There’s a first time for everything!

For the first time in my life I can say that I was genuinely, 100% unthinkingly impulsive. “What is this madness?!” you say? Let me dive right in.

I’d been preparing to leave Australia and continue my adventure in North America. I had hostels booked in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. My train and flights were locked in, as was an Alcatraz tour. I was ready to rock.

I’d closed my bank accounts, lodged my tax return and made the necessary enquiries with regard to claiming back superannuation in Australia.

When it came to packing, everything got a bit real. It hit home that I would be on the move again as I decanted my washing powder into a zip lock bag. That’s when I started to think about sharing a room with up to 7 other people, about queueing for washing machines. About standing in a flooded shower tray because I refused to pick out someone else’s hair from the plug hole and finally about having to wash up before being able to cook anything and then washing up again afterwards because I couldn’t, in good conscience, leave it. That’s when it all started to get real.

The day came and I dragged my sorry self to the airport. With every stop the bus made, I had felt less and less excited and more apprehensive. Not the excited kind of apprehension you expect but instead a kind of creeping doom. I genuinely felt like getting onto a plane anywhere that wasn’t London just wasn’t going to cut it. This feeling intensified as my check in time got closer.

It was check in minus 10 minutes and I was fantasising about reasons not to go to the USA and to go home instead. That’s when it hit me. Surely, just wanting to go home was a good enough reason to do it? I decided immediately that it was and marched myself to the Virgin Australia ticket desk.

During the march I decided to pay no more than $1200AUD to get home. I waited in a most un-British and impatient manner whilst the lady tapped away checking flight availability. In my head, all I could hear, was my plaintiff request to the universe ‘Please be less than 1200 bucks’ repeating over and over and over. Finally she finished on the computer and said “Oh, well with airport taxes it comes to $1150. Is that alright? It’s a fair cost for that flight”. By the time she’d finished her spiel I was in tears and thrusting my cash and credit card at her. Bless her. She was ever so worried and kept asking if I was alright but all I could do was nod, smile through my bawling and say “I’m bloody brilliant. I’m going home!”.

And that is the most spontaneous thing I’ve ever done. Fact.

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Australia – Curious Cairns

I ended up getting a flight from Brisbane to Cairns. It was a late flight getting into Cairns at just before midnight. I’d called my accommodation earlier in the day to make sure there would still be someone to pick me up and had been assured there would be. Of course there wasn’t. Luckily, there was a private shuffle bus company still running a service so I paid them to take me to Asylum Backpackers in Cairns. It turns out that private shuttle companies are the only mode of mass transit to the airport. No public transport goes there at all which is kind of stupid.

The welcome at Asylum backpackers was worth waiting for but the rest of the stay was lack lustre, bordering on frustrating. It just wasn’t the place for me. There was nothing really wrong with it, I just didn’t like the layout or the general type of person staying there. They all seemed to be the young travelling crowd who think Daft Punk are a new band on the scene and that makes me want to punch myself in the face. My face only needs the help of a professional surgeon so I wouldn’t go back to Asylum.

Cairns itself felt slow and behind the times. It had all the modern conveniences of a city, malls etc, but it’s just lacking in everything else. I was very pleased to only be there a couple of days before my dive trip to the Great Barrier Reef.

I booked onto a 3 day/2 night, qualified diver, live aboard with Cairns Dive Centre. It cost me $600 which I still think is excellent value for 10 dives (and as much snorkelling as you can fit in). Saying that, I was disappointed with the dive sites we visited. We only went to 2 sites over 3 days which I think is a bit poor. We went to East Timor and 360°/Coral Garden. I preferred the latter as a dive site.

East Timor is pretty small, shallow (approx 12m average) and I felt we over dived it. If you’re a diver with bad air consumption, 5 dives at East Timor would feel ok because you’d need time to explore. If you’re air consumption is good, you need 3 dives at East Timor before you’ve explored and 4 dives before you’re hoping you move site. I’ve got good air consumption and did 6 dives at East Timor which was too many in my opinion.

360°/Coral Garden is a much bigger site with better depth and an impressive wall to explore. We completed 4 dives there and I would have liked 2 more because it’s just huge. I don’t feel like I explored it properly which is a shame. Also, Barry the barracuda hangs out under the boat at 360° so you’re guaranteed to see one.

The boat, Kangaroo Explorer, was decent enough but you could tell it had seen lots of action. The dorms were clean, the food was good and the staff were great. The other divers and snorkelers were fabulous though. They really made the trip and I intend to keep firmly in touch with many of them. Here’s a sunst view from the boat.

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I had 8 good dives and 2 awful dives. On the awful dives, we ended up getting completely lost. One was due to strong current, poor navigating and bad visibility. The other was a night dive which resulted in confusion and disorientation.

The good dives ranged from indifferent to blooming amazing. I ended up seeing (not a full list) 2 green turtles, lots of nemos, moorish idols, parrot fish, lion fish, buckets of adorable anemone fish and, whilst snorkeling, a manta ray. I was too cheap to hire an underwater camera so I don’t have pictures to share with you. You’ll just have to believe me when I say how amazing it was.

Once my dive trip was done, I headed to Melbourne on another late night, but cheap, flight after my required 24 hour surface break.

Overall, I have no desire to revisit Cairns. It’s not my type of place but I can’t put my finger on why. It just felt a bit backwards and awkward (all the adjectives ending in ‘ard’ actually). I also managed to lose my coat before I left Cairns which was handy as I expected Melbourne to be bloody freezing. Oh well. More on Melbourne next episode!