Written by MagdaDH_AlexH on 01 Oct, 2010
Cairns is one of the most popular destinations in Australia. Located in the northern part of the Queensland coast, very much in the tropics, it's always hot, usually sunny and abounds in the exotic appeal (palms, sea, sun) without the usual health, crime and culture…Read More
Cairns is one of the most popular destinations in Australia. Located in the northern part of the Queensland coast, very much in the tropics, it's always hot, usually sunny and abounds in the exotic appeal (palms, sea, sun) without the usual health, crime and culture shock hazards of other tropical locations. Safe tropics for Europeans, then, and for Asians probably the nearest place where they can sample the European culture.We spent a week in Cairns, staying in a "granny flat", or a self contained cabin in the garden of our kind hosts' house: the grounds around abound in banana plants, vines and other very tropical trees around us, gekkos on the ceiling and similar; the pool is just across the drive. It's great to be able to stop and rest a bit as we had grown tired of moving every two nights: a week in one place, and without getting into our hosts' way too much is just great. We hired a car for a few days (one has to, occasionally) and also did a few touristy things, which had a net effect of putting us well over budget, but again, some things are touristy for a reason. Cairns itself is a bit strange, a town that originally grew on a gold and mining boom, but since the discovery of the Reef for the tourism industry it has became a bit of a visitors' Mecca. Despite being very much a tourism centre, Cairns doesn't - not quite - feel like a tourist trap. Yes, a tour agent can be seen every two doors on the main drag and every kind of experience is for sale, but it's all rather unhurried, quite friendly and without much of a hard sell.The tourists are as much fun to watch as the wildlife (and there are interesting birds, including egrets and pelicans on the mudflats by the promenade), especially the Japanese who engage in strange, loud, group rituals that are hard to comprehend as much because of the language as the cultural barrier. But Cairns is also the starting and finishing point for many backpackers, and there are hordes of beautiful 20-something things of both sexes sauntering up and down the streets, sitting by their "for sale" campers at the Esplanade carpark and looking down at the family vacationers and packaged tourers alike.Strangely for a popular Queensland coast location, Cairns has no beach (apart form the tiny artificial ones by the town's lido, or The Lagoon on the Esplanade). Instead, it has a muddy inlet, mangrove swamps and lovely semi-circle of curly-haired mountains that surround it. But the real attractions are not in Cairns but around it: the coast, the reef, the rainforest and the hills: the town is a starting point and a base for many day trips into the surrounding countryside, notably the Atherton Tablelands, Daintree rainforest and of course the Great Barrier Reef. Other destinations include Cooktown and for the more intrepid, the Cape York Peninsula. Close
Written by yourhydra on 03 Aug, 2010
Before I get into the wondrous locations we visited, I'd like to warn future Cairns tourists about the Hostel accommodations. Some of this I've written about in my review of the specific hostel we stayed at, but I've elaborated on it here in case you're…Read More
Before I get into the wondrous locations we visited, I'd like to warn future Cairns tourists about the Hostel accommodations. Some of this I've written about in my review of the specific hostel we stayed at, but I've elaborated on it here in case you're reading this as an isolated story. Cairns is one of the biggest tourist destinations in Australia. It is the top spot to go out to Daintree and the Barrier Reef from and is saturated with hostels, bars, restaurants, casinos and naughty clubs. You can’t really swim in the ocean along the coast because of the box stingers and saltwater crocodiles, but most of the people here are much more interested in drinking wine out of a box anyway. Unfortunately for the tourists that have the willingness to actually see the country, these people seem to think screaming and singing at the top of their lungs is the appropriate thing to do at 3am. We did not sleep most nights because of this, and on one occasion it got so bad people were checking out the next morning and transferring to a new hostel (it was our last day there thank god.) We also had the unfortunate pleasure to have to be in this type of company on the night of the world cup final. Since this is Australia and you had to wake up at 4am to watch it, our choices were limited. Sitting on the floor, trying to enjoy this global event, we were treated to an earful full of "what a spastic, I could have gotten that in, why can’t this idiot score, screw the ref, I’m going to beat the f--- out of him!" By the way, he was calling David Villa a spastic…who is one of the top scorers. So