A Travellerspoint blog

April 2011

The Outback

Uluru and a whole lot more…

After 5 weeks in the car, we were happy to turn in our keys and fly to Sydney for a stay with one of Marin’s besties, Sarah. More to come on our amazing times in Manly with Sarah and her lovely life in our next entry.

Right smack in the middle of our 2 week Sydney stint, we flew to Alice Springs in central Australia. We spent 2 nights and 3 days on a camping tour through the highlights of the Red Center, namely Uluru/Ayer’s Rock, Kata Tjuta/The Olgas, and Kings Canyon. I have given the Aboriginal name and the White Australian name for both. There has been quite a bit of unrest as to whom this land actually belongs. I will spare you our views on the politics of it all here but if anyone wants to have a conversation about it in person at a later date, Nikki would be more than willing to share her very strong views on this topic. And Marin would be happy to give the moderate, “well I can see it from both ways” perspective. ☺

The Red Center earned its name because it is a desert comprised of red sand as a result of the large red rock formations scattered throughout. Until recently, the Northern Territory experienced very little rain and remained an arid environment. However, over the past 5 years there has been a tremendous amount of rainfall (bring on the ice age!). This has led to lush green vegetation sprinkled throughout the red rock and sand with a clear blue sky behind it all. The result is one of the most beautiful scenes that we’ve ever experienced…truly unparalleled! Marin was so inspired by this natural beauty that she snapped a good 500 photos – lots of photos of rocks here. This was a good spot to play with the infinite number of settings on her camera, so some still need to be photoshopped.

Cool salt lake:


Our tour involved us and 12 other backpackers being shuttled around the Outback in an old school bus by one of the cutest Aussie tour guides you can imagine, Ryan. He had the dimples, the accent, and the kind-hearted, gentle nature.

Needless to say we were in love with him from the get go. Here is our Ryan photoshoot:


We enjoyed not having to do the driving ourselves as we covered roughly 1500K in 3 days. We sat in the back of the van and slept, ate ice cream, read, enjoyed the beautiful desert scenery (even a few wild camels ran by), and watched Sex and City DVDs on our laptop- thanks for the loaners Sarah :-)!

Our eclectic traveling crew was pretty comical, including a few Brits, another lesbian couple (they were Aussies and so we loved them), an older couple (they were older than us and so we loved them, too), a German, a gal from Holland (we lovingly called her Dutchie), two Canadians and an Asian couple. Pretty much the United Nations. All in all, a good mix and everyone got along! Nobody bothered to learn each other’s names so we just referred to each other by country name. We were “Team America.” Here’s the group and some pictures of the camping scene – note Nikki holding court per usual:


We all got cozy quite quickly as we slept outside in neat contraptions called swags. Yes, there were many jokes made about enjoying a Swag Shag…haha! A swag is basically a suped-up sleeping bag. There were not any hot rims attached, but there was quite a bit of padding, a waterproof outer shell, and a pillow. Nikki was thrilled to find the pillow- camping is a million times better with a pillow! No tents were involved, which was awesome because it allowed us to see the millions of stars stretched across the long sky. We had fun trying to make sense of the constellations in the Southern Hemisphere.

Nighttime camping pic by the fire:


Although this may sound torturous to some, we awoke each morning at 4:30 am, so as to experience the sunrise over one of the many beautiful rocks that we visited. We also wanted to avoid this:


We also caught the sun set each evening around some more gorgeous rocks. It was def worth missing some sleep to see these amazing views! Take a look at some pics of sunrises and sunsets throughout the trip:

We hiked each day for a few hours. The first day’s hike was around the base of Uluru, the quintessential Australian postcard photo. It is the largest monolith in the world and it is amazing in person! Although we did spend quite a bit of time swatting the famous Australian flies out of our eyes, noses, and mouths. Check out the flies on this guy's back -- an average amount:

The Aboriginal people ask that you not climb the rock as it is considered to be sacred, so we opted for the base walk – it is 9 kilometers around the entire rock!

Some people ignored the whole sacred bit. They will now be cursed:


The second day’s hike was through Kata Tjuta. We went on a walk there called the Valley of the Winds Walk. The name is appropriate in that the various red rock formations create lovely wind tunnels. Quite a few people on our tour thought this spot was the most beautiful of them all. To Marin’s delight, we also spotted a few Kangaroos along the way.

