My parents came to Australia! So, basically, picture the scene – February 2016. I’ve just left home to go to Australia. Then, a couple of weeks later, my sister tells my parents she wants to go on holiday to Greece with a friend of hers for 10 days in July. This, therefore, leaves my parents with the esteemed company of our moody cat for a week and a half in summer. To solve this problem, they decided to come here instead while my sister is away! Brilliant. Finally I have been put before the cat, after being second/third/fourth favourite for so many years.
They landed in Sydney on the 3rd of July and we welcomed them by picking them up from the airport and drinking lots of beer and wine with them. Over the next few days we went out for a lot of food and drink, including 2 lunches, 3 dinners and one very slightly overpriced ‘sharing plate’ (sharing doesn’t count if its only a one person portion, Union Bar Sydney). We also had a lovely day (broken up for me by work) having lunch at the Opera Bar and dinner in Darling Harbour with our family friend Tracy who came from Perth pretty much just to see us (just to pop that into context, that is the equivalent of flying to Crete – 5 hours, 2 timezones. This country is too big to handle)
Now, just a quick reference point; it is winter in Sydney at the mo;
This led to a cunning plan from my Mum, more cunning than a fox who has just been appointed professor of cunning at Oxford University. The plan was to fly north, where it’s always summer (sort of). So it was that Katie and I found ourselves in an Uber to Sydney Airport at 4.45am on Friday the 8th of July, heading for our ultimate destination of Port Douglas (around an hour north of Cairns) for a week away, coinciding with my birthday on the Wednesday.
The ‘holiday’ (I struggle to call it a holiday since this trip is pretty much a permanent holiday) could have started disastrously; we were flying early morning on a budget airline. Luckily, the stars aligned. The airport was quiet (my favourite type of airport – see my very first blog post The Masterplan) and in a divine intervention, we were offered the emergency exit seats for free. Now, for those of you who have ever flown Ryanair, you can imagine that for me at 6’3″ legroom is a perpetual problem. This emergency exit seat was like a sofa in comparison, I couldn’t even touch the seats infront of me. I mean, if we’d crashed the whole plane would have been buggered with me in control of the door, but we didn’t – that’s the main thing.
So we landed in Cairns. Fun fact/annoying feature about Cairns airport – there is no public transport to the city (I honestly mean none, as a boy from Manchester where every inch of the city is a sea of Stagecoach, Arriva and Metrolink, this is something I struggled to comprehend). It’s taxi or $22 shuttle bus. Queensland is a little bit funny like that (or as Katie lovingly called it after 5 hours sleep and 4 hours flying, ‘backwards as hell’). We arrived in Cairns around 3 hours before my parents due to the horrendously early flight (that’s budget flying for you) so headed into the ‘city’ (and I use that word very liberally) to have a look. Bless Cairns, its a nice enough place, but from my experience you’re best off being very drunk or very into yoga – else you’ll end up sat in a coffee shop for 4 hours while your girlfriend goes for a shop around.
Luckily my parents came to the rescue and whisked us off to Port Douglas in ‘The Beast 2’; a Toyota Camry hire car (that nickname is the product of a long story involving Antiguan speed bumps, and before you ask, no, perhaps some other time). After passing signs reading DON’T SPREAD ELECTRIC ANTS (no, me neither) and some beautiful scenery, one hour later we arrived in Port Douglas itself.
Our first day was spent on the beach and while I enjoyed that, me lying down on sand for 6 hours ain’t the most interesting topic to blog about so I shall quickly usher us to day 2 – our cruise to snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef (or as Katie put it, ‘Finding Dory’). Anyway, we headed out to the Low Isles, two very small islands off the coast of Port Douglas, and did some snorkelling. It looked like this (spot the giant clam if you can);
These pictures (and video) were on Katie’s GoPro, and are 3 of about 1000 that I was constantly taking throughout. As we finished the main snorkel and swam back towards the islands – the GoPro unfortunately gave up the ghost and its battery died. Which was okay, I thought, we’ll just swim back in and charge it tonight to see the photos. Unfortunately, I hadn’t accounted for what was to come next. As I swam back alone, about 50m from the group infant of me and the group behind, looking down at the reef, I looked up and a bloody shark swam right infront of me.
What I hadn’t thought about swearing in a snorkel was that the sound comes out of the top into the air where most people can hear you.
We had been told there were sharks in the water, that they were only lemon sharks and couldn’t hurt you, but there’s still something about the shape of a shark that makes you – how shall we keep this family friendly, say, relax your bowels? You get what I mean.
