Great Barrier Reef
We did not arrive in Cairns until about 3 in the morning, and we experienced our only instance of being lost when we were unable to find our hostel. I blame the exhaustion we all incurred after the past nine days of our trip, but the hostel owners were kind enough to step outside and flag us down to help us arrive at the right location. I was consistently impressed by Australian hospitality throughout this entire trip, and I can honestly say it is unlike any that I have experienced in other countries.
At 7 in the morning we rushed to the water and boarded a boat that would take us and a few other study abroad students, as well as about 100 other paying participants, on a snorkeling and scuba diving trip through a section of the Great Barrier Reef. The ride to our designated spot took almost 2 hours, but it was absolutely worth the wait. We were greeted by a dazzling view and fish that actually jumped out of the water and swam around our ankles as they dangled into the ocean. The water was much warmer than in the Whitsundays, and we must have spent almost 3 or 4 hours altogether exploring both locations in our snorkeling masks and flippers. There were fish of every color and coral in every imaginable shape, and even an orange octopus that raced across the ocean floor at one point. We saw sting rays lurking towards the bottom, and some small harmless sharks drifted nonchalantly underneath of us. I think the Great Barrier Reef was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had, and I feel so lucky to have been to one of the 7 wonders of the world at the age of just 20. For the hours that it took to return to shore we laid on hammocks that were strung along the front of the ship and ate a huge lunch included in the tour. Only one minor scare occurred during this trip: I was stung by some kind of microscopic oceanic organism while snorkeling, and the instructors told me that this was most likely from a piece of dead box jellyfish floating in the water. They told me several times to go to a hospital if the stings got worse, because box jellyfish are lethal creatures, but by that night the pain had completely disappeared. I was lucky to be in Cairns during the season when I did not need a wetsuit to protect from such jellyfish!
That night we went to one of the best hostels in Australia, called Gilligan’s. Although it charged a $10 cover, it was a great venue and completely worth the price. Cairns is very similar to Gold Coast in that they are both beach towns during the day and party cities at night, and during all hours of the day one can see congregations of young backpackers everywhere.
Early the next morning we attended our scheduled Bungy Jumping session with the money that we had not already spent in the past 10 days. I was very nervous but also did not quite know what to expect, especially since I had really wanted to go skydiving and was in for a huge thrill. First we had to sign away the liabilities for all types of injuries, and then we hiked up a giant hill in sight of the 50 meter tower from which we were about to plummet head-first. Our guide looked as though he had just left the NBA to grace us with his presence. He was an even-tempered, good-looking, beachy Australian who acted as though everything about jumping from high towers on a daily basis was completely normal, if not somewhat boring. It would be logical to assume that he went skydiving later that day on a lunch break based on his laidback demeanor as we approached the bungy tower. Another family had signed up for this activity with us, and the mother constantly covered her face with her hands as her teenage sons signed away their lives and strapped on their gear. I, on the other hand, chose not to tell my mom before I went bungy jumping because I knew she would never have allowed it (but i made sure to tell my sister, in case anything bad happened to me). The workers at the top of the tower blasted a relaxing playlist, and I watched my friend plunge to what looked like would be his death, and then I could only stare as his feet came closer and then farther away from me. When it was my turn i shuffled up to the launch pad with towels strapped to my calves and ropes tied around them, and I hesitated before jumping. The instructor gave me a small push and i jumped feet-first, only to be snapped into a head-first position once the slack flew out of the rope. All that I can say is that the video of the ordeal makes me look like a dead animal swinging and bobbing up and down, but it was certainly a once in a lifetime experience!
Afterward, we lounged around our hostel at the pool and laid in the beds that were scattered around the common area before boarding our flight back to Sydney.