Week Five – Melbourne and the Great Barrier Reef

For those of you who have not been reading the full posts (we completely understand) you may have missed our photos page from previous weeks which has heaps more photos than are on each of these posts. Head to our Week 5 InFocus page for a look at even more photos related to the post below!

It’s been a wild month since our last post. We’ve gone from finishing up our short tour of Vietnam and SE Asia to spending just over two weeks trekking the Himalaya in Nepal, then several days witnessing the extreme opulence of Dubai, and are now 5 days into a month of exploring South Africa in Stockholm at the tail end of a three week Scandinavian road trip. This post is only possible thanks to the majority of the pictures being sorted and organized while still in Vietnam. The internet was yet again incredibly slow and unreliable throughout all of Nepal and is turning out to be the same through most of South Africa so bear with us on future posts as well. We hate to sound like we’re complaining about internet all the time but it really is amazing how far behind so many of these countries are with something we in the US take for granted.

In this weekly post we continue our time in Melbourne before heading up to Cairns to jump on a boat for 3 nights on the Great Barrier Reef, searching for Nemo, Dory and all their friends.

Day 29 – While Googling places serving cold brewed coffee the previous two days, Jessica found a café in south west Melbourne that served shots of cold brew concentrate in a young coconut so naturally we had to try it. We also decided that bikes sounded like a fun way to get there while also exploring Melbourne’s many outer neighborhoods later in the day. If you’re OK lugging around an overly heavy city bike all day, Melbourne has a great bike share system. For only $3 you are able to ride between their network of stations for up to 30 minutes at a time with unlimited bike swaps. If you weren’t going to make it to the next station within 30 minutes they charged a small fee based on the amount of time over the initial 30 free minutes. The bikes typically have helmets with them but in our case, did not. No problem though, within roughly 50m of any station is a store that stocks helmets for purchase at only $5/helmet. After getting our bikes and purchasing our helmets we set off for our coconut cold brew and breakfast. Trying to navigate the best cycling path was a bit tricky at first, Google Maps was again a letdown and kept sending us along busy roads. Drivers in Melbourne are worse than Seattle – you feel like you’re target practice for the drivers rather than just an annoyance. We finally found a path mostly off the public roadway and along a beautiful lake that just so happens to be the backdrop for the Australian Gran Prix which, unbeknownst to us, was happening the following week while we would be out on the reef. If only Sydney’s weather had cooperated we would have been in Melbourne for the race… probably for the best we weren’t – it’s a high roller type of event and wouldn’t really fit into our budget with 9 months of travel still to come. Supposedly it’s one of the top 3 weekends for Melbourne in terms of tourism, driving the prices of hotels and rentals through the roof. We made it to our breakfast cafe for brunch and enjoyed a hearty breakfast washed down with delicious “coco-coldbrew”. Fueled up and ready to brave the vicious Melbourne traffic again, we headed out on a new set of wheels and navigated our way to the botanical gardens. This is perhaps the most beautiful botanical garden we have ever seen – huge diversity in plants and very well maintained and laid out. We only wished we had more time to linger and enjoy exploring all the different paths. We did however spend some time walking through the “Shrine of Remembrance” which pays homage to the sacrifices made in by Australia during the “Great War”, or WWI. After our all too short walk-through of the gardens we grabbed new bikes and headed north through beautiful old Victorian neighborhoods that really made you feel you had traveled back in time. We ended up on a trail running along a small creek that cut through the neighborhoods on its way into the Yara River which runs through Melbourne’s downtown area. Malcolm had run the trail a couple days earlier and found a cute place called the “Farm Café” that he knew Jess would love. Unfortunately, it was closed by the time we rode by but at least we still got to see the livestock and farm along both sides of the trail, right in the heart of the city. We dropped of our bikes on the edge of downtown and decided to walk back instead of deal with afternoon rush hour traffic. We grabbed some beers on the way back and enjoyed a relaxing drink watching the sun set from our 36th floor balcony and chatting with our host who is also a nurse. Sarah and Jess had a great time chatting. That night Jess headed out for her first haircut in as long as anyone can remember that was not from her best friend, Julia. Despite the odds, it turned out great!

