I've been to my fair share of tropical locations in my life, but let me tell you: Tropical North Queensland takes the cake. On Thursday, Dom and I packed up the van and headed 8 hours north to spend the weekend exploring Cairns. We had heard it was beautiful, but boy was that an understatement. Now, we're not city people by any means (cities make me feel uber claustrophobic), but Cairns proved to be more of a tropical oasis than a bustling city, and we LOVED it! If you want to see my Instagram stories from the trip, follow my personal account @jessbackpacks!
For our 3 days in Cairns, we stayed with YHA Australia at the Cairns Central YHA, and to be honest it felt more like staying at an island resort. Everywhere you look there is tropical palms, bright flowers, huge ferns, fountains - pretty much my dream hostel. We unpacked, jumped in the pool to cool off, snapped some pics (because it was just so damn insta-worthy), and started planning out our Cairns adventures! After making our plans for the next few days (pool-side of course), we set out to explore more of the hostel and it's surrounds. Cairns Central YHA is within walking distance from literally everything we needed: the marina, the esplanade, supermarkets, the aquarium, etc., so there was no need for us to even use our van for our time in Cairns which was a nice change! If you're looking for a fun, inexpensive, & laid-back place to stay, then I cannot recommend Cairns Central YHA more highly. The standard of YHA Australia is unlike any other hostel; insanely clean, chill vibes, staff who go above and beyond to make your stay great, and best of all, a free pancake breakfast!!
DAY TWO: GREAT BARRIER REEF
I thought we had seen the best of the best when it came to the Great Barrier Reef, but I was way off. On day two of our stay in Cairns we booked a snorkel & dive tour with Divers Den that took us out to the Outer Great Barrier Reef on a boat called the ReefQuest. Our first stop was Norman Reef, where I came to learn just how absolutely incredible underwater life really is. I've been snorkeling in loads of tropical locations before, but when I jumped into the waters on that reef, I was completely blown away. The colors, the fish, the coral, everything was just so freaking amazing. It's honestly hard to put into words just how beautiful it truly is, and my photos definitely don't do it justice. The only thing I can say is see it for yourself!
After a while of snorkeling the reef, we got our diving gear on and hopped back into the waters. Dom and I have never been diving before, but Divers Den made the experience one that I will never forget - and one I definitely want to experience again! Our guide Jessica (great name & greater girl!), helped us through the basics and then guided us down 16 meters into the depths of the reef. Before the dive I was nervous AF to going that far underwater (so nervous that I almost backed out of it!), but Jess made the experience so easy and I felt like the coolest person ever gliding on the ocean floor among the coral and giant fish. I have to give a huge shoutout to the photographer for Divers Den too, because May is a freakin' boss. Her underwater photos are absolutely stunning, and she even guided us over to a giant clam that was pretty much bigger than my body, as well as snapping some pics of us with a huge cuttlefish.
After our diving experience, we headed over to another reef - i'm blanking on the name right now, but i'll try to update this when my brain decides to work! Pulling up in the boat, there were legit THOUSANDS of jellyfish. We were told they were the non-dangerous ones, but it was still the most surreal feeling swimming through jellyfish while they bump into your face, arms, legs. Anyways, did you know that turtles like to eat jellyfish? I didn't, but then another snorkeler yelled "turtle!!", and I swam to him like my life depended on it. Seeing a turtle swimming in the wild is breathtaking, and even cooler watching the turtle munching on his jellyfish lunch.. so cool. So moral of the story, if you find yourself in Cairns, a trip out to the GBR with Divers Den is a must-do if you want the most amazing underwater experience!
DAY THREE: CAIRNS AQUARIUM
We had planned out a cool day of exploring Fitzroy Island for my birthday, but when we woke up the weather was cloudy and the forecast predicted a storm. We googled 'indoor things to do in Cairns', and low and behold, we found out they have an all-new aquarium that has some of the coolest fish/eels/sharks/rays i've ever seen. We loved it so much we went around the whole thing twice and were especially lucky to see the shark & ray feedings! My birthday ended up being even cooler than we had planned for, although we will still have to go back and see Fitzroy Island someday!
I can't finish this blog without telling you about our trip up to Cairns from the Whitsundays. We had planned to stop at Wallaman Falls just north of Townsville, because we had seen photos and it looked like the most untouched, jungly place we'd ever seen. I cannot recommend it more highly if you're in Northern Queensland. We had to drive quite a ways into the jungly mountains to get to the campsite, but the drive was beyond entertaining. There were TONS of cows just sleeping in the middle of the road, wild pigs, frogs, and the elusive Cassowaries (although we didn't see any of those on our drive unfortunately!). We woke up early after sleeping in our van Marshmallow, and headed over to the falls. To get to the bottom of the falls you have to do a 2km hike (that feels more like 10km), but it is so worth it! It's such an impressive sight to see a waterfall that big, surrounded by nothing but jungles, with not another person in sight. It felt like we were transported back in time! Check out our photos below from our morning hike to Wallaman Falls.
And a few more photos from our road trip up to Cairns - a sunflower field that we stumbled upon just outside of Wallaman Falls, and Welsh's Pyramid Mountain.