When I arrived in Cairns, it was about 8am and already close to 30 degrees outside. I planned on staying with another host from airbnb.com but when I got to the place, things changed. I walked through the gate and a dirty little mutt came bounding toward me barking his face off, followed by some gypsy looking broad with grey hair, dirty clothes and a cigarette. She invited me into to the back yard and made me a cup of tea. She was SO friendly and I was trying my hardest not to be judgmental but I could not help but wonder what the hell was going on. This definitely was not the 26 year old professional dancer named Sophie that I was expecting. Turns out Sophie was in NYC and her drunk hillbilly aunt and uncles from New Zealand were housesitting with their kids and their dogs and multiple cases of beer and then I found out that professional dancer meant POLE dancer.... I was expecting ballet or something and was slightly shocked to see this ladies four year old daughter spinning and climbing Sophies practice pole while she watched and laughed with her husband. WTF. I was out the door in no time (told a little bullshit story that i FINALLY reached my friend, Erica, whos cell phone had run out of minutes and we couldn't connect, but since I found her, I was going to stay at her place) and because it was so last minute, I grabbed a hostel downtown and it turned out great. Had my own room so I couldn't complain... and I was safe from the hillbillies of New Zealand! And their pole dancing four year old!
My first day in Cairns I decided to go jump out of a plane. 14,000 feet in the air sounded like a good time. The bus picked me up at 6am and we headed out to Mission Beach for some of the best skydiving in the world. Well, according to the brochure anyways. Once we got out there, the sky was extremely cloudy so we were told we had to wait for a few hours and to be back by 11. I entertained myself by going to a tiny, local, organic restaurant and read my book over some eggs, tea and toast. I headed back to the office at 11 to be told we could go at 1:00. At 1:00 the first crew went out and about an hour later they came back disappointed that it was still too cloudy to jump. We all at that point decided to take a rain check and head back into Cairns to salvage part of our day. I wasn't too disappointed because I knew I'd get another opportunity... I was more pissed that I got out of bed at 5:30am! Cairns, by yourself, isn't too exciting. So that night I decided to take it easy, have some dinner and do some laundry.
The next day was the highlight of Cairns, a scuba diving trip! I got on the big cruise boat and he headed out to the outer reef of the great barrier. I had to take a little lesson before I could dive so we watched that and by the first stop, I was ready to go. We got all dressed in our gear (fins, wetsuit, oxygen tank and vest, goggles) and our guide led our group in. It was SO WEIRD the first time, I could hardly stand the first few minutes but before long I was cruising along LOVING IT. I saw sea turtles, black tip reef sharks, clown fish, angel fish, etc. The coral was so colourful, alive and beautiful. It was amazing. We had a brief lunch break and stop #2 and I went for a little snorkel and scratched my back and fingers on fire coral. Not a good time. We then went for one more dive and I saw even more different types of fish and checked out another site of the reef. I have definitely found a love for scuba.
When I got back to the hostel and got to my room, I found 2 shirtless German boys. Yes, this sounds alright, but they weren't too easy on the eyes and barely spoke English. And they were eating tuna out of a can in our small, enclosed bedroom. Awesome. I decided to check out the local theatre and watched the movie "Crazy, Stupid Love" which was a cute little story to finish up the night with. I walked back to the hostel and off to bed!
The next day I just hung around and did some shopping and wandered feeling homeless, as I checked out of the hostel and had to wait til midnight to catch the Greyhound to Airlie Beach. Once the day passed, I jumped on the bus and had a nice, long snooze and woke up in the morning at Airlie Beach. When I got off the bus I had to quickly check in at the Sailing Office and then get on a sail boat! The sailboat I was on was called the Wings 3 and it is a scuba tour type of boat. There was 26 of us, the oldest being 30, and we all went out on the 2 day/2 night tour of the Whitsunday Islands. Sexy Pete was our captain and Creepy Richie was the scuba guide and a girl named Amanda, from Missouri, was our housekeeper/chef. We each had a single bunk and it was quite a cozy trip.
The first day we got on, we went for a dive and had dinner, then hung out, had a few drinks and watched the sun set from the bow of the boat. When we got up in the morning, we had some breakfast before Pete brought us to the bottom of a hike leading to Whitehaven Beach (google this amazing place). After some photos and chilling g on the beach and trying to avoid about 60 sting rays circulating, we hiked back to the boat and enjoyed some lunch. We did some more diving where we didn't see anything too interesting, then dinner, games, chatting and then bed time in my little bunk.
In the morning, there was a little more diving and then we headed back to the small town of Airlie Beach. I luckily met some really rad girls from the States and Norway so we had lunch before everyone had to take off. I unfortunately didn't book my flights out of there in time so I was stuck in the small town til the next day. My Norwegian friend Siri and I hung out at the lagoon all day and then went for supper with our new english friends before she caught the bus out. My English buds Adam and Alice and I went out for a few drinks with some others from our sailing trip including our scuba guide, creepy Richie, who I pretty much had to push off of me 10 times a second. What a loser! Once I ditched the creeps I went to bed and looked forward to getting to Byron Bay. In the morning I caught a Quiksilver jet to Brisbane and then had to catch a shuttle to Byron. Pain in the ass but worth it.
