The Great Barrier Reef – Cairns

Posted in: Trip reports- Sep 23, 2013 No Comments

Greg Hung World explorer, film-maker & entrepreneur

Greg Hung World explorer, film-maker & entrepreneur

Greg is a modern World Explorer, Film-maker, Mobile & Google friendly Website producer, & Entrepreneur at the intersection of travel and technology. He has directed, shot, edited, and produced over 30 high definition travel and lifestyle related videos on Youtube in addition to producing ChicVoyage in Asia – modern travel adventures on the Amazon.com store in 2012. He has been instructed by globally renown SLR Director and film-maker Phillip Bloom. His 4 month 2013 journey took him to Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia. He is currently studying Mandarin in Taiwan.

The Great Barrier Reef – Cairns

I landed in Australia on May 8th and now it was June 19th 2013. My Australian tour was finally coming to a close in the town of Cairns, Australia to visit the Great Barrier Reef.  I had survived the super high prices of Australia, driving on the other side of the road, and the baggage delays of Jetstar airlines. Before arriving here I had seen the aerial shots of turquoise blue ocean with cays surrounded by coral. What was the experience actually like?

When I originally planned the trip I failed to recognize that it was winter in Cairns during late June. My airbnb host confirmed this was actually the best time to come as the weather is not too hot and not too wet.

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The weather in Cairns for the week of June 19th

 

I arrived in the airport and picked up my car rental. It was a nice hot day in the mid to high twenties and I used the google maps GPS to head straight towards my Airbnb private room. The location would be at a cozy space located a 10 minute drive from the town of Cairns. The pictures matched the Airbnb property and I found the keys and let myself in.  I would be sharing a private room from a local couple. I quickly brought my luggage in and immediately took a short nap. When I woke up I heard some conversation. I had a chance to meet the boyfriend. You come to the Great Barrier Reef for one main reason and that is to scuba dive or at least snorkel.  He gave me some ideas about planning my trip and I agreed it was best to go to town to do some investigation. He also suggested doing a road trip north up to Daintree to Cape Tribulation where rainforest meets the beach. Later on in the trip the couple left for Brisbane leaving with the house to myself. Airbnb is really based on trust, and Australia has plenty of it.

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My private room in my Cairns, Airbnb rental

The town of Cairns is very small and you will most likely end up on the main street called Esplanade. Not far from there is the Cairns park and promenade. It’s worth going for a walk on the promenade or to check out the people barbequing or sunbathing. Esplanade and surrounding area is lined with restaurants and a popular dive shop called Tusa. The other dive shops will be near the Pier or one of the main streets south of Esplanade so I recommend parking on Esplanade street and walking around. It’s worth visiting the tourist information office on Esplanade, but make sure you go to the official one.  Each dive shop offers a different experience, and I’m sure they are all good otherwise they wouldn’t be in business still . I had particular needs as I needed to film and wanted good customer service, knowledgeable staff, good equipment, transparency, a smaller boat, and fair prices. Tusa seemed to have larger boats and I had the impression I would be on a party boat full of backpackers.  After shopping around town, researching on trip advisor I decided to go with seastarcruises. They had a clear plan of where they planned to dive and snorkel. We would be snorkeling at Michaelmas Cay and I would be doing 2 scuba dives at the Hastings Reef, which I understood to be at the outer barrier reef.

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the boardwalk (promenade) at Cairns in the evening

Great barrier reef cairns

the boardwalk (promenade) at Cairns

 

Seasick tablets and preparation for filming underwater

I read on trip advisor that many people got sick on the way to their great barrier reef dives. I decided to get myself some seasick tablets near the local Woolworths. I also had to do some hunting around for the best solution to film underwater video at the Great Barrier Reef without a mega budget. I went around the town of Cairns to ask the experts. In short a dry bag for the SLR will not go deep enough and the SLR housing is too expensive and can only be purchased. I settled on using my go pro 3 with some modifications at the advice of one of the shop experts. Read my article if you want to learn more.

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My custom made pvc mount for filming underwater

The big dive

I packed the following things to bring on the boat. I didn’t want to leave anything to chance. I mean this was one of the major highlights of my entire Australia trip riding on a single day experience. Here was my packing list.

  • Trip-pod
  • 2 camera’s with fresh memory cards and batteries
  • towel
  • dry shorts, t-shirt, and underwear
  • sandals
  • sunscreen
  • sunglasses
  • Go pro and 2 batteries with extra memory card
  • Custom Go pro support
  • Banana
  • Cell phone
  • Coffee
  • a liter of bottled water

The dive starts first thing in the morning. I recommend skipping any ideas about going to the bar especially if you scuba diving. I walked to the pier and was immediately greet with a warm welcome and friendly staff.

