Farewell, Sydney. You gave us better than expected weather, beautiful hikes and great performances. It’s Monday morning and time to leave for Cairns. We pay 1.6x rates on Uber to get to the airport. We must be competing with the morning rush-hour crowd.
The flight to Cairns has a mix of Australians on holiday and business. The guy next to me is going to a sales conference. Cairns’ busy season is winter – a bit like our Florida. It’s also the largest city for departures to the Great Barrier Reef on which we will dive for four days aboard a liveaboard scuba boat. We will see some of the most remote parts of the GBF including a submerged atoll 6 x 17 km wide and long called ‘Ospray’.
Our agenda today is a first for the Creekmore’s – bungee jumping. That is if I can get the hang of left hand side of the road driving. And We desperately need some lunch. I flip on the window washers several times trying to turn signal, but I get the knack of it quickly and drop off our bags at the Holiday Inn.
Years ago we did a video with the NYT and Holiday Inn and HI gave us a million points to spend. We’ve been slowly whittling that down when the award availability is there and the points prices are reasonable. We get two rooms at this one – giving the adults and kids a little space is needed from time to time. Emma is excited for the little mexican place we choose but it’s disappointing, as usual. Mexican food outside North America is often bad but we are suckers everytime.
I didn’t make any reservations at the bungee place. I kinda wanted to see it first. Fortunately it’s empty, on this Monday afternoon. Cairns Bungee is an AJhackett owned company. He is credited with being the first to commercialize bungee jumping and owns several outfits across Asia including this tallest in the world 233m one in Macau that scares the shit out of me.
This one here is baby sized by comparison but still looks frighteningly high. (52m) It’s a cute little spot, nicely decorated with ornamental rain forest plants: tree ferns, variegated dracena, elephant ears. There is a man-made pool in the middle with a
small waterfall. We’re told that it’s 15 feet deep at the center into which you would plummet if the bungee cord broke. From 164 feet up, I’m not sure it would matter much.
Bungee is, in fact, pretty darn safe. It’s hundreds of times safer than hang gliding, dozens more than skydiving. The primary risk is that the latex cords are reused too often and break. They have a rated number of jumps often around 200 and need to be recycled after that. If the company stays within rated limits,
it’s nearly impossible to be dangerous.
It is not impossible to scare the shit out of you anyway. We climb up the stairs to the platform that looks out over the Pacific ocean. We can see beaches, the highway and lots of little houses. We are well above the rainforest canopy here and grateful for the overcast weather that keeps it cool.
‘Not first’ yells Emma. ‘Not first’ screams lily a second later. Damn. I have to go first now. Playground laws are sacrosanct. ‘Hello’…’David at 79 kilos’ the jump assistant reads from my nametag. ‘What
kind of jump are we doing today?’ They offer 16 ‘different’ jumps. Most of them are just simple variations – swan dive, backwards, blindfold etc… For extra money they will let you go 10 feet higher, and for even more money they will let you ride a BMX bike off the roof and then jump.
I mumble ‘just the regular one’. The number of harnesses is fewer than I expect. You get a simple waist harness that clips to a safety line and the main harness which consists of a towel wrapped around my ankles with a nylon cord wrapped around it. I expected more. I know not to think about it.
‘Okay, let’s do this.’ I mumble-whisper to the jump technician. Emma and Lily are looking on with big smiles. It’s fun to see adventure Dad nervous. They help me up and I shuffle to the edge of the 24 inch platform that extends from the tower. You can’t walk very well with your ankles tied together.
I look out at the beach and ocean and down at the pond nearly 17 stories below. I am more scared at this moment than I have ever been in my lifetime – at least in terms of adventure travel. Neither skydiving, nor great white shark chumming, nor any amusement park ride, nor scuba in hurricanes, nor being charged by an elephant compares to the fear of jumping off a ledge this high. I thought skydiving would be good preparation but at 15,000 feet you don’t have any context. The world below looks flat and pretty and unreal. It’s just not the same going out of an airplane as off a ledge like this.
‘3..2..1..jump.’ My legs buckle a little and I give the limpest jump off the platform. My stomach rises into my throat. I’m not even totally conscious, my brain goes into an altered state for four seconds as I accelerate in free fall. I hold my breath and grit my teeth, silently until the cord starts to stretch and I slow down inching closer to the water but not quite touching. The rebound would be an adrenaline ride in itself but I’m so relieved to have survived the big drop that I start laughing, air exhaling, ‘Woooooh!’ I yell.
At the bottom they pick me up in a little boat and bring me to shore. I barely have my gear off and Lily jumps off next. What a badass kid. She couldn’t even do a rollercoaster a few years ago. She’s developed into a fearless adrenaline junky. Emma hits the water with her head just barely enough to get it wet. And we’re done. Or are we?
‘Hey guys, you get four more jumps for the same price as your first one.’ We look at each other and run back up the stairs laughing. The jumps actually get harder. On the one hand you’ve been there before, but on the other you acquire some repetitive shock trauma. By my fifth jump I was mentally wasted and shaking. No mas.
We all do a sky swing, which isn’t nearly as high but goes a lot faster. Amanda grabbed a beer from the bar as the girls finished up their last jumps. The guy at the top said ‘You should be proud of those girls, dad. They jumped great, so fearless. There were other guys up here too scared to go. The girls inspired them to do it.
Emma says she would do the Macau jump (linked above). I’m not sure I would. I liked this but I don’t know if I could do that. I’d love to see her do it.
For dinner we let the girls go on their own into downtown Cairns, about a mile from the hotel. They choose to walk and we drive a bit later. There is a cute waterfront area and a bunch of touristy restaurants. Amanda and I wander a bit and have more good travel luck.
Every place we pass is empty. It’s the week before Australian school holiday starts and everything is super quiet. A place called Ganbaranba has about 20 people outside. It’s a ramen joint that is so busy there is a 20 minute wait. We eat vegetarian ramen ravenously. So good after a crazy day.
We get a fantastic sunset.