Those of you who have been following my blog know that I am currently in Australia playing for the Adelaide Lightning. Every year after the WNBA season, which takes place in the summer, I and many other players head overseas to play another season of basketball to help supplement our income.
During my first three years, I played in Russia, then France and South Korea before taking time off, and now I am in Australia. You can read my blogs to learn about all my different adventures playing in various countries. During my previous seasons playing overseas, I was always able to go home for Christmas and be with my family. Playing basketball, I usually miss many holidays and special occasions, but the one holiday I always plan to enjoy at home is Christmas. At least, that was the case until this year! Due to the time difference and length of travel……and the fact that we had practice on the afternoon of 26 December……I was simply unable to make it home for Christmas this year. It was my first Christmas away from home and, at first, I was a little sad. I love being home for Christmas since it’s one of the few times of the year when all of my family and extended family are together in one place. However, I told myself that if I couldn't spend Christmas with my family, then I wanted to spend it in God’s creation.
At first, I was set on going to New Zealand. However, the more research I undertook, the more I realized that four days was not going to be enough time to explore the country like I really wanted to (even if I stayed on one island). So I decided to stay in Australia. My teammate, Penina, recommended I travel to Cairns, gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and spectacular tropical rainforests. As soon as she showed me her personal pictures and videos from her visit, I was sold. Plus, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven natural wonders of the world! We had a game on the evening of 21 December which we won, and I booked the first flight out of Adelaide for the following morning. I spent the next four days sightseeing, learning, making new friends, being outside my comfort zone, in complete awe and just being incredibly thankful for the whole experience. Below, I break down each day and share a ton of pictures - I took so many pictures and videos!
Day 1 - Cairns City Tour
Day one consisted of a tour and history lesson of the city of Cairns. One of the stops that fascinated me was the St. Monica Cathedral. Inside there are huge beautiful stain glass windows (St. Monica Creation Windows) that tell a version of the creation story, beginning with darkness followed by an interpretation of when God said, “Let there be light.” I learned that the windows were designed and created by Gerry Cummins and Jill Stehn. It took them four years to complete these beautiful windows by painting on glass and then burning the painted glass in an oven. To create the beautiful red you see in the windows they used gold. The glass stained windows were absolutely breathtaking, from the colors, to the details and the story they depicted. Just spectacular! Even if you are not a religious person, I recommend stopping by to admire the windows if you’re ever in Cairns.
We also made a brief stop at the museum where I learned: that sugar cane and tourism are two of the largest industries for Cairns; that boomerangs were used to hunt bats and kangaroos; and that jellyfish kill more people than sharks, snakes and crocodiles combined during the wet season. Mmm…..not exactly something you want to learn two days before you're supposed to go snorkeling!
We also visited the Cairns Botanic Gardens, where I discovered more plants that I had never seen before. The gardens were established in the 1800s by Fitz Allen before they were eventually handed over to the Cairns Natural Society. They now cover 60 acres! There was also a butterfly sanctuary on the grounds that I enjoyed - I have always been a fan of butterflies.
The tour ended with a visit to Palm Cove. I didn’t see anyone in the water (probably due to crocodiles), but I did see a lot of people fishing on the pier. When the tour bus returned back to the city, I learned about the fruit bats of Cairns. During the day, they sleep under thick trees, but at night they fly throughout the city sky. It was a surreal experience for me as I don't recall seeing bats in real life before. Overall, I enjoyed my first day in Cairns - it was incredibly educational, but was looking forward to exploring Kuranda on day two!
Day 2 - Kurranda Rainforest
On day two I experienced the world’s oldest tropical rainforest, took a ride on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, held the softest koala bear ever, was attacked by a bird, went to another butterfly sanctuary and then took a train through the rainforest back to the city.
My adventure began at Smithfield where I caught my first Skyrail Cableway car with a nice South Korean Family. As soon as the cable car took off, and we made our way high up in the air over the trees, I started freaking out (on the inside). Typical Kayla, all I could think about was: why on earth did I think this was going to be a good idea? I am literally hanging from a cable with the rainforest below me and if this cable snaps we’re all going to meet Jesus. Oh, and yes, in case you were wondering, I do have a slight fear of heights. After continuous silent prayers, my body began to relax and I was slowly able to enjoy the ride, but more importantly the views! God blessed me with clear skies and warm weather, which allowed me to see far into the horizon. The first stop was at Red Peak Station, but I didn’t want to explore that area so I jumped on the next cableway car to Barron Falls Station. There I took the time to admire the waterfall before I got back on the Skyrail to reach my final stop, Kuranda!
After thanking the Lord for allowing me and everyone else to enjoy the Skyrail, I promptly made my way to the Koala Gardens because I wanted to see and hold a koala bear! The first animals I saw as I entered the gardens were crocodiles, just chilling out on the ground (out of reach of course) near the water. After a short wait, it was my turn to hold and take pictures with a koala bear. They had a baby koala that we could take pictures with. Its fur was so soft and the koala just held on to my shoulder and sat comfortably in my hand like he was relaxing in a tree. That experience made my morning! After a short cuddle with the koala, I continued into the gardens where we were able to feed, pet and touch kangaroos. There were other sleeping animals and reptiles roaming freely on the grounds that I was able to photograph before they scurried away.
