A February 2005 trip
to Cairns by nmagann
Quote: Cuddling a koala and petting a kangaroo IS Australia. The reef's marine life and rain forest were the primary reasons I visited. Here I saw completely different flora and fauna than what I take for granted in the U.S. Houseplants grow wild, and instead of squirrels and deer, they have emus and wallabies.
I found diving the Barrier Reef a life-long dream to also meet/exceed my expectations. The cod were huge and yet so docile. Different fish and coral than I had seen created excitement for me as well, particularly the woebegone shark which, after I tried to create a bit of a wave so that it would move into photograph position for me, I read could be dangerous if provoked.
My uncertainty about not diving with a guide and just the buddies I was matched up with turned out to be awesome.
Was all this just a lucky way to spend my birthday?
Drip coffee doesn’t seem to exist: choices are espresso, sticks (instant), and the fancy cappuccinos. Prices for a cup of instant range between and . Sodas are also about . Drinking water is provided free at most restaurants.
Ferry service is very reasonable, such as round-trip to Fitzroy Island if you don’t purchase a tour that includes accommodations and transportation. While I was there, the accommodations were offering buy-one-night, get-three-free (yes, that’s right, and it was advertised on their website). It included the ferry as often as you like. The catch is that the last shuttle leaves the mainland at 5pm.
Meals: Chef Jen was great, with personality plus. She prepared our three main meals, as well as our two "snacks". We had international dinners that ranged from Thai rice and vegetables to traditional English meat pies, Mexican, and Italian. A vegetarian, she catered to me far more than I would have dreamed possible. On the counter above, she prepared a meat pie with my name formed with the bread crust that had wonderful mushrooms and vegetable lasagna too. None was wasted; the other guests dug in after I served myself.
Breakfast included fruits, toast, pancakes, bacon, sausage, eggs, and cereal. Lunch would include cheese like cheddar and brie, along with a variety of crackers. There was also some type of salad (Caesar, shrimp vegetable), lunch meats, and bread. We also had ice cream, chocolate cake, pudding and more.
Accommodations: There are dorm cabins for four persons and doubles with two beds. Comforters were warm and soft, and considering how well the A/C worked, it was quite appreciated. Beds were made each day and we were provided with towels and bottles of water. The showers provided very hot water--a welcome comfort after the night dive. My cabin was spacious, with plenty of shelves and cabinets, and the wood (mahogany perhaps) was clean and buffed.
Staff: Jen as I mentioned was an excellent chef and did a great job along with the other staff in putting together a surprise party for my birthday, which I didn’t know they knew about--balloons, cake, presents, wine, and all. I received a box of Valentine candy, a nearly empty jar of vegemite (being a vegetarian and all), and hat so remarkably like the one I left in my room that it was.
Jon and Demi gave informative dive briefings that had a laughing. Demi’s English (he’s Japanese), along with his hand signals while describing the various fish life we’d see, was hysterical. The interesting drawings of the shapes of the bommies also had us in stitches. Jon was a great help in identifying what we’d seen after a dive when we described it to him. There were books and fish cards around for reference as well.
Demi was quite talented. He created his own telescoping didgeridoo (aboriginal instrument) and played happy birthday on it for me. The breathing required to play one of these instruments is art unto itself. He also had an instrument that looked like a ukulele but had only three strings. He played this Japanese instrument while singing in Japanese. We have no idea if sang off key or what it meant, but it was entertaining. He would put in videos that he had made while diving during the whale season that made most of us want to book our next trip.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 15, 2005
Great Barrier Reef
Gear and Prep: All gear was provided, including dive computers if you didn’t have yours, wanted to try something else, or just didn’t bring yours. A brief lesson how the dive computers worked and the no-deco numbers to watch carefully. Wetsuits were full-length, which in spite of the warmth of the water, was needed. If you didn’t have a dive buddy, you were appropriately matched to someone with similar experience. I happen to get a couple of awesome dive buddies. Geoff and Jason quickly learned how I scoured the rocks for little nudibranchs. Hence, I would have missed the shark and eagle ray, had they not gotten my attention. Moreover, they too looked for the nudis and pipefish to show me. None of us passed on single dive either with 5 over the course of the day beginning at 6:30am and ending at 9:15pm.
Dives: After a dive briefing that included some of the marine life we may find, we suited up and headed for the platform. Our dives were typically to 90 or 100 feet, lasting for about an hour. We saw a variety of fish, as well as a plethora of corals. Some of the more unique or less frequently seen marine life were the turtles, moray eels, and the eagle rays.
The apex of the dive tour was the Cod Hole, known for huge code, some the size of us. Here our guide Demi gave pre-dive instructions before descending and assembling into a semi circular group for Demi to perform the Cod feeding show. First, Demi got in the middle of all of us holding a chunk of fish above his head while we watched the fish come by and take. He kept the food in a carrying container because he said someone once put food in their B.C. pocket, only to have an eel puncture through it in an effort to get at the food it smelled. The guide then came within a couple feet of each diver, and when he/she nodded his/her head, he pulled out a piece of food so that you were looking down the open throat of the cod. After each of us experienced this, some lingered to take pictures, while others explored a bit of the area before surfacing. We all surfaced, more than satisfied with our "cod-feeding" experience.
Our one-way live-aboard dive experience came to an end, and we docked in Cookstown. From here, we were flown back in three six-passenger planes to where we ended our trip with a low-flying aerial view of the Great Barrier Reef.
