Trip Start Aug 11, 2010
Trip End May 21, 2011

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Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Monday, November 29, 2010

It was obvious we were in a different state when we got off the plane and were surprised by the humidity. We were now in tropical Queensland. We were picked up and taken to our hostel by a guy who looked like the perfect Aussie surfer-dude with blonde, shoulder-length hair, flip-flops, and long shorts. However, it turned out he was a travelling Belgian. This was something that ended up characterising much of our travels down the East Coast as we met lots of European travellers and comparatively few Australians.

Anyway, the wannabe-Aussie Belgian took us to our hostel, 'Traveller's Oasis,’ which we really liked. We embraced the tourist scene on arrival and attended the Aussie BBQ that night. It seemed to involve eating Australian animals: crocodile, emu and kangaroo. All pretty good actually. There was a didgeridoo competition at the BBQ and, oddly for me, I put up my hand and suddenly I was in front of 50 people and 2 other contestants ready to attempt to make any kind of noise through an aboriginal instrument. Surprisingly, I was more successful than my opponents, (which isn’t saying much!) so when it came to the vote, I won! To add to my surprise, I won a free ride on the world’s fastest jungle swing. We celebrated with a night of free drinks in the popular Woolshed with a few people from the BBQ.

The next day, I was strapped up, tipped into a horizontal position and pulled 75 metres backwards into the air. I hung there, high up next to the rainforest canopy, and had to pull a release cord in my own time. I waved to Eleanor far below and then dropped on about 5 metres of slack before being rocketed 120 kph through the jungle! I loved the sensation of flying through the air, weightless, and being only accompanied by the noise of the jungle. It was a memorable experience that made me think that I should enter more random competitions in future (although the exception will always be karaoke competitions!).

Later that day, we wandered around Cairns and dipped in and out of the many tourist shops. Apart from good nightlife, Cairns was also well equipped to support outdoor healthy lifestyles, especially with its free salt-water lagoon (an artificial beach positioned right next to the sea), free BBQ’s, and a walkway that ran for 4km alongside the sea edge that went alongside outdoor fitness areas, playgrounds and skate parks. We wanted to do as the locals do so we decided to run along the boardwalk, somewhat ambitiously considering the heat, use the outdoor fitness area and cool off in the pool afterwards. It was great looking across at the sea in the harbour from the pool. The view certainly beat the rough blue-painted walls and square tiles that characterise most British swimming experiences.

The next day, we joined the crowds in the harbour and boarded a boat to visit the famous Great Barrier Reef. This was something that we both had looked forward to doing for a long time. We opted for a slightly more expensive boat called the ‘Silver Swift’ because it was fast and apparently went to better snorkelling sites. So we got our seats, loaded our plates with muffins and biscuits, and sat in anticipation for the day ahead.

We were kitted out with mask, snorkels and flippers and flattering sting suits since we were travelling in jellyfish season and we weren’t taking any risks. When the boat stopped we plunged in eagerly and were treated to an underwater world of kaleidoscopic colour. We visited three different sites in total and had quite a long time in the water. Every time we snorkel we can never believe just how beautiful and busy the world is below the calm surface. The Great Barrier Reef was a unique experience for us in terms of the beauty of the actual coral reef. Neither of us had seen such bright colours and diversity of the coral gardens below. We saw giant clams, anemones and sea cucumbers and lots of spectacularly coloured fish. We had to literally swim through schools of small fish to view the coral below. We saw large parrot fish, which were rainbow-coloured and had a kind of beak, and the star of the show was without a doubt the big sea turtles that we saw in the last site. Our guide had informed us that what they eat has a kind of narcotic effect on them (which reminded Eleanor of the super chilled-out turtle on ‘Finding Nemo’) so the turtles moved slowly and seemed blissfully unperturbed by our presence. I managed to dive down and swim right next to one and one swam next to Eleanor on the surface. It was a great experience.
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