Part 1: Backpacking East Coast Australia: Cairns -Airlie Beach – 760 kms

Well a month has come and gone. It was a month of snorkeling, hiking, finding wildlife, eating a lot of gelato, lounging, and embracing all Australia had to offer. I find as the time flew by I was embracing each moment closer and closer. Trying to hold it for a little longer. But here I am, back in Sydney. So here I am reminiscing on past travels once again.

thumb_IMG_8795_1024All the planning, blog searching, and questions asked were so worth it. I was so happy with how I planned, and created the whole trip from start to finish. Few bumps here and their, but that’s what made it interesting.

I came to Australia knowing there were many beautiful things to see, but I had no idea how diverse this country is. In a 10-minute drive you will go from lush green gum tree filled mountains, to colourful corals, to thousand-year-old rainforests, to white powdery sands, and the ocean-waving hello. You will meet the cutest and scariest animals on earth, and some of the nicest travellers too.

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If this trip taught me anything, its that you will feel things you’ve never felt, see things you’ve never seen, and meet people you’ve never met, but at the end, you wont be the same. I am constantly trying to grip each moment and embrace it. When you meet like-minded people on a quest to see and experience the unknown, and explore their mind and this beautiful world something happens. It ignites a vision for yourself and others that your dreams can become a reality, and you’re not the only person out there striving for the same goals.

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I’m just one girl striving to see and embrace the world in all its colors and beauty, because isn’t that what life is really all about?

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So here we go. 1 month, 2 states, 3 snorkeling trips, 4 cases of sommersby, 5 islands, and too many National Parks, gelatos and smiles to count.

 

Day 1- Cairns:

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We flew from Sydney International Airport to Cairns Airport on a 2-hour flight. It was a beautiful and scenic flight over looking the beautiful turquoise waters, lush mountains, and fluffy clouds. When I arrived in Cairns, I stepped off the plane and instantly began to sweat, and my hair grew by the second. It was hot. Unlike any other heat I had felt before because it was that humid. We checked into our lovely hostel and headed down to the Esplanade, a seriously cool view and little Lagoon, which is so lovely on such a hot afternoon.

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Little fishies swimming in the Esplanade Lagoon in the heart of Cairns

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Day 2- Cape Tribulation, Daintree Rainforest, and Mossman Gorge:

As we left the city of Cairns you instantly knew you were in for a good day, we wound through the mountains, and took in the vast views of the ocean I was in awe. Today would be one for the books. Our tour guide George was a local native and you could see he took such pride in his land, his history, and his family. He was truly the best tour guide anyone could ever ask for.

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Alexandra Lookout

Our first stop for the day was Alexandra Range Lookout. We parked and got out unsure of what to expect. I knew we had been slowly climbing up the mountain but didn’t realize how high up we had gotten. We were rewarded with panoramic views of the mountain range, rainforest, and the vibrant ocean. Seriously an amazing spot.

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We then walked the Dubuji Boardwalk, a short but extremely enchanting rainforest area. It is extremely well preserved, so well that we saw a female cassowary making her way through the bush. George explained how the cassowaries play a huge part in the eco systems balance throughout the rainforests. The cassowaries swallow these large seeds and fruits whole, and leave piles of dung all over the forest floor, which then helps disperse these species of fauna throughout the rainforest and begins the life of new plants.

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It was fascinating to hear George speak of all these different plants and their healing powers, side effects, or dangers. He definitely had a passion for nature.

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In the afternoon we headed down to Cape Tribulation Beach for lunch. An amazing spot to soak up some sun and have lunch. As inviting as the waters looked, we definitely couldn’t swim there as jelly fish were very apparent up there. Such a tease!

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Cape Tribulation Beach

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We then headed back to the Daintree River for a crocodile cruise. We were at the tale end of the mating season for the crocodiles. We learnt how each crocodile have her own territory and actually spotted a small female on shore! Her name was Lizzy she was considered the ‘runt’ but was still about 8-9 feet long. You could really feel the presence of crocodiles as our tour guide had told us about a child getting too close to the water a few years back and got eaten. Quite daunting.

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Daintree River
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Spot Lizzy!

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thumb_IMG_7948_1024We ended our day at Mossman Gorge. A stunning preservation of land and the Mossman River runs right through it. The main attraction is the large boulders, waterfalls, and the swimming hole. We ended our very hot day with a dip in the cool pools and climbing over these iconic boulders. We took a short walk through the trails and I loved ever second. What a remarkable place.
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So much beauty in one day, but it wasn’t over yet. On our drive back South to Cairns George pulled over at the Rex Lookout for one last time. A beautiful and moody afternoon.

