Riding a hot-air balloon, diving into the ocean or exploring the land, boomerang in hand, Australia promises to keep you engaged.
Australia gave me a new appreciation for sunshine. A fun road trip down the coast of New South Wales (written about earlier in this magazine) had left me brown as a nut, despite being in a car, slathered in sunscreen. So it was a welcome break to take the flight to Cairns in Tropical North Queensland, where much of my itinerary didn’t need me to be out in the sun. From an early morning hot air balloon ride, to a walk under the cool canopy of the rainforest, to losing myself in the cobalt blue waters of the Pacific, it had me exploring another side of the land Down Under, leaving behind the baked tarmacs and the kangaroos bounding alongside.Going tribal
Throwing a boomerang has always been high on my wish list. So my first day in Cairns, I head to the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park. Though it might seem quite rehearsed at first, as soon as the local Djabugay people start painting your face and sharing their stories, you lose yourself in their history. My visit begins with a beautifully-crafted inception story, complete with music, video and some great theatre and oration, that gives me a peek into their legends. After checking out the aboriginal dance performance, a presentation on bush foods and a didgeridoo show, I come to my favourite segment, the weapons demonstration. Needless to say, they made it look so easy, while I elicited much good-humoured laughter trying to make the boomerang fly, rather than fall a foot away as it invariably did. From Rs 3,055 for an adult. Details: tjapukai.com.au
Right as rain
I don’t reach for my sunblock as I leave Tjapukai because my next destination is a rainforest! Cool, a little wet, with filtered light pushing its way through the dense canopy, it’s a great place to spend an afternoon. Jump on to the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway to head up, and make sure you choose a cable car with a glass bottom (from Rs 610 onwards for an adult) for a fantastic view. I break the journey twice, to take leisurely walks in the forest, and check out the 800-odd species of trees and the various fauna. At the end of the track is Kuranda village, a typical tourist destination, though I do love the markets where you can stock up on local art (like the hand-painted clap sticks I picked up for Rs 3,565). The best part is the journey down, in an over 100-year-old train with beautiful wooden carriages. Details: skyrail.com.au, kuranda.org
Up in the air
The next morning, just past 5 am, I find myself watching the clouds change colour, from grey to pink to a warm yellow. It is not just another sunrise, but one I catch while standing in the basket of a gigantic, yellow hot air balloon, 3,000 feet above the ground. Drifting with the wind, occasionally dipping down to tree level to scare some wallabies, it’s a relaxed way to take in the sights. And if you have a special event, like a birthday or an engagement, give them a heads up and they promise to make it memorable, with even some champagne thrown in. And as fun as the ride is, do hang around to help with deflating and packing the balloon. It’s a great morning workout, if I may say so. Rs 11,970 approx per person. Details: hotair.com.au
Under the sea
I spend my last day, sitting on the massive Wavepiercer Catamaran, making my way to the Great Barrier Reef. Of course, the on-board buffet and bar—with plenty of grilled seafood and beer—have nothing to offer that can compete with the spectacular view outside. The moment the yacht docks, everyone scrambles to grab snorkelling gear, scuba helmets and flippers. Though the idea of swimming is tempting, I soon realise 250 people thrashing about looking for Nemo is enough to scare me and the fish away. The crew literally has to throw in food to get some big red bass to come our way. So I decide to stay dry and get up-close and personal with the reef in a semi-submersible. Not only do I get to see eels, clown fish, groupers and wrasse by the hundreds, I even catch sight of a few hammerhead sharks and turtles. Keep your camera ready because you never know when the light will hit the corals at the right angle, giving you an explosion of colour. Meanwhile, on the surface, for those who enjoy the panoramic view, there are helicopter rides, too (Rs 8,920). Cruise fare at Rs 12,480 approx for an adult. Details: quicksilver-cruises.com
Need to know
Best time to visit: July-August and December-April Getting there: Flights to Cairns from Rs 69,500 onwards Check in: Stay at the Shangri La Cairns Hotel. The Horizon Club Marina suite gives you great views, a luxurious bed with 1,000 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, and access to evening cocktails and canapés at the club. Rs 14,065 approx per night.
—Surya Praphulla Kumar
The writer was invited by Tourism Australia