Exploring Cairns, Australia

Warning: You will be exposed to images of the Great Barrier Reef.

Just over the International Dateline the plane took a drop. If there was ever a need for Divine Mercy, a big dose of turbulence was it.

I was glad we were all in our seats with the seat belts fastened and not on the pot! It ended up being nothing. Nothing to fear, nothing to dread. This was how Saturday, our arrival day—Valentine’s Day, began.

Today’s Planned Schedule
  • 8 a.m. arrive in Brisbane
  • 9:50 a.m. Qantas Flight 782 leaves Brisbane for Cairns, breakfast is served
  • 12:10 p.m. arrive in Cairns
  • 1:40 p.m. check into the Pacific Hotel Cairns
  • 1:40 – 4:20 Free time to explore Cairns
  • 4:20 p.m. Collette tour briefing with our guide
  • 6 p.m. Dinner at the Bushfire Grill, included
Could You Sleep Like a Baby

I won the gold metal sleep award with 9 1/2 hours between Los Angeles and Brisbane, a 14 hour flight.

What was the secret to sleeping on the plane? Perhaps I was already sleep deprived enough that the upright, middle, economy seat didn’t matter.

Or perhaps it was the cushiony neck support that softly cradled my head.

Tom working on dreamland still in LAX waiting for takeoff. 12:37 am.

Don’t Fear the Hunger

On Qantas flight 16, there was more food than we could eat. In addition to three meals, they had snacks in the back: apples, muesli bars, and Kit Kats.

Quite unexpected, they also had tooth brushes and tooth paste, eye masks and socks—all complimentary, all available whenever you wanted. No need to ask.

The seats had individual USB ports, so I could charge my phone and write in my journal without running out of juice.

We each had our own individual entertainment monitor. Movies, music, games or TV shows were free and unlimited. There was a large selection of everything.

We had to use the complimentary headphones because the sound system required two prongs. The ones Mom and I had were not a good quality. As a result, I never finished the first movie. Tom said he watched three. His worked better than ours.

A Full English Breakfast

I skipped the middle of the night hot dog and who knows what else because I was sleeping.

I waited for breakfast: Eggs, sausage, hash browns, tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, a muffin, plain yogurt with fresh strawberries, orange juice and black tea.

If you’ve ever been to England, you’ll recognize this as a full English breakfast. Although Australia is an independent nation, the Queen of England still has certain governing powers. The English influence was certainly present in what was available for breakfast.

We’d be arriving soon. We turned our watches to the current local time.

TIP: I set my camera’s time (and Mom’s!) to the current time. These were our digital diaries of the trip.

Lucky She Waited

Our plane arrived 40 minutes late. We held our breath.

Nevertheless, they so kindly held our connecting flight. Thank you, Qantas and Divine Mercy.

It Comes in Threes

Before we could board our last flight, we still needed to pass through immigration, customs and security.

We showed our papers: an incoming passenger card, airline ticket and passport. The airline ticket designated we traveled with a group and we had a VISA – a requirement for entering Australia.

TIP: New passports have a chip that allows for automated check-in. It saves you time. Renew yours before you go.

Airport: Patience Required

After we picked up our bags, the customs agent sent us through what seemed like the road less traveled. This ended up being a surprising twist of good fortune later that afternoon.

We rechecked our bags, took an airport bus to the domestic terminal, went through security, then boarded the plane.

A Window Seat

We were in the air by 10:40am. Qantas Flight 782 to Cairns was scheduled to arrive 2 hrs and 45 minutes later.

Mom sat a few rows ahead of us. Tom and I sat in the last row. All three of us sat on the right-hand side of the plane.

TIP: Do sit by the window, or by someone who doesn’t mind you leaning over them the entire flight.

The Brisbane River is the longest river in southeast Queensland, Australia. It flows through the city of Brisbane before emptying into Moreton Bay. 10:42am

As we left Brisbane, we saw the Brisbane River twisting through the city. It’s the longest river in southeast Queensland.

