Whoo-hoo! Spring break 2009! For the past two weeks I’ve celebrated my SECOND spring break of the year! Because this is going to be a super-long post, I’ve broken it up into sections so that when your eyes get tired you can pick back up where you left off, but I’m sure you are already at the edge of your seat waiting to read about my adventures…
**Note: when looking at the picture slideshow-, the trip order is backwards showing the last day first (so me getting on the airplane to Cairns will be the last picture you see). I know- how annoying, but this picture programs is bad… ALSO- Camping pictures are in a seperate photo album. **
Day 1: Tuesday, Sept 22
It all started with an early wake up with Rik, my Dutch friend and Amy, the American from Arizona, to catch our flight on the peppy-airline ViginBlue. I say peppy because the airline's pitch is to be young and edgy- all the attendants were in their 20s, and said things like “cool” and used casual lingo to passengers- we’re guests, not customers! I was surprised we hadn’t learned about them in my hospitality courses…
Three hours later we arrived in Cairns, North Queensland: home of the Great Barrier Reef! Our hostel taxi came to pick us up, and we spent the rest of the day exploring the city and making plans for our trip. The weather was hot and great around 29c, and the town is a nice little beach and harbour town- it reminded me a lot of a place like Destin or even a smaller, younger, more backpacker-ish version of Key West or St. Simons. There was a nice board-walk around the shore, but the tide was awfully low and the beach wasn’t really appeasing. There was however a nice public-pool with sand that over-looked the harbour. We enjoyed the evening with a photomontage of Piet in the sand, and ate our first of many to come free-backpacker meals at the pub the Woolshed. I ate spaghetti, and topped the night with Queensland beer XXXX to celebrate our first official night of spring break ’09.
The hostel we stayed at was Caravellas- my first hostel experience! Not too gross, but it was grossest of the three we stayed at. We had a 6 person room, with a small bathroom attached. Our roommates were French and German, and the other one we never talked to because he seemed to sleep during the day. The room stank a bit, and our first night of sleep wasn’t particularly relaxing- our neighbor seemed to have had too much fun and let us all know with his experience in the bathroom at around 2am. The receptionist, an elder, extremely chatty lady, seemed to be enjoying a loud conversation outside our window at around 4am. Around 5am we heard her again outside the door of our room, obviously talking to a traveler who crashed in the hall because he left his key. I think you get the idea about how much sleep I got…
With another early start, we jumped aboard our boat Reef Ocean Quest for a day at the GBR. During our hour-long ride to the reef, we had our snorkeling and introductory scuba-diving (we didn’t need a certification) briefing. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to dive because of my bad ear-drum (I had surgery on it about 7 years ago) but after the dive instructor called a physician we decided I would go for it at a slower pace and if it hurt at all I would quit. The parts of the reef we visited were Norman, Saxon and Hastings islands. The water was a little chilly but we had wetsuits to help out. We snorkeled first, which was great because it helped us adjust to the water. What a cool experience! So many colorful and large fish- and the reef itself was outstanding! Bright colors, interesting shapes and designs of wildlife and plants created hundreds of years ago. Truly fantastic! Diving was just as much of a neat experience, although we didn’t see as many animals down below the surface. My ears were fine and the dive itself was easy. We had to hold-hands, and our guide took us over 30ft under. For over 30 mins we blew bubbles and explored the world below. After the dive we enjoyed lunch on the boat, and continued to snorkel for the rest of the trip. We saw a turtle, but no sharks or whales, and no Nemo! Nemo or not, it was still a really great experience. How many people get to say they had their first dive at the most famous reef in the world?!
That night we ate another free meal at the Woolshed with our room-mates and a friend from uni who was also spring-breaking. Back at Caravellas I went to bed tired and with a sore mouth (from gnawing on the snorkel) but a successful first day in Cairns! Needless to say, I slept much better this night…
Day 3: To the Rainforest!
Again with an early start, we checked out of Caravellas and waited for our tour bus to take us to Cape Tribulation, about 3-4 hours north of Cairns at the rainforest. The tour bus, filled with other backpackers, stopped along the trip to point out some interesting stories and facts about the rainforest. Our first stop was at the Rainforest Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary- a small zoo-like area where we saw some kangaroos and crocs. Our next stop was Mossman Gorge where we had a walk to a great view of the gorge. We traveled next on ferry-cable car over the Daintree River, and stopped at Alexandra lookout for a nice guided walk to talk about some of the plants and fauna. Some of the most memorable plants where the Strangler Fig (a fig that covers a large tree and eventually kills it), Wait-a-While- small prickly vines that have the strength to tear your skin off, and of course the Umbrella Palm. Also noteworthy are the green ants… to taste! The green ants build their nest with a paste they produce from their bums- so, if bold enough, you can pick up the ant and lick the bum and get a surprise lemon shock! I didn’t do it, as I wasn’t prepared to violate a harmless ant, but Rik ate the ant whole! Ha ha!