The final day’s walk was around the rim of King’s Canyon. Nikki fell in love with this spot when we watched the sunrise over the canyon. It was spectacular! Ryan, our cute guide, pointed out various plants and trees used for homeopathic remedies by the Aboriginal people along the way. Marin continued to fumble with her camera and lag meters and meters behind the group.


On the way back to Alice Springs we stopped at a Camel Farm to ride some camels. We chose not to ride them because we weren’t happy with the small pens in which they were living. However, it was neat to see them up close and Marin snapped some great pics-see:

Other highlights of the trip were collecting firewood in the 110-degree, fly swarming heat (this was more of a lowlight), and making Nikki pose as the company’s logo:

Exhausted and amazed by our time in the Outback, we headed back to the city for some more QT with Sarah and Sydney.

Up next: Sydney and all its splendor, Manly, and Coogee, Nikki’s study abroad paradise from 10 years ago.

Also, in real time, we are in Thailand right now and it is awesome! The goal is to get a few entries out in the next couple of days as we lie by the sea and sip rum punch, so that you all can see how amazing Thailand has been too! Xoxo Nikki and Marin

Posted by Marbert18 22:03 Archived in Australia Tagged desert uluru hiking outback olgas camel kangaroo kings_canyon ayer's_rock emu_run Comments (1)

Surf’s up, Dude!

Soaking up the rays on the Sunshine Coast

After camping on amazing Fraser Island for 3 days, we were ready for some creature comforts – you know, fancy stuff like hot showers and a bed. We got to Noosa after a 2 hr. drive South along the coast. It is rather difficult to arrive to a new destination in the dark (especially when the internal light in your Astra does not work- perhaps this was damage we had done as a result of driving through the flood waters in North Queensland). Marin, ever the industrious McGyver, has taken to handling this challenge by squatting outside the car and holding the miniscule Lonely Planet map in the headlights. But, she never quite got the hag of doing this in the pouring rain.

After literally driving around in circles (there are 114 roundabouts in Noosa!!) through the various neighborhoods - Noosa Heads, Sunshine Beach, Noosaville- consulting the map in the headlights several times, asking 3 different people for directions and having 2 arguments, we finally landed at our Flashpacker accommodation.

For those of you who are not familiar with the ins and outs of the youth hostel circuit, Flashpacker accommodation is one step up from backpacker accommodation. It usually means you pay about $10 more, and for this tax, you’re guaranteed luxuries like clean sheets. If you are lucky, you might have a pool or a TV in your room. Our Noosa Digs did not disappoint: king sized bed, perfect private shower, flat screen tv, private little terrace off the room, pool, bbq). Perfect for a post-camping crash.

After a good night’s rest, we spent a wonderful day frolicking on the gorgeous beaches of Noosa. We went to the Main Beach, which was filled with surfers and sunbathers. Nikki sunbathed away (shocking!) while Marin rode the waves on a boogie board she loaned from the hostel. By Australian standards, Noosa is very posh – the place to “see and be seen” according to our guide book. We were amazed that even by these standards, we enjoyed a gorgeous day on a pristine beach – no payment to enter, park or do anything else. Free luxury. Gotta love Australia.

After Main Beach we found a great beach bar and enjoyed some oysters and beers. It was nice to just sit and chill for a bit and catch our breath after all of the driving we had done.

We wandered over to Noosa Heads, one of the many Australian National Parks and took a lovely sunset stroll through the Eucalypt-covered coastline. On our walk we spotted some more surfers- they are everywhere in Noosa- and a Koala! The wildlife spotting made Marin really happy! We found a gorgeous spot to sit and take it all in. Take a look:


After one more sleep, and some delicious steaks BBQ’d in the pouring rain, we hit the road and headed toward Byron Bay. We broke up the 4-hour drive with a stop at Steve Irwin’s famous Australia Zoo.

For those of you who are not loyal Steve Irwin fans, you may not be aware that the Crocodile Hunter tragically died in an accident involving a Sting Ray a few years back. Sadly, he left behind his wife and children. The Australia Zoo has become his legacy. The Zoo itself is quite commercial (picture Disney with lots of crocs) and some of the animals were definitely depressed (Nikki has some strong feelings of dislike toward caged animals) but we did learn some amazing things about Koalas and crocodiles. Did you know that a Koala is not actually a bear? And it has two thumbs. It turns out that the Koalas are endangered and protected in the zoo- this was a bit reassuring to us. And we even got to touch a Koala – it is so super soft. his is when Nikki decided that the Koala is her favorite of the Marsupials. Marin, however, is still loyal to the Kangas!

