Thursday, June 17, 2010

Cairns Continued

Since working for Peter Pans for a little over three weeks Sabrina and I had enough hours banked to go on a few adventures. First on the list was bungy jumping! I have been raving about the experience ever since New Zealand and Sabrina had her mind made up about doing a jump since we left Sydney. Lucky for us Cairns is the home of the second AJ Hackett Bungy Jump in Oceania, the first was in Queenstown.

Late one Wednesday afternoon we hopped on a shuttle with eight other anxious jumpers and made the winding drive up to the tower. The Cairns bungy stands at a mere 43m high, and after the 134m I jumped in New Zealand the tower didn't exactly evoke the same kind of butterflies. Nontheless I was really excited to try some more creative jumps. There's about fifteen different ways that one can jump from the bungy tower, one of which includes riding a bike off the roof. Since we opted for two jumps we had to do a dive for our first for safety reasons, but the second jump was up to us. After getting unintentionally dunked in the pond underneath the tower I was ready to try something a little more daring and I had every intention of doing it backwards. The guy on the tower backed me up to the edge until just my toes where left hanging on. Holding on to my harness he hung me out over the drop and pretended to let go about ten times, after sufficiently screwing with my head he let me fall. I have to say doing it backwards was awesome and almost easier. To end the day we did what they call the Minjin Jungle Swing. The giant swing gave us a gorgeous panorama of  Cairns just as the sun was setting.

Our next activity was an overnight tour up to Cape Tribulation and the Daintree Rainforest. It may be less of an adrenaline rush but it was just as fun as the bungy. On our trip up to the cape we had a few scenic stops before we checked into our accomodation. The first was a crocodile spotting boat ride up the Daintree River. We didn't get to see the four meter monster named Scar who patrolled that particular strip of water. Instead we saw some hatchlings, a two year old, and learned some facts about Crocodillions. For example Crocs have retractable penises and can stay under water for hours at a time! Next we headed up a very windy road that partially follows ancient aboriginal walking trails. The tour guide also told us to be on the lookout for prehistoric looking birds called Cassowaries. We stopped for a quick walk through the forest and found out some interesting facts about Mangrove trees. They are able to flourish in salt water because of a neat little adaptation they've made over time. They filter the water through their roots and channel all of the salt to a select few leaves on the tree. These are called "sacraficial leaves", they turn yellow and die while the rest of the tree keeps growing.

We finally made it to our destination, Ferntrees Lodge, around two o'clock. We were in a picture taking moode so we headed to the nearby bushwalk to take in more of the beautiful rainforest. An hour, and one hundred pictures, later we found ourselves on our first beach in over a month. We jumped at probably our last chance to sun ourselves on Australian sand and set up our towels. Five minutes later the clouds had come in and we were shivering. Oh well it was nice while it lasted!

The little town of Cape Tribulation is little more than a convenience store, a pub and a flying fox sanctuary. Seeing as it was a Monday nothing was especially busy but we decided to head down the road for a meal at the pub. It was pitch black outside and absolutely every rustle in the bushes sounded like a bear coming to attack us. Thankfully there are no bears in Australia and our very kind roomate lent us her torch for the freaky walk. After dinner we hit the hay so we would be ready for our seven o'clock saddle date the next morning.

We got picked up by an older, and very rugged looking version of Daniel Craig, Steve would be our guide for the day. We met our horses and the rest of the group, both of which were very ecclectic. One very enthusiastic woman looked like she was ready for the jungle, or rather had came out of it. Dressed head to toe in leopard print and jingling with about a pound of bangles, I was excited to see where the day would lead.  My horse Ringer looked a little worse for wear but I was told he was lots of "fun", I would later find out what that meant. We wandered through bush, trotted through pastures, stumbled through creeks and got to canter down the beach. But before Ringer I got a chance to feel the wind in my hair Ringer decided to get ornery. I hopped off and Steve put him through the paces before Ringer let me run him. We stopped for a snack and a swim and got regailed with stories from a horse whisperer. Steve knew every horse and their mannerisms and had stories to boot. All we needed was a campfire and it would've been a western movie.

Three hours, and a sore ass, later Sabrina and I mosied back to the lodge. We got picked up by our bus and enjoyed another scenic drive home. We stopped at some amazing vantage points for photo ops and made our way to Mossman Gorge for another swim. We stopped in the cute little resort town of Port Douglas and looked around at some funky shops. The day could not have been more perfect!

