An Incredible Stop at The Great Barrier Reef

An Oceania Trip: Part 2

This is Part 2 in a series about our November 2017 trip to Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. Read about Sydney in Part 1 here.

Time to say goodbye to lovely Sydney. Overall, I was mightily impressed with the city and is up there on my list of most beautiful cities, along with Vancouver. The perfect weather in late November played a huge part in why we enjoyed our time so much; every day it was 27-28 degrees and clear blue skies.



Cairns was much hotter than Sydney, at 32-33 degrees every day - definitely more of a tropical climate. You can’t help but feel like you’re on vacation here, with all the palm trees and small town vibes, and of course the Coral Sea in front of you.

Sunset by the seashore. Image Credit: Me.

We stayed at the Doubletree by Hilton Cairns, which is a good hotel and what we expected in a four star hotel in this area. Reception offers a free cookie upon check-in, which was nice. Unfortunately, they could only offer us two double beds and not one king bed, which was a bummer.

After we dropped our luggage off at the hotel, we walked around the waterfront for the first night, wanting to be well rested for the Great Barrier Reef the next day. We also checked out some of the nearby shops, though we didn't buy much.

Everyone gave a wide berth for these "mean gulls". I'm kidding, I know they're pelicans. Image Credit: Me.


We booked our Great Barrier Reef day tour with Sightseeing Australia, for $109 AUD at the time, now $115 AUD (as of August 2018). It seemed to be the cheapest of the Great Barrier Reef tours available, and also included coffee, tea, a BBQ  lunch, afternoon snacks, and wine.

The view from our hotel room in the morning. Image Credit: Me.

We started our day bright and early at 7:30AM. It was mostly solo travelers and young people on the boat, with one family of 3 or 4. It took us a couple of hours to get to the first reef; some of the other boats we saw were faster than ours, but we enjoyed relaxing on the boat.

Profile picture! Image Credit: Eugene.

As we approached the first reef, we started donning our snorkeling gear and outfits. There is reef-safe sunscreen provided onboard, with enough to go around the whole boat. As I wasn’t an experienced swimmer, I decided to don a lifejacket and went off with one of the crew members.

There are really no words to describe the feeling once you see what’s underwater. I think I actually uttered “wow” through my snorkeling tube. The vastness of the reefs and the diversity of marine life are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It was honestly kind of spiritual, seeing all the colourful fish dart around you and the reefs. Unfortunately I didn’t take as many pictures or videos of my first snorkel to the reef, but I don’t think they would have adequately captured its beauty.

After the first snorkel, the crew provided a barbecue lunch, which was genuinely delicious and way better than what I had expected for the price we paid for the tour. We moved onto the second reef, where I learned my lesson and took my waterproof case with me. Apologies for the shaky cam, it was really hard to control my phone underwater. I would also say the first reef was a lot more vast and awe-inspiring, whereas the second reef was more relaxing.

At the Great Barrier Reef.

They had cheese and wine waiting for us after the second snorkel, but we were so full after the barbecue lunch that we barely ate any. During the ride back we chatted with a couple from France, who operated a vegan restaurant for 9 months out of the year and spent the other 3 months traveling the world. They planned on staying somewhere within the Daintree area after the Great Barrier Reef, whereas we opted for a day tour. Interesting couple for sure, and pleasant to talk to. There were at least two people on our boat who ended up on the same Daintree tour as us the next day.

In the evening, we walked around the “downtown” area to check out local shops and restaurants. There seemed to be a pretty lively nightlife if you were up to it, but we wanted to get some rest for the tour the next day.


Also offered by Sightseeing Australia is the Cape Tribulation and Daintree Tour with Mossman Gorge package, which was $139 AUD when we booked, now $145 AUD (as of July 2018). We weren’t really sure what to expect but we had read several articles saying Cape Tribulation was a must-see, so we took the plunge.

Our tour guide was Doug, a lively fellow who was full of facts about the area and clearly passionate about his job. He picked us up around 7:30 AM from the DoubleTree.

At Alexandra Lookout in the Daintree. Image Credit: Me.

The Daintree Rainforest was an interesting experience. The place looked like Jurassic Park, if it were real. According to Doug, if you strayed from the boardwalk, you wouldn’t be able to go 100 metres without killing yourself somehow. All the trees and plants in the rainforest were deadly in some way and you definitely did not want to touch them. Doug also built up a lot of hype about seeing cassowarries (which are giant turkey-like birds native to the Daintree region), but we didn’t end up seeing any :(.

The inside of a tree in the Daintree Rainforest. Image Credit: Me.

We made our way to Cape Tribulation, which was one of the most unexpectedly beautiful places I had seen thus far. The beach looked relatively untouched compared to somewhere like Bondi, and had interesting shapes in the sand, which was basically marine life poop, as we were later told. On the edge of Cape Tribulation, you can see lots of mangrove trees growing in the water. The serenity of Cape Tribulation contrasted sharply against its name and backstory.

Cape Tribulation. Image Credit: Me.

Our lunch break ended up at a local ice cream shop. Note that the tour price above doesn’t include lunch (you have to pay $17 extra for it), so we packed our own lunch. I have to say, our lunch looked a lot better than the picnic lunch they offered, so I recommend making a trip to the grocery store the night before.

After lunch was the Daintree River crocodile tour, not with Doug but a different tour guide, a crocodile specialist. He was an interesting guy with a sarcastic sense of humour. “Smart people don’t get eaten by crocodiles,” he said. “It’s part of natural selection.” Natural selection is definitely relevant when it comes to crocodiles, as they've been around since the Jurassic era!

We were pretty excited to see actual crocodiles in a relatively safe environment, and did manage to spot some toddler crocodiles. There was an 18-year-old crocodile hiding among the mangroves, but she was really hard to see and we honestly couldn’t distinguish her from the branches.

Baby crocs. Image Credit: Me.

We got off the boat and stopped by a local shop for a water break, where we were also shown the tiniest baby crocodile. Even that little guy had to have his mouth taped up, as he liked “finger food”.

"Aww, so cute," we cooed. "Why thank you!" responded the tour guide. "Oh! You mean the croc!" Cue dry laughter.

You could take a picture of the crocodile on his hand, but you had the option to hold the crocodile and get a picture for $5 AUD. I opted not to, but Eugene did.

The tour ended at Mossman Gorge, whose water source is sold as a bottled water brand. The Gorge looked clean and refreshing, and many people chose to wade in the gorge. The tour then took us back to our hotels, where we went to bed (relatively) early and packed our things for New Zealand.

To be continued in Auckland...