We also went to a live Croc show where this crazy dude below put his life at risk for us, much to our enjoyment. Crocs use their tails to jump 6 feet in the air!

And there were also these cool gigantic prehistoric tortoises:

We arrived in Byron (in the dark of course, crossing back and forth through town, over railroad tracks and in search of a road on our map that did not exist in real life) to a lovely Bed & Breakfast. We were greeted at the door by Marty, our warm and wonderful host -- a theatrical Kiwi who’s travelled and lived all over the world. Some details about Marty to help you picture him: makes sweeping hand gestures when talking about the weather, walks around town and in the house with a bird on his shoulder, raises tree frogs on the porch, drinks soy milk, wears yoga pants and was so excited to tell us that our soap was some kind of organic almond mixture, not those “dreadful little bars”. This is all very normal for Byron – it’s the bourgeois hippie capital of OZ, not unlike Park Slope, except on the ocean. Nikki was psyched to return there after her visit 10 years ago to a 4-day jazz festival, when she came to “listen to music.”

Though we did not recreate Woodstock, we did have a wonderful time in Byron. Great bars, restaurants and live music to keep us jolly at night. Beautiful beaches for walks and swims, farmer’s markets, and dolphin and surfer sightings during the day. We went on one two mile run that turned into an 8 mile walk after we got lost, but we got a great tour of the Byron Cape – the easternmost point on the coast – as a result.

What a great place to end our road trip! xoxo Marin & Nik

Posted by Marbert18 04:52 Archived in Australia Tagged beaches koala hiking crocodile noosa byron_bay australia_zoo tortoise flashpacker Comments (1)

The Dingo Ate My Chips!

Our adventures on Fraser Island

After an 8 hour drive from Mackay to Hervey Bay, we were knackered once again. We loaded up on camping food and supplies (boxed wine…check! Easy Mac…check!) retired early to our king-sized bed (huge treat) and prayed for sun. Early the next morning, we headed to Aussie Trax, the company that we rented us our 4x4 vehicle and camping gear for our weekend on Fraser Island. As we are all class all the time, we opted to rent our own vehicle instead of embarking on a group tour. We wanted our boxed wine all to ourselves, thank you very much. Therefore, we wound up with what we lovingly referred to for the rest of the trip as the Barbie Jeep. It was a 2 door white Suzuki that barely fit us, our camping gear, our food for the weekend, and our bags…and it was amazing! Barbie Jeep because the rest of the 4x4s out there were huge Land Rovers with engine snorkels and monster-truck suspension.

Fraser Island is an amazing place. It is the largest sand island in the world. And somehow, lush rainforest and beautifully clear mineral lakes exist atop the sand dunes. The only way to navigate the island is in a 4-wheel drive vehicle because the driving is done on the beach and on inland sandy/very muddy/bumpy tracks.

It is a requirement for all those heading to Fraser to watch a 30-minute video, consisting of driving and dingo safety on the island. In addition to the numerous warnings about insurance being null and void if intoxicated (“and you still may be over the limit the next morning!” it kept reminding us), we were quite amused by the scene in which two women encounter a dingo (a wild dog), cross their arms over their chest, and back away slowly while maintaining purposeful eye contact with the creature. We did not know then how handy this tip would be for us later on. We also learned that driving on the beach is prohibited at certain times due to high and low tide times. The tides pretty much rule life on Fraser:


After this, we packed up the Barbie Jeep and headed to the ferry at River Heads. Upon boarding, we proceeded to the top deck to bask in the beautiful sunshine for which we had longed for the past week. Here is Nikki soaking up the rays:


After enjoying the 45-minute ride, we disembarked in the Barbie Jeep with Marin at the wheel. What ensued for the next hour or so was a small test of the strength of our marriage. We seem to have had a few of these on this trip… It was necessary to drive from West coast of the island to the East (where the beautiful beaches exist) via a rough inland track. The conversation throughout sounded a bit like this:

Nikki: “Marin, please slow down a bit.”
Marin: “Sweetie, I am going 10 km/hour.”