Turns out my Dad had actually been swimming amongst a (Finding Nemo style) shoal of fish earlier;
..when a shark had come right out of the middle of them towards him before diverting off. The Low Isles is a turtle hotspot and while we didn’t see any of those, shark-gate (no, he wasn’t called Bruce… as far as I know) surpassed that and made the sail back to Port Douglas with sun and beer even more enjoyable.
One more thing to say – just before we left the Low Isles, however, we went on the ‘Island Walk’ which had been advertised as an informative and entertaining 20 minute journey around the history of the island. Now, as I’ve mentioned, these are small islands – like 1 minutes walk end to end kind of small. I will now take you through the island walk
- Welcome to the island walk
- This is a hut
- This hut is actually where Steve Irwin died, as he was snorkelling at the outer reef and this was the closest bit of land (this bit was both interesting and very sad)
- This is a lighthouse
- That concludes the island walk
Yup. I think this part was slightly overbilled. Though, as Stu rightly pointed out, when they did the tour a few years ago Steve Irwin was still alive. So it could have been worse.
The next day, after a cracking pizza in a restaurant which was basically in someone’s back garden, we headed off on Tony’s Tropical Tours. Northern Queensland is characterised by a bloody great reef in the ocean and a bloody great rainforest on the land – we’d done the reef the day before so this was the rainforest trip.
Now I’m not saying that we are big names in Queensland, but of the four guides on Tony’s Tropical Tours, we got Tony himself. Our first stop was Mossman Gorge, which is an ancient Aboriginal site north of Port Douglas and now, arguably unfortunately, a tourist hotspot. Luckily, Tony, the crafty one, got us there before all the crowds.
He also told us some incredibly interesting facts about the area. Unfortunately
we drank quite a lot of alcohol my memory failed between this tour and the end of the holiday, so those facts are now hazy to the point of being lost forever. Lesson learnt – always take notes if you’re going to blog.
Anyway, the next bit was even cooler. This was the Crocodile Cruise down the Daintree River. It began in a boat that was far too full and low in the water to ever be comfortable and frankly felt like a Vietnam War film;
Anyway, we pretty much immediately saw a croc and from then on it was constant croc spotting, as well as some snakes and baby crocodiles (which look cute but you always know their mother must be close and angry). Seeing the first one was scary – mainly for the reason that it took so long to see. The water is murky and the crocs are barely visible, leading me to conclude I would not stand a chance against them, not that the colour of the water had anything to do with that at all. However, I wouldn’t be so stupid as to go in the bloody water – unlike some people… (more on that later)
The croc in the photo under the greenery is a) basically invisible and b) 5.1m long and isn’t even the biggest one in that area.
We then headed to Thornton Beach, which has most recently become famous as the site where a woman got taken by a crocodile at 10.30pm. I refer to myself on this one;
And, I can personally confirm that there are signs there saying ‘Watch our for the bloody crocodiles’, literally on the beach. The MP has a fair point.
So, after all this, the next part of the tour involved heading up to a tropical rainforest stream to have… a swim. Mad. Wish they did this in reverse order but there you go. After a barbecue lunch (peak Australia) we got in…. tentatively. Turns out the most dangerous thing in the stream was actually the current which made it slightly difficult to get up but after some teamwork and clambering over rocks we managed to make it for the photo.
After this, the last stop on the tour was Cape Tribulation, the only place in the world where two World Heritage Sites meet (the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef). Here’s Katie getting in the way of my photo’s again;
After this we headed back for Port Douglas and the next day was spent, again, on the beach taking a well earned break after the strenuous two days of sailing and being driven around… The day afterwards was actually my birthday, but also unfortunately the day my parents were leaving to go home. So after a cracking birthday brunch we had a slightly emotional goodbye as they drove back to Cairns and we stayed on for an extra two days.
Luckily if there’s any place you want to be after a very sad goodbye, then by a pool in a very sunny Port Douglas, with a free beer and Bill Bryson to cheer you up is probably up there. Katie and I had booked into a different hotel for these two nights and when she had rung to say it was my birthday they very kindly gave us two drink vouchers and a 6 pack of Corona for me – which also helped ease the pain. Unfortunately, they didn’t give us a bottle opener, so rather than doing the sensible thing and asking for one at reception, I decided to improvise;
(I’m quite proud of that one)
After two days relaxing in the sun Friday came and unfortunately this was our time up. Due to our transfer bus driver taking his sweet time, we didn’t manage to get emergency exit legroom heaven seats, but there is one benefit of flying into Sydney which I will leave you with.
Alex Odlin’s arm is available to purchase as a GoPro attachment for all your selfie needs – please enquire within. He also encourages you not to go swimming when signs say there are bloody crocs bloody everywhere. You can also, if you would prefer, read this blog from the start here; 1. The Masterplan