Living in Australia, we are lucky enough to experience not only just incredible natural beauty and unique wildlife, but we live on a continent that is home to a UNESCO World heritage site
and one of the most famous natural wonders in the world – the Great Barrier Reef
. The largest reef on our planet, stretching 3,000 km, is home to more than 400 types of different coral and over 1,500 species of tropical fish, not to mention molluscs, sea turtles, sting rays, dolphins, clams and many more incredible birds and animals that claim this reef their home.
Although you’ll hear many opinions and facts about the reef and the effects of Climate Change on the reef
, the situation at the moment is not as dire as it may seem in the media. The reef is still thriving and continues to exist, however we do need to be extra careful in coming up with a sustainability plan and reducing the man-made damage that is harming our natural habitats.
I’ve recently gotten into snorkelling and utilising the recent long weekend was the perfect opportunity to see the Great Barrier Reef and experience the immersive marine world with my own eyes.
The experience was indeed unforgettable and here are the details of our trip:
Friday night, fly out of Sydney, directly to Cairns International Airport (Virgin Australia and many other airlines fly direct from Sydney – Cairns). Cairns is quite a busy little airport that has an impressive array of international direct flights from key cities around the globe including Osaka, Auckland, Manila, Hong Kong and Singapore.
I pre-booked our hotel through Booking.com
and this time we stayed at Rydges Esplanade
. What appealed to me about this hotel is that it was approx 15 minutes walk to the Jetty where all the boats depart from to go out to the reef.
We subsequently found out that there are three Rydges hotels in Cairns, all within walking distance of one another!
It’s easier to get a cab from the airport to your hotel if you’re staying within 15-20min drive radius and the airport is really close to the city of Cairns.
I tried to explore options for shuttle service – you will see a Sun Palm Shuttle Service counter straight as you get out into the arrivals terminal. Stay away from them. The reviews on their Facebook page alone should be enough to scare anyone into travelling anywhere with them. The taxi into the city is only $1 more than their shuttle service but they will try to convince you otherwise. (If you see this sign – run away! lol just kidding, don’t run, but also don’t book them)
The Rydges hotel is basic but has everything you need in terms of amenities – we checked in with no issues and enjoyed going to bed to a thunderstorm in the night.
Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef
I pre-booked tickets (via email) with Reef Magic Cruises
. A day tour costs $210 per person. Seems a bit pricey but when I googled around alternatives, they all had similar rates, average of $195 per day per person.
Check-in commences inside the Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal, 1 Spence Street, at 08:00. Vessel departs Cairns Marlin Jetty at 09:00 arriving at the reef by 10:30, leaving the reef at 15:30 and arriving back in Cairns by 17:00.
What you get in the $210pp price (Adult):
- Boat transfers and shuttle bus pick up and drop off at your hotel. (Boat takes 1.5 hours to get to the outer reef).
- Before departure tea/coffee (no hot drinks are served while boat is moving).
- Morning tea (cakes and biscuits)
- Buffet lunch while on the pontoon.
- All gear – snorkels, wetsuits, spring suits, flippers, floating noodles, life jackets.
- A free glass bottom boat tour on the day (from the pontoon)
- Access to a small under water area on the pontoon where you can see a bit of underwater action.
Additional items for an extra cost:
- Introductory diving
- Guided snorkel tours with marine biologists (Adventure)
- Guided snorkel tours around pontoon area
- Helicopter flights
There are many operators that take people to the outer reef and the reef is huge so each boat pretty much gets their own reef to explore.
Are there many people on the boat?
Yes, and most boats will over-fill their capacity. Reef Magic boat capacity is 300 people but they will only book a maximum of 200.
Is the pontoon overcrowded?
On the day we went, we had a few tour groups of elderly people from Germany and Spain(?) and they were not super keen on the snorkelling but chose the glass boat options so it felt less busy in the water. People tend to disperse around the pontoon, some snorkelling, some diving, others on the glass boat so it never feels over-crowded.
