- Auckland AKL – Brisbane International Airport
- Brisbane Domestic – Cairns Airport
So, this journey first started with a very uncomfy night on the airport floor! Tucked away in the doorway of the Forex, I attempted a few hours kip in preparation for the 4am check-in time. The flight across to Brisbane was relatively straight forward, although the large Maori gentlemen behind me was extremely nervous during some turbulence and quite vocal about it.
What was not so straightforward however, was the connecting flight to Cairns. I popped in to a cosmetics store to get some suncream and they overcharged me, for some reason putting through a $50 gift card. They didn’t know how to refund this which resulted in me missing the final boarding call and then having my name called over the speakers. I made the flight. I didn’t get the refund.
Arriving in Cairns to 32 degree heat, I immediately went to put on shorts, freshen up and clean my teeth before finding a kind taxi man to take me across to Gilligans hostel. Sadly, my start to Australia wasn’t going to be a good one as the driver filled me in on his depression and sad life. I tried to remain positive and encourage him to do so but was glad to be out that car 20 minutes later!
I checked in to my room and met two lovely girls also staying there- Fiona and Sophie. They had come up the East Coast and were just ending their travels before starting work in Australia. Whilst they freshened up from there campervan journey, I head off to the supermarket for food supplies and then to the post office to send home the winter clothes I no longer needed from New Zealand. $73 I paid to do that!!
When I got back, Sophie, Fiona and I decided to head out for a walk of Cairns. We wondered down the main street towards the Esplanade and lagoon and were pleasantly surprised by what we found. The lagoon is a giant man-made pool overlooking the sea because the sea isn’t safe to swim in (sharks and salt water crocs and jellyfish- no complaining from me that you can’t swim there!). Along the esplanade is various playgrounds, gym stations and other active areas.
We set up camp on the grass beside the lagoon for some late afternoon sun (finally!) and it wasn’t long before we heard the beat of some Latino music. Wondering what was going on, we looked up to see aqua-Zumba starting in the pool. Of course we head straight in! The activity was made all the better by the instructor; a very well-rounded guy, with enviable flamboyance, accompanied by 4 middle aged and unfit looking acquaintances and a little old Chinese lady in her swimming costume! It was hilarious, and actually got the muscles going. A thoroughly enjoyable 45 minutes!
After the sun had set, dinner had been eaten and showers taken, we set about chilling out for the evening as we all had early morning tours booked. The only guy in our room, Pepe, had returned from his day out and turned out to be on a break from his Masters course. He was fascinating to talk to, having also studied two Bachelors degrees, and knew plenty about my thesis topic which resulted in a very intellectual hour of conversation, certainly the most intellectual conversation I’ve had since travelling!
The next morning I had to be outside by 8am for my ‘On the Wallaby’ tour in to the wet tropical rainforest of the Tablelands, visiting Lake Eacham, Milla Milla waterfall and Dinner Falls. Although the tour was usually popular, there were only 9 people on the bus that day, all of whom were lovely (and in hindsight I’m so glad that it was a small group).
Our first stop was to the Cathedral Strangling Fig tree, or the tree which inspired the setting to movie ‘Avatar’. It’s easy to see the resemblance:
Laurence, our driver, referred to this tree as the “wow” tree as that was people’s reaction to it and that was definitely my reaction to it too! At 500 years old and over 100m tall, it hosts many other plants and houses snakes and other native animals.
Following the tree, we head to Lake Eacham. This was a freshwater lake developed from rainwater filling an old volcanic crater, reaching depths of 65m and 0 degrees at the bottom. At the top however, it was a really pleasant temperature and a lovely swim. There was a pontoon to dive and jump from, or sunbathe on, and a viewing spot for turtles. A lone freshwater crocodile even lived in the lake and I still went in!
Laurence, our lovely driver, made us some lunch of chicken rolls, salad, cheese, tuna etc. and we head on our merry way to become herbal essences models and Peter Andre’s “mysterious girl”, simultaneously.
Milla Milla waterfall was the setting for both these things and a truly beautiful spot in the rainforest. After a quick swim, we got our sass on with hair flicking enough to give us whiplash and showing our breasts to the waterfall gods. It was such a fun hour and a good chance to get to know the rest of the group.
From Milla Milla, and fuelled up on some chocolate, we arrived at the Dinner Falls part of the forest. We walked a short way to a giant crater, created from natural gas explosions, some 50m below us and apparently with a further 70m depth of water. It was pretty impressive but a tad scary to look over at!
The walk took us on to the falls. Although not as impressive as Milla Milla, they were secluded, peaceful and stunning, with a few hidden caves too. I jumped straight in and head towards the caves behind one water fall. It was near impossible to swim against the force of the forward current and under the water fall but I did manage, and then got stuck trying to get in to the cave! It was actually quite a scary place to be as they water was so strong.
Once we’d thoroughly exhausted our efforts swimming, we piled back on the bus and set off for the ‘On the Wallaby’ lodge where we could grab fruit, biscuits, tea and coffee, before heading back to Cairns. I highly recommend the tour. Although not super party-party as some others are (I needed the alcohol rest anyway), it was intimate, the guide knew his stuff and the atmosphere was great.
When I got back, I watched Fiona and Sophie’s hilarious skydive videos and met the new girl in our room, Flavia from Switzerland. We had a quick dinner and shower and got ready for my first night out in Australia.
I’d been in contact with Chief Dan from my kiwi family who was also in Cairns, but another hostel that was much quieter. I invited him over to ours and so Kiwi and Aussie could unite which made me super happy! After some pre-drinks and my first taste of Goon (5l boxed cheap wine), of which I was pleasantly surprised at its drinkability, we went down to Gilligans Bar.
The main room had a DJ playing and was ticketed so our drinks were limited to the back terrace but my God was this terrace huge. It was like being in a giant club in Ibiza! There was a live band playing some up-tempo remixes of classic songs, lots of dancing and a fair few free drinks.
We all had early mornings yet again and so set personal curfews around 1am, after an obligatory McDonald’s trip. I said goodbye to Dan and worked out we could catch up in Airlie Beach again, and then went to bed.
My 6.30am wake up call was not too welcoming the next morning, but needs must and I packed up my bag, had some breakfast and set off on the sweaty walk to the Grehound Terminal. My first Australian bus journey was to Airlie Beach and would take 11hours so I psyched myself up and hopped on board.
So, 39 days in to ‘life from a bag’ and I’m in Australia, I’m hot and sweaty, but so far, I’m all good in the hood!