Our final excursion was a day out at a ranch quad biking. Before making it to the farm our driver got pulled over for doing an illegal U-turn, the day was off to a good start. The quads reminded me lawnmowers but having only gone quading once before I was kind of relieved. It all started out pretty slow doing some laps around a practice course before splitting up and heading into the bush. At a substantially faster clip I was white knuckling the entire ride. There were so many times I thought the quad was going to flip I was so relieved when we rode up to the barn three hours later. Of all the ground we had covered we brought back about half of it with us. We only got a little dirty...

After our crazy day we decided to unwind in the usual fashion on our last night together in Cairns. Sabrina and I had a Mexican feast at our favourite funky spot the Green Ant Cantina. Then we met up with some friends for some pool and some cider at our favourite bar the Bluesky Brewery. Everything about the day was a great last hoorah to end the trip with! I'll miss the people I've met in my travels and all of the places I've seen. But I'm glad to be coming home with an amazing friend who I can share these memories with for the rest of our lives! Awwwe :).

Thank you all for reading about my travels, this blog has been a really fun way to document it all. I'll be seeing you all soon!

Lots of Love,

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Final Destination

The beginning of May is the beginning of winter in Australia. Lucky for us going up the coast means that the temperature is still hovering in the high twenties and the wet season is coming to a close. Since we arrived in Cairns five weeks ago we have been enjoying nothing but sun seven days a week! Besides the wonderful weather Cairns itself has been amazing. This is the first place that we have settled into for such a long time and it's felt like home since the very first day.

Speaking of homes, getting one was the first item on our list of priorities. We opted for a sharehouse seeing as there are so many options in Cairns and we had heard good things about them. We checked out a couple and ended up moving into our twin room the next day. No more bunk beds and dirty hostel kitchens. Our new house was just a 10 minute walk away from the CBD and felt like a girls dorm with our six other roomies (only one of which was a boy).

Next on the list was finding jobs. After applying all over town and not hearing anything promising we went to a travel agency called Peter Pans. They were looking for floor managers and promo people, probably the two easiest jobs in the world! We talked to the manager and started the next day. The only downfall was that we weren't working for actual cash, but instead being reimbursed with travel dollars. But there is so much to do in Cairns so we have saved money in the end.

The Great Barrier Reef is what Cairns is famous for. So many people come here looking to become certified scuba divers and to work on the boats that go out to the Reef on a daily basis. Sabrina and I were lucky enough to win a free day trip out to the reef at one of the clubs in town. We hopped on the Osprey V bright and early one Saturday morning and spent the whole day in the water and laying out on the big boat. We rented an underwater camera and snorkelled around all day chasing brightly coloured fish and taking awe inspiring pictures of the gorgeous reef. We spontaneously decided to try a scuba dive while we were there as well. Being under the water for twenty minutes without having to surface for a breath was amazing. I think I could quite easily live underwater. It's a whole different world with amazing animals I've never seen other than on the discovery channel. While we were down under we saw a sea turtle, a morray eel, giant clams, Nemo, and we even got to handle a jellyfish!

When we got back to shore we were nothing more than elated. The day had quite easily topped anything we have done on this trip so far. We also had to laugh at our tan lines. Seeing as we were face down in the water all day our entire back half was a bright red, save from the white of our bikini straps!

The three hundred and eighty pictures we had taken had to get put on a CD that would be ready in about an hour. So we headed down to the Peir for some drinks and a feed to kill time. While we were there we sat down with a bunch of people that worked on one of the boats. We got to talking and found out that a couple of the guys were heading to the reef the next day to do some work. They offered to take us out on the private boat and take us for a scuba dive once they were done working! How could we say no!

At the ungodly hour of five am we headed back to the marina and all five of us boarded the Seastar. By the time we were out of the harbour the sun was just beginning to rise and painting the sky a brillian gold. Sabrina and I spent the day on our own private boat sunning ourselves on the roof and then snorkelling in what felt like our own private ocean. There were no other boats for miles and without thirty other people splashing around the fish were swimming lazily. Everything about the day was so calm and surreal.

When the guys finally resurfaced it was about five o'clock and the sun was quickly approaching the skyline. We got suited up and hopped into the dingy for a quick dive. We rolled into the water and started descending into what felt like a different world. The water was getting darker and everything seemed to be adopting an eerie calm. After finding some giant clams we were swimming along and out of the corner of my eye I saw something bigger than the other fish we had been seeing. To my left about two meters away was a Black Tipped Reef Shark! Once it noticed us it swam away without another thought. I cannot believe I stayed so calm in the ocean under the setting sun with a shark swimming right next to me. After all that I'm now seriously considering becoming a certified diver.

It feels like an understatement, but this weekend has been the most amazing time of my life that I will undoubtedly remember forever.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Airlie Beach

We arrived in Airlie bright and early after yet another lengthy overnight bus ride. We had high hopes for the little town seeing as we were both running out of money and had heard that job prospects where pretty good. Well whoever told us that was lying through their teeth. After papering the main drag with resumes we had only heard back from a travel company which would only reimburse us with travel dollars. Which are as good as monopoly money. We figured we had to move on pretty quickly, but not without having some fun first!

A friend of ours from Winnipeg had been au pairing in Airlie since September and was eager to meet up with us before we left. Tricia had grown up with Sabrina and she and I had gone through elementary school together. Ironically it was both girls birthdays the week we landed in Airlie. Tricia took us out on the town and we celebrated Sabrinas champagne birthday with some bubbly. The night was lots of fun and it was great to see another familiar face.

Its stinger season until the end of April in northern Queensland, so swimming in the ocean is pretty much out of the question. Luckily Airlie has a lovely little lagoon that we hung out at while the sun was out. From there we could watch the big sailboats coming in from the Whitsunday Islands. Unfortunately we had to leave Airlie before we had a chance to get on a boat and go for a trip around the Islands it would have been amazing. Whitehaven beach has the whitest sand of any beach in the world making the Whitsundays world famous. I figure because I missed out this time it just means that I'll have to come back and see them on another trip!

Airlie was hit pretty badly by a cyclone in March. Nobody was seriously injured but there is still some debris lying around from boats that had been washed ashore during the storm.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Rainy Island

Fraser Island was our next stop. The trip out to the giant sandbar lasted three days and was an adventure to say the least. Much to our relief we got to leave our giant packs at our hostel in Hervey Bay. Armed with only our small backpacks, we headed to our early morning (6:30 am) meeting on the day of departure. Before heading to the ferry there were some things that needed to be taken care of. Mainly shopping for essentials like groceries and alcohol. Also everyone who was over twenty two and had a drivers license had to get briefed about driving on the island. That left Sabrina and I as passengers and the group shoppers. With a lengthy list and $160 in our pockets, we headed to the store with the non-drivers from the other six groups also heading to Fraser. The experience was a cross between bumper carts and an episode of Dinner Impossible, the nice old store clerk even offered each of us a banana to fuel our frantic shopping.  

Back to the group and we rushed to pack the 4WD truck before racing to catch the eleven o'clock ferry over to the island. Our group was made up of six other people hailing from all over the world. Of the two guys in our group one was from Switzerland, and the other from England, three of the girls were from Denmark, and one was from Germany. The ice was broken pretty quickly as we hopped off the ferry and started making our way to Central Station along the sand roads. We all got thrown around in the back of the truck  for a solid hour before reaching our first destination. The Station had a short but beautiful walking path through the surrounding forest. Seeing trees sprouting from the sand is the strangest thing. The forest floor also had a stream running through it that was so clear you had to take a second look before actually seeing it.
Our next stop was Lake Wabby. The water hole was a forty five minute trek through more forest and over a desert of giant sand dunes. The walk became pretty stressful thanks to Sabrina's new found fear of spiders. But I have to say I was definitely getting shivers from the monsters lining the path. So after six or so panic attacks we made in to the beautiful emerald lake at the base of a very steep dune. The water was warm and clear enough to see catfish swimming lazily near the shore. A few unsuccessful attempts where made to catch one bare handed.

We then headed to the Maheno shipwreck. The carcass of an old Chinese oil tanker has been rusting on the beach for years, and the constant battering from wind and waves have created giant holes in the ships remaining frame. We snapped a bunch of pictures before heading to Eli creek which was our last stop of the day and our first sighting of a dingo! The creek was another clear freshwater estuary that ran through the forest and spilled out onto the beach. As we were walking along the boardwalk a dingo sauntered passed us in the opposite direction. It looked at us with little more interest than if we had been just another tree. We got warned in our briefing that the Dingoes on the island can be vicious and not to approach them especially not with food. But the animal looks so much like a regular dog that its hard to be very precautions.