be prepared for such people if you’re hosteling in Cairns.Cairns does have a lovely esplanade that we took several walks on and live music during the day. At night we visited one of the larger casinos, which of course was fun, but unimpressive. Pretty plain and uninspiring inside and outside. Other optional nightly activities can include strip clubs and coyote ugly style bar dancers. Can't give much feedback on these as we attempted to retire quite early night to be well rested for trips to Daintree and the Reef! You can literally feel the life all around you in Daintree forest. It is an enormous jungle that is over 130 million years old. Its landscapes vary from mangroves full of crocs, thick forest containing an unimaginable amount of wildlife, rivers full of turtles and sandy beaches. We had an amazing walk and drive through this ancient jungle, even spotting a Cassowary with two babies! These birds are a bit smaller than an Emu but much more aggressive. They are very territorial and have known to kill people by pushing them to the ground, then breaking open their ribcage with their huge claws. Unlike most species of animal, it is the male Cassowaries that warm and protect the eggs and chicks (for up to 9 months after hatching), while the female goes off giving life to more eggs to several males at once. We were also treated to a river tour with a mangrove expert. Mangroves are long rooted trees that withstand growing on saltwater banks. They create spectacularly dense bush, weaving their several foot long roots down into the water. The banks are literally covered with big blue crabs, mud hoppers, varieties of birds and of course, crocodiles. Our small boat drifted past these dinosaurs, who gave us no indication of movement. Eventually we were treated to one swimming past us while two little swallows fluttered around our boat in joy. We also stopped at a freshwater river that ran in very close proximity to the saltwater croc infested waters we had just visited…but after extreme reinforcement, we believed our guide that there were no crocs there and went for a cold dip with our snorkels. So many turtles! Although we’ve seen most of these animals in Zoo’s, I’m sure you can understand the difference of experience when seeing them in their own habitats! It was absolutely thrilling swimming with wild turtles in their own home, near wild crocs and cassowaries. Part of our positive experience was due to the quality tour guide we had. He was very informative and took us around several unique places with enough time to explore each one. He also taught us to pick up green ants by the head and lick their bums for a surge or lemon flavor.I suggest dishing out a little extra for a good tour. There are several cheapo tours that will consist of abrupt short stops to take pictures and not much more. If you want specific into on the tours, ask a government paid info center because they will tell you the truth as opposed to trying to sell anything for commission. On our last day we took a trip out to the Barrier Reef. It was like a candy-covered garden of luscious and secret life. We spent hours swimming around, picking up giant sea cucumbers and trying to dive deeper and deeper. There was every color of coral imaginable, from general reds and pinks to ultraviolet blues. They had a resident Parrot fish that loved attention. It was a fantastic creature that enjoyed nothing more than getting stroked and rubbed by all the tourists, swimming up onto the platform where people stood in shallow water. My favorite activity became waiting till it swam off deeper away from the crowd, diving in after it and giving it a big hug. It’s blue skin felt so silky and moorish.Overall, Cairns is definitely the places to visit due to the variety of activities you can do from here. Close
Written by pabrams52 on 24 Oct, 2009
Spectacular Day at the GBRMy sense of anticipation had been building, ever since I first sat down to plan our trip to Australia. Who doesn’t dream of seeing the Great Barrier Reef? It is really a must when one comes to this diverse…Read More
Spectacular Day at the GBR
My sense of anticipation had been building, ever since I first sat down to plan our trip to Australia. Who doesn’t dream of seeing the Great Barrier Reef? It is really a must when one comes to this diverse continent and had long been a travel objective of mine. My concern was choosing the right ship and tour company for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. I wanted a smaller, more intimate tour, since I had never snorkeled. I have to admit, I was a little nervous. So, when I contacted our hotel in Cairns, Australia, I specifically emailed their concierge desk to obtain information about the various tours they endorsed. Their recommendation was to go on the Ocean Freedom Cruise. It is a smaller sized boat, yet fully equipped with both snorkel and scuba gear. They handle beginner through experienced levels and also offer scuba instruction. I felt I had chosen just the type of tour I wanted.
