It seems like all of my life since I started traveling in college, I have always heard of the Great Barrier Reef. It is like one of those “far away places” that they write songs about. Well, it is far away….but today we got to see if firsthand, and it is everything that I had hoped for….absolutely a world wonder. I can’t say nearly as much about the Reef as does Wikipedia….so will just go over our day…as it was a fantastic day.
1, We were picked up by the Quicksilver Coach-Bus at 8….and as we picked up others at other hotels…the driver started talking about facts about Cairns, etc….and that we would be traveling further north for about an hour to Port Douglas, where we would board the boat that would take us out to the Reef. So, as we left the City we followed the Espalade which runs right along the water. Many very nice apartment and residential areas…leading out past the airport….and then past the air terminal for the SkyRail….and then on to the highway that runs right along the water. This is like California highway #1 along by Big Sur…only much larger and more dramatic as the Rain Forest comes right down to the beach. Just a gorgeous15 mile stretch that takes us directly into Port Douglas, a city founded some 50 years ago by a man that saw what a perfect little town could be like…and to this day…it is just that…an absolutely beautiful town with small shopping areas…all greatly influenced by the tourist trade. It has become the main port city for the boats that go out to the Reef. We were dropped off literally at the entrance to the Port area…and proceeded to board the 400 passenger catamaran …..which was like a new boat….spotless and modern….and greeted by uniformed crew all welcoming us and offering coffee, sweets, etc. Just a great beginning.
2. We were first on so got a seat right up front in the covered area and proceeded to watch introductory videos…take a tour of the boat…and just get ready for the hour journey out to the Reef. We had our initial briefing on the Reef by a young Marine Biologist that was born in New Zealand and got her PhD in Marine Biology from the University of Florida. Very bright and informing as the boat picked up speed to about 35 knots….and we were “on our way”. As we approached the Reef….we could see the large permanently anchored docking area….and pulled right up to it to transfer from the boat to this dock area. A big 3 level dock, it serves as the point from which you can do the snorkel, the diving , the helicopter rides, etc the submersible “sub” that is their glass bottom boat, which we immediately got on and down we went to see the Reef. The coral is just amazing, and is everything that I had ever heard about it. It is massive, running about a thousand miles north and south along the line where the Pacific Ocean drops off dramatically. The Reef itself is only about 30 feet below the surface….and the sub moves in and out of a section of the Reef and you can see fish and coral very clearly right from the Windows. A great 25 minute underwater ride. We then went back up to the dock for a big buffet luncheon…then had the next 2 hours to look at the underwater viewing room….and just enjoy being literally “on top of the Reef”. A large number of the passengers went diving…and the Quicksilver company, the owner of all of this, including the buses…provided everything needed to go in the water. Very impressive.
3. At 3 PM, we headed back to Port Douglas….more videos…and more time for me to find out how the entire operation works, in terms of how they keep the dock out there, etc….a very impressive operation. We got back to the Port on time….then had a quick bus tour of the town…almost an unreal looking town and area…clean, neat, pretty, modern, quaint…..clearly one of the most beautiful town areas we have ever seen. Tropical magic in a storybook looking setting…..huge palms and trees and plants and all so orderly ,neat, an orderly. VERY IMPRESSIVE.
4. Got back at 6 and decided to go out for a walk along the water…found a great little restaurant right on the Esplanade …. Walked back to the hotel….a wonderful day…one never forgotten…seeing and being on THE GREAT BARRIER REEF.
OFF TO Sydney in the morning…Monday, for Day #4.
The 2nd full day was remarkable, and a day to remember. After last night and the heavy rains and our finding a place to eat when we found that the Casino Restaurant was closed due to a power outage….that went back on an hour later…and we finally enjoyed our great sandwich. We got back to the hotel and early to bed in view of the early pick up for our Saturday day.
Saturday started off with a pickup at 7:20 AM…for the bus ride to the train station to take the Kuranda Classic Train up the mountain to the Rain Forest. To describe the details of the day…are just too many….and will summarize, but the essence is……”if you ever come to Australia and have the chance to go to Cairns……then today is a MUST.” What a day!