And with that we were off to find our campsite and set up before the sun set. The site was owned by aboriginals that live in the area and was very well accommodated with flushing toilets and a large eating area. In our briefing we also learned some ways to respect the aboriginal beliefs and traditions, some of these being no whistling after dark and to never spit on a fire. With that in mind we cooked up a delicious meal and proceeded to party the night away.

The next day we headed to Indian Heads to see if we could spot any tiger sharks feeding which is a regular occurrence near the headland. The water was really choppy so we didn't see anything but the views of the island from there were breathtaking. The next stop was the Champagne Pools a short walk down the beach. As we were walking I kept looking back at the quickly darkening sky behind us. Within minutes a vicious swell had come off the water and we were soaked within seconds. We were twenty minutes from the truck but having my camera and other valuables with me I was worried that we wouldn't make it to the pools. Half of us headed back to the truck to take cover and assess the damage. Everything of mine was fine but Sabrina's passport got absolutely soaked. We decided to head back to camp early to dry out and nap seeing as there was a lack of sleep the night before.

The next morning was another early one. We had to make it on to the beach before the tide came in so we could make it to the two lakes we had on the itinerary for the day. The first was a serene strip of white sand beach on the edge of bright blue water. The sun was finally visible after a gloomy morning but the weather wasn't finished yet. Five minutes after getting into the bikini it clouded over and started to rain again. We gave up and headed for the famous Lake Mackenzie. Another hour on the bumpy as inland tracks and we found the lake with little problem. It was a lot busier here judging by the parking lot. Once we stepped out of the bush we could see why it was so popular. The sun was again shining and the sugar coloured sand was blinding in contrast with the deep turquoise of the water. From the beach a steep drop off was visible about 15 meters out. We spent the remainder of the day laying on the beach and swimming in the crystal clear freshwater lake. Being able to see my feet from the surface while treading water is an understated example of just how clear the water is.

We jumped on the ferry and made our way back to the hostel on the mainland. Dirty, tired and hungry we unpacked then made a mad dash for the showers. We had a couple hours to chill out with our Fraser family before getting on our overnight bus to Airlie Beach. It was sad to leave but the trip was a big highlight in the coast so far.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A place to Call Home

We arrived in Noosa Heads late in the afternoon without any plans as to where we were going to stay. After calling multiple places we found out that it was apparently high season and that many places were all booked up. Although we did find an apartment available at Dolphins Beach House for only $35 a night! We though why not and decided to book in for 5 nights. Being able to cook in our own kitchen and share a double bed instead of a bunk seemed too good a deal to pass up.

Sunshine beach and the Noosa National park were a short walk down the street from us. The park is home to lots of native wildlife, including Koalas. We didn't get to see much more than a bush turkey and some butterflies on our hike through the forest.

The weather in Noosa wasn't the greatest while we were there. We even ended up staying inside all day when it wouldn't stop raining. I almost finished an entire book that day and went a little bit stir crazy in the process. Lucky for us the morning we chose to go surfing for the first time was a beautiful one. The sun was shining and everything was calm. Unfortunately calm isn't the best for surfing and we were finding it hard to catch waves. Even so, after two hours and lots of encouragement from our instructor Sabrina and I were both standing up. As we're heading further up the coast this was out last chance to try our hand at the sport. Surf beaches become a rarity further north, mostly because of deadly jellyfish and the great Barrier Reef.

Noosa was very relaxing if nothing else, and a nice vacation away from hostel living (as much as I do enjoy it).

Monday, April 12, 2010


Having not been in a big city for the last months trying to orient ourselves in Brisbane proved to be more difficult than we would have thought. Our new home was the XBase Central and was only a short ten minute walk from the transit center. Our backpacks weighed us down a fair bit and we arrived at the hostel sweaty and ready to crash.

