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Category Archives: Australia

Like most people, the driving force behind my visit to Cairns was the Great Barrier Reef. The week before I left home, it dawned on me that I wasn’t PEDI certified. Fortunately, I was able to get my Open Water certification the weekend before I left. Unfortunately, I perforated my eardrum and got a nasty infection in the process. The injury prevented me from diving at the Great Barrier Reef and limited me to snorkeling.

Port Douglas, which is about an hour north of Cairns, is the preferred point of departure for visiting the outer reef, which is where you can find much better aquatic life. There are a few companies operating out of Cairns that offer day trips to the outer reef. For SCUBA, Tusa is the way to go. They are more geared towards divers, so I elected to go with Passions, which is better for snorkelers.

I booked through Mad Travel on the Esplanade and paid $130, plus a standard $10 surcharge on the boat. I also went with Mad for my Daintree Rainforest trip the next day. Guy, the owner, was great and they had the lowest prices in town for the two trips.

Since it was winter, I paid $7 for a wetsuit rental. I’m not sure if it was necessary, but I wasn’t cold at all during 4 hours in the water. I failed to purchase an underwater camera prior to my trip and refused to pay $50 to rent one on the boat, so there are no underwater pics. Diving was an additional $70 for the first dive and $45 for the second. The time underwater was also very short as they had multiple groups for each location. If you plan on doing any diving at all, I strongly recommend going with Tusa over Passions.

It was about a 2.5 hour cruise to our first location, Michaelmas Kay. The Kay is a small, sandy island that is also a nesting area for some cool looking birds. In the reef that surrounds the island, I saw a sea turtle, sting ray, all kinds of colorful fish, and a variety of coral. Our second site, Paradise Reef was about 10 minutes away from the Kay in the middle of the ocean. There was a cliff on the edge of the reef, with what appeared to be a very steep drop. The area on the border of the cliff had quite a few fish and it was really enjoyable to swing amongst them. One of the amazing crew members, who happened to be an Australian aboriginal, showed me some anemone and clown fish.

Lunch was a buffet that included prawns, chili, noodles, pasta salad, potato salad, green salad, and fruit for dessert. It was decent considering the circumstances, but nothing to write (or blog) home about. After lunch the crew fed some leftover prawns to fish off the side of the boat. They raised the sails and turned the engine off for the last 30 minutes or so and let the wind power us back in the harbor.

I was very satisfied with the overall experience. The crew was phenomenal, the snorkeling locations were great, and I think it was a very good value for Great Barrier Reef.

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Sydney was a great way to start this trip. I overcame some adversity, met some wonderful people, ate some great food, and enjoyed myself quite a bit in the short time I spent in the capital of New South Wales.

A few weeks before arriving, I found a Couchsurfing host. I messaged her two days before my flight and still have not heard back from her…. She flaked on me. This was the first time something like that has ever happened to me with Couchsurfing, but it may have been for the better. Having to scramble to find a place to stay and research things to do in the city since I was suddenly host-less got me right back into travel mode.

My first night in the city was spent at the cheapest hostel I could find after hours of walking around the city center, 790 on George. It was $24/night and $2/hour for wifi, was clean and served its purpose. My last two nights in Sydney were at Asylum Hostel in Kings Cross. It’s very cheap for Sydney ($19/night, free internet), but pretty dirty and there are no lockers to secure your belongings. My room was overlooking the main street and was very noisy at night, but I still managed to sleep fine. On the positive side the location is great, the bathrooms were extremely clean, the owner is a cool guy, and the kitchen is adequate.

About a month ago, a Sydney based food and travel writer stopped by The Pig and The Lady at the Saturday morning KCC farmers’ market. She gave me her contact info and we ended up hanging out on my first full day in Sydney. Edwina and her family were great company and very gracious hosts. She took me on a drive around the eastern suburbs where she lives and provided me with great pointers for Sydney and Australia in general. She left me to explore Bondi Beach while she went to pick her 5-year-old up from school. On her recommendations, I had a really good chicken, chicken liver, and chicken heart falafel at Sababba, sipped on a beer at The Icebergs overlooking a pool that is so close to the ocean that waves actually crash into it, then did the very scenic walk from Bondi to Coogee Beach.

The next day was a washout, but since I was only in Sydney for such a short period of time, I still ventured out. I had some incredibly fresh oysters at the Sydney Fish Market, went to the predominantly Vietnamese/Lebanese suburb of Bankstown where I had a great bowl of pho bo at Pho An, then stopped by Market City in Chinatown where I bought some great (and extremely cheap for Sydney) local ingredients to cook myself dinner. One of my best friends growing up in Massachusetts has two buddies that work at a bar inside an extremely good Vietnamese fusion restaurant, Ms. G’s, that was in walking distance to my hostel. I stopped by on a Saturday night, but, tragically, the kitchen was closed by the time I arrived. I still managed to spend a pleasant few hours sipping on some tasty drinks with great company.

The weather kept me from doing the main touristy things for my first couple days in town, but the finally cooperated on my last morning. I was able to walk through the Botanical Garden, visit the Opera House, take the ferry to Manly and hang out at the beach, check out the Sydney Harbor Bridge, and walk around The Rocks before returning to the hostel in time for my 1:15 airport shuttle! The ferry to Manly was really nice and provided great photo ops for the bridge and the opera house. The Rocks was cool, but very touristy midday on a Sunday.

I never made it to the Blue Hills and I didn’t get to eat any Lebanese food. I’m sure there’s at least a thousand other things I wasn’t able to do while in Sydney. What I did do, I enjoyed. Sydney is a beautiful city – even more so when it’s sunny – that I defintely wouldn’t mind spending more time in. For me, it’s tough visiting a city in a country as young as Australia. It lacks the depth of history and culture (and food!) that you would find in Europe, but has an even bigger price tag. The natural beauty of the area, vibrant immigrant community, and welcoming people makes Sydney a great place to visit.

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