The ship boards at 7:30 a.m. from the Marina right outside the hotel, which made it extremely convenient. Once boarded, you are welcomed with hot coffee, tea, fresh fruit and breakfast rolls. I would estimate that there were approximately 30 people on our cruise. After checking everyone in, we departed for the snorkel/dive site. On the way, the crew gives a run-down of the day and instruction for the sites. They are quite helpful with anyone that needs special attention or assistance in the water. As people began getting into their gear, I felt oddly jittery. The ride out to the reef location was smooth, the weather was picture perfect and the water condition was "flat". As I peered over the side of the boat, I could see the reef formations below the surface. We anchored at our swim/dive site and activity commenced. It was remarkable how clear the water was and I was surprised at how easy it was to view the reef. As I slipped the fins on my feet and adjusted my snorkel goggles, all of a sudden, I hesitated. I was sitting on the edge of the boat and could have slipped into the water very easily but I looked back up at one of the staff standing nearby and said, "I’m nervous." Wouldn’t you know - he quipped back "I’m ______ (stated his name), nice to meet you." Though he tried humor to break the tension, it didn’t help. I couldn’t believe I had come all this way, just to freeze up at the last minute. I was disappointed in myself and began to talk myself through it. I was determined not to miss out on such an amazing opportunity…after all, I was a solid swimmer and had nothing to fear. The only unknown was being in this water, but once I was in, my fears should subside.
I quickly reasoned that the best way to get into the water was to ease in by using the stairs over the side, instead of jumping in. As I stepped on the lowest platform I could see nothing but clear, unobstructed water beneath me, so, I let go of the ladder and slipped into the water. It was a comfortable temperature and required no adjustment. I checked my mask one more time and decided that this was it – go for it. I put my face in the water and began swimming. I had never swum with fins before and was getting the hang of it as they propelled me through the water. I was stunned at the enormity of life underneath me. I viewed an amazing variety of coral and fish. The instructor was pointing out various formations and even dipped down to "trigger" a sea clam, that responded slightly as she nudged it. It was incredible.
As a first-time snorkeler, I was noticeably concerned with the fact that I kept experiencing a gag reflex from my mouthpiece. I lifted my head out of the water periodically to give myself a chance to adjust it and make sure I wasn’t swallowing any salt water. I continued with the group. As determined as I was though, I couldn’t deny a feeling of queasiness in my stomach and was uncertain if I could continue. Part of me said, "don’t fight this…if you don’t feel well, go back." And the other part of me said, "this can’t be happening just as I’m enjoying being in the water." It was as this conversation with myself ensued that I made my decision to return to the boat and let me nerves settle down. But as I climbed back up the stairs, a wave of nausea hit me and I informed the staff that I thought I was going to be sick. They said, "just lean over the side". I guess the sea life takes no offense at this. As anyone knows, when you feel that lousy, you just want it to pass. I felt so foolish but had little to say in the matter as my stomach took control. Long story short, the staff informed me that this happens to someone on nearly every voyage. They were comforting and attentive and kept checking on me for the next hour or so. I stretched out on one of the benches and buried my head in my husband’s (Peter) lap.
A little more than an hour later, (after everyone, except Peter & I, had had lunch) the staff encouraged me to take the glass bottom boat ride to Upolu Cay, where I could get out and at least stand on solid ground. They felt that would help my condition. I was beginning to feel the nausea pass and desperately wanted to salvage what I had left of this fantastic tour. So I entered the glass bottom boat and just willed myself through the short ride to Upulo Cay. The Cay is an astoundingly small strip of sand in the middle of the ocean but it was solid ground and as soon as I got out, it felt glorious. I told Peter I could kiss the ground….and, I did!
The fresh air felt great and the view was amazing. We could actually walk from one small island to another. This photo shows the two islands.
How many times and places can you do that, we wondered….pretty cool! Our guide spotted a beautiful shell and picked it up to show us. We were awed until I saw a leg crawl out and then another. He explained that one has to be very careful about picking up shells as many have inhabitants in them. Say no more – I considered myself warned! We noticed the tide beginning to rise and swallow up our small island, so our ferry came to transport us back to the "mother ship" as I came to lovingly refer to her. After aboard, I took a final swim. It actually felt good to get back in the water and cool off.