I got to meet “Wally” the Maori Wrasse
What’s for lunch?
The buffet lunch is served around 12.30pm and the staff help serve the hot dishes. You can help yourselves to salads etc. Overall the food was pretty healthy with options like sushi, pasta salad and green salad. The hot meals included chicken curry and lasagna.
We paid $45 pp for a Guided Snorkel Safari (Adventure Tour) with a marine biologist. On the day it was only myself, my husband and one other guy. The tour was 1 hour and a small boat picks you up at the pontoon, and takes you even further away from all the snorkellers (there is a roped off area around the pontoon to snorkel at) where you can see some really big schools of fish and hear the marine biologist talk about the different species and take us through on a real adventure around the reef. It was incredible!
I had my life jacket on the whole time as I am not a strong swimmer, that way you can just keep cruising along and it’s truly amazing!
The Magic Reef Cruises staff are superb, very helpful, fun individuals who just want to make it a fun day out for you and your family and friends. I was really impressed with their service and care.
Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef – unbelievable memories
Visiting Green Island
Green Island Arrival
So impressed by the snorkelling on our day out at the reef, I wanted to jump into the water the next day. It does get a bit pricey to spend $400+ for 2 people for a day of snorkelling, so I looked for some alternatives. From Cairns there are a few islands you can explore, perhaps the closest one is Green Island. Only 45 minutes by boat, the island has a resort and beautiful beaches. You can snorkel off the beach or in the package we got, we opted in for a snorkelling trip by boat off the island ( 1 hr for $45 pp). This tour is not guided but a boat will take you out to a reef (not outer reef) close by and you can snorkel for 45 minutes.
I booked everything online (while on the 90 min boat back from Reef Magic pontoon :))
Operator: Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruises
Cost (pp): $90
Snorkel gear (you can hire stinger suits when recommended)
2 way ticket to Green Island from Cairns Marina
Departs 9am and 11 am from Cairns
Do a Full-Day (if you can)
There are options to do full days or half days. I strongly recommend to do a full day. Jump on the boat at 9am and the last one leaves the island on the way back to Cairns at 4pm. With all the activities, or just laying on the beach, it’ll be a full day trip in the end.
Pre-book your activities either at the desk in the Marina (Cairns), online or on the boat. You can choose from snorkelling, glass bottom boat, diving, helmet diving.
Where to eat:
You can grab some lunch on the island. There are a few eateries available – all really casual cafes, with a bit of a queue for anything (the island gets pretty busy!) Most options are the usual burgers, fish and chips and soft drinks.
For $25 pp extra for the boat ticket you can include a buffet lunch option on board the “Big Cat” ship.
Daintree River Cruise
This was our official last day on on holiday since we only had the long weekend +1 day.
We rented a car at the Cairns airport for 1 day and drove to Daintree.
Cruises run from 9.30 – 3.30pm. Most are 1 hour in duration.
I tried to book the sunset cruise but was told that those are no longer operational.
Baby Crocodiles in the Daintree River
Sunbathing on the sandbank
We slowly made our way up to Daintree through Palm Cove and Port Douglas. Both really beautiful places but I prefer Palm Cove. There are so many amazing eateries and an incredible vibe. Port Douglas is bigger and there are so many amazing villas and spas to stay at.
Two metre crocodile hiding in the mangroves
The Daintree River Cruise was a great way to wind down a day of driving. 1 hour cruising along the Daintree river with a really experienced guide and trying to spot some crocs.
We say a total of 4, which apparently is very lucky. Around September/October it gets a bit too hot for the crocodiles to sun themselves on the sand banks, so in the murky water it was a bit hard to see them.
Still an amazing experience and we learnt a lot about the mangroves, croc animal behaviour and their habits.
Bring your zoom lens for the trip. It’s really hard to spot the crocodiles with the naked eye and they are such camouflage masters that you’ll think the branches are them and vice versa.