1. The train is an old vintage train completely updated….and is made up of about 10 cars. The trip up the mountain is on a one way rail….and within a few minutes the train starts through the tunnels and over the bridges as we climb into the Rain Forest. 2. The trip is filled with unbelievable photo shots, as this is land that is only accessible by the train. A lot of history in how they built the railroad…..years of amazing work and engineering. 3. The ride is about 2 hours with one photo stop over the river and falls….the views are unbelievable ….clearly a once in a lifetime experience
2. When you arrive in Kuranda Village…this is an original “hippie” kind of art town….but over the last few years has become a tourist center. It is a small village, with mainly tourist shops, etc….very fun to walk around and see the shops, especially the little “hippie” looking shops…very cute and unusual,…and the newer shops and the Kuranda Market is very nice….and quite “touristy”…….but well worth the time. A very attractive “village” in this gorgeous tropical setting.
3. We then boarded a bus and drove a few miles to the RainForest Nature Park for a delicious BBQ lunch. Very well done….a private facility that is extremely interesting and really designed to give visitors a good understanding of the Rain Forest…..and it is a real one…one of the largest in the World…and a first for us. After lunch, which was a full dinner, we went to the Army Duck area…and these are WW II Army ducks used by the Army in the war. We were able to get a seat up front…and for an hour, we drove through the Rain Forst…on land and into the water. Just a wonderful time with an outstanding driver and speaker and tour leader,,….originally from Canada with an art degree who had taught school before moving here. She was great….very knowledgeable and really able to drive the Duck…..kind of amazing. The Rain Forest has to be seen to really be appreciated….certainly nothing like we had ever seen.
4. The next part of the afternoon was a very amazing dance show…..and then a very well done Dreamtime walk….with exhibits, etc…..all done by the dancers. Really fun….and enjoyed by all. We then had a guided tour of their “zoo”…..first had look and touch area for kangaroos…and then real close up of Koala, a dingo, and a wambot. Very well done…fun, and most interesting. Very obvious that their employees really enjoy their jobs….extremely well informed and very communicative…..just a real enjoyment.
5. We then boarded the bus and headed to the Kuranda Skyrail. This is a huge lift that stretches up and down the mountain for about 10 miles….and takes you from the top of the mountain down to the bottom….very exciting as we rode in 6 seat enclosed cabins…and Audy got a bit nervous when the cable cars stopped for a few minutes, as we are literally hundreds of feet about the Rain Forest below….nothing like it and another first for us. The Cable Car has two stops where you can get off and see some exhibits….just a great and exciting ride down the mountain …a bit exciting but safe…going over the forest and rivers below that you can only see from the lift.
Back to the hotel by 6….an incredible day….enjoyed by all and a MUST for anyone traveling in or near Cairns. Too tired for dinner…but worth it all. Just a GREAT DAY.
Off to the Great Barrier Reef tomorrow…..what a place.
After the 14 hour flight from SFO to Sydney…we had about a 4 hour layover at the beautiful Sydney Airport then boarded Virgin Australia for the 3 hour flight north to Cairns….in tropical and beautiful Northern Australia…in the state of Queensland.
The Cairns Airport is not big and bustling for a port city that is a travel resort destination…but very clean and easy to get around. We were met at the baggage area by our transfer driver…and drove slowly into the City Center. Very tropical and quiet setting, with gorgeous trees and plants….lush growth.
We arrived at the Pacific Hotel…easy check in to our 9th floor room overlooking the park and good views of the Harbor. This is a remodeled old hotels, actually one of the first along the Esplanade, which is the big tree lined boulevard right on the water. Cairns location is key, in that the mountains come right down to the water….so as we look out at the Bay and inlet…we see the mountains. Very dramatic views. The room is very nice, clean, and well done, and large….and after a few moments decided to eat…..so asked the manager for a good restaurant and he said across the street at the Casino restaurant. Well, in that it is a non-smoking facility, we decided to give it a try and the restaurant was very nice and more of a cafe…..and we had a delicious sandwich dinner…..great food. Back to the hotel and a good nights sleep for both of us to get on Australia time.