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Day 3- Port Douglas: 

Port Douglas is an adorable town an hour North of Cairns. I had done some research and was told it was totally worth the day trip and the shuttle ride up. As soon as I arrived I understood why. The beach is expansive and dreamy with mountains looming. We spent the morning on the beach, went for a lovely beachside lunch and walked through this adorable town. I think it would be an amazing spot to have a runaway wedding and honeymoon. Seriously, look how cute that church is! Anyways loved the town and all the quirky stores too, it is definitely worth a day trip.

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St. Mary’s By the Sea

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Port Douglas Beach

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Also that night we got back to the hostel and they were having a barbeque, and not just any barbeque, but one with all authentic Australian meats. So I tried, crocodile, emu and kangaroo. So the verdict is: crocodile tastes like chicken – just chewier, emu – is delicious almost like a steak, and kangaroo – just doesn’t do it for me. It tastes like super gamey meat. Anyways happy I tried them all though! Made for a funny video too.

Day 4 – Atherton Tablelands:

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We set off early and headed 2 hours out of Cairns. Driving through mountainous terrain and speaking to all the fellow travellers, time fly by. We played a few icebreakers and that really lightened the mood too. Such as: your name, what your nationality is, and whether you fold or scrunch your toilet paper. It got personal really quick. Regardless, it made for an entertaining conversation starter. Matty our hilarious Aussie tour guide advised us that there hadn’t been much rain up there – hence less water, meaning fewer waterfalls. So Matty being the best tour guide ever, took us to 3 waterfalls that he thought would be best, and I am so glad I trusted his judgment.

Waterfall #1- Josephine Falls:

Josephine Falls is one of the most glorious places I have ever been. After a short 1.5-kilometer walk along a paved walkway through a rainforest and you have 3 choices: Top pool, Creek View, or Bottom Falls. Each area is unique and as beautiful as the next.

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Top Pool of Josephine Falls

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Within the first 20 minutes of being at Josephine Falls, I stripped down to my bathing suit, tucked my Go Pro in my snug bathing suit top and wadded into the pool. Within seconds my Go Pro plunged to the bottom of the pool. Now this isn’t a sad story, and I learnt a rather amazing lesson. When I realized it had disappeared from my bathing suit top, my heart sank completely. I was devastated. I was only a few days into the trip and all the photos and videos were gone. Everyone was trying to help and look for it at the bottom of a muddy 20-foot deep pool but it was impossible. Our guide told me not to worry and offered to go back the next day and snorkel for it. I felt relieved and convinced myself we would find it. I convinced myself that if I kept positive thoughts I would get it back, and surely the next day Matty came back with my GoPro. Moral of the story: positive thinking brings positive things. Lesson Learnt: Put on the damn wrist strap.

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The only photo I got at Josephine Falls before my Go Pro plunged into the muddy abyss.

After frolicking in the water for a quite sometime we got out and went for morning tea which consisted of the most amazing fruit, fresh french press coffee, and Tim- Tams. They weren’t messing around. All the while my mind kept drifting back to my Go Pro. I was chatting to Matty and he was clearly trying to get it off my mind and we were exchanging stories about our travels, Canada, and anything and everything. All of a sudden he grabs a green ant and says ‘stick out your tongue’ … so I gave him a weird look but did it. He squeezed the green ants butt and a green liquid poured onto my tongue. So as he commanded I ate it. It tasted like a sour warhead, and then my tongue went numb. So although I lost my Go Pro that day, I ate a green ants ass. Yum.

Josephine was such a dream, and you cant go wrong sliding down waterfalls on your butt, plunging into pools, climbing on rocks, swinging on vines, and hanging out with some really neat fellow travellers.

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Waterfall #2- Zillie Falls:

We arrived at Zillie Falls, not knowing what to expect at all. We parked the bus and got through to the trail. After a semi- treacherous walk down a steep mountainside, climbing over fallen trees, through vines, and on jagged rocks we made it to the base of Zillie Falls. The trees opened up and the beauty of Zillie Falls instantly took my breath away. These falls are unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my life. The waterfall is a glorious natural beauty with large volcanic rock boulders, with a large amount of water pouring down onto them. This created a rainbow encompassing the falls. Blissful. We climbed along the jagged rocks to get under the waterfall, it was a feat but I am so glad I did it. Standing underneath the waterfall was an amazing feeling. I was uncomfortable, my feet were cut open from the rocks, and water was pelting me from above, but I couldn’t care less. It was one of those moments that everything around you is a hum of beauty, and to look at the negative in that moment was a waste. Truly, Zillie Falls to this day brings a glow to my heart; it is such a magical place.

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Peeking through the vines & trees, this is your first sight of Zillie!