As the same conversation repeated itself many times over, Nikki stopped saying please and Marin stopped saying Sweetie. These polite terms were instead replaced by “Why don’t you listen to me?” and “Don’t you tell ME how to drive!” But, we made it. ☺

It was so strange to follow a one-lane rugged sand road through the rainforest and emerge on the other side of the island onto beach and yes, believe it or not, a beach resort (the only one on Fraser – it felt like some sort of weird colony from Lost). We stopped at the general store there to pick up some additional supplies, namely a $25 dollar (yes that’s right folks) 6-pack of VB (Victoria Bitter). Can’t camp without cold beer, after all.

Nikki took the wheel and the beach driving was a whole lot smoother than the inland road. As you can see, she started to relax a bit:


Driving on the beach for miles and miles and miles was very cool:

The only thing to watch out for on the beach is what they call “washouts.” This is a place where freshwater flows down from the rainforest and the lakes over the beach and runs into the ocean saltwater. They create creeks in the sand and if you hit a deep one too quickly, it is bad news bears for you and your vehicle. While Nikki enjoyed crossing the washouts at the approximate speed of an injured tortoise, Marin’s style was a bit more…adventurous. To Marin, it was only a good crossing if you went fast enough to completely cover the windshield with splash.

We headed to Lake Wabby, one of the island’s most amazing freshwater lakes. It is the deepest one on the island (12 meters) and is very clean and filled with curious catfish. The lake is accessed by parking your jeep on the beach and hiking inland about 2.5 KM through rainforest. Along the way, we spotted some huge, scary spiders:

Arriving at the lake was awesome, as the trail leads out of the rainforest onto a ginormous sand dune. We thought perhaps we had missed the lake or it had dried up until we followed the steep slope of the dune down to a gorgeous lake where people were swimming in the amazing oasis. Lake Wabby is surrounded by Eucalypt forest and 3 sides and the sand dune on the 4th. Also, the shoreline is shrinking by 3 meters per year as the dune encroaches on the lake. We jumped in immediately, before it was gone! Check it out:

We hiked back out to the beach and drove further North to find our campsite for the evening before the tide came in. One of the coolest things about Fraser is that you can just set up camp along the beach pretty much wherever you like with no one else around. This is exactly what we did! Home sweet home on Night #1:


We each began our designated camping jobs, Marin setting up the tent and Nikki preparing the evening’s food supplies. We drank boxed wine out of tin cups and ate the best generic tortilla chips and salsa ever at our beach-front camp site, as we watched the day beautifully melt into night. This was one of our favorite parts of the trip so far hands down! The view from our doorstep, and Happy Nikki taking it all in:


Our dinner that night: the worst Easy Mac you can imagine (hard noodles and cold broth with some salsa added for an extra kick). But it still tasted great because we were so happy! We think it was some time around 8pm when we hit the hay because what else is there to do in the dark when you are camping?

We rose early with the sun the next day and battled the many horseflies of Fraser as we packed up camp. As we drove up the beach further on day 2, we stopped to see some of the best highlights of Fraser Island.

Eli Creek is the largest Freshwater creek on the island and you can actually swim in it. You hop in towards the top of the creek and then float on out to the ocean, just like a fish. So fun. We took this opportunity to take the day’s “shower.” Take a look at Eli, and this classic jeep scene along the beach:


Further up on the beach, The Maheno Shipwreck is the remnants of an actual vessel that was cast ashore Fraser Island in 1935. It is awesome to see the waves splash over it and erode it:


Although the ocean is beautiful on Fraser, you cannot swim in it because of the sharks, jellyfish, and extremely strong tides. However, there is one location at a place called the Champagne Pools at the Northern end of the island, where rock formations create natural shallow salt water pools out of ocean water and it is safe to swim. These pools are absolutely gorgeous, with different areas that are shallow and then suddenly deep. We enjoyed some salt water swimming and beers in the sunshine here:

Indian Head juts out at the Northern tip of Fraser. It is a great place to hike up for amazing views of the island’s dunes and rainforests. Occasionally dolphins and turtles can be spotted in the waters below. Check out the view of the dunes behind the beaches, and look how happy we are:


After our long day of exploring we found another both private and perfect beach campsite. Our home on Night #2:

Marin had mentioned earlier in the day that she was disappointed that we had only seen 1 dingo so far. As we drove up and down the beach, she had her camera poised and ready on her lap for the perfect dingo shot. Marin cannot get enough of the Aussie wildlife ☺!

