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Cairns – the Great Barrier Reef and ‘Bringing the Urn Home’

This will be my last Australian Holiday blogging as I’m in Cairns Airport waiting on my first flight of three* to get me back to London in about 47 hours time – roughly 2000 on Sunday evening I should be settled on my own sofa.

I flew up to Cairns on Tuesday morning and everything went to plan, except sitting behind two screaming kids. There’s nothing worse in my mind than being stuck behind a kid of less than 15 years old on a plane. Why can’t they just get on and konk out?! Is it too much to ask that the parents consider other passengers and control their spawn?! Come the revolution, no flying for kids who can’t keep quiet for over twelve hours. Straight.

So, arriving suitably knackered and irritated I made it to the hostel in good time in the morning. Once settled in, I asked the owner if it’s possible to watch the cricket. “Sure mate, TV room is round the back”. And so it was… except they didn’t have the channel the cricket was on apparently… even when I tried to retune the TV!! So off I headed into town at 0930 to find a venue to watch the cricket.

I stumbled upon a Tourist Information Centre and queried and was told the Crown Hotel would be showing it… and sure enough, yes it was. So there I was at 1000 in Cairns roughest hotel, in it’s roughest looking bar, happily watching England continue to apply pressure to the Aussies. There’s something terribly sad about being in a place like that at a time like that, surrounded by people who couldn’t wait to get into the bar, that they’re there at 1000 in the morning, starting on their second or third drink. After the first session, I headed for lunch and then found a sports bar to watch the rest of the day’s play in more salubrious surrounds.

On the Wednesday, I took the chance to go & see the Great Barrier Reef. I booked myself on to a day’s snorkelling and diving with one of the many tour companies that departed from Cairns Marina. Now, I’ve never dived before and haven’t done much snorkelling if I’m honest, so it was bit of a punt as to whether I’d enjoy it or see much of the reef. On the boat journey out the crew gave the safety instructions, snorkelling and diving instructions. It all seemed a little rushed to me.

At the first stop, we were all given group numbers and sent into the ocean snorkelling until our group number was called. I spent about 40 minutes with my snorkel looking around the most amazing underwater sight I’ve ever seen. The teaming fish life was incredible. Fish from half an inch to nearly two feet were swimming about the coral reef – not in the slightest bit interested in the 60 or so people drifting about on top of them!! And the colours were pretty spectacular too – yellows, purples, oranges, greens, blues, reds… it was outstanding.

Eventually though, my number was called, so it was time to try diving. My initial attempts were not good though as a weight belt refused to stay shut on me in the water. Apparently, when you dive, you need to add a weight belt to act against the air tanks natural desire to float. No belt, no diving, apparently. While the crew faffed about trying to get me a new belt, my group took off without me and I was beginning to fret that I wouldn’t get the chance to go. Back to the snorkel I was sent.

When I was called a second time, the belt stayed shut and I was good to go!! So, into the water I went.

I’ll be honest, I found the experience a bit terrifying. You really do realise that there isn’t much between you and a lungful of water… yet I would like to do it again, though perhaps not in the ocean. They take you under, make you do some tests like emptying your mask of water whilst underwater; re-equalising your ear pressure whilst underwater; and the (scariest) final test is to remove your respirator, and return it to your mouth, again under water. Once satisfied that you could do these three things, you were good to go.

The next ten minutes went in a blur of survival. I didn’t really take any chance to look at the coral or the fish, I was just interested in getting around to the boat and back to the air. As it happened, I guess the instructor sensed this from my body language & effectively dragged me around the reef for half the journey!!

With my drama over, it was back to the snorkelling for a little while before we moved to the second site & the chance to do more snorkelling. Two things of real note happened on this journey… first, I managed to almost rip the nail off my right hand’s little finger, which caused it to bleed – not much, but as you can imagine, enough to make someone from the UK worry about swimming off the Australian coast (we’ve all seen Jaws and heard the stories of the Great White off the Aussie beaches!!).

However, by making sure there was someone between me and the wider ocean away from the boat, I managed to feel mostly confident about snorkelling around this new reef. And within five minutes, I’d spotted the highlight of my day. Not only did I find him, but I found Nemo’s Da and wee brother (assumption on my part I admit). The wee fish hardly moved from their shelter in the 30 minutes I was in the ocean, so it was nice to come back & see them every time I wanted. All in all, that one sighting made the trip for me and it was off home to rest up.

The following day I was off on a day trip to ‘Cape Tribulation’ – not exactly the most enticing name for a place, granted. I joined the bus and was driven around by the tour guide (along with another 20 odd folks). First we went for a cruise on the Daintree river looking for Crocodiles and were fortunate enough to see one. Then we headed to Cape Tribulation itself to see where the Daintree Rainforest meets the Pacific Ocean and it was gorgeous. One of the weird (and sad) things about the Eastern Seaboard in Australia is that you can’t always go into the water. At the moment there are loads of jellyfish in the water that could well kill you if you got stung so it’s recommended that you don’t go in. So being on this beautiful beach and not able to run into the sea was a bit disappointing.

The penultimate stop was at a River just up from Daintree town itself where some of the tour decided to go swimming and a vicious rain shower hit the area. Our final stop was Port Douglas, which is bit of a tourist town on the coast north from Cairns. I’ll be honest, I got off the bus, saw a sign that said ‘Cricket’ and made a bee-line for the best seat in the house to watch the game and discovered that England needed just three more wickets to win the Sydney Test and the Series 3-1. I left hoping that Australia would last the day as I didn’t want to miss the scenes on TV. And so back to the hostel to discover that indeed, the Aussies had lasted and the last three wickets would have to fall on Day Five of the test. Result for me!!

As you can imagine, Thursday saw me head for the only pub in town that would be open in time for the Cricket to start – unfortunately the only place in town I could watch it. There was something very disconcerting about standing outside a pub at 0900 in the morning and NOT being front of the queue. Morals aside though, they opened in time for me to watch the Cricket on time… and so I sat, about four feet from the screen hoping to hear the commentary as England struggled, the game was delayed by rain and then, the wickets fell before lunch and the party began!!

It was all over by noon and I was on my way back to the hostel after lunch. Once back I rested up, read, dozed, read some more, packed my bag and then joined the weekly Friday Night BBQ at the hostel and met a number of interesting, weird, annoying and bizarre characters – including a girl called Sapphire. And so, with my alarm set for 0400 I headed for bed relaxed & ready to return home.

It’s been a great four weeks on vacation and away from the UK (I’ve managed to miss probably one of the worst winters on record!!), but I’m ready to go home, see my girl and start a routine again. 2011 is bit of a mystery to me still so I need to start working out what I’m planning to achieve this year too.


* I say three, but I believe the Brisbane to Mumbai flight stops in Singapore for fuel… I’m not sure that it counts as a fourth flight, which I guess depends on whether you measure it by separate planes or separate take offs??


About Mcfaggen

Having grown up in Co. Fermanagh where most of my family still reside, I thought it would be worthwhile to keep a blog of my travels around the rest of the UK, Europe and the World.


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