Having arrived in Cairns on a comfortable and direct flight up from Sydney to celebrate our 20th anniversary, my husband and I (63 and 46) checked into the Hilton Cairns. Our accommodation in one of their King Spa rooms was a slightly surreal experience. The bathroom with Jacuzzi is entirely glass walled with floor to ceiling windows, allowing a panoramic view out through the room and balcony towards the Trinity Inlet, docking luxury liners and distant mountains.
After a sumptuous dinner, we stopped off in the foyer to check out the offerings at the Hilton's 24-hour tour desk. My husband nudged a brochure under my nose. I peered down and saw paddles, frothing water and people wearing protective helmets. I grudgingly entered the Raging Thunder tour bus at 5:00 the next morning for a two-hour journey out of Cairns to the top end of the Tully river, where our white water rafting expedition was to begin.
As I finished securing my life jacket, taking my paddle and joining our four team members (two Koreans, two Dutch) to carry the rubber raft down the riverbank to the waters edge, I seriously questioned my sanity.
A quick explanation in broken English by an Italian guide with serious instructions to either "get down" or "paddle like mad" when told to – we were off and hurtling backwards down the first frothing rapid. By the time we approached our fourth rapid (they get progressively worse along the route), we were all screaming our lungs out in a combination of fear and sheer enjoyment.
I quickly learnt the Korean for “Oh no, look, help, hold on!” and more often than not "got down" before being told to. I did though, have to be asked twice before I’d come up and "paddle like mad", which meant perching on the edge of the bouncing, spinning raft. Our trip down the rapids ended after successfully negotiating the "Elvis Rock and Roll Rapid" – a pure adrenalin rush to put it mildly. Incredible fun and although a bit frightening at times when stuck on the rocks, I can highly recommend this experience for all fitness types, ages 14 and up.
That evening, back at the tour desk, a pamphlet was again diplomatically nudged under my nose. I didn’t look, just said, ”Fine, whatever you want", and considered how nice it would be if his choice were a horse drawn carriage ride through the city.
Next morning at 6:00, I was waiting for the Blazing Saddles expedition bus. An hour later we arrived in Kuranda at the ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) site in the rainforest – not quite a sedentary carriage ride.
Obligatory helmets and face goggles were handed out, we were taken to our TRX250 ATVs, climbed on, started up and followed the guide to an initial training ground to be assessed and put into groups. This time we were together with four Koreans (their holiday city of choice).
We entered and rode up steep ravines, hot scorching mud puddles that burn your skin as you plough through them and twisty crater filled sand roads. But nothing deterred us from the sheer exhilaration of this quad bike tour. I again quickly learnt the Korean for “No, no way, you can’t be serious". This four-hour ATV tour is highly recommended for all, except the faint hearted and children.
Cairns knows how to both pamper and provide tourists with a combination of hands on tours (tandem skydiving, paintball phenomenon, bandicoot cycling, crocodile cruises…) to try out for that "once in a lifetime feeling".