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Waterfall #3- Milla Milla Falls:

The third waterfall we visited is the most common waterfall in the Atherton Tablelands. It’s the waterfall where all the girls go to toss their hair under a waterfall, and look majestic as hell. Well it was a beautiful waterfall and I ate my pineapple lumps for lunch under it, but I didn’t go in the murky water. It’s a beautiful waterfall though, and I made some turkey friends there too.

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As Matty called it ‘Orgasm Waterfall’

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As our day came to a close, it definitely didn’t wind down. We all had gone to the liquor store and picked up some beverages with lunch. We visited a small lake and had some drinks and sat to watch the sunset, drinks and Tim Tams in hand. We drank and sang on the bus, all the way home. Who knew the entire Grease soundtrack was known worldwide or that a 20-year-old Irishman could sing Shakira better than me?

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The beautiful countryside we drove through.

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Our sweet ride for the day. Barefoot Tours is the best.

What an amazing day embracing Australia’s natural beauty with wonderful new friends. I can not recommend Barefoot Tours enough, if you want an authentic Aussie experience with tons of laughs, good food, beverages and even better company you have to go with them! They are also one of the cheapest options for backpackers. Win! But seriously, how many tour guides would go back and snorkel for you Go Pro for you? Not many. Seriously Barefoot Tours is the way to go.

Day 5- Green Island:

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Something that has always been on my bucket list (and every other sane persons travel list) has been the Great Barrier Reef. We woke up to 32-degree weather with the highest humidity I have ever felt. We headed out to the wharf and boarded the boat for Green Island. Green Island is a small island 27 kilometers off shore from Cairns and is actually a National Park. So win, win! We spent the morning snorkeling and were fully geared up with flippers, stinger suits, and snorkeling gear and ready to take on the coral. But the snorkeling was actually quite disappointing as a lot of the coral was dead, or covered in algae. It was sad to say but it was under whelming (luckily later in the trip I found the most amazing healthy coral to make up for it). It was apparent a lot of inexperienced snorkelers had been walking over the coral with their flippers – which then kills it. It wasn’t colorful or lively like I had always pictured, but greyish and had only a handful of fish. Still a neat experience though. We then wandered the island and National Park boardwalks for the afternoon. Just as we were leaving for the day 5 or 6 sea turtles popped up their heads to say goodbye to us. Day made!

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Walking through Green Island National Park

Day 6- Townsville:
We said goodbye to our lovely hostel and our newfound friends and headed to Townsville. A cute and quirky town that’s down the coast a couple hours. We checked into our hostel in the city center, lounged by the pool and explored then headed out to explore the city and find some dinner.

Day 7- Magnetic Island:

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We boarded the ferry bright and early and headed out from Townsville to Maggie Island as the locals call it. Magnetic is a quick 8 kilometer ferry ride from Townsville (and it’s quite cheap too). When we arrived I knew I wanted to rent a car, because I’d heard it was the best thing to do, to see the whole island. I wasn’t 21 yet (9 days to go!) and didn’t know if they’d let me. But sure enough ‘she’ll be right’ was the Aussie car rental dude told me and I signed my life away for the day to this little buggy! I have my full Canadian drivers license… mind you in Canada we drive on the right side of the road and the driver’s seat is on the other side. So very confusing, but I had an absolute blast tooting around in it! I didn’t realize how much I missed driving until we got going. We toured the island and visited Picnic Bay – played on the rocks, Nelly Bay – and walked the boardwalk, Horseshoe Bay and grabbed lunch, and finished with the Fort Walk Lookout was an 8-kilometer lookout walk that was just stunning but bring water! I forgot oops! Was such an unreal day, and I loved Magnetic Island.

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The Forts Walk
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The view from the top of the Forts Walk. So worth it!

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This little dude was sound asleep in the tree.
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Horseshoe Bay

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My sweet ride for the day. She was hard to give back.
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A rock wallaby! How cute!
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Finished the day with a swim

Day 8- Airlie Beach:

thumb_IMG_8824_1024Was a long day on the bus from Townsville to Airlie Beach, but it is such a cute town! I thoroughly enjoyed the vibe, ocean side views, and our Airbnb! We stayed just outside Airlie Beach in an Airbnb accommodation with the loveliest host and 4-month-old golden retriever! My weakness!

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Day 9- The Whitsundays

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We rose early and our Airbnb host was so kind and drove us down to the marina to meet our sailboat and fellow sailors. It was only 8 a.m. and I was already drenched in sweat and ready for a swim. I decided I wanted to splurge for the Whitsunday experience and I am so happy I did. We boarded the Eureka 2 sailboat for a 3-day, 2 night sailing trip through, and around the Whitsundays. It was the highlight of my trip without a doubt.

