A March 2000 trip
to Cairns by Adventures With Adam
Quote: After a week in Sydney, I travelled to tropical Queensland where the opportunities for adventure are plentiful. Here are some recommendations for a reef trip, an awesome day of whitewater rafting, a spectacular drive and a great meal.
Cairns’s tropical climate makes it accessible to visitors year round. The Australian winter months are most pleasant, while the summer months bring stinging jellyfish, heavy rains and cyclones. I visited in March, and perversely, this worked in my favor. A couple of days prior to my arrival, a cyclone passed through, leaving downed trees and branches, some minor local flooding, and five days of crystal clear weather behind it.
Restaurant | "The Red Ochre Grill"
My meal began with the crocodile appetizer, which was batter dipped and deep fried tempura style then served with chunks of pineapple. To my palate, croc tastes just like.... well, alligator -- sort of a cross between chicken, mild fish and (since it is slightly chewy) rubber band. Despite the jaw workout, it is still worth a try. The main course was heaven: a beautiful piece of kangaroo fillet, grilled rare and topped with a tangy riberry sauce. Roo is close to beef in taste and texture, and there aren’t any dangers of "mad roo disease." The cut that I enjoyed at Red Ochre was lean, tender and tasty. Washed down with a couple glasses of domestic Shiraz, it was a terrific way to cap a day of Australian adventure. The entire meal set me back about A$45.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 23, 2001
Red Ochre Grill
43 Shields Street
(61) 74051 0100
The town is rife with tourists traps -- including a steam rail train that connects with Cairns, a skyway that skims the top of the rainforest, and an Aboriginal culture center -- all of which locals advised me to avoid. (However, some tourists I later spoke to said they enjoyed all those attractions.) Instead, I chose to explore Kuranda’s many Aboriginal art galleries and outback clothing shops. I especially recommend the Tropical Pulse gallery on Coondoo Street, where I bought a small Aboriginal painting; they were very accommodating about wrapping the piece and mailing its certificate of authenticity to me.
On Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, Kuranda’s outdoor market, where locals proffer fruits and crafts, is in full swing. You might want to plan your visit accordingly. But whenever you visit Kuranda, be sure to get there early: everything is pretty much shuttered by three in the afternoon.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 23, 2001
After a brief morning stop in Kuranda (see Kuranda journal entry), I headed north on the Captain Cook Highway toward Port Douglas -- about a 45-minute ride away. With its more scenic setting and charming architecture, Port Douglas is Cairns’s prettier sister. It makes a great place to stretch the legs and have lunch. I enjoyed a tasty Malaysian chicken satay at the Peninsula, where you can eat outside and view both the local beach and the exclusive homes perched in the hills above town. The beach in Port Douglas is netted to keep out the stinging jellyfish. But the water there was muddy -- no doubt churned by the previous week’s cyclone -- so I decided to save my swim for Mossman Gorge, another 20 minutes north in Daintree National Park.
Mossman Gorge was beautiful: a pristine, bolder-strewn rainforest river set into the hills of the coastal range. A short path from the parking lot brought me to a small white sand beach. Just offshore a school of jungle perch swished through the ultra clear water. I was quick to strip down to my bathing suit and join them. The water temperature was a tad on the invigorating side. Still it felt great after a morning of driving and walking. The trail from the parking lot continues upstream along the rapids. A local Aboriginal group conducts nature walks along these paths. But instead of the walk, I chose a siesta on the rocks. While dozing there, a turquoise butterfly landed on my towel of the same color. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to mate with it, make friends with it, or chase it out of his territory.
Beyond Mossman Gorge is the Daintree Rainforest. But this is as far as one can travel without the benefit of four-wheel drive, so I turned the rental car south. On the return drive, I got to enjoy all that gorgeous scenery again, and I stopped twice for a closer look at the beaches. As they were unnetted, I resisted jumping in and just let the Pacific lap at my feet before returning to Cairns.
