After Queenstown, New Zealand (read about our time in New Zealand here: part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4), we flew to Auckland and stayed at a hotel near the Auckland Airport (at one of the many kind of dingy options available). The next day, we had two flights to get to Cairns: Auckland to Brisbane then Brisbane to Cairns.
The flight to Brisbane was possibly one of the scariest flights of my life. Part of the problem is that I've developed a fear of flying. I don't know why - I used to be a great flyer. But, now, I go right into thinking about the many ways I could die when there is turbulence.
The flight was going well until the descent. There was some turbulence, so I looked out the window to the night sky. The light at the end of the wing was flashing, which is normal. But, I started to see flashing at irregular intervals. I said to R, "It's lightning." A couple of minutes went by and the lightning grew brighter, the turbulence worse and the plane got quiet. At one point, there was a bright flash at the end of the wing and the plane jolted abruptly to one side. R stayed cool while I was losing it.
Eventually, the turbulence subsided and we landed. Relief.
After a calmer flight from Brisbane to Cairns, we made our way to our hostel, The Northern Greenhouse Hostel. Good place, with a pool, movie night and free breakfast (that's not particularly good, with the exception of pancake day).
During our first day, we scoped out day trip options. Popular day trips include Port Douglas and the Daintree Rainforest, Kuranda and, the biggest draw, the Great Barrier Reef. Also, Cairns apparently has a good nightlife. But, if you're looking for a beach, be aware that there isn't one in Cairns.
Instead, there's a water park area.
It's a good place to lay out in the sun (Cairns is HOT), but it can be fairly crowded.
The next day, we took a day trip to Kuranda, a village with many shops 25km northwest of Cairns. Although you can drive there, most people with take the train (Kuranda Scenic Railway) and/or skyrail (Kuranda Rainforest Cableway). We took the train there and skyrail back.
Aside from a tonne of shops, that will sell you anything you could want from boomerangs to candy, many will visit the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, Kuranda Koala Gardens and Birdworld Kuranda.
We chose to visit the Kuranda Koala Gardens because I'm a sucker for koalas. This is one of the few places where you can actually hold a koala (for an additional fee, of course). I forked out the additional $17 -- how many times do you get to hold a koala?
This was followed by my Veruca Salt impression: I want a koala! Now!
The Koala Garden also had crocodiles...
a kangaroo/wallaby enclosure where you can hand-feed the animals.
and a snake enclosure.
Afterwards, we walked around, bought some souvenirs and made our way back to Cairns via the Skyrail.
Personally, I much preferred the skyrail, which offers a couple of stops where you can get out and take pictures, to the train. Between the heat and rocking of the train, I was counting down the minutes until our arrival.
Although I was very happy to have visited the Koala Gardens, we probably should have gotten a multipass since visiting the stores/stands can be done relatively quickly (unless you're a shopper).
The clear highlight of our time in Cairns was our trip to the Great Barrier Reef. We booked a trip with Reef Experience because they seemed to have good reviews and offered scuba diving and two meals (breakfast and lunch).
We really lucked out with weather because when we visited, it had only just stopped raining in the past couple of weeks after almost a year of rain.
After some onboard instructions, we went scuba diving in smaller groups. In the picture, below, we're practicing breathing. All of this went fine until I went further under water, and started practicing taking the mouthpiece out and replacing it. I couldn't remember how to eliminate water in my mouth. Slight panic, followed by repetition of instructions (don't forget to pay attention during the short training). I was going to quit, but a determined instructor pushed me to keep going and I held onto to his hand (for dear life) while exploring the reef.
Personally, I much preferred snorkelling. It was amazing to swim with the fish, while seeing the coral up close. Eventually, it was time to return to the boat, but I could have kept snorkelling for hours.
This may or may not be R with a noodle...I'm sworn to secrecy about that.
There were many varieties of fish. Some people saw a reef shark. We also hung out with a curious and playful Maori Wrasse.
All around - highly recommend it!
The next day, we visited Rusty's Market. Here are some pictures of some interesting fruit that I would never find in my local market (with the exception of the hot peppers).
We also visited the Botanical Gardens, which are free. I alternated between being fascinated by the vegetation and freaked out by the massive spiders. Here are some shots of the interesting trees/flowers.