Cairns!

Waste no time!  Just 2 weeks after getting my dive certification, Ben and I headed north to Cairns – the Australian city just a short boat ride from the Great Barrier Reef.   Yep, that’s right – I don’t mess around.  If I am going to be a SCUBA diver I’m going to dive in one of the Natural Wonders of the World.

Just kidding.  I’m not stuck up – just happen to be that lucky.  :)!

We have had the trip planned since we first arrive down under so by the time it got here we were SO excited!  Warm weather, beaches, ocean – YES PLEASE!

We arrive late on Friday night. Cairns is the quintessential beach town.  Tons of restaurants, ice cream, souvenir shops & tourists!  We had a quick bite and called it an early night.

Our Saturday morning started at 7am.  We were to meet at the dive boat which was luckily in the harbour right outside of our hotel.

The boat itself was an awesome experience.  It only takes about 35 people each day so there was plenty of room for us to walk around and get to know the other (American) tourists.

It was about an hour and half boat ride out to reef and we had two different stops so we had a full day ahead of us!  There was only one other diver on the boat with us.  Everyone else was there to snorkel the reef.  This was SO comforting being that this was my first real dive! I pretty much had the divemaster all to myself for questions and tips.

The first stop on the boat was actually a small sand island which was a bird sanctuary.  Now, my love for birds is almost at the same level as my love for fish (why I’m ok 45 ft below the ocean is beyond me) so while the lovely Eugenia (a 75 year old woman from Georgia) wandered around looking for an extremely rare bird species, I stayed far away from that island stuck to the view of the reef!

At my request, we *hired* a digital camera for my first dive experience.  At first Ben had the camera.  I was way too nervous about my first attempt at the underwater world so he manned the pics.  Those are the only good pics we were able to get!  When I got my hands on the camera the pictures look like Mason had his tiny little one year old hands on a digital camera for the first time.  Needless to say, the quality of pictures was pretty awful.  Here are some cool ones that we were able to take.

Beware – WAY too many pics below…

This picture is just to give you a little perpective.  This was our dive guide doing a snorkle tour.  He swam down to show everyone the clam

Aren’t the clams cool?!  If your shadow went over them they would shut real fast!

I know it’s hard to see so I made a circle over it…that’s right!  It’s a SHARK!

This picture is a little eerie. It took everything I had not to think about how many living (BIG) things was in the same body of water as us.  How weird!

See Nemo down there!

I loved looking at all of the tiny fish living in the coral.  It was one of the coolest parts!

By the end of Saturday, we were BEAT!  Food, wine and bed!

Sunday morning we decided to take a day trip to Port Douglas.  It was a cute newer town about 45 minutes north of Cairns.

The drive was spectacular.  It reminded us of HANA!

We laid out of the beach…with caution:

After a few hours of walking around and laying out at the beach, we had officially finished with Port Douglas and continued on our journey north to the Daintree Rainforest.  We stopped at the Bruce Belchers Daintree River Cruise to take in some crocs in the wild!  I was a little nervous at first – afraid a croc would hurl its body at our flimsy pontoon but have no fear – our crocodile sightings were limited to 10 inch long baby crocs.

On our way back to Cairns we made one last stop at the Mossman Gorge.  Apparently this was a MUST SEE!  It was a little too cold to take a dip but still great to see and make the most of our trip!

The water was crystal clear!

 

Day three – somehow Ben knew where we were going!  I never saw a map or GPS and we never went back on our tracks.  He had somehow memorized a circuit – of WATERFALLS!

First we went into the Australian hinterlands – that means up a mountain!  It was a tight windy road but provides some amazing views of Cairns and the surrounding areas.  We ended up on the tablelands – this was mainly rolling farms.  Still amazing views!  We stopped off to see the cathedral fig tree – it was  MASSIVE!  There are a few of these fig trees in Brissy and their branches have hanging vines that root in the grounds and continue to grow.  They are really amazing trees!

We stopped off in a creepy little town.  I felt like I was about to be in a horror film! Luckily we made it out alive – with a tasty Aussie style burger, beetroot and all!

Off to the water falls!

And with that we were heading back to Cairns to check in for our 8pm flight home!

But not before we met a storm!  I took this as my chance to take a nap in the car while Benny got us back safe and sound.

I wouldn’t call it relaxing but it was SO FUN!

WAAYYYYY down under!

A few weeks ago I put my life in the hands of a 21 year old, bleached blonde, long haired Aussie boy.  No, I didn’t fake a drowning on the beach in Surfer’s Paradise a la Baywatch but I did get my SCUBA Certification!

I now have another form of identification in my wallet – my Certified Open Water Diver card issued by the Brisbane Dive Academy! And I LOVE it!

Here are some pics from my adventure WAYYYY down under…

 

We started out in the lap pool about 3 feet deep to help us get used to breathing under water and learning some basic (life saving!) skills.

 

 

 

We swam up and down the lanes (trying desperately not to look in the lanes next to us!)

 

 

 

 

Then things got serious – in the deep end!  We learned how to control buoyancy, share air and (most importantly) clear our masks when they were full of water! PHEW!

 

 

 

 

No, this isn’t a reenactment of the Dateline story of the American couple on their honeymoon but I really have no idea what we’re practicing!

 

 

Then on to the REAL stuff!  We did a total of 4 actual open water dives. The first was on day 1 and the other 3 on day 2.

 

This was the only other person in my course.  A lovely gentleman, of about 65 years of age – Fred.

 

Then it was my turn.  I some how managed to be geekier than Fred.

