After years of wanting to see the Great Barrier Reef I finally booked myself a 5 day trip over the Christmas break. In preparation of my upcoming solo hike across the USA I opted to go alone to give this whole “me time” a whirl.
Early Boxing day I jumped on a 6am flight to Cairns where I would pick up a car and drive just over an hour north to Port Douglas.
Picking up my prepaid hire car turned out to be harder than first thought since they needed to sight a credit card in case of any damages. Unfortunately for me my card had been cancelled just days before Christmas thanks to an unknown person who took it on a spending spree, so I was in a bit of a tough situation. Through using a mixture of my damsel in distress and hardcore negotiating skills I agreed to an additional $50 cost to reduce my excess to $500, and paid it upfront in cash to be sent back to me via cheque 5 weeks after the car is returned in pristine condition. With this behind me and the steering wheel in my hot little hands I was off.
First stop was Cape Tribulation. Aside from seeing the Great Barrier Reef, this was the second thing I was most excited about. Seeing where the rain forest meets the reef just seems like the most unique combination of environments, particularly for Australia. So after 3hrs driving and rocking out to a Spotify road trip playlist I arrived. Just 20mins after getting off the car ferry into the rain forest a cassowary crossed the road in front of me….a sighting I later found out some locals have waited years before seeing.
Parking at the Myall beach car park I had a short walk through forest, passed stinger (Jelly fish) and crocodile warning signs and then was spat out at the beach. And there it was…Cape Tribulation.
Once back in Port Douglas I checked into the back packers, walked around town, lost my belly ring, replaced my ring, had a drink at the pub and then ended up on the couch in the hostel living room chatting to Jason. As it turns out Jason was a local dive instructor for over 10years and was back visiting for the holidays, so making the most of a personal tour guide I wrote a list of the epic places to visit and got the goss for my dive the following day which happened to be on his old boat.
Immediately after boarding the Poseidon I made friends with the skipper as advised and was given the special treatment all day, treated with conversation and a one on one dive away from the group….thanks for the tip Jason!
The Reef lived up to my expectations, I found myself on the ocean floor next to a 16m wall of coral, and a clam the same size as me. Coral covered the sea floor like bushes would cover land. Vibrant fish swam past in schools, and in the distance I could make out a cyclone of barramundi as they swarmed around each other. Soft coral would retract when touched then slowly reappear from its hidy hole. Stripes, spots, oranges, yellows, blues, sunbeams, fish and plants all surround me while I explored underwater, floating, swimming and smiling in awe. This was exactly what I’d hoped for, the Great Barrier Reef full of life, in way I’ve never seen before.
With so much talk of coral bleaching and more damage to come from a new coal mine I felt rushed to see the beauty of the Reef before it’s gone forever, but really it’s in better condition than I expected. I was blown away, through two dives and a snorkel I’ve gotten to experience a whole new ecosystem.
Later that night I joined the skipper and a few other local dive instructors for drinks at the pub – such an insight to the life of working in a tourist driven outdoors job. It seems both as great and tiring as it sounds.
Getting up early I decided to check out one of Jason’s recommended spots, Mossman Gorge. He wasn’t wrong – the Gorge is stunning with freshwater flowing over boulders surrounded by rain forest. I note to bring swimmers next time and enjoy the 5km forest loop before returning to the shuttle run by the local aboriginal community.
By midday I’d made it to the marina to jump on a jet boat (The Sprinter) to Low Isle Leland for a snorkel. Stinger suites are provided to protect us from deadly jellyfish and the reef from harmful sun creams. I spent hours free diving to get close up shots of coral and fish, when suddenly I looked up and spotted a turtle. He was so chill and happy to have a human around, we swam together for ages while I floated next to, above and below him as he showed not a care in the world.
The day started early as I treated myself to a sunrise and then swept Four Mike Beach for bottle tops. Kicking myself I didn’t bring a plastic bag I picked up what I could, and then had my faith restored in people as a stranger took a handful of bottle tops to the bin for me after seeing me start to drop them.
After two days in the water I was dying to get back out to the Daintree Rainforest, so jumped in the car and did just that. It’s a shame beaches were littered with croc warnings and jelly fish, the humidity is through the roof and Myall Beach looked so tempting.
Stopping at every walking track I found I managed to get a taste of this habitat. Snakes slithered through swampy reeds, bush turkeys crossed my path and I came across some of the most amazing trees while fruit dropped all around me.
Back at the hostel I meet English roommate Joe who’s my age, travelling Australia for two months. The poor guy couldn’t catch a break in Port Douglas with all his pre-booked tours being cancelled left right and centre. We hit up the local pub and found deep philosophical discussions at the bottom of our many empty glasses.
Determined to make the most of my day I woke up early and decided to revisit Mossman Gorge with swimmers. Joe woke up as I left the room, so I invite him along for the spontaneous adventure. We finally enjoy a freshwater swim, and I displayed great patience while Joe removed every grain of dirt from his wet feet before putting on his shoes to walk through the rain forest.
For the 2hr drive back to Cairns I again blast the music as I drive down the coast, stopping occasionally to take in the last of the water views before I fly back home. The final hours of the holiday were spent sitting in a park in Cairns listening to a live performer while I melted into the tree I was learning on, soaking up the last of the warm Queensland weather.