We’ve now driven 2,800 kilometres, and arrived in Cairns, nearly the most northerly point of our journey – with a combination of long driving days and quite a few stops, its not been to bad a journey for us all. Cairns is the starting point for trips to the Great Barrier Reef, and other things for thrill-seekers to get up to (bungy jumping, white water rafting, crocodile safaris, helicopter trips etc). Our time in Cairns is a good example of how things are different for us travelling as a family, rather than just 2 adults. Last time in Cairns we learnt to dive, and spent 4 days on a live aboard boat diving on the outer reef. This time we wanted to find a one day trip that didn’t involve a long transfer time, and where the girls had plenty to do rather than just sitting on a boat watching Sarah and me snorkel. So we opted for the day trip to Green Island, just an hour and a quarter out of Cairns, and we also went for the ‘full tour’ options, with glass bottom boat, semi-submersible, BBQ lunch etc, rather than the cheapest option. It meant that we had a packed day and one which the girls really enjoyed.
We boarded the catamaran just before 9am, to find all the seats occupied by a Chinese, Japanese or Taiwanese tourists. Good start – we sat there amongst the early morning sounds of Asia – lots of phlegmy coughs and the smell of green tea. But still, travel broadens the mind, doesn’t it? Anyway, we arrived at Green Island an hour later, to take part in the disembarking process , and then the general rush down the jetty to the beach.
Fortunately, most of the others turned left at the end, to the swimming beach, while we turned right to go snorkelling. Charlotte has become steadily more comfortable with her snorkel, playing with it in the pools, and so charged straight out into the water with Sarah. Within a few minutes they were a good 150 metres off the beach, amongst corals and lots of fish. Charlotte’s a really strong swimmer now, and it meant she could see so much more. She came back excited about parrot fish, clown fish, rays and wrasse. We had a couple of hours on the beach, all getting a chance to snorkel (even Emily, although of course she told us “I don’t need a mask”, and promptly swam underwater for 10 seconds before announcing she’d finished snorkelling and was going to build a sandcastle), before heading back up the jetty to get our lunch on board the catamaran.
The afternoon was a whirlwind of organised activities – first of all a trip in a semi-submersible, sitting below water level looking out sideways at the coral and fish through the big windows. Both girls loved that, as they could see lots more fish, and we saw two turtles too. And then we went onto the glass-bottom boat, which allowed us to see some of the coral more clearly, as well as more turtles. By the time we were back on the boat heading home, we were all filled full of the wonder of the reef, and the girls were keen enough to sit and watch a reef video the whole way back to Cairns.
All in all the day cost us AU$210 (about £90), which seems reasonable value for what we did and saw. When Sarah and I travelled on our own we’d have never spent that much on a single day, nor enjoyed the ‘tourist’ side to the trip, but have really learnt to appreciate the kinds of days and activities which make the trip special for the girls, and which make them keen to learn more about what they are seeing.