I hope everyone’s summer is going well so far! Lately, I’ve been spending time continuing to reflect on the craziness that was my overseas grad trip. As I discussed in my last post, Bali was a hell of a time. But our grad trip didn’t end there: our next destination was Australia! I was really excited to explore, even though I was coming in to Australia still feeling quite under the weather. Though I winded up leaving Australia earlier than expected, I still got the chance to explore half of the East Coast, starting in Cairns and ending in Byron Bay.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves a bit. So let’s start at the beginning: flying from Denpasar, Bali into Cairns, Australia. For the record, we had one of the sketchiest flights I have ever taken with Jetstar. My friends and I legitimately all thought the plane was going to down, as we were flying in the middle of the night and there was SO much turbulence. Thankfully, nothing drastic happened and we arrived safely in Cairns.
We were excited to explore this ocean-side destination that is famous for its water activities along the Great Barrier Reef. The next day, we had planned to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. This was one of my top bucket list items and I was really excited to cross it off the list – however, I was feeling very unwell and I was concerned that being on a boat in the middle of the ocean for multiple hours was probably not the best decision for me at that time. Unfortunately, I had to sit the snorkeling out, but I did get the chance to explore Cairns a bit more.
Cairns is situated right beside the ocean and the city has a beautiful boardwalk winding alongside it. However, it is not a swimming spot: there are a lot of wetlands right along the shore which are a habitat for many animals, including various bird species and crocodiles. Definitely not great for swimming, but still a sight to see. For that reason, there is a free pool located nearby which has a view of the ocean. It is definitely a beachy town and its main attractions are the features on the water, including snorkeling, scuba diving, white water rafting, and more. If you are planning a trip to Cairns, I recommend checking out these options in advance so you can plan your days and what company you will be doing these adventures with, as you have to travel to get to most of them.
I spent my days in Cairns walking along the boardwalk, taking in the ocean air and observing the sights. It is a highly walk-able place and not very big, which was nice for me. I also got to take in some of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I did get to the point where I felt extremely unwell and had to go to the hospital, which was also within walking distance thankfully. I was there for quite a number of hours, and though they were helpful, it was also extremely expensive, so make sure you get traveler’s insurance if you are going to be travelling overseas!! It saved me a LOT of money in the long run.
Soon our adventures in Cairns were coming to a close and we were heading to our next destination: the Whitsundays. We had decided ahead of time that we would get a train pass and take the train down the coast from Cairns to the Gold Coast. Looking back, I don’t know if I would recommend doing so. It may be worth it if you are planning on stopping at more locations, but we only made one stop throughout the entire journey, which meant all of our train rides were extremely long and we didn’t get as much time exploring the destinations we were at. It may be better to just fly instead.
Whitsundays (Airlie Beach)
Eventually, we did arrive in the Whitsundays at Airlie Beach. The Whitsundays is a collection of islands, with Airlie Beach being the closest reference point on the mainland. It is very difficult to get to the Whitsunday islands themselves, and finding accommodation is also tricky. Many parts of the islands are also protected, so it is not easy to go there on your own and explore – you typically have to do so through a booked tour (which we discovered once we arrived). A lot of people stay in Airlie Beach and plan tours that leave from Airlie Beach and take them around the Whitsundays.
That was our plan as well; however, things did not go according to plan. Snorkeling around the Whitsundays is a great option, which we had wanted to do, but since I had just been in the hospital I was definitely not feeling well enough to do so. My friend wanted to do a hike on one of the islands, but we discovered that was also something you would need to book a tour for, it wasn’t something you could just do yourself. We found all of the options around were very expensive and difficult to access. We winded up spending all of our time in Airlie Beach, since we only really had one day there, and never making it out to the islands themselves.
Airlie Beach is a neat place, but it’s very small. It definitely has small town beach vibes, with only one main road throughout the town. There are a bunch of stores and restaurants, but very spotty wifi. They also have a free public pool overlooking the ocean. I don’t think I’ve ever seen ocean water so blue! All in all, it was a neat area to explore but it’s definitely not somewhere I would spend a ton of time.
If I could go back and do it over, I would definitely have planned ahead more for a tour around the islands. I would recommend doing so if you are visiting the Whitsundays. With that said, most of the water activities available in the Whitsundays are very similar to what they offer in Cairns. I don’t know if I would recommend going to both places, since they are so similar. It may be worthwhile to just pick one!
