The towns that comprise Mission Beach are small and low-key with a lot of well-to-do aging semi-hippies (expensive crystal shops, flowy skirts and earthy soap). South Mission Beach is home to a population of wild wallabies, which were fun for us to see, but the locals consider them pests.
That morning, we headed up to Cairns. On the way, we ran into a random DUI checkpoint where everyone had to stop and take a breathalyzer test. Since we are a couple of dorks, we were actually pretty excited to try out the breathalyzer.
Once we arrived in Cairns, we checked into our Reef Palms apartment and set out to plan the next couple of days. Our plan was to try to get in a few dives on the outer Great Barrier Reef. Like everywhere else in Australia, you get a much better deal working through a local travel agent vs. booking on your own online. It's really difficult to compare travel packages online in Australia, yet there are countless travel agents competing for your business on two streets in downtown Cairns. So after visiting a few of the local agents, we ended up booking our stay for the next night on Fitzroy Island, and a trip for the following day to head out to the reef.
Fitzroy Island vs. Green Island
There are several islands off the coast of Cairns. A few of them are really high end and expensive. The two most popular and reasonable islands are Fitztroy and Green islands. Both islands have one resort, yet Green Island is a coral cay (like Heron Island) and is much smaller than Fitzroy Island. We chose Fitzroy Island simply because our dive day trip through Cairns Dive Center stopped at Fitzroy on its way out to the outer reef. Had we gone with Green Island, we would have had to book a much more expensive day trip for our dives.
Fitzroy Island & Diving the Outer Reef
The next morning, we headed off to Fitzroy Island, which is located about 45 minutes by ferry from Cairns. There is only one resort on the island plus a small camp site. There are two beaches that can be reached on foot, and the remainder of the island is wooded with two peaks that can you can hike to. The island was beautiful and the resort's amenities were very nice. Our room, however, did not meet our expectations. We were on the ground floor facing the forest. The resort's walkways were located outside our only window so the room received very little sunlight. No only did this result in a dark room, but it also smelled of mildew. If you find yourself considering an overnight at Fitzroy, make sure you book a room facing the beach!
That evening we had a picnic on the beach at sunset with some groceries we purchased in Cairns. We then went to the resort bar, Foxy's, for a couple drinks which we enjoyed to a playlist of cheesy 90's music.
CDC brought us to a small part of the reef called Briggs Reef. We had two great dives that day and saw the most beautiful reef we've ever seen. The water was incredibly clear and we floated among a city of fish, coral, sharks and turtles. It was a spectacular array of moving colors and and shapes. At one point I was face to face with a sea turtle, both of us curiously evaluating each other for a few seconds, before it swam to the surface for some air. After our first dive, we saw a whale in the distance, although sadly we didn't get to see it underwater!
We did both of our dives with a guide named Killian from the Cairns Dive Center. Killian was awesome - the best dive guide we've had thus far. He brought us around to the best spots on the reef and pointed out lots of interesting sea life that we probably would have missed on our own. Overall, we found this company to be amazing, with an incredibly professional and friendly staff. We would highly recommend them if you are considering diving in this area.