Friday, January 10, 2014

Honeymooning RTW in 21 Days: Diving at the Great Barrier Reef, Day Trip to Port Douglas + Hilton Cairns


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After nearly a week in NSW it was time to head up north to Cairns where we were planning to spend the next three nights. We woke up bright and early for a 9am flight and left the hotel around 7am. Since we still had the car from our Blue Mountains road trip, we allotted extra time as I was still mastering the art of driving on the "wrong" side of the road. After a non-eventful 20-30 minute drive we arrived at the Hertz return area and headed over to check-in. We had booked our domestic flights on Virgin Australia and overall the journey was very much like flying domestically in the US.

After a 3 hour flight we arrived at CNS just before noon and jumped in a taxi. Cairns is actually quite small and after a short 15 minute ride we were at the Hilton Cairns. Our room wasn't ready yet, but we were told it would be less than an hour and were offered complimentary drinks at the bar while we waited. The hotel is in a great location along the Esplanade and there were a lot of shops and restaurants within walking distance. The hotel is only 9 stories with the Executive Lounge located on the top floor which is only open for breakfast and evening canapes, and often times we found ourselves the only people in the lounge. This was very refreshing compared to the swells of elites at the Hilton Sydney lounge. Overall, we thought that the hotel was good but the rooms and exterior were definitely starting to show some wear and could use some freshening up in the near future.

Grabbing a Hahn at Mondo's bar while we wait for the room


View from Mondo's bar


Executive room on 9th floor


View from the room


Since we had arrived mid-day it was too late to do any day trips or excursions, so we just walked around and did some shopping. My wife was determined to buy some Uggs since they are quite a bit cheaper in Australia than in the US (~40-50% cheaper) and we probably visited every store along the Esplanade looking for the best deal. We also walked through the night market, and grabbed more ramen for dinner at Ganbaranba Noodle Coliseum. On our last night we ate at Grilled Healthy Burgers which we had seen all around Sydney but finally tried it in Cairns, and it was delicious.

Walking along the Esplanade


More ramen for dinner, but sadly not as good as Ippudo


The next day we headed over to the marina bright and early for our day trip to the GBR. Almost all of the dive trips leaving from Cairns take off from the marina and the hotel was in a perfect location just a 5 minute walk away. We had booked our excursion ahead of time through ProDive Cairns and overall were happy with the trip and would recommend them as they were a well-oiled machine, very organized, and provided a surprisingly good buffet lunch. The only downside of the trip was that it was a huge group excursion, with upwards of 100 people on the boat. We still did our diving in small groups, but it could be a bit hectic at times. We did three dives total, but only the 1st dive set had interesting things to see, with the next two being a relative disappointment. Either way, it was a good way to dip our toe in the GBR, as we knew going in that the best dive trips are the liveaboards that go out for 3-4 nights which we just didn't have time for on this trip.

Video from the dive

Turtles everywhere


Playing with the giant clam


Norman, a regular at the dive site


On our last day in Cairns we rented a car and drove up the coast to Port Douglas. It was about an hour drive and was very scenic with lots of beaches and viewpoints to stop at along the way. However, while we did find Port Douglas charming, there wasn't really much to do and after grabbing lunch and hanging out at 5-mile beach for a while we headed back. Along the way we stopped at Hartley's Crocodile farm and it was well worth the detour. The highlight was the swamp cruise where they actively invite the crocodiles over to the boat for feedings. We actually had meant to stop at the Skyrail instead but had trouble finding it and gave up eventually, so if you're looking to do that make sure you get thorough directions ahead of time!

5-mile beach in Port Douglas


Swamp cruise at Hartley's


Crocodile feeing

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