 

 

 

It certainly isn’t a sport for those that want to look pretty….

 

 

Before I knew it, the weekend was over and I am free to SCUBA dive anytime I want!

This was our crew – the woman on the left is a Divemaster in training, just along for Day 2 and observing – then Dom (the cute Aussie instructor- who Ben refers to as “Dom Ass”), me and Fred.

 

 

 

It was a BLAST and I’m THRILLED my loving boyfriend urged me to face my fears and do it!

Sydney – Part 3 (Finally, eh?)

Sunday was our last day in Sydney.  We were SO tired so we slowly made our way to hop on the ferry to Manly Island which was recommended to us by quite a few people (shout out to Aunt Bonnie and Amanda Boren!)

The ferry ride itself was the best part.  We got beautiful views of the city and harbor!

There wasn’t much going on on Manly Island but it was still beautiful.  TONS of little kids learning to surf, a few beach yogis and so many golden retrievers in one spot so I was able to get my puppy fix and tell a number of strangers about my little Tillybear! 😉

Here are a few pics from the ferry ride and Manly:

 

 

Manly Beach – see all those little kid surfers?!

 

 

 

 

 

See those dots on top of the bridge?  Those are people doing the Bridge Climb!

And with that our first weekend trip was over!  Time to head home….and SLEEP!

 

Sydney Part 2

Day two started with a bang – Ben and I were on the hunt for the correct public transport to Bondi Beach.  Just a train ride and bus transfer and we were there.  Bondi Beach is a GORGEOUS beach town.  Lots of surfers, fish and chips, runners and ice cream!

Our plan was to do the ~2mi beach walk from Bondi to Coogee.  It was along the cliffs overlooking the ocean.  This turned out to be my favorite part of our trip.  The beaches and water were so tempting!

We didn’t do much but walk so here are some pics –

 

 

 

 

 

Above: If you look closely you can see the yoga class in the back…I’d go everyday if that was the backdrop!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above: there were quite a few pools just like this – filled with ocean water that flowed over the side and was pumped back into the pool.  Loved these!

 

Yep, that’s a cemetery along the cliffs!  Or as Ben says “Now, that’s life after death!” 🙂

 

Once we made it to Coogee Beach we hopped on another bus back to Bondi for fish and chips and an ice cream cone before heading back to the city.

Back in the city, how could we pass up a little shopping…throw Ben in Lululemon and me in Zara and we were both perked back up in no time! J

We went to dinner downtown at a restaurant that was tucked back in an adorable alley –

It’s hard to see but there were about one hundred bird cages illuminated and hanging over the street! We actually saw this alley on one of our favorite Aussie reality TV shows so weren’t about to leave before eating here!

Then it was time for cocktails on the harbour!  It was one of those moments when you can’t believe you’re actually sitting there!

 

 

 

My new favorite cocktail made with my new favorite fruit: passionfruit!  Passionfruit is everywhere.  My latest obsession is Passionfruit Chobani yogurt. 🙂

 

With one more day to go that was it for the night!

 

Sydney – Part 1

A couple weeks ago, me and Ben took our first domestic flight during our Aussie adventure to SYDNEY to celebrate Ben’s birthday!  We hopped on a Qantas flight sometime on Thursday afternoon (Ben’s actual birthday.)  The first pleasant surprise of the trip was the food and drink on Qantas – cheese, crackers and olives and wine!  American Airlines could probably take some hints… 😉

Just like in Brizzy, by the time we arrived in Sydney, around 8:30pm, everything was closed.  We wanted a casual dinner so within moments of seeing a corner pizzeria, we were sitting down with sharing a bottle of wine, bruschetta and a pie.

We had an early start on Friday morning.  We were signed up to do the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb at 9:55am.  We wanted to take a little of the city in before the climb so we got up early and took a walk down to the harbour.

After a brief walk around we made our way to the Bridge Climb.  I didn’t realize before starting but the climb is quite an ordeal.  The first hour was all prep.  We had to take a breathalyzer and sign a waiver before doing anything else! After that, we were fitted in our suits, issued a headset (to later hear the guide through the wind) and other goodies to keep you warm (i.e. fleece jackets, hat, gloves, handkerchief, etc) and walked through a bridge climb simulation.  Before we knew it we were heading outside!

Each climber was given a belt and on the belt was a harness that immediately clipped on to cable that ran the length of the climb.  Once you clipped in there was no way out – thank goodness!  It was quite interesting; the guide went through the history of the bridge and surrounding area which was actually really neat!  But once we got on to what we were there to do, we were climbing ladders, shuffling along beams and walking a steady incline over Sydney Harbour!  The view was incredible!  Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take our own pics but here are a few (lo-res) pics that the guide took along the way.

By the time our feet were firmly on the ground, it was about a 3 hour journey and totally worth it!

Ben and I were a little wobbly from holding ourselves up against the 60kph wind and ready for lunch.  Again, Sydney wanted to show us just how cute of a city it is – just a couple blocks away we stumbled on a random market filled with tents for the surrounding restaurants so we picked up a burger (for me) and a chorizo sausage (for Ben) and headed back down to the harbour to eat while staring at the opera house.  SO COOL!

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Needless to say, by the end of day one we were beat!  But we carried on…to a fantastic Malaysian restaurant – Chinta Ria – which vies for one of the best meals I’ve ever had!  They’ve really perfected how to cook their mussels and beef while providing their patrons with a view to remember of Darling Harbour.  I’d definitely go back! 🙂

More on our Sydney adventure soon…