Monday, 16 November 2015

It felt like I blinked and we'd suddenly arrived from Mission Beach to Cairns. After travelling for up to 17 hours at a time, 2 hours doesn't even remotely phase me anymore. It's actually nice to just have a couple of hours to yourself - to sit down and gather your thoughts. As we pulled into Cairns I felt in my natural habitat being in a city. It's a feeling I just don't get bored of, especially when you arrive to sunny blue skies and an abundance of palm trees. The lady on the phone told us it was a short five minute walk which was more like 15 (do Aussies always lie about timings?), but it meant we got to see the large beautiful streets of the city. When we finally reached Gilligan's we were so impressed by how big it was. It was a million miles away from Jackaroos in a vibrant city rather than a remote rainforest. It was huge and hotel-like as opposed to a small grubby hostel and we knew we'd made the right decision. We wanted our last few nights in Australia to be ones to remember and we felt as though Cairns had plenty of potential. The hotel was that big we couldn't even locate the reception at first, but it was spacious and air conned and dreamy. It also had its own gaming room, travel shop and wifi for 2 dollars a day. After the slowest check in due to absolutely no logical queuing system whatsoever, we had an hour to kill so went for a wander and found a little cafe to sit outside and have a drink.

At 2pm we headed back to the hostel to properly check in and I don't think the guy dealing with us has ever been bombarded with so many questions. The most important being when ladies night was as we saw a sign for free champagne. We were on the first floor and there was even lifts. Now if that's not a luxury then I don't know what is because I haven't seen a lift in 8 weeks. Every floor had its own kitchen and the first floor also had a TV and Internet room. We were in an 8 bed dorm with girls which was clean and modern and had its own walk in shower, toilet and balcony - by far the best hostel we've stayed in. It's hard to refer to it as a hostel because there was absolutely nothing hostel about it apart from the bunk beds. It was like a nice well-kept and friendly hotel and we were more than happy to spend our last 3 nights in Cairns there. With the afternoon at our leisure we headed down to the pool which was big with a pretty waterfall at the end surrounded by sunloungers which again was a luxury. Normally you dump your towel on the concrete and somehow still manage to fall asleep - it's an art. The pool was connected to the bar/restaurant and club by some steps and it was pretty packed. Kate likened it to Magaluf in terms of layout and people and to be honest it was pretty full of rowdy groups of boys who were either on holidays or stag dos. After a lazy afternoon in the sun Katie came to meet us as she was staying in a different hotel and we went for dinner. 

The chef's special was a mixed grill (steak, sausage, bacon, chips, salad and a glass of wine) for 10 dollars and it was AMAZING. One of the best meals I've had and we were entertained by a hen party who were smashed dancing to Michael Jackson. We went to get goon, get ready and pre drank until it was time for ladies night at 10. And do you know what ladies night means? 6 glasses of free champagne between 10-11. Although it was a bit of a lie because they forgot to mention that they mixed half orange juice with half champagne.  Not complaining though as I love Buck's Fizz and it's free alcohol. What's to complain about? There was some amazing live music going on outside while the club music inside was also decent, so we decided to flit between the 2. We met quite a few people we've seen on the way up and reunited with David, Tom, Lucas and Sophie again as well as Lizzie, Olly and Glenn. At 1am we were all wiped out and decided to head to bed. That was until me and Abs realised how hungry we were and went to the kitchen to make toast. We tried all 3 toasters - none of which were working - so resorted to marching down to reception to ask why nothing in the kitchen worked. Silly question.

Turned out electricity is turned off at 10pm every night after a very drunk guy put a knife in a toaster. Fair rule. The lovely receptionist on night duty called Marc could see how painfully hungry we were and nipped upstairs with us to pop the power on for 5 minutes just so we could resolve our chronic hunger. What a hun. We had a lovely little chat with him about his love life and Abby said she'd give him an excellent review on Trip Advisor for his hospitality. Having moved to Cairns for love, he now has the cutest little boy called Ryder who has a baby bun. Cutest thing ever. Both Ryder and his mum (the love died, by the way) moved to Brisbane so now Marc spends his time laughing at people like us who are so desperate for toast they walk to reception in their pyjamas, fights off the drunk and disorderly and says each night is both weird and wonderful. So thanks Marc for the toast, we have lots of time for people who aid our hunger. Although we did see the nipple that occupied the home screen on your phone. Naughty naughty, put it away.