We arrived at Cape Trib in the late afternoon, with enough time left in the day to book our next plans and a quick visit to the beach before we cooked up some pasta. Our hostel was PK’s, a quaint backpacker and camper hostel that reminded me a lot of something you would see at a summer camp. It was in the middle of the rainforest, all off water reserves and solar energy generators. Cape Trib itself only has about 4 or 5 resorts, but we chose this one because it was in the middle of the one road out to the rainforest, next to the only grocery store and pharmacy, and just seconds away from the beach, and of course, the positive recommendations of the pub. It had a nice pool, kitchen, and the bathrooms were decent. We stayed in a 7 bedroom dorm, with a German girl and another girl from the UK who we later met back with in Cairns.
The beach was fantastic, not just because of the beach- which was just an ordinary beach. What made the beach so nice was the rolling mountains of rainforest behind it, and how secluded it was! We also worked hard to crack-open a coconut. The weather was still great, although we caught some of the dust from the great dust storm that we had just missed from Sydney, which made the views a little hazy. It would have been nice too to see the rainforest when it was raining, but I can’t complain about hot and sunny weather.
First on the agenda! Kayaking! Around Cape Trib we went in our sea kayaks. Rik, Amy, and I all got our own, although some others in the group had to buddy up. 3 hours out on the sea, we caught some waves, saw a few stingrays, and watched Rik fall out of this kayak four times (the fall-out record was apparently 6, he came awfully close). We had a snackbreak on the cliff of the cape, and learned some of the local lingo from our bohemian guide who had dread-locks and the works. “Shikaka” means “sweet dude” or “rad” or "too easy". The water was fairly clam in the cove, but around the cape with hit some waves and got a bit of a workout in. So much for a relaxing vacation! Rik, being the Doctor Dolittle on the trip, saw a baby sea cow and turtle. Lucky…
The second trip of the day was to Cape Trib’s exotic fruit farm! Owned and run by two Australians, the farm grew over 75 kinds of tropical fruits from the Amazon, Borneo, the Caribbean and of course Australia. We got to try 10 different fruits. My favorite was the Sapodilla with the Guanabana in a close second. Very interesting and satisfying!
We got back to the hostel and had some time to relax and catch a feed before our next adventure. I went for a walk around to escape from my travel companions for a bit, and when I got back it was time for trip three-our nightwalk! A guided tour through the rainforest, we walked with big flashlights on tiny paths to catch some nocturnal wildlife in action. To our dismay, thanks to the lack of rain, we didn’t see as much as anticipated. We saw a few lizards and spiders, but not really much else. It was still neat to be in the rainforest at night, as the floor was completely dark thanks to the massive canopy.
Our last half-day in Cape Trib, with threw in one last adventure. Jungle surfing! This was zip-lining in the trees of the rainforest, off of 5 different platforms going at least 19m high. Some great views and a little bit of adrenaline was a great way to start the day. My helmet gave me the name Tinkerbell. The platforms were neat in that they were all suspended, and nothing was nailed into the trees. Although not too heart-stopping and an easy ride, we soared and had a good time.
At this time we were ready to catch our tour-bus back. On the ride back we stopped for some home-made exotic fruit ice-cream, including mango, raspberry, wattle (a bit like coffee), and soursop. Yum! The next stop on the drive was for a croc tour on the Daintree River. It reminded me a lot of the Naples everglade atmosphere… mangroves, a baby croc, a great heron, and a snake! Too cool! We drove through Port Douglas, and arrived back at Cairns only to enjoy another free back-packer meal at Rhino Bar. We checked into our third and nicest hostel, Nomads Serpent. A bit out of the city, we had to take a shuttle-bus to get into town. We had a four person bedroom, and never actually met the fourth person. It also had a nice pool, bar, and kitchen, though we weren’t there during the day to really take advantage. We stayed at this hostel the remainder of our trip.
Day 6: Please keep all arms, legs, hands, and bodies inside the raft at all times!
