Thursday, September 23, 2010

Coral Reef Resorting in Cairns- My final stop in Australia

It's about time I finish up with this trip! For some reason, in my mind, I though my Cairns review would be the shortest and quickest. I have no idea why, maybe because it was supposed to be the more laid back portion of the trip, but going over my journals, I realized just how much there is to do around there once you include all the day trips and such. So I'm very sorry, but this will be another wordy post, conciseness is not my forte, but I'll do my best!

We took a Qantas flight again, I've already given them the thumbs up, and this one simply reaffirmed that, so let's move on to our resort/ hotel. We reserved an apartment about 40 minutes from downtown Cairns in an area called Palm Cove. The apartment was really nice, fully furnished, air conditioned, and spacious, plus had a balcony so we could get some fresh air with breakfast. Kitchens mean you can do your own cooking for much of the trip, which I always prefer, and it saves a ton of money. Especially with such a large group, and considering 2 members of said group are myself and my teenaged brother....well, much food is consumed. Our apartment was just a short and scenic walk to the beach. There's even a good chance you'll run into some wallabies or kangaroos on the way! Along the coast there are all the fancy 5 star hotels and a few restaurants (standard Australia prices apply) so there was nothing too great, but we did stop at a place called Coffee Haven a few times for our coffee fixes and decent lunch sandwiches for around $10 each. Our resort had a fitness center, tennis courts, and a small gym. My brother and dad were able to play tennis for a pretty reasonable fee. I tested out the gym my last day there but it's not very well equipped and I almost broke my foot on a stationary bike most likely from the 1980's. I saw they offered fitness classes for extra charge, but I didn't try them. I did step into the room though, and they sort of smell. Ick. Bike rentals are also an option, but, of course, that will cost extra. The lap pool would have been nice had it been summer. 

Yeah, did I mention that already? As much as I enjoyed it, this is most definitely a summer destination. I know we would have been able to see and do a lot more if we had gone around December, not July.

They keep the streets super dark at night, which is kind of scary if you're used to the city, but you're really in one of the safest places ever, so we took full advantage of the stargazing. The stars look like you’re looking at those professional space images. Amazing! They are so much brighter than I’ve ever seen before. The moon one night was also interesting, it was one of those crescent moons but instead of sideways like we have them here in the northern hemisphere, it was a crescent on the bottom like a smile. Awww!
The beach itself was a little chilly. Ok really chilly, I spent a lot of time wrapped up in a towel while reading, or enjoying walks and experimenting with freezing my feet in the waves. Also, though it's not an exclusively Australian experience, with all the barefoot running hype, and also since I had not run in forever and ever, I took a short barefoot jog on the beach. I loved it! It was so grounding to feel the sand between my toes and have that extra challenge from the instability of the sand. I ended up with some calluses, but the endorphin rush was wonderful. 

Our first afternoon we made a quick drive over to Trinity Beach just a few km's from our resort and it also happens to be on the way to Cole's, the grocery store nearby. The beach is nice but essentially the same as where we were with different restaurants and fewer hotels. Cole's is a large supermarket, pretty standard as far as they go, but I did notice that Australia as a whole doesn't have the variety we have here. But I did sort of fall in love with Wheatabix minis with berries cereal and am sad I didn't bring any home. 

Everyone but my mom and I took a day trip to Chillagoe. It's basically the outback, and 3 hours away by car over some not so driveable areas. I know I probably seem like a party pooper not going, but I needed a break from family and was not really into 3 hours of carsickness to see giant termite mounds. And my brother said it was not worth it. Maybe none of us are extreme adventurers.  I went into Cairns city with my mom. It was very easy to get to from our resort. Buses run between all the resorts and small beaches to the downtown and make stops at all the main tourist attractions, too. It took about 40 minutes from Palm Cove. The city is a cute beach town much like others, full of beach tourist shops, cafe’s, gelato, markets, etc. In other words, a lot of fun!  

The city is located around the Marina and the Lagoon, which was dried up when we went due to the draught they're having. It looked like a big mud basin but generally it’s supposed to be a big open area of water next to the Marina. 
Next to lagoon is huge public swimming area. It's a shallow salt water pool and was filled with people splashing around,  laying out, having picnics, and just hanging out. I was particularly fascinated by how many different languages I heard among the crowd. It seems people come from all over.The park around it is really nice too and has some quick food places and picnic tables. They also hold free events like concerts, and fitness classes outside. It's very much like Discovery Green here in Houston plus the pool (Houston developers, are you reading??)  These cities are so well planned and developed, and as I mentioned, they have a level of safety and security unheard of in the rest of the world.
My mom and I ate lunch at the Lily Pad Cafe. I have a mixed review for this place. It was really nice on the inside. Definitely a hippy veggie type place. The food was really good, and portions are massive, meaning I should have stopped eating way before I did :X.  The only problem with it was they took over an hour and a half!! It was ridiculous. We ended up complaining a couple of times and I think they just forgot to put our order in. We also stopped by the mall at the train station. It was a mall.  

