Port Douglas & Fishy Tales
13.08.2010 - 15.08.2010 27 °C
Cairns was nicer than what we had thought it would be. We envisaged a backpacker haven of rowdy bars. Yes, there are several bars like that, but it was also clear that Cairns has been trying to reposition itself as being more upmarket. There is a relatively new harbour side development complete with boardwalk and posh restaurants and the bay itself is quite pretty. There is also a 4800 sq metre outdoor swimming pool with beach along the promenade. On Saturday morning before we left the hire car back to the airport we went for a jog along the promenade and boardwalk and there were literally hundreds of people out jogging or walking their dogs in the pleasant morning sun. The city council also provides free sports classes along the prom including aqua aerobics and boxercise which we saw as we jogged past.
After dropping the car at the airport we caught a minibus up to Port Douglas. Port Douglas was like a bigger version of Palm Cove – too many excellent restaurants to choose from and several good bars. We would have loved to be able to stay there for a week instead of just 2 nights.
Our accommodation was less than 50 yards from ‘4 mile beach’ and on check-in the receptionist pointed out a few good bars on a street map and said that we have to try and see “George the Groper”. I immediately thought of a dirty old man rubbing his thighs in a Vic Reeves ‘Shooting Stars’ style but alas the Groper is an enormous fish. This fish often swims up to a coastal bar complex called ‘At the Inlet’ at about 5pm and they feed him. Unfortunately the Groper was shy during our stay but you might be able to Google him but I would probably advise against googling ‘George the Groper’ in work.
Along many town beaches in Australia are free barbeque facilities – you simply press a button and a hot tray heats up in about 10 minutes. I wanted the ultimate Aussie bloke experience so we got a barbeque pack (selection of meat) at the supermarket and a six pack of beer from a ‘Bottle Shop’ (Aussie for Offy). Our complex provided free eskies (cooler bags) which we filled with ice to keep the beer cold and I set to work beachside preparing what was a terrific barbie on a hot, sunny Saturday afternoon – I felt proper Australian preparing this Aussie institution. The rest of the day turned into a bit of a party – one highlight was a bar which had cane toad races where customers blew down bamboo canes at frogs to encourage them to jump and win a race – it was certainly something different and good craic.
Sunday morning – day trip out to the Great Barrier Reef!
What a day! It was absolutely fantastic. We went to 3 different sites where you could snorkel or dive – I was doing both for the first time, while Michelle was snorkelling for the first time. At the first site we both snorkelled and the experience was like nothing we had experienced before – when you faced down in the water, it was so clear – you could see 40-50 feet to the sea floor and rising out of that was amazing multi coloured coral and a huge variety of exotic fish – it really was a different world down there. One type of fish was bright blue, green and pink – really spectacular. There was also a huge, slim friendly fish, named Marvin by the crew, which was at least 4 ft long and 3 ft high who would always meet snorkelers and it was cool to snorkel above him as he swan just inches away from you – at one stage Michelle was able to stroke it! Some divers were even giving it a kiss! Michelle did fantastic for someone who had never previously been in water out of her depth – I was really proud of her.
At the next site I would be diving – I had a mixture of anticipation and nervousness, particularly during the safety briefing when death was mentioned quite a bit on the PADI form you must complete prior to diving. The training was very thorough and professional. There were also questions about ear problems and though I haven’t had any for many years it would unfortunately bring my dive to a premature end. After a lot of training I (in my heavy scuba diving gear) went in the water with 2 others and the instructor. I started getting used to breathing using the tank on my back. We had to do 3 tests before we were allowed to go deeper than a few metres – firstly, while underwater allow a trickle of water into your mask and clear it by lifting your mask slightly at the bottom and blowing the water out with your nose. This is quite tricky under water as it’s very easy to let too much water into your mask which then goes into your nose which isn’t at all pleasant when you’re a few metres under water. I got this right 2nd time around. The next tests I found easier – the first one was to remove my mouth guard which provides air, and then breathe out slowly under water and then put it back in. The last was to drop your air supply to the side of your body and then calmly find it again – this would hopefully ensure you would not panic. This went fine too. As we slowly made our way deeper while holding a rope I was starting to experience pressure pain in my right ear – it’s more difficult to pop your ears under water when you’ve a mask on which would partly alleviate it. I would signal with a thumbs up that I needed to go up a metre or so and the slight ascent would then alleviate the discomfort. I’d try and pop my ears and then go down again. I was making progress and was down to about 15 – 20 feet but the pressure discomfort kept returning in my right ear. I had learnt at the safety briefing that with diving you simply don’t take chances so I returned slowly (so you don’t suffer decompression) back up to the surface. If your physiology doesn’t allow a deeper dive there’s not much you can do about it and I was pleased that I had given it a go. At the 3rd reef stop I snorkelled. Again it was amazing and to be honest because the water is so clear you see nothing extra diving than what you see snorkelling. I saw bright blue starfish that were about 2 foot wide and then in one area where the coral gave way to the sandy seabed I saw probably 15 metres below me – a reef shark. We had been told at the briefing that these are pretty timid and that they often swim away from humans. This one was by itself under a coral archway only a metre or so from the seabed – it was about 7 foot long and wasn’t moving. Despite these sharks being less dangerous there’s still something unnerving about swimming above a shark so I moved slowly away from it while at the same time feeling really exhilarated by the encounter.
As you can probably guess by how much I’ve typed in the post, the Great Barrier Reef has definitely been a real highlight and surpassed our expectations. Tomorrow (Monday) is our last full day in Australia and we’ll be really sad to leave it. Our experiences have been amazing, the people we’ve met have been really friendly, the weather great and the beer is excellent – it’s hard to imagine that convicts used to be sent here as a punishment. We could certainly think of much worse places, like Lurgan!
Looking back over our time in Oz, our favourite Australian experiences are (in no particular order)
1.Arriving and seeing the Sydney Opera House & Harbour Bridge lit up at night (that feeling that we were actually in Australia!)
2.Bondi Beach and the coastal walk to Coogee Beach
4.Walking across the Sydney Harbour Bridge on our way to Manly
5.Looking out over Sydney Harbour at sunset from the bar on the 36th floor of the Shangri-La Hotel
6.Walking along Byron Bay’s beach at sunset – stunning orange sky
7.Surf lesson at Surfers Paradise
8.Patting Kangaroos and cuddling a koala at Brisbane’s Lone Pine Koala Park
9.Sailing the Whitsundays and visiting Whitehaven Beach
10.Hamilton Island – honeymoon style (and also firing a Magnum revolver at a shooting range!)
11.Spending time in stylish Palm Cove & Port Douglas
12.Crocodile cruise on the Daintree river and Cape Tribulation scenery
13.Walk at Mossman Gorge in the heart of the rainforest.
14.Great Barrier Reef
So, just 1 more night in Oz (in Cairns) and then off to Hong Kong!!!