Mid-Semester Break in Australia, A 10-day Road Trip!
“Aaaaand….. done! I finished my final assignment before Spring Break and we were on the train towards Brisbane to catch our flight to Cairns. 🙂 We arrived at our hostel late that evening and quickly settled in for the night to prepare for a big day at the Great Barrier Reef!”
I travelled with other exchange students: one German, one Austrian, two Danish, and two Italians. This was the beginning of our 10-day adventure, travelling from Cairns all the way down to the Gold Coast.
Our intention was to see and experience as much as we could during our mid-semester holiday and oh my… did we ever experience a lot!! These 10 days were filled with diving, sailing, waterfalls, rain forest, sun, beaches, koalas and so much more 😀
In this post I’ll share the immense amount of activities we experienced, as well as some lessons learned while travelling for 10 days with the group.
Perhaps this post will hold value if you’re hoping to plan your own Queensland mid-semester Australia trip, maybe it will be reminiscent of a trip you’ve already done, and of course this will be a way for me to share some of the beauty of Australia with friends and family back home. I hope you enjoy! 🙂
Great Barrier Reef
We woke up early the next morning, had a small breakfast and went to the docks to find our boat. We lined up, got on our boat and registered — and soon we were on our way to the Great Barrier Reef!
I was thrilled in anticipation of scuba diving again as I’d recently earned my Advanced Diving Certification and had been diving a lot lately. We got suited up and ready to go, I had my GoPro underwater video camera ready to capture some awesome footage, and four of us submerged ready to see all the wonders the reef had to offer.
Almost immediately I was overcome with the beauty of the reef, swimming among fish and coral reefs. Being absorbed in the experience, I suddenly realized my GoPro was missing!!
I communicated to my buddy what had happened and we tried to search for the GoPro, but to no avail. It was gone!! However, after a brief search I accepted that we might not find it, and returned my attention to the wonders around me and immersed myself in this amazing experience.
We saw hundreds of fish swimming among the diverse and beautiful habitat of the coral reef. Some were smaller than a fingernail, which made them appear as glimmers of light in the water with their illustrious colours, and others were as large as my arm span. We even saw Nemo and his family!
We saw black-tip reef sharks, stingrays, and—best of all—swam with two turtles. The first turtle was relaxing in a little cove hidden near the sea floor, and the other was a massive turtle that glided with us majestically through the water.
As well all the incredible diversity underwater, the boat experience was also amazing as I shared this experience with my friends, met new people, had the support of lovely staff, and enjoyed a delicious buffet.
During this experience I realized how much I’d learned while diving, helping my friend, and the dive experience itself. I want to experience this more often, and it made me interested in being a dive instructor.
Visiting the Great Barrier Reef offered a completely new and unique experience that I won’t soon forget, and my GoPro may forever remain at its bottom.
Later that evening we stopped at Port Douglas for food and drinks then made our way to Cairns, where we celebrated Amalie’s birthday at a local bar!
Markets, Waterfalls, and Searching for Sleep
Sunday morning we went to the dive shop to fill out our scuba diving logs, then to the Cairns Botanical Gardens and the market there.
The Gardens were beautiful with such a diverse array of flora and plants, and butterflies flying around the conservatory. The smell was amazing! It would be so wonderful if more environments like this were still available naturally to inspire thought, relaxation, innovation and connection to nature.
The market was just as amazing. There were dozens and dozens of stalls. Each vendor sold items unique to their trades, skills and interests. I wondered what inspired each vendor to sell their particular goods.
There was honey (which I learned shared traits similar to the art/science of wine-making), gems, dishes, candles and amazing food all throughout. There was also live music!
This is the kind of environment one can wander to inspire new ideas, have exposure to different crafts and goods that could inspire business ideas, and diverse people where conversations can spark different possibilities. It was a relaxed and friendly vibe.
After spending awhile at the market, my friends called saying they were ready to go. At first I was a bit distraught because I wasn’t ready to leave so soon, but their call and eagerness to leave soon gave me enough time to pick-up my replacement GoPro camera, so I appreciated that. (When getting a new GoPro I also got the hero 4, with a 10% “local” discount.) 😉
Later that day we went to the beautiful Josephine Falls, where we jumped into amazing water, enjoyed a natural water slide, and then drove to Mission Beach for dinner. The others all met us there, and later on we enjoyed a nice moonlight walk on the beach.
