From Sydney to the Solomons to Cairns and back!A few months ago I would never have guessed I would have one of the best vacations ever in a place I knew little about and with two people I barely knew. However, Cairns was an unexpected surprise filled with relaxation, beautiful views, delicious dinners, and amazing company. Kate, Ryan, and I couldn’t have been more on the same page than we were this weekend and we all had an unforgettable time. The plane from Sydney to Cairns flew by as we shared pictures from the past few weeks. Our very blunt taxi driver dropped us off at our hotel where we were welcomed by a large room with a king size bed and two singles. My favorite part though was the balcony overlooking the breathtaking ocean and mountain views. We arrived at the hotel at the perfect time just to see the sunset behind the mountains. As we ventured out to see Cairns we enjoyed a walk along the Esplanade, the boardwalk along the water, and checked out places for dinner while admiring the colorfully lit walkway of trees and the fire show going on. We settled on Barnacle Bills where Kate and I indulged in daintree barramundi fish and Ryan in crocodile and kangaroo.
Our early morning walk to the wharf the next morning presented the most beautiful sunrise over the ocean and mountains. We arrived to check-in for our Ocean Freedom Reef Cruise at 7:15 and we’re greeted by a friendly, energetic, and attractive crew. It was a calm and sunny two-hour ride to and from the reef and then we spent about two hours at each of the two different spots on the reef. At first we were disappointed to hear that because our first cruise booking had fallen through we would not be able to scuba dive unless we paid an extra 100 dollars but it worked out for the best. The snorkeling let us take in everything on the reef as the water was shallow and the scuba divers swam only a few feet below us. In our flippers, wet suits, and masks we jumped into the water with free range to swim around. The rainbow and parrotfish were my favorite and at times I could have reached out and grabbed a black and white stripped fish that I called the PC Friar Fish, from the school swimming by. At the first spot I saw a medium sized shark swim by at a distance away so I popped my head up to alert Kate. After that, we were back on the boat. But I didn’t let this stop me and at the next spot I was back in the water. This time I saw another shark and got only about 2 meters away from it to take a few pictures. The crew said I was “lucky” to have seen one… I’d say I’m lucky to still be here today. Especially when the shark was directly under me near the boat and Kate and Ryan threw a handful of prawns into the water to get the fish to surround me!
Friday night we visited a few spots recommended by one of the members of the crew and realized how much larger Cairns is than we thought! On Saturday we decided to spend the morning doing a quick jog down the Esplanade and then the afternoon by the lagoon, a large public swimming pool right on the ocean. I finally got my turkey sandwich I’ve been craving for the past five weeks (there wasn’t any turkey in the Solomons and Australians don’t really eat it) at a café next to the pool. A market of different vendors was set up along the lagoon, live music played all day, and everyone was out lying by the pool and on the grass. Kate discovered a food market on her walk and came back to the pool with fresh passion fruit, watermelon, and coconut water! Later in the day we all went back to the market and I got ingredients to make guacamole, which we enjoyed on the balcony at our hotel. Saturday night was one of my favorite memories of the trip. We had the best dinner at a seafood restaurant called Tha Fish, right on the pier overlooking the marina of beautiful yachts and sailboats. We shared stories of our best and worst family vacations and reflected on how extremely lucky we are to have this experience. Dinner started off with crab bruchetta and then we all ordered the Red Emperor, because if you’re at the Great Barrier Reef you need to eat a reef fish! We topped it off with tiramasu and coffee’s. Then we ended the night with a peaceful walk down the boardwalk admiring the city lit up at night and the stars above.
We woke up early Sunday morning to enjoy an hour by the pool and then left at 10:30 for our flight back to Sydney. I realized that Cairns conveniently fell at the end of my fellowship and allowed me time to stop and really reflect on how lucky I am to have experienced the last few weeks. If I had gone home directly from Auki I would have had to immediately talked about all I did and learned and would have felt overwhelmed. These past few weeks almost feel like a dream and Cairns allowed me time to myself to piece together all that has happened and to grow in gratitude. For all I have seen, the relationships I have made, the hard work that has been done, and the greater appreciation I have for my life, I thank the Father Smith Fellowship.