A Travellerspoint blog

going to the centre of the centre


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Yesterday I set my alarm clock at about 5 AM, this is just too early to get up, but we have no choice, otherwise we are going to miss our ride towards the red centre.

Shannon, our driver and guide for the next 3 days is on time and exactly at 5.55 AM she stops at the entrance of our hotel, talking about good timing! :)

When we go inside the bus and find ourselves a place to seat, we notice that there are already a few people on it, a German and Swiss couple. We say our good mornings and then it is off again. We stop at a few more hotels and when our group is complete we are with 13 people. What a difference compared with the Topdeck group and this time around we have a nice selection of European countries like Germany, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Poland (but living in Australia), Belgium of course and 1 girl from South Korea.

Shannon introduces herself for the last time and tells us that there is a selection of fruit we can use (me like this very much). There’s even a big eski filled with water, she has games and magazines on board for the very long drives, so in a nutshell … we are well equipped to hit the Australian Outback!

But first we need to go by the office of Adventure Tours to hand in our vouchers and pay our park fees. For the people who don’t have a sleeping bag with them, they also have the opportunity to rent one and in the same time for the once who needed one, we also have a toilet break.

When everyone is ready we can go and hit the road or to be more precise, hit the Stuart Highway, which is also known as The Track or The explorers Way and is named after John McDouall Stuart, the first European who crossed the country from the south to the north.

Our first stop on the Stuart Highway is at Stuarts Well Roadhouse about 90 kilometres south of Alice Springs. We have our toilet break here and for the once who wants to give it a try, you can also have a camel ride of a few minutes in a paddock. Besides being a camel farm, Stuarts Well houses a few emus and kangaroos as well and they also have a rescued dingo called Daisy.

When we are good to go, we drive further down the highway and I try to keep my eyes open and enjoy the most of the beautiful red scenery, but in the end mister Sandman wins and I fall asleep.

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I wake up at the next stop in Erldunda. The roadhouse is situated at the intersection of the Stuart and Lasseter Highways and offers home made food such as an huge blueberry and white chocolate muffin which Tania and I end up buying and sharing because the size is just enormous. It tastes good though.

When Shannon is ready with filling the tank of our bus and everyone has had his / her toilet break we are on the road again towards our campsite for this evening at Yulara (Ayers Rock Resort).

We are all quite awake now and Shannon makes use of the situation by passing the microphone, so that we all get the chance to introduce ourselves. We all need to tell a little bit about ourselves together with a small lie, which in turn, the rest of us has to figure out what that lie is. It’s quite fun and bonding at the same time.

Afterwards we all get a cardboard plate and a few boomerang texters (this is Aussie slang for saying that the markers will always return to their owner) and the idea of it all is to write our name on the plate together with a funny drawing. This would make it easier for all of us to remember each others names and in the mean time it colours up the bus. There is a bit of a competition as well because the best “name” plate receives a price. Shannon will be announcing the winner later on this afternoon!

When we are almost at our next stop we see a large mountain in the distance and we all get excited because we think we see Uluru, but Shannon tells us it is “Fooluru” a.k.a. Mount Conner or Connor (how you like to pronounce it, is up to you!). We were hoping for a photo opportunity, but Shannon tells us we got a chance tomorrow, so we drive further along the Lasseter Highway. We make a quick toilet stop at Curtin Springs, where we also have a chance to stock up on alcohol or other beverages because at the campsite there’s no chance to buy drinks.

And then we are off again for the last stretch of road towards Yulara, our campsite which is situated just outside the Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park, where we arrive early in the afternoon.

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As soon as we find our campsite, we help Shannon unload all the food and stock it up in our fridge and than it is time to make some food. Some of us get appointed to prepare the food, the rest of us will do the dishes afterwards.

While we have lunch, Shannon drives towards the airport of Uluru to go and get our last member of the group, who turns out to be English.

When we are all ready and cleaned up the place, we drive towards Kata Tjuta or the Olgas for our Valley of the winds walk.

