Day 1 -- Pacific International Hotel was very nice. A convenient hotel location placed us close to shopping and restaurants with a big ocean facing park across the street.
It had been raining substantially before we arrived and there were puddles in the park to jump over to make it to the mall where we dropped off a load of film. That evening we went to the Breezes Brasserie at the Hilton International for dinner. It was just across the park and raining so we used our umbrellas. Food was good but the service was lousy, well the waitress we had was anyway.
Day 2 -- Brekky (breakfast) came with the hotel reservation and there was enough time to do it leisurely before the tour started. The tour was to Kuranda via scenic rail and return via Sky Rail. A bus took us to Fresh Water train station, a restored old Victorian design train station. On the bus was a father and son from Houston who were making this trip together since mom and daughter had taken another without them. At the station there were restored dining cars in residence being used as a restaurant and the area was nicely complemented with gardens and small museum areas. An elderly but clean train took us up and the best part was the scenery as we climbed. The bus driver had told us there was a record rain this year and this made for many small waterfalls and rainbows along the way. There was a train stop to view the Barron River and Stewart Falls. A wooden walkway took you out to a few excellent vantage points. Thanks to the rain the falls were very loud, violent and brown in color from runoff sending up a spray that looked like fog. This was a beautiful vista with many photo opertunities. The gorge cut by the river can be seen traversing all the way to the sea.
At the top of the train ride is Kuranda, a small village primarily made up of shops and sightseeing spots like the Butterfly Sanctuary, the Aviary, and Bird World. We went to the Aviary because it had only native birds. It was quite nice with foliage inside and two levels of walkway to view marked areas where birds were to be seen. At the entrance is a black cockatoo who likes to sit on "your" shoulder, yours not mine remember. He sat on a women’s shoulder for 20 minutes once. Birds are to look at, not to sit on "my" shoulder. I guess he felt the rejection and began chewing on the rubber on the back of my sneaker. We departed brusquely from his area. The birds were loud and brightly feathered. We were able to name some we had seen on our not too distant travels in Australia.
Afterwards we looked at opals and stuff but managed to refrain from spending any money except for food and drink. Walking was getting old by now so we headed for the Skyrail station. The Skyrail is a cable driven gondola which quietly traverses the tops of a rain forest down to the foothills. As we traveled down, we heard a single whippoorwill bird call echoing through a valley we were crossing over. The sights were gorgeous and well worth the ride. The end of the line is at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park. Entering the park was an option we chose since it included lunch.
Lunch was OK, but the best part was the view from the restaurant. The Skyrail passed by on its way back to Kuranda, twin lakes more like small ponds had water fowl to watch and the slopes of the mountains were there waiting to be seen.
In the park we took in a few Aboriginal shows of dance and music and then went to hit the shops. Our philosophy for purchasing native crafts is to try to buy from a shop that deals with the artist directly, so we had waited until this place to look for native crafts. Usually the quality is better and so is the price. We also feel the artist gets the best deal too. That said we walked into a shop where one of the craftsmen was working on a didgeridoo. We asked for a demo and description of what to look for in a good instrument. He showed us that the dot design is traditional and his daughter was particularly good at it. After showing us a few didgeridoos, we chose one that his daughter had done which had a particularly nice design. (Note: after looking at didgeridoos all through our trip including NZ, we found that the prices here were the best). We also bought a Pandanus reed mat made by the mother of the cashier.
On the way back we had another good driver. He said the way you can tell a native is by the lichen and moss on their backs. He was right because the white picket fences were green with moss. We asked if the driver knew of any Catholic churches we could attend and on the way he stopped and ran through he rain to look at a schedule for us.
Tonight we had dinner at Pesci’s located on the wharf at the corner of the mall. It was raining like mad out and the noise on the tin roof covering the open air area caused us to have to raise our voices to be heard. Food was good. I began understanding that the strength of the coffee was inversely proportional to the size of the cup and the size of the spoon. Small spoon strong coffee. Small cup strong coffee.
The Freshwater Station, the train, the trip up to the Kuranda past waterfalls, the Sky Rail trip down through the rain forest to Tjapukai and the events at Tjapukai were all very good and are highly recommended for scenery and Aboriginal culture.