Finding a place to sleep that evening was quite the debacle. We went to a campsite but it was full, then debated if we should camp on the beach where a ranger couldn’t find us.
In our search for a campsite, we decided to approach a house with a light on. We knocked on the door and were greeted by a very kind old man. His name was Robin, he’d had a stroke 4 months ago, and he had a walker. We talked to him for a short period of time, and he was very pleased to offer us the opportunity to camp on a small patch of grass in his yard, as well as use the bathroom and shower. However, it turned out to not actually be his yard, but the tenant who lived upstairs.
As we were setting up the tent, another old man came to our tent with a flashlight and started yelling — questioning why we were there and telling us to leave immediately. We had a debate with him, told him to talk to Robin but that did not work as they argued.
The man said he would call the police in 30 minutes if were not gone. So to avoid the trouble and hassle of this, we decided to leave and find another spot. We ended up choosing a spot on the beach, and after much struggle set up the tent for the night and slept.
That night wasn’t the best for sleeping, but that was okay. The next morning we went to the hostel nearby where the door was wide open… we used the shower facilities, electricity outlets, as well as made a coffee ;).
We spent most of the day on the little paradise of Dunk Island. This island offered a wonderful hike with a great lookout point, lush rain forest and beautiful beaches. Later that evening we had a BBQ on Mission Beach then journeyed to Wallaman Falls, where we camped for the night.
Largest Waterfall in Australia and a Luxury Hostel
We awoke the next morning, reorganized all of our items and cleaned the car, then hiked the amazing Wallaman Falls (the largest waterfall in Australia)!
The hike itself was beautiful, and one of the highlights of the trip for me. I’d really missed hiking and all the elements involved. Beautiful nature, fresh air, good company, and aspects of adventure as we trekked over slippery rocks to make our way to the ice-cold waters of the waterfall!
Later that day we journeyed to Townsville, where we made our way to the amazing Rambutan hostel, which was more like a 4-star hotel and cost only $24/night. We soaked up the luxury of the Rambutan, enjoying the ambiance, which promoted heart-felt conversations, and hit the hay early that night, preparing for another early morning!
Deep Diving and Koalas
Today was the day! I’d been eagerly anticipating this dive for a few days and now it was time to dive the SS Yongala Shipwreck!
We quickly packed up our things and made our way to the docks. Soon we were on our way to the vast stretches of the ocean towards this famous dive site.
The SS Yongala sank in 1911 and wasn’t discovered until 1958. Approximately 90km southeast of Townsville, the ship sits 30m below the ocean surface, and many kinds of wildlife have made it their home.
We had two dives, and approaching the ship was an incredible experience. At first I couldn’t believe what I saw, as it was incredible how much wildlife was in the area!
On the way down we saw a couple sharks in the distance, a sea snake, a turtle, and throughout the dive an immense plethora of fish with a huge range in diversity.
After spending 8 hours on the open ocean, the day wasn’t over yet! We made our way to Magnetic Island to meet our friends and did the “Forts” walk, where we saw some wild koalas!
After Magnetic Island we still needed to catch the ferry. Arrriving in Townsville, we ambitiously set our sights on driving at night towards Airlie Beach. It was getting late and we decided to make camp on the way, eventually finding the most beautiful spot at Bowen!!
This camp spot did not come easily, though. It had been a long day for all of us and we all had different ideas of where to camp. Most of us were keen on budgeting and intent on camping for free, so we searched for a spot where the ranger wouldn’t give us a fine.
After a lot of discussion on different ideas of where to camp, I proposed a spot on the map we hadn’t explored yet, and thankfully it turned out to be one of the best camping spots we’d found yet!
Sailing Pristine Waters and Frolicking on Magical Beaches
After enjoying the beautiful camping spot, we made our way to Airlie Beach, where we checked in for our sailing trip.
