As soon as we landed in Cairns and found it free of bugs and a comfortable 85 degrees, we were feeling much more at home. We checked into the Bay Village Tropical Retreat and headed down to the Esplanade.
The Cairns Esplanade is a waterfront section of shops, restaurants and public facilities like a boardwalk, pool, splash park, and skate park. This was where we went every night for dinner, shopping and to walk around. We loved the atmosphere of Cairns. Walking to dinner on a Sunday night, all of the public barbecue areas were packed with groups of people cooking and hanging out. Of the three cities we visited in Australia, if we had to pick one to live in it would definitely be Cairns.
One of the best parts about Cairns was happy hour. Our hotel had a great happy hour and we frequented it every night we were there, making friends with the bartender and soliciting restaurant recommendations from her each night. I think I drank at least 20 cranberry & vodkas at that bar. But we were on vacation, so it was ok.
On our second day in Cairns, we were booked on a catamaran cruise out to Michaelmas Cay on the Great Barrier Reef.
The weather was looking ominous and the ride out was rather rocky, but we manage to not get sick and the skies parted just as we reached the reef.
The snorkeling here was absolutely amazing. The pictures just do not do it justice. The coral was beautiful and colorful and there were fish EVERYWHERE. Big, small, colorful, gorgeous.
Lunch was a seafood buffet on the ship, followed by more snorkeling. Lee and I swam out further to get away from the other snorkelers and see a new part of the reef. By this time we had used up all of the film in our disposable underwater camera, and of course that was when we spotted a huge, beautiful sea turtle. Lee and I swam with him, all by ourselves, for about 10 minutes. It was amazing. We couldn't pull ourselves away. You could even hear him crunching on the coral he was eating underwater.
Finally we let him be and it was time to go on our semi-submersible boat tour, which is basically a glass bottomed boat that allows you to view the coral without getting wet.
Definitely not as fun as being in the water, but at least I did get my turtle picture:
The homeward sail was rocky again, but we slept some and champagne made it better.
Now, I want to pause here for a moment and talk to you about the bats. Australia has these huge bats, called fruit bats or "flying foxes." If you know that I don't like birds, you should know that I REALLY don't like bats. And these suckers were gigantic. And they all congregated in these certain tall fruit trees. Around 6:30 each night they would start flying around everywhere, usually when we were on the way to dinner.
Or one night in Kakadu when we were walking back to camp through the woods after watching the sunset. They kept swooping down at my head and it was getting dark. When we finally got out of those woods, the parents of the two young boys who were staying in the camp with us were telling the boys "you did so good, you were very brave."
Then Lee looked at me and told me the same thing. Then I looked at him and told him if he ever brought me to Australia and made me go walking in the woods at dusk with the fruits bats again, the marriage was OVER.
Anyway, of course Lee loved the bats and made the screechy bat noises the whole trip and took pictures of them.
Ok, no more about the bats. I'm getting worked up just thinking about them.
Our second day in Cairns was a tour of the Daintree rainforest. This was our ride:
Australia has some of the most deadly jellyfish:
Probably the coolest part of this tour was lunch, which was practically in the middle of the rainforest. Out of nowhere, they served us steak, fish, sausage, salads, bread and wine.
Then we stopped for ice cream at the Daintree ice cream company. The flavors that day (they all come from rainforest materials) were berry, jakfruit, wattleseed and soursop. I didn't care for it, but Lee liked it.
Next we did a cruise on the Daintree River where we saw more crocs:
And I put my zoom lens to the test on the boat:
The last stop was Mossman Gorge:
We had our final day in Cairns free to spend doing whatever we wanted. This was our first full day without a tour or a flight and we loved every minute of it (well, except the minutes I spent doing laundry, a necessary evil even halfway across the world). We went shopping, had NY pizza for lunch, went to the bank for more cash, went to a bottle shop (aka ABC store), checked email, lounged by the resort pool all afternoon, and of course hit up happy hour.
Then it was time to say goodbye to Cairns and head off to heaven on earth, also known as Heron Island.
P.S. -- If you're wondering why I haven't talked about any of the food, I've decided to leave that for a separate post.