Get ready for a whirl wind, guys. This trip was BUSY. Did you make yourself a cup of tea? Are we all settled in? Okay, let’s do this!
Using Scott’s Cheap Flights I got a notification earlier this year about a round trip flight to Australia out of Kansas City for $868. I’d been keeping an eye on Australian flights for several years because it was a huge bucket list item for both of us but prices were always $1500-2500 for one person. When I got the email I freaked and screamed for Andrew. Thanks to our travel savings we snagged the tickets immediately before the prices shot up again. We love you, Scott!
I picked out this place on Airbnb just a few blocks from the beach. For $70 a night we weren’t expecting anything too crazy because hey, we were going to be gone all day anyways but we were totally thrilled with the apartment once we got there. There was no fancy furniture or decorations but it just felt so good when you walked in! We woke up every morning to the sound of tropical birds and palm trees blowing in the wind. We also loved eating breakfast on the deck while looking at the tropical mountains. Paradise!
Did Not Meet Our Needs: Wicked Rentals. The main building and many of the rental cars were spray painted with drug references. Their on-site mechanic checked the car before we rented it but unbeknownst to us we drove off the lot with 4 low tires and got a flat one hour later. When we tried to change the flat the tools included broke. I called Wicked’s Roadside Assistance who basically said, “Figure it out yourself”. Thankfully we were saved by a generous and very kind nearby mechanic who refused any payment.
After being so frustrated we returned the car 3 days early and were told “the system does not allow any refunds”. Riiiiiight…
Did Meet Our Needs: Mini Car Rentals. A bit more expensive than the other guys but so worth it. The car looked brand new, was very clean, and drove beautifully. The salesperson was so helpful and recommended all kinds of fun stuff for us to do around Cairns. He even called a cab for us when we returned the car on our way to the airport! 5 stars for these guys.
Surprisingly we didn’t find that Australia (or at least Cairns) had a specific food scene. The fruit was drop dead delicious and you’ll hear more about that in a minute but we never found Australian specific food. Cairns has a huge number of restaurants from all over the world so it was hard to tell what “normal” was but as far as we could tell British-esque meals with the addition of avocados seemed very common. Oh, and all the tour companies served tea which I loved.
One night we did go out to a nice restaurant and tried a “Taste of Australia” platter with kangaroo, emu, crocodile, and green ants. The meats all tasted like chicken or beef to me but I had a big mental block and could barely swallow a couple of bites. Andrew was the only one brave enough to try the green ants, poor guy. Cheers to trying new things!
Cairns is located right in between two World Heritage sites so while it definitely has a touristy side it also has pretty cool stuff of it’s own! Here are a few of our favorite finds:
Think of a giant free salt water swimming pool that’s open all day every day and that’s the Lagoon. Parents bring their kids to play while elderly people cool off in the shade as spring breakers flirt with each other on the sidelines. The whole city hangs out here so it’s very fun to people watch. We came many times after a busy day and soaked up the last bits of sun while enjoying the ocean view. My favorite part (besides for people watching) was the shiny fish sculptures!
I heard that this was one of the best fruit markets in the world and it certainly was the best one I’d ever been to. Persimmons, custard apples, lychees, dragonfruit, and fruit I’d never seen before! Sellers set out plates of cut fruit so customers could sample before buying and I must have sampled one of everything. Mango that melts on your tongue, tangy crunchy pears, and pineapple that put candy to shame. We’ve been home for a few days and I still can’t bring myself to buy fruit from the store. I have to forget what fresh tropical fruit tastes like first. -_-
This place was awesome! It is a non-fussy educational center for visitors who are getting ready to go explore the Great Barrier Reef or for those who want to learn more about it. I was blown away by how much the guy leading our class knew! He’d been diving the reef for ages and knew all these amazing facts about sea horses, jellyfish, sea slugs, coral, and the zillion other creatures living in the reef. Think Mr. Ray from Finding Nemo except human and not singing. He had a lot of hope for the Great Barrier Reef too, he said the situation is actually much more optimistic than it sounds on the news. It’s still a delicate ecosystem we have to protect but it’s nowhere near disappearing. Best news ever. :)
We could have done nothing but this the entire trip and still seen something new every day. I said it on Instagram but I’ll say it again, the biodiversity astounds me. There were so many plants I’d never seen of or even heard of before.
