This, my first trip to Australia, was to realise a lifetime dream, to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef.
First stop Brisbane, the capital of Queensland. They’ve spent millions renovating the riverside Wharves area and it’s so pristine and perfectly manicured that it felt more like a five-star resort than a bustling city. It’s the most outdoorsy place I’ve ever been to, everyone’s jogging or cycling, all very health conscious.
The skyline is a mixture of listed buildings and modern skyscrapers with further developments in the pipeline. We took a walking tour of the city to really get a feel for the place, the architecture, open-air art and cool coffee shops.
We stayed in two hotels in Brisbane to top and tail our trip. The first was Art Series — The Fantauzzo, situated right on the riverside. It’s carved into the cliff so as you enter reception your view is of hewn rock face behind a massive glass wall. The hotel is an art gallery in itself, featuring the works of acclaimed Australian painter Vincent Fantauzzo.
From here we took a trip to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary which, I admit, I was so looking forward to. We got to experience their Behind-the-Scenes tour.
First we got to meet a dingo who was the most cute, cuddly dog (one myth busted) and got to feed kangaroos and platypus. Then, the highlight, I got to hold a koala called Stoney who was just gorgeous. I also got to hold a massive python, not just so much fun.
For dinner, we took the CityCat ferry to Eat Street — a small city of brightly coloured shipping containers where you can sample every imaginable street food from around the world. Mexican food stalls beside Vietnamese, live bands playing and kids with gravity-defying 3ft candyfloss.
Next morning, we set off for the short flight to Daydream Island, the gateway to the World Heritage-listed wonder, the Great Barrier Reef.
On landing at Hamilton Island Airport, we were ferried to Daydream Island by cruise boat. It was a fantastic way to arrive, I felt my long journey had transported me to somewhere really remote and truly unique.
From my ground-floor suite, I was able to step out through patio doors to my amazing view — endless azure ocean, waves crashing onto the beach metres away and views of tree-covered islands stretching off to the horizon — not to mention the glorious technicoloured sunsets.
The island had an abundance of wildlife. As I sat taking in the views, a group of wallaroos bounced past. One was so friendly, he came over for a scratch behind the ears.
Beautiful white cockatoos with yellow head feathers flitted from branch to branch and I’m convinced it was the same curlew that greeted me every morning with a rather ear-splitting screech, eyeing me up cautiously then coming over for a closer look.
I myself got a nickname, Dawn Doolittle, due to my over excited, obvious joy in all the animals in the vicinity.
Daydream Island had just recently reopened after a multi million-dollar makeover due to a devastating cyclone. They even named a cocktail — Debbie — after it in the bar.
The resort boasts a Living Reef, a coral lagoon that’s home to over 100 marine species. There’s a fantastic underground viewing area perfect for fish and ray watching. We were treated to the Living Reef Experience where we had a guided snorkel dive in the massive tank. Previously, if you’d asked me would I swim with a stingray, the answer would have been a definite no, but the enthusiasm of the marine biologists and with reassurances that Louanne the stingray was very friendly, I soon found myself stroking her and she was happy to hoover up mussels from my hand.
Diving in the living reef, I marvelled at corals of every kind, anemone fish (Nemo!), a kaleidoscope of sea life.
En route to our dive spot the next morning, we stopped off to visit a famous lookout point. After climbing up through the tropical jungle, we reached the most breathtakingly beautiful view. Perfectly clear azure blue waters and sparkling white sand — paradise!
I never thought I’d have the nerve to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef but, after my introduction to diving in Daydream’s Living Reef, I felt more confident to hit the open ocean.
I was shaking with nerves as I wet suited up but, putting my trust in the highly-trained staff, I jumped in. All my fears evaporated as I dived under the surface to reveal the amazing multicoloured world teeming with tropical fish. A truly unforgettable experience of a lifetime.
After diving, we warmed up on Whitehaven Beach — a 7km stretch of the whitest sand you’ve ever seen — then swam in the crystal-clear waters. We returned to Daydream Island exhausted and exhilarated ready for an amazing meal in Infinity, their five-star Asian restaurant.
The resort had a large open atrium with a waterfall and glass viewing area for the Living Reef, a wonderful space to watch stingrays and sharks swimming past as I enjoyed breakfast before setting off on the return journey to Brisbane.
On our last day in Australia, we stayed in the ultra chic Calile Hotel. From here, we were treated to a tour of Brisbane’s cultural district and a visit to the Gallery of Modern Art.
After lunch at the gallery’s cafe, we just had time to cram in some shopping in the affluent James Street area before reluctantly setting off home.
I had a lot of firsts on my first trip to Australia. I got to hold a koala, feed a kangaroo but, most specially, the unique, unforgettable experience of snorkelling the World Heritage beauty that is the Great Barrier Reef.
Daydream Island Resort: www.daydreamisland.com Standard rooms start from Aus$392 including daily buffet breakfast in Graze
Art Series — The Fantauzzo: Rooms start from Aus$235 (room only). Book online at www.artserieshotels.com.au/fantauzzo
The Calile Hotel: Rooms start from Aus$259 (room only). Book online at www.thecalilehotel.com
Brisbane tourist board: www.visitbrisbane.com.au
Walk Brisbane: www.walkbrisbane.com
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary: www.koala.net
Boat ride to Eat Street Northshore: CityCat ferry
Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA): www.qagoma.qld.gov.au