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Looking for my boat at the Pier

I found a seat and we got an introduction to the staff and were on our way. I took my sea sick pill prior, but it wasn’t working and I began to feel sick. I was taken to the back of the boat and asked to chew on some ice and look at land apparently to give me a better sense of balance. There was a nice English girl that helped me through this, and sat with me the whole time I was sick. This small gesture meant a lot to me. Thanks

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our boat to fit 35 people

We arrived at michaelmas cay for our snorkel and the crew was nice enough to help transport my camera gear in a water proof container. We took a smaller motorized raft boat to the island and I took some photos before doing a snorkel. Most of the people in the group were beginners so I was able to keep pace with our group leader. The snorkel itself had some decent photo and video opportunities that you can see in the videos. The cay itself is roped off but there is a small part of the beach you can walk around and take pictures

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a view michaelmas-cay behind us as we snorkel

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snorkeling at michaelmas cay

Hastings Reef

There were a total of 4 people including myself on our dive group. This was great as smaller groups are better, and our dive master was nice and had great communication skills. He was also interested in my go pro filming attachment, and helped me film throughout the day. The dive itself was great. A lot of rich sea life near he the coral, the dive master took care of us, and I enjoyed diving off the raft navy seal style for the second dive. The entire experience was what I call 5 star. The staff were friendly and the equipment was good quality. I will refer you to the upcoming video.

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The great barrier reef. This is it

After the dives we headed back to shore and as these were my final dives for the trip I enjoyed a couple of beers and chatted with an American couple about their recent honeymoon to Kruger national park in South Africa. This conversation actually resulted in me planning a trip there.

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Our dive master shows us a sea cucumber

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my dive log

Cape Tribulation

I had a free day to do a road trip out of the city and decided to do it at Cape Tribulation. It was a long drive out of town and took me to the Daintree forest. I had to cross a crocodile infested river via a car ferry to the other side. Part of the drive was through forest and other parts are scenic and along the coast. The reward was finally making it to the Cape tribulation beach area. There is a scenic point where I was rewarded with a rare beach, mountain, and rain forest landscape. I took a few pictures and did my last video interview for the trip.

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A great ending to the Australia Tour at Cape Tribulation

Tip: If you just plan to dive and not take any road trips I recommend staying closer to the town of Cairns.

Wrap-up and some learned wisdom

The Australia tour was over, but the journey was just beginning. I know it’s cliché, but this was a great trip, and I was fortunate to capture some great stuff and some experiences that will last a lifetime. In order to survive in Australia this country taught me to be extremely frugal and to make the most of what I had. I avoided $5 starbucks coffees and chose local coffees for $3.50 that were even stronger and tastier. I eventually got a coffee travel french press and got a bag of coffee to save further. I stayed in airbnb places that had kitchens and shopped at woolworths for groceries. There are some excellent experiences that you don’t need to pay much for. Doing a hike at Sydney’s coastal walk or walking across the Harbour Bridge. You can still enjoy life a little. Australia offers great wine and the prices for their bottles were quite reasonable compared to other countries. Enjoying the local goods that a country can offer often will mean you will pay less for good quality.

The only thing that could have made improved this trip would be to have the right travel partner during the whole trip to share it with. On the positive side I was lucky to have some friends in Brisbane and Melbourne, and make some friends along the way. I learned that Meetups are one good way to meet people in a new city. Before the trip I had thoughts of relocating my life to this country and traveling as a full-time lifestyle.

I learned that although some of Australia’s destinations have a lot to offer my heart was taking me in a different direction for now. After traveling with my equipment I had removed any thought of traveling full-time as a lifestyle. I had sold all my possessions in Vancouver and put my life in 2 suitcases, a camera bag, and backpack. Although I had proved I had everything I needed to live in these bags I would need a base and a place in the world to call home for a while. I had traveled and lived almost exclusively in Airbnb properties with the local hosts. This was not hotel travel and this was not a hostel experience. It’s kind of like staying with some friendly room-mates that most likely enjoy travel in a local neighborhood. It was a major factor to help improve my experience as a solo traveler. Just when I thought this adventure could not be topped my upcoming journey ahead had a stop in Singapore for a couple of days before revisiting my homeland South Africa.

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