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Earlier on, our new member of the group has installed all his stuff on my seat so I had to change seats and because I don’t like to sit in the back, I go for the seat next to Shannon, which turns out to be the best one in the bus, so I am not going to loose this one again! :)

Even our Englishman has to introduce himself and draw his name on the cardboard plate and than it is time to announce the winner and I must say, it was no surprise … the winner was Tania and she deserved it. She made her plate with drawings of all the local Aussie wildlife and quite good if I may say so! I was more than pride to handover the price box and she in turn chose a cute kangaroo keychain. Well done girl! :)

When we enter the National Park, we each get our permit which we have to show at all times when asked and therefore we can’t loose it, otherwise we might get fined and we learn that the fines are like everything else here in this country … huge!

We first make a quick stop at a lookout point from where we have a nice view on Kata Tjuta, which means many heads in aboriginal language. We are now on Anangu land, which belongs to the Pitjantjatjara tribe.

It is a pity that it is cloudy today because now the colours don’t come out so clearly, but still, the rocks are quite amazing to look at.

When we arrive at the parking lot, Shannon makes sure that we all have our liquids with us. We need to carry almost 1.5 liters of water, otherwise you can’t come on the walk and she is very strict with all of this. If you don’t carry it with you, you have a chance you get dehydrated with this hot weather and this is the last thing everyone wants.

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We walk towards Karu Lookout, our first viewpoint of the day. Shannon takes some group pictures and than we are off again to the next view point called Karingana Lookout and what a view it is! We first have to climb a steep hill to get there, but the reward is more than worth it.

After a 5.4 kilometre hike we are back at the parking lot again and the weather has changed from partly cloudy to full clouds and we are scared we are going to miss the sunset.

From here we drive towards the spot to watch the sunset on Uluru and we soon notice that we are not alone. Lots of groups arrived a bit earlier than our group and settled at the best spots to watch the sunset, but Shannon finds a nice spot as well and while she gets some snacks and drinks from our trailer, me and Tania check out the neighborhood to find a nice place to shoot some jumping pictures, but because it is getting dark fast, they don’t come out so good.

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When we get back, we receive our mug with champagne just like the rest of our group and although we make a toast for a nice sunset, the sun was setting soon, but you couldn’t call it a real sunset. Oh well, we had a nice day and there is always tomorrow!

It’s getting darker real fast now and we head back to the campsite, but it isn’t going to be a dull drive back. Shannon brought some finger flash lights with her and together with some dance tunes we head back to our campsite in style! Even our wonder hit Gangnam Style turns up again and Soo, our Korean girl gets all excited … not so surprising, after all she knows the lyrics to the song.

Once back in the camp, Shannon points out some people who are on duty to prepare the food. Me and Tania are in the group who have to do the dishes. This means we have some time left to go and have a well deserved shower and to my surprise we even have hot water, I didn’t expect so much luxury in the desert.

Tonight we are going to have an Australian BBQ. Food tastes twice as good when you prepare it yourself and this is true, but I still don’t like the camel sausages … luckily the kangaroo meat is still delicious.

When we all get tired, Shannon gives a quick explanation of the swag and the ones who want to give it a try, each get one. But as soon as we all get to our tent or swag it starts to rain, so we all take cover and call it a night, after all … our wake up call for tomorrow is just insane if you ask me!

Posted by Ils1976 01:32 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

all alone in Mparntwe


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Today we could finally sleep in because our flight to Alice Springs was only at 11.25 AM.

Although Tania was quite awake a few hours before, I managed to sleep till about 8 o’clock and the first thing we did was going to the bar to have our 2 slices of toast and tea.

While having our breakfast outside on the courtyard we started talking to a Swedish and Indian girl, who both just arrived. Already one day in Cairns and they had so much to tell, as well as we of course.

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When it was time to get our bags, we checked out and asked for a taxi to bring us to the airport, where we arrived quite on time. Because we were a bit early, we still had enough time to check out the different shops till they announced that we all could get on board the plane and before we knew it, we were in the air and heading towards Alice Springs and the Northern Territory.

During our 2 hour flight, I managed to fill in the time reading a magazine and sleeping while Tania updated her blog. When we were almost there, the captain announced that there were some rain clouds above Alice Springs. This meant a bumpy landing, but I didn’t notice this. I didn’t even saw clouds but when we stepped outside the plane, I did however noticed the dry heat!

It’s a short walk from the tarmac to the terminal and once inside, we don’t have to wait long for our bags to arrive. The only thing we now have to worry about is getting to our hotel and it’s like someone above is answering all our questions because there’s a small desk with a shuttle service next to the conveyer belt and the bus also stops at our hotel. Talking about good fortune!

We were the first to get off and as soon as we checked in at our little bungalow, we changed into other clothes and sandals. Our hotel is situated just outside the city centre and we decided to go and have a look. Because of the sun, we made sure to put on some sunscreen and a hat and off we went.

Once we arrived at Todd Mall, the main shopping street of Alice Springs, we noticed that it was fairly quiet, to say the least, it was more like it was deserted. Did we miss anything???

Nobody was out there except for a few aboriginal people, who were lying on the ground in the shade. Where was everyone??? Are they all inside because of the heat???

Even the shops are closed, we can only find one store that’s open, so we make use of it and escape the heat for a few seconds. Then it suddenly hits us … it’s Sunday! Of course the shops are closed, but still, why aren’t there people outside on the street? Is it the heat??? Who knows, but we are lucky that a few restaurants are open and we decide to have lunch.

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We opt for the kangaroo steak sandwich with chips and this turns out the be a very good choice. The meat is really delicious and I already start to like the outback and it’s meat!

After lunch we go and have a look at ANZAC hill and it’s war memorial. Unfortunately, the heat is still unbearable, but we manage to reach the top anyway and are rewarded with nice views on the entire area.

Soon after, the weather begins to change and more clouds are coming up, luckily it doesn’t rain though.

We hav our hearts set on visiting the Royal Flying Doctors Service, but once we get there we noticed that it is closed. Maybe that’s because it’s Sunday, but than we read on the entrance sign that it was open till 4 PM, we are just an hour to late … bummer! We should have come here first instead of going to ANZAC hill, but there’s nothing much we can do about it now!

Instead we wander of to the local supermarket to get something to eat for this evening. Now that we have the chance to cook our own meal, we take whatever we can get.

On our way back to the hotel we pass a small ice cream parlour and we just can’t resist it. We decided on having 2 scoops and I go for lime this time. It’s so delicious, but like always, the portions are huge … had I known this, one scoop would be enough, but hey … we only live once!

Once back at our bungalow, we dropped off our groceries and put on some swimmers. We noticed some people in the swimming pool and why not. It was hot enough!

Swimming makes us hungry and after a nice shower, we prepare our dinner. We pack our bags again and than it’s time already to hit the sack because tomorrow morning we are going to have an early wake up call. We need to get up at 5 o’clock. OMG, I just can’t think about that!

Posted by Ils1976 01:19 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

meeting the locals


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Today we had booked the “Go Wild Cape Tribulation Day Tour” with Jungle Tours and when Tania called yesterday to confirm, they told her our pick up time was about 7.25 AM, so we still had a little bit of time left to grab some toast at the bar of our hostel.

We were a bit worried if the driver was going to be on time, but surely that wasn’t a problem at all. Jason, our driver / guide for the day, turned up just in time and since we were the last ones to be picked up, we could drive straight to Port Douglas via the Captain Cook highway.

Our first stop today was the Wildlife Habitat Centre and this time around we could check it out ourselves. We were really looking forward to our meet and greet with one of the koalas in this sanctuary.

Tania was smart enough to buy us some pallet food for the kangaroos, while I already wandered off into the souvenir shop and while Jason told us a little bit more about the different native bird species, I was completely occupied by gazing at and trying to photograph the Southern Cassowary. What an odd animal, but dangerous nevertheless!

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At 9AM it was finally going to happen, our meet and greet with a koala! First we learned a little bit more about the koala and afterwards we even get the chance to go and get a picture with it.

But before that was going to happen, Mati, the ranger of the centre, told us as well some interesting facts of the turtle and snake. We’ve got a chance to touch them and if we wanted, we also could get a picture taken with them. But it was unanimous, we all wanted a picture together with Samson, the 9 year old koala … he was just sooooooooooooo cute! :)

Mati tells us how to stand and hold the koala, but before we even realise that we actually hold him, he already takes him away from us … such a pity, I really wanted to hold Samson a little bit longer, but I guess we should be lucky enough that we had him in our hands for just a mere 5 to 10 seconds!

