This is it! It may have taken me over five months, but I have officially travelled up the east coast of Australia, all the way from Melbourne to Cairns. And the Cairns area holds some of the most amazing things you can do around Australia. What first comes to mind is the Great Barrier Reef, of course, and we will get to that. First, I visited the Atherton Tablelands on one of the very few tours I actually booked on this trip. Captain Matty’s Barefoot Tours is surprisingly (in theory) rated as the #1 Thing to Do in the Cairns area on Tripadvisor, and it has nothing to do with the ocean. This full one-day trip (and I mean full day, it’s around a 12 hours from pickup to drop-off) takes you from Cairns off into the Tablelands for a day of exploring, swimming, and general merriment. It’s sort of just rocks and trees and waterfalls, but culminates into what feels like a lot more.
A couple of days of rest, miniature adventures with couchsurfing host, and wandering Cairns central was followed with the big guns: a two day diving trip on the Great Barrier Reef. I was heading out with Rum Runner, a relatively small sailboat that holds a maximum of sixteen guests (we had eleven) and four crew members. The small group size was a bonus, as was the excellent crew. The ride to the outer reef was rather choppy, and despite early assurances from everyone that they did not get seasick, seven people ended up feeding the fish (myself luckily not included). After a couple of hours of this, we finally made it to calmer waters above the reef, and moored for our first dive.
There were only six certified divers on the boat, myself included. The rest were snorkeling, doing their Open Water course, or doing introductory dives. I was a bit nervous, as I was by far the freshest diver of the group. When diving, you are always paired with a “buddy” for safety purposes, who you are meant to stick with for the duration of the dive. My buddy was a Brit who had her advanced diving course, and close to 70 dives. Hoping my ears would hold up and not hold the group up too much, we geared up, took the big step off of the boat, and slowly descended below the surface of the water.
There aren’t really words to describe what it feels like to dive on this reef. I did five dives in the two days, foregoing one to give my ears a bit of a break. At one point, while stopping to admire a beautiful section of coral and the furious activity of the fish who lived there, I realized that what was in front of me, that what I was seeing at that moment, was so much more than what it looked like. You can see this reef from space. The astronomical scale of this is impossible to grasp, especially when each square meter of reef is captivating enough to stare at for hours. The longer you look, the more you see, and I found I was just as fascinated with the coral and the plants as I was with the marine animals. One of my favourite spots that we visited was called The Pinnacles and, as its name implies, has towers of coral upwards of 25 meters high. As you swim slowly, nearly effortlessly, over, around, and through these formations of life, it definitely causes pause. This is such an incredible part of the world and to have been there in such a direct way was truly astounding. Once comfortable in the water, diving is truly one of the most calming things I have done. It reminds me of an amped up yoga practice, in a way. After returning to the surface, a bit of the adrenalin kicks in, and you get the thrill of what you have just done. A snack, a rest on the boat in the sun, repeat.