By the way, when someone says “botanical garden” I think a big glass building with plants inside. In Cairns a botanical garden is more like a giant nature park with plant themed areas, walking trails and lakes. We visited twice and I feel like I still didn’t see half of it.
If you start at the Lagoon and take a short walk along the beach you’ll reach Muddy’s Playground, the world’s cutest sprayground. We happened upon it accidentally and suddenly I wanted a kid x10 just so I could bring them here to play. With colorful mosaics, water squirting in the air, rainbow slides, and little giggly kids running around it is impossible to feel unhappy at that park.
Plus there’s Muddy’s cafe with an amazing juice bar that I would have gone to every day if Andrew had let me. So yummy!
Cairns had plenty to keep us busy but we really came to see was the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. We adventured outside of the city and found:
Daintree Rainforest – 60 min car ride
Guys, I can’t even describe this World Heritage site for you. So much overwhelming beauty. Every square inch is used up by plants, animals, or bugs. Even plants have plants growing ON them. With crystal clear rivers and brooks running through out I felt like I had stepped into some kind of Disney movie setting.
Visitors are welcome to go swimming and many locals were doing just that when we visited- so jealous!
Palm Cove – 45 min city bus ride
A dazzling beach with views of tropical mountains and islands. We rode the bus here and spent the whole day playing exploring the beach together. A large section of the water has nets around it so you can swim without fear of jelly fish stings. If you don’t want to swim in the safe area there are multiple emergency vinegar stations for you. ;)
Atherton Tablelands -60 min drive from Cairns
There’s so much to do up here that even though we drove around for a full day there was still tons of stuff left to explore.
What we did get around to seeing was the breathtaking Barron Falls, 7 Sisters volcanic mounds, the ancient Cathedral Fig Tree, Lake Eacham (created by a volcano), and Jaques Coffee Plantation where I saw a real life coffee plant for the first time!
Great Barrier Reef – 60 min boat ride
We chose to explore this World Heritage site by scuba diving with Tusa Dive (excellent company) since we got certified last summer. It was a whole new world under water! We saw mountains of coral, non-human eating sharks, tropical fish I’ve only seen in movies, and even a giant sea cucumber. All hanging out in the water like it was no big deal. I couldn’t believe it! We brought our reef safe sunscreen of course and followed the “take only pictures, leave only bubbles” mantra.
I was hoping to get more pictures on the boat but Andrew and I both got awfully seasick. Next time I know to take the hyoscyamine pills (available on ship) way earlier!
Horseback Riding – 45 min bus ride
We didn’t even know this was an activity until Andrew browsed through some pamphlets and asked if I’d be interested. Um, horseback riding through Australian rainforest? Yes, I think I can make time for that.
Mount-N-Ride Adventures was a wonderful experience because they took great care of the horses, picked us up and dropped us off back in Cairns, and had acres of beautiful tropical trails to ride through. We had never rode horses together before so it was very special to have that first in a rainforest of all places.
So what did I learn from Australia?
I’ve come back with this completely unexpected hunger. I know Missouri will never have rainforests but North America has its own amazingly diverse wild life and plants, right? But I only see corn fields with a handful of small manicured parks and campsites. In Australia it was sooo easy to eat right and be active – that was the default thanks to the environment! Now it’s weird to come back home and realize here the indoors are more interesting than the outdoors and junk food is cheaper than nourishing food. It feels so backwards and not in alignment with my values at all.
I don’t want cheap high fructose corn syrup I want cheap fruits and veggies. I don’t want miles of corn fields and soybeans I want miles of national parks and natural beauty.
Maybe what I’m describing is culture shock but like reverse culture shock because I’m feeling it towards my own “normal” now that I’ve been somewhere else and experienced a different kind of normal. I don’t know if this means moving some place new, changing my lifestyle here or what. All I know is I’m hungry for a more health centered life. Thanks to you, Australia. :)