17: End of the East Coast Road
Sadly leaving Tully (I’d spent a week’s budget in the hostel bar, and not all of it on the video jukebox) Cairns beckoned with its various activities bound to keep even the most jaded backpacker from boredom. Gateway to the Daintree Rainforest, Capes York and Tribulation, and the Great Barrier Reef, it is a tourist Mecca for both budget and luxury traveler, which makes Cairns a surprisingly pleasant place to spend a few days.
I say surprising because Cairns has a reputation for being a bit sleazy and tacky – this is certainly true in some bars and clubs, but for every backpacker pub there are plenty of al-fresco cafes, restaurants and wine bars. Accommodation is very cheap as the competition is furious, most backpackers/hostels offer free meals at the more notorious nightspots such as the Woolshed, watch out for their regular wet t-shirt competitions and liver destroying drink specials! The lack of beach in Cairns is thankfully replaced by a man-made lagoon on the Esplanade (a beach is planned) or while away the time in the reasonable waterside bistros. And probably most importantly – there are hundreds of tours and activities to choose from, suiting all budgets and tastes.
We had two things on our mind: snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef and (gulp) skydiving. We did the easy one with Seastar, who offer cheap day tours of the reef, including diving and snorkeling gear, wetsuits, a glass-bottom boat and lunch; for an extra fee they offer resort dives. We both found snorkeling to be very leisurely and relaxing, a great way to see the reef.
The skydive was a different story – we were both absolutely petrified by the idea, but determined to bite the bullet all the same. We booked the full 14,000 feet tandem skydive (with photos and video for prosperity), did the safety training, were driven to the airport and bundled into a tinny plane with no door on it, all with a stupid smile frozen on my face.
I will never forget the agonizing wait for the plane to reach 14,000 feet (while making crap small-talk to the instructors – can’t help blabbering when I’m nervous) then standing up and being literally FLUNG out of the tinny by my tandem buddy. Freefall was so intense that I didn’t think I could bear it – the biggest rush I have ever experienced. When we landed my whole body was shaking with the adrenaline. I had just cheated death!
If you’ve ever wanted to skydive, scuba dive, see the reef, bungee jump, or see a wet t-shirt competition, Cairns is the place to do it! Most Australian journeys are either begun or ended here, so there is a fantastic atmosphere all year round. We bumped into so many people we had met on our East Coast travels in the pubs, clubs, and even the main street!