Brisbane is the only city we've stayed in that hasn't had a beachfront, although there were rumors of a man made oasis somewhere nearby. The image of the Oasis in Winnipeg was stuck in my mind so we managed to steer clear. The city itself is pretty small and very walkable, they also have a river transport system that takes you up and from side to side of the Brisbane river. We took one of these ferries over to Kangaroo point on Saturday for an afternoon of rockclimbing on the cliffs that are in the park. Having never climbed on a real rock face it was harder than it looked. Not to mention being put on the hardest part of the whole wall! Sabrina and I only made it about a meter up the wall before falling off. We both had a ton of fun trying though.
Saturday night I met up with Jake, another friend from ISV, and he took us out on the town to an area called "The Valley". The two blocks are home to trendy night clubs, pubs and fancy restraunts. This area might be the reason the city is often called "Brisvegas". We met up at a club called Cloudland and my jaw hit the floor. The two level lounge reminds me of something out of Night at the Roxbury and was apparently designed by a nineteen year old girl for the meager amount of ten million dollars. With the waterfall, the immaculate bathrooms and the giant statue of jesus in the middle it felt more like stepping into someones dream rather than a club. We felt classy for the first time in a while.

Easter Sunday and a long way from home. I can almost smell the amazing brunch that's being cooked up for everybody back home. Missing family celebrations is strange and brings about some pangs of homesickness. To ease the pain Sabrina and I bought some chocolates and made ourselves and Easter picnic! We sat in a small park in the middle of the CBD and felt as if the city had shut down momentarily. Nobody was around and the quiet amongst the usually busy buildings was almost eerie.

We took a day to checked out the Queensland Art Gallery, seeing as we hadn't done anything culturally enhancing in the last month either. The gallery was really nice with lots of contemporary Australian art and an exhibit that was dedicated to a master hat maker Stephen Jones.

We decided that we hadn't done quite enough climbing yet and met up with Jake again for an indoor climbing session this time. We spent a solid four hours scrambling up and down the walls before our muscles finally gave out on us. I have to say its a lot of fun and I might be going to vertical adventures more often when I get home!

Our last day in Brisbane was spent at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary a forty minute ride out of the city. We got there just in time to see a sheep herding and shearing demonstartion. From there we wandered around and found ouselves face to face with Kangaroos, Wallabies and a couple of Emus. We got to pet the Roo's but the Wallabies were to skitish to get close to. As for the Emu's I'd have to say I wouldn't touch one of them if you dared me. We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around taking in all of the 130 Koalas in the sanctuary, in all of their uniquely comfortable poses amongst the trees. With the opportunity to get a picture with one of the cuddley animals, we couldn't resist. Sixteen dollars later "Wisely" and I were posing for the picture. Koalas are heavier than they look but just as soft and cuddley as a teddy bear. They're also not bears but marsupials. We also got the chance to see a platypus at feeding time. The beaver duck like animal is strange to watch and I also learned that it is venomous. Right before we left the wild Lorikeet feeding was taking place. The sanctuary worker explained that we could hold the feed bowls for a photo-op once the oatmeal like food was placed in them. We got some pictures and after being swarmed by the colourful birds we walked to the bus stop covered in what we hoped was oatmeal.

Here's a shot of Wisely and I:

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

It's a Tourists Paradise

Only two short hours away and Surfers Paradise could not be more different from Byron Bay. The endless stretch of white sand is surrounded by sky scrapping hotels, shopping malls, and night clubs. It's more of a tourist destination than a backpackers paradise. We stayed at the Surfers Paradise Backpackers Resort, which was again a motel style hostel, this time equipped with a tennis court as well.

We indulged in the nightlife a few times over the week but mostly we laid low and hung out with our lovely british roomates. Other than lying on the beach, as usual, we took a trip out to one of the many theme parks that Surfers is famous for. Wet'N Wild is a giant water park with huge slides, a wave pool and even a rollercoaster. We spent the entire day there and managed to go on every slide once, mainly because of the massive school group that was there, but also because there was so many things to do.

We also walked to a park called Cascade gardens and spent a day taking pictures and wandering around. The gardens are famous for all of the bats that sleep in the trees during the day. When the air began to smell like guano we figured that we had found them. Looking up we could see nearly a thousand of the creatures hanging out upside down in the foliage.

We found so many jellyfish washed up all over the beach. Stepping on them was unavoidable and an overal lifechanging experience. They have the strangest texture.

After a week in paradise its time to move on. Brisbane is next on the list but who knows for how long!