As our tour boat headed back to the marina, we were served crackers and cheese along with delicious little cakes. My husband and I struck up a lovely conversation with some Americans who were living in Malaysia for the past ten years. They shared some of their experiences and fondness for Kuala Lumpur. This is always one of the nicest aspects to traveling – meeting fellow travelers and sharing stories and exchanging information. And although my day wasn’t perfect, I wanted to share it for that reason. Traveling involves the unexpected many times and one has to salvage what one can in spite of events. Looking back, I wished I had taken a Dramamine for seasickness even though I didn’t think I needed it. In the end, it was a lesson learned, but will not mar in any way the fabulous day we still had at The Great Barrier Reef. The crew was skilled and fun and I would highly recommend this tour.
Written by rodeime on 30 Jun, 2005
Cape to Adventure
Story and photographs
by Roderick Eime
The Australian love
Cape to Adventure
Story and photographs
by Roderick Eime
The Australian love
affair with the 4WD is evident everywhere from Cocklebiddy to Coles Car
Park. Great roaring, bull-bar reinforced, spotlight-emblazoned urban assault
vehicles ferry cherubic pre-schoolers and burly scaffolders alike. Most
look like they’ve never seen more danger than the odd pigeon poop,
so can these all-terrain behemoths really hack the rough stuff? We found
Our objective was
to take a showroom-standard 4WD vehicle all the way to the tip of Cape
York and back with a minimum of preparation and damage, whilst still enjoying
a true off-road experience. Our candidate machine: a brand new Volkswagen
Touareg 4WD 3.2 V6. Its big brother, the V8 version, had just won
the prestigious 2003 4WD of the Year Award (Overlander
Magazine), so we knew we weren't dealing with some fragile pretender.
Cape York Peninsula
is a bush-driving destination of considerable repute and on the very short
list of all aspiring off-roaders. The very "blokey" mix of hundreds
of kilometres of dirt road, nights under the stars, true frontier country,
and the odd crocodile provided the ideal formula for our test of mechanised
Our journey began
in Cairns, the gateway to Cape York, after a softening ride aboard Queensland
Rail's luxurious Queenslander.
We kicked back with gourmet cuisine, the occasional glass of merlot, comfy
bunks, and hand-and-foot service that in no way prepared us for the trials
from the train, we proceeded at a doddle toward Cooktown, along the 250km
coastal route via Mossman. Recently sealed, this leg was merely sightseeing
as we twisted and turned along the scenic Coral Sea coast, the road bordered
by lush Daintree forest on one side and vast, white powder beaches on
The warnings and the crocodiles are real
Beyond Cape Tribulation and
its many lodges, resorts, and hostels, we came upon our first sections of
real dirt, and with a light sprinkle of rain, the Touareg was christened
with its inaugural dusting of mud, but as yet, nothing had tested our
At the tiny aboriginal
community of Wujal Wujal, the Walker sisters took visitors on an informative
stroll to Bloomfield Falls, pointing out bush tucker plants and relating
the local myths and legends. Lunch Tip: Croc’n’Barra Café,
Ayton – yes!
Pete ripped the Touareg through a freshwater creek on Elim Beach near
Pulling up for our overnighter
at the legendary, 125-year-old Lions Den Hotel, we parked very conspicuously
amongst the omnipresent Toyota Hiluxes and Landcruisers so dominant in
this neck of the woods. Genuine outback types, complete with ragged blue
singlets and crusty Akubras, as well as over-equipped caravaners, eyed
the lone, muscly Volkswagen with a mix a wonder and suspicion.
We bade a bleary farewell
to the all-too-memorable Lions Den and headed off toward Cooktown, rejoining
the mainly sealed thoroughfare just up the way. Cooktown, now a charming
and authentic frontier town, was named after the famous captain who camped
there for nearly two months in 1770 while repairing Endeavour after her
fateful encounter with the nearby reef that now bears her name. As a consequence,
the proud and eclectic Cooktonians brag about their village being the
site of the first European settlement on mainland Australia.
Numerous creek crossings keep you on your toes - this was a big one.
