After just a few hours in Cairns, I realised why my younger brother had chosen to live and work there for a few months: there were pubs and nightclubs galore! On our first night, we spoke to his former workmate ‘Snapper’ and ended up going on the Frog & Toad Bar Hop (for a discounted price, of course - mention the name 'Tully' anywhere and most people will know who you mean). It was a lot of fun, but we were glad to have elected to stay at the chilled out Tropic Days hostel rather than the third stop on the pub crawl - Gilligan's - a huge hostel and noisy nightclub that parties through the night (Andrew’s home during his time there!)
Pam at our hostel, Tropic Days
We read that Cairns is regarded by locals as having "sold its soul" by catering almost exclusively for backpackers and, despite adding to the issue by staying there, I can see why they would think that. On virtually every street (which weirdly all look the same as each other) are several tour operators in between the bars, and each night the city feels like a Saturday because of the sheer number of young people out drinking and partying.
Preparing for my dive!
However, Cairns remains a popular destination because it is so close to the Great Barrier Reef and we decided to see it up close... by scuba diving! With our hired underwater camera in hand, we jumped aboard our boat and on the way to Michaelmas Cay were given a safety briefing and a presentation by a marine biologist to learn about what we'd be seeing on the dive. Once we reached our first stop, we went snorkeling around the boat. Had this been the sole purpose of the trip, it would have been worth it, but then came the time for our first dive (after much persuasion, Pam agreed to give it a go). Being twenty metres under the surface was incredible, an experience like no other I’ve ever had. We saw colourful coral, exotic fish and rays of sunlight¬¬ streaking through the water. It’s ironic that when breathing through the mouthpiece connected to the oxygen tank – under all that water – your mouth becomes as dry as a desert! Our second dive was at a reef the crew were really excited to see because they only go there around three times a year, as conditions need to be perfect. This time, we were allowed forty minutes under the water rather than the twenty-five minutes we had on the first dive. I can safely say the whole experience was the best I’ve had since travelling.
Scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef - we loved it!
Anyone who knows Pam will understand how she gets ridiculously excited in the lead up to her birthday. To ensure she would have a day to remember (it was to be her first away from home, so no pressure then...) I set about devising a plan. The posh tourist town of Port Douglas, an hour north of Cairns, was picked as I booked us in for two nights in a seaside apartment.
The birthday girl!
When we walked into apartment, we were delighted to see a complimentary bottle of wine, balloons and a card for the birthday girl. This was going to be a welcome change to staying in hostels!
At the Port Douglas Sunday Market
That night, we planned to have a barbeque (the balcony had one just crying out to be used!) However, after several attempts to get it working – and a minor explosion – we gave up and fried our burgers, sausages and kebabs instead. We then settled back to enjoy our grub as Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince came on the movie channel – bliss!
On the morning of Pam’s birthday, she opened presents and cards from her friends and family, enjoyed breakfast in bed (toast!) then went jewellery shopping at the Port Douglas Sunday market, which is said to be one of the best in Australia. Afterwards, we went to the gorgeous Four Mile Beach where we took advantage of the free body boards from the apartment. We rounded off the night with a delicious meal at On The Inlet – an award-winning seafood restaurant – and a Skype session home to Pam’s family.
As much as we’d have loved to have stayed in Port Douglas for a few more days, weeks and months, our budget simply doesn’t allow for it! We are now heading to Magnetic Island – where we are staying in a tent!
My choice in jewellery is slightly less expensive than Pam's!