A word about driving here: driving on the left wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. However, you must pay careful attention when making turns. Firstly, you have to concentrate on which lane you are turning into. And secondly, you will likely hit the windshield wipers rather than the turn signal as they are reversed here.
The Coastal Drive -- A Tropical Big Sur
Captain Cook Highway, Queensland
Attraction | "A Foaming Fury Whitewater Adventure"
The setting closely resembled Mossman Gorge, which I visited the day before. The clear waters of the boulder-strewn river were flanked by the rainforest and densely vegetated hills. Tropical birds and teal blue butterflies fluttered about while we boarded our rafts. Here, the river was smooth, but the first whitewater was not far ahead.
The trip down river included about six sets of grade-four rapids, including: "the Roller Coaster," an up/down set befitting its name; "the Three Stooges," which we navigated backwards; and a particularly steep drop known simply as "the Falls." At one point, we pulled out of the water, walked about 25 feet crouched beneath a rock shelf and came upon Rainbow Falls, a sacred Aboriginal Site where the spray from its cascade produces a perpetual rainbow. It felt as if we were transported back to Dreamtime in this secluded spot. We got tribal here and used soft ochre stones from the bottom of the pool to paint our faces and bodies. One of our affable guides, Garreth, transformed himself into an ochre Braveheart. Legend has it, if you take three drinks of the water here, you will return one day. (Yes, the water is clean enough to drink in this World Heritage area.) Of course, we all gave it a try.
At a later spot, we pulled out, hiked back along the rapids, then jumped one by one off a five-foot ledge into the roiling whitewater below. What a rush to feel the power of the rapids push your body down river! Where the river calmed down, we swam back to shore. Several members of our group jumped in repeatedly.
At the end of the ride, it was a much shorter haul back to our bus. With everyone exhausted and exhilarated from a day on the rapids, we had the chance to shower and change, then relax along the scenic drive -- past the green rainforest mountains, papaya groves and sugar cane fields -- back into Cairns. The trip cost A$99 and included transportation, lunch and afternoon tea.
A Foaming Fury Whitewater Rafting
Russell River/Mulgrave River
Attraction | "Frankland Islands Cruise & Dive"
Our trip began with a cruise down the Mulgrave River. I kept an eye open for crocs on the river bank, but none materialized. Once out on the open water, the captain opened the throttle and our large, comfortable cruiser moved swiftly towards its destination. En route, the crew served up a complimentary continental breakfast and issued us snorkel gear as well as pop-up tents to shade us from the tropical sun. They also offered an optional scuba dive, which I passed on.
Once at Normanby Island, which has no dock, the crew ferried us ashore in a smaller boat. We set up our tents on the wide, sandy beach of this pretty coral cay, the center of which is covered in scrub pine and tropical vegetation. (The crew later offered a nature walk around the island to anyone who got tired of snorkeling.) Then it was time to put on our fins and hit the water.
Beneath the surface, the reef turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. Last week’s cyclone, which had left us with brilliant weather, had also churned the sea, hampering underwater visibility. Besides the cloudy water, there was also a large amount of dead coral here. Some snorkelers remarked that other areas of the reef they had visited were much more colorful and varied. I’d certainly snorkeled more vibrant reefs in Hawaii and the Caribbean. Still, there was a good sampling of marine life here: fish of many colors; stealthy rays; and something I’d never seen before, giants clams (up to three feet across). Those who chose the scuba option reported seeing more sea life including nurse sharks and sea turtles.
After 90 minutes in the water, it was time to break for lunch. I can’t recall ever having a better outdoor meal in such a remote location. The Red Ochre Grill (see restaurant entry) catered the lunch, which included shrimp, grilled chicken and a great selection of salads. After eating, I took a quick power nap on the beach, then revisited some of my favorite underwater spots. By the time my skin was pruned, it was time to pack up and return to the mother ship.
This snorkeling trip was as well run as any I’ve been on. It was just a bit disappointing that this part of the reef didn’t measure up to the gorgeous island setting, the efficiency of the crew or the delicious lunch.
Frankland Islands Cruise & Dive
Adventures With Adam
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