Heading Back Home

After a night out with the Prodive crew, I had a restful night’s sleep back at my hostel ready for a long day of travelling.

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“The Beach”

My last morning in Cairns, I spent down at the waterfront exploring the boardwalk and shops. Cairns is weird in that it doesn’t have an actual beach as such. It has a swampy thing that doesn’t really make you think of tropical swimming and sunbaking on the sand. Instead there is a beautiful man-made ‘beach’ pool right next to the beach. It is open to the public for swimming. Generally for those that do want the golden beaches and warm topical waters for snorkelling, you have to actually travel out of Cairns. There are HEAPS of day trip tours out to Green Island or other gorgeous places which makes it incredibly easy for tourists to get their beach-fix.

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Just stunning

I was finding the transition back to shoes difficult after being completely shoeless for the three days I was on a boat out at sea, so I wandered around for a few hours in bare feet. I went and checked out the neat fruit bats that populate certain trees within Cairns. A bus driver told me a neat trick was to honk your horn as driving past which would scare the bats into ‘decorating’ all the cars parked beneath the trees. These car parks were the only free parking in the whole city centre. This bus driver also said that of course he had NEVER done that ;) Then I headed back to my hostel to relax in a hammock with a cup of lemony black tea until my airport ride appeared.

By lunchtime I was at the airport waiting in what felt like the hugest check-in queue ever, only to find out that due to massive fog in Sydney, I was being delayed! Unfortunately this meant I completely missed my Sydney to New Zealand flight. Luckily I had booked both flights through the same airline company which is always a wise thing to do. In the fine print for the majority of airline companies, there is usually a small promise that as long as all connecting flights are within the same airline, then said airline will get you to your final destination. Three hours later after sitting in the amazingly comfortable Qantas lounge with free food, drinks, and wifi (huge thank you to my airport ride Dave who invited me in as his guest), I was on a plane to Brisbane. One night in a fancy hotel later (everything paid for by my airline – Virgin), then I was finally on a plane heading to Wellington in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

One thing I have to say is that during this process, I heard a few people bad-mouthing Virgin and swearing that they would never fly with them again. This was my first experience being delayed, but I found Virgin to be really lovely and helpful. The delays were annoying, and did cut into my New Zealand time making me lose a day. But the fog in Sydney certainly was not the fault of the airline. Virgin is one of the budget airlines in Australia, but I found them pretty good. The staff are genuinely friendly and helpful. I was given free food to the total worth of over $100AU, transport between the airport and hotel was provided, and the flash hotel was a massive step-up from the hostel type accommodation I had gotten used to. The worst part was probably the bit when I was sitting in Brisbane airport waiting for the Virgin shuttle feeling very very tired.. There were quite a few passengers that had been diverted to Brisbane also on various flights, so I had to wait a couple of hours for the last few to arrive before jumping in a shuttle with them.

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Flying back to Aotearoa (Image courtesy of airlinestravel.ro)

Flying into Wellington was probably one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen on a plane. A warm happy sensation of coming home filled me. Throughout the whole landing, bag collection and customs process, I had a huge smile on my face.

The next 32 hours went quite quickly. I stayed at the YHA hostel in Wellington centre (I found the walls very thin so I would advise bringing earplugs if you want a quiet nights sleep) and had an AMAZING dinner at a place called Sweet Mother’s Kitchen which I think you should definitely check out. The food is Southern American / Mexican style and delic. My snickers flavoured milkshake was mind-blowing. I met up with my cousin Stephanie and her cute family for coffee in the morning before catching a ride over to Masterton with Uncle Richard (thank you very much again). Masterton is a small town where I grew up. The majority of my extended family live there so I was really excited about popping over the hill from Wellington to see everyone. I stayed the night with my Grandma and Aunt Jayne, and had far too many cups of tea with them as well as my other Grandma and aunties and uncles. I had a great time which made me really wish I had stayed longer!

The next day I returned back to Wellington, caught up with another couple of great friends who I hadn’t seen in years. Just to spread the word about my friend Lotte, she makes unique jewellery in a strangely beautiful dark way. You can have a look at her website and be tempted into buying things here. After a yumo Drexels brunch with Lotte and Andy, I jumped onto a ferry back to home – Blenheim.

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What I would have seen if I hadn’t been sound asleep and drooling (Image courtesy of idrivecars.co.nz)

I took some seasickness medication for the ferry and completely slept for the whole three hour ferry ride missing out on gorgeous Marlborough Sounds. On arrival at the Picton ferry terminal, I saw my most favourite person in the whole world waiting for me – my mum.

My week in Blenheim has been really lovely and pleasant. Spending time with dear friends like Snazzy and Olivia on coffee dates. Trying to encourage them to come visit me on the other side of the world. Bribing them with offers of attractive single Irish men. I’m hoping this has worked ^_^

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Snazzy and I enjoying playing with hats… for the last time! :(

As I write this post, I only have 18 hours left until I leave New Zealand behind me. A lot of nervous butterflies in my stomach, a tightly packed backpack on my bed, and a disturbingly large pile of things next to my bed that didn’t fit in my backpack. A little bit of apprehensive excitement alongside unease that I am making the wrong choice, that I’ll have a terrible time, or miss out on the important things that continue to happen to my family and friends while I am on the other side of the world. But also deep down, a feeling that this is the right thing to do as terrifying as the first step is into the unknown. I am sure that tomorrow that I will be wiping a few tears away as I hug my parents for the last time and head onto the plane.