Next stop, Bird World. Before entering, we were warned that the birds could be pretty pesky and cheeky, so we were encouraged to hide any loose objects or jewelry. I immediately took my hoop earrings out. Inside, there were a variety of colorful birds walking, eating and flying freely that we were able to get very close to and feed. One little girl was lucky enough to have a bird fly onto her hand and eat the food out of her palm, while another poor girl had the misfortune of being peed on! Some of the birds I saw included a Green-Cheeked Conure, Rainbow Lorikeet, Alexandrine Parrot, Sun Conure, Buff Banded Rail, Whistling Duck, Pied Heron and a Cassowary. I had fun observing the different birds and was about to leave when an Alexandrine Parrot decided to fly onto my head. It sat there for a good minute or so studying my twists and trying to pluck the silver beads out of my hair. Warning, do not wear shiny beads in your hair when visiting Bird World! Luckily, another guest came to my rescue and offered his hand for the bird to step onto.
My last stop for the day was the Butterfly Sanctuary, which was much larger than the one at the Botanic Gardens. The butterflies were numerous, beautiful and everywhere! I spent so much time walking through the sanctuary looking at all the different kinds of butterflies and trying to capture pictures. After the sanctuary visit, I grabbed some lunch at a popular restaurant called “Frog”, before checking out the Kuranda Markets, including the original rainforest markets. To end my time in the rainforest, I hopped on the train where I enjoyed scenic views of the rainforest and the city of Cairns.
Day 3 and 4 - Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef
My final two days in Cairns, Queensland, were spent on a boat on the Great Barrier Reef. Originally, I had paid to do the Sunlovers by Starlight experience where you snorkel the reef during the day and then go back out on the reef at night and sleep on the boat under the stars! It sounded like such an incredible experience and I was so looking forward to it. Unfortunately, because I went during the rainy season, the weather was inclement and my night time experience was cancelled. So, instead, I was offered the opportunity to snorkel at another reef. The Starlight cancellation, although disappointing, gives me another excuse to go back and visit at another time. I would love to share the experience of sleeping on the Reef with a significant other one day, or with family and friends. My first day was spent on Moore Reef where the weather was favorable and the underwater views were incredible! My second day was spent at Arlington Reef where the weather was rainy and the waters were choppy. Instead of Great Reef views, it felt like I was doing extreme swimming. Although disappointed, I enjoyed just being out on the water…..I love being on a boat!
At Moore Reef I signed up for the guided snorkel tour, where our guide took us further out on the reef and explained all the sea creatures we encountered. After he gave us our wet suit, snorkels and flippers, we jumped into the water. The first sea creature I saw everywhere was jellyfish! So, obviously I - and the family I was on tour with - started freaking out! It turns out that these jelly fish (which were a beautiful purple color and looked so graceful and soft in the water) were called moon jellyfish. Although they can and do sting humans (it feels like a mosquito bite or small zap), they're not poisonous. Of course, I did not learn this until later in the day, so whenever I saw a large group of them during the actual tour, I took my head and goggles out of the water and tried to pretend like they weren’t there (out of sight, out of mind). In any case, our snorkel tour guide, Ted, seemed unfazed, so that helped to calm my nerves a little.
There is an entirely new world in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef and it is undeniably marvelous and mesmerizing. For those of you who may be unaware, the Great Barrier Reef can be seen from outer space (how cool is that?) and it is the world’s biggest single structure made by living organisms. Indeed, it is made up of over 2900 reefs! The structure of the reef is composed of, and built by, billions of tiny organisms known as coral. Interestingly, coral reefs contain the most diverse ecosystems on the planet.
While snorkeling on the Reef I was lucky enough to see so many different kinds of fish, of all sizes, shapes and colors. There were vibrant bright blue, yellow and pink fish and even one that had stripes like a zebra! I also saw a fish that was about the size of my entire upper body - it was huge! I saw sea cucumbers, giant blue clams, organisms that looked like short string spaghetti, starfish, a turtle and other creatures whose names I don’t even know. I wanted to take a video of my experience as a keepsake and to share with friends and family, so prior to my trip I bought a lifeproof case for my phone. It was clutch! I was able to take videos underwater and my phone was not damaged. So, if you have an iPhone and want to take good quality videos while you’re snorkeling the Reef, invest in a lifeproof case. You will not be disappointed!
Hands down, the highlight of my Christmas in Cairns was snorkeling the Reef. God is amazing! I know I’ve been saying this a lot in my blogs lately, but I have been in perpetual awe of God and His creation. He is the ultimate creator, artist, designer, and any other superlative that comes to mind. From creating thousands of distinct plants and flowers and trees, to individual types of living organisms from humans to koalas, from butterflies to birds, from jellyfish to starfish, his creativity and imagination is unmatched. He created everything, gave it a home, and a way of life. I’ve really enjoyed being exposed to His creation throughout Australia, and I hope I remain privileged and blessed enough to continue to see, experience and appreciate His magnificent creation for the remainder of my life. I know many believe in the big bang theory, but there is too much precision, order and detail in nature for this planet, this world, this universe to come into being by accident. Nature could not have created itself!
Anyway, if you are fortunate to travel to Cairns, Queensland Australia, make your way to the Great Barrier Reef (best times are between June to October) and prepare to be amazed!
This experience has also birthed a new idea within me. When I start a family of my own, I would want to spend Christmas traveling and exploring a new part of the world - just being in the Lord’s creation. I would love to start the tradition of praising His creation and being in reverence of His masterpiece while we celebrate his birth.
How did you spend your Christmas? Do you have any favorite family Christmas traditions?
Thanks for stopping by and God bless,
See you in 2019!