Part 2 of ‘Sydney to Cairns’
The trip from Sydney to Rainbow Beach had taken about nine days with some great stops on the Oz Experience bus.
I’d met some incredible people, learnt to surf (stand up and ride a wave to shore, at least), cuddled a koala, had a rather heavy python around my neck, seen plenty of crocodiles and survived the ‘fun’ and games on the bus for 600 miles.
Finally it was time to head further north to tick some more things off the list – skydive over the barrier reef, take a motorbike kangaroo tour, sail the Whitsunday islands, swim with the reef sharks and lay on some beautiful white-sand beaches.
I had another 11 days and over 900 miles to get it all done.
Harvey Bay and Fraser Island:
The trip to Fraser Island was the part of the east coast that I was looking forward to most. I was staying at Palace Backpackers in Harvey Bay where we were placed in groups of eight. We were instructed in how to fend off a dingo attack, warned that we must NEVER go in the ocean due to the number of sharks and, most alarmingly, notified that we wouldn’t be seeing a shower or toilet for three days!
We were loaded up with camping equipment, enough meat to barbecue for an entire army and enough boxed wine to survive a shipwreck for about a year and a half. Then, as eight strangers from five different countries, we were thrown together in a 4×4 vehicle to make our way to the ferry, destined for the world’s largest sand island.
First stop, Lake Wabby – just the most magnificent sight as you trek through the forest in the 30 degree heat, to emerge in a huge clearing of sand dunes as far as the eye can see and a vivid, green lake nestling in the valley.
Driving safari-style across the sand all day, stopping off at Champagne Pools to swim where the ocean is safely contained by rocks so that it’s free of sharks, rays and rip-tides; then finding a spot to stop for a barbecue and a few drinks as the sun goes down. Three days of heaven.
If you can cope with a diet of meat and warm white wine, washing in the lakes and going to the toilet in public – with the added indignity of carrying a spade as you go – it is, without exception, the most incredible adventure on what really feels like another planet.
The journey back to the mainland ferry was a sombre one with everyone wishing for a couple more days but the mood was saved when we saw signposts for Lake Mackenzie – a place described back at the hostel as ‘your final paradise on Fraser’. Pure white sand meets crystal clear, warm, blue water and almost no one else around you!
I had never heard of this little town, it’s the stop between Harvey Bay and Airlie Beach and is home of Scooteroo. Possibly the best tourist entertainment along the coast. A convoy of 40 backpackers are all given a 50cc scooter to whiz around the town of 1770 and Agnes Water on a Kangaroo hunt before stopping for chips on the rocks while you watch the sun set. Amazing, absolutely not to be missed!
Kroombit Cattle Ranch:
Another compulsory one-night stop on the Sydney-Cairns route with Oz Experience and totally different from anything I’d ever done. Learn to lasso sheep skulls, shoot guns, crack a whip, flip goats in a rodeo, experience the bolt of a cattle prod on your bum (this one’s optional) and ride a horse through the outback to herd goats in to pens.
Airlie Beach & The Whitsundays:
Airlie is a real party resort with a great atmosphere. Stay at Magnum Backpackers on the main strip and drink at Beaches where you will meet other people who are taking the same boat trip in the morning.
I booked two nights on SV Whitehaven, it was recommended to me as a relaxed boat with great food and deck space to sunbathe and was perfect for what I wanted. You can choose a racing boat, sailing boat, tall ship, party boat, scuba and diving boat or just a relaxed sailing boat which is what Whitehaven offered.
The crew take you out to swim and snorkel at beautiful stops between the islands and cook three meals a day for you – all you need to bring is enough alcohol to last three days.
There are just 2 downsides: 1. You are restricted to 60 second showers – which they police to the millisecond as I found out while half way though a mango and pineapple full-body exfoliation scrub and 2. My ‘bed’ was in the middle of the kitchen so I was woken up at 6am every morning – approximately two hours after I got in to it!
We swam with dolphins, huge turtles and small reef sharks, it was an incredible place to get a good look at the barrier reef and see the beautiful Whitehaven Beach.
The boat docks back at Airlie three days later where you are invited to drinks at Beaches bar with the crew and all your new friends to make plans for the next part of the journey up the coast.
From Airlie I made my way to Magnetic Island to stay at Base Hostel and then on to Mission Beach. One night was enough on the Island as there is very little to do other than country walks and relaxing by the pool.
skydiving over the Barrier Reef:
I knew I wanted to do my first skydive in Australia and was told that the best location is Mission as you can jump from 14000ft with a 60 second free fall directly over the Barrier Reef and then land on the beach.
The view of the ocean was incredible and I would definitely recommend this spot. I did my skydive with ‘Jump the Beach’ and loved every second of it.
There was little else to do in Mission Beach, I stayed at Scotty’s Beach House for one night and then continued up the coast.
I was told I’d either love or hate Cairns. I loved it. If you like to party you need to stay at Gilligans, it’s huge and has a bar and club with entertainment every night and a great location in the centre of the action.
From here I took another boat trip out to the reef, visited Cape Tribulation rainforest and spent a lot of time at the man-made lagoon as the town doesn’t have a beach.
It’s a backpacker paradise of nightlife, a tropical climate and plenty of entertainment including free fitness classes along the Esplanade and loads of live music.
It’s certainly worth seeing the reef from Cairns, even if you’ve been to the Whitsundays, the water was clearer and I saw many more types of tropical fish.