The Great Barrier Reef (Cairns Australia)
We arrived in Cairns Australia for a short three days on Feb 26th, where we were pleasantly surprised with our online booked apartment. Those online bookings can be so deceiving, but this time it worked out. It was a quaint clean little place located just a kilometer from downtown Cairns, with a small but unique little swimming pool, complete with a nice covered barbeque area. The next day we woke up late and just walked to town along the boardwalk and browsed around the little tourist town stores. For the most part, the downtown is all about The Great Barrier Reef tourism and is teaming with restaurants, souvenir and camera shops, markets and loads of tour booking businesses.
The next day we took the city transit bus to Cairns most popular beach called Palm Cove beach. Australia bus transportation is second to none, but it is not cheap to use and the bus fare was a whopping $25 dollars return for the four of us to go a few kilometers! When we arrived at Palm Cove beach, we were a little disappointed. The beach sand was OK and the water was clean but dark in color. There was a sign right on the beach warning swimmers only swim in this bordered quarantined area they had or else you are at risk of jellyfish stings. Unbeknown to us, it was jellyfish season in northern Queensland Australia and hundreds of thousands of the little buggers float aimlessly along the top of the water and apparently give you quit a hurtful nasty sting administered by their long floating transparent tentacles. So we looked at the situation and as the Australians say….we, “ gave it a go” and swam in the protected area for a short while and left. On the way back, we stopped at an Opal factory outlet/museum and learned about the geology and history of Opal gems. We learned that 95% of the Wolds’s Opals are found and mined in Australia and therefore Australia is the cheapest place in the world to purchase them. So after the big tour and the sell job, we were persuaded to purchase a few opal pieces. The moral of the story here is……, “don’t stop at places that have tours and outlets combined, unless you are in the market for the product they sell!” The staff are often highly skilled sales people that have a way of making you feel guilty if you don’t by their product. Then it was back on our high priced transportation and we went to finish our downtown Cairns exploration. We walked around for a while and found this really cool market that had several really neat unique shops. Typical of market style retailers, the merchants were great presenters of their products and really spent time with you if you were interested. One guy owned a fabulous gem shop and he spent at least a half an hour with us educating us on precious gems. It was actually really interesting and entertaining, because the guy had tremendous passion for gems. He brought out and showed us this huge polished natural opal stone that had so many amazing colors in it. We should have asked him if we could take a picture of it, but it didn’t seem appropriate. Down the way from the gem store, was a lady in a booth that specialized in Iridology, which is the study of the eyes iris to identify your body ailments. The lady was well educated and had a lot of experience in the field. The kids were really interested, so we decided that one of us would “give it a go.” Of course, I was voted the guinea pig. First, a close-up picture of my eye was taken with a digital camera and then printed on 5X7 photo paper for examination. Next she placed a transparent chart over my eye photo and proceeded to read my results. Well, according to her, I am on my last leg! It wasn’t horrible news, but bad enough. She basically told me to change my entire diet immediately or face the consequences. Drew and Jessica were fascinated with it and Drew took all the information she could give him. We hope he puts the info to good use. Next, we wondered into a store that sold didgeridoos, which is a 6 foot long pipe like instrument that ancient Australian aboriginal instrument that has been popularized today. The guy working the store was really great, explaining the history of the instrument and proceeded to teach us how to play them. They are really cool, but just like any instrument, it takes a lot of practice before it sounds good, but when you hear someone who can really play it, it sounds fantastic! The trick is, to vibrate your lips at the top end and down the stock blowing with consistency like a trumpet, and if you do it right, a wonderful deep reverberating sound that is indescribable comes out the bottom. We really should have bought the CD that was playing in the store because it was a catchy mix of modern music accompanied by a didgeridoo. After that, we continued along the large market and looked at the other hundred or so unique stores. Most were selling unusual trinkets and souvenirs and Jessica bought Drew a really neat game for his twelfth birthday. Kids eh, they all love that those trashy gizmoish type junk stores. After shopping, we headed back to our apartment on foot and suddenly a torrential down pour of warm tropical rain came down. The rain did not slow us down from continuing on because it was so warm out and the rain was warm as well. We were obviously soaked to the bone when we reached the apartment, but I think we all really enjoyed it!
