Our coastal journey in Australia continued in Airlie Beach and Cairns with more time in the ocean. We visited beaches, took boat rides, and went snorkeling over the Great Barrier Reef. We didn’t take many photos on this part of the trip, but we did pay for this sweet shot by Down Under Cruise & Dive at the Great Barrier Reef!
Airlie Beach: Whitsundays Tour
In Airlie Beach, we took an all-day boat, beach, and snorkel tour to the Whitsunday Islands. There were three boats from the same company going out, and they all played energetic music while speeding over the waves and and cruising in and out of each others’ wakes on the way to the Whitsundays. We were seating halfway back and got very wet from the splashing waves coming in the front – the people in the first seats were absolutely drenched!
The boat took us to Whitsunday Island first. Our group went on a short “bush walk” (as they say in Australia) to Hill Inlet Lookout. The forest that we walked through was nice, but it was so muggy and hot that I was glad it was a quick walk. The lookout views were absolutely beautiful – white sand, blue water, and green islands all around. We learned that the sand here is one of a kind – it is 98.9% pure silica, the highest percentage of silica in sand anywhere in the world. This is why it is so white and doesn’t retain heat, making your trip from towel to water perfectly pleasant.
We then had some free time at Whitehaven Beach. Fun fact, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales filmed a scene here! It was so relaxing to lay in the vast shallows admiring the clear water and skies. We both agree that it was probably the prettiest beach we’ve ever been to. Too bad it’s so far away!
We then hopped back on the boat and it took us snorkeling at two different spots. At the first site, the tour company had a permit to feed the fish, so there were absolutely tons of them swimming everywhere. At the second site, they dropped us off at one end of a reef and we slowly floated with the tide along the reef until the boat picked us up at a spot further along. My favorite part of this was the large sections of colorful swaying coral. Both spots were very cool, but we liked the second one best. They were both part of the Great Barrier Reef, so we got to check that off our bucket lists!
The boat took us back to Airlie Beach, and we topped the day off with some insanely delicious ice cream. Tommy got a Brownie-Reese’s Cup-Espresso shake, and he said, “I think I could sit here and drink these until I got diabetes. It would probably only take 3 or 4.”
Airlie Beach: Market and Beach
The next day, we checked out a market, hung out at Boathaven Beach, did some laundry, and people-watched at a bar on the main road. We saw lots of mullets and Y2K party clothes, as well as the occasional rat-tail. I’m curious to see if these styles will stay in the beach towns or make their way to Minnesota!
Cairns: Night Market & Esplanade
We flew to Cairns the next day and spent the evening walking around town. It definitely had a bit of a grittier party vibe than Airlie Beach did, but was still pretty cool. We especially liked the huge trees (with bats flying around them!) and the lively atmosphere of the esplanade. The esplanade had a walkway along the muddy shore, a Ferris wheel, some sculptures, a large shallow pool called the Lagoon, and lots of fancy barbecue stations.
Cairns: Great Barrier Reef Tour
The next day, we took a full-day boat tour for some more Great Barrier Reef snorkeling. The boat was a superyacht this time, so it was a lot smoother and slower! We spent a lot of the drive time sunbathing, which was super relaxing.
We went to two snorkeling spots. Both had a good variety of fish and lots of coral ranging from dead and white to thriving and colorful. At the first one, some highlights were a big fish named Wally, some amazing human-sized clams, fish burrowing in the sand, a stingray, and many packs of little fish.
The second spot was our favorite. There were lots of hidey-holes and dramatic drop-offs in the reef. The coolest part was seeing a school of 7 giant fish. Other highlights were some very long skinny fish, colorful neon fish, circular fish with dots, and sea cucumbers. Tommy also thinks that he saw a shark. It was too far in a crevasse for me to see clearly.
We are back in Minnesota now, but sometime this week I will post about our last two cities in Australia – Melbourne and Sydney!