Winter gets us Aussies less motivated, needing more sleep, leading less healthy days and sometimes downright blue altogether.
In a recent study by Accor hotels, 1,500 Australians were surveyed on winter habits.
77% reported feeling tired and having trouble waking up, 70% binge watch TV, 59% do less exercise and 56% overeat.
While it’s perfectly normal to feel a bit less energetic in winter, if you find yourself neglecting your exercise and healthy eating habbits, you’re probably doing yourself more harm than good in the long run.
The best solution to maintaining your physical and mental health this winter is to become more consious of eating habbits and being more vigilant with exercise. Join a gym that has fun classes so you don’t have to run outside in the cold. Classes will motivate you to participate more and if you are attending with a friend you can hold each other accountable.
An additional feel good is taking a short trip somewhere warmer than where you already are!
There is nothing like breaking up the winter cycle with a little bit of sunshine.
After all out of the Aussies living in warmer areas like Queensland only 38% reported feeling blue compared to their Canberra residing counterparts out of whom 58% reported mood downturns in winter.
Alternatively, challenge yourself in trying something new e.g. If you’ve never skiid before, opt in for a weekend getaway at a ski resort and get a couple of lessons. New experiences and fun physical activity like skiing and snowboarding in winter are bound to kick in some positive vibes into your routine.
If you don’t have much leave, it’s best to stay around Australia. We are lucky to have so many options to travel around, most great destinations are only a few of hours away!
Queensland is my top pick for getting away in winter because the further north you go, the more it feels tropical and warm.
Great Barrier Reef
Stretching over 2,000 km, the Great Barrier reef is indeed a incredible natural wonder. If anything, it’s better to visit Cairns in winter, because the temperatures a cooler (ranging between 26-27 degrees celsius, vs low to mid 30s in the summer) and the water is meant to be clearer so when it comes to snorkelling and diving, the two most popular activities at the reef, you’ll surely get your money’s worth. There are more than 1,500 fish species, 134 species of sharks and sting rays and more than 30 species of marine mammals – the reef is always full of life.
It’s important to remember that theReef is very fragile so its important to educate yourself on some practices while you are there.
Protecting the reef tips:
- Wear a wetsuit rather than putting on sunscreen that damages the reef
- Take all rubbish with you
- Never rest on coral or disturb marine life
The largest island in the Whitsunday group of islands ( There are 74 islands in total) which has it’s own airport making it easier to fly directly onto the island and start enjoying the warm temperatures as soon as you get off the plane.
There is a vast range of accomodation on the island, including the very luxurious Qualia resort. Read the Daily Telegraph review here
Hamilton Island is the perfect getaway destination. The island is big enough to cater to all your holidaying needs, you can engage in popular water sports, and activity as well as shopping, tours and of course choose from a range of incredible dining options.
Daydream Island is located an hour’s ferry ride from Hamilton Island and is the only living reef resort in the World. Here you can get up close and personal with sting rays and bamboo sharks. You’ll be accompanied by lots of marine life as you’re having breakfasts and dinners in the main restaurants – the reef runs all the way around the dining and living facilities making it incredibly interesting to observe fish and other creatures moving through their daily cycle. There are 3 main restaurants on the island offering decent dining options. There are also many free activities such as open air movies and fish feeding. There is also a mini golf park, a spa and a a marine biology education centre on the island. So if you’re keen to learn more about Nemo, Dory and baby stingrays, this is definitely a fun place to visit.
Lizard Island is a bit of a luxurious experience and is located in the most northern part of Queensland directly on the Great Barrier Reef. There are 24 powdery white sand beaches, a luxurious spa which I reviewed here
You can snorkel and dive right off the beaches and enjoy the exclusivity of this resort with a private villa.
This kind of getaway would not be cheap but could be saved for a special occasion, or if you really wanted to spoil yourself.
