Our main reason for visiting Australia was to see The Great Barrier Reef. Many people have asked us why we even went to Australia for just 2 weeks. But for us, it made sense. We both wanted to see the reef before it got destroyed entirely and because we were traveling in that direction anyway (from South America to Southeast Asia), we figured why not make the stop?
So we decided early on that it would be a short visit. Australia is an expensive & enormous country, one we knew we couldn't afford to spend both the money and the time. Our award flight from New Zealand to Australia landed in Sydney so that first stop was a no-brainer. Plus, my aunt's sister graciously welcomed us into her lovely home and it made for a wonderful visit. Before heading to Cairns, where most Great Barrier tours start from, we decided to add one more stop: Brisbane. It's not a common destination but it was home to 2 things worth visiting - koalas and kangaroos. Oh, and a friend we'd made during our Salkantay Trek way back at the beginning of our trip in Peru. This is the guy we ended up meeting up with several times both in Bolivia and Argentina so when he finally stopped following us around (just kidding!), we told him we'd see him back on his turf.
When I say koalas, I'm talking about the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, the world's first and biggest koala sanctuary. So between drinking beers, spending a day on the Sunshine Coast & exploring downtown Brisbane, we hung out with koalas, kangaroos and emus. Though we didn't actually hold a koala (the price tag on that was a bit too much for us), we did get to pet one and feed some very hungry kangaroos. The visit was worthwhile, especially since we weren't going to drive in the Outback where wild kangaroos are out and about. In fact, the sanctuary was the only place we actually saw koalas and kangaroos so I'm very glad we made the stop there. Our stay in Brisbane was otherwise very relaxed & a great time. We liked the slower-pace of this city, as compared to busy Sydney, and having a friend around was a nice bonus too.
Our next and final stop, Cairns, was just as relaxing (if not more). We only had one "to-do", visiting the Great Barrier Reef, which we interspersed with eating meat pies and swimming at the pool of our hostel. But let's go back to The Great Barrier Reef. Yes, THE GREAT BARRIER REEF! We got to swim at the reef! I still can't believe it. Again, with our budget in mind, we limited ourselves to one day on the reef. The tour we chose with Sea Star Cruises was flawless. Really well organized, it made two stops on the reef, the first at Michaelmas Cay, the second at Hastings Reef. The seas were quite rough the day we went (that tends to happen with us) BUT we did have the best visibility they'd had in weeks (score!). We spent over 4 hours swimming where we got to see: an enormous barracuda, an octopus, turtles, a million and one other fish and so many colorful corals (pink, blue, yellow!). It was a bit hard at first to deal with the nonstop waves hitting us in every direction but once we started looking under the water, the sheer number of things to see kept us distracted. And there were so many wonderful things! Everywhere we looked, there was something else to see, something new that crept up and we couldn't get enough. We could have spent countless hours there! And although we didn't have a waterproof camera (I will regret that forever on this trip!), the tour we took did take some with theirs, which I've included below.
- In, Brisbane, we stayed at The Kookaburra Inn. A bit pricey but it's centrally located and has free wifi. The kitchens were really small though. Thankfully, we didn't run into too many people cooking at the same time as us. Bathrooms were clean.
- In Cairns, we stayed at The Northern Greenhouse. The hostel included free breakfast & wifi, large dorm rooms & a pool! The common rooms are open and a great way to socialize. The kitchen is also massive though it's not cleaned as often as it should be (in my opinion!).