Boats and Planes

Trip Start Jan 16, 2008
Trip End Apr 27, 2008

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

I last wrote from Cairns, where we had just arrived in a tropical storm ready to start our Oz Experience adventure down the East Coast of Australia. The next morning we were up at 6am and headed into Cairns Central to get on the bus, first stop Mission Beach.

On the way to Mission Beach we stopped at Johnstone River Crocodile Farm. After a few minutes holding snakes and lizards in the reception of the farm (I didn't hold them after the handler was bitten by a python when he was taking it out of its tank), we took a tour around the farm which both breeds crocodiles for food and takes in rogue crocs from around the country. It was amazing to see how well camouflaged the crocs were - sometimes they'd be hiding in water 0.5m deep and you still couldn't see them. It definitely put us off swimming in any rivers or 'billabongs'. The biggest croc they have there is Gregory, who is 5.2m long and weighs 1200kg - an actual monster. Two of the crocs of the farm are living there after they attacked humans in the wild and so were relocated.

After the stop we continued South to Mission Beach and arrived mid-afternoon. We were staying in a nice hostel close to the beach but again that evening, because it's so close to the rainforest, we had another big tropical storm which was cool to sit out and watch. That was the last rain we've seen on the East Coast.

The next morning I got up early to go for my next adventure...

I was picked up and driven 30mins to a nearby airstrip to skydive. After a short briefing and signing my life away on 3 different indemnity forms, I was strapped onto Marcel (my skydive instructor) and we were soon in the plane. We were skydiving from 14,000ft (as high as commercial skydives can go) which gives you around 60seconds of freefall and then a 5minute parachute ride back to the ground. The plane took around 15minutes to climb up to the right altitude and as we got near, the door opened and the traffic lights on the wall went to amber. The view below was awesome - 10,000ft below were some scattered clouds, through which we could see rainforest, beach, turquoise blue seas and tropical islands. There wasn't much time to admire the view though and, within a moment, the traffic light went green and we were hurtling at 200km/hr towards the ground. It was so exhilarating and, at that altitude, you're too high to realise how high you are or even how fast you're going so it's not scary.

The freefall was apparently 60 seconds, but it seemed to go by in a second. Before I knew it, the parachute had opened and we were gliding slowly down the last 5,000ft back to terra firma. We landed on Mission Beach and I was ready to go straight back up and do it again. It definitely won't be the last time I skydive - it was incredible.

We spent the rest of the day chilling out by the pool and reading and got ready to move on the next day.

The following day we jumped back on the Oz Experience bus to Magnetic Island - a small, exotic island which is a 20 minute ferry ride off the coast. On the way down we passed through Tully - the wettest town in Australia. In recognition of the record amount of rainfall that the town had received in 1950, the town had built a giant welly to the same height as the amount of rain they had received in that year - 7.9m tall. 

We arrived at our hostel at 7pm and knew it was special. Base Backpackers is without doubt the nicest hostel we've stayed in so far - more like a boutique hotel. It's right on the beach, with a bar and terrace looking out to sea, and had a really great atmosphere. On our first night it was quiz night and we joined up with four guys who we met on the bus down to the island earlier that day. They were really cool guys and we ended up spending all of our evenings on the island drinking with them on the beach.

Magnetic Island is only a small place, so we hired an open-topped car and drove the length of the island, taking in the beaches. It was a really nice place and we were really lucky with the weather - barely a cloud in the sky for both days we were there. Even though it's just a few hundred kilometres down the road from the wettest place in Australia, Maggie Island is one of the sunniest - with 320 sunny days every year.

Then yesterday we continued South to Airlie Beach - the gateway to the Whitsundays, which are a group of 74 islands off the coast of Oz. They've had some really rough weather here recently and there's evidence of it everywhere. The town was blocked off due to flooding and you can still see plants that have been thrown onto bridges, metres above the river level. Then today, on our speedboat tour, we saw two shipwrecks that both happened in the storms last week - one of them was a tourist sailing boat which ran ashore and everyone onboard had to be airlifted to safety at 3am.

Luckily the weather has since cleared up - apparently today was the nicest day they've had in Airlie Beach for 2 months with not a cloud in the sky. We took some time out to do snorkelling, and had to wear sexy 'stinger suits' to protect outselves from 'stingers' (jellyfish). Out here they have Irukandji jellyfish which are too small to see, but deadly if they stings you. Only in Australia. After snorkelling, we continued on the speedboat to Whitehaven Beach, apparently the most photographed beach in the World, and it was easy to see why.

Tomorrow we jump back on board the bus to carry on South towards Sydney and we're stopping in Kroombit, a cattle ranching station for an authentic taste of Outback Australia.
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