Days 8 and 9: White Water Rafting, Cocktails and Lunch By The Marina

Where Else But Queensland?

Days 8 and 9: White Water Rafting, Cocktails and Lunch By The Marina

Words: Andy. Photos: Chris (

Our last two days in a climate that’s currently twenty degrees warmer than what the cats are experiencing, so we had to get the most out of it, and what better way than a relaxing ride through some rapids?

Friday was a slow start after the night of a thousand door slams and disco music outside our window. I honestly didn’t realise I was booking a Hostel (#noregrets) for our last two nights in Cairns, but here we are! The room was very comfortable, despite the ambient noise, ambient light and shared bathroom, but that’s hostels, right? Lesson learned, Donna, I’ll let you book at least the accommodation for the end of our stay next time!


Admittedly, I was a bit cautious when she suggested the Barron River white water rapids half-day adventure for the second last day, joking that if we broke anything, we’d at least be heading home the next day. Totes comforting, but it was a yes from us! We’ve managed to complete this trip injury free (if you don’t count Chris’s bruised shin from walk, at pace, into some street furniture in Port Douglas).

We had the morning free, so started with a little walk through the city centre in search of coffee and a nibble to eat. I had waffles with fruit (the cinnamon pear was quite toothsome… yes, I’m at the airport waiting for a delayed flight and found the thesaurus) and Chris had a delectable almond croissant. We wandered through a small market that had the best selection of fresh produce I’ve seen in years: all of your regular favourties as well as dragon fruit, taro, jack fruit and a great variety of colourful, plump tropical fruits. Chris needed some shorts, having packs main long pants, and realising shorts would be a good idea on day 8 of nine, so we headed for Cairns Central where there was plenty to choose from. The aircon was nice, not realising just how warm and humid it was outside. Shopping done, we headed back towards the car, stopped off for a smoothie and headed off to Lake Placid, the pickup point for the tour.


I do now remember speaking to the tour operator and them assuring me that they could pick us up from the Freedom Hotel (I was still misguided by the phantom “s” I’d missed when making the booking) and to wait out the front. That’s when we were in Wonga Beach and I didn’t write it down on my trusty hand-written itinerary, so doubted myself, not seeing any clear space a bus could pick us up, so off we drove.

There was a light rain, and I made a few silly wrong turns, panicking a little when I heard a scrape on attempt number one to get into the parking space (nobody want’s to pay the $4000 excess on the rental car, amiright?) But the crises were small and mostly manufactured. Other people were starting to arrive in what we all guessed was the pick up location, and soon enough the buses arrived. Familes jostled to be the first on board as we queued up to pay the national park levy, and we were happy to let the families with loud kids hop on board the first bus. They couldn’t find us on the manifest. The conversation started to re-emerge from the depths of my holiday memory and yes, I had in fact arranged to be picked up from the ho(s)tel. The staff soon broadcast over CB that “the pickup from Freedom Hostel drove to the lake” and we piled onto the second bus.

It’s only a short bus ride up to the top of the river… actually the release point from a hydro electric plant on the dam. For the first part of the day the river is dry then at about lunch time they open the dam gates and let the water rush through – hello water rapids!

Some safety tips on the way up, delivered by a young lass sporting an Irish accent: “when we get to the top, people under 45 kg will need an orange life vest, happy days, everyone will need to wear a helmet as protection because there are some rocky sections and you might get tipped overboard into the river, happy days, always make sure you hold on to the t-bar on the paddle on the way down, because a stray t-bar can take your teeth out, happy days, any questions?” No questions. “Happy days!”

Someone hadn’t turned up for work that day, but luckily the team leader, Kai, was ready to jump into the breach and we scored him as our guide – happy days! We were one of the last groups to head down to the river bank. Apart from the two buses in our group, the headcount on the other bus (that we “missed”) brought the headcount up to 135 for the afternoon, all floating downstream in inflatable rafts holding six souls plus the guide.

A few more instructions from Kai before we shoved off… he’d be instructing us to paddle, to back-paddle, and “get down” which confusingly involved letting go of the t-bar in a rough spot, planting it downwards, paddle in the air, and holding on to the rope on the seat in front. There was also a “move left” and “Move right” command which I managed to botch, purely for training purposes, of course… this was for when we needed to unstick ourselves from rocks, for example. It was sounding a little bit dicey, in a fun way of course, and the waivers we signed that we won’t hold them responsible should we drown soon melted into distant memory as we followed the current downstream, first little bump over a tiny ledge of water, this was going to be a breeze under Kai’s expert, clearly senior (mid twenties, I’m guessing) instruction. That mid twenties age, not mid twenties number of years in the game, mind you.

Anyhow, we rushed over a few gentle rapid before catching up to the rest of the rafts that had left before us. We’d reached “The Maze” which is first of the challenging formations on the river. Kai let us know he was going to secure us so that he could assist with the safety of the other rafts before our turn came. We sat in the calm of the river nearby, watching raft after raft approach, the entrance to the rapids, back paddle their way into position, then get swept away by the current into the turbulent waters below. There were screams, but mostly laughter.