White-water rafting was the only way we could spend our second to last full day in Cairns. Down the Tully River we went, a level 4 rapid with a guide from Alabama. The waterlevel being a bit low, we got stuck a few times in some of the rapids. No worries though, there were plenty of opportunities to ride some massive rapids. “Shikaka!” We got to jump out of the raft a few times, and jumped off some pretty high rocks. We stopped halfway for some Aussie BBQ, and got back into Cairns exhausted and Rik and Amy sunburned (Can you believe it? I didn’t get red at all! I actually used lotion! Baha!). We went to bed pretty early to prepare for our last full day of adventures.
Day 7: YMCA!
Day 7 had arrived, and it was by-far my favorite! You’re probably wondering, what was left to do? A waterfall tour of course- hosted by Uncle Brian’s tour company. Truly awesome! It is a tour company that started in the 70s with basically a bunch of hippies traveling out to see the waterfalls. Our tour guide was entertaining the entire time- we played games and heard stories. The views were amazing! We headed south of Cairns into the Tablelands. Our first stop was at a boulder walk in Babinda, called the “Devil’s Pool Walk” as named from an aboriginal story of a women pulling young men to their deaths in search for her lost lover (ironically, 23 people have died there, all males). The next stop was Josephine Falls in Wooroonooran Park. It was basically a fall, a pool, a fall, and another pool. The bottom pool had a rock slide and we all got to go swimming! The water was perfect and the slide was a blast. Nature can be really awesome! Our next stop was to Milla Milla falls- famous for shooting the embarrassing Australian artist Peter Andre music video and a Herbal Essence commercial. This water was much more… “refreshing” as they like to call it- but the fall was spectacular! Then it was time for lunch with "Mr. Lunch" where we enjoyed a great mashed-potato meal and dessert. Our next swimming stop was at a volcanic crater lake, to have a warmer dip and watch the sun set. From here we started our journey back to Cairns, only after a quick run to the pub and a stop in Yungaburra to watch for Platypus! Very cool. Our bus ride home was full of singing and cheering. Too fun!
It was fairly late when we got back, but we continued on to celebrate our last night in Cairns. After becoming so friendly with people on our waterfall tour, we all decided to meet at a bar (this included the UK girl we met in Cape Trib). There were some Swiss, German, and French- and we had also met some Americans.
Day 8: Beach and Home to Sydney… for 12 hours.
We had at least half a day left in Cairns before our PM flight, and we were certainly exhausted. We took the public transportation up to Palm Cove, a nice public beach about an hour north of Cairns. We relaxed and re-charged our travel juices to get ready for camping when we returned.
The back-packer atmosphere in Cairns was excellent. Transportation and accommodation was all well organized and catered to back-packers. Not really the local experience, but it made traveling easy and really enjoyable, not to mention affordable. The US certainly has a long way to catch up to this kind of hospitality industry!
We arrived in Sydney around 10pm, and I had just enough time to unpack, shower, do some laundry, call my hovering mother and repack for camping with all of the international friends!
9am it was off to Wicked Van rentals- where we (Johanna, Rik, Amy, Myra, Felix, Nora and Me) picked up three caravans- Jesus, Arctic Monkeys, and The Who (tackily painted along the sides- we wouldn’t roll any other way…). The vans were fully equipped with mattresses, sinks, camping tables and chairs, cooking supplies, coolers, and gas stoves. And no, I didn’t drive because I couldn’t. It’s bad enough that I don’t know how to drive a manual, but worse that all the Europeans made fun of me (apparently, only the old people in Europe drive automatics).
We went south of Sydney- down through the Royal National Park. We stopped at a beach, and kept trucking down to Kiama, a nice little town with a “blow hole”- a hole in the rocks over the ocean that when the waves hit it just right “blew”. Here we had lunch, and pressed on to our next stop at Norwa. In Norwa we did some grocery shopping. It was smart that we put the same amount of money into a community wallet, and we bought everything together. Not surprisingly we spent more on alcohol than food…
45 minutes or so we reached our destination-Jervis Bay, and Green Patch camp site- highly recommended by Tante. A friendly little campsite in the middle of the forest surrounded by the beach. To our surprise, someone had rudely parked themselves in our reserved camp-spot, so we parked next to them and made sure we made a little bit of extra noise that night than we were supposed to.
By the time we had gotten there dark had just fallen so we quickly grilled up some sausages and burgers and enjoyed dinner by the campfire. The campsite was pretty quite, but we were surprised to find we were not dining alone… possums came from every angle trying their hardest to get a feed. What appears to be cute and friendly animals, they kept creeping up to get the food! At least they were harmless. Also found roaming at night were kangaroos! They were so close to us! Definitely fun and interesting company during our dinner.