Another extremely long train ride later, and we had finally arrived at the Gold Coast! My friend lives in Varsity Lakes, one of the neighbourhoods in the Gold Coast, and we were excited to be staying at her home for awhile after staying in hostels and sleeping on trains the past few days. Unfortunately, I still wasn’t feeling very well, so our fun was limited – but I tried to make the most of it!
One of the initial highlights of arriving in the Gold Coast was exploring Burleigh Heads. There is an incredible restaurant called Burleigh Pavilion located right next to Burleigh Beach, with an absolutely breathtaking view of the ocean! We had lunch there and the view did not disappoint. I was literally awestruck the entire time we were there. And this place definitely had the MOST blue water I’ve ever seen. We could see surfers catching some waves right from our table. It was incredible.
We explored the town of Burleigh Heads as well, which has a bunch of cute stores, cafes, and restaurants to check out. Checking out Burleigh Beach was definitely the highlight though. There are places for surfing and it’s also a beach that you can swim at, though the waves are VERY intense and you do have to be careful in certain areas. But the sand is soft and the water is so nice and blue. Best of all, there is an amazing view of Surfer’s Paradise, the more city-like area filled with skyscrapers. It was definitely one of my favourite places we visited and I would highly recommend checking it out if you’re exploring the Gold Coast!
Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary
Another highlight was visiting the nearby Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. We made a day trip out of it and spent the entire day visiting the animals. A couple of favourites for me was holding a koala and feeding the kangaroos. They have many other animals as well, as the sanctuary is massive. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience and I’m glad I had the chance to take part in it! If you are looking for a wildlife experience in the East Coast of Australia, I would definitely recommend checking them out!
After spending quite a few days in the Gold Coast, we decided to take another day trip a bit further south to Byron Bay. The drive was so beautiful and we went to the top of Cape Byron to the Cape Byron Lighthouse. The views overlooking the ocean were amazing. They have a walkway that takes you to the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean, which is the most easterly point of the Australian mainland. It was really incredible to see that in person. The wind was insane, but the views were so beautiful!! Amazingly blue water everywhere you looked.
We also went into the town of Byron Bay, which has a very hipster, surfer’s vibe to it. Lots of people travel to Byron Bay for the surfing, and there were a lot of stores that catered to that lifestyle. They had some amazing restaurants as well. And absolutely incredible beaches, where we watched another amazing sunset. I have to say, the sunset in Byron definitely took the cake. It was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen. I could have stayed at the beach for hours. I definitely wish we had more time in Byron Bay and would highly recommend checking it out if you’re exploring the East Coast!
Our visit to Byron Bay was also my last day in Australia. We had planned to continue our journey along the coast further south to Sydney and then Melbourne, but after consulting with a few doctors, I made the decision to head home early and get checked out in Canada. It was a very difficult decision to make, but ultimately, our health is the most important thing. I am on the mend now and I know it was the right decision, plus I’m sure I’ll be back to visit Australia again some day! I am very grateful I got to end the journey on a high note at Byron Bay.
Here’s a condensed version of some of the highlights of our time in Australia, in no particular order:
- Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef
- Airlie Beach/Whitsundays
- Burleigh Heads (and lunch at Burleigh Pavillion – go check them out!!)
- Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary
- Byron Bay, particularly the Cape Byron Lighthouse and viewing points
Again, I want to reiterate a few safety concerns you should be aware of if you’re planning a trip to Australia. I found Australia to be quite similar to Canada (it’s basically Canada with palm trees), but anywhere you go, you need to be vigilant. Make sure you’re always keeping an eye out for your belongings and don’t get too close to animals that could potentially bite you. The weather can also get pretty crazy in Australia: we were visiting in the fall so it wasn’t super hot, but it can get extremely hot in the summer, so be careful. And again, the most important thing is to make sure you have traveler’s insurance! I cannot reiterate this enough! I never used to get traveler’s insurance, but I am so glad I thought ahead and got it for this trip. I won’t be traveling overseas without it again, and I highly suggest you do the same.
That brings a close to my crazy grad trip! It was definitely a whirlwind but I am very grateful for the opportunity to have explored these countries. I hope you enjoy your time exploring Australia if you visit! For more about Australia, you can check out #chiaragoesglobal on Instagram 🙂