Day 30 – In the morning Malcolm went on a long run while Jess slept in and went for a swim in the apartment pool. Heading out to explore the downtown area, we took the free city trolley to our first stop, the Queen Victoria Market, the largest market in the Southern Hemisphere. Here we ate Turkish pancakes for breakfast and had a delicious coffee from Padre Coffee. We found some small gifts for those at home and continued wandering around, finding our way to a large shopping mall downtown. Malcolm found a new favorite store due to their awesome selection of linen and linen blend clothing and we also restocked some much-needed lotions and cleansers from Aesop, an Australian based company we came across while visiting Jim in Portland. We quickly headed out before spending too much and continued exploring, walking through Greek town and the Melbourne Museum on our way to a beer garden we had come across a couple days earlier. We enjoyed a beer in a charming setting of random furniture nestled among a small garden in the back of a hotel patio. After some more walking around we stopped for dinner at Fathers Office, a neat bar and restaurant themed after 60’s California, of all places, and enjoyed happy hour food and drinks – $0.50 champagne for the ladies! We waited at the restaurant for the sun to go down before walking down graffiti alley, which, as you guessed, is full of constantly changing graffiti artwork of all persuasions. It was our last night in Melbourne so we stopped by a bar nestled under a bridge that we had walked over several times, right in the middle of the Yara river running through Melbourne – it was always full of people and a great setting so we had to see it for ourselves.

Day 31 – We had an early morning flight so we obviously needed coffee before getting too far. With our bags on our backs we headed out to Buddy Buddha for cold brew and an ice cream latte to enjoy on our journey back to the airport. Check in and flight went smoothly and before we knew it we were in the northern Australia city of Cairns, gateway to the Great Barrier Reef! We scheduled our 3 night liveaboard on the reef for the next morning and Jess still needed a diving medical. Right after landing and dropping our bags at our Airbnb for the night we had to head straight to the doctor to get her doctors note – after nearly 3 hours of waiting we walked out, ready to go diving! After that was finished we headed out to dinner at an Irish pub in honor of Saint Patrick’s Day, which to be honest, we were completely oblivious to before walking around in search of food.

Day 32 – It was another early morning as we had to walk to the dive charter’s office to drop off our larger bags and then walk to catch our boat (Reef Explorer) out to the reef where we would then transfer to another boat (Reef Encounter) that stays out on the reef and would be our home for the next three nights. On the walk to the wharf we heard loud screeching all around us and looked up to realize the trees were full of fruit bats! It was a crazy sight, big fuzzy brown heads, with large bodies and wide wingspans! Definitely a new site for us from the PNW! We boarded our first boat and headed out to the reef, this time with Jess’ scopolamine patch applied – and thankfully it worked great! Once we arrived on the Reef Encounter we got the low down on how everything works while on the boat and what the typical day would look like. Then 30 minutes later we wrestled into our stinger suits (for the jellyfish) and jumped into the reef for our first snorkel of the day! The water was perfectly calm and visibility was great – supposedly it was some of the best conditions they’d had in several months. It was awesome to be getting straight to it! We were warmly greeted by more fish than we’d ever seen. Fish of all colors, shapes, and sizes were swimming all around us as we explored the beautiful coral formations. Within minutes of being in the water we saw several large turtles and white-tipped reef sharks – definitely an exciting experience as the first shark we saw approached us head on and came within two feet of Malcolm. After about 45 minutes of snorkeling we headed back to the boat for some out of water class time – an introduction to scuba diving! Including the two of us there were 5 people in our group learning to scuba dive and get our open water certification. It was incredible to us that you can go out into the open ocean without any prior experience and begin a scuba course and within a minimum of two days be certified! We went over the general information on how the scuba gear works and before we knew it we were on the back of the boat, suited up in all our gear, ready to jump in. Everything was going great until we had to go under. This is where Jess found out she must have a phobia of being submerged in water because right after dropping below the surface she felt a sensation of not being able to breathe and panicked. Determined to continue on, Jess kept trying. The third try she was fighting back tears and told Malcolm to just go on without her. She ended up trying 2 more times that day and just couldn’t do it. It’s definitely not for everyone – you are reliant on multiple pieces of equipment to keep you fed with oxygen while submerged with the added danger that once you get below 10m you have to make sure to slowly rise to surface to avoid decompression issues. In other words, if you lose it mentally or if your equipment fails while at deeper depths, it can be pretty bad. So, that being said, Jess decided she is likely to never do scuba diving and will stick to lovely snorkeling where it’s much safer and easier to get real air! Malcolm was a little bummed to not have his diving buddy but felt much better that she was snorkeling and not risking pushing her phobia. After our first snorkel and dive they moved the boat to a new location while feeding us a delicious hamburger lunch. We soon realized we would be moving quite a bit! Malcolm went on one more dive later that day and joined Jess on one of her two additional snorkels. After the third and final snorkel of the day we got served yet another delicious meal for dinner. After dinner was another scuba class on the boat. It seemed we were always going to be busy doing something. But that is absolutely not a complaint when your daily schedule goes something like this:

Food time is underlined, water time is bold

5:50h – Wake-up call from boat coordinator (Erica America)

6:00h – Light breakfast, cereal and fresh fruit with coffee and tea

6:30h – Morning dive/snorkel

7:30h – Breakfast (sausage, bacon, eggs, hash browns, toast, fresh fruit, cereal)

8:30h – Dive/snorkel

9:30h – On boat scuba classes (or free time)

10:30h – Dive/snorkel

12:00h – Lunch (grilled meats, fries, salads, fresh fruit)

13:15h – Dive/snorkel

14:30h – On boat scuba classes (or free time)

15:30h – Dive/snorkel

18:00h – Dinner

19:00h – Night dive

20:00h – Dessert

Needless to say, this is the life! We had 6 opportunities to go out in the water, between diving and snorkeling and we were fed some sort of amazing and plentiful food 5 times throughout the day. On top of this, the staff were amazing – always on top of it and there to serve you without being over bearing. It was a really great experience. We also made some great friends within the first two days on the boat!

Day 33 – Day two on the reef, our first full day! We were up and at it early, awake and moving by 6am and in the water at 630 sharp. During the night a storm had rolled through and threatened to push the boat onto the reef so at about 2am we were awoken by the sound of the engines starting up so we could move to a better location. No complaints though, it was great to be moving new a new part of the reef! The weather had mostly cleared up by the time we were awake and it looked to be another beautiful day! Malcolm got his 3rd dive in and Jess another snorkel. We enjoyed the full day of our routine and welcoming new guests, while seeing off others. Each day the Reef Explorer, the boat we first took out of Cairns, brings new guests to the Reef Encounter and takes back departing guests. The Reef Explorer also hauls out day trippers from Cairns who are out on a 2-dive/snorkel day trip. It was great to get to know the new people each day and a little sad to see others leave.

Day 34 – Another full day on the reef as well as the day Malcolm would become open water certified, so long as he completed all the skills tests. This day was a little more cloudy and rainy than the previous two – we were out there during the stormy season after all.

Day 35 – We woke up and did our same daily routine until we had to leave around 2:30 back to shore. Our friends Brayden and Tess were headed up to Port Douglas for the evening and invited us along. So we went and picked up their car rental and headed on our way. Brayden works for a brewery so we stopped at Hemmingway’s brewery for him to drop some samples off at and grabbed some dinner. Then we returned to our hotel which was the nicest we had stayed at so far on our trip, even had jacuzzi tub on the porch.

 

Take a look at the pictures above for a quick visual summary of the notes above and head to our Week 5 InFocus page for a look at even more photos! Enjoy

3 Replies to “Week Five – Melbourne and the Great Barrier Reef”

  1. Michael Wangen says: Reply

    Wonderful! Thanks for all of the stories and photos from Australia!

  2. Marlene Dawsey says: Reply

    Hi! Thanks for this newest update. Really enjoyed it and will probably reread it several more times! What a cool ship you were on…accommodations and food too. Great photos, beautiful scenery and you both look so great! Take care, miss you! Love, Marlene

  3. Lisa Wangen says: Reply

    Wow! Love the details and photos….so beautiful. So much adventure and fun and from your photos it looks like your having the best time. Love you both..xoxo

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