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(2011 - Winter/Spring Issue)



With a toss of a coin our adventures start in Queensland.

The World Below

Spanning most of Queensland’s coastline is the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef, with Cairns being one of the more popular access points. A day cruise with Ocean Spirit Cruises offers both snorkelling and scuba diving off Michaelmas Cay, a protected sanctuary for migratory birds and our gateway to an estimated 400 species of coral and more than 1,500 species of fish that make this small section of the Great Barrier Reef their home.

Never having scuba dived this is an opportunity to do an “introductory dive,” which allows groups of two to explore the ocean’s depths with elbows linked on either side of the instructor. Our dive master, Pedro, takes time during the two-hour cruise to the Cay, and once again just prior to our descent, for a thorough explanation of key safety points such as relaxed breathing, clearing our mask under water and the ever-important signals for “yes, I am okay” and “no, I am not okay.” Pedro also stresses the importance of showing respect for the reef by avoiding physical contact with it and its inhabitants.

A short tender ride to the shallows of the Cay and we begin our gradual descent and exploration of the wonders of the reef. With the curiosity of a child peering into an aquarium for the first time, the colours of the coral, sponges and myriad fish come to life before our eyes. Sightings of clownfish of Finding Nemo fame, stingrays and reef sharks, to name a few, make this a truly amazing experience.

Since we are moored at the Cay for four hours, following the completion of our dive there is sufficient time to snorkel and explore the reef, enjoy a buffet lunch and glean a better understanding of the wonders of the sea from the marine biologists and knowledgeable staff on board. For non-swimmers, there is a semi-submersible, which lets visitors see and photograph the reef and its inhabitants through thick-glass panelled walls and floor.

Cuddle a Koala 

The Cairns Night Zoo is our ticket to a wonderful Aussie experience, which brings all things nocturnal up close. The evening starts with an authentic barbecue, a selection of Australian wine and beer as well as entertainment. Once fortified, the real fun begins. Equipped with flashlights, we commence our tour under the night sky. Meandering along the path, our zoologist guides introduce us to crocodiles, owls, opossum, a few snakes and the famous koala. For an added fee, we could purchase a souvenir photo of us holding a koala. 

However the fun does not end. We also get to mingle with and feed the kangaroos while enjoying a spot of Billy tea and damper (sweet tea and cake), all of which adds more great photos to the memory book. Closing off the evening we again meet up with our entertainers for a few rounds of Waltzing Matilda and other Aussie favourites. 

Aboriginal Experiences

Not to be outdone by the Great Barrier Reef, just north of Cairns near Port Douglas a second World Heritage-listed area is found along the coast at Daintree National Park, which includes the Daintree Rainforest, reportedly the oldest living rainforest on Earth. Its age ranges from an estimated 60,000 years around Mossman Gorge to 140 million years between Daintree Village and Cape Tribulation.

With Kuku Yalanji Dreamtime Tours, we explore the wonders of Mossman Gorge and the rainforest from the perspective of our Aboriginal guide, Cameron. With great pride he shares the traditions, stories and language, which continue to be passed down from the elders. Today, approximately 1,000 Kuku Yalanji people reside in the region.

Commencing our tour, Cameron explains he can only offer knowledge of the male traditions, as to this day the duties of the male and female are unique and never shared between the sexes. 

Kingfisher birds can be heard in the distance as we gently make our way through the forest. We feel insignificant as the lush green forest, with its rushing streams and sunshine radiating through the canopy of ancient trees, envelops us. We stop frequently as Cameron shares his stories and shows us traditional shelters, plants still used today for medicinal purposes, as well as roots and trees used for making tools and weapons. Time is spent by the sacred, massive “Spirit Tree” intertwined with vines, which stands close to a cave with several ancient paintings (totems) still visible. Younger members on our tour especially enjoy making paint from native plants and the clay and stones found in the creek bed, then transforming themselves into tribal warriors.

Tea and damper are served at the conclusion of the tour as Cameron serenades us on his didgeridoo. When asked if he is teaching his children to play, he informs us he is not since he has girls, and, in their culture, the instrument is only meant to be played by males. 

Drift Down the Mossman River

What, you have never drift snorkelled? Well, it was a first for us as well.

Once outfitted with wet suits and snorkelling gear, our Back Country Bliss guide, Michaela, ensures everyone is comfortable in the water as we embark on a leisurely drift down the Mossman River. The wetsuits offer added buoyancy and the current does most of the work as it propels us gently down the shallow river where we experience swimming with fish and turtles. Taking breaks along the way, we delight in seeing butterflies and birds in the canopy of overhanging trees and vines. 

The quaint town of Port Douglas is our base for a couple of nights. Among its municipality-mandated low-rise buildings—no higher than the tallest palm tree—we discover a treasure trove of great shops and fine eateries. A ride above Port Douglas with Vertical Adventures helicopter tours provides us with bird’s-eye views not only of the town, its many resorts, golf course and spectacular Four Mile Beach, but also the Great Barrier Reef to the east and the lush green countryside leading to the Daintree Rainforest to the northwest.

Culinary Delights

Seafood is the meal of choice in Port Douglas and Bill Conway and Rhys Bawden, owners of Salsa Bar & Grill, have set the mark high. Reservations are suggested and the menu varies with the season. And, if it is offered, check out the spinach, goat cheese and cracked black pepper tart with braised rabbit as an appetizer. For a main course, pan-fried nannygai (a deepwater fish) with water chestnut rice tian, lemongrass pesto and octopus escabeche is a must.

As an added treat, the open-air restaurant offers great stargazing of the southern sky with views of the ocean in the distance—the perfect end to our brief, yet enriching, time in Queensland.

Travel Planner

Air Canada offers direct flights between Vancouver and Sydney (aircanada.com) and Qantas (qantas.com) provides convenient domestic service between Sydney and other Australian destinations.

For more information, visit:

Ocean Spirit Cruises, Cairns: oceanspirit.com.au

The Reef Hotel Casino,
Cairns (centrally located by the waterfront, close to tours and shopping): reefcasino.com.au

Cairns Night Zoo:

Shantara Resort & Spa, Port Douglas (offering boutique apartment accommodation): shantara.com.au

Salsa Bar & Grill, Port Douglas: salsaportdouglas.com.au

Kuku Yalanji Dreamtime Tours: yalanji.com.au

Back Country Bliss Adventures: backcountrybliss.com.au

Vertical Adventures Port Douglas: verticaladventures.com.au

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