Well she got her wish as we were enjoying our tortilla chips and tin cup wine that evening. We had just remarked how absolutely delicious the tortillas were when out of nowhere, in the dark, a dingo appeared about 1 meter behind us. He had snuck up behind us on the dune and taken us completely by surprise. And just like the silly women in the dingo safety video we crossed our hands over our chests and backed away (after Marin shrieked like a little girl). The bold dingo snatched up our bag of chips in his mouth and proudly trotted away to share with his buddies up the beach.

We should mention here that both the dingo safety video and the numerous signs posted all over the island strongly warn against this as the dingoes can get very aggressive. The signs instruct you to hit a dingo hard with a blunt object if they attack you. And if you are camping with children under the age of 14 on Fraser, you must sleep inside these weird human cage things.


It turns out the dingo really can eat your baby. And your chips!

Marin completely forgot all of this and found the dingo rather cute (despite his theft) and called out, “Here boy, here boy.” She then made that lip smacking, kissing noise that you make when you want an animal to come closer. And come closer he did! He returned to take a few licks of our salsa – apparently not his thing, as he left it behind.

Day 3 events on Fraser: Marin eating a most delicious bacon, meat and cheese pie at the local bakery, a hellish drive back through the inland tracks of the island and a stop at Lake McKenzie (there are over 100 lakes on Fraser, all freshwater). Nikki frolicked in the clear water while Marin napped off her pie:


After this we caught the Ferry back to Hervey Bay, bid farewell to the Barbie Jeep, jumped back in our little Astra, and headed down the coast to Noosa.

Up next, the beach towns we fell in love with, Noosa and Byron Bay, and our visit to Steve Irwin’s legacy, the famous Australia Zoo. Woohoo!!! Xoxo Marin and Nikki

Posted by Marbert18 17:10 Archived in Australia Tagged beaches fraser_island driving camping jeep dingo Comments (1)

Blame It On The Rain

Braving the East Coast, with the Astra as our Ark

Well…where to begin…

After being settled in Cairns for 3 nights, we were ready to hit the road again. Seemed like perfect timing as some big clouds were rolling in and it began to drizzle. “What good luck! Rain on our driving day, not our beach day!” we sang to ourselves, not knowing it would be more than a week until we saw the sun or had a dry pair of socks/pants/shorts/underpants again.

John, our aforementioned Welch Crush, directed us on a scenic route south through the Atherton Tablelands, which is a huge rainforest area up in North Queensland. Turns out rainforest has that name for a reason – lots of forest, lots of rain. Though it was cloudy, and Marin was getting pouty (love that seasonal affective disorder)

there was still some cool stuff to see, like this wicked huge tree, called The Cathedral Fig (just to give an idea of scale, if 24 adults stretched out their arms and held hands it would almost complete the circumference of the base of the tree), and these waterfalls:

We kept on keeping on and headed south towards Mission Beach. Sounds nice, right? When we pulled into town at the end of a day of long and rainy driving, we started to get that creepy crawly feeling when you know something is just not right. We didn’t see any people anywhere…and the whole place just felt so…empty. We found our place, Scotty’s, but when we approached the doors, it appeared to be nothing more than an empty restaurant with shuttered windows and chairs stacked along on the walls. Very, very ghostowny. We soon realized that Mission Beach was hit incredibly hard by the cyclone back in February. They are just at the beginning of their recovery, still. Hence the miles and miles of uprooted trees along the beach, the shuttered homes, the lack of people, and the tumbleweed rolling by. The rain, now a full downpour that would continue for days, only added to this effect. We found our way out back behind the restaurant and discovered Scotty’s, our accommodation for the night. Though rated #1 on Trip Advisor and listed as “Our Pick” in Lonely Planet, this was a close to last pick in Marin and Nikki’s book. We knew we were in trouble when we were immediately invited to the evening’s “Bad Taste Dress Up Party!” (insert wet t-shirt here) by the throng of European teenagers in the pool. Scotty’s is actually probably a decent enough place, when it’s not pouring, not invaded by Euroteens, and not recovering from a major hurricane – meaning there is internet, the whole place is not under construction, and the electricity and water are not shut off without warning.

But the real fun began the next day, when we arrived in Airlie Beach. Again, rain rain rain. Again, another long, long drive. But, no worries, mate, we were going out for a boat cruise and snorkel on the amazing Whitsunday islands (another location on the Great Barrier Reef), right? Right?

