Diving Down into Cairns: Skydiving and Scuba Diving in the Great Barrier Reef
I arrived in Cairns early Tuesday morning and headed to Gilligan’s Backpacker Hotel & Resort, the hostel I was staying at. Once my friend who’d arrived a day earlier at the hostel woke up, we went downstairs for some complimentary breakfast before our adventure of the day: Skydiving. We were picked up about 10:30AM and our day started out less than ideal as the shuttle bus driver tried to convince us that we weren’t on the list. Thankfully, we spotted our names hidden on the bottom and were able to hop in.
At the skydiving center, we filled out form after form and watched safety videos, so we would know how to act once we were up in the air. Each person was then teamed up with their professional skydiver and we went out and boarded the tiny plane. Soaring 15,000 feet above the Great Barrier Reef, we all began to hop out of the plane one after another.
I think it took a total of 15 seconds tops for everyone to go from the safety of the plane to free-falling over the Great Barrier Reef. It was such an indescribable feeling that I couldn’t really be scared at all while falling. And, soon enough, the parachute flew out and we slowly drifted back to the Earth.
Since I was the last one out of the plane, it was kind of funny to see all of the other divers landing below me. It felt like I was inside of Fortnite, landing at the Tilted Towers with all of my friends. After the dive, I could not stop smiling. My friend and I were seriously googling, “How to Become a Skydiver.” I wanted to go again and again!
Cairns Botanical Gardens
During the jump, we’d met another person staying at the same hostel as us, so we decided to all go grab lunch together and then walk to the Cairns Botanical Gardens. The butterfly garden here was like an iSpy game, as the butterflies were pretty well hidden within the flowers. We spent a bit of time getting lost in the winding rainforest gardens, then decided to take the scenic route back to our hostel and freshen up before attending some of the events Gilligan’s was putting on that night.
Gilligan’s Backpacker Hotel & Resort
At 6:00PM, we hopped over to social hour and got free drinks before preparing for Pirate’s Bingo, which was a lot more crazy than it sounds. All of the bingo boards were on steroids and to win, you needed to fill in every single space. As an added twist, the bingo caller had games mingled in. For instance, if he said any number that ended with 1 (like 1, 51, 101), we would have to shout, “Where’s the rum!” Whoever shouted this first, would have a chance to go up to the center stage and play a game which kept getting more intense as we went along.
After they completed their challenge, they could lift up 1 of 3 cups for a chance to win a free drink card (or just get blasted with a hose). We played this for a few hours and I can honestly say there was not a single dull moment. Since it was also ladies night at the hostel, we had free champagne all night as well as some classic spring-breaker events. It was kind of crazy that all of these things were going down on a Tuesday night. Gilligan’s was truly the Las Vegas of Cairns. We tried to go to bed early this night, but our efforts did not exceed our needs to dance.
Great Barrier Reef Scuba Diving
The next morning, we were picked up from our hostel to go on an adventure in the Great Barrier Reef. We’d booked through a company called Passions of Paradise and they were extremely accommodating. When we first got on the boat, we were greeted with muffins and coffee while signing our life away for the second day in a row. Since my friend and I signed up to go scuba diving as well, we had to attend a special safety seminar on the boat as we soared out to the reefs.
Once we arrived at the first reef location, we got suited up in our wetsuits and diving tanks and hopped into the ocean to check out the reefs. I felt like I was Nemo going on a field trip with Mr. Ray (I even saw a spotted version of Mr.Ray, so I was really in it)! We swam around the ocean floor for about 30 minutes before going back up to the safety of the boat…which we immediately hopped back off to go snorkeling.
Fighting the Current
After some time here, we also went to another reef location where people had another chance to go diving, have some lunch or snorkel in the reef. My friend & I decided to go snorkeling, but it was extremely difficult as, if we stopped paddling for about 30 seconds, the current would suck us all the way back to the boat. It was truly a workout. On the way back to shore, we thought it would be nice to sit out front of the yacht to suntan and nap. However, the waves had a different idea. We retreated (literally sprinted) back inside after the waves began to practically waterboard us.
Once we got back to shore, we took the long way back to our hostel and decided to do a little retail therapy equipped with crepes before cashing in early. There was supposed to be a giant jelly war in the swimming pool at Gilligan’s this night as well, but I don’t think enough people signed up to execute it [or maybe our beds just called our name stronger].
Kuranda Scenic Railway & Skyrail
On our last day, we took a trip to the native village of Kuranda. To get there, we hopped on a train that took us through literal paradise as we were in the middle of the jungle. We passed through dark tunnels and waterfalls and tons of tropical vegetation. Since this is a World Heritage-Listed Rainforest, its one of the oldest areas of plants and animals on Earth: Twelve hundred species of flowering plants, eight hundred different rainforest trees, spectacular orchids, strangler figs, exotic palms and hundreds of unique creatures.
Once we arrived in Kuranda, we went straight to their tiny zoo so we could finally hug a koala! Since I’m currently living in the state of Victoria, where it’s illegal to hold koalas unless licensed, I did not have the opportunity to do this yet.
Visiting the Wildlife
We also took a quick walk through the butterfly garden in hopes of spotting a Blue Morpho. This is one of the largest butterflies in the world (wingspan up to 8 inches) and unfortunately, we couldn’t find any! The specialist said they had a few caterpillars of the Blue Morpho, so it should be flying about in a few weeks, which was a bit disappointing. Thus, we found something else to cheer us up. This local man next-door was just finishing up making his homemade cinnamon rolls and they were honestly some of the best I’ve ever tasted. Although, cinnamon rolls are like pizza- it’s pretty difficult to find a bad one.
The Magic Hairbrush
As we were dwindling around a few of the other shops, we heard someone shout, “Animal hooves are the same as human hair.” We turned around and this vendor was walking toward us and repeated the sentence again. He was selling hairbrushes made from keratin hooves and claimed that they were magic hairbrushes and that we would never need another one again (yeah okay, crazy).
He then goes, “I can grade your keratin levels and show you which one works for you if you let me touch your hair.” We figured, okay, probably need to brush our hair anyway right now, so go for it. And, you guys, I kid you not- these hairbrushes were legit magic. He got me, and my friend. We are now owners of some of the most exotic hairbrushes with a lifetime guarantee. So, if you’re ever in Kuranda, find the keratin man!
By this time, it was getting late and we needed to catch the Skyrail, so we left the village and headed toward the station. The Skyrail is a gondola lift that goes over the rainforest and it was amazing! We could see everything around us from the waterfall to the city.
However, I will admit that it was a little scary when it wiggled as I kept having flashbacks from Hoodwinked where the little squirrel fell out of the gondola lift into the dark forest. Odd considering I just jumped out of a plane no problem a few days earlier, but hey. I didn’t have too much time to spare once I got back to the hostel as I was flying out earlier that night, but it was sad to leave the college-inspired hostel and city so soon.
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