Alice Springs to Cairns: Into The… East

We awoke on the morning of the 25th and we were really excited, to say the least, about our trek across the desert. Sure we could have flown, but flights were ridiculously expenssive and what fun would flying be? We called into Hertz expecting a nice Hyundai i5 but unfortunately they didn’t have an i5 available. They only had a Toyota Kluger – a slick black beast of a 4×4.

After stocking up on rations for the desert we hit the road and very soon it was just us and the open road. Miles and miles and miles of straight road, it wasn’t actually challenging to drive, my cat could do it if her legs were longer. But the stillness and peacefulness was really unique. Not a sound only the breeze or a hawk or eagle calling in the distance. That first night we stayed in a place called Tennant Creek, probably the most remote town on earth. The only hostel looked like a squat so we went upmarket to the caravan park; in which we got a really nice cabin. Unfortunately its metal roof meant any heavy rain sounded like the apocalypse and a storm hit us that night. We awoke at 5.30 to get going because today was the big day, we were going to try and make it 1,560 km to Townsville.. That’s Dublin to Cork 6 times.

We left Tennant Creek in blistering rain and the storms followed us all day. There were times in Queensland where we were in a dry area with vague sunshine upon us but could see for miles in all directions, able to pick out 7 or 8 storms raging at all angles, it was an  incredible sight. 18 hours it took us and you know; we didn’t go insane, we didn’t get tired, we had to beat this journey and in such a comfortable car, it wasn’t difficult. We arrived in Townsville at 11 and the big blue pacific would be by our side for the remainder of our trip.

It was strange to wake up in Townsville  without the desert landscape around us, not a 40 degree dead heat but instead an intense humidity. We had a look around Townsville which was pretty nice, we also learned that in Queensland, your chances in the water are not great against the deadly jelly fish. In the afternoon we travelled up to Mission Beach and found the nicest hostel we had seen in Australia. It looked like a mansion actually, it opened up onto green lawn at the front and it was so chilled and friendly we could have spent a week there happily. The following day the rain began and trying to remain positive we went for a swim in the pool.. but the rain was something we would have to get used to. Yes it does rain in Australia, a lot.

We were pretty excited about getting to Cairns after hearing so many great stories about this beachside paradise. We got there a day earlier and it looked pretty impressive. The sun was shining brightly above bustling streets full of cafes and bars, all within walking distance of the seaside and a lagoon and palm trees at the water’s edge. It is remarkable how things look so much better in the sunshine and this sunny afternoon would be all the sunshine we would see in Cairns.

That night we decided for the sake of our wallets to return to our old friend Mr.Goon. It had been a while coming but Australia is a seriously expensive country to travel in. Since the beginning of the trip, we had been sipping on beautiful Australian beers while fellow travelers had been wincing while trying to get to terms with their goon bag. You just have to look at the pros of goon: it is very cheap and will last longer while getting you very merry. Ela crashed early on this faithful night and Mr.Goon took Diarmo and I on a unmemorable adventure. Unmemorable as in we don’t remember.

The following day, I dropped the car back and there were some very sad faces, not only was it the machine that took us all this way but we did feel ridiculously cool cruising around Cairns with Zeppelin blaring. we checked into Gilligan’s, renowned for its party and atmosphere around Australia. However, that wasn’t what we found to be the best part, for us it was the luxury of Gilligan’s that really impressed. You must queue for reception and their receptionists have uniforms. Straight away you know you are crossing into a higher level of hostel quality.

You then see there is a lift. I’ve never even heard of a lift in a hostel. And then there’s the room. Granted, the bunk beds were a common theme in our hostel experience but the huge flat screen TV, en suite and balcony were like nothing we had seen before. It rained pretty much our whole time in Cairns but thank God we had this room to chill in. That evening a mad Irish lad called Dave invited himself over for drinks without an introduction and the 4 of us enjoyed some more goon and hit the night club, which conveniently was downstairs in our hostel.

We had a nice rest day the following day but it was quite a momentous day for me as Liverpool won their first trophy in 6 years, the Carling Cup! Neither Diarmo nor Ela cared much for the success. So we were in a prime location to visit the Great Barrier Reef and the 3 of us booked a tour out there for our last day in Cairns. Diarmo booked a diving trip for a good price and Ela and I booked  very expensive snorkelling trip out. That morning the weather was abysmal. Diarmo’s attitude was ‘ah sure, we’ll be under water anyway!’. I guess he was right. Ela and I got what we paid for, it was a beautiful boat and we were served a fantastic buffet lunch and the part of the reef we visited was the most unique in terms of coral and fish life.

Ela took to the water like a duck and spent hours swimming around, I was a bit more hesitant. Our guide made it clear to us that the minuscule jellyfish around the reef may sting and kill you within hours and while the stinger suits were supposed to protect us, I was still a bit skeptical. But you simply cannot afford to waste time being scared when you seem how beautiful the coral is and how interesting the hundreds of species of fish are. And the greatest thing is the fish will come up and have a look at you and just swim away again, the best fish is of course the nemo! That evening, the 3 of us were very tired and had to kill a few hours before our bus to Airlie Beach. We were all praying for good weather over the next week, it was time for some island hopping.

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