Visiting The Great Barrier Reef | Queensland, Australia
Hey you - welcome back to my travel blog! This is the second post in my Australia series, if you haven't read the first one - it's all about Sydney and what to do there if you don't really know where to start.
This post is a pretty special one as it's all about one of my all time favourite memories, and a crazy cool tick off the bucketlist. I remember learning about the Great Barrier Reef in geography class and to me the thought of going there just seemed like something unreal and out of reach. As we were travelling 24 hours across the globe anyway, we decided to make the most of our trip and head up to Queensland to spend Valentine's Day snorkeling on the reef. Needless to say it was EPIC and a big step up from our last years pizza date. Scroll down for lots of photos & video!
We hopped on a plane from Sydney to Cairns (which took about 3 hours - Australia is huuuuge!) but we didn't stay in Cairns. Tip #1 - don't stay in Cairns. Even though most tour companies are based there and it's probably cheaper, it's not the nicest of places, and every local we spoke to said to stay out of there (I'm sugarcoating it - Australians really love cursing :D ). We rented a car & drove to stay in Port Douglas. Even though it's only an hour away, it took us about 2 because the drive itself is GORGEOUS - it takes you right along the ocean with a lot of scenic stops and no traffic. There's just something so beautiful about being in a car with your loved one, driving on an empty road on the other side of the world, not knowing what's waiting around the corner.
AGAIN - as I mentioned in my previous post - be super cautious of jellies, crocodiles, sharks, snakes, spiders - all those great creatures. Don't go running around naked in the rainforest (though it might seem like a great idea, if you're anything like me); unless you're super prepared. We didn't go swimming anywhere in Queensland (besides the reef), but if we were to, we'd make sure it was within a stinger net enclosure and lifeguards around. Also, it's good to be cautious when walking around even in towns, especially at night time - probably one of the freakiest things I've ever experienced was walking home from dinner in Port Douglas and being surrounded by these crazy loud noises of bats flying around (I've never seen bats so big in my life), wild turkeys and other birds running around the bush, and a possum just nibbling away on something right by our house. Another tip - don't park your sparkly clean rental car under trees overnight. We parked ours right under a big tree that seemed to be the hot spot for all the bats in town that night, and boy did Jon struggle trying to get all that bat poop off the car before returning it.
If staying in an AirBnb, make sure to check it has air conditioning. It's a must-have if heading up to what felt like the armpit (aka the most humid place) of Earth. We stayed in a really beautiful one - check it out here. And wherever you go, remembed to pack a bottle of water. And I mean a big one!
Now the fun part - swimming with Nemo! There are a lot of companies that can take you out to the reef. We don't dive so went with a snorkeling experience, and based on reviews we chose Wavelength tours which honestly exceeded all my expectations. 10/10. The boat was not too big, and there were about 30 of us. It was a full day with 3 whole hours in the water on 3 different sites, with snacks and captivating talks from the on-board marine biologists in between. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life, I couldn't recommend this trip enough. I also loved how conscious these people were about the environment and the footprint we leave on the planet's ecosystems - they even had reef-friendly sunscreen on board! To quote the main tour guide & marine biologist, "if there's one thing you can do to help the environment, it's eating less meat and cutting down on animal products", and it was so powerful to hear this right after seeing how many parts of the reef have been "bleached" (or - just dead) due to the ocean temperature rising.
Enough with the lecture - on to the fishies! We saw so many beautiful sights, the colours of the reef and the fish are stunning. We saw some clownfish (aka Nemo), a super relaxed giant turtle, some very big clams and parrotfish which were my favourite! When your head is underwater, you can hear these little crunching noises all around - those are actually parrot fish nibbling on the coral. (They then poop out white beach sand - just fyi.) The whole experience was so peaceful and unreal, floating around with these stunning creatures in warm tropical waters. If you can do it, DO IT. It will make you feel more connected to this planet.
I made a short video from the GoPro clips we shot while snorkeling (a proper one of our whole trip coming at the end of the month!). We were very excited to be there and didn't care so much for the filming so it's short and sweet!
The awesome thing about flying up north is that there's so many natural wonders to see around there. When in Cairns or Port Douglas or wherever you decide to go - you've got the reef on one side, and the Daintree Rainforest on the other. We didn't have time to go up to Cape Tribulation which is meant to be a nice place to visit and do all the rainforest walks, but we did get to see the rainforest at Mossman Gorge - a crystal clear freshwater swimming hole. It was actually recommended to us by our Uber driver in Sydney, and he said that it was the best swim of his life - so we were excited to test it out ourselves!
You pay a small entrance fee and you can choose to either hike to the gorge or take a shuttle. We didn't have time for the hike so we took the shuttle - but even when you get to the end you still get a nice walk through the forest down to the gorge. Lots of beautiful trees and plants, and lots of turkeys running around. You go down some steps and there it is - Mossman Gorge. It was even better than what I imagined when our taxi driver was telling us about the "clearest freshwater he's ever seen". The water really was cool, crystal clear, filled with tons of curious fish just hanging around the edge of the water waiting for some food. I stood there knee-deep for a good 10 minutes just looking at all the beautiful fish swimming around me. The water is quite cold with a strong current, and it gets deep really quick; there's also lots of big rocks all around and underwater so you have to be careful if swimming. I only did a little swim from one rock to another and then back to the safety (and the cute fish) but if you're a really confident swimmer you can swim all the way up the current and climb some big rocks to see the gorge in its full glory with the rainforest around.
This was our last stop before heading to the airport to go back south (well, we also went to the carwash to get all that batpoop off) . We absolutely loved our time in Queensland and can't wait to go back and drive around more but we made the most of the 2 (ish) days we had there so I hope there's some tips in here that are helpful for you fellow adventurers.
Next up - our roadtrip from Brisbane to Sydney!