The town itself was your typical beach town with wide streets lined with shops and restaurants of every kind. By the shore there was a promenade with a market, giant pool (referred to as the lagoon), grassy areas and BBQ pits, overlooking a protected area if the bay. It's a great place to hang out for the day with friends, go for a run or, just pass out in a shaded patch of grass listening to some local musician sing some tunes.
I only had 3 days in town, so I didn't do much outside of walking around and relaxing at the promenade, but there are apparently some national parks and other activities worth checking out right outside of town.
I was looking forward to recognizing another life long dream of diving the Great Barrier Reef. I had found a flyer at the YHA in Darwin for Cairns Dive Center, offering a 3-day live aboard diving experience for $600. Yes, this seems like a lot, especially for a budget traveler like me, but they are actually one of the cheapest operators, and if you think about it including all accommodation, meals and 10 dives, it's really not too bad. Plus I didn't have a choice really; what, was I going to come all the way to Australia and not dive the Great Barrrier Reef? I don't think so!
Since YHA would not store my bags CDC was more than willing to oblige, for only $10, which was nice. We boarded a smaller boat at the dock in Cairns which would take us to the larger live aboard anchored out on the reef. CDC offers snorkeling and scuba diving day trips as well, so most of the people on board were part of that group, while a handful of us would depart after a 2-hour ride at the MV Kangaroo Explorer, our live aboard vessel. To my utter delight the weather had actually cleared up, but the water was still a bit choppy. I got a little sea sick on the way out and was thinking I was not off to a very good start. The larger catamaran was much more stable though, and after a power nap in the cabin, which I shared with 3 other girls, I was feeling much better.
Diving got started right away, and with a brief overview the certified group got right to business. Our first dive would be guided, while each dive after would cost $11-$15 extra if we wanted a guide. I was glad to have such a great group of certified divers with me and ended up only paying for 1 guided dive over the course of the trip. The rest of the time I was able to dive unassisted with only a buddy diver, and that was exhilarating! I actually got to put my underwater navigation skills to the test and became much more confident (which ended up getting me in a little bit of trouble). My buddy was a girl from France and she literally didn't breath underwater. I swear she may have had gills because I would be completely out of air and she would still have 90 bar. But in all seriousness, she was a great partner and bravely followed me around, even though I got us lost twice and we had to swim over 100 meters back to the boat at one point. On one of the night dives I went with a group of 4 certified divers (my first unassisted night dive!) and was blamed for leading the group deeper then we were supposed to go (by like 2 feet), and longer (by like 5 minutes). Whoops! For that one we each received a V next to our names on the whiteboard. By the end mine would spell the complete word 'Vegemite', meaning that my punishment was Vegemite breakfast. For those of you who do not know what I'm talking about consider yourself lucky...it is truly a cruel and unusual punishment. Luckily it was just a scare tactic and I didn't really need to eat it, but lets just say I was fully prepared to starve before eating that stuff.
Some of the highlights of this trip:
- getting up close and personal with my first sea turtle!
- all of the great people I met on board the MV Kangaroo Explorer, both divers and staff
- our 3rd dive location, the horseshoe, where we got to traverse underwater swim-throughs, caverns and gorges
- all of the beautiful coral
- getting way too close to Barry the barracuda. I was looking through my camera and when I put it down I was probably 2 feet away from Barry and his massive, terrifying teeth
- extra thanks to my guide Dan (the man with the stamp) who put up with my bad behavior and actually took my picture with turtle as much as I resisted
It was really a spectacular trip. The only thing I would change is maybe moving around to different dive locales. We only went to 3 sites, so we ended up doing 3-4 dives at each place. Also, I would have loved to stay longer than 3 days, I had such a fantastic time! Next time maybe I'll follow my buddies lead and sign up for 11 days of volunteer work so I can hang around longer.