The next day was the BIG day where we climbed aboard a giant tour catamaran to go snorkeling at the world famous Great Barrier Reef. The trip to the reef took about an hour and the staff took full advantage of the sail time by attempting to up sell you with other more attractive activities. As I politely declined their offer, I noticed in the corner of my eye that Lyane had that funny calculating look in her eye, and I knew she was sold on one of the expensive activities. The next thing I knew I was standing in chest high rough water with a rubber suit on with heavy scuba diving gear strapped to my back and learning how to breathe through a scuba mouthpiece. Then about minutes later, the four of us were plunging 20 meters down onto the Australian ocean floor. It’s pretty freaky but obviously amazing, as hundreds of colorful fish suddenly appeared swirling all around us. We were fortunate to have an awesome professional diver named Mark all to ourselves. Mark lead the way and swam us to incredible coral reef and did a good job keeping us calm with our underwater artificial breathing apparatuses. It is really bizarre that they allow you to dive in the ocean so soon, without diving certification because it is not all that easily. The kids did amazingly well and took to the challenge like a fish to water (no pun intended), while Lyane and I were uncomfortable and panicky at times with our breathing. When the dive was finished and we all reached the surface, we could hardly get our mouthpieces out of our mouths and we all started shouting with excitement about what we had just seen and how amazing it was. We didn’t see anything extraordinarily unusual, but we did see a monster size grouper, a giant size clam (like on cartoons) and thousands of colorful fish and vibrant coral. On many dives sea turtles are spotted, but unfortunately we did not see one on our dive. We then surfaced and striped off our scuba gear and discussed further our amazing underwater adventure. Lyane was pretty shaky after the dive and I wasn’t too much better, however like good soldiers, we sucked it up and got in line for the ships buffet lunch. Then, no sooner did we finish lunch, a young staff member came up to us and explained that there had been a dive cancellation and asked us if we were interested in a second dive! Well the kids thought that was fantastic and were very excited, while Lyane and I were less enthusiastic and we contemplated passing on the offer. Well, to make a long story short, the next thing I knew, there we were, “again” standing in chest high rough water with heavy scuba gear strapped to our backs taking final instructions before the big plunge. This time the dive was somewhat easier, but longer because we skipped all the introductory safety part. The kids were totally comfortable and they immediately swam independently and freely around the reefs, while Lyane and I stayed close to our pro-diver Mark. Again, the dive was indescribable, and this time we brought an underwater HD camera to capture the experience. Drew and Jessica took turns with the camera and both looked like professional divers weaving through the coral. Amazing! On average, the dives last approximately 30 minutes including the safety procedure, but since we skipped that part, it was almost the full 30 minutes under the water. Unfortunately, after about 20 minutes I started having breathing problems, mostly caused by my moustache hair allowing water to leak under my mask, which in turn affected my breathing rhythm and caused me to have a couple slight panic attack. The guide tried to calm me, but after a few times, it was no use, and I gave him the cutthroat signal that I was struggling and we both swam to the surface. Man, what a terrible feeling. Fortunately, when we surfaced, I was very near the boat and it was and easy swim to the boats platform, which allowed Mark to quickly rejoin unguided Lyane, Jessica and Drew under the water. A few minutes later, they re-surfaced from the second dive and again we rejoiced about the adventures. This time Lyane and I really felt ill, but we again shook it off and celebrated with resilient kids. We did manage to squeeze in a little snorkeling as well, but it was very rough at sea that day and really it didn’t hold a candle to the diving experience. I can see now why snorkelers progress to diving and never return back to snorkeling. Believe it or not, when we returned to Cairns, we ended up going swimming in a really neat large public pool/ beach combination called Cairns Esplanade located in the heart of downtown Cairns. Again, the kids are truly amazing and apparently can’t get enough of the water. As for Lyane and I, I think we were plum water logged by the end of that day.
That night, we set the alarm for 6am the next morning to watch the Olympic gold metal hockey game between our beloved Team Canada and Team USA. We all cheered wildly when Crosby scored in OT and we will always remember that we were in Australia eating corn flakes when the red light came on and ended the game. We stayed tune and watched most of the incredible closing ceremonies while we packed our bags for our evening flight to Singapore.
Although the stay was short, Cairns or as the Ozzies pronounce it “Cans” will be forever remembered as one of our greatest experiences of our family lives.