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By juliesams, 09/23/2010 - 09:03

Cairns was our last stop along the East Coast, and marked the end of what had been for us a bumpy rollercoaster ride since arriving in Sydney nearly six weeks ago.

Unfortunately, as we had expected, Cairns proved to be just another seaside resort town. Perhaps catering more to tourists and backpackers than other towns, with lots of eateries (out of our price range) and lots of tourist kitsch shops (no space for souvenirs in the rucksack), but still the same old same old. OK, so what can you do for free around here? I know…the beach. Oh no, wait, Cairns doesn’t really have a beach, just a muddy patch.

OK, so go to the lagoon, that’s free isn’t it? Yes, true it is, but it’s the school holidays and it’s been taken over by children having fun. Damn those pesky kids! Wait, I’ll sit over here on the grass and listen to the live music and think of home and Glastonbury instead...live music; sometimes the best things in life, are free.

That said, don’t expect to get anything else for free in Cairns. Just expect to try to be sold an overpriced tour or package deal, just like everywhere else. Fortunately for the sales people, we did want to end our East Coast trek with one last snorkelling trip in the Great Barrier Reef, so off we ventured around the town looking for the best deal. I’d like to say it was really easy to book something because of all the agencies and competition, but that’s not the case. Those naughty agencies will tell you anything to make you book their highest commission tour and nobody else’s: ‘Oh you don’t want to go on that boat, I’m surprised it hasn’t sunk yet’, ‘The guy that runs that boat is a dickhead, I refuse to sell that tour’ and ‘Compass? No, not heard of that company.’ - said with a compass poster on the back wall!

Anyway, we managed to play them at their own game and visited enough tour operators to just about get the truth, but unfortunately this did mean that we exhausted ourselves out completely in the process. By the time we had booked the perfect snorkelling trip for us at the haggled down price we wanted to pay, we were no longer looking forward to the Great Barrier Reef! Hard work. Cup of tea and cake required for Julie to recover.

Another day is another story though, and we woke up bright and early (7am) the next morning to get ready to head down to the wharf to board our catamaran and head out to the Great Barrier Reef. It took about 2.5 hours to reach our first stop – Oyster Reef – and once again I was astonished at the size of the area (I had naively thought it would just be a short transfer out to sea!). The weather was kind to us and in between the clouds, the sun occasionally shone, taking the chill off the water for us.

Oyster Reef was a beautiful reef full of colourful fish and coral. We didn’t find Nemo, but we did find lots of his friends. After a lunch break back aboard the boat, the captain took us to Upolu Reef next which was just sublime. Here we were miles out at sea in the big wide ocean, with coral, fish, rays, sand and turquoise water galore. It was quite a surreal moment when we snorkelled away from the huge boat over the coral to the shallow sandy patch where we stood up and walked out of the ocean onto our very own tiny beach in the middle of the Pacific.

After standing there in the ocean for a moment to take it all in, I rolled around in the sand to make sure I wasn’t dreaming! Haha. But we hadn’t come to sunbathe, we were here to snorkel. So off we swam back into the depths to take in all the wonderful sea life the Great Barrier Reef has to offer. And it was truly amazing. At one point I found myself swimming alongside a large Blue Spotted Ray, doing my best ray impression so as to blend in and not scare it. Huge cod, trevallies and numerous varieties of wrasse (Hump-headed and Moon to name a couple) swam under us coming from all angles, with small and medium sized colourful fish such as butterfly fish, parrot fish etc living happily alongside them sharing the coral. It was difficult to know which way to look to take it all in. I was almost mesmorised by a bright Purple Sea Star (I thought they only came in orange colour) and was pointing away at it under water to Mark who looked wholly unimpressed as he thought I was waving frantically at something bigger, maybe a shark.

When our time was up, we headed back to the boat to get dry and warm and to prepare for the long ride back to shore.

And so with that, it brings us to the end of the (East Coast) road. From here we are catching a flight to Tasmania, where we hope to escape the overhyped and over commercialised backpacker route, in search of true independent travel. Maybe if we don’t set our expectations too high, we won’t be disappointed…?