Can traveling around the world be exhausting? We have an answer for you. . .yes, yes and yes! Our departure out of Hobart to Cairns was a nightmare. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 6 am from Hobart to Melbourne, where we had a short layover and then a final flight to Cairns & the Great Barrier Reef. We were up at 3am, out the door at 4, returned the rental car and headed to check in. When we went to check in, the ticket agent informed us that our flight to Melbourne was canceled (bummer # 1) and they rebooked us on a different flight going to Brisbane…6 hours later!!! (huge bummer # 2). At first I thought it was all a joke, after all, I was running on only 3 hours of sleep but when I finally looked up at the information board I saw CANCELED. I looked and Rick and said, “How are we going to survive 6 hours at the airport with two little kids at 5 am!” And here, once again, I was taught to never underestimate your kids. They were amazing, children born to travel. They never cried, threw a tantrum or misbehaved. They kept themselves entertained by climbing on the suitcases, chasing each other, watching cartoons and shopping at the local cafe. Although it was a long 6 hours for Rick & I, Leo & Mila were really good. Sometimes kids just have that 6th sense when things aren’t going right they turn on their best behavior.
That was not the end of our travel catastrophe. We later learned that once we got to Brisbane, we had to exit security, grab our luggage and once again, go back to the ticket agent and get our tickets to Cairns!! All of this had to be done in one hour!!! At this point, it was Rick & I’s turn to throw a tantrum! Why on Earth could they not check us all the way through to Cairns? According to the airline (whom we won’t mention), when they issued our new tickets, it was on 2 different airlines so we had to go to the agent in Brisbane to get our final tickets. At this point, Rick called the airline and complained. After an hour on the phone, they provided us $160 worth of food voucher (sounds like a lot but not really in Aussie airports - we spent every nickel) and $100 credit towards another flight.
At 6 pm, after 14 hours of airport wonders, we finally made it to Cairns. If felt like we were in 7th heaven when we walked out of the airport and were hit with super warm and humid air - kind of like landing in Florida and immediately our homesickness went away.
Our AirBnB rental was wonderful, a spacious two bedroom unit with a pool. And that’s exactly where we spent the following day, relaxing by the pool, doing laundry, shopping and getting ready for another set of adventures in tropical Queensland.
Cairns is a really cool city with a typical beach city feel. It has a vibe of what “old” Florida may have looked like 30 years ago. Plenty of cozy cafes and restaurants, tons of backpackers and travelers from all around the world, a great boardwalk and esplanade with a huge pool, and of course tons of boats at the marina to get you out to the 8th Wonder of the World - the Great Barrier Reef!!! We visited a local tourist office where we learned more about the area and different attractions. Since it’s box jellyfish season (November- April), you are not allowed to swim in the ocean unless it’s in an enclosed area or you are wearing a full protective suit. We drove to two of the local beaches - Palm Cove and Trinity Beach. Both were very nice, super long and narrow, surrounded by the mountains and the rain forest. At Palm Cove, the lifeguards put up a sign about a salt water crocodile who was recently spotted in the water and they advised not to swim there. We may be risk takers but no way were we messing with crocs, no swimming for us around here! We also spent some time at the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon located right on the shore. Kids absolutely loved this place, they were able to freely swim, play in the sand and keep busy while Rick and I relaxed on a blanket. Its Thanksgiving Day back in the States but its tough for us to get into it since we’re away from family. We could not get turkey here so we chose to grill fresh snapper, brown rice and an apple,cranberry and butternut squash bake.
While the States celebrated Black Friday with some shopping, we spent the day on the Great Barrier Reef!!! The Great Barrier Reef is a 2600 km ecosystem that consists of thousands of reefs, hundreds of different islands and the most species in the World. We decided to visit one of the Frankland Islands - Isle of Normanby. The main reason why we chose this place is because this island is completely uninhabited and untouched. We were picked up by bus at 7 am and it took us about one hour ride to the river, where we jumped on the boat. From there, it took us about 45 minutes to get to the island. Along with us, there were probably about 20 other people, so a pretty small group. As we exited the rain forest and river, we were greeted by the Coral Sea and just absolutely beautiful scenery. The water had a beautiful turquoise color and you see patches of coral. As soon as we docked the boat we jumped onto the soft yellow sand. We were the only people on this island, quite special if you ask me. Our tour leader explained the schedule for the day and shortly after, Leo and I started to put our wet suits on to go snorkeling, while Rick and Mila build castles in the sand. I could not wait to dive into the gorgeous water and see what's underneath it. We saw plenty of colorful fishes, different colors of the coral and a turtle! It's was a perfect day for snorkeling but sadly I must admit that a big amount of the coral has been destroyed due to bleaching. We were told that most of the coral contains algae, it is a mutualistic relationship, one can’t live without the other ( kinda like true love). The coral provides the algae with the protected environment and compounds their need for photosynthesis. If the water temperatures rises, the algae disappears and as a result, it kills coral aka bleaching process ( please note that I am not an expert on this topic and are trying to repeat why I learned today). Nevertheless, it was an unforgettable experience to be able to snorkel in the largest living reef on the earth. Leo was so happy each time he saw a fish and a turtle. He is such a nature lover and you can see the passion in his eyes, even through his little googles :-) Once we finished the snorkeling tour, it was Rick's turn. Mila, Leo and I jumped into a submarine boat, where we were watching the Reef while Rick went with the rest of the group to see a different part of the reef. The visibility from the bottomless boat was not that great, although we saw 3 turtles, parrot fish, starfish, blue and yellow coral and tons of clams. After that, we all headed to a picnic area where we had lunch ( it was included in the price of the trip and they did a great job feeding us). The next hour we spent relaxing on the beach, paddle boarding, and playing in the sand with our rascals. We could not get over the color of the water and tranquility of this island - a true paradise. It was definitely one of the main highlights during our world tour and something to mark off our bucket list. It was the perfect Black Friday purchase!