Our group of 5 soon became 7 when Max and Erika, our Italian friends, joined us for the Whitsunday Islands!
We had a few hours at Airlie Beach where we enjoyed a shower, explored the small tourist town, then we were ready to go sailing! We made it to our sailing boat, called the Condor, and set out to the Whitsunday Islands!
During this trip we met some amazing people, and along the way we enjoyed the beautiful scenery, the experience of sailing these pristine waters, snorkeling with fish, and basking in the incredible beauty and magic of Whitehaven Beach.
Dangerous Driving and a Platypus
We finished our Whitsundays Islands trip around noon Saturday, and began our long drive back to the Gold Coast.
Over the next 22 hours we set on an ambitious 1200km drive from Airlie Beach to Gold Coast. We frequently switched drivers as it was absolutely crucial that we were attentive while driving, especially at night.
Driving at night sometimes had its perils. In addition to the struggles of finding an appropriate camping spot, along the drive there were frequently kangaroos and wallabies in the middle of the road!!
A couple of times we had a near miss with the wild animals. While I thought seeing kangaroos while driving might be similar to how often we would see deer at night in Canada, it was very different!
It was a mission to drive at night as these animals were incredibly unpredictable and seemed to almost chase your headlights. There were also rabbits, and unfortunately some had already been struck and lay on the road.
But while driving held these perils at night, it was astonishing to see such a change of scenery from the northern Queensland to the southern Queensland coast!
We saw lush tropical rainforest, endless green valleys, the reddest of soils, sugar cane trains, and quirky trivia signs that adorned the highway to keep drivers attentive.
In addition to driving this distance we made a stop at Eungella National Park, where we admired gorgeous views of the nearby landscape, and even saw a small platypus!
We drove late into the night and spent the night sleeping in the car, which I thought might’ve been super uncomfortable, but given how tired we all were, it worked out very well and we fell asleep without a problem!
Noosa and Returning Home
On our final day we awoke early and made our way to Noosa, where we spent a few hours exploring its friendly and charming atmosphere, then hiking Noosa Heads, which was a gorgeous walk!
Leaving Noosa that evening we drove the remainder of our epic road trip and arrived back in Surfer’s Paradise, Gold Coast. We were back home!
It was a very surreal/quirky feeling to be back, and astonishing to realize our trip had come to an end, and we were back in our community of Surfer’s Paradise, which felt like home.
Summarizing a Busy 10 Days
I really enjoyed this trip and had many amazing experiences. Here are some highlights:
- Scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef and Yongala, stimulating my passion for the underwater world.
- Driving an incredibly dynamic coastline and trying to dodge wallabies and kangaroos on the road through the night.
- Basking in the wonder of the many beaches and islands we explored, with Whitehaven being a playground of white sand, blue waters, and sun!
- I love waterfalls. Jumping into ice-cold waterfalls on a hot day, and embracing the scenery and life surrounding these oases that embody so much beauty.
- Sharing these experiences with some of the most amazing people I’ve met during my travels in Australia, who helped create these experiences for what they are.
This was my first extended trip with a large group; we were 7 people who worked together to create a flexible itinerary that suited everyone’s needs.
However, this sometimes proved challenging as we had differing ideas of budget and things we wanted to do. While this was challenging when coming to agreements on a planned route, we eventually came to an agreement on a route that worked to everyone’s satisfaction and enjoyment.
What I found unique about travelling in a group was the ability to build on pre-existing foundations of relatedness. Depending on the range of the connection you already share with this person, there may also be variations in values and enjoyment of different kinds of experiences, but it’s still a shared experience and understanding.
This allows further expansion on the levels of which people can relate. It’s different than travelling alone. In my experiences travelling alone I had a few days sharing the same journey as other backpackers. But in this group experience we all had a pre-existing relationship with our companions, and each day of our adventure we got to share a lot. There is also the sense of how you see each person grow, how our personalities meshed, and how teamwork and cohesion are created.
Whether you’re someone who is keeping up to date my with adventures, are curious about exchange, want to plan your own adventures in Australia, or have done a similar trip – I hope this post provides some insight and that you enjoyed the read! 🙂