Flying north along the coast from Brisbane to Cairns. A breathtaking view of a river flowing into the ocean. 10:52am

Further north, another river meandered gracefully through the sand into the ocean.

Flying north from Brisbane to Cairns. Mother nature is such an artist! 11:16am

And then this. Look at those colors, the texture, and shapes. Oh, the majesty!

I almost cried! The entire flight I was amazed at the awesome splendor and beauty of the eastern coast of Australia.

Unexpected Aerial Tour of the Great Barrier Reef

We began to see the Great Barrier Reef somewhere over the town of Gladstone. The ocean was dotted with these reefs. Each one of them named. 11:41am

We began to see the Great Barrier Reef somewhere near the town of Gladstone. This was not advertised as part of this tour, but I’m telling you. This was amazing!

Could anyone have too many pictures of the Great Barrier Reef? Mom's view. 11:56 am.

The ocean was dotted with these reefs and each one had a name.

I kept my eye out for Whitsunday Island on the flight tracker. We wouldn’t be able to go there on this trip. It looked too beautiful to miss. I thought maybe I could get a good aerial picture as we flew over it.

This one looks like parasailing parachute. 12:01pm

We saw one reef after another. This one looked like a parasailing parachute.

I never saw what I thought was Whitsunday Island, but it didn’t matter. This was one of the most breathtaking flights I’d been on. I felt completely satisfied even without seeing that specific island.

Great Barrier Reef 12:19pm

This is why I recommend looking out the window.

Somewhere between reefs, we ate another breakfast that would suffice for lunch.

Arriving in Cairns

We were coming in for a landing in Cairns. In the background you can see the rain forest in the hills. 12:31pm

As we approached the city, I could see the hills of the rain forest covered with clouds.

The farmland was saturated. We'd learn later that they had 30 inches of rain in the last 7 days. I we were arriving in the rainy season.

The farm land looked soggy. They just had 30 inches of rain in the last 7 days. We arrived during the rainy season.

We landed just after 12:30 pm. It was 80 degrees, and I could feel the humidity.

Some of the group members’ bags did not make the transfer onto this plane because our flight from LA was so late. This was when the road less traveled became a fortunate twist of events for me, Tom and Mom. It appeared that our bags were the last ones to get on the flight. Our travel mates in line behind us did not have their luggage until after dinner that evening.

We stayed at the Pacific Hotel Cairns. Once we checked in and arranged our stuff in the hotel, we left Mom in the room to take a nap. Tom and I went out to stretch our legs and see the sites.

Exploring Cairns

We took a walk on the Esplanade Boardwalk right across the street from our hotel. We saw this fig tree. It's usually the size of a house plant at home. 2:49pm

Right across the street from our hotel was the Esplanade Boardwalk. The ficus there are trees rather than house plants like they are at home.

Warmth is the right environment for most everything to grow.

There was a stormy sky along the Esplanade Boardwalk. 2:51pm

The sky looked really stormy. We carried our umbrellas. We expected rain. There was a brief shower.

At the Cairns Esplanade Swimming Lagoon, we ran into a man who warned us to stay away from a certain group of people who where no good and roamed about in drunkenness. He also told us where we could get two pounds of cooked shrimp for $25 fresh off the boat.

We did not run into the drunk people. We did not take advantage of the shrimp, but we did find the sign for them on the Esplanade Boardwalk on the pier the following day.

The Esplanade Swimming Lagoon was a cross between a swimming pool and a beach. Natural sand and ocean water mixed with the protection of concrete and wood. 3:04pm

The swimming lagoon was an interesting mix of nature and man-made materials. Sand and seawater protected by concrete and wood made for an enjoyable swimming place.

