk of our group over lunch.
Having bagged two ocean dives we were still hungry for more. We made the easy decision to join in on the third and final dive. For the last dive of the day the max depth was 11 m and the visibility was still great. The last dive took place at Moore Reef in an area know as Twin Peaks. By this time, we were much more comfortable under the water. As we drifted along with our dive leader we were seeing more variations of coral, tropical fish, and we even stopped to play with a Pineapple Sea Cucumber. The highlights of the last dive were the GIant Clams. They are brightly colored and in a moments notice they can shut the door and hide from danger.
Our first diving experience was amazing. The sight of the Great Barrier Reef just can’t be fully described. We did take some video and snap some photos with the GoPro, unfortunately the color just doesn’t come through very well. Next time we might have to hire a camera with a flash. Still, the photos we did capture are a great reminder of what we saw.
After seeing one of the worlds greatest natural wonders up close, it was going to be hard to top. Not having the funds to more dives or hire a car to take us to the outer lakes and waterfalls, we looked for the free stuff. We spent the next few days window shopping in the town square, searching for deals at the Night Markets, relaxing by the pools, and enjoying a little gelato at night to beat the heat. The rains came off and on through out each day and we sought out refuge in air-conditioned cafes.
We did make a friend at one of the local Dijiridoo shops named Tony. He helped us learn how to play this unique sounding aboriginal instrument. We both succeeded in getting the Dijirdoo to make the right note, however we struggled with the circular breathing needed to continue making it play. In order to master this instrument you have to relax the face as well as control your cheek muscles with precision. The noise is made by sealing your lips with one end of the DIjiridoo and vibrating your lips. While playing you have to relax face to loosen the lips and then in one smooth motion use your cheeks to push the air out and inhale with your nose. Tony was patient as we butchered this art form. Needless to say it takes some practice to get this technique down.
Our final week in Australia was a proper send off. We had one last great adventure and plenty of relaxing fun by the pool. Australia is a great country and we only scratched the surface of what you can do here. We had so much fun seeing old friends, making new friends, and we thoroughly enjoyed the beach scene.
The part of this epic journey spent in english speaking countries is ending. We are now moving on to unfamiliar territory, Southeast Asia. We are excited and nervous at the same time. One thing is for sure, we welcome the new challenge and can’t wait to see what’s out there.
As with New Zealand we each have a few favorite experiences worth noting and a few lessons learned:
1. Visiting the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary where we cuddled a koala and fed kangaroos. Koalas are easily the cutest animals we have seen thus far.
2. Browsing Paddington Market in Sydney. All the crafts in the market must be made by the artist so nothing is mass produced.
3. Scuba diving of course…absolutely beautiful and peaceful.
4. Favorite Food: Mamak Malaysian Food in Sydney and Benny’s Hot Wok in Townsville.
1. Scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef. What an amazing sight!
2. Go to Sydney. This City is amazing and has so much to offer. The Sydney Opera House is brilliant, the beach scenes are awesome, and the night life is outstanding.
3. Cuddling the Koala has to be on this list. I didn’t expect them to have such piercing claws, but they were so cute I didn’t mind.
4. The Brisbane Roar game with our friends Kat and Rick. The most exciting 5 minutes of a game I have seen live. Still can’t believe it, 2 goals, a game winner, and a bench clearing event.
5. Favorite Food: Kangaroo grilled on the barbie and the Vegetarian Pizza on Hamilton Island, it had goat cheese on it so of course I loved it.
1. We learned a lot about trains this trip. Take shorter trips if you can and if you have an overnight, pony up for the sleeper car.
2. Lonely Planet rocks! The books are expensive for a reason and that's because they are full of useful information. Not everything is spot on, but they do give you an advantage of knowing a few inside tips when you are in unfamiliar territory.
3. Our camera is a work in progress and each day we discover a new setting. We should have spent a little more time getting to know the settings menu.
As always, check out more pictures here: The End of Oz
Next stop, Singapore!
McKenna & Scott