We woke early…went down to a full buffet breakfast….then decided to start to see the city….walking. The main shopping streets are Abbott and Shields, which leads to the Cairns Mall. Many shops along the way and the street itself is all pedestrian with huge trees..much like the feel of Hawaii or even Cancun…but very clean and neat….and lots of sidewalk cafe’s….just a neat place to stroll and shop….and literally running right up from the beach and the Esplanade Lagoon.
The Mall was exceptional for a smaller city like Cairns. Very clean and all in white with lots of plants and great decorations…very, very modern 2 levels with a huge 12 restaurant food court, where we had lunch at the Muffin Break…..great quiche for Audy and a cold coffee with ice cream and whipped cream for me…and a bit of the quiche. Great food. We continued to window shop,etc…very nice clerks…just a great place to shop and stroll and eat….very friendly and pleasant in every respect. And, while we were inside, raining off and on outside…and as I write and it is 4 pm…a downpour. Fortunately for the shops to and from the mall….sidewalk areas are covered….so folks are use to a lot of rain…..
Back to the room at 3…..and some general observations…..1. Very clean and very orderly city…a lot of the British influence like Singapore . 2. Merchant attitude is one of friendliness and helpfulness almost to an amaze degree. 3. Virtually no homeless or trashy looking folks around…..minority’s are here but not too noticeable, except for the Japanese…who have been here for years…and many are shopkeepers, etc. 4. Very modern but in a tropical laid back kind of way….no big new skyscrapers, although the views here of beaches and mountains are wonderful.
So, off to dinner shortly, then to visit some of the night shopping markets, which are advertised, so will see that they are all about. More to come on this….and more to come on our day to the Rain Forest, and this is a real one and one of the most famous in the World….tomorrow. As of now, so glad we came to Cairns….well worth it for one and all…..may add a bit after the night shopping…should be fun.
In this week’s newsletter, I’ll highlight 50 exciting brand-new tours from 20 tour operators. For day-to-day sightseeing details, departure dates and rates, click the links.
Great Iberian Cities (9 days) — A Spain and Portugal vacation features two nights each in Barcelona, Madrid, Seville and Lisbon.
Geysers and Glaciers (10 days) — This itinerary works its way through stunning scenery, from the mountains of Jackson, Wyoming, to the Canadian Rockies.
The Endless Shores (11 days) — Focusing on New Zealand’s North Island, Trafalgar introduces guests to Maori culture and the luminescent Waitomo glowworm caves.
See all new Trafalgar trips.
CostSaver by Trafalgar
South America Samba (9 days) — See highlights of Brazil and Argentina, such as views of Rio from atop Corcovado Mountain and the thundering Iguassu Falls.
Costa Rica Adventure (7 to 12 days) –See sloths and toucans in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and traverse suspension bridges through the treetops of Arenal Volcano National Park.
See all new CostSaver trips.
Taste of Europe (8 or 10 days) — Sightseeing and hotel stays in London, Paris, Lucerne and Venice are featured on this vacation.
European Discovery (17 or 18 days) — This itinerary provides guided sightseeing in eight countries, making it a great option for those seeking a panoramic tour.
Mediterranean Journey (17 or 18 days) — From London, travel south to destinations like Barcelona, Nice and Monte Carlo, ending with three nights in Rome.
See all new Insight trips.
Luxury Gold by Insight
Indulgence in Costa Rica (7 or 10 days) — Stay at the peaceful El Silencio Lodge, tucked in a cloud forest, and Tabacon Thermal Resort, famed for its magma-heated hot springs pools.
British Royale (10 or 11 days) — Unique experiences include the evening Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London and a steam train ride in the Lake District.
See all new Luxury Gold trips.
