Well, folks, here we are on our final continent of the trip!
After a long series of flights (Kolkata to Delhi to Kuala Lampur to Brisbane to Cairns), we arrived at our first real Australian destination. It was a bit of a shock, after some of the challenges of navigating India, to be in a place where backpacking is a common part of the culture and everything seems designed to accomodate it. We stayed one night in a Cairns hostel, and enjoyed some raw fruit, cheddar cheese, and tap water–that doesn’t sound too exciting, maybe, but we hadn’t had these things in five weeks. I do really miss Indian food, but at least I can console myself with nectarines and apples and salads.
The next morning we got up early and went to the Cairns Dive Centre, to be taken out to sea for a three day diving/snorkeling trip on the Great Barrier Reef. On the boat they provide food, lodging, equipment, and the chance to go in the water up to six times a day (6 am, 8 am, 11 am, 1 pm, 4 pm, and 6 pm). Since we aren’t certified divers, we had signed up as snorkelers. But we decided to pay a bit extra to do introductory dives as well, where we got to go diving three times with a staff member who kept an eye on everyone and guided us around. Scuba diving was an amazing experience. Not only were we in one of the most beautiful places in the world, but when you’re diving it’s possible to move around effortlessly, and in all directions. It feels like you’re flying. Now Janak and I both want to get our diving certifications as soon as we getthe chance.
Snorkeling was also great, and we did tons of it. The boat moved to a new site every day, and the staff would brief us on where to go in the area and then turn us loose to explore. All the sites we went to had sections of reef that were only a few meters below the surface, so you could see a lot just snorkeling. I’ve never seen so much wildlife concentrated in one place. We were swimming through these swarms of fish (lots of fun) and sometimes swarms of jellyfish (not so fun), and we got to see turtles, rays, sharks, and heaps of other creatures. We rented an underwater camera for some of the swims, and took hundreds of pictures, although even these hardly begin to convey how incredible it was. We had a fantastic time.
We returned to Cairns and spent another night there, where we got our first sight of the many fruit bats that fly around at dusk in Australia (Janak, with his love of Batman, was quite pleased by this). The next day we flew to Gold Coast and were picked up by Janak’s friends, the Wongs, who had kindly offered to let us stay with them and show us around. We’ve been enjoying their hospitality and the local beaches and forests since then. In addition to Gold Coast, we spent some time in nearby Byron Bay. Mr Wong had some meeting there, so he dropped us off for a couple days. We napped on the beach, napped in trees, napped in our hammocks, ate some of the best burgers we’ve ever had, drank cold ginger beers, went to a beach bonfire under the full moon, hiked through jungles up to an old lighthouse, and generally beach-bummed it up. Arts Factory, the hostel where we stayed, was unlike any we had ever seen. It had a cinema, a pool, teepees, huts, dormitories, a tent city, and a cafe. It describes itself as a village of funky abodes, which seemed pretty accurate.
That brings us up to our final days here. It feels very strange to be this close to the end of such a long trip. I don’t want to stop traveling, but at the same time it will be nice to be home again. Australia has been a good place to wrap things up, as it’s very laid back and relaxing. It’s the most similar to California of all the places we’ve been, although more tropical and with cooler accents. As Janak says, it’s the first place on our trip where our wardrobes and haircuts (or lack thereof) look normal. It’s too bad that we don’t have more time here, but we both are already planning to come back and do Australia properly some time.
And now, enjoy the pictures!