From Cooktown, a course
was set for Laura, a mere 138kms hence, taking in the lower reaches of
the Lakefield National Park. Beyond the town, famous for its annual rodeo,
is the Peninsula Developmental Road, which links the major roadhouses,
rest stops and towns of Hutt River, Musgrave, Coen, and Archer River, 312kms
from Laura. Each of these layovers provides good food, camping, and most
facilities. Along this stretch, the road is mainly pretty good but is interspersed
with hazards like dust bowls and patches of deep corrugations that can
throw you off your game if unprepared. Stay alert--don’t be lulled
into excessive speed and give yourself LOTS of time to slow down for the
numerous creek crossings. Silly accidents occur when drivers plunge into
the water too fast and find it's full of rocks - or other vehicles!
If time is on your
side and you're up for a bit of left-field adventure, there's the Gibson
family's Munbah Beach Resort, about
30 clicks out of Cooktown. What began as a ramshackle weekender on one
of the most pristine stretches of coastline anywhere on the Cape is now
largely unchanged! Local Guugu Yimithirr tribal elder Les Gibson and his
wife, Marie, entertain city folks at their modest shack on Elim Beach,
just north of Cape Bedford in the Hope Vale reserve. There's spear-fishing,
aboriginal bushcraft, and tucker, plus traditional arts. It's something
you won't find in the Michelin guide! From there, you can continue (if
properly prepared) through Lakefield National Park, rejoining the main
route at Musgrave Roadhouse.
Beyond Archer River Roadhouse,
the Development Road continues on to Weipa and the way north is now along
the fabled Telegraph Track, passing by Moreton (former) Telegraph Station,
now a popular camping spot. At Bramwell Junction, 163km from Archer,
the hardcore 4WDers continue straight on along the Old Telegraph Track,
but those wanting a relatively smooth passage will opt, as we did, for
the new Bamaga Road. It bypasses the notorious Gunshot Creek and other
treacherous crossings for which we were not prepared. If you choose this
route, for heaven’s sake, make sure you’ve got all the gear
like winches, snorkels and bag jacks.
Depending on your
timing, the corrugations on the road can vary from awful to bad or just
plain appalling. Anything loose will fall off; your dentures will vibrate,
and forget about playing a CD. Our brawny Touareg took all this in stride; the sophisticated suspension and computerised traction control
laughing at these petty obstacles. Our only real concern was exceeding
the stated 500mm wading depth, which we did on occasions (shhh), fortunately
without any trouble.
Have your wallet
and your sense of humour handy for the Jardine River ferry
The Jardine River Ferry affords
us some comic relief before we complete the final 220km to Bamaga from
Bramwell. The fee is a whopping $88 return, including GST, cash only,
and don’t ask for a receipt. Lunchtime is strictly observed, and
so are you as the cheerless operator scowls from inside his noisy cabin.
The once-popular river crossing has been dredged, assuring your valued
Pete enjoys a satisfying
view over Punsand Bay
Once at the Cape,
we set base at the comfortable Resort
Bamaga and make our final 34km lunge at the tip in a leisurely all-day
foray that takes in many of the local sights including the fabled Croc
Shop, probably Australia’s most northerly retailer and some of the
still accessible wartime plane wrecks scattered in the bush. The Pajinka
Lodge has fallen into disrepair and is currently abandoned, making the
idyllic Punsand Bay Safari and Fishing Lodge the only accommodation option
within cooee of the tip.
If you're a bit cheeky
and want to really tick the journey off, it's possible to negotiate the
tracks around the old resort and drive out onto the sand flats. This will
take you within about 50m of the very tip of the Cape and earn you maximum
bragging rights. A short stroll will take you to the plaque marking Australia's
most northerly point - and that's it! Now all you need is the T-shirt.
Don't rush back; instead,
do as we did and savour your victory. Linger for a day or two; take in
some fishing and perhaps a ferry over to Thursday
Island before tightening your U-bolts for the return journey.
At the tip of Cape
Written by rodeime on 29 Jun, 2005
So much of Cape York’s attraction lies offshore. A perfect adjunct to any land-based exploration is a Great Barrier Reef cruise.
Ranging from a few hours to several days, a cruise along our UNESCO World Heritage Listed coral reef is an experience that will remain with…Read More
So much of Cape York’s attraction lies offshore. A perfect adjunct to any land-based exploration is a Great Barrier Reef cruise.
Ranging from a few hours to several days, a cruise along our UNESCO World Heritage Listed coral reef is an experience that will remain with you for a long time.