When everyone has his or her professional picture, we still have some free time of our own and we head straight towards that other cute animal, the kangaroo!

At their paddock we see lots of different kangaroos and wallabies and they are all so cute, especially the little ones. We try to feed them and although they are a little bit shy in the beginning, food does the trick and we even see a chance to stroke some of them … how cool is that!

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Because there isn’t much time left, we have a quick look at the crocodile and the dozen of bird species and than we were off again to the Daintree Rainforest.

Our next stop is at the Daintree River, where we board our “cruise” for a trip along the many mangroves.  We are supposed to spot lots of crocs on this cruise, but the tide is high and although our captain is aware of all the best hiding places of Lizzie, Scarface, Dusty and Forest Gump (yes I know, who comes up with these names???), they are nowhere in sight.

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We do however have a chance to see a tree frog, which lost his way and jumped right into our boat as well as lots of jelly fish, which in turn gave our captain an excellent chance to tell more about them. Along the way, he also gives us more information about the trees and different plants.

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We are almost back at the ferry crossing where Jason is waiting for us, when all of a sudden our captain notices something in the mangroves and there you have it, when you least expect it … he spotted a crocodile or at least a small one. It’s still a baby and our captain thinks it’s a descendant of Lizzie, but isn’t sure … we are just amazed to see one, how little he/she is!

Once back at the bus, Jason tells us the next stop is going to be at a local picnic area. This sounds like a great idea because I am starting to get hungry.

Like all tours even Jason brought his own food and today we are going to have a selection of cold pasta with the usual salads and some bread. Me like, I don’t need more. But when Jason tells us the old couple next door sells home made ice cream, we are all eager to give this a try as well. I go for the devil’s favourite, after all it’s all in the name! This turns out to be a creamy triple chocolate, but instead of being creamy it is a little bit frozen … ah well, one never complains about dessert! :)

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When our stuff is packed in the trailer, we head off again towards Cape Tribulation! We are now in Cassowary territory and Jason tells us to give a shout when we see one, the chances our slim but suddenly I see something blue near the road … like I have been told, I shout CASSOWARY, but we are already further down the road when Jason has a chance to stop. Still, we are able to see this bird crossing the street and I guess we are save sitting in the bus because I really don’t want to stand face to face with such an giant animal!

We are only minutes away from Cape Tribulation, but first we have a small walk in this rainforest area called the “Dubuji” boardwalk, which is a Kuku Yalanji word. This aboriginal word means “place of spirits”. I didn’t notice the spirits though, but Jason told us a lot about the trees, plants and even a bit of the wildlife living in this area.

And finally the moment was there! When we parked our bus, we only had a short walk ahead of us before we saw the Cape. Much is said about it, but you have to see it in person to really talk about it … it is quite amazing seeing the rainforest come to the beach and we were lucky to see it with a clear blue sky. Needless to say, this was THE opportunity for us to try out some great jump pictures and still we had some time left to have a short walk along the beach as well as a moment to stand still and have a closer look at the local artwork of the sand crabs.  Talking about real artists!

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But sadly enough it’s already time to drive back to Cairns. We drop off some people who stay at the Cape overnight and then it’s back on the Captain Cook highway again. After a drive of about 2 hours we are back at our hostel.

Once again we choose the backpackers meal, but this time around it is just too horrible to eat. How on earth do they manage to make food taste that bad??? This is just unbelievable! Lucky for us, they have a small convenience store … dessert anyone???

Because there was nothing else going on here, we decided to make our time useful and repacked our bags. Tania still had some internet access left, so she could skype home and even had some time to download pictures while I took a nice hot shower and discovered a few souvenirs from the Cape. It is always nice to see those giant mosquito bites … NOT!!!

It’s already after midnight when we call it a night and I fall asleep almost instantly … after all, it has been quite an interesting day!

Posted by Ils1976 07:48 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

going native


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Today we had another early rise. It was also our last day with the Topdeck group and this meant we had to leave all our luggage behind in the hotel, just to pick it up again, later this evening when we all are going our own way. Some of us stay behind in Cairns, others fly home or fly to another cool destination in Oz.

