Cairns For The Great Barrier Reef
We were headed for a Cairns travel break from Sydney to explore the Great Barrier Reef. We had planned to enjoy a couple of days in the sun and water before heading off to Bali. I knew I was in trouble when 2 days before leaving Sydney, my chest started to rattle. A chest cold was going to make our Cairns travel break a little less fun. But I hoped I could make the Great Barrier Reef before I gave in!
Flying Virgin Australia for both this domestic hop within Australia and then on our onward flight to Bali, provided a stark reminder of the cost of not packing light. Despite trying to check in multiple times online, we were unable to complete the check-in which meant we could not pre-pay for baggage. The on-site baggage fees were about double the online rate and it took some time with a supervisor before we were able to get this on-site premium waived. Flying light remains one of our tips for visiting Australia!
Snorkel and Scuba the Great Barrier Reef
The top thing on our “to do” list for our Cairns travel break was to visit the Great Barrier Reef (“GBR”). There are dozens of tours offered that visit the GBR. Most of them are on slow boats that go closer to shore or were booze cruises. We wanted to see the little less tourist thronged sites, so we picked a high speed boat tour with SilverSwift from Cairns. It was a 90 minute transit in and out but you got a much better sample of the GBR with 3 long stops as the boat was moved between different sites at Flynn Reef.
My chest cold was going to stop me from diving, but I was absolutely going to snorkel. David would do 2 dives and join me for one snorkel exploration. Whether you snorkel or scuba at the GBR, it is worth a trip to see the beautiful coral before it continues to degrade.
Local Activities For Our Cairns Travel Break
From our hotel, we could sit with a drink and look out over the bay to plan our Cairns travel break.
It was a good thing that our hotel had a pool as we would not be swimming in the ocean. The water in the bay was very shallow and muddy.
We were warned that the water hosted both jellyfish and sea water crocs. When the tide was out, we could see that the muddy bottom was alive with crabs.
We had laughed when we saw that the marina area boasted a man-made lagoon right beside the open water. We now knew exactly why the lagoon was needed!
If you wanted to be more active, you could always take a water aerobics class at the lagoon.
There is a long pathway along the water that goes from the downtown area for several miles. There is a walking path closer to the water and a running / biking path. If you want to exercise as you go, there are exercise stations located along the path.
If you head to the port, you can find people fishing and walk around to see all the boats at the large docks.
There are a number of tours available from Cairns and they all leave from this dock. If you want to snorkel or scuba, you have a lot of options. Cairns is a stop on some of the cruise lines and many of the tours are designed as day trips for the cruisers. So if you don’t want really busy tours, you may want to check the cruise ship schedules and stay away from the port on those days!
Cairns After Dark
Sitting at dinner looking out over the water, we were amazed to see the steady stream of birds rush along the water at sunset. We had seen this sunset migration before. In Rome it appears that the starlings swarm over the Vatican at sunset. In Vancouver, we stayed in a place that was right on the sunset migration path of the crows flying to Still Creek (part of Burnaby) to roost and we could almost grab the birds as they flocked past our AirBNB condo window.
But if we thought the bird migration was a strange phenomenon, it was nothing compared to when the bats leave their perch in the big tree in the central business district at sunset! If you have a thing about swarms of flying things, stay out of downtown until the sun has set and the flight out to sea is complete.
While the bats and birds may be one thing you look for after dark in Cairns, the other thing to do after dark on a Cairns travel break is to visit the Night Market. We quickly learned that this local market provided a variety of local Aussie food and goods, some touristy trash and the most amazing selection of churros! We found the night markets in Bali, Singapore and then Thailand to be great ways to really see local products at local prices!
A Visit to the Australian Health Care System
The weather was great for the day we picked to go to the GBR but then quickly degraded to “showers”. While much of the rainy days were light misty showers, it could turn on a dime and be pouring down in solid sheets of rain. David braved the weather a few times to get supplies for us. While we still try to downsize our packing, we will not be leaving out our great travel rain ponchos!
I got to experience the Australian health care system up close with a walk-in clinic visit. It meant taking it easy for the remainder of our Cairns travel break to let the antibiotics kick in. A lower respiratory tract infection was hopefully handled with a little medicine. I was well past any contagious point but I was not sure my barking dog cough would be welcome on a plane or for entry to Bali. After all, being lazy and reading a book was a good vacation plan too!
The weather combined with me being sick quickly cancelled any other plans we had for our Cairns travel break. We had considered heading out to Green Island to snorkel with the turtles. David even thought he might try skydiving if he could go up on a clear day to see the GBR and land on the beach. Our hotel concierge strongly recommended a trip to the Daintree Rainforest as a more authentic tour. I had wanted to go to Kuranda to ride the scenic railroad one way and return via the cableway over the rainforest. We even thought we might travel as far as Port Douglas to see if there were real beaches there. But that would all now be for another trip.
Our Cairns travel break provided some down time before we pushed on to Bali. I am so glad we got to see snorkel and dive the GBR on this trip, if it was only a taste test. On our next trip, we would plan more time and maybe consider a live-aboard dive trip. Cairns itself held little appeal for a return visit but we might venture up the coast to Port Douglas.
Did you take a Cairns travel break? What adventures did you do from here? Would you recommend Port Douglas as a place to stay?
Don’t miss all the details about our snorkel and scuba trip … Explore the Great Barrier Reef!