East Coastin’ : Cairns to Rainbow Beach

As I start writing this, Melissa and I have just arrived back from a Whitsundays boat tour, totally sweaty and “dank” as she would put it…. however, having gotten the salt and grime off with a nice shower, we finally have some time to catch up on things.
We left Melbourne on Friday, September 16th with fair weather. Melissa arrived the previous night when it was cold and rainy, hardly the good impression I wanted her to have of the beloved city. We had gone out for a meal and a pint or two, but both of us were pretty tired and called it early. Our flight took us from Melbourne to Sydney, then Sydney to Cairns. On one flight I sat with a guy who worked in marketing for Shangri-la hotels, and within a minute of landing a guy was calling in an order for a pizza. Travelling means running into interesting people… our shuttle to the hostel got us in at 12ish but we were determined to enjoy some nightlife. We headed down to Gilligan’s, the famous party bar/hostel where we would end up staying the next three nights. It definitely holds up to it’s reputation with four bars, a pool, and the choice between girly classy (upstairs), dance club inside and live band out the back. We ended up staying until closing and waking up bright and early for our boat tour.

On the road we go!
Relaxing at the Gilligan’s Pool

Everything we’re doing down the east coast is more or less a version of something I’ve already done, so it’s nice that we keep booking with different companies or seeing the odd different place. We took our Reef tour with Passions of Paradise and I highly recommend it. The crew were very friendly and the food on board was decent. I didn’t snorkel the second stop but the first was one nice for beginners because they give you the option of being brought over to a sand bar where you can start your exploring. I’m not very graceful in flippers, so it helped. I eventually decided to follow one of the crew who was leading a “tour” of underwater creatures- great because I saw the sea turtle thanks to her! The weather was nice and it really was an awesome time. We also spent a day lounging in Cairns and at Gilligan’s. We had breakfast at Lilly Pad cafe which is normally amazing, but I gave eggs benny another chance and it didn’t work out. Sadly hollondaise appreciation is not in the cards for me….

First snorkel of the trip
Sea turtle!

We met a guy from Scotland who we hung out with by the pool for the day, walking the lagoon, drinking bevvies and playing volleyball in the pool. Another big night and off to the Active Tropics Explorer! This covered Mossman Gorge, Cape Tribulation and Daintree. Swimming in Mossman Gorge was quite fun as the current pulls you back down and it’s very refreshing. We got a cultural welcome from the local aboriginals and headed up to Daintree. I am thankful I have been before because though pretty, the tide was high and we didn’t spot any crocodiles. Our guide told us about a British woman who had been walking the beach at Cape Tribulation a month ago at night when she got dragged into the water and killed by a crocodile. So crazy! We had lunch on this beach of course..   but it was actually quite pretty. We got a rainforest walk in which shows you just how many plants CAN HURT YOU (no joke) and reminds you not to touch anything. All in all a fun filled day which landed us in Cairns around 7. We had good intentions and grabbed food at Paddys, the Irish bar, with Allie from our tour,  but one schooner and we were goners. Back to Gilligan’s and bed for us.

Getting the aboriginal welcome
Cooling off in the Mossman Gorge
Eating lunch at Cape Tribulation

Cairns is a good foothold into the GBR but the town itself is nothing to write home about. There were so many crowds of belligerent footie teams and the emphasis really was on the party. If I had to go back I would pick a quieter hostel, but if you’re searching for the party life, pick Gilligan’s. Just don’t expect to sleep well.
From Cairns was Magnetic Island. We caught the bus to the Townsville Sea Link Terminal then boarded a ferry to the island. This wasn’t a place I had ever been, and what a wonderful surprise! The island is an actual paradise. We stayed at Base MI and the setup was pretty cool. Right along the beach, cute little bungalows.. if they had paid to work there I may have stayed!

Base Magnetic Island

We really wanted to rent these adorable Barbie cars they had but most of the cars were all rented out! Such a disappointment. We ended up taking the bus up to the koala village where we got to hang out with lizards, snakes and…. koalas!! Bucket list item ticked off. 😊 I also got to hold a baby croc which made me more never than I’d have anticipated. We walked back to our hostel from there. We found a nice spot a ways up the beach and popped some champagne to celebrate our trip.

That is one of the downsides of travelling- the cost. You want to celebrate always and everything costs money… drinks, dinner, activities, they all come at a high price. A lot of hostels don’t let you bring your own drinks and bar tabs can seriously ruin you if you’re not careful. Most do have a meal and drink deal, though, so take advantage of that. Base was a decent hostel with some seriously ridiculous nightly games, and some adventurous people down to skinny dip and relax on the beach at night. I would have loved an extra day to explore more but we had a bus to Airlie Beach set for the next day.

*  *  * *
I never seem to find the time to finish writing a whole entry! It’s now Tuesday and Melissa and I arrived safely in Rainbow Beach after an exhausting 14 hour bus trip. Luckily I had made a friend who took our bus the day before, but I assumed I had a cold coming on from the poor air and lack of sleep. We’ve finally been able to check into our hostel and we’re taking a day to do some of the less pleasant parts of travel: meal prep, do laundry, look for apartments back in Melbourne and check in with the world. Down days can be quiet but necessary so you don’t run yourself thin from too move action or movement.
As I had mentioned, we explored the Whitsundays for two days on Wings 3. Our first night in Airlie was expected to be quiet, but we met two guys in town for a wedding who bought us drinks the whole night. Being budget backpackers, who were we to say no? We hopped from Beaches, to Magnums, to Paddy’s, to Mama Africa’s where we finished the night dancing with guys in town for a stag do. Quite the night!

Three years ago I went to the Whitsundays with the Atlantic Clipper, so the experiences were quite different. The Clipper was a party boat, so on the one hand you had games, a lot of socializing and an epic time in general, while on the other hand you had imbibed so much goon on so little sleep that you experienced hangovers so rough you never thought possible. I also walked off the boat with sea legs so bad my head was spinning a day after. Wings has a lot more of a chill vibe. There were a few couples and small groups of friends that kept to themselves. I would have hoped to meet some more outgoing people, but there were still some lovely people on board. The food was DELICIOUS. The crew made everything fresh on board and we did not starve! The weather was also awesome, as last time I had rainy, cloudy days. We also got more snorkeling in and had chill, early evenings. One night reef sharks hung out by the back of the boat, and our last night Melissa and I listened to smooth music and drank wine under the stars. Pretty damn memorable. The Whitsundays really cannot be summed up in a photograph. The water is cerulean and Whitehaven beach is beyond compare. I’m so glad I went back.

Beautiful sunsets in the evening
Stinger suits are a good idea when you’re up in Queensland

Thursday we take off for Fraser Island with Dingoes. New company, new town for me so again, I’m benefiting from a bit of new perspective even if I am returning to old places. I’m tired and a little worse for the wear, but its been an amazing trip so far. I can’t believe cairns was a week ago- it feels like so much longer! So thankful to be back in this wonderful country that stole my heart those few short years ago.

Love from the road,



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