The following day we chose to drive inland and explore the rainforest. There are a number of waterfalls in Queensland, Australia so we wanted to seek then out. The first one, called Barron Falls, was located only 30 minutes away from our house, right in the middle of the rain forest. We took a short 1 km walk to the viewing point. Northern Queensland is coming out of their dry season so the intensity of the falls was not that great, but it did leave a lot to the imagination to see water gushing down this huge cliff. Next, we took a one hour car ride to the Millaa Millaa Falls - as Leo said, falls made just for Mila! This waterfall was great as it had a huge grassy area to set a blanket down plus a pool under the falls to swim. We took a few dips in the super cold and refreshing water, and relaxed to the sound of this spectacular falls. Leo and Mila kept running around, sliding down the muddy hill (we had to pitch Mila’s bathing suit since it looked like she pooped everywhere) and splashing in the water. At one point Leo told me he saw turtles and fishes, and was feeding them with bread. At first I did not believe him, where in the world was he seeing turtles in this murky water…well, he called me over and proved me wrong. Down stream there were a dozen little turtles and fishes, and yes, he was throwing them his sandwich, hahaha! After a few hours at Millaa Milllaa Falls, we decided to move on and explore more. On our way there Mila fell asleep in the car and at this point, we decided to head back home. We did visit two other waterfall spots but only Rick jumped out of the car and snapped a few pictures. That evening our host was having a birthday party for his wife and politely invited us over. We did not plan to go, but once we got back home, Leo wanted to go to the pool so Rick took him. They came back few minutes later and said that there was a polish girl and she would like to talk to me - so here I was in a pool party in Cairns, hanging out with a super nice polish girl and her mom, sharing a drink and a good laugh. It is a small World after all!
The next morning we took a 45 minute drive to a coastal town up north called Port Douglas. The ride there was another one of our scenic drives, hugging the tropical Pacific Coast amongst the rainforests. We also passed an area full of kangaroos, so cute. Port Douglas is a very chilled and relaxed town, full of coffee shops, bars, restaurants and a wonderful Sunday market. We walked around the market, bought some fresh mango juice, ice cream and other yummy goodies. I love watching Leo becoming independent - his new things is shopping, haha. He feels so proud of himself when he gets some money from daddy and buys something on his own, I guess he is slowly growing up : ) The market ends with a small playground and a gorgeous view, a huge grass area with palm trees and a stunning view of the coast with mountains in the backdrop! Gorgeous!!! The rest of the day we spent at Four Mile Beach sunbathing and relaxing. Once again, you have to swim in the stinger nets due to the risk of box jellyfish. I must admit that the sun here is much stronger than in Florida - we are constantly reapplying sunscreen but somehow we still manage to get sunburnt : (
Our last day we really wanted to get back on the water and explore more of The Great Barrier Reef, and thats exactly what we did. We booked a full day trip with Reef Magic Cruise - this excursion allowed us to fully explore the amazing coral reef. The boat ride to took us to the outer Reef and took us a good 1.5 hour to get there. Its a good 60-70kms off shore. Once we got there, the boat drops you off at a barge and you get to snorkel or scum dive for 5 hours. Rick has been itching to scuba dive so he went out on 2 dives. He said it was on of the best experiences he’s ever had. Just tons of marine life and color below the water’s surface. What was special is he was the only diver accompanied by 2 instructors so he essentially had his own private tour of the Reef! Beau at Ambeau Sport and Caitlin at SeayStudio gave him an experience he’ll never forget. While Rick was exploring the ocean life, Leo, Mila and I hopped onto a bottomless boat where we were able to see some of the most amazing species living in the reef. Parrot fish, butterfly fish, beautiful coral, sharks, turtles and things that just blow my mind. Leo and Mila were so excited each time they spotted Dory or Nemo, it was so cute! Once Rick got back to the barge, Leo and I went snorkeling and without a doubt, it was the best snorkeling experience ever. The coral had amazing colors and shapes, colorful fishes swam everywhere, I really felt like a part of the movie “Nemo”. Since there were tons of jelly fish, we all had to wear wet suits. It was almost noon and we all started to get hungry. The Reef Magic Crew set up a buffet style lunch and we all shared some delicious shrimp, salads and meats. After lunch I went snorkeling one more time, while Rick and kids watched a fish feeding activity. Rick had one more certified dive to finish, so this time, I took Leo and Mila back onto the boat. It was definitely an intense day with the kids and the ride out there was a bit rough (seas were 3-5) but it was something we will never forget. The Great Barrier Reef is truly a wonder of the World and you really have to see it to believe it?! It was another “pinch me moment” that makes you really appreciate things. It also puts into perspective how sensitive our environment is and our duty to allow generations to come to enjoy this magical World.
On the boat ride back to the land we all fell asleep. We all were exhausted and super tired yet felt super accomplished and amazing. It was almost a feeling that you get after winning a very tough basketball game, kinda priceless! As Leo would say, “winner winner, chicken dinner!”