Finally leaving Asia, I began the next chapter of my journey with an ridicuously long flight to Darwin then connecting to Cairns. Interestingly we had exactly the same plane and crew that took us from Singapore to Darwin as we did from Darwin to Cairns but for some unknown reason they decided that we had to take everything from the plane and wait in an airport lounge in Darwin for 5 hours before reboarding to exactly the same seat. The oddity of Australian travel did not stop there. First you had to present your boarding pass after you got off the plane at passport control. If you had left it on the plane then you had to go back and get it. If you lost it, you were screwed. They then also checked whether you had sneaked off some plane food, and made you throw it away. Now seriously- who would want to steal plane food and why can't it be brought into Australia? Have they realised the mutant properties of it?? Odd.
Passport control actually did not take long and I was soon cleared to take on the might of Oz. My Australian geography is not great, and therefore I was unprepared for the beauty of Cairns. Towering mountains lined the horizon, with palm trees and coast infront. Stunning. With blue skies and a warm breeze it was idyllic. Cairns has also made the most of this by developing a walkway along the sea front. When the tide is out there is a huge mud plane, creating an ecosystem for herons and other creatures. Fascinating to watch.
Coinciding with my arrival, 2 US naval ships had docked before taking part in sea maneouvers of the coast line. This meant 8000 US sailors and marines had leave for several days, turning Cairns into a carnival. The atmosphere was all about the partying and the sailors having their wicked way on land. I therefore saw a side of Cairns that was perhaps unrealistic.
My first night there saw my first tasting of Goon- cheap boxed wine. For $12 I got a 4 litre box!! Paint stripper in reality. The history of goon, apparently, comes from the Aboriginals. Once a goon bag is empty, it can be blown up into a pillow (excellent for sleeping). The Aboriginal word for pillow is goon. However, it is evil wine and designed not for taste but getting drunk. Sure enough that did occur. I met some people at my hostel, including an Italian guy. We were talking about casinos and decided it would be a great idea to go there. He had $25 for the slot machines and I had $25 for roulette. I walked away with $125!!! Our celebrations continued, including deciding to stay at a Holiday Inn as opposed to our hostel. The effects of goon. Maddness.
I managed to avoid most of the US sailors oddly enough, who were not doing their country justice. Or perhaps they were just stereotypical. Those I did meet were crude and just unpleasant. However, my room mates did seem to quite like them and several walks of shame occurred!!
When not drinking goon and having to recover, I went out to see the stunning Great Barrier Reef. We went on a days sailing trip out the reef, With good winds of over 25 knots we had an awesome sail over turquoise water and startling blue skies. We anchored near some reef and were able to snorkel over this stunning marine live. It was teeming with all sorts of fish and huge coral. As I can't dive, I opted to go on a semi-sub, which sits just below the water so you can see the reef without getting wet. Unfortunately due to the wind the water was not that clear but it was still an amazing experience. The sail back was fantastic with the boat on a stong tilt. It was impossible to stand with out sliding down, but somehow the crew still managed to serve food. Good skill.
Seeing the reef was a highlight of Cairns. It is hard to describe how stunning it is. Coupled with gorgeous weather, it was bliss. To cap it all off, the sailors were around for 4th July. In honour Cairns put on fireworks so they could celebrate. It was a spectacular display and finshed off my day. The Amercians can do somethings right!!!!
My first impressions of Oz was that it was really nice to be back in a country where English was the main language and the culture was recognisable. I had not expected it to be so American though, and this was not even because of the sailors. The architectural style, the customer service standard and even the style of the car license plates, are more American than English. I guess because of the English historical influence I thought it would be like England. I was totally unprepared for it to feel like I was in the States again. Certainly interesting.