Far North Queensland has the tropical luxury of Port Douglas with lazy ceiling fans, cocktails and fantastic food but also back to basics four-wheel driving beyond Cape York with hidden pristine beaches. Even the main road from Cairns is a World Heritage area. The Coral sea is the most eye-catching aquamarine but take heed of the signs warning of salt-water crocodiles (salties.) The realisation that you're no longer top of the food chain gives you a whole new perspective on life. Still wanting to feel small in the marine world but much safer? Take a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef from Port Douglas. Much quieter than the backpacker chaos of Cairns, no "salties" out this far, choose a boat with a marine biologist on-board and swap watching on BBC 2 for a snorkel and flippers. See it soon - global climate change might mean its all gone in thirty years time. Even that fact on its own has been life-changing for us.
We visited the reef with Wavelength www.wavelength.com.au/ - oldest in operation, set up by a marine biologist
Shop 20, Meridien Marina Mirage, Wharf Street Port Douglas
+61(0)7 4099 5031
Hartleys is not just a croc farm, it is also a zoo. The tour of the farm, explaining the hows and whys of croc farming is interesting, the animals in the zoo mostly "inmates", ie crocs gone bad. The signs explain who they are and what they did to become prisoners! The visit also includes a boat ride with plenty of crocs and Aussie humour, and the reptile and crocodile shows are informative and fun.
Both the gift shop and restaurant are not overly priced and offer good quality products.
Travellers Oasis was by far my favourite hostel in Australia. It's just five minutes from Cairns's main drag but is a haven of peace. The rooms are colourful, the kitchens and bathrooms clean, and the owners and staff incredibly helpful and friendly. My A$42/night single room was wonderful after a day's snorkelling on the reef!
If you are in a wheelchair, book your trip to the reef on a flat decked catamaran! The ride out is quite smooth and easy for the disabled and if you can't snorkel, the staff may be able to help you into a semi-submersible to view all the wonderful life on the reef. They helped me do it!
Also, the train to the Kuranda rainforest is completely wheelchair friendly, as is the cable car, if you want to try that on the way back!
In Australia the star of the show is the Great Barrier Reef. The only living organism visible from space is in fact a collection of corals, living and growing in the shallow seas and forming hundreds of reefs which stretch 1,430 miles along the Queensland coast, home to thousands of fish and plants.
As a first-time snorkeller, I swam from pristine sandy beaches and from the dive platform of the Coral Princess into another world so beautiful it takes your breath away – especially when your snorkel’s on the wrong way round and you swallow half the Coral Sea! Unforgettable.
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