Australia is so big that it is 3,000 miles (about the same distance across the US from San Francisco to New York) the shorter distance from top to bottom. Our journey from Melbourne to Cairns was over 2,800 miles. And the trip across the larger section of the continent from Brisbane to the opposite western coast is about 5,500 miles! It is massive. So we left chilly Melbourne for tropical Cairns (pronounced like cans) in the northern tip of Australia, a journey that usually would be to another place completely.
But no, you are still in the same country after flying for four hours over dry, deserted bush and outback. I felt like I had arrived in the Waikiki of yesteryear before all the beach hotels went up to super high rises.
Tropical climate and lush green mountains descending to the coastline make it look and feel like Hawaii.
The bay becomes a mud flat every low tide with only a tiny beach, so the city has created a giant public esplanade at the waterfront with a huge pool, volleyball courts, playgrounds, biking and running paths, grass and picnic areas for several miles—all free, all well-maintained in a very lovely setting. Boats constantly chug in and out of the marina for the invisible Great Barrier Reef and the many adventures there, and you have a hopping beach town. Cairns is Australia’s own personal Hawaii.
Backpackers from all over the world fill the hostels and try to get cheap deals on the many adventures available. Beach front cafes, bars and restaurants serve loads of beer and pump out music. There’s a party going on every night—you can tell even if you haven’t been invited to it! It’s sort of like a tamer Cabo and Waikiki rolled in to one.
We lucked out in the best room with a view and enjoyed being back in the tropics, despite stormy weather. Too rainy and wet to mountain bike or play tennis, we wandered through the funky town, ate our last expensive Australian meals and beers, and ran in the rain when not checking out the reef. The Great Barrier Reef is a collection of 900 islands and cays and almost 3,000 individual reefs spread over 130,000 square miles to create the world’s largest reef system. At a minimum, It is a good hour or 90 minutes on a boat to get from the shore out to the closest parts of the reef. Cairns is the biggest jumping off point but there are also islands where you can stay (the Whitsundays are popular ones) or other coastal ports.
Dave scuba dived for the first time in five years and got in three dives. I took the bumpy boat ride out to an island on the reef and snorkeled. So we each got a taste of the Great Barrier Reef experience.