| Week of October 26-November 2, 1995|
Subterranean rafting in New Zealand
Cairns: Australia's ultimate outdoors Mecca
Q: I'm heading to Australia in the spring (January) for a few months--can you recommend great places for backpacking, hiking, climbing, water sports, or anything outdoor-related?
University Park, PA
A: For outdoor adventure galore, head up to Cairns in far north Queensland. With its laid-back tropical climate and close proximity to walking trails and spectacular diving sites, Cairns is an ideal base for exploring Australia's wilderness. For a good introduction to the far north's coastline, take a boat trip out to Green Island, a small coral cay about 18 miles north of Cairns; with its exceptional clear-water snorkeling and prolific marine life, the entire island and its surrounding reefs have been designated national parkland. Great Adventures (011-61-7051-0455) runs daily ferry trips from their wharf in Cairns for about $32 U.S. per person round trip. If you're looking to get your scuba certification, Cairns is certainly an ideal place to do it, as the Great Barrier Reef is only 20 some-odd miles off the coast--the closest it comes to shore anywhere in Australia. Choose from any number of PADI courses: Deep Sea Divers Den (011-61-7031-2223) and Down Under Dives (011-61-7031-1288), both in Cairns, are schools with particularly good reputations. Expect to pay around $250 to $285 U.S. per person for a five-day course, with two days in the pool and three days on the reef. If all these water sports leave you craving a good hike, head up to the Daintree Rainforest, about two hours north of Cairns. Plan to stay at least a night at Crocodylus Village, a laid-back jungle retreat just off the main Cape Tribulation Road, where you'll sleep in elevated canvas cabins surrounded by colorful--and noisy--bird life. While you're there, sign up for a guided group walk through the rainforest or explore the village's yellow-rope trail on your own. Crocodylus also offers half-day horse treks ($25 U.S.), three-hour sunrise kayak trips off secluded Cow Bay ($21 U.S.), and a two-day sea kayaking trip to nearby Snapper Island ($92 U.S.). A bunk in one of Crocodylus's 20-bed dorm rooms will run you about $9 per night, while a private cabin goes for $32 per night/double occupancy, plus $7 for each extra person. For more information, call Crocodylus at 011-61-7098-9166.