The premier cruise product for this region would have to be the 7-day, 6-night "Tip of Australia" cruise offered by Cairns-based, Coral Princess Cruises. Choose either a Thursday Island-Cairns itinerary or vice versa aboard their 35m, 50-passenger luxury catamaran. The corresponding leg is by air. Each expedition cruise allows you diving, snorkelling or glass-bottom boat excursions on some of the most beautiful, remote and seldom visited stretches of pristine coral reef imaginable. Passengers are also offered a DVD video record of their journey, including diving and shore excursions.
Thetford Reef, Swinger Reef, Lizard Island, historic Cooktown, Stanley Island, Davey Reef, Forbes Island, Magra Island and Albany Passage are the highlights of "Tip of Australia". Not only are you able visit the riotously colourful underwater reefs and swim alongside such evocatively named creatures as the Clown Fish (think Nemo), Nudibranch, Diagonal Banded Sweetlips and Saddled Butterfly Fish, but there’s a lot to be learned about early European and Aboriginal settlement as well.
On Lizard Island, host to one of the most exclusive island resorts in the country, a heart-wrenching tragedy unfolded in 1881. Left alone while her new husband was fishing for sea-slugs, 21-year old Mary Watson, her infant son and a wounded Chinese servant were forced to flee the island in a hastily improvised metal tank after a violent altercation with the local Aboriginals. The refugees floated forty miles north and washed ashore on island No.5 in the Horwick Group where they quickly died of thirst and exposure. Cruel and savage retribution saw over 100 aboriginals hunted and killed by the vengeful Cooktown residents and police after what they understood to be a kidnap and murder, but what was more likely an ignorant misunderstanding on both sides. Young Mary Watson’s diaries and her "brave pioneering spirit" served as an icon for generations thereafter. The ruins of the Watson cottage are still there on Lizard Island today and Mary's grave can be seen in Cooktown cemetary.
Stop Press: Coral Princess Cruises launch the brand new 63 metre, 76-passenger Oceanic Princess this year (2005). It will also visit Cape York as part of its Top End cruising schedule.
Coral Princess Cruises
Written by rodeime on 07 Feb, 2005
Indigenous tourism is a fast-growing niche segment in the Australian market. Some contrived and some genuine, Rod Eime goes in search of green ants and coloured sands and meets the authentic Gibson family of Hopevale, north of Cooktown.
"...in reality, they are far happier than we…Read More
Indigenous tourism is a fast-growing niche segment in the Australian market. Some contrived and some genuine, Rod Eime goes in search of green ants and coloured sands and meets the authentic Gibson family of Hopevale, north of Cooktown.
"...in reality, they are far happier than we Europeans; being wholy unacquainted not only with the superfluous but the necessary conveniencies so much sought after in Europe..."
So wrote Lieutenant James Cook in August 1770 in his journal of the New Holland natives after unprecedented interaction with them. Little did he know what impact British settlement would later have on these ancient people.
Les Gibson of the Guugu Yimithirr people has an unusual insight into the historic encounter with the great navigator. When Cook and his crew spent 48 days on the banks of the Wahalumbaal River repairing Endeavour, the Guugu Yimithirr supplied the stranded Englishmen with fresh meat, fish, and other staples.
Les, comfortably ensconced in an old armchair on the verandah, reminds us that the ramshackle encampment, now Cooktown, became the first European settlement on the Australian continent. During this time, his ancestors' language became the first to be written down. The word 'kangaroo' is derived from a Guugu Yimithirr word, 'Gangurru'; whether it translated to 'furry marsupial' or 'what did you say?' is still a matter of some debate.
The aboriginals had little use for the trinkets offered to them by Cook in exchange for supplies; nevertheless, they took them out of respect and curiosity. Les knows where some of these items are stored even today, placed in reverence in a secret cave, along with huge painted murals documenting Cook's stay in the district. A secret Les is determined to keep.
Today the Guugu Yimithirr people refer to themselves as Bama and live at the Hopevale Community, 46 kilometres north of Cooktown. They are a loose amalgam of tribes from the local traditional lands and from as far north as the tip of Cape York, formed when Lutheran missionaries relocated them to be "sheltered" and "educated" in missions.
