G’day! We visited Cairns during our last week in Australia, meaning that this is my final post about my semester abroad! I plan on writing more content about Sydney and how to travel around Australia in general, but this is it for regularly scheduled Australia content. I will link all the posts I’ve written during my semester in Australia at the end of this post. Enjoy my Cairns travel guide and learning about scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef!
Disclaimer: This blog post was originally written in August 2019 and was updated in winter 2022 for relevancy.
Staying In Cairns
My sister, two friends, and I flew to Cairns on June 17, 2019. Cairns is located in northeast Queensland and is known as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. We stayed at Gilligan’s Hostel, which had fun activities for us to do each night, such as a Talent Show, Karaoke, and Ladies Night! If anyone is interested in visiting the GBR and looking for a fun time, I highly recommend staying here!
Cairns isn’t a city – it’s a small, coastal, resort area with a lot of restaurants and hotels. We enjoyed shopping on the main promenade in Cairns and swimming in the man-made lagoon, but there wasn’t too much else to do. We had three days in Cairns – one was spent shopping/hanging out at the lagoon and the other two were spent exploring what northeast Queensland is most famous for: the reef and the rainforest. Check out this post if you want to learn more about the best things to do in Cairns!
Cairns Travel Guide: The Reef
Since the GBR is located two hours east of the mainland, you need a full day to visit. On June 18 we woke up early and boarded the Passions of Paradise catamaran. The ride out to the reef was the roughest water I’ve ever experienced. The boat was rocking up and down and side to side… and caused almost everyone on board to be sick. Luckily we came prepared with motion sickness medication, but everyone who didn’t was definitely feeling it.
To distract us from feeling like we were caught inside a washing machine, the crew gave a scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef briefing inside the boat. Here we learned the in’s & out’s of scuba equipment, how to clear our noses, fix our goggles, and most importantly, how to breathe under water!
Even though my sister and I had already been scuba diving in the Cayman Islands, we signed up for the beginner course. It made us feel really comfortable, especially since scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef is a bit more intense.
Scuba Diving In The Great Barrier Reef
When we arrived to our first location we geared up and immediately got into the water. Unlike the course my family and I took in the Cayman Islands, there was no pool to practice in. We got right in the ocean and held onto a rope to practice a few breaths. Once the instructor thought we looked “comfortable enough” we all grabbed on to her arms and slowly started to descend. Since it was the beginner course, we were not allowed to let go of her for the first dive. This was frustrating since I wanted to explore, but also nice because she was able to point out various marine life to us.
The second dive was so much better than the first because we were able to swim freely and deeper. We swam through arches of colorful coral and between the columns, all the while looking up and seeing schools of fish and rays swimming above. This was such a peaceful experience that left me speechless – yes I had a regulator in my mouth so I wouldn’t have been able to talk anyways, but you get the point! I don’t find diving to be scary, I think it’s so relaxing! It is so quiet beneath the water, and since you breathe and move so slowly, you really get to take it all in.
Snorkeling In The Great Barrier Reef
After our 40 minute dives, we had another 40 minutes to snorkel. Even though we couldn’t go down far, we were still able to see so many colorful fish and live coral! We got back on the boat for lunch and sailed to our second dive location where we spent the afternoon.
Luckily, the boat ride back wasn’t nearly as rough as it was on the way there, and we were able to listen to a Marine Biologist talk about life in the GBR. I learned that the reef is not “dying”; The coral is in fact bleached, but it’s not permanent. The GBR consists of hundreds of thousands of smaller reefs and will be here for a very long time, so long as we do our part to protect it!
Cairns Travel Guide: The Rainforest
The Daintree Rainforest in northeast Queensland is very famous because it is the only place on earth where two World Heritage sites meet! The Daintree is also the oldest rainforest in the world.
Visiting The Daintree Rainforest
We booked a full-day tour to the Daintree which included a visit to the Port Douglas Wildlife Habitat (we all held koalas!), a bush walk through the rainforest, lunch, a visit to the beach at Cape Tribulation, and a crocodile cruise down the Daintree River! I wish we had more time in Port Douglas because this area was so cute, but I was happy we were able to see so much in one day. The rainforest and beach were beautiful, and we loved the croc cruise because we were able to see so many! Australia is known for their crocs so I was glad to see some wild ones before heading home.
I hope this Cairns travel guide inspires you to visit Australia one day! I really enjoyed Cairns and am so happy I was able to cross scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef off my bucket list!
My Australia Posts
Here are all the posts I’ve written about my semester abroad in Australia in chronological order:
- First week in Sydney/ Blue Mountains
- Backpacker’s guide to Fiji
- My time in Melbourne
- First solo trip to Adelaide & Kangaroo Island
- My experience at Surf Camp Australia
- Sailing the Whitsundays
- Spring Break pt. 1 in Thailand
- Spring Break pt. 2 in Indonesia (& day trip to Nusa Penida)
- 24 hours in Singapore
- Road trip around Tasmania
- Exploring the Sunshine Coast
- Exploring the Gold Coast
- Backpacker’s guide to Brisbane
- Skydiving in Byron Bay
- Weekend in New Zealand’s North Island
- Camping in the Australian Outback
- Solo trip to Perth & Rottnest Island
- Day trip to Canberra
Australia is a country full of incomparable beauty and will always feel like home to me. My comfort zone widened with each adventure I had and I am so glad I documented it all. I hope these posts have given you helpful tips and that you too have the chance to go Down Under one day!
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