Hidden Treasures of Southern Italy (9 days) — Visit the unusual cone-shaped homes of Alberobello and the remains of Paestum, an oceanfront Greek city dating to 600 B.C.
Across Australia by Train (14 or 17 days) — Guests spend two nights on the Indian Pacific train from Adelaide to Perth and visit the wildlife habitat of Kangaroo Island.
Colorful Newfoundland (7 days) — Sample iceberg beer, tour one of North America’s oldest communities and cruise Witless Bay to spot whales and puffins.
See all new Globus trips.
Gate 1 Travel
12 Day Scottish Highlands & Glens (12 days) — Travelers cruise Loch Lomond, explore the Isle of Mull and tour castles, including the former home of the Queen Mother.
12 Day Swiss Alpine Jewels (12 days) — Highlights include two spectacular train rides: an open-air cogwheel railway to the10,135-foot summit of Gornergrat and the famed Glacier Express through the Swiss Alps.
12 Day Treasures of Provence (12 days) — This small-group tour starts with a Paris stay, then heads south to towns like Arles, where Van Gogh lived and painted, and picturesque Eze.
See all new Gate 1 trips.
Idyllic Iceland (8 days) — See the natural wonders of the “Land of Fire and Ice,” from volcanoes, lava tubes and black pebble beaches to geysers, hot springs and waterfalls.
Alaskan Highlights (7 or 13 days) — You’ll have opportunities to spot otters, seals and whales in Prince William Sound and moose, caribou and grizzlies in Denali National Park.
South Africa From the Cape to Kruger (14 or 17 days) — This trip starts in Cape Town, with a cable car ride to the top of Table Mountain, and ends with game drives in the Kruger National Park area.
See all new Cosmos trips.
Rockin’ Britain & Ireland (14 days) — Delve into Britain’s musical heritage with a Beatles-themed tour of Liverpool and the Irish Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum in Dublin.
English Knights & Wizards (8 days) — This family tour will delight Harry Potter fans young and old: Tour London through the eyes of the young wizard and visit Warner Bros. Studio’s “The Making of Harry Potter.”
See all new CIE trips.
Barcelona, Madrid, Lisbon & Oporto (13 days) — Spend three nights in each of these cities, where you’ll also have plenty of free time to explore on your own.
Sun & Fun Down Under (11 to 17 days) — This trip focuses on Australia’s eastern shore, with stays in Sydney, the Gold Coast resort of Surfers Paradise and Port Douglas, a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef.
See all new Monograms trips.
Cycle Peru – Machu Picchu & the Sacred Valley (8 or 11 days) — Pedal through the streets of Lima and to Incan archaeological sites and Andean communities.
Croatia Family Holiday (8 or 9 days) — Walk the city walls of Dubrovnik, ride bikes past the olive groves and forests around Lumbarda and explore the ruins of Diocletian’s Palace.
Highlights of Vancouver Island (6 days) — Guests explore the Cathedral Grove stand of majestic, giant Douglas firs — some more than 800 years old — and British-influenced Victoria.
See all new Intrepid trips.
Adventures by Disney
Iceland (8 days) — Soak in the Blue Lagoon, ride an Icelandic horse and hike Skaftafell Glacier on Disney’s family vacation.
Spain: Barcelona Short Escape (4 days) — A getaway in the Catalan city includes a private tour of La Sagrada Familia church, a Junior Adventurers hike and a flamenco show.
See all new Adventures by Disney trips.
Hawaii Multi-Island Adventure (15 days) — On a vacation that covers four islands, travelers enjoy a sunset sail in Waikiki, a luau in Maui and plenty of free time.
Best of Borneo (12 days) — Go to orangutan and sun bear sanctuaries and spend a day at Tabin Wildlife Reserve, where you may spot the elusive pygmy elephant.
Wildlife Parks of Tanzania (12 days) — Eight game drives and a river safari introduce participants to the animals of Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti National Park and more.
See all new G Adventures trips.