Their land returned by way of a Deed of Trust in 1986, then validated with a Native Title Determination in 1997, the Bama are a people now at one with their environment, returning via a strange and tragic irony to some approximation of how Cook found them in 1770. Now Les and his family are sharing their heritage and traditions with anyone who wants to come and see for themselves.
The family weekender, poetically dubbed Munbah (muddy creek), is the Hopevale version of a seaside retreat. Okay, so it's a beach shack. Overnight visitors can find a bunk in the communal "dorm" or pitch a tent in the yard. There's an outdoor bush toilet, a freshwater creek that serves as a washhouse, an open-air dining room, a BBQ area, and a location on the most pristine, fine-white sandy beach you can imagine.
During the day, Les lets you call the shots. Choose from spear-fishing, bush-tucker foraging, traditional art classes with Les's wife Marie, excursions to the fabled coloured sands, or a visit to an enormous sandpit that echoes spookily like distant cannon fire when you drop a rock at your feet. Local legend holds that the rocks are imbibed with a special quality, but Les smirks at this fable. Clearly the huge sandy amphitheatre possesses some unknown quality that creates supernatural reverberations deep within.
The trek through the dense bush provides some interesting distractions along the way. Hundreds of spiders the size of jam-tin lids form huge "arachno condos" of densely intertwined webs. I try not to imagine walking into one. And as we brush past the many eucalyptus leaves along the narrow path, hyperactive green ants hitchhike onto our sleeves and forearms. Les takes a look at the little interlopers scurrying inside my cuff and then scours the nearby foliage. He spots what appears to be a swollen clump of bright green leaves and deftly plucks it from the tree. It's literally seething with the little blighters, and in one deliberate, well-practiced movement, Les crushes the whole mass with the palms of his weather-beaten hands. Then, a lot more carefully, he opens his hands to reveal a mangled mass of ants and leaves, a few mortally crippled insects still wriggling in the pulp.
"Getta whiff of this," offers Les, first taking a sample inhalation himself. "This'll clear ya out!"
I take a carelessly large blast through my nose, immediately reeling at the strong vapour permeating my sinuses. Then I take another. Amazing! The acrid fumes have an immediate effect, clearing the passages and stimulating my sense of smell. I'm later told a story of a woman who hadn't smelt anything for years, until she tried the magic ants, and promptly burst into tears as the fragrant aromas of the blossoming bush immediately returned. Boiled, the ants also make a powerfully therapeutic cup of tea. Just imagine!
Later that night, under a bright star-strewn sky, we dine on T-bones cooked on the outdoor "stove", washed down with a delicate red wine reserved for the purpose. We are enjoying this indulgent feast when a Toyota "troopie" noisily pulls up in the dining room.
"Heeey!" exclaim the new arrivals, doors slamming. "How are ya, Uncle Les!"
It's Les's boisterous nephew, Bruce, flanked by two burly cousins, Garry and Robert. Nervous city-slickers might be unnerved by this flamboyant entrance, but introductions are quickly made, Bruce flashing a broad, impeccable grin with each confident handshake. Apart from his outwardly carefree, gregarious nature, Bruce demonstrates a self-assured, determined character, reinforced with the physique of a front-rower. He immediately commands the motley gathering, casually batting quips about the table, despite the unfamiliar faces.
Bruce stands in stark contrast to his shy uncle, who looks on the lad with obvious pride. He, along with Uncle Les, is a trustee for the Injinoo Land Trust and a lucid mover-and-shaker with his sights set on state parliament. He regales us for an hour or so on complex family and tribal history, the persistent legacy of the Lutheran missionaries, and the hopes he has for his people in the relatively recently desegregated north of Queensland. There's no lecturing, anger, or vitriol--just a deliberate acknowledgement of matters as they are, interspersed with both humorous and tragic anecdotes.
"Aboriginal people need to be reminded of where we've come from," says Bruce earnestly. "So many have lost their way because their connection with the land, their heritage, is gone."
Mindful of the bad press urban Aboriginals often get, Bruce dreams of bringing small groups of vulnerable "koorie" youths up to Munbah for some reintroduction in the traditional ways. He looks thoughtful for a moment, pensively studying the imperfections in his enamelled plate, but he's clearly engrossed in his plan of healing his people.
