Cairns, Australia

From Melbourne to Cairns is about 2,800 km. In spite of being from Canada and being relatively accustomed to great distances between points, driving that far alone was out of the question. Instead, I hopped on a Virgin Blue flight through Sydney and about five hours later, touched down in Cairns (pronounced Caans).

I took an airport shuttle (which they call a public bus) into the city and ended up at the Caravella Backpackers hostel on The Esplanade. It was a short walk from the action – the quiet was much appreciated, as were the spotless kitchen, bathrooms and lovely salt-water pool. Not bad for $15 a night.

The ocean near Cairns is currently teeming with box jellyfish and crocodiles – at least that’s what they’d have you believe with all the warning signs. After my previous encounter with a more docile (yet still searingly painful) jellyfish, I opted to heed the warnings. Instead, I enjoyed the superb lagoon that itself lies like a giant amorphous creature at the west end of the Esplanade. The hot sun burns quickly, so an hour a day was about my tolerance for it – some people laid out all day, and the huge blisters they were sporting later testified to the wisdom of that choice. Ouch.

Cairns was nice, but its really a haven for divers and those wishing to do more exploration of the reef. Since I’d planned to do most of that further south in the Whitsundays, a couple of days was enough to give me a feel for the place and arrange a train ticket out of there. So, after a fun few days in Northern Queensland, I boarded the train and spent the afternoon enthralled by the best gossip magazine around: The Economist. Next stop, Airlie Beach.