Collapsing into bed at half 1, I was already sad that my alarm was going off at 6.30 for snorkelling. When we booked the Deep Sea Divers trip on the Great Barrier Reef we had absolutely no idea it was from 8am until 5pm until we rang the day before to reconfirm the booking. How the hell do you spend 9 hours in the water without shrivelling or sinking? Turns out it took 2 hours to get there, 2 hours to get back, stacks of paperwork, servings of lunch and general unnecessary faffing. That's how. I woke up far too tired and hungover to function and it was actually painful dragging myself out of bed and down the bunk stairs. I can't even remember the last time I had a lie in so don't be fooled because travelling isn't as glamorous as it seems sometimes. Of course it's amazing, but there are also a lot of early mornings, late nights and hangovers involved. Not ideal when you're spending all day on a boat in the sweltering heat. We went to get food and juice before committing ourselves to the boat but it turned out nowhere opens in Cairns until 8am. We instead had to settle for a muffin and a bottle of water before heading to the Marina to board. The queue was long (told you there was a lot of unnecessary faffing) and after filling in paperwork and paying 20 dollars each in reef tax, we got our stinger suits, masks, snorkels and flippers and took a seat inside while we waited for further instructions.

All we wanted to do was sleep and when one of the instructors asked us if we were excited because the Great Barrier Reef isn't called great for no reason, I think she probably experienced the most unenthusiastic response of her life. But that could have partly been down to the fact I saw some of the crew putting mustard in the ham lunch rolls. Not about that life. Nu uh. We then had a briefing with Fabio the senior dive instructor who gave us a quick health and safety talk. He was a pretty funny guy, the highlight advice being not to ride the turtles. He's from Brazil and has been a diving instructor for 25 years. He pleaded with us not to stand on the coral because it needs to be protected. And that's when his X Factor sob story came out to play. We didn't know how much the reef meant to him. If we didn't protect the reef, it would no longer be there. And what happens if it's no longer there? He'd b finished. He won't be able to be a diving instructor again and would be forced to go back into the army and be sent to war, where he's already been twice, and is the worst place to be. And what's worse is that in 10 years time he wouldn't be able to show his now 10 month old son his favourite place in the world - the Great Barrier Reef. To be honest it struck a nerve and I think I let out a little sob in my hungover state. 

Plea over with, Fabio then spoke about the naughty things in the sea. The most dangerous is coral shell which is absolutely tiny and rather cute looking. The problem? It can kill you in 10 seconds. That's the only problem I have with Australia - there are so many things that are deadly. Fabio recited a story from Costa Rica where he was leading a dive as normal. He spotted the coral shell and swam over to check everything was okay, ushering the rest of the divers over safely. One guy wanted to see it up close and without permission stuck his face in front of it to get a closer look. The sting instantly killed him and he died in Fabio's arms. During a dive, consideration has to be taken for all other participants which meant the dive had to be completed. Fabio spend the next 40 minutes carrying the guy before bringing him to the surface. Moral of the story? Don't go near things that can kill you - quite a simple one to follow. We were also told to be sensible as the quickest way to get to hospital in an emergency is by helicopter which costs an individual 5000 dollars. F that. If I'm paying 2 and a half grand I want to go further than Cairns hospital. Morbidness over we changed into our wet suits which were 3/4 instead of full length like the ones in the Whitsundays. We were also told that it wasn't jellyfish season for another 2 weeks despite the fact we were told we were in jellyfish season while in the Whitsundays. Conflicting information unless there are different peak seasons throughout Queensland. The wetsuits were the most difficult thing in the world to get into. It took me a solid few minutes as well as a few rather interesting hip movements to try and actually get it on properly without having a saggy crotch. We grabbed a noodle as all our energy was drained getting into the suits and started snorkelling. 