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I have been on boats my whole life, and I always had a soft spot for sail boats.

There were 12 of us – 2 Canadians, a couple from Madrid, 5 Dutch, and 3 British girls. Our crew was a slew of worldly people. Our captain was an Aussie, and the other crew members consisted of a hilarious and sassy Frenchman, a young and goofy Dutch, and a quiet Brit. Its crazy what 3 days on a boat with strangers will create, by the end each and everyone of us had become friends and left with huge grins.

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After boarding we instantly clicked with the lovely Poms and we sailed from Airlie Beach through the mesmerizing turquoise waters and headed to a small bay off of Hook Island known for its amazing snorkeling. We dove right in (it was so hot) and were in awe of the corals colours and beauty. We didn’t use flippers to preserve the reef and to lessen the chances of touching it. I saw hundreds of fish and didn’t want to get back in the boat. That night we put the anchor down, had a huge feast for dinner and some drinks, and settled in for the night at Hook Passage. We talked for hours after dinner and its hilarious how much you have in common with someone that grows up on the other side of the world from you, really.thumb_GOPR4121_1024

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As we went to bed that night, I realized the beds below were made for small children and I just couldn’t get comfortable. So I took my little cozy sheet with me up on the deck and slept under the moonlight. I stayed up listening to Half Moon Run, and staring at the moon and its reflection of the calm waters. I wont forget that night, not because it was wild or crazy, but because it was simple, and beautiful and I was all to myself in the middle of the ocean.

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Day 10- The Whitsundays:

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The next morning we woke up with the sun (5 a.m.) and headed out for the highlight of the trip. We sailed to Tongue Bay and arrived first to Whitehaven Beach. Amazing. We walked from the bay on the other side to the Hill Inlet Lookout. It was so astonishing. The waters seemed so pure and it was truly surreal. The pictures say it all really. We then walked down to Whitehaven Beach. It felt like we were walking of icing sugar. I went down instantly to the water and had to get in. I frolicked, sat, swam, and played in the crystal clear waters. No other tours had arrived for hours so we had it all to ourselves to wade in the shallow waters and sit on the beach. The waters were so clear we saw huge stingrays and lemon sharks headed to the shore so naturally I had to check them out. It was so incredible. We spent the whole morning there and then headed back to the boat around 1 p.m. just when other tours were piling in. It was such a fulfilling morning.

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On Whitehaven Island, and that’s our sailboat in the distance.

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Hill Inlet Lookout

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Don’t think my smile could get any bigger.

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That afternoon after lunch we headed to Luncheon Bay for an even better snorkeling experience than yesterdays! We got in the waters and I instantly saw a small shark, and the brightest coral I have ever seen. This is known as a fish feeding area so there were hundreds of schools of fish with us. Our skippers then began feeding them and they went crazy! It was actually quite scary and they are so quick. One fish grabbed my nose ring thinking it was food. Terrifying.

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Didn’t forget the GoPro wrist strap this time!

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Once we dried off, we headed to Sunset Bay just off of Hook Island for the night. Yet again we had a wonderful meal, drinks, and got the music playing. We spent the night chatting and watching the most beautiful sunset I have ever watched to date. It was a mesmerizing night, and just to top it off a pod of dolphins said goodnight to us just before the sun completely set. Amazing.

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One of my favourite images I captured during the trip.

That night I slept on the deck again, with my music lulling me to sleep and the moon keeping a close eye. I swear I have never slept so deeply in my life.

Day 11- The Whitsundays back to Airlie Beach:

We woke up this morning a little less cheerful, knowing the sailboat was headed back to shore made it hard to get up. We sailed through the quiet waters, taking in every second enjoying the sunshine and the breeze. Its true what everyone says about the Whitsundays, that the colours are too vivid to believe and everything looks like a postcard… well you better believe it. It’s so naturally beautiful, and the fact we didn’t encounter any bad weather just added to the happy spirits. Those were 3 absolutely blissful days. We got back to shore and spent the day in Airlie Beach. I immediately went to the lagoon to have a proper shower and get cleaned up.

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Well that’s it for part 1 of my amazing backpacking adventure. Special mention to sunscreen for always having my back – literally, ice cream stores – for being everywhere because I’m on vacation and don’t give a hoot about diet, and to Australia for being a f***ing dream. Seriously so beautiful, every time you think it cant get any better, it does.

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My state in this photo: No shower for 3 days, sand and salt in every place imaginable, sunburnt skin aching, but I was the happiest gal around. Whisundays you will always hold a special part of my heart and mind.

‘The optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears it is true.’ – J. Robert Oppenheimer

Part 2 coming soon…

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