by Wendy Fougner
A few years ago I completed my training with Ensemble to have a specialist designation for Fiji and Australia. This training involved embarking on a trip to a South Pacific destination. I was fortunate to be part of a group that went to Australia to learn more about the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns and Sydney.
My journey began as I traveled to Cairns and spent the first few nights of my trip at the lovely Shangri-La. This beautiful hotel is perfectly situated on the harbor in close proximity to many restaurants and Cairns’ downtown center. The Shangri-La also has a spa, several shops and a good restaurant. The property is best suited for families looking for a central home-base for their stay in Cairns or business travelers.
On our last morning in Cairns we woke early in the morning and headed to Freshwater Station to catch our train to Kuranda on the Kuranda Scenic Railway. Kuranda is a picturesque mountain village located in the lush rainforest of Queensland. We traveled to Kuranda in gold class, enjoying exceptional service throughout the train ride. The ride was beautiful, taking us through tunnels, providing stunning vistas of forest and stopping at Barron Falls. Once we reached the top of Kuranda, we disembarked and walked through the village, exploring stores in the Heritage Market and enjoying the wildlife. The highlight of this excursion for many on our trip was taking photos with koalas and feeding kangaroos and wallabies. Feeding the kangaroo myself, I had no idea that its mouth would be so soft!
We descended Kuranda on the Skyride, a gondola that passes over the rainforest. Half way down, the Skyride stops and lets you out onto a path. A short walk down the path brings you special vantage point from which you can see the falls. The view is fantastic and provides a different perspective than the stop along the train ride. It was wonderful to travel up and down Kuranda in different ways and experience various parts of the rainforest. At the bottom we were taken to Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park for a delicious lunch. After lunch we went to different stations at the park and learned Aboriginal dances, how to use a didgeridoo, throw a spear and a boomerang.
After a busy day exploring Kuranda, we were off to the docks in Cairns. At the docks we were greeted by the gracious and friendly crew of the 37ft Coral Princess boat. Upon arrival, it was amazing how quickly we were taken aboard and brought into the fold of the family run business. We spent the next three days on the Coral Princess, exploring the Great Barrier Reef, and the experience was absolutely amazing. The food was fabulous, the the daily activities were fascinating and entertaining, and the cleanliness and maintenance of the boat was impeccable.
One of my favourite features of the boat was the opportunity to go snorkeling twice a day on a glass bottom boat tour or scuba diving. If you don’t have any experience scuba diving, the staff are able to provide you with the necessary training. This is a wonderful way to discover the Great Barrier Reef.
After our adventure on the Great Barrier Reef we traveled to Sydney where we stayed at the Sheraton Hotel in the downtown core. This gorgeous property offers expansive views of Sydney. The top floors of the building features a pool, hot tub and spectacular views. Our exploration of Sydney was extensive, as we ventured to Manly Island on the local ferry, enjoyed shopping throughout the city and sampling Sydney’s culinary delights in different restaurants. After spending time in Sydney we said goodbye to new friends and left the wonderful country of Australia.
This journey made me aware of Australia’s incredible diversity: diverse and contrasting landscapes, various culinary options, different cultures and so much more. Australia is an amazing country to explore with so much to offer. If it’s not already on your bucket list, it should be!