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The trip is over, so I will not be updating this blog anymore. Thanks to anyone who followed our trip, it was amazing! If you have any questions about the places we visited do not hesitate to ask me, even if you are someone I do not know who has stumbled across this site.

I have created a spinoff for our next move, living in Germany: arounddeutschland.wordpress.com

Traveling Buddha #42 (Mossman Gorge)

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Mossman Gorge

Considering our late night, Rach and I did pretty well for ourselves this morning. We were out of the hostel and walking to the car rental place by 9:30 and managed to get all of our stuff out of our hostel by 10:00, just at checkout. We drove to the other hostel, checked into our room there which was available, fortunately, and moved all of our stuff. Bryn and Agnes jumped into the car with us, then we drove to another hostel where Giada, whom Agnes had befriended in Cairns earlier, also joined us.

It was about an hour and a half drive to Mossman Gorge, which is a town next to a rainforest bushwalking area by the same name. It was a fun drive, and I couldn’t help but take note of the fact that we had a Swede (Agnes), a Canadian (Bryn), an Italian (Giada), and two Americans in the car. It’s cool how this kind of traveling causes you to end up in such “international” situations so often.

There is another town called Port Douglas near Mossman Gorge which Massimo told us has a great lookout and good options for lunch. When we reached Port Douglas, it was cloudy and a little rainy, so we decided to stop there on the way back and go to Mossman Gorge first. Rainforest walking is one of the few outdoors activities that is just as nice to do in the sun as in the rain.

Our walk around Mossman Gorge was a total of probably about 4 kilometers, but we spent a little more than two hours doing this. Part of it was because there were a lot of little plaques to read, and part of that time was spent watching Rach and Agnes swim in the creek. Since it had been raining so much the last couple of days, the creek at Mossman Gorge had a pretty strong current. Rach and Agnes kept trying to swim to a rock in the middle of the creek a bit upstream from the swimming spot, but couldn’t quite make it. The other 3 of us just watched and laughed at them.

It was fun to see the tropical rainforest a bit, after walking through a lot of temperate rainforest further south and in New Zealand. I have to admit it didn’t feel that different to walk through, but I suspect comparing pictures side by side would look somewhat different.

It rained throughout the entire walk, and by the time we had returned to Port Douglas, it was pouring. We stopped to have lunch since we were all starving, then decided since we were so close to the lookout that we’d go see what we could see. A couple minutes of driving later, we were surrounded by grey and moved on without even exiting the car.

We got back into Cairns at around 17:30 and dropped Giada off at her hostel. She agreed to come meet us later for dinner, which Rach was planning a sushi party at our hostel. We returned to our hostel, and relaxed for a bit in our room before I fell asleep and Rach went to prepare different ingredients for the upcoming sushi party dinner.

At 20:00, Rach woke me up to come down to the kitchen. I thought I had only been asleep for a few minutes, but she said she had been in the room half an hour before and I was dead to the world. Downstairs, Bryn and Agnes were sitting a table covered with plates containing a large spread of potential sushi ingredients: teriyaki chicken, smoked salmon, sweet chili squid, teriyaki tofu, red peppers, chili peppers, cucumber, zucchini, sweet potato, avocado, and I’m sure I missed something else as well. There were also a bunch of sheets of nori and a large bowl of sushi rice.

Giada arrived a few minutes after I came down, and a few minutes later Max and Chris, who we had dinner with two nights prior, showed up as well. Rach started us off showing us how to mash the rice onto a piece of nori, lay the ingredients in the middle of the roll, then how to roll it properly and cut it into sushi pieces. After that, everyone went at their own pace, taking half-sheets of nori and making their own rolls, until we had exhausted most of the ingredients. It was a fun and delicious two hours; kind of like a Japanese make-your-own-pizza night.

Things began to wind down at around 23:00. For about half an hour, on and off, the other 5 looked through the different food items Rach and I still had and divided them up amongst themselves, since we no longer had any use for them. Chris also gave me a book she has about the psychology of cats, in reference to a conversation we had had at dinner a couple nights ago about how some people don’t understand how to behave around cats. I’m excited to read it during some down time at home in Chicago.

Max and Chris left at about 23:30, and Giada left a few minutes later. By midnight, we had everything cleaned up and Bryn, Agnes, Rachel and I went up to Rachel’s and my room to hang out a little longer. Bryn couldn’t stay awake that long and went to bed at around 12:15. We ended up talking with Agnes until 1:30 or so, when we eventually made her go to bed since she was going on a reef tour tomorrow and it would suck to be too tired for that trip. She doesn’t like saying goodbye, but we made it easier because we are planning to meet up again in Europe in a few months anyway.

Our flight out of Cairns was scheduled for 6:00 the following morning, and we weren’t settled and theoretically ready for bed until 2:00. We still needed to pack up, drive the car 15 minutes to the airport and return it, and get checked in, so we were planning to leave the hostel at about 4:15. We toyed with staying up the whole night, but chose to take a nap from about 2:30 to 3:45 instead.

So went our last night of the trip. I guess that’s somewhat debatable, since we won’t make it all the way home for another 30 hours so there will be another night, but that will be spent on a plane over the Pacific Ocean so I’m not counting it. We may be a bit sleep deprived heading into it, but we’ll just be sitting on airplanes trying to sleep anyway so who cares, it was well worth it. It was a great way to end the trip.

Great Barrier Reef

Rach and I were up and out of the hostel at about 8:00 this morning to be checked-in for our Great Barrier Reef cruise by 8:30. Throughout check-in and boarding, I think we were warned five times that the water will be rough and that we should probably buy some anti-motion sickness pills before departing in both directions.

We took their advice, mainly because once you get seasick it doesn’t really go away while you’re on the water, and it could ruin the entire day. The cruise left Cairns at 9:00 and bounced through the ocean for an hour and a half, arriving at the designated part of the reef at 10:30. This cruise takes passengers to a floating platform by the reef with a bunch of tables and a snorkeling area connected to it, and the boat just stays connected to this platform until 15:30, when it leaves to get passengers back to Cairns by 17:00.

On the platform, there are different reef-related activities to do. Rach signed up for scuba diving, and she had to meet to start that at about 11:15. I was not scuba diving, so I chose to hop on a glass-bottom boat tour leaving the platform at 11:00.

The glass-bottomed boat was nice, highlighting the many different types of coral on the reef. It’s weird, it looks kind of like someone threw a lot of sticks on top of some brains and then submerged their creation in water, except that all of these things are different colors and look sweet. The glass-bottomed boat tour didn’t come across many fish, though.

When I got back to the platform, I put on snorkeling gear and got in the water by the platform. I was snorkeling at the same time that Rach was under the water in the same area scuba diving, but neither of us saw the other one. The scuba/snorkeling area had a lot of similar coral to that I saw on the glass-bottomed boat, but there were a lot more fish to see as well.

The fish were generally unfazed by having people nearby, which was great because it made it easy to see all of them. They were quite a range of colors and sizes. Neither of us had any type of underwater camera so we don’t have our own pictures, but the cruise brings a photographer who takes pictures of fish and coral as well as people while they scuba and snorkel, so we bought a flash drive they make with pictures of Rachel scuba diving and some of the best underwater shots they have taken.

So, these pictures are sort of cheating since they aren’t actually ones we took or were even taken the day we were there, but it gives a sense of the kinds of things we saw.

One of the really fun things for the scubs divers is to try to find “Wally.” Wally is this huge blue fish who hangs around this part of the reef and is quite comfortable with people. If you walk around Cairns, you will see Wally on ads for reef tours all over town. Rach got to say hi to Wally while snorkeling and the photographer caught it, so this picture was the main motivation for us getting the flash drive.

It may look like Rachel’s freaking out/really excited by her eyes in that picture, but I eventually realized that is just her snorkeling face. She’s taking it all in.

I didn’t encounter Wally as closely as Rach did, but after lunch, Rach and I went into the snorkeling area together and Wally was around. He swam under us for a while and I got a good look at him. Massive fish.

At 15:30, we all got back on the boat, and the crew put Finding Nemo on the TVs. Rach mentioned that she saw clownfish while scuba diving. I’m glad she saw them, I didn’t see any of them snorkeling. In case you were curious what they actually look like, here’s another one of those stock photos on the flash drive:

Rach and I got into a small debate about where the dentist’s office could possibly be located to have the views of Sydney Harbor out his window that he does in the movie. We eventually agreed that his office must be sitting on a tiny non-existent island in the middle of the harbor, a bit northeast of Circular Quay.

After another hour and a half of jumping on and off the water, we were back in Cairns by 17:00. Neither Rach nor I got seasick, I’m guessing because of the pills we bought because we are both somewhat prone to motion sickness and there were other folks feeling it quite harshly around us.

We met up with Agnes at our hostel later and had a few drinks before going to the casino in town. Rach took $50 to the roulette table and lost it within four spins. She said the game must be broken because usually she chooses random numbers and then she wins money but that didn’t happen this time. Then she convinced me to play blackjack at a table, and I lost 5 straight hands burning through the other $50 we had decided we would use that night. In my defense, I drew numbers between 13-16 on the first pair on each of my 5 hands.

We were about to leave, but Rach wanted to try playing blackjack at a table, so I gave her my last $10 so she could play one game (it was a $10 minimum table). When she won her first game, she played again. After a few hands of her playing exactly the way I was telling her to over her shoulder, she won back the $50 I lost. I think the gambling lesson she might have learned from roulette got erased by blackjack. Oh well.

We got back to the hostel and in bed at around 2:00. Bryn got into Cairns late tonight and is staying in the same hostel as Agnes, so Rach and I are planning to move to that hostel tomorrow night for our last night. Tomorrow morning, we’re going to try to be up and out by 9:00, when we will rent a car, move hostels, then pick up Bryn and Agnes to drive up north and walk through some rainforest.

Cairns

Rachel and I both did not sleep well on the bus last night. I’m not really sure what it was, since the bus was perfectly fine climate-wise and we had seats near the front again so it wasn’t bumpy or anything, but for some reason neither of us could really get to sleep. When we arrived at 6:00 in Cairns, we were both hoping our hostel for tonight would have a room open right away so we could have a nap.

When we first reached the hostel at 6:30, it looked as if reception was not open. For a minute we couldn’t find a sign saying the hours, but just as we were figuring out what to do next, people came and unlocked the door; it opens at 6:30. Good timing.

Fortunately, the room was available now, so we got into our room and I would guess were asleep by 7:00.

We woke up at around 13:00, and I was just getting things together to go shower when a knock came at the door. A little confused, I opened it to find Agnes standing there. She explained that the front desk had told her which room we were staying in, then felt bad for waking us up, but I told her that we had actually just woken up on our own so it was good timing. Since Agnes doesn’t have a cell phone, we were just glad she found us.

We hung around our hostel for a bit after Rach and I each showered, then walked with Agnes around town for a bit since we were all starving. Rach and I settled on a place to eat, but Agnes said she’d meet us at her hostel since she had some food back there she should eat instead of having lunch out.

After lunch, we made our way over to Agnes’ hostel, which is along the water on the outskirts of the city center in Cairns. Cairns is only a city of 150,000 so the city center isn’t huge, but our hostels are a bit of a walk from each other. We talked about our respective plans for the next couple days and then decided that Rach and I would switch from our current hostel to the one Agnes is in for our last night so we could all hang out before we have to leave at 3:00 in the morning on that last night.

Agnes joined us for a walk back through town back to our hostel, and we sat with our feet in the pool for about an hour until Rachel’s phone got a call. Max and Christine, who we made on Kangaroo Island, live in Cairns and we made plans to get dinner at their favorite Thai restaurant in town. Agnes headed back to her hostel for the night, and we were picked up by Max and Christine to go to dinner.

Dinner was delicious, and during dinner, Max told us about different types of things we can do in the rainforest nearby. He offered to make us a little itinerary if we wanted to rent a car and go explore them on our own, since he is a tour guide here and knows all about the area. We will likely do that on Sunday, which is our last full day in Cairns, since we fly out Monday morning.

We got back to the hostel at around 21:30 and relaxed for a bit until bed. Tomorrow we are doing a cruise to the Great Barrier Reef, which has various reef exploring activities connected with it. Rach is going to scuba dive, but my claustrophobia doesn’t lend itself to scuba so I will only be snorkeling.

Traveling Buddha #41 (Hill Inlet Lookout, Whitsunday Islands)

Whitsundays

Our Whitsunday islands tour day began at about 9:15 when we reached the jetty where they check people in and eventually load the boats. We were outfitted with stingray suits, which are basically wetsuits but their main intention is to ensure jellyfish and stringrays don’t hurt you while snorkeling, then waited around for a bit as everyone else was being checked in.

At about 10:00, one of the tour guides asked everyone to come together for a minute so he could talk to us. He told us that the winds today were in excess of 30 knots, which meant that the ride will be very rough and there are only a few specific locations that can be accessed. There are two types of tours they normally do, one involving more snorkeling and one involving more beach time, but due to the weather both tours were going to do the same route, kind of combining the two.

In addition, he repeatedly cautioned that if you have back problems or are pregnant, they seriously don’t want you to go on the tour and they will give you a full refund, because it will be an incredibly bumpy trip. Also, when you combine the speed of the boat and the speed of the wind, you may have water hitting you in the face in excess of 100 kilometers per hour, so you had to be sure you were all right with this. Once he was done, we began loading onto the boats.

This picture was actually taken later in the day on Whitehaven Beach, but this gives a sense of what kind of boat we were riding on.

It’s a semi-inflatable motor boat. We left the harbor by Airlie at around 10:30 and to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t draw you a picture of where we went after that. I do know that we were moving pretty fast through choppy water for quite a while, everyone on the boat getting wet to varying degrees depending on where they were sitting. There were islands all around as we went, and our very entertaining Maori tour guide was pointing out the different islands and telling us little tidbits about them as we went.

Our first stop was a relatively calm area near one of the islands, where we stopped for an hour to snorkel above a coral reef. I only stayed in the water for about half an hour since the choppy water made it so visibility wasn’t great, and since all the tours had to follow the same route, it was quite crowded. It was still cool to see the coral up close and everything; I just didn’t need to stay in the whole hour. Rach stayed in the water a little longer.

Once we were all back in the boat, the guides told us that the waves we had gone through so far were “Stage 2” and “Stage 3” waves, which I would estimate were swells of a meter or 1.5 meters. Next, they said, we would be entering “Stage 5” waves, which were 3.5 to 4 meter swells. They offered rain jackets to whoever wanted them; eventually everyone was convinced to wear one.

Then we took off again, and almost instantly the necessity of the rain jackets became apparent. For a good 15 minutes of the ride, we could barely see where we were going because so much water was spraying our faces. It wasn’t so much the speed of the water as the amount that made it difficult. I kept trying to shake the water out of my eyes because I wanted to see what was ahead, since there were some huge swells where the boat would be almost sideways and I preferred to see it coming. It was a really fun ride. I said to Rach later that I think I ingested my daily intake of sodium during those 15 minutes.

The next stop was an island with a well-known lookout called the Hill Inlet lookout. It is a short walk from where the boats stop, but it was a very easy walk. The views of the islands in the distance, the water color, and Whitehaven Beach were awesome.

Back down to the boat, we then had a short trip around this island over to Whitehaven Beach, which you can see in the second picture. The part we actually went to is further in the distance rather than the large area of sand close up, but it connects.

Here, we had a buffet lunch on the beach that was really good and just hung out for about an hour. Some people chose to swim, but Rach and I were content to lay out and enjoy the sun and the views.

Finally, we got back into the boat and made the long trek back to Airlie. It was about an hour and a half of straight boat riding, back through the Stage 5 waves and then through the Stage 3 and Stage 2. We both really enjoyed the rough ride because neither of us got seasick, which we were a tad worried about.

We got back to the jetty in Airlie at about 16:30 and walked back towards town. We’ve noticed in Queensland that there often is not a lot of swimmable beach in places, I think because there may be too many jellyfish in the ocean to make it worthwhile. The solution towns and cities have is to build lagoons right along the water’s edge, basically swimming pools with some edges covered in sand, so people are able to at least go swimming by the ocean if they can’t go in. Airlie has a great lagoon, and we stopped by to swim for a bit and then use the shower there to rinse the dried salt and now chlorine off our bodies.

After our swim, we changed into comfy clothes in anticipation of our upcoming overnight bus ride, and headed back to the hostel. There, we hung around for a bit and had dinner, spending most of that time talking with a Swedish guy on a gap year before university named Kelle. We then headed over to the bus stop to catch the overnight to Cairns, feeling that our short stopover in Airlie was well worth our time.

We will wake up tomorrow morning in Cairns, which is our last stop on the trip!

Airlie Beach

We got into Airlie Beach at 9:15 this morning. The night was much more comfortable than the night from Sydney to Bryon Bay for two reasons. The obvious one is that the bus driver seemed more sane this time, leaving the temperature at a comfortable 24 or 23 deg C. The more subtle one is that Rach made sure to grab seats near the front of the bus, and this leads to less carsickness for both of us. Not that either of us got carsick enough to vomit last time, but it just made us more comfortable in general. Though it definitely was not the best night’s sleep we’ve ever had, it wasn’t the worst either.

Fortunately, the room at our hostel was unoccupied last night, so we were able to go right in even though it was only 9:30 when we found the hostel. We both took badly needed showers, then had breakfast in the courtyard.

The big thing to do around Airlie Beach is to see the Whitsunday Islands, which can only really be done on one of the many yachts or sailboats or jetskis or airplanes or whatever kind of tourism packages. There’s no real way to just go see them yourself, and it’s too far away to kayak. So, Rach and I walked down the main strip of town and stopped into a couple of travel agent types of places to try to book a tour for tomorrow, since it was already 11:30 and everything today would have already left.

We tried two travel agents who both called a bunch of places, but everything was booked for tomorrow at basically every place. Places had available on Friday, but we’d already be gone. It appears we should have booked at least a day ahead. The one possibility we could hang onto is that one of the tours we really wanted to do, a cheaper motorboat tour of the islands, said that they would often have cancellations so we could try our luck in the morning. On top of that, it is supposed to be quite windy tomorrow, which increases the chance of cancellations.

We gave up on booking something today and grabbed a kebab for lunch before going back to the hostel and relaxing for a bit. While we were better rested than the first day in Byron Bay, we were still somewhat tired.

A couple hours later, we decided we wanted to get a few things at the grocery store to make sushi for dinner tonight. Reception at the hostel told us the only big grocery store was a half an hour walk away, but it was along the coast and a very pretty walk, so we decided to do the walk rather than take a bus or a taxi.

Just before we left, Rach decided to call the tour which said it often has cancellations again to check. When she did, the person offered to put her name and number on a list so that if someone did cancel, they would call her back, so she did that. About 30 seconds after she hung up the phone, it rang again, and it was the same place saying that two people had literally just called when they hung up before to cancel their trip for tomorrow, so we booked their spots. We get to do a tour tomorrow for sure!

The walk the grocery store really ended up being about 45 minutes each way, but it was all right because it was indeed quite pretty. It drizzled for a moment, which was nice because it was hot in the sun, and a rainbow formed which is always fun.

We were worn out by the end of the round trip though, partly because neither of us had the right footwear for walking the 7 kilometers we did and partly because of our lack of great sleep last night. By the time we had returned to the hostel, Rach got started on dinner since making sushi takes about an hour.

After we ate, we hung around for a while and packed up, since we are only staying in the hostel the one night. Tomorrow, we are being picked up at 8:45 for our islands tour, which will return us to the hostel at around 17:30. We’re then catching another overnight bus out of Airlie Beach to Cairns, leaving at about 20:00.