When everyone was ready, we left for Port Douglas, but not before we first made a stop at Cooya  Beach (Kuyu Kuyu), the home of Linc(oln) and Brandon Walker a.k.a. the Kubirri Warra brothers. These two brothers still follow the tradition of their ancestors, the Kuku Yalannji tribe.

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Linc is going to teach us today how to throw a spear so that we could catch our own fish and we also learn more about gathering food from plants as well as their medicinal purpose.

But first we get a ceremonial cleansing through smoke and then it is time to pick up our weapons and learn how to use them. Linc does his best to teach us, but I wonder if we are going to catch something later on  … I doubt it!

We all have to take our spears with us on the walk and then we learn more about plants and food you find in your every day surrounding. That’s if you are an aboriginal, the rest of us, use the supermarket!

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When we all get back, Brandon has organised a morning tea … we were supposed to catch our own fish, but because of the tide, things changed and we will have to do with some homemade damper and muffins, which the mother of our two brothers has made earlier on this morning … it looks like our brothers have gone modern after all! :)

Besides a few artefacts which are spread out over some kind of cloth, we also notice the didgeridoo. If we want, we can try to make a sound out of it. I tried several times, but it just didn’t work out that well … there was some noise coming out of it, but that’s it!?

Linc shows us how it is properly done and than … what an amazing sound! That’s how you do it!

Soon after we have to say goodbye to these 2 interesting brothers and than it’s off to Port Douglas. Tania and I, together with a few others are left behind in the centre of town. The rest of our group is going to visit the Wildlife Habitat Centre, but since we both booked a tour tomorrow to the Daintree Region, we’re already going to visit the centre, so it’s a bit stupid to pay the entrance fee twice!

But maybe we should have done it because there was nothing interesting to see in Port Douglas at all, talking about a boring town!

We first walked all the way through the shopping street and from there we ended up at the local beach. Alan told us to go and have a look at the lookout point close to the beach, so we tried to find that as well, but when we reached the top, there was not much to look at besides the beach. What a bummer.

Some of us were starting to get hungry, so we tried to find something affordable to eat, which in the end we did and as usual it was huge, but tasty!

We still had some time left, but decided to go back to the park where we were dropped off earlier on. Suddenly we noticed our bus Hardy, but there was no Leigh in sight. Maybe he went for a bite to eat as well and after a few minutes even he arrives.  We still needed to search for Ella, our Chinese girl, who has a reputation of wondering off and getting lost in the process. Luckily Alan has her cell phone number and after half an hour of searching, we do find her and than it’s time again to pick up the rest of the group at the Wildlife Habitat and listen to all their interesting stories.

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On our way back to Cairns, Alan makes up funny stories about all the things that happened to us during our Topdeck tour and when we arrive at Rex Lookout, last pictures are made of our two fantastic guides.

When we arrive back in Cairns, we all say goodbye to each other and suddenly Tania and I are back on our own again, which is quite awkward to tell you the truth. Strange how quickly we all get adapted to one another.

We first wander off a little into the centre and checked out some souvenir shops, but because we didn’t find something more interesting to do, we decided to pick up our luggage at the hotel and tried to find a cab to get us to our hostel, which is situated just outside the city centre.

Nomad’s Cairns is a very big hostel, which we didn’t expect it to be. We are welcomed by a Dutch girl and our allocated room which is just across the laundry room. This in turn gave us the idea of doing our laundry. We were here for the next two nights, so why not!

After dinner and doing our laundry, I went for a nice hot shower. Afterwards, Tania decides to skype home while I try to write in my journal, but I soon get sleepy and after a while I just call it a night.

Posted by Ils1976 07:30 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

finding Nemo


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Today we had a free day in Cairns and like half of our group we decided to go to the Great Barrier Reef and see if we could find the infamous clownfish NEMO!!

Around 8 AM we all leave together in group towards the harbour and Leigh is going to join us today as well, as he is very keen on diving.  Alan, our tour leader, organised a daytrip with the company Passions of Paradise, said to be the best when it comes to snorkelling and introductory dives on the Great Barrier Reef.