St. Monica’s Cathedral

We were walking on Abbott Street near the city library when we heard this screeching sound coming from the trees. I looked up and saw the biggest bats I've ever seen! They were the size of a squirrel. I inquired with a local. What is that? A flying fox he said. Do they bite? They make a lot of noise and are kind of a nuisance! 3:19pm

On our way to St. Monica’s Cathedral, there was a loud screeching sound coming from the trees. When I looked up, I saw these huge bats! They were as big as squirrels, and there were tons of them! I asked a local what they were. He said Flying Foxes.

The cathedral was open! It’s open daily Monday through Friday 7 am until 5 pm, Saturday 7 am until 8pm, and Sunday 6 am until 6 pm.

The windows are a popular tourist attraction. There are 24 separate windows, 12 on each side and are named the Creation Windows. 3:27pm

We went to look at the stained glass windows. The panels here are the Creation Windows. There are also the Peace Windows in the back of the church and more creation windows on the opposite side of the ones shown here.

By this time, we had spent a good chunk of our free time. We saw all of the spots on my pre-vacation planning list. We’d have time to bring my napping mother on tour tomorrow.

The sun began to peek out here and there. It was pleasant summertime weather, and I was glad we arrived.


We arrived 10 minutes late for our briefing. Apparently, I didn’t pay very good attention to my notes. Already our guide began asking about our luck. “Who brought the sunshine?” she asked. They had not seen the sun in weeks.

I didn’t think the briefing would last until we went to dinner, but it did. It was informative.

We had already booked three optional tours – they came included with our tour package. She talked about each of the optional tours. It wasn’t necessary to book them in advance, but if you really wanted to do something it was a good idea.

She asked about special dietary requirements or requests, our preference for flight seating, if anyone had any issues with motion sickness on the bus—these kinds of things.

The Bushfire Grill

Dinner was included as a part of the tour. A beverage was also included. Tom tried out the Great Northern Lager. Mom had the same and gave it to Tom. I had milk! We had a few pork cracklings, too. I liked them! 6:06pm

Our whole group went together to eat at this Brazilian styled restaurant. We each got to pick a beverage. Tom had a beer, Mom got a beer that she gave to Tom, and I had milk! Cheers to a milk mustache. Wine was also an option.

Mom and Tom dig in! The sides: A Brazilian style festive slaw, Desiree potato gratin with provolone cheese, saffron rice and Black bean Feijao - a black bean stew. The sauces: chimichurri - an Argentinean herb pesto and Bushfire's barbecue sauce. 6:21pm

I’d never been to a Brazilian restaurant. There were four sides, and the meat was served on skewers by the waiter.

Tom demonstrates the proper use of the meat tongs as the waiter slices some pork off the skewer. Kathryn looks on. 6:23pm

Here Tom demonstrates the proper use of tongs as the waiter slices the meat. The meal was delicious, and we ate too much.

Dessert. Each person got a plate like this. Chef's choice. 7:27pm

It ended with each person getting a taste of three little deserts, but no chocolate could keep us from sleep.

By this time it was 7:30 pm. I considered it an accomplishment to have made it that late in the evening. It was a long day of traveling so we went to bed.

Do you have any tips for a first day after a long flight? Travels in Cairns, etc?

Marie LaForce About Marie LaForce

Writer | Photographer | Explorer |Dreamer | Intentional Disciple of Christ


  1. It’s a big benefit to have your mother-in-law not like wine or beer when those are included.

  2. Karen Goedken says:

    Marie, love the barrier reef picture. If I never get there, I will feel like I have had a great window into how they look and are. Though our flight in October to Europe was much shorter, 9 hours from here to Amsterdam, we did much like you. We got out and took walks and took a Canal tour of Amsterdam. Everything I have read told me you should get out in the sun, air, whatever, not go to sleep, and your body will adjust much quicker. We did that on the way over and on the way back and it was true. We adjusted within about two days. We also took pictures of basic yoga moves which we did on our flights over and back. Trying to ward off any stagnent blood from all the sitting. We also used melatonin at bedtime for the first couple of days. That is suppose to help. And when we took off we set our watches for Amsterdam time and Minneapolis time. All of it seemed to help us.

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