Nimrod Part II
Great Barrier Reef
We make an extended stop of an hour to ride on a riverboat on the Daintree River, where a wildlife guide points out crocodiles while explaining fascinating details about them, such as that the temperature must be 31 degrees for a male to be born; otherwise they are female. Hence, there are more females than males.
We also learn about the strangler figs and mangroves. The latter has the ability to filter the salt from the water, directing it to the lower leaves, which turn yellow and die off, and the unusual seed pods that fall with the point landing into the soft mud, planting itself.
After a delicious lunch, we headed south a little to our final destination, the Daintree Discovery Center, complete with an aerial walkway and canopy tower. A guide from the center led us across the walkway, identifying small insects and common plants along the way. When we reached the third floor of the canopy tower she pointed out various birds, nests, hanging basket ferns and epiphytes. At the end of the 45-minute tour, you could explore on your own.
There’s the Bush Tucker Trail and Cassowary Circuit where you can find parrots , Ulysses Blue Butterfly (absolutely gorgeous), and flying foxes, amethyst pythons sleeping in the v-shape of branches. as well as orchids, strangler figs, and ferns. There’s even a refreshing stream that meanders around the property with perch.
There is an eco-friendly gift shop and a café that overlooks the stream bed, with lush ferns adding to the backdrop. A great place to listen to the sounds of nature.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 15, 2005
Attraction | "Kurand via Train"
The train moves slowly through beautiful, lush mountains, complete with bridges, waterfalls, and 15 tunnels, for approximately 45 minutes. Bench seats are very comfortable, and windows open for clear picture-taking. Restrooms and drinking water are provided onboard. A map with points of interest and history are provided to read. Some of the points of interest are:
Horseshoe Bend, a 180-degree curve where you begin steep ascent
Tunnel 6, where bandits held up the train as recent in 1973
Jungara, where the largest field hospital was located for WWII
Barron Falls, so spectacular, the train stops to let visitors off
Tunnel 15, the longest on the stretch at 490m with three curves
Kuranda Village seems to have stepped out from a page in a history book or fairytale land. In the midst of the rain forest with a river appearing like a protective moat lay a quaint village with outdoor markets and animal parks that look nothing like a zoo or other such enclosure.
Koala Garden was a big favorite. I not only got see koalas perched between branches, sleeping, but I also opted to have my picture taken holding one. I was quite impressed to learn that Australian law dictates that koalas cannot be held for more than 30 minutes, and after a certain number of days of this, must be off for several days. This park has so many koalas (over a 100) that koala cuddling is always available here. Someone stands you in position and places your arms in the precise position to accept one of these sleeping darlings in order to have your picture taken. I also learned that, unlike dolphins in captivity, these circumstances do not shorten the koala’s life expectancy. Otherwise, like the dolphin encounters, I would not have participated. I love animals and would like to touch some and get closer, but not to the point of risking their lives.
The koalas had to come first, but there is so much more in the Koala Gardens. A walkway leading down from the koala photo kiosk takes you into a small open park with roaming varieties of kangaroo and wallabies. Here I had the pleasure, definite pleasure, of petting an adorable soft wallaby stretched out in the shade of tree. Other animals were hiding in the shade of small bridge or under the deck.
And this is only the first park within the park.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 18, 2005
Kuranda Scenic Railway
Attraction | "Pg 2 More Kuranda & Skyrail"
Tours available within the Butterfly Sanctuary provide good information about the life cycle, mating habits, eggs (which they can recognize well enough to know what variety it is), and how they collect them each day. I was advised by someone to wear a red or pink shirt to attract the butterflies. Don’t know if they were any more attracted to me than others, but the idea made sense.
Birdworld offers the opportunity to be surrounded in an aviary by free-flying birds. A variety of native birds, from the cassowary (my favorite) to macaws and black swans. You can also feed the colorful lorikeets, who do not like to be petted.
Kuranda should have been a two-day trip. I also walked around the path that meanders through the rainforest and along the river. Still, this left me no time for a river cruise, 4WD nature tour, aboriginal dance troupe, or a visit to the herb farm.
Skyrail is a completely different view of Kuranda and the surrounding rainforest. Skimming just barely above the tops of the trees, I found myself looking down at bird’s nests and large clusters of epiphytes with all the tiny new leaves sprouting up from the very top. Looking across the mountaintops, I could even see out to the Great Barrier Reef. What a panoramic view! I even looked behind me seeing how far I’d come on this cable ride. I have never been on one this long.
There are two points that you have the option of getting off for few minutes and taking the next car. Both stops need a minimum of 20 minutes each, making the entire trip about 1 1/4 hours in duration.
The first stop is Red Peak Station, where there is 175-metre boardwalk with interpretive signs. There is also a bench with a clock above, indicating when the next ranger led tour is which is usually every 20 minutes. There is also an interpretive center which shows various wildlife and plantlife you may encounter and their parts in the ecosystem.
Barron Falls Station offers spectacular views of Barron Falls. Walk along the boardwalk to see the large flat pools that flow over the jagged rocks. Continue along the path were you can view the falls reaching the bottom pool. This stop provides a rather top-to-bottom overview of these magnificent falls and the incredible terrain beneath them. Here, too, is an interpretive center to gain more insight to the area.
From here, hop into the gondola for another 10 minutes and reach the bottom, where return transportation awaits.
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway