Great Barrier Reef, Rainforest and Gympie-Gympie

My adventure in Cairns has come to an end and I have some serious catching up to do. This very moment I’m in Sydney where I’m slowly trying to put my life together. Before I’ll start posting things about New South Wales, I need to say few words about my adventures back from Far North Queensland.

When Monika and the rest of people moved out from Cairns I was left by myself thinking what should I do. I couldn’t just pack my bags and leave because I had to wait for my bank card to arrive, but on the other hand I didn’t really feel like staying. It would be cool to find a job in this area because it would allow me to open the door for 2nd year visa (the exact thought of every backpacker in Cairns) but the real question is:

Do I really need it? 

Australia is suppose to be an adventure, not potential home, and 6 months is good enough to enjoy my time in this part of the world. In fact, I have a home already and a person I want to come home to, so…

I went back to my bank, talked to Emma, who changed the address of my card delivery, and booked another one way ticket to Sydney – hoping this time things will look more colorful.

Cairns is small town located in northern part of eastern coastline of Australia. Because of its location, the climate is tropical which means that even during Australian winter – temperature will be high, with lower rainfall than in the summer. (un)Luckily for me, since the moment I landed it was raining every day.

Despite bad weather and lack of company I decided I’ll make the most out of my stay in Far North and I booked 2 tours: Waterfall and Great Barrier Reef.

The tour

I’m not the single-traveler type of person. I do enjoy company while on the road – a company I know and feel comfortable with. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very much into meeting people from all over the world but sometimes I just wanna chill out with my homies and get loudly excited about things we see together. I guess it’s about sharing the experience with someone who can understand me and with whom these moments will stuck for a long time, just like they will stuck with me.

Nevertheless, as I was by myself, I gather all the positive attitude and smile I was able to put on my face; I took wind jacket (because I didn’t have a raincoat), swim suit and I was ready to face the unknown.

I was standing by the wall, watching group of not-so-sober-yet friends, when another solo traveler girl came up to me asking if I’m going to Uncle Brian’s tour. Happy that there’s one more lonely wolf, I confirmed and since that moment we become travel buddies for the day.

I found out that her name is Martha, she’s a traveller from Netherlands and within few next days she’ll be on the plane back home. We couldn’t continue the conversation because short bus stopped right next to us and very enthusiast driver came out shouting our names.

And that’s how the trip begins.

Driver introduced himself as cousin Richie – because we all are family, so after getting into this bus as the only child, few hours later I got off having 4 brothers and 16 sisters. The drive was fun itself. Filled with singing, laughing and waving to random people; we also went little off-road, trying to spot wallabies (kangaroos little cousins) who were chilling on the green grass. Amazing!

Our first stop was Australian wettest town – Babinda – which is annually awarded by the Golden Gumboot for biggest rainfall. What a surprise! It was raining when we got there.

Babinda, despite its rainy fame, is also the neighbourhood for world oldest rainforest, which was our first stop.

Gympie-Gympie

When you’re moving to Australia you are aware that 90% of animals can kill you. What you don’t think about, is that animals are not the only ones that you should be concerned about. Most dangerous things are the ones you never expect to be.

It appears under various names: stinger, the suicide plant, moonlighter, but the most common – and cutest, as for my taste – is Gympie-Gympie. Don’t let the innocent name and fuzzy heart-shaped leaves fool you: this plant has earned itself one of top places among the Worlds most venomous plants.

Dendrocnide moroides is Australian sister of our common nettle but making closer contact won’t end up with light itching and few blisters.

“Being stung is the worst kind of pain you can imagine – like being burnt with hot acid and electrocuted at the same time,” said Marina Hurley a postgraduate student at James Cook University.

“I remember it feeling like there were giant hands trying to squash my chest. For two or three days the pain was almost unbearable; I couldn’t work or sleep, then it was pretty bad pain for another fortnight or so. The stinging persisted for two years and recurred every time I had a cold shower.” – Ernie Rider, a senior conservation officer with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service

I don’t know about you, but for me, it surely does sound like description of Cruciatus Curse from Harry Potter.

This unsuspiciously looking plant is most common to grow in rainforest areas in the north east Australia. It can reach up to 4-5 m but it’s often found as a smaller shrub, an ankle biters, around 0.1-1 m tall.

What exactly is so terrifying about Gympie-Gympie?

Contact with the leaves or twigs causes the hollow, silica-tipped hairs to penetrate the skin. The hairs cause an extremely painful stinging sensation that can last anywhere from days to years, and the injured area becomes covered with small, red spots joining together to form a red, swollen welt. The sting is infamously agonizing.

There were reported cases of dogs biting off affected limb, horses jumping out from cliffs or committing suicide in different way.

What to do if stung?

There’s no really a cure that will make you feel like nothing ever happened but the best approach is to not rub the affected area (who would?!) and use… waxing strips and tweezers to remove the stinging hair.