Our vessel of the day is yet again a catamaran and I am not really looking forward to it, but it is a small sacrifice to pay to see beautiful things. Thank the lord for the invention of sea sickness pills! :)

Upon entering the boat, we each get a number. Our crew explains us that names are just too hard to remember and with numbers it’s easier to know if someone is lost or not. Very important fact to know of course. Today, I am number 25!

When each has his or her number, we also have to fill in a form so that the crew knows a little bit more about your medical condition. Than it’s up to you do decide if you want to go snorkelling or diving. Tania wanted to do the introductory dive, but since I have a problem with my ears, I can sadly enough only choose for snorkelling, but as long as I see fish … I am a happy camper!

We soon sail out of the harbour and in the meanwhile me and Tania look for a great spot out on the deck. The weather is actually great today, we sometimes have a few drops of rain and clouds, but most of the trip the sun is shining. This also means that the sea is rather calm today, what a stroke of luck!

After being about 2 hours on the water, we finally reach Michaelmas Cay. This national park is a world-famous bird sanctuary with a small sandy beach.

First thing we all have to do is to put on our stinger suit and then everyone has to get their right equipment. Us snorkelers our brought to the beach with a glass bottom boat while the divers stay on the catamaran.

I am lucky to be amongst the first to go with the smaller boat to the island, but once you get closer and closer, you also smell the stench of the bird droppings! It’s just plain awful and I just wanted to get into the water as quickly as possible to get away from that stench!

Once in the water, I was quite surprised about the temperature, it wasn’t cold at all. Like many of my fellow snorkelers, I tried to look for that one infamous fish. I saw lots of variations of the clownfish, but not Nemo itself. Such a pity, but hey  … at least I saw his cousins! :)

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Besides clownfish, there were all other colourful fish around, but sadly enough I don’t know their names. I followed a parrot fish for a while, but taking pictures of it under water was a very hard thing to do.

I don’t know how long I was in the water, but after a while I even got cold and asked to get brought back to the boat just as several others.

When we arrived back, we noticed that a few divers were already out of the water. Tania was one of them and she wanted to go to the island to have a look underwater. But I was just too cold and stayed on the boat.

She earlier told me that she had seen Nemo and even a turtle, which was quite awesome … when she was brought to the island with the smaller boat, all of a sudden someone shouts : TURTLE … and there it was! I just saw the head and a haze of the shell, maybe it was the same one the divers saw earlier on. Who knows!?

It was time to have lunch as well and the cook certainly did his best! The food was spicy but delicious and afterwards, there was plenty of fruit.

When everyone was back on the boat, we set sail to another snorkelling / diving spot called Paradise Reef. I must say that this spot was even better than Michaelmas Cay and again I saw lots of different fishes … I tried to follow some zebra looking fishes when all of a sudden I hear a whistle and soon it gets louder and louder. I look up because I think something has happened and I suddenly noticed that I drifted off quite a lot. Maybe that’s the reason of the sound but unfortunately it’s just the crew telling us to get out of the water because we have to leave again. Sadly, because this place was even better and I still hadn’t seen Nemo, only his relatives again!

Once everyone, including the divers, are back on the boat again, the large count of the numbers has begun to see if no one is missing and than it’s time to go back to Cairns.

The sea is sort of restless and the waves are coming up big time! Lots of people even get sick, but Tania and me find a nice spot at the back of the upper deck, where it’s a bit calmer and it gets me through all the way to Cairns without getting seasick. THANK YOU LORD!!!!

We arrive back at the harbour about 4 PM and we get some free time till dinner. Tonight is our last night with the entire group and Alan and Leigh organised a farewell dinner in the “Rattle and Hum”, one of the local pubs.

Our group is going back to the hotel with Alan and Leigh, but me and Tania decide to stay behind and have a walk on the main boulevard of Cairns.

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We still have some time to take a well deserved shower and than it’s off to our farewell dinner. Because we know by now that the food portions are huge here in Australia, we decide to have a pizza, but this turns out to be a bad choice. It’s just not edible, but the company is great and the cider we ordered makes us all feel very happy!

This was quite an interesting day, but the cider does its trick well and when we get back at our room, I am completely exhausted and happy to go to sleep.

Posted by Ils1976 07:03 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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