Alicia: So we've come to the end of our Australian Adventure, here in Cairns, Northern Queensland. Been here the past two weeks now and have seen some of our highlights from our whole trip so far.
Arrived into Cairns on the Sunday night having failed to find a decent rest stop or cheap campsite for our last night in Freddo, and have stayed in the Nomads Serpent hostel - the same one we'll stay in for our entire Cairns visit since so not had to carry our stuff around too much (though we've had to change rooms three times!) Cairns was supposed to be our 'sorting ourselves out' time before we head to Asia, but also where Mike had booked his eagerly awaited SSI Open Water Dive Course on the Great Barrier Reef.
The week started off with us dropping Freddo back to the Jucy Shop. We definitely made an entrance as we turned in to what we thought was a driveway/ car park but wasn't, so we continued on the 'road' round to the car park only to have a screaming Jucy guy run out at us banging on the windows telling us that we were just driving on the pavement and would've been fined had we been caught. Whoops :P (Mike: I actually argued with him, I was completely in the wrong, but didn't like him hitting our Freddo) We handed over Freddo with no other issues and even saw old Bertha there too as she'd eventually made it to Cairns after getting her windscreen fixed :) Finally free of the car we could wander around town to our hearts content. Cairns is a relatively small city, with lots of seaside shops on the Esplanade like any beach town, and heaps of hostels and travel agents trying to sell you their Reef and East Coast trips, plus lots and lots of gift shops so we could pick up a few last minute things for peeps at home :)
Though Mike didn't start his dive course until Thursday so we pretty much spent the first few days just checking out Cairns, swimming in the hostel's pool and getting bargains from the Night Market. Loved that place. The hostel had a few organised stuff on too so we took our chances at Killer Pool which I sucked at dreadfully though Mike managed a few more rounds than me (Rules are: group of people start off with 3 lives. Each take a turn to pot any ball for the first round. Second round you try with your non dominant hand, and third the person before you has to line the shot up and you use their hand. If you managed to survive til the fourth round, you had to spin around on the spot for 10 secs then shoot) and another night was Bingo Night. Brilliant. Felt so old but actually was a good laugh and got some free Internet, a bandana which Mike's acquired for his luscious locks and a Curly Wurly bar (Mike: which I didn't acquire) :D not a bad haul at all.
Mike spent two days in the pool for his course so I decided to look around at reef day trips. After the Whitsundays snorkelling I was way more nervous about going again, but knew I still wanted to do it as I couldn't leave without finding Nemo! In the end I settled for a rather expensive one :S that had some guided tours and a glass bottom boat if I chickened out. All was booked for Saturday when Mike was leaving too.
Saturday soon came around and we said farewell at 6.30am as I needed to be at the Marina for 7 and Mike was being picked up then too. First time we'd been apart really in 6 months which was gonna be weird but knew we'd both got a few great days ahead of us. Got to the marina just in time as I had to run down the Esplanade (my time keeping is still iffy even after all this time) and we set off to Upolo Reef with a coffee and danish in hand. Always a good sign :P Ocean Freedom was a pretty big boat with about 30 or so tourists on board but I managed meet a few really nice people and the views were amazing - you could make out the coral reefs from the boat and it was everywhere. First time in the water I was dead nervous so I joined the snorkel tour and held onto the rubber ring. Was great because I got to see Angel fish, Bat fish, swordfish, a stingray and even a Giant Clam amongst other things, and the coral was amazingly beautiful - way better than the reef at the Whitsundays. After about 10 mins we headed back in, then I jumped on the Glass Bottom boat tour which was rubbish because the water was so choppy so visibility was poor. So I decided to get back in the water. The snorkel tours had already gone off so decided to brave it alone and it was amazing. Managed to go out a lot further than before and saw heaps more fish and the coral was really shallow in places. A leopard shark was swimming around on the sea bed, but still no Nemo. On the way back to the boat I had the most surreal moment when I turned to my right and staring back at me about 1 or 2 feet away was a Black-Tipped Reef Shark. Thankfully I knew these guys were harmless but after a brief 'Hello Mr Shark' I legged it back to the boat sharpish. The food was amazing on the boat and I truly stuffed myself like any traveller on a budget then we set off for Moreton Cay - a little sand island that only appears for about 3 hours a day because of the tides - where we took the glass bottom boat out to, then snorkelled back to the main boat. The water was incredibly shallow, and in parts I just had to float over the coral as it felt like I might catch the coral on my fins. I managed to tag along to one of the tours and got to see a sea cucumber (weird sea slug thing. Looked gross) and finally NEMO! Was so excited. Though I was was later told there were loads of clownfish there, I only saw one because my goggles had fogged up (I forgot to spit in them! Grr!) so I'm still sticking to 'I found THE Nemo' :P Was and exhausting day in all but probably one of the best of my life I can truly say :)
Next day I hung out at the huge outdoor pool on the Esplanade, the Lagoon. Swam, read, caught up on emails and rang family as I'd been really homesick. Turns out 6 months is a long time :S After being caught with my second 30 cents McDonalds ice cream, I met up with some people from the boat and had a great night in a Irish Pub with actual pints! The hangover was awful but turns out one of the guys I was with works on the X Factor in Oz and told me some gossip about Mel B. I now have my 6 degrees of separation from the Spice Girls AND Eddie Murphy which I'm so pleased about :D
Monday I spent a lush chilled out day in the botanical gardens with the birds and the flowers (and one massive snake thankfully caged as he was massive :S) then waited at the hostel for Mike to come back. Within two minutes of his entrance Mike exclaimed we have bed bugs, so a palaver ensued which included having to pack all our stuff up and move to another room, a bed bug check by the manager and then money for the laundry to wash our stuff for our own peace of mind. Was hilarious. But all was good as we'd wanted to change rooms anyways though Mike had been told by separate people on the boat the bites in his legs (Mike: many, many bites all over my legs) were of the bed bug variety. No harm done :)
Next few days pretty much were spent buying gifts, posting gifts, sorting out accommodation in Hong Kong, and generally waiting to start our next adventure. Also enjoying 2 massive 'makes economic sense' cakes, the small ones were so expensive that you could get a (much) bigger one for just a bit more money - we had a 'feeds 6-10' custard filled pecan danish over 2 nights. Followed a few days later by an even more massive pavlova, again over only 2 nights (Mike: which followed my Kangeroo steaks I cooked for myself, good meal. Alicia said she couldn't eat skippy though, I say, good job that boy following him around didn't find out how tasty he was. He wouldn't have lasted long and then all those stupid kids would have remained at the bottom of wells).
Australia was lovely - a nice break from the craziness of South America and our road trip definitely made it for us.
My (Alicia's) personal highlights:
1. Snorkelling The Great Barrier Reef
2. Hugging my lush Koala friends
3. Fraser Island
4. Sydney (all of it. What a beautiful city) :)
Mike: the things I'll miss about Australia are, my watch, my awesome Bondi T-shirt and a sock. All lost in the void that is Oz.
Seriously though, despite the people being incredibly unhelpful, Australia's country side is awesome, the cities are fantastic and there is always something to do. If you have the money you can really go nuts with some a whole bunch of great experiences. The diving is a definite highlight for me. But we did so much in Australia that'll I'll have fond memories of (4X4 driving in Fraser, canoeing through the storm, goon with the hyper girls in Sydney, seeing a show at the Opera house, to name but a few)