Traditionally a backpacker’s good time town, Airley beach is fast becoming a more upmarket destination – its still a very beautiful and incredibly affordable destination however. There are myriads of accomodation options from hotels to Air BNB. The beauty of staying in Airlie beach is that you’re not paying for the exclusivity of island resorts but you are still super close to all the Whitsundays action. Options here are to take day trips to the islands, go sailing and explore all the local eateries, bars and boutique shops. If you need to you can always zip back to Brisbane.
Noosa is located a bit north of the gold coast and in winter, it won’t be as warm as Airley beach or Hamilton island. With temperateures ranging from 20-25 degrees during the day, it’s still warm enough to swim but in the evenings you’ll have to get a little rugged up. There is plenty to do and see in Noosa. Apart from the beautiful beaches, you can enjoy the town and explore nature walks, Australia Zoo and the many shopping destinations .
The Gold Coast is a popular schoolies destination for all Australian school kids. In winter, you are not risking running into hoards of graduating teens and so your trip is guaratneed to be more relaxing! The Gold Coast boasts beautiful beaches, lots of entertaining venues including bars, pubs, casinos and nightclubs. If you’re into all of that, it’s good to stay in Surfer’s paradise as there are my options for apartments and hotels really close to the main esplanade and the beach. The casino (Jupiter’s) can be entertaining during the night with lots of shows and dining options. If you wanted a more quiet day/evening, rent a car and head to Broadbeach which is only 10-15 minutes away. There are more upmarket dining options available and it’s also a quieter more relaxing space.
Sydney is one of the most well-known cities in Australia. It combines the relaxed beach life with bustling streets, and it has an array of things to do. If you’re a student, considering a university placement in Sydney could be your true calling. Below are some great reasons why you can’t go past this dynamic location for your degree.
1. Luxury Living
For most people, when you picture student accommodation you think about images of box-style dorm rooms, uninsulated walls, and mouldy bathrooms. Studying and living in Sydney offers so much more! Companies such as Iglu (who offer student accommodation in Sydney) provide modern facilities that make you feel more like you’re in a nice retreat or hotel. These types of accommodation are also built specifically for student living, meaning you can move in as soon as you’re ready. On top of that, they also have friendly staff helping out and even regularly organise events for students.
2. The Lifestyle
The big city means it is always bustling, but the juxtaposition with the beach creates this almost ‘mellow’ atmosphere that you can’t help but be affected by. Mostly sunny year-round, the beach lifestyle never gets old. Also, Sydney in particular promotes a healthy lifestyle. You will find people enjoying the outdoors every day, whether it’s running, yoga on the beach, boot camp or going for a swim. Being around people who enjoy living their lives like this is infectious, as healthy leads to happy, and who doesn’t want to be surrounded by happy people—it will help to keep you in the best frame of mind for studying.
3. Location, Location
Sydney is perfectly situated along the east coast of Australia, and is in driving distance to a number of other beautiful locations. Practically in its backyard is the stunning Blue Mountains, which for those people that like a bit of nature with their city-living, is something you can’t pass up. Every student needs to know when to take a break, and driving north—or south—will also mean spectacular coastlines as you hit places like Wollongong, Kiama, Ulladulla, or further up to the Central Coast; and it could all be done on a weekend or day trip, so classes won’t be missed.
4. Social Centre
To live the life of a university student, you have to remember it’s not just about sitting in the library until all hours of the night; it’s also about meeting lifelong friends, gaining life experience, and simply having a life—and Sydney is the perfect place to do this with its buzzing nightlife. This city offers a variety of clubs and bars, whether you’re after underground or rooftop. Boat cruising through the harbour with friends is also a popular choice, as are the never ending number of festivals and events all year long.
Sydney is a vibrant mix of people and personalities, and is welcoming to anyone and everyone who wants to become part of this community. So if you’re looking for somewhere to study that is fun and filled with endless opportunities both during and after your degree, then you can’t go past this beautiful city.
What is it about the idea of Sydney that you love the most? Leave your answers below.