In 2005, I attended a charity event in Washington, DC, for the International Ecotourism Society, where various trip packages were being auctioned off to raise money for the society. I had done my homework and researched how much some of the trips usually cost. So when, during a lull in the auction, I saw that an Australia trip was going for less than half its usual cost, I raised my paddle and, boom, I got it!
It turns out that one reason there wasn’t more interest from bidders was that the trip didn’t include airfare to and from Australia. But it was still a good deal, and Melissa and I used our prize as a starting point to plan our first (and, so far, only) visit Down Under.
Our trip package included five nights on Heron and Wilson Islands on the Great Barrier Reef and four nights at Silky Oaks Lodge in the Daintree rainforest—both luxury eco-resorts that would usually be far beyond our price range. The package also included coupons to fill our days at the lodges with tours, snorkeling trips, and spa treatments, lest we get tired of pure relaxation. The more we delved into it, the better the trip package we’d bought turned out to be.
Distances in Australia are vast. Both of our lodges are in the northeastern state of Queensland. So instead of trying to fly all over the country, we decided to focus the rest of our three-week vacation on that state—a geographically diverse area almost as big as Mexico. Besides the two resorts, we stayed in the cities of Cairns and Brisbane, the towns of Port Townsend and Yungaburra, and beautiful Lamington National Park, mainly using rental cars to get around. (Since this was before our vagabonding days, we traveled more like regular tourists than we do now.)
Nature lovers that we are, we spent most of our trip learning about Queensland’s amazing flora, fauna, and landscapes. This was our first visit to the southern hemisphere and to the Asian side of the globe. So it felt extra remarkable to be someplace where none of the plants and animals around us, or even the stars overhead, looked like what we knew back home.