Great Barrier Reef (Far North Queensland)
We couldn’t make it all the way to Australia without visiting the Great Barrier Reef. Turns out the GBR is really long, and since it was stinger season (jellyfish everywhere!) we opted not to do the island life, but a road trip to also visit the world’s oldest tropical rainforest, Daintree. Unfortunately, we were both quite under the weather so we cut back on the itinerary and have a number of spots we researched but didn’t get a chance to visit. I guess we’ll just have to find a reason to come back!
CAIRNS // RECOMMENDED STOPS
- Reef Teach (★★)
- This is an evening class that I highly recommend to anyone before they go out to visit the GBR. We got our nerds on and learned so much about the sea, fish, and how the corals were formed. You learn how to spot animals, what animals you’re likely see, and appreciate this natural wonder (thank you Gareth!)
- Ocean Freedom (★)
- There are several highly rated GBR day tours, and we went with Ocean Freedom for a few reasons. They are a smaller outfit (70 people max), included all prices (didn’t add the $20 reef fee, $9 suit rental, etc.) I got terribly sea sick and different crew members checked on me throughout the trip.
- Cairns Esplanade Lagoon (★)
- Beautifully renovated boardwalk and public sandy lagoon, surrounded by barbecue grills: it’s the perfect place to cool down if you need a dip.
PORT DOUGLAS // RECOMMENDATIONS
- Miallo Airbnb (★★★)
- Caroline and Brian were the most wonderful warm hosts and have a young cute Rottweiler, Kaiser. Their home is clean and their home-made meals are scrumptious. Highly recommend if you don’t mind staying in a very private and well-furnished room in someone’s home.
- Wildlife Habitat (★★★)
- We got our Australian animal fix here! It’s small, but packed full of animals and tours where you’ll learn so much. The crocodile feeding taught us how to run away from one and got us safely close enough to where we could hear their strong jaws snap at the chicken carcass. The animals you can touch are abundant: we got to feed Cassie the cassowary grapes and convinced some kangaroos and a swamp wallaby to eat some carrots and sweet potatoes. This meant I got to pet a baby joey (life goal unlocked!)
- It’s also one of the few places that allows photos with koalas (apparently the Sydney Zoo doesn’t even allow that). Although Y looked like he was going to fall over, his was were able to carry their resident male Rocky for a hot second to get a photo (koalas only allowed to work 30 minutes a day, every three days).
- The other great thing is your ticket allows you re-entry over the next few days, so that you can split up your time. Needless to say we got our money’s worth visiting this spot.
- The Gatz Balancing Rocks (★)
- Sometimes you’ll see them, sometimes you won’t. On our drive up there was nothing but typical shoreline, but the day after on our return drive, quite a few towers of rocks mysteriously popped up!
DAINTREE RAINFOREST // RECOMMENDATIONS
- Daintree Ice Cream Company (★★)
- Most places operate on buyer’s choice, here the vendor picks four scoops for one price. These flavors rotate through the day, and we got the second to last bowl of coconut, black sapote, wattleseed, and Davidson plum sorbet. I loved the black sapote and Y really fell for the sorbet, but it was all delicious. Afterwards we took a self-guided walk through their orchard where you can see what the trees and plants of tropical fruits look like and even see their black stingless bees and green ants.
- Thornton Beach (★)
- Completely deserted beach, but don’t go to swim because of the crocs! The really cool part about this beach is that it is home to thousands of ghost crabs. If you look down on the smooth sand, you’ll see millions of little sand balls scattered on the ground. Those were created by tiny white crabs who scoop up the sand hunting for food and spit them back out.
- Mount Alexandra Lookout (★)
- Really beautiful spot that peaks out of the rainforest and gives you a glimpse of the ocean.
OTY’s ★ Rating System
Our rating is similar to the Michelin guide, but applied to attractions as well as restaurants. Most places won’t be Michelin-priced as we’re on a budget, and sometimes a star may reflect exceptionally good value (like free!). Since we don’t like to be negative, we don’t include any places that we wouldn’t recommend.
(★★★) Exceptional attraction/cuisine, worth a special journey. Wish we could go back again!
(★★) Delicious and/or delightful, this spot is worth a detour.
(★) Good pitstop, especially if you’re in the area.