Finding a Piece of Heaven

Australia Pt 5
Now we’re coming up on two of my favorite destinations so far on my trip. For anyone who has made it this far through my blogs, then you might notice a little change in tone here, because all though these two places did not really offer much more than the last two places in terms of quantity, I was completely awe-struck by Byron Bay and Cairns (where you can go to the Great Barrier Reef). So I might start getting a bit poetic.
Byron Bay was a place not high on my radar, simply because I only thought about getting to the Great Barrier Reef when I made my plans for Queensland. The weird was, though, so many of the people I met in Brisbane were only stopping for a night before heading to Byron Bay for a week. That peeked my curiosity, but still did not prepare me for how much I would love Byron Bay. The bus to Byron Bay from Brisbane takes a couple of hours and then the time zone changes one hour ahead, also, which confused me all day. The beach is not far from the bus terminal since the whole city of Byron Bay is pretty small. Tons of surfer shops, travel/tourism agencies, bars, and hotels/condos for all the tourists, both short- and long-term. A short walk to the beach, though, and I knew why so many people wanted to be there. The beach does not seem to go on endlessly, like Surfer’s Paradise does, and it is even divided into two sides by a small rocky outgrowth. On the right side there was a smaller beach bordered by the lighthouse on a grassy hill a couple of kilometers away.
The sand cushions your every step without ever getting too hot despite the intense stare of the sun. The water is so clear as to allow you to see the ocean floor even after going fifteen or twenty meters out from shore. Once you are in the water you feel the rush of the rolling waves which tumble over and crash on top of the waiting crowds to the constant delight of everyone. While I was waiting for each new set of waves, darting little fish were visible all around. I found myself getting a little carried away when chasing the fish and bobbing in the waves, so that I was in deeper waters than I have been in in years. The energy was amazing and I even tried to ride a few of the bigger waves in to shore. Soon enough, I was spent and revitalized at the same time. I never wanted that feeling to disappear.
The other side of the beach was littered with pebbled washed ashore by the waves. A small shipwreck also lays not far off the coast, giving surfers a consistent break even at times when the swell on the rest of the beach is not up to snuff. This side of the rocks does not have a natural barrier though, so a long walk to enjoy the surf and warmth of the sun let me get lost in my thoughts among the much more scattered crowds bronzing themselves.
The day itself was great, and made all the better by the fact that the storm lingering in the distance seemed to be held back by the rainbows which broke across the sky all day. Being in Byron Bay was a fantastic experience.
The next day I headed to Cairns in the evening, so most of the day in Brisbane was spent waiting for my flight. Cairns is another small city, this one is completely built around the Great Barrier Reef industry. A few streets of shops and hostels line the coast near the Reef Terminal, meaning there is not much to do outside of expeditions out to the reef.
That is not to knock the reef though! I took a cruise through one of the numerous companies that set up shop in the Reef Terminal, Down Under Cruise & Dive. It was the cheapest at around AUD180 but still made stops at two different spots on the reef and had the option for snorkeling or taking a diving course. Since I had flown the day before and was flying the day after, I decided to snorkel. On the boat I ended up seated next to three women, one from Chicago, one from England, and one from Geneva, Switzerland. Nice enough group for the short time that we were going from spot to spot. The weather was fantastic, which was a surprise because the previous days had been rainy in Cairns according to everyone else. The boat moved along quickly, so much so that quite a few people were spewing before long. We were at the first site after an hour or so and a few different briefings about how, when, and where to snorkel. I joined a tour led by the marine biologist on board for 25 minutes of snorkeling. We looked at how the coral is suffering from not only climate change, but also El Nino because the weather was unseasonably bright and warm, which does not allow plankton for the coral to eat to regenerate. So despite the weather being great for visiting the reef, the same thing was killing it. Still life was all over the coral with fish of all varieties, stingrays, and small squid. The marine biologist pointed out lots of the unique types of fish found on the reef, so the whole experience was fantastic. The other people in the tour were really nice too.
If only I had gotten a waterproof camera I would share what we saw! But based on the photos that others took, I think only a professional underwater camera would have done justice to what we saw. Another cool thing to experience was that most of the fish eat the coral by hitting their head on it to break off tiny pieces and if you float quietly with your head in the water you can hear the fish ramming into the coral and then darting off! I could do that for hours and I basically did haha. Once the time at the first spot was done, we had some lunch and headed to the second location. I was surprised how much shallower the second spot ended up being. I could have reached out to grab almost any fish I saw and when the water moved up and down along the top I got worried at times that I would fall right into the reef. Unfortunately, at times my facial hair made it so the mask did not seal properly on my face which meant water was leaking in. I used Vaseline for a little bit but still had problems, so the second spot was cut a little short for me. I still managed to see so much, there is nothing I can complain about. The ride back was even fun with the cook putting on a one-man-stand-up-comedy-musical act. It was like Rodney Dangerfield meets high school choir medley performance. After we got back to shore, the people from the snorkeling tour, a woman from Vegas, and a man and woman from Kent, England, bought some fruit from the store, cut it up, and sat at the park during sunset eating it. Really chill way to end an amazing day!

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