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Exploring The Great Barrier Reef; Cairns

If you are thinking about taking a trip to Australia, then you are most likely planning to visit the Great Barrier Reef. The coral reef has suffered a lot of Coral Bleaching over the years due to the impacts of Global Warming. The reefs are certainly not what they once were but it is still truly a wonder of the world and is deserving of its natural wonder title.

Be sure to use reef safe sunscreen products and protect our oceans!

Window seat view flying over the Great Barrier Reef
Flying over the Great Barrier Reef

Take a 3 hour flight North from Sydney to Cairns (CNS) to enter the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. Australia has some cheap flight options like Jet Star and Tiger Air if you are looking for cheap alternatives.

Pro Tip: if you’re trying to accrue airline miles for your next trip [reference previous blog post:

consider flying Alaska Airlines’ partner airline, Qantas, as you can earn normal the normal 1 mile per 1 mile flown but you can also earn additional bonus miles. This is another great way to earn miles quickly. Also - the planes that Qantas flies are usually larger, nicer, and if you are travelling with a lot of luggage you will have to account for added fees with those other low cost airlines.

Be sure to book a window seat on the Right Hand side of the plane to get a nice view of the Coral Reef and Islands as you descend in to CNS. You will also see the vibrant ocean blues contrasting with the jungle green landscape of Cairns.

Great Barrier Reef islands below as seen from the sky
The approach in to Cairns Airport

There are two major cities people stay when coming to see the Great Barrier Reef - Cairns and Port Douglas. Naturally, Cairns is closer to the airport (hence the name), while Port Douglas is an additional 60+ minute drive. Cairns is a small working class town but there are still plenty of nice hotels. However, if you are looking for nice resorts you will want to make the trip to Port Douglas.

There are many more resorts in Port Douglas but be sure to remember that the further north beaches are more susceptible to Jelly Fish (including the deadly variety). Many of the beaches will require you to swim in the netted zones for safety. This is a common thing in

Australia but just something to consider when planning a trip.

Because I was trying to cram so much on to my 11 day trip, we only were here for 2 days (where we flew in on the first day from Sydney and flew out on the second day to Brisbane maximize time). Pro Tip: if you are looking to scuba dive, you need to spend a longer time here as you can not scuba dive and fly on an airplane within 12 hours (for a single dive) or 18 hours (for multiple dives). Snorkelers need not worry!

Cairns - Day 1

If you want to venture into the jungle / forests you will need to rent a car for the day. Driving in Australia is a very stressful adventure as the steering wheel and driving lanes are on the opposite sides for Americans. Take it slow but eventually you will get the hang of it. Pro Tip: keep reminding yourself what side of the road you need to be on when turning and be sure to remember to turn on the turning signal and not the windshield wipers. You can always tell a tourist as their windshield wipers are going as they start to make a turn.

We booked a hotel to the Hilton Cairns (Hilton is a partner of American Express so I transferred credit card points from my Platinum American Express Card to book a stay.

(if you are looking for the best travel credit card - sign up for the Platinum AMEX -

We rented a vehicle from Hertz at the airport because there is a local Hertz rental car location in town a block from the hotel. This saved time and added money instead of having to drop off the vehicle back at the airport. This hotel was also located at the marina where all of the boats and tours depart for the Great Barrier Reef.

Wooroonooran National Park - 1 hour South of Cairns

Check out my favorite spots in the park: Babinda Boulders, Devil’s Pool, and Josephine Falls. Each spot allows you to cool off and take a dip in the refreshing water on a hot Queensland Day. A lot of these hikes are easy and on paved foot paths. Be sure to dive in to the water at Josephine Falls but be sure to not crack your GoPro camera lens like I did! (Thankfully I got it replaced before we dove the Great Barrier Reef the next day - although I can admit there was a lot of panic and frantic searching for an electronic store)

Girl in a bikini looking at the Josephine Waterfalls in Cairns, Queensland, Australia
@TheTravelDaughter admiring the Josephine Waterfalls
Man hiking through the jungle in Cairns, Australia
Hiking through the steamy Jungle Heat to the Josephine Falls
Bikini girl dipping in to the blue water of babinda boulders on a hot summer day
Taking a dip in to the water of the Babinda Boulders - Photo taken inNovember
Man looking in to the fresh water pool at the Josephine Falls
Praying there are no crocodiles or snakes waiting for me as I dove in to the fresh water pool
Bikini clad woman playing on the Babinda Boulders
@theTravelDaughter playing on the Babinda boulders (depending on the month this could be covered with rushing water)

The Great Barrier Reef - Day 2

There are many tour boats that will take you out for day trips. We signed up for the Silver Swift boat and couldn’t recommend them enough. The boat was nice and they provided basic refreshments. The instructors were very informative to make everyone feel safe.

Man in a bathing suit prepares to jump in to the great barrier reef
About to jump in to the Great Barrier Reef for the first snorkel of the day - quick double check to spot jelly fish

The ride is about an hour or so from the marina. Some tours will bring you to a floating station where they have submarines, water slides, helicopter tours, etc.

Most of these tours have both Scuba dives and snorkeling. Don’t worry if you aren’t Scuba Certified. The snorkeling here is still some of the best you will encounter.

Pro Tip - bring some Dramamine as the boat can be rocking back and forth at times. Also, be sure to bring extra sunscreen as Australia has an Ozone hole and the sun is very strong. Depending on the time of year (jellyfish season) you will be required to wear rash guards. This will actually help with the sun and the jelly fish. Plus you will look VERY sexy…

Man snorkeling the great barrier reef with a rash guard protection
Feeling good in my rash guard - this was actually very helpful to prevent a sun burn and/or jelly fish encounter
Snorkler in a rash guard about to jump in to the Great Barrier Reef
@TheTravelDaughter embracing her rash guard style

We stopped at 3 different reefs along the way and had a great time at each spot. The only thing we missed out on was the Helicopter Tour of the Reef which provides amazing views below.

As we were maximizing our short amount of time, we took the 8 hour tour which included 5 hours on the Reef and arrived back to Cairns at 4:30 so we could take an evening flight to our next destination - Brisbane and the Gold Coast!

Colorful and Live Coral Reef at the Great Barrier Reef
Colorful and Live Coral Reef
Colorful and Live Coral Reef in Australia
Beautiful and vibrant fish and coral
Fish swimming in the Great Barrier Reef
Too many fish to count

Things you need for your adventure!

Action Camera - Go Pro Hero 8 - provides a small and waterproof camera to capture everything - Wide Angle landscapes, selfies, underwater photos, and so much more

Split Dome to capture the perfect split over water and underwater photos with your gopro

360 Action Camera to capture photos and videos to the next level! The Hero Max brings the widest angle lens to capture incredible scenes as well as a front and back camera to capture photos on both sides of the camera including their 360 feature!

Dramamine for those not fond of the boat ride:

Reef Safe Sunscreen - protect the reefs and your skin!


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