Fresh taffy machine

Of course we thought a day trip to coral reef would be essential, but this will really only be worth it in summer, and do a lot of research on what company you use. We spent $139 per person plus $16 for the pickup in the van. I already knew I’d probably be too cold to get in the water but I was still excited for a day on a nice island. Unfortunately, the whole thing seemed really unorganized. I think all the programs are about the same, some more expensive, some cheaper, but Australians seem to be very laid back about things. This is good in some ways, but things like this trip just drive me crazy. We had to be out in front of the hotel waiting for our pickup at 6:55 am. No big deal for me, I can handle waking up early. But then we spent over an hour and a half picking up other people who were late, stopping at convenience stores looking for a disposable camera because one couple had forgotten theirs, and then we had to pick up our tour guide, and she was late! By that point I had turned into a cranky toddler from not having slept much and being in the car for too long. We boarded the boat at some hidden spot along the river, rather than a big marina like you'd expect. They take you on a  "Crocodile River Tour", meaning they basically need to get down the river anyways to get to open water. We saw one croc on the way back. This may just be because it's not the right season.  After getting out of the river it takes about 30 min of rocking on open water to get to the island where they stop the boat far off the island and you have to transfer to the glass bottom boat to be ferried to the island. But the “glass bottom” is about 2 feet wide and the rest is like you’re in this big metal safe where you can’t see out. I felt almost instantly seasick and claustrophobic so I went back up and sat with a few people on top of the boat. Perhaps I just have sensitive inner ears? 
The weather was beautiful and sunny the first hour and  a half. I tested the water but it was way too cold so I took pictures of seashells then laid around and read while my family snorkeled. They said they could see some coral and fish but our family friends said it wasn’t as bright as previous trips. I'd be interested in finding out if the reef and marine life change seasonally or if it's been damaged over time. 

Eventually they served lunch that I'm guessing was exciting for anyone that likes seafood with eyes.I had a ton of salad and fruit. By that time it had started to drizzle, and turned into a full on downpour for the rest of the afternoon so we huddled up under towels in the tent for the next 2 hours until the boat could take us back. My dad and brother ventured back out and my brother claimed that the water felt warmer, but his purple lips said otherwise. The trip back to shore was really choppy, so I was really happy when we made it back!

See the wetsuits? They don't help!
The following day we check out Port Douglas- We packed some lunches and drove to 4 mile beach, which is a little before the actual Port Douglas. It was beautiful but SOOO windy! As in painful sandblasting windy. After a while we took refuge among the trees at the park entrance, ate our lunch and drove to Port Douglas the city. I really liked it! It's smaller but a bit more ritzy than Cairns. The main street has a lot of places to see, drink coffee, shop, or read. We got ice cream and coffee, and later I also found a bookshop/ teahouse.  It has a nice beach too but  it was even windier than 4 mile beach and almost impossible to even walk near.  My dad and brother convinced us all to brave the wind to climb up to a lookout then we walked back through a nice neighborhood behind the main streets. 

Our final contribution to the Cairns tourism industry was taking the Skyrail to Kuranda Village. The skyrail is the longest I've ever been on, taking you on a 45 minute ride over the rainforest. It has two stops with hikes. The second one takes to to the lookout over Barron Falls. Kuranda village is pretty, but mostly pricey markets and cafe's. We ate at a cool restaurant with a lot of sweet potato based entrees. I can't contain my love for the orange! I also found some candy and taffy stores.Also, if you go to the market at the bottom of the hill at the very end of the main street, it’s practically empty and has better prices. To return to Cairns, you take an old train through the mountains that takes you by the river and falls as it tells you the history of the railway. 

And that concludes my trip to Australia! I hope you've all enjoyed cyber traveling with me :) 
Next up, I'm very excited to tell you all about a special trip I took last week, which included visiting some very special people. (Hint** Apples are more than just one of my favorite fruits) 


Donatti said...

Beautiful memories...
Summer just flew!

Maggie @ Say Yes to Salad said...

I found that when we were in HI there were a lot of things that were way overpriced and we would get our hopes up and be disappointed. We ended up doing what you did and just taking advantage of the place we were staying and local fun things after we figured that out.

I definitely want to do that skyrail! Sounds cool :)