My advice? Better watch your steps.

Gympie-Gympie
Gympie-Gympie

Rainforest and Millaa Millaa Fall

After being lectured about Gympie-Gympie I figured that snakes and spiders aren’t so bad after all, and from that moment on, I looked a little bit more carefully where I’m placing my feet.

Rainforest was simply magical experience. Trees tall as buildings weren’t leaving much light down on the path, and rain dripping on leaves here and there sounded like quiet chanting. I was stunned by the entire mysteriousity of this place, surrounded by nothing but thousands years old nature (and Martha).

After quick and sweet brekkie, we hit the road again, meanwhile admiring Gold Gumboot of Babinda.

The weather was pretty awful so whenever we go – the rain follows. On the way to our final spot – famous for hair flip Millaa Millaa Falls – we did short break at Josephine Falls and enjoyed beyond tasty lunch with amazing view.

Millaa Millaa is one of the most photographed falls in Australia. People come here to, at least for a moment, feel like shampoo commercial star, making sexy hair flip. I wasn’t even gonna go into the water, but Martha had a bucket list made by her friends and one of the tasks was:

To swim in an ice cold water.

Still don’t know how she managed to convince me to go with her; maybe it was the magic of Millaa Millaa or maybe the fact that on the ground wasn’t so dry after all, but I decided to give it a swim. So I did. No hair flip, didn’t feel the need to do it, but at least I can say that I swam in the rain, next to Australian waterfall, in super cold water.

Entire tour ended up few hours later and hot shower never felt so damn good.

Great Barrier Reef

When you travel to Cairns you’ll be always told to do these two things: visit rainforest and see Great Barrier Reef. As I happily completed first trip, I couldn’t just miss one of the biggest attractions in the world.

Diving on Great Barrier Reef wouldn’t be the first dive in my life. I’ve done it 2 years ago in Bali. My CS host had a friend with diving school right next to USS Liberty Wreck, and as 2015 was the year of spontaneous decisions, I thought it would be great to make one more. So we went there, dived and came back. Great experience, although not something I would decide to do on daily basis.

Being far out in the Sea gives me mixed feelings: respect and fear of endless water anywhere I look. I still manage to do just fine when I’m swimming close to the surface but diving few meters down…? Let’s put it this way: jumping with parachute is just more fun, but as the sentence goes: you said A, now it’s time to say B.

Another rainy morning and another time when streets of Cairs are empty and it’s just me and my backpack rushing somewhere, trying to escape rain showers pouring down from the sky. Right by the marina I see few sleepy people and decide to join them. I was correct – they are here for the same reason – cross off Great Barrier Reef from their Australian Bucket List.

The boat ride begins and I immediately wish for it to already ends. While the ship is struggling against the waves, me and 15 other people struggle to keep our breakfast inside of our stomachs. Never have I experienced sea sickness so this one literally knocked me down off my feet.

Nearly 2 hours, and thousands prayers, later, we finally arrive to ‘our’ reef. Becky – one of the instructors – announced all diving groups. Luckily for me, I’m in group no. 3 with two other girls. I put wetsuit on and sit down, trying to calm down my body. I have some time to relax, although sitting with half of your body dipped in the water and other half being out in the rain, is not my ideal chill mode but, hey, can’t be picky. First two groups are already under the water but then I see two girls swimming back, giving up their chance for diving.

This is a good sign – I’m trying to put myself together.

Then, Ben – the instructor – announce:

Group 3, let’s go!

So we go and it’s just amazing. All my worries go away as soon as I dive. Seeing the underwater world is the best award I can get for having close relationship with brown paper bag for past 2 hours. Colorful fish, Nemo with his dad, all kinds of corals and never ending depth of the Sea. The moment, when you leave all your safe and comfortable feelings back on the shore and dive into the unknown; the moment when you see images, so unreachable for many, makes you realize how incredible is to make things happen.

Diving didn’t really take much time. We swam around, Tom took some pictures (in which I look like confused sheep), we swam some more and it was time to come to the surface. Little disappointed, that my underwater adventure has came to an end, I gave away my scuba tank and rushed back to snorkel.

Overall: my diving adventure was totally great and even cloudy sky and pouring rain didn’t spoiled the fun. Boat experience? Not so much fun.

Photo: Tom Park
Photo: Tom Park
They told me to do shaka but I was too busy finding Nemo.

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Costs:

Waterfall Tour with Uncle Brian’s – 109$ (including breakfast, veeeeery decent lunch with dessert and tons of chocolate)

Great Barrier Reef with PADI – 170$ + 60$ for introductory scuba diving (including lunch and diving equipment; photos 15$ for one or 30$ for everything)

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For nearly I week now, I’m in Sydney. Found an apartment, found a job so I’m ready to work my ass off and count days till mid October when I’ll meet N. in Bali 🙂 Update about my life in Sydney coming up some time soooooon!

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