Historic Hotels of New England (8 days) — Stay at the Equinox Resort, which opened in Vermont as the Marsh Tavern in 1769, and the Boston Park Plaza, established in 1929.
Taste of Vietnam (15 days) — The bustling neighborhoods of Hanoi and a cruise of Halong Bay in a traditional junk are among highlights.
The Northern Lights of Finland (8 days) — Guests seek the glowing aurora borealis and stay in the unique glass igloos of Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort.
See all new Collette trips.
SITA World Tours
Pristine Sardinia Tour (7 days) — Immerse yourself in life on this Italian island through visits with residents, a cooking class and meals in local restaurants.
Northern Spain & Portugal (8 days) — From Santiago de Compostela, a famed pilgrimage site, travel to La Toja island and Porto, hub of the port wine industry.
Greece and Zorba (6 days) –Guests stay in an Athens hotel and join excursions to the Acropolis, Corinth Canal and the ancient citadel of Mycenae.
See all new SITA trips.
Mythic West: Montana, Yellowstone & the Tetons (8 days) — Attend a talk on wildlife photography, spend time at a family-owned cattle ranch and raft the Snake River.
A Week in Tuscany & Umbria (8 days) — Tauck provides a Tuscan cooking class, lunch on a truffle farm (with a chance to hunt truffles yourself) and guided tours in Perugia and Assisi.
The Best of Ireland (14 days) — This itinerary incorporates the Titanic Belfast interactive museum, a whiskey tasting at the Jameson Experience and the Ring of Kerry.
See all new Tauck trips.
Journey Through the Clouds Outdoor Adventures (11 days) — This vacation combines a train ride through the Canadian Rockies with activities like a helicopter tour and a rafting trip.
First Passage to the West Culinary Exploration (10 days) — Enjoy a six-course tasting menu at a five-diamond Banff restaurant and, in Vancouver, a tour of the Granville Island market or Chinatown (with a dim sum lunch).
See all new Rocky Mountaineer trips.
Alexander + Roberts
Patagonia + Chile (5 days) — Visit Santiago landmarks before going to a luxury camp in Patagonia, where you can choose excursions suited to your fitness level.
Thailand In Style (10 days) — This private tour — with your own vehicle, driver and guide — incorporates the dazzling sights of Bangkok and time in hill tribe villages.
See all new Alexander + Roberts trips.
Contiki (for travelers ages 18 to 35)
Andean Crossing (22 days) — Stay in jungle lodges, hostels and hotels on this trip to Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina.
Bella Bolivia (13 days) — Explore La Paz at 12,000 feet above sea level and see the otherworldly, reflective landscape of Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat.
See all new Contiki trips.
Natural Habitat Adventures
Galapagos & Machu Picchu: Icons of Nature & Culture (15 days) — This trip pairs a cruise of the Galapagos Islands, home to rare animal species, with time in the “Lost City of the Incas.”
Sri Lanka Wildlife Safari (12 days) — Look for fishing cats, sloth bears and Asian elephants in the nature preserves of this Indian Ocean island nation.
See all new Natural Habitat Adventures trips.
Abercrombie & Kent
India & the Riches of Rajasthan (12 days) — Explore Old and New Delhi, stay in Jodhpur’s luxurious Umaid Bhawan Palace hotel and visit the Taj Mahal.
Family Italy (10 days) — A session at “gladiator school” in Rome, a tour of the Ferrari Museum in Modena and a pasta-making class in Bologna are scheduled.
See all new A&K trips.
The 2020 Oberammergau Passion Play
In addition to new 2018 trips, several tour operators have released 2020 tours for the famous Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany. It runs from May through early October and is produced only every 10 years. To read more about the event and see itineraries that incorporate the 42nd Passion Play, click here.
Here are this week’s Top 20 Tours. All prices are per person, based on double occupancy, and subject to availability.
1) Easy Pace Budapest, Vienna and Prague, 11 days with Insight Vacations. Begins in Budapest and ends in Prague. Save up to 7.5%. Starting at $2,451. Departures from April 19 through October 11, 2018.