The next morning we woke up to a “pit, pat… pit pat pit pat” on the hood of our van. At this point we weren’t sure what to expect and thought maybe it was the Goon Dwarf (Goon- the cheap boxed wine we drank, and the dwarf comes to play the drums in your head the next morning) playing tricks on us. When we got out of the vans we were surprised to see so many little and brightly colored birds! They almost looked like parrots, and were everywhere! They entertained us during breakfast and throughout the day.
After breakfast we drove to a nearby spot for a short-hike. We walked around first a nice boat ramp where we caught a glimpse of a rather large water python. The walk through the bush was nice and we ended with a nice view of a rock-cliff overhanging a passage of the beach. So scenic! We stopped for lunch and took our time getting back to the campsite. When we returned the others took off for some fun at the beach and Rik and I snuck off together… to teach me how to drive! Ha ha. Since I had already learned the basics from my father, I figured it couldn’t hurt learning in case of emergency. So yes, it’s true. I now know how to drive a manual… in an old van… on the right side of the car on the left side of the street! Whoo-hoo!! Luckily I didn’t hit any people or kangaroos. I’m going to try and included a video of this epic moment for giggles- the last part is when another car came onto the road… he he enjoy!
We got back and joined the others at the beach, and then settled down for pasta! Yum! There was a “Total Fire Ban” this night, indicating no fires, not even in the grills could be lit. So, when it came time for Goon and games we creatively drove the vans in a triangle, and had one of the van lights reflect off another. It was enough to enjoy the outdoors, play some games, and not disturb the other campers. Again we were entertained by the possums, although this night it seems we were the entertainment for them. One little guy managed to sneak his way into the center of our chair circle steal a closed box of M&M cookies off a cooler. We chased the little booger down but he was too quick and he escaped with two cookies. He sat no more than 10ft away watching us roaring with laugher as he enjoyed his cookie and victory.
The next morning we packed up, and headed back towards Sydney. We drove through the Royal National Park again, and stopped at a few lookouts on the way. The ride was successful and no one managed to put a dent in the vans or each other. At this point I was really ready to go home and relax, but spring break ’09 party wasn’t over until the concert on Saturday night!
Black Eyed Peas! WHOOOO-hhhhooooo! What a great show! I met up with Rik, Mrya, Johanna, Felix, and our German friend Monika in China Town for a cheap feed and bottle of wine and then we caught the train down to Centennial Park for the 28,000 audience performance. After two weeks of fantastic weather it was pouring, but I can’t complain. The concert was awesome- we got great cheap seats- a view of the side stage and with chairs so that we could sit when we wanted (the real reason was so that people couldn’t bump into us and spill our drinks ). Our section was a bit boring as it was full of children and people who obviously didn’t like to dance. I however, danced the entirety of the show (dang it, I paid the money, I was going to dance!). Eventually the section got the point and danced too after about halfway through the show (either that or got sick of me blocking the view so stood up to see). The graphics and set were great, and for who they are their voices were awesome. It was like a dance club the entire show! It was a great way to end my spring break with a bang!
Sunday Tante and I went and bought her a bike and roamed around downtown. Yesterday (Monday) I did a bit of studying and joined my friends at the Latin Festival downtown. Today and for the remainder of my semester I will be a slave to my school work (hahahaha… yeah).
Whew! So, I’m sure by now there are some questions roaming through your head- I will try to answer as best as I can.
1. “What was your favorite part of your break?”
- The waterfalls of course! Outdoors, great views, singing, and fun people. Not to mention, it was the cheapest thing we did!
2. “What kinds of people did you meet?”
- Mostly backpackers from all over. Most of them were around my age or a bit older, doing the working-holiday visas and traveling for a year or two around Australia. They “stay if it’s cool, leave when it gets boring”. Most hostels you can work for maybe 4 or so hours a day and they’ll give you free meals and a night stay. Others picked fruit for a while and saved up money to travel, and will go back to picking. So inspiring and carefree! No worries in the world!
3. “Gee Karena, your trip sounds great. But how on earth did you afford it all?”
- Other than saving up and busting my tail during uni at GSU, I chose to spend my money in different places than most probably would. I.E.: I ate spaghetti every night for dinner in Cairns as I thought that was the most filling free-backpacker meal option. I only upgraded one night to get a side-salad for $3AUS. Rik and I split a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter and that’s what I ate EVERY morning for over 8 days. For meals we had on our own in was usually 2-minute noodles or the Aussie version of Ramen. Now, Peanut butter + spaghetti = BLEHK but you get the idea.
4. “So, did you get any schoolwork done?”
- Hahahaha… schoolwork…
Enjoy the pictures and the videos! Think of me working hard this week to catch up in uni work where I’ve fallen behind…