Byron Bay was amazing and absolutely did not disappoint. I got into Byron at around 6 that evening and checked into my hostel. There was a couple staying in the room as well so we all went for a nice Greek dinner together, followed by tea and cheesecake. Diet starts ASAP! She was an Asian girl from Manhattan and he was from Holland. Interesting mix.... I went to bed early, as skydiving was bright and early in the morning.
The bus picked me up in the morning and we headed out to the skydiving site. We got into our gear and did a little briefing on how to jump tandem properly (tandem is when you jump with the guy attached to you like a backpack) The scariest part of the entire trip was the shitty, old, rickety plane that we took up! On the way to 14,000 feet, I looked down and seen a big kangaroo jumping beneath us, and then I looked out the other window and could see whales breeching in the bay. I was amazed already and I hadn't even done anything yet!
We were jumping in order, and as soon as the 2 ahead of us went, I had a few little butterflies but I KNEW it couldn't be as terrible as bungee jumping was. Next thing you know, we were up next. The photographer jumped out first and then my guide started rocking us and on three we just fell out of the plane.... Just like that we were free falling with amazing views of the bay and the ocean. We fell for about 1 minute straight before he pulled the parachute, then we glided around for about 4-5 minutes before we came to the landing. Landing was so fun... You slide in on your bum across the grass coming in pretty fast!! I saw my little kangaroo buddy again (loved him) and then headed into the shop to see my pictures. While I was in there I met three guys from Fort Mac but I forget their names. They knew a couple of my friends so it was pretty cool to talk to someone from back home. I got my cd of photos (pretty much 100 pics of me doing nothing cool but a huge smile across my face!). What an AWESOME experience!!! Not scary at all, honestly. Just an amazing time and I'm so happy I did it!
After the jump, I did a few km hike from town to the Byron Bay lighthouse, which is the most eastern point in Australia. I saw more sea turtles and whales from the lighthouse but had to escape early due to extreme white skin without SPF 40. I got back to my hostel, went shopping and booked a kayaking trip for the next morning. That night I went for dinner at a great Italian place and relaxed.
In the morning, my kayaking tour picked me up and we headed to the bay. I (thank God) got paired up with an instructor and we went out to hopefully catch a glimpse of some whales. We immediately seen a group of dolphins cruising by us which was just unbelievable. Seeing nature move in it's perfect, natural habitat never loses it's facade. Just minutes later, four humpback whales came up in front of us about 15 meters away. So surreal. They were huge but so graceful and peaceful. After our humpback encounter, we didn't see much else so we started to go back to shore where we cruised up onto the beach and enjoyed some tea and of course the Aussie favorite, Tim Tams!
After the kayaking, I decided to unwind and spent a couple hours at the spa getting a massage, facial and a haircut. Although this has been the greatest vacation I have ever been on, there definitely hasn't been much time to relax and I was starting to feel a bit burnt out from running wild for so long. The spa day was awesome.... Then I had a nice dinner and started reading my new book "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo".
In the morning I caught a Greyhound to Surfers Paradise but was really sad to say goodbye to Byron. It was an awesome town with tons of small local shops and among restaurants. I know I have compared lots of little towns on this trip to a Banff-type town, but this is Banff at the beach. So awesome!
Surfers Paradise/Gold Coast reminded me of Santa Cruz/Santa Monica. A gorgeous beach with a mini Times Square right behind! The beach was gorgeous and the sand was light and powdery and the skyscrapers touched the sky just meters behind. There is shopping all down the Esplanade with tons of fast food restaurants and loaded with surf shops like Quiksilver and Billabong. I spent some time on the beach, did some shopping and had lunch before meeting up with the American girls I met earlier on my scuba trip. They are studying abroad at the beautiful Bond University campus. I took a bus out to the university and Stormie met up with me and we went to her condo to relax for a bit and wait for the other girls to join us. Once Julie and Steph arrived, the girls cooked up an awesome meal and I supplied the wine and dessert! We hung out all night and had a great time and the fun didnt stop until 2am! Unfortunately for me, my airport shuttle was picking me up at 5am! It was a rough morning but before you knew it, Australia was growing further away out of the airplane window.
Australia is no doubt a beautiful, bountiful and purposeful country. They are a small but a proud, peace keeping country. They know what works for them, and they protect it. They are home to a a great number of amazing animal species and I love how protective they are of them, as well as their local vegetation. The people are friendly like Canadians and many of their expressions and general way of life is near identical to ours. Great vacation, but not necessarily a cultural experience as they have such similar lifestyles as us North Americans. And it is VERY expensive! Make sure you have your wallets full before you head over! Great country and I'm happy for so many awesome experiences while I was there!