It was here I remembered the other safety tip on the bus: “if you get thrown out of the raft, don’t stand up in the river, just float on your back, toes and nose out of the water, and someone will throw you a rope or paddle to get you back on board, happy days.”

Apart from hopping on board the more junior rafts to help them paddle through the rapids, Kai and several other guides perched themselves in strategic spots on the rocks beside the frothing water, ready to spot those who might be flung out and signal for rescue.

“If your raft overturns, swim out to the side and float on your back, nose and toes in the air downstream. Floating downstream feet first will make sure you can push away from rocks instead of hitting them with your head. Happy days.”

It was our turn and Kai rejoined us. The water level had dropped a little bit, so they must have closed the gates off a little, but we were still good. Paddle forward, take a rest, back paddle, take a rest. Move right (that was me, and he others on my side). We were stuck in between the rocky crags, water racing around and underneath us. Kai hopped across to the front of the raft and gave it a good jiggle, which dislodged us. Back paddle back paddle back paddle. We swung around and drifted towards what looked like a steep drop into a large pot of quick-boiling water.  There was a commend to “get down” during this, but I’m going to assume you can guess this when we get to the rough bits.

Someone had been flipped out of the raft ahead of us and we were about to collide with their smiling face. As it turns out, that smiling face belonged to Kai, who had been flipped off the raft We were paddling without instruction and about to take our guide out. Happy days! Another guide quickly skidded (literally) down a boulder next to our raft and yanked Kai back onboard. All good, there was only one direction: towards The Rooster’s Tale, Mother-In-Law and Hell’s Gate, but not before a smile for the camera positioned at the end of The Maze for posterity.

The next section was quite quick, but not attempted before we watched several kayakers bounce through the maze. One of them capsized, quickly righting himself in the water, grinning as he scooted past. There was also one of the padders from a raft behind us who go ejected from the raft on the way through the maze. He went straight into toes and nose above the water, on his back, and they quickly pulled him back on board. Onwards.

A few little bumps and twists to begin, then the dump of all dumps on the call to “get down!”. A boulder to the right smacked the side of the raft, smacking Chris right into me. The woman behind us was tucked well down into the bottom of the raft. It was all white water and rocks for several seconds before the calm, where we observed a raft in front, its inhabitants scattered through the river, swimming to the sides and touching base on some nearby rocks until their guide paddled around and picked them up.

We’d made it to Lake Placid, and it was only a gently row down to the point where it all began. Everyone was completely drenched, as you’d expect, and everyone was buzzing from an exhilarating couple of hours.

Chris and I headed to the Cairns Night Markets afterwards, the food is good there and very cheap (even by Cairns standards). The markets are a little bit underwhelming, full mostly of souvenir type paraphernalia and real REALLY N O I S Y! Some gelato, then we headed to a bar in the mall near the hostel. The Cotton Club. Above it sits The Wool Shed – world famous, they say, and the place to dance. With two natural-fibre inspired establishments stack one on top of the other, I did wonder where the polyester club might have been, but never found it. We sipped on cocktails and struck up a conversation with a family travelling up from Old Bar in NSW, then slothed back to our room for round two of the magic hallway of loud latches.

Which brings us to our last day in Cairns. Our flight is two hours late, so I’m glad I left writing this until I got to the departure lounge. Our car needed to be back at 4pm regardless, but before any of that we met up with our good friend Nikki, who has recently arrived back in Cairns to live. It’s pretty sad to think she won’t be over for movie nights any more, but great to have friend in such a beautiful part of the world to come and visit!


Chris and I had a light breakfast of toasties and coffee, and struck up a conversation with a high school music teacher visiting from Melbourne. His crew had gone sky diving, and he valued his life a little more than that to go with them, so was going to take himself for a swim afterwards. The beaches in Cairns aren’t very pretty, in fact they’ve built a lagoon on The Esplanade s people can swim in safety: no crocs, no stingers, and no crabs. Mud crabs.. from the mud that sits where you’d normally expect to see sand down at the harbour’s edge.

Lunch with Nikki at the Marina at a nice little restaurant called “Tha Fish”, which is right by the water in the Shangri-La complex. More coffee, fish and chips (gyoza for Chris) and a lemon lime and bitters. We gas-bagged with Nikki for a couple of hours which was lovely, then decided that because our flight was delayed, we’d head to the aquarium. Nikki’s not one for sharks and under-the-sea (or even in-the-sea) adventures so we parted ways with a big hug and hopped in the car. It was almost one-thirty. The aquarium closes at three, so we decided to head to the botanical gardens instead. The botanical gardens close at two, so we decided to go and check out a nearby lookout. You can’t drive up to the lookout point, you have to hike an hour and a half return to get there. We decided to head back to The Esplanade and have an ice cream, take some photos, soak in the atmosphere one last time and just like that, it was time to head across to the car rental place.

The airport is getting busier now. We’ve been here about an hour and a half, with about another hour before we depart (board?). While we’re not looking forward to a twenty-degree drop in the weather when we get back at half past ten tonight, we are looking forward to seeing our boys who hopefully a: remember us and b: don’t stay frosty for too long.



Thanks for coming along!


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