I don't exactly know what I imagined the Great Barrier Reef to be like but I kind of thought it would be surrounded by large rocks and something iconic and poignant. Nope - it's literally in the middle of the ocean. If someone blindfolded you and dropped you there, you'd have no way of telling where you were. Expectations aside we saw some pretty cool fish and I got to wear flippers again which always reminds me of my childhood. We saw a school of parrot fish, fish which looked like a paint palette had exploded on them and loads of others I wouldn't be able to name. Abby looked like a completely different person with the mask on. It completely disfigured her face and I couldn't stop laughing it was that childishly hilarious. We then found nemo fish in their special plant and Wally which is the big friendly infamous fish you hear about as soon as the words Great Barrier Reef are mentioned. I don't mean to sound rude but she was very ugly, but it's what on the inside that counts and I'm sure she's a little darling. All the instructors say she loves snorkelers and divers so it doesn't matter if her face is a little bit squished. The underwater photographer got some shots of us and me and Kate also had a little play around underwater snapping away at each other. A little bit later we hopped back on the boat for lunch which was a cold buffet including bread rolls, cold meats, salad, potato salad, cold pasta, hot soup and fruit. I prefer hot buffets to cold buffets but it was pretty nice and free which was even better. In the afternoon we sailed to the second location of the day and saw a helicopter land on a helipad to collect someone from a boat. It just goes to show that emergencies do happen and unfortunately at the cost of designer handbag. 

While everyone started snorkelling and diving again, we decided to sunbathe on the front of the boat which was actual bliss. There's something about being on a boat that I just love. I don't know whether it's because you're surrounded by the ocean, basking in the sun or just generally in the most relaxed state of mind but I don't think I'll ever tire of it. We headed back around half 2 getting back to Cairns at half 4. Our planned nap turned into sorting out boring things like washing until we headed down for dinner with Katie, David, Tom and Lucas at 6. I had the chicken and bacon burger with chips which was pretty good, although I did have food envy when I saw the lamb shank and chicken parmigiana. We had planned on going for a few drinks downstairs while listening to the live band but by the time we'd eaten and were back in the room we were all exhausted. The room was too loud to stream a film and the TV room had no guide or remote so we resorted to chilling in bed with our books. Wild Friday night, I know. After 5 hours sleep and an entire day on the reef we were all totally wiped out and desperately craved sleep. After a beaut 10 hour sleep we woke up, did some washing and sunbathed by the pool for the afternoon. The Great Barrier Reef was full on and after a lack of sleep an early night and a chilled day was in order. Late afternoon we decided to do a bit of shopping and visit the night markets. I picked up a few souvenir bits as well as an Oz vest which I really like. It'll always be a reminder of my time there and also works well as a pyjama top. Win win. 

We all went for dinner and got the backpacker meal of bangers and mash before the goon train began. Everyone was out for our last night in Oz and we had the funnest time. 2 4 1 drinks was a hit and it was so nice to spend our last night all together. We've had the best time spending the last 10 days of our East Coast trip with the group of friends we made and it was especially hard to say goodbye to Katie who has been our temporary fourth member. I'm a bit worried about how David will cope without his three mums but the 7 of us (Tom and Lucas too) have got a Whatsapp group so we'll all keep it touch. The people you meet along the way shape your trip and we were so lucky to find a great group. After collapsing into bed (not before pizza, obvs) we woke up at 9 the following morning to check out. We didn't need to be at the airport until 7pm so we chilled by the pool and spent our last day in Cairns topping up our tans. We also made a trip to the shopping mall (which had Christmas decorations up!!!) so Kate could buy some trousers as the forecast for New Zealand is rain which makes us even sadder to leave Oz. Sob. We went to Target which is literally the cheapest shop I've ever been to. One dollar phone case kinda cheap. And it made me wish I had a private jet so I could fly home the super cute homeware stuff. I also had to replenish my makeup bag a) because my foundation is on its last legs and b) because it's about 4 shades too pale for me now. New Zealand is going to be a different type of amazing and I'm excited to explore the country over the course of 3 weeks. I've had the most incredible 5 weeks in Oz and it's a place that'll always be special. But for the time being, bear with me while I start the next chapter of my adventure. 

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