This summer, my husband and I had the exciting opportunity to go with my family to Australia for 2 weeks for a Rotary International Conference, and we jumped at the chance. Rotary is an international network of volunteers who do great amazing things to make both their local communities and the world a better place, and are probably best known for nearly eradicating the once common disease of Polio. My parents are very involved in the Kansas Rotary branch, and this isn't the first time my family has combined vacation and volunteer work; in fact, we are all a big fan on "voluntourism" and try to do it as much as we can. The first part of our trip was all vacation, though--5 days on the beautiful tropical coast of Queensland, Australia. Stay tuned for Part II about our time in Sydney. We went during the last weeks of May, right as Australia was beginning winter. The weather was still really mild and enjoyable to us in all 3 locations, but as you can see, it was cloudy several of the days we were there.
To check out Part 2 of our trip, "What to Do in Sydney", go here. Read on to learn my top 8 "must-do's" in this part of the land down under!
1. Scuba Diving the Great Barrier Reef:
Or snorkel. The Great Barrier Reef is the largest reef in the world, and stretches along the northeastern coast of Australia in the state of Queensland. For the best experience, hire your own boat that comes with a captain, fishing guide, cook, and scuba guide that can take you out to the best reef locations (which tend to be farther from the mainland.) We hired a boat through Luxury Boat Charters, and they were fantastic. The food we ate the whole time was amazing, and the scuba guide was great at making everyone feel comfortable and safe; we can’t recommend them enough. This is a must-do if you go to Australia. It's not optional! It will be one of most memorable experiences of your life.
Above left image is a giant fish that was so friendly, it rubbed up against us and wanted to be petted, so we fed it some of our fish bait. Trust me, these pics do not do it justice. It was the best scuba diving or snorkeling I have seen in my life! It really was like a scene out of Finding Nemo.
2. Stay in Port Douglas:
This is the perfect town to stay in as your base to explore the reef. You will fly into Cairns, which is about an hour away. (We rented a 10 passenger van and drove ourselves to Port Douglas.) There is more “touristy” stuff (i.e. restaurants, bars, shops) in Cairns, but Port Douglas is where the best tours are to get up and close with nature such as the Daintree Rainforest, the best parts of the barrier reef, and the best fishing. Port Douglas was a beautiful, relaxing, and quiet beach town. We found plenty of great restaurants there and enough shops to keep us entertained for the few hours we weren’t on tours or on the beach. We rented this amazing house right on the beach called La Casa Mirasol from VRBO. It is our favorite vacation house we have ever rented. It was so unique and spacious and open to the elements that we felt one with nature (there is AC in the bedrooms.) There was also wi-fi (always important to check for this when renting homes abroad!)
3. Explore the Daintree Rainforest:
You don't want to miss out on seeing the world's oldest rainforest! It was like walking through a scene from Jurassic Park. We took a guide with us, and the information they were able to give on the hike was awesome! There are some dangerous and poisonous plants and animals in the rainforest, so we were especially glad to have the guide for that. The tour included a lunch at this lovely hotel tucked into the rainforest, and then our guide, Dave, took us to a part of the river where we could go swimming. Dave was so knowledgable and friendly, and he recommended a great ice cream shop and lined up our crocodile cruise. He even picked us up that morning at our house, so we didn't have to worry about a thing all day. We hired him through the company Daintree Wonder Tours, and we recommend them highly!
Above: that's Chris and me in the front! Below: the boys walking to the part of the river in which Dave said we could go swimming.
4. Eat at the Daintree Rainforest Ice Cream Company:
Our guide, Dave, recommended this after our hike, and we LOVED it. It’s this unique shop, sitting amoung their fruit orchard, where they make all the ice cream on site out of a huge variety of fruits that are locally grown. You don’t get to pick your flavor either--they serve everyone a bowl with 5 small scoops of the 5 flavors they currently have in stock. It was really fun because it forced everyone to sample some exotic flavors we normally wouldn’t have tried, like soursop, wattleseed, yellow sapote, or blackberry.
5. Go fishing in an estuary, river, and Great Barrier Reef:
My dad, my husband, Chris, and my brother went night fishing on the Daintree River Estuary for Barramundi (the Australia desired fish of choice to eat), and on the Daintree River for Mangrove Snapper, Treavilly, Queen Fish, and more Barramundi with the company Fishing Port Douglas. They went fishing on the Great Barrier Reef for tuna and jack, and used the guide that came with our boat charter.
My dad and brother are all smiles when there's a fish on the line!
6. Chill on the beach, but watch out for jellies!:
You should definitely research when the jelly fish season is before planning your vacation if you want to be able to swim, snorkel, or scuba in the Great Barrier Reef (aka, Queensland). Apparently, they come to the shore to mate for a few months every year, and they kill you within minutes if stung. We didn’t know about that, but luckily, we arrived at the tail end of this dangerous season. We were still too cautious to get in the water behind our house, but we enjoyed walking along the beach and playing Frisbee there every day.
Above: Not sure what my brothers are doing in the background of this photo....Below: my mom and having morning coffee on the beach. Bye-bye jet lag!
7. See a Crocodile:
Definitely do this with the safety of a tour guide and keep all your arms and legs inside the boat! We took a tour of the Daintree River and got to see several of these big, gnarly crocs; they definitely did not disappoint.
And that's a wrap on the Queensland portion of our trip! Have you ever been to Australia? Share with us your travel tips for people going there on our Facebook page!