Life has gotten a lot more exciting than jetlag and sweat patches now. Within days of Annie’s arrival we’d snorkelled in the Great Barrier Reef and road tripped to the oldest rainforest in the world. I could get used to this Australia thing.
We spent a marginally stressful day on Monday traipsing around to get the best price for all of our planned trips. We (I) got very grumpy with travel agents telling us that whatever we’d been looking at with other companies was rubbish (a very irritating sales tactic). However, happily we were quickly accosted by the manager of all the local Greyhound shops, where we eventually booked our trips to the Reef, the Whitsundays and Fraser Island. I was quite rude to him at first – but in fairness he didn’t have his work uniform on, so it looked for all the world like a stranger was arbitrarily slating the leaflets we were clutching.
He was from Bradford, along with probably about 50% of people we’ve met so far in Australia (the rest are from Germany). We were soon sold on the fact that he could get us posher, more expensive versions of trips we’d looked elsewhere, but knock off $75 to make them the same price overall.
The next day we were finally off for our first real day out of the trip so far: snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef. In the morning we found our way to our boat, which was largely filled with old people and families (and a group of Spanish boys who quickly laid claim to the majority of available sunbathing cushions). We did our first bit of tentative sunbathing on the bow of the boat – slathered in factor 50, of course.
The Reef was absolutely beautiful, as anticipated. There was a smaller boat shuttling people out to the reef from where our cruiser was anchored, and naturally we were the first in line to jump aboard.
You might not think that I would be especially excited to get snorkelling – I really am quite scared of fish. The hype had definitely got to me though, so even I was eager to get in the water. We put on our snorkels and flippers (and yet more sun cream), waddled awkwardly over to the water and set off swimming. Within twenty feet we were in amongst the coral, with scores of different colours and species of fish flitting about below us. I was very content as long as I was floating on the surface of the water with the wildlife a safe couple of metres below.
We spent a good hour or so happily flitting around, lost in the world below the water. I did have a small breakdown every time I had to come up to adjust my mask, which kept filling with water (what if a fish touched me when my legs were dangling down?!), but I soldiered on. Annie had a very stressful tendency to keep saying ‘ooh!’ and pointing at things behind me, which sent me into palpitations, but the worst that we encountered was a fish with more curiosity than was necessary. I can certainly say that a fish with its face less than two centimetres from yours can give you quite a fright when you plunge your head under water.
By the end of the day we had achieved our main goal of seeing a turtle, as well as spotting a sting ray chilling out on the bottom of the sand on the way back to shore.
That night we decided that it was probably time that we checked out the Cairns nightlife. Since we’ve arrived pretty much everyone we’ve spoken to has referenced drinking, going out or being hungover, and up until now we’d just nodded and smiled nervously.
Thankfully there are a lot of places in Cairns geared towards getting backpackers drunk, so we managed a whole night out for free because we are so stingy (or savvy). We went to the resident party hostel for free pizza and “Bogun Bingo”, got some free jugs of cider and whiled away the time remarking on how similar the hostel was to the strip in Kavos, as the people up at the front proceeded to down pints, take off items of clothing and generally make a tit of themselves.
It was all right for a laugh, but we were glad to move on.
We went to a club called the Woolshed which was actually really fun, got some more free drinks and then caused general confusion by doing what has come to be known as ‘the Harry Adair dance’ in sync in the middle of the dance floor. We’re not in Durham any more.
We called it a night fairly early because we had to get up early the next day: we’d arranged to rent a car for a couple of days in order to explore the Daintree Rainforest, Cape Tribulation and the Atherton Tablelands. All these names sounded very impressive and exciting to us but to be quite honest none of us had much of a clue what they were, nor what you were supposed to do when you visited them.
It turned out to be the best couple of days we’ve had so far.
It cost $130 to rent a car from a man at All Day Car Rentals, who spoke as though someone had left the volume on a bit too loud. Even with the extra $20 per day to decrease our excess payout, plus petrol, we saved around $100 compared to the cost of doing tours. This budgeting lark is well easy.
Our excitement at having our own car probably heightened our enjoyment of the experience – Phea was beside herself even at the opportunity to make use of her AUX cable. Though the left hand speaker was broken, causing Annie mild deafness in her right ear, the car was easy to drive and got us safely all the way around the Tablelands, to Port Douglas for the night, and through the Daintree to Cape Tribulation and back.
Admittedly there were some slightly hairy moments on the first day. Queensland decided to show its true tropical colours and rain torrentially in fits and starts for most of the day. Not fun for driving, nor for sightseeing. But in true British style, we donned our raincoats and trudged around, with mud-splattered legs and goosebumps. Luckily it brightened up in the afternoon, and we successfully(ish) managed to take some pictures in the Millaa Millaa falls (where they filmed the famous Herbal Essences advert – a very important cultural landmark).
Reasonably pleased with the outcome of our day, we then drove back to Port Douglas in encroaching darkness, and by the time we got to the one tricky section of road it was pitch black. The road seemed to have been designed to imitate a helter skelter. The situation was not helped by the frequent yellow warning signs, indicating that there were cassowaries crossing in the local area. None of us much fancy meeting a cassowary on a normal day, let alone driving down a rollercoaster road in the depths of night (7pm).
However, we made it to Port Douglas unscathed, despite a nail-biting moment where the car skidded on a patch of sitting water. And the next day was sunny!
The Daintree rainforest road was just one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever driven on. It’s just one road, carved straight through the oldest rainforest on the planet. Tropical foliage encloses it from either side, and the sunlight filters through onto the route, illuminating it. We had the best day driving along, stopping off at viewing points and singing along to Phea’s car playlist badly. We made it to Cape Tribulation – where the rainforest meets the reef – in good time, and had lunch just off the beach.
Once we made it safely back to Cairns, and took the car back (successfully retrieving the $700 credit card deposit, phew) we were absolutely made up with how our first few days had panned out. We have to keep reminding ourselves that we’ve only just started this trip: it’s exciting to realise that there is so much more fun to come.
We’re now in Mission Beach, just south of Cairns, so I’ll be posting again fairly soon with a catch up of all that happens here and beyond. As a little teaser, so far here we have watched the set up of a beach wedding, got some more free drinks, and made friends with some rafting guides, so it should be a fun few days!