What we thought we were getting, and what we thought we might do:

What we got and did instead:

View from our room we were soooo excited to arrive to (we booked a “resort” on discount! A resort! We couldn’t wait), and pool and spa area we were so excited about:


View from our room we got:

Sadly, due to the continued downpour, our boat trip was cancelled for two days in a row. Finally, we came to the conclusion that although the Whitsunday Islands are amazing, we could not wait around in Airlie any longer for the rain to stop. After all, we are only in Australia for so long and we have many, many beautiful places to experience. One can only drink wine and watch The Kardashians on loop on the hotel room for so many days. And these damn Australians are so friggin’ good-natured, it was hard to find anyone to even whine with. We’d try to start something up in a bar with a fellow traveler whose week had also been dashed only to get back a warm smile and a “Hey, what can you do, you can’t control the weather, it’s still a wonderful holiday though, isn’t it? Life is grand! Rain makes the flowers grow! I love to drink beers with my mates!” ARGH.

Another problem (a real one) was that due to the extreme weather, the Bruce “highway” (a two lane road which was our only route out of Airlie beach) was completely flooded and therefore closed in both directions. Even the airport was shut down for several days as no cars could access it. Marin however, thought it might be a good idea to go investigate the flooding ourselves (Marin has become a major risk taker since her extreme hang gliding adventure) and Nikki hesitantly agreed (Nikki has become a major scaredy cat since her last Australian excursion 10 years ago). If the roads were at all drivable, we needed to high tail it out of there. Marin was able to successfully navigate us around some initial flooding with her keen sense of direction via some back roads (note water levels):


Then, the real fun began…well not quite. (Moms and Dads, we apologize in advance for taking our lives in our hands, but keep in mind we are writing the blog right now and therefore we are alright)

After sitting parked for a couple of hours at the point of road closure in a one-horse town by the name of Proserpine, we made the daft decision to take our tiny Astra hatchback through the crock-infested flood waters following behind a line of 18 wheelers and some 4-wheel drive vehicles. Initially, the flood waters were seemingly not that bad – we both imagined them to be like a quaintly flooded back road in New England in springtime. But instead, the flooded roads just kept going and going for miles (or kilometers) and there were several points where the water level was up to our windows on both sides of the vehicle. Marin was at the wheel and managed to stay surprisingly calm (though she bruised her finger from biting on it so hard) with Nikki at her side, asking anxiously every 10 seconds or so, “Is it ok…does it feel ok…can you feel the road?” At the time Marin just kept saying, “It’s fine, It’s fine!” After making it through safely to the other side, Marin divulged that for most of the treacherous drive, she felt the car floating up off the road and being pulled to the side by the strong flood waters. We later found out that the road did not officially open to drivers until 2 days later (it turns out everyone we were following was just making an illegal break for it at low tide) and 2 cars had been washed off the road into the croc-infested waters. Needless to say, we were both extremely jolted by the experience and happy to be alive AND we were extremely proud of our little Astra! American made, baby!

We spent that evening in a little Motel in a town called Mackay eating take-out Chinese, drinking cheap wine in bed, and trying to stay dry. The following day, still downpouring, we would embark on an 8-hour drive to the amazing Fraser Island. Tune in next time for our 4x4 adventures in our Barbie Jeep, on the largest sand island in the world. We also found sunshine! Hooray! xoxo Marin and Nikki

P.S. We are a bit behind on our entries as we have most recently been doing things like camping in the Outback without Internet, so expect a few coming your way in the coming days.

Posted by Marbert18 06:21 Archived in Australia Tagged rain driving whitsundays mackay airlie_beach mission_beach Comments (2)

Lovely, Lovely Cairns

HHH: Happy Hot & Humid

First, some pics that were meant to make it into the last post:

Nikki getting mauled by hungry vegetarian kangaroos:

Tasmanian rain getup:

We were ecstatic to fly from the very bottom of Australia (Tassie) to the almost very top (Cairns), mainly because the sun came down hot and bright on us as soon as we landed. Mental sanity was restored (temporarily – rain-induced insanity will resume on next blog posting).

