Adventures of Jacqui and Paul
For our next stop it was back up to the tropical heat and hospitality of Cairns. The place isn't much to look at, but it's primary draw is it's proximity to the Great Barrier Reef. Our hostel was a funky little place called Calypso which had a really friendly, chilled out atmosphere and incredibly helpful staff. The food wasn't half bad either. Anyway, our first day there was fairly uneventful as all we did was explore the town. Well, when I say we explored the town what I actually mean is we made it as far as the shopping centre where Jacqui spent several hours going into every single shop the place had to offer. After a while we escaped from there and walked down to the lagoon, which was put there due to Cairns' amazing weather but lack of a decent beach. What they have can best be described as a mud plain which eventually meets the sea. Apparently the area used to be full of mangroves which were cleared for no real reason at all. It was around this time that we realised we'd left our camera's memory card in Sydney. However, being the mature adults we are, we didn't let it get to us, nor did we spend the next hour arguing over whose fault it was or what we would do if no one had handed it in. Luckily they had, but the fact remains that two out of two memory cards have failed us in some way so far. Not a good statistic. On our second day we went on a day trip to Cape Tribulation, which is where Captain Cook's ship ran aground on a reef just off the coast, hence the name. Our driverguide was called Ben and he was another top bloke who still managed to keep up the enthusiasm even though there were only four people doing his tour (there were others who had paid, but were too drunk to get up. Wasters). He drove us along a beautiful coastal road where we had unbroken beach to our right for miles. We then stopped off at a wildlife sanctuary where we saw all sorts of weird things with horns where there should be ears and that hop when they should run. The weirdest one was the Cassowary, which is Australia's national animal and also incredibly endangered. There were also Koalas, which Jacqui used our dwindling money reserves to hold (his name was Gumnuts apparently, and it fit him perfectly), and loads of Kangaroos and Wallabies which you were allowed to feed. To round off their collection they had crocodiles, tree kangaroos (they do actually exist and are the most ridiculous animals I've ever seen) and all sorts of flyers. After that we drove to a forest where Ben told us all about the various plants in Australia that could kill us, including the "stinging plant". Apparently this plant injects poisonous shards into you and it is among the most painful things that can happen to a person, worse than jellyfish stings (or so he claimed). Later on he showed us one of these and it didn't look like much, but it was surrounded by a fence and had warning signs everywhere so they obviously take it very seriously. After this enlightening experience, we went croc hunting on the daintree river and got to see four or five wild crocodiles lazing about as well as a couple of tree pythons. Eventually we made it to Cape Tribulation beach, and even though it had clouded over by then the place was still impressive. We made a start on one of the boardwalks through the forest but didn't make it far as we'd only been given an hour to explore before the bus came to take us back to Cairns. The next day was one of the best days we've had so far out of anywhere we've been. We went on a smallish sailboat over to the barrier reef, specifically a place called Green Island, and the day was perfect: no cloud, not too hot, calm seas and only 20ish people on the boat with us. The crew were all really nice and gave us tea and muffins when we boarded (always a plus in my book). On the way over we saw a few whales waving their tails about in the distance, and even though they weren't particularly close it was still an incredible sight as we'd never seen anything like that before. Once we'd anchored off of Green Island we suited up for our dive, which I was a little nervous about as we'd told the instructor we'd done it in Malaysia, and from that moment on she'd treated us like professionals. Then, once we were in the water and floating about, she told us that she'd let us swim about on our own for a bit rather than guide us herself. Anyway, almost as soon as we submerged we saw a pretty big reef shark, far bigger than the ones we saw in Langkawi, and apparently it's quite rare to see them in that location. We then went deeper, down to the reef and saw all sorts of stuff like giant clams, anemones and all sorts of coral and fish. I think we both agree that the best things to see are the clown fish, and they never get boring no matter how common they are. Anyway, our instructor let us go as she'd promised and I immediately realised I couldn't actually swim down, and she tried to explain it to me in a series of weird underwater hand gestures and squealing through her breathing apparatus. I'm not sure if I managed it in the end or if I just sank, but eventually we were swimming along just above the reef and taking in the spectacle. It was definitely one of the best things I've ever done and well worth the extra money. We spent the rest of the day snorkeling or lazing on the beach at Green Island, then on the way back the crew unfurled the sails and we travelled most of the way back without using the engine. They brought us round champagne and cake and it was all very civilised indeed. Our diving instructor congratulated us on our diving performance and told us to think about getting certified, even though I was convinced I'd made a complete onion of myself. All in all it was an absolutely fantastic day and I don't know how anything is going to top it, I think we were both still smiling hours after we'd left the boat. Anyway, next up on our "Oz Experience" is Mission Beach where, hopefully, we're going to try our hands at a bit of white water rafting oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooh...