Queensland: Koalas, The Rainforest and The Great Barrier Reef

9th February 2019

When deciding our itinerary, the amount of time we had available meant that we needed to choose between doing the Whitsunday Islands or the Great Barrier Reef. As incredible as the Whitsunday’s looked (I couldn’t stop looking at photos online), there was something even more exciting about the chance to visit the Great Barrier Reef and after all, who knew how long left we had to see it? After lots of research, I settled on a base of Port Douglas, an hour’s drive from Cairns where we would be flying to from Sydney, a quick domestic flight of roughly three hours.

Our Airbnb was a spacious apartment that sat within the Hibiscus Hotel & Spa, whose facilities we were able to access. It was a lovely and clean with Balinese inspired décor and two gorgeous pools with floating bean bags, which were the comfiest things and we proceeded to spend our first day floating around on, preparing for our final week.

Attempting diving

While Matt had experienced diving before on a past holiday in Egypt, it has always scared me too much to join in. This trip being such a big deal for us really encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone so when searching for a boat trip to explore the Great Barrier Reef, through gritted teeth I added on dives for both Matt and I.

There were so many boat trips to choose from but I really didn’t fancy being crammed on with a huge amount of tourists, barely able to move. A few of the options took you out to a pontoon where you stayed for the duration. These were especially great for families and using had things like a glass bottom for easy viewing. Eventually, I went with Poseidon, a 24-metre cataman which visited three different reef sites on the outer Great Barrier Reef. I really liked that the reef sites weren’t confirmed until the day itself as the crew worked out which would be best to visit based on the weather conditions. All equipment was included and you were free to snorkel or add on introductory dives for an additional fee. We also received morning tea and lunch throughout the day.

Those of us doing Introductory dives completed a medical questionnaire, briefing and tuition onboard before it was time to gear up and head to the dive platform. I was fine throughout the briefing but as soon as we started changing into our wetsuits and equipment, I began to feel panicky and sick. We were separated into small groups of four but when I was in the water and our instructor, Herold, made us each perform three simple moves, my brain was completely frazzled and I just couldn’t do them. We agreed I would get out of the water and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had a little cry as I got back on the boat, incredibly disappointed at myself.

I resigned myself to the fact I wouldn’t do the second dive but Herold soon came and found me in hiding in a corner and gave me a pep talk. He explained that now the rest of my group knew the basics, he could spend one-on-one time with me, making sure I was really comfortable. Herold told me he knew I could do it and that it was such an incredible experience underwater that I owed it to myself to give it one more shot. There was no way I could say no and I followed him to (once again), get ready to hit the water.

This time, I managed to finally start the dive and lasted a grand total of seven minutes! Once I got going, I adored being underwater but then I managed to get water in my regulator and instead of clearing it simply as we had been taught, I panicked and convinced myself I was going to die so thrashed my way up, up and out of the water with the help of Herold. Again, I was pretty frustrated that I hadn’t managed to stay calm but trying to focus on the positives, even in those seven minutes I saw so much sea life and managed to conquer my fear of jellyfish but (inadvertently) touching a few!

This time, instead of moping, I grabbed a lifejacket, jumped back into the sea and joined the snorkelers and still enjoyed lots of amazing sights, even joining in on a snorkel tour led by a marine biologist.

Ultimately, I’m so glad I chose the boat tour that I did. The staff were fantastic and really made the day for us both.

Cuddling koalas and flying high

Being the basic bitch I am, I knew I wanted to see a koala while in Australia but I was aware we weren’t likely to see them in the wild in the places we were staying. I then turned to good old google, adamant that if I did find somewhere, I needed to be sure the animals were safe and looked after. I came across Kuranda Koala Gardens in Cains which I was pleased to see adhered to the strict Government Code of Practice. Their aim is to contribute to the conservation of, and educate about, both the Australian and exotic species that call the attractions their home. As well as koalas (which we both had a quick hold of), there are kangaroos, wallabies, freshwater crocodiles and more to visit. It was a really chilled morning and lovely to be around the animals.

Located just a few minutes away was the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway which we decided to pop along to on a whim. Matt was a little nervous about being up so high after diving the day before (it is recommended you don’t dive 24 hours before you are due to fly home) but we were completely fine. There are two terminals in Cairns and you can choose to make a return journey or just go one way.  As we had the car, it made sense that we did the return journey which lasted about two hours in total. The pods can carry up to six people but there are so many available that quite often there tends to only be two or four people per pod. The views were incredible as you can imagine and being up so high offers a really unique experience. You stop at two rainforest ‘stations’, Red Peak and Barron Falls, where you have the opportunity to hop off and venture into the rainforest itself via boardwalks and lookouts. On reflection I think if we didn’t have the car just the single journey would have been enough but nonetheless, there was something quite soothing about sitting back and absorbing the views.

Exploring the rainforest

Another fantastic part of being based in Port Douglas is that we were close to the Daintree Rainforest, one of the oldest rainforests in the world and apparently David Attenborough’s favourite place on earth! I prebooked a tour with Tony’s Tropical Tours who picked us up from our accommodation. We were with a group of ten people  who were all really nice and our tour guide Jens was absolutely fantastic. He was clearly passionate about his job and shared so much fascinating information with us.

It was a jam-packed day from 8.10am until 5.30pm with lots to see and do. We enjoyed guided walks around the rainforest, crocodile hunting on a river cruise, a barbecued lunch in a private retreat surrounded by the rainforest and a stop at Cape Tribulation Beach, the only place in the beach where two World Heritage-listed areas meet. The tour also usually includes swimming in the crystal clear stream at the heart of the Daintree Rainforest but unfortunately, we were unable to do this as it was too dangerous.

It was a long day but the company was great and it was so surreal to walk through and above such a beautiful place as the rainforest. It was a real reminder of how incredible nature is.

And so concludes our Australia and New Zealand trip! After leaving Port Douglas, we flew to Brisbane for a nights stopover before flying home but we didn’t do too much nor did I take any photos. I’ve got a couple more blog posts up my sleeves which goes into more details about our accommodation and engagement(!) so due check back for those. If you missed the previous posts on our adventure, you can view the New Zealand post here and Sydney here.

Emily>