But here’s hoping that my flights won’t be delayed tomorrow. That won’t help the butterflies to settle down.

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Possibly what my stomach actually looks like right now.. (Image courtesy of southwestern.edu)

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Lovely Cairns

I had finally arrived in Cairns very late the previous night and tumbled straight into a hostel bed. On waking the next morning, I realised that my first time in a backpacker dorm room was actually not so bad at all. In fact it was really lovely at an amazing price of only AU$27 a night.

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I picked Travellers Oasis hostel originally because it has such lovely positive reviews… And found the reviews to all be true. The hostel is painted in cheerful pink and yellow tones with a tasteful frangipani themed decor throughout. It’s clean and tidy with a super friendly vibe. Free tea and coffee along with free fast wifi made this a really enjoyable place to stay. Talking to other travellers staying here, a lot of them considered Travellers Oasis to be the best hostel they had ever stayed in during their Aussie trip.

My first day I spent in Kuranda. Kuranda is a small town outside of Cairns that you can travel to by train or gondola over a stunning mountain rainforest. It’s a town mainly for the tourists with lots of animal parks and river tours. What I quite liked were the markets. Great for getting all those must-have souvenirs and looking around.

Flying over the rainforest in the Skyrail gondola
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Then the next day, the whole reason I had chosen to come to Cairns, I started my five day scuba diving course. Eeee!

It started with some boring classroom time. All that safety stuff blah don’t forget to breathe blah. And then the thrilling part started after lunch. Prodive (the awesome company I decided to do my scuba certification through), had a swimming pool which is half normal swimming pool depth, and the other half 4m deep, and it was heated! Fantastic for a cold water wimp like me. I learnt how to set up all the diving equipment and take it apart, found out just how freaking heavy it all is to wear, and spent the afternoon and the next day diving in the pool learning underwater skills.

The third day was an early start at 6am. By 7am I was on the Scubapro boat and heading 50km out to sea to the Great Barrier Reef where I’d be for the next two nights.

Leaving lovely Cairns behind
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My home for the two nights (Photo courtesy of one of my diving buddies – Barbara Hugo Hafner)
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Apart from the first night, I had an amazing time. In total over the three days I completed nine dives in a variety of different dive locations within the reef. Best experience of my life. Ever.

I’m the diver on the left (Also one of Barbara’s photo)
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I am pretty sure I am hooked now.

My diving group! Photo from Breanna Bueche
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Every dive just got better and better. Especially by halfway through the three days when I became a certified Open Water diver. The difference was that once I became certified, I didn’t have to go with an instructor for every dive. I still have to go with another certified diver, as its diving law to always have another ‘bag of air’ near you underwater (as our hilarious diving instructor described it). But now that I wasn’t having to complete certificate skills underwater with the instructor, I could actually spend the dive enjoying the beauty of the reef.

I hired a camera for one of my dives. But until I’m somewhere with wifi I can’t show you the photos from it! So hence the borrowing of photos for this post.

Image courtesy of Aus Geographic
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This photo is similar to the beautiful reef I saw. Just ignore the bikini clad snorkeler in there. I had a nice thick 5mm wetsuit on since the water was only a mere 26 degrees.. And also had turtles and rays and sharks and dozens of colourful fish… :P feeling jealous yet?

One of the dives I did was a night dive. This involved jumping into the ocean in the dark! It was pretty scary and I can’t say that I enjoyed it that much. At night the reef sharks are much more active and tend to circle ‘interesting’ things like bubbly divers in the water. Although the sharks aren’t into eating humans, I was still quite nervous of how many there were and how close they got. On the cool side, one of the night-dive sights I saw was a giant sleeping turtle about 1.5m big (pretty massive if you know anything about turtles).

The whole trip was fantastic. I only had some trouble on the first night with seasickness. I think I had maybe three hours of dozing outside on the boat deck with the rest of the night spent feeling absolutely miserable. But hey at least the fish were well fed that night.

Prodive are a wonderful company. They are one of the more expensive companies in Cairns but that’s because they are most probably the best. Everything from the well designed classroom facilities, excellent timing and running of the programme, delicious boat food, and hilarious enthusiastic diving instructors and boat crew just overall made the five days an unforgettable experience. I would love to do it all again. But maybe with the following suggestion in mind.

Piece of advice – take seasickness medication. But do take the whole recommended 24hr dose each day for the whole trip if you are like me and have a weaker stomach.

Then as it unfortunately always is, all good things come to an end, and the Scubapro headed back to land. Once back on dry land, with my wobbly not-quite-land-legs-yet, I headed back to my hostel for a final night in Cairns.

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