We were psyched to begin our road trip down the East Coast of Australia in our hot Astra (made by GM, incidentally, though not available for sale at home). It was quite a shift from the Britz camper – the Astra is sleek (you know, for a rental hatchback), small and low to the ground. We jumped in our new ride and headed into Cairns, a hot and humid “city” known for its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef and its wet ‘n’ wild backpacker crowd. Big surprise – we indulged in the former, and not so much the latter. Nikki and Marin = Old and Older.

Upon arrival, we were greeted warmly by the lovely staff at the #1 rated Traveller’s Oasis, which continues to rank as our #1 accommodation on our Migration.


We were immediately swept up in the Aussie warmth – for starters, they learn your name at first introduction (I mean really, who is even listening to anything then?) and use it each and every time they see you. Good Morning, Marin! How was your day, Nikki? So nice. The ice cold Toohey’s New cans we were served in complimentary beer coosis also helped our impression…as did John, our dimpled and joyful Welch crush/host/travel agent/tour booker, who was affectionately referred to as “your boyfriend” by both Nikki and me for the duration of our stay. The three of us got so close that by the time we left 3 days later, we’d talked about popping zits and pooping in the woods (err, in the context of a conversation about a camping trip, but still…).

With his travel agent hat on, John booked us immediately on one of the most spectacular Great Barrier Reef trips available: the Triple Reef Adventure (Marin requires the gold star package at all times) – an all-day boat tour serving breakfast and lunch, stopping at not 1, not 2, but 3 separate locations on the Great Barrier Reef.

We reported to the docks promptly at 7:30 AM. Though the initial cloud cover was discouraging, our swift jetboat motored us through the storm to the sunny reef. We donned our Stinger Suits – head to toe black lycra/spandex bodysuits, including hoods, stirrups and mitts so you’re protected from deadly jellyfish. Luckily, everyone on board is wearing them, so you’re also protected from embarrassment. Well, some.

Over the course of the 3 snorkeling sites we visited, we saw, up close and personal, huge parrotfish, giant clams bigger than Nikki, the most amazing and vibrant coral you can imagine, reef sharks, blue-spotted sting rays, lots more little fish and big human-sized fish right up next to us in just 4 feet of water, and, our favorite, the giant lumbering sea turtles. We got to snorkel alongside these guys to our delight. When they swim around it almost looks like they are flying in slow motion through the water, and then every once in awhile they pop up for water which is very cute in the way that E.T. is cute. Ugly-cute. Sadly, no pictures of any of this, being underwater and all. The reef was everything everyone says it is, and we wish we could visit a million more times. Here we are on the boat, and a view of the reef from above:


We spent our next two days in Cairns floating in our pool (swimming, drinking a beer and reading her Kindle all at the same time = Marin Heaven), Skyping with our families, shopping at Rusty’s fruit & vegetable market, where the stalls went on and on for blocks and blocks, and finding a great local fishmonger where we got some delicious trout and barramundi and grilled it up on our very own bbq:


And also finding backpacker meal specials -- $10 rump steak, including baked potato, salad and a beer – at the infamous backpacker bar The Woolshed. Apparently we were there on “Uniform Night” – amongst the waitstaff was a pleather-clad sexy nun and several strapping faux firemen. Once again, we were leaving as the real crowd was just coming in. But luckily we didn’t miss the International Goldfish Race. You may be wondering, “How do two goldfish race? And how does one goldfish win such a presitigious title?” Picture several drunk backpackers blowing bubbles through a straw behind the goldfish (basically, directly in his rear) in order to make him swim down a narrow canal, with a bar full of fellow drunk backpackers cheering them on. There was a goldfish for just about every nationality, and at the conclusion of the 15 minute nail-biting bracket tournament, a proud Swede emerged victorious and won herself her own Triple Reef Adventure.

Other highlights of Cairns were the casino and the lovely runs we took along the Esplanade (minus the human-sized bats flying around us):


In many of these towns in north Queensland, you can’t swim in the water because of the aforementioned Stingers. So they all have these lovely “Lagoons” which are basically really well maintained and landscaped public saltwater pools that look out over the real ocean. Pretty neat!

Pictures in Cairns along the waterfront:

John, our adored Welch crush, was instrumental in setting us up on our next set of adventures as we travelled south down the coast. Up next: the one place that was wetter than Tasmania, the largest sand island in the world and the dingo that ate our chips! Xoxo Nikki and Marin

Posted by Marbert18 01:00 Archived in Australia Tagged snorkeling cairns great_barrier_reef Comments (2)

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