Over 24 hours of travel!  But made a whole LOT easier thanks to business class travel from our rewards points :)
Jason enjoyed a cookie in the United lounge at the airport.  Lots of free food available in the lounge in case we're feeling peckish.  The leg room was amazing and all 3 flights had "lay flat" seats that allowed us to get some real sleep.  
Breakfast on our last flight was especially nice, we even had some champagne!
Jason caught a bit more sleep on the last flight - I didn't get any photos of our long overnight flight but we were both curled up under blankets, happy to be snoozin' :o)
We spent the first couple nights in Cairns.  Thanks to the sleep we got on the planes, jet lag wasn't too bad.  Our vacation rental was amazing.  We arrived to find a box of chocolates - that's my kind of welcome!!
I also enjoyed reading the info sheet (not something I would normally say) because the owner's sense of humor was right up our alley - even a line item on what to do in case of a Zombie Apocalypse (not sure I agree with "they are pretty harmless" ha!)
The rental was right on the "Esplanade" in Cairns, a long boardwalk/path area.  We had amazing ocean views from the rental and were in the heart of the central business district with a small supermarket below us and tons of restaurants within a short walk.  We actually arrived a bit before the rental was available for check in... but we just sat down at the Gelato stand across the street - by the time we were done it was ready :) 
We had a full day to take it easy before we headed out to the reef and we enjoyed walking along the Esplanade enjoying the ocean views.  We even found a small rock wall at a playground so of course I had to give it a climb!

We had lunch at the aquarium in town which was very yummy - the appetizer was bread with 3 types of dip, all were great.  Jason was adventurous and had kangaroo which he said was actually pretty good.
Some photos from our stroll along the ocean... lots of gorgeous flowers here!
That's definitely the biggest grasshopper I've ever seen!
The colorful birds on the right are Rainbow Lorikeets.  You can usually hear them before you see them, they're pretty squawky ;o)  I just love the vibrant colors and was so glad we got to see them!
The next 4 nights / 5 days were spent on the Great Barrier Reef on a live aboard dive boat.
We did a "referral" dive course where we did pool / classroom learning at home and then finished up the certification by doing our open water dives on the reef.  We had a dedicated Dive Master named Michael who was absolutely AMAZING and really made the training and the trip super special (that's Michael in the middle photo).  
We had an absolute blast on the boat (Reef Encounter).  We were a bit worried since it was kinda rocky on the ride out and sleeping on a moving bed was a bit difficult the first night.  But by the end we were trying to figure out where to hide so we wouldn't have to leave :)  We ended up doing 16-17 dives (Jason did an extra early morning dive while I slept in).
The staff on the boat were simply spectacular.  We both felt they were truly what MADE the trip.

We have lots of video to get through so I'll post that later, but here's a few:  the yellow fish below is a boxfish - he really is like a little cube!
This is our list of dives - I had thought I'd be up for maybe 2 dives a day but by the end we'd done 4 in one day and on our last day we did 3 dives before lunch!
On the left is the dive deck where we'd put on our gear and do our buddy checks before diving in (couldn't resist)
On the right is a nudibranch (the big red thing).  Our dive trainer, Michael, had a fondness for finding nudibranches and it was fun to join the search.  Many are as small as a fingernail but this one was bigger than his hand, he'd never seen this one before and was super exited about it.  We actually saw this during our night dive.  Yup, that's right - we dove at night.  Pretty proud of that, to be honest.  We saw lots of big fish and quite a few sharks.  I wasn't scared of the sharks (truly - they're reef sharks, not great whites), but being surrounded by the big dark nothingness where your flashlight beam stopped... that was a bit unnerving at times!
They have an amazing underwater photographer on board the boat - several actually that switched on and off during our stay.  Below are some of their photos.  The last couple days was with Matilda who got some great shots for us :)
Left: about to board the boat - excited but no idea how awesome the next 5 days would be!
Middle: our home on the water - the top area with the blue boxes on the right is where we'd get into our wetsuits and grab our fins/mask.  It's also the deck where our room was.  The deck below that is where all the tanks etc were and then onto the lowest part where we'd get in the water.
Right: me taking in all the sights to see
We did a couple "swim throughs" which was slightly nerve racking but a lot of fun.  Michael picked out a couple that gave us plenty of space :)
We saw quite a few cuttlefish (below, left) and they are just amazing to watch - they're like octopus in that they change colors to camouflage.  I think Jason got a video of one where it was changing and it was one color/pattern on the left side with a very clear line down the middle and then a different color/pattern on the right - very cool!
So - to wrap up the week... the plan was to get off the boat at about 5pm, pick up a rental car and drive about an hour outside Cairns to our hotel and spend the next day exploring the area, checking out some waterfalls.  We had a day built in before flying because it's a big no-no to fly after diving...
So we get on the road and are using Google maps to help us get there and at one point I just start laughing out loud - what was coming up on the map looked like a 3rd grader was doodling with a crayon - what a crazy  curvy road (see photo on left).  We both had a laugh about that and as we twisted and turned our way up the road we realized it was switchbacking up hills... pretty big hills.  We pulled over and did a quick internet search and learned that not only should you not fly after diving, you shouldn't go above 1,000 feet aka 300 meters.  So we check out the elevation at our destination - 800 meters!  And where we'd pulled over? 314 meters!  So we quickly turned around and headed back down.  Oops!!  I hadn't even considered that the hills around Cairns would be big enough to be an issue.  Ah well.  Lesson learned.  All in all we're glad that we ended up back in Cairns, actually.  We were pretty tired after all that diving and a full day of driving didn't really sound fun.  So instead we've been able to just take it easy in preparation for the next leg of the journey which begins today as we fly south towards Lady Elliot Island.

Oh - one more thing to mention just in case it might help any potential envy you have reading this... as we strolled along the Esplanade the first night I looked up and casually said "3 bats just flew over us".  Jason didn't believe me at first but then we saw MORE and MORE and yup, bats.  Big ones.  It's actually pretty cool to see (as long as they stay above us!)  They aren't like the bats I'm used to growing up: those were small and always seemed to fly very erratically / jerky.  These were bigger and flew like birds do - slower wing flaps, graceful.  Below is a photo Jason got from our walk on the boardwalk our first night and another showing a pretty good swarm from last night. 
And here's a video I took last night as we walked to grab some food - just a few bats hanging out in a tree, they're pretty noisy!
Thanks for reading!
Thank you!

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