2) From the Windy City to the Big Easy, 11 days with CostSaver by Trafalgar. Begins in Chicago and ends in New Orleans. Starting at $1,995. Departures from May 12 through October 13, 2018.
3) The Classic Voyage Roundtrip, 12 days with Hurtigruten. Begins and ends in Bergen. Save up to 25%. Starting at $2,001. Daily departures from April 7, 2018 through March 30, 2019.
4) From Paris to the Cote Fleurie Beaches, 7 days with CroisiEurope. Begins in Paris and ends in Honfleur. Save $500 per couple. Starting at $2,029. Departures from April 24 through October 9, 2018.
5) Great British Cities, 9 days with CIE Tours. Begins in Edinburgh and ends in London. Companion flies for free. Starting at $2,060. Departures from April 22 through October 28, 2018.
6) Secrets of the Douro, 8 days with Emerald Waterways. Begins and ends in Porto. Fly for $295 from select gateways or save $1,000 per couple when you book a suite. Plus receive a premium drink package and one free Discover More tour. Starting at $2,595. Departures from May 5 through November 10, 2018.
7) Balkan Delight, 12 days with Trafalgar. Begins and ends in Zagreb. Save up to 7.5%. Starting at $2,655. Departures from April 7 through September 29, 2018.
8) Jewels of Ireland, 14 days with CIE Tours. Begins and ends in Dublin. Companion flies for free. Starting at $2,750. Departures from April 13 through October 26, 2018.
9) Peru: Ancient Land of Mysteries, 10 days with Collette Vacations. Begins and ends in Lima. Save $200 to $400 per couple. Starting at $2,999. Departures from September 1, 2018 through April 27, 2019.
10) Explore North India & the Ganges (National Geographic Journey), 16 days with G Adventures. Begins in Delhi and ends in Kolkata. Save 25%. Starting at $3,049. Departures from March 15 through August 23, 2018.
11) Classic China, 10 days with Trafalgar. Begins in Beijing and ends in Shanghai. Save up to 7.5%. Starting at $3,140. Departures from April 27 through October 26, 2018.
12) Luxury Mekong, 8 days with Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours. Travels between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap. Fly for free in economy or save $2,000 per couple. Starting at $3,195. Departures from January 23 through April 10, 2018.
13) Highland Trail Inspired by Outlander, 13 days with Brendan Vacations. Begins in Edinburgh and ends in Glasgow. Save up to 7.5%. Starting at $3,006. Departures from May 28 through September 17, 2018.
14) Spain, Portugal & Morocco, 24 days with Intrepid Travel. Begins in Madrid and ends in Marrakech. Save 10%. Starting at $3,325. Departures from May 3 through August 25, 2018.
15) The Best of Italy & Sicily, 15 days with Globus. Begins and ends in Rome. Save 5%. Starting at $3,799. Departures from April 8 through October 14, 2018.
16) Rockies and Vancouver Island Circle, 10 days with Rocky Mountaineer. Begins and ends in Calgary. Starting at $3,983. Departures from April 20 through October 5, 2018.
17) Danube Waltz, 8 days with Viking River Cruises. Travels between Budapest and Munich. Fly from $395 to $695 per person, plus companion cruises for free. Starting at $3,998. Departures from April 13 through December 19, 2018.
18) Country Roads of Switzerland, 15 days with Insight Vacations. Begins and ends in Zurich. Save up to 7.5%. Starting at $4,486. Departs April 14 & 21, July 21 and September 29, 2018.
19) Scandinavia Explorer, 15 days with Intrepid Travel. Begins in Oslo and ends in Helsinki. Save 10%. Starting at $4,520. Departures from May 19 through August 25, 2018.
20) From the Outback to the Glaciers, 21 days with Collette Vacations. Begins in Cairns and ends in Christchurch. Save $400 to $1,000 per couple. Starting at $4,999. Departures from February 25, 2018 through February 25, 2019.
For savings of up to 82% on ocean cruises, .
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