Port Douglas and the Great Barrier Reef

Leaving the Blue Mountains, we headed by train to Sydney for our flight to Cairns. The trains are operate like clockwork and it was very smooth travels. We spent one night in Cairns before heading north to Port Douglas for a week to visit the tropical forests and, of course, the Great Barrier Reef.

Port Douglas is in the northeast of Queensland, the Sunshine state (just like Florida!). As we drove north from Cairns, the ocean color becomes bright blue and the pretty coast is low lying along the water. We rent a great apartment at the lovely Port Douglas Outrigger, which is a 5 minute walk to main street and the beach; we even got up for sunrise walk to the beach one morning! As we checked in, the kids immediately went to change and jump in the refreshing pool, surrounded by trees filled with birds singing at all hours of the day. There are even gigantic bats! The apartment has 2 bedrooms, a full kitchen, balcony, and the wifi worked really well, so everyone was able to catch up on studies, news, emails, and Skype calls to family.

We all loved Port Douglas; the town is charming with cute stores and plenty of restaurants to go with a laid back atmosphere.  As November is the start of stinger season (box jellyfish), we kept our swimming limited within the swim net at the beach and suffered no deadly box jellyfish stings, huh! They take it very seriously here, and so did we.

The highlight of our week was the Great Barrier Reef.  The first trip was to Low Isles, where we snorkeled with an Aussie family that we befriended at our hotel. Low Isles is about 45min from Port Douglas by boat. We had to wear stinger suits (full body lycra suits) that protect us against stingers (we never did see one).  The water was so clear that we could see the colored reefs. To me, the beauty is hard to describe but it looks like they have been hand painted with dozens of colors. We also saw a dozen sea turtles graciously swimming around, and many colorful fish including a reef shark and blue spotted sting ray. After the snorkel introduction, we had our big diving adventure the next day via the Calypso boat and our awesome guide, ScubaDave. Louisa and I were somewhat nervous as it has been several months since our last dive but ScubaDave made us feel very safe and stayed with us at all times during our 2 dives. Gladly nobody had any issues with the dives and we all agreed that Sebastian is the best diver in the family! This life experience of the Great Barrier Reef was nothing short of amazing and our respect for this unique area (and the undersea in general) has been solidified as  there is just another set of dynamics where we can only be respectful observers.

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underwater coral

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Sebastian & Louisa

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Sebastian, the diver

We also celebrated Louisa’s 12th birthday in Port Douglas with a special day trip to Cape Tribulation and its pristine beaches. Unfortunately, we could not go swimming because of the stingers and…salt water crocodiles.  There were signs everywhere but we did not spot any crocs in the wild.  The best part of the day was getting back to the Port Douglas beach to swim in safe waters, phew! Louisa chose a special dinner and family favorite of rice with beef stroganoff and black beans to go with brigadeiro for dessert. Happy Birthday to my world traveler girl!

After 7 nights in Port Douglas, we were sad to leave. We said our goodbyes to the scuba and outrigger families as we headed south to Mission Beach for a relaxing afternoon on the beach. As we were leaving Mission Beach, we had a chance encounter with 3 cassowaries walking around the road, a male and 2 chicks. There are less than 1400 cassowaries living in Australia, and only 40 living around Mission Beach area. We were pretty lucky to spot 3 of them casually strolling around in the wild. Obviously we thought that it was the mom and 2 chicks but, as we later learnt, the male cassowaries are the ones who hatch and stay with the chicks for about the first 18 months of their lives.  Interesting! We then crashed the night in Townsville so that we could pack in a day at the Billabong Sanctuary (just outside the city). 

The Billabong Sanctuary, recommended by the Lonely Planet guide, is not to be missed. Sanctuaries are friendlier than zoos, as you can get really close to the animals and even touch and hold some of them.  Both kids took pictures holding a koala and we all got to feed kangaroos.  The best part was watching the feeding of the crocodiles and the interesting stories the handler shared with the visitors. Now we can definitely tell the differences between an Australian croc and a Florida gator!

Cassowary

A male cassowary

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Louisa and the koala

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Cuddly koala

Billabong

Billabong Sanctuary

 

 

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