Just as quickly as he arrived, he's on his feet, thanking us for our brief hospitality and declaring to return at dawn if he pulls some Barra out of the nets he's off to set. Les farewells him warmly, leaving a lingering, proud glow in the old man. In Bruce, he sees a future, a hope, for his people--someone with strength and determination enough to restore and secure the ancient traditions of the Guugu Yimithirr, as well as maintain their rightful place in the global village.
Les and Marie Gibson run "Munbah Cultural Tours" from the Hopevale Aboriginal Community, 50km north of Cooktown.
They cater to both day visitors and overnighters, offering insights and hands-on experience into:
For reservations or more information:
Hope Vale QLD 4871
Tel +61 7 40609173
Written by ElyseMc on 08 Oct, 2000
Wednesday was the day I’ve wanted to happen for a long time … the snorkel trip to the Great Barrier Reef! This day, we met at the Ecstasea sailboat at 8:10 in the morning, and headed out. 18 guests with a crew of…Read More
Wednesday was the day I’ve wanted to happen for a long time … the snorkel trip to the Great Barrier Reef! This day, we met at the Ecstasea sailboat at 8:10 in the morning, and headed out. 18 guests with a crew of about 6. Since I’ve always heard that there are a lot of sharks around Australia, I had the feel of Roy Schneider in 'Jaws' when he headed out to look for the Great White. In the paper just that morning we had read about two different shark attacks on surfers. One guy was hurt and in the hospital, and one guy was never found at all … just half of his surfboard. Of course, the crew onboard the boat assured me that that was on the south coast, and they rarely saw sharks in the GBR area at all. OK .. I’m game. (so to speak)
As we cruised out to the snorkel site (Upolu Reef), we visited with the crew. As with most Australians that we came into contact with over the week, they were quite friendly. By the end of the day, we felt like we had new best buddies. So, for a couple of hours we visited and just enjoyed the upcoming day. Once we got to the reef, they announced that they had wetsuits for rent, for anyone that wanted one. Neither Steve nor I have ever snorkeled in a wetsuit, but decided to rent them not only for the protection from the cold water, but also to protect my sunburn. Ended up being the best money we spent all week. I think if I had been in the water without one, I would have been pretty chilly! Actually, everyone except a couple of the Europeans ended up renting the suits. And they ended up helping out in more than those two ways .. they also help you float!
The guides had asked earlier if there was anyone who wasn’t a strong swimmer, and once in the water I understood why. The current was terribly hard to fight! At first we were all just floating into each other … am sure we all looked like the 3 Stooges trying to snorkel … but soon we got the hang of spreading out. Luckily, the boat came equipped with swimming noodles, which also helped when fighting the current. In no time at all, we were a good distance from the boat. Our group of snorkelers all swam with a couple of the guides, and they showed us things like blue starfish (yes, bright cobalt blue!) and sea cucumbers (nasty to the touch!). Then they lead us over to see the giant clams. That was SO cool! These things were about 4 feet across, and looked like they were smiling at us. One of the guides swam down and petted the clam, which made him close. I wish the sun had been shining more (it was a little cloudy) so the visibility would have been better.
In all honesty, we didn’t see anything scary, but I would have liked to have been able to see a little better. Steve saw a sea turtle, but by the time any of the rest of us got over to where he was, we couldn’t see it. I’m sure that guy was long gone. After a little while, I had seen all that I really wanted to see, plus the fact that my mask wouldn’t quit fogging up, and actually I was feeling a little fatigued from fighting the current. Since we were a good distance from the boat by now, I had one of the guides swim back to the boat with me. Yeah, I’m a scardy cat. Once I got to the boat, my legs were so shaky from swimming that I had a little trouble getting up the ladder. I pulled out of the wetsuit (just like an all over the body girdle!), dried off a little, and decided that I was done for the day. A few minutes later, the rest of the snorkelers came in and we all had a tasty lunch.
After a little while, they took the hard-core snorkelers back out for another fight with the current, but this time I opted for a ride in the glass bottom boat. Actually, it was a very small boat, and it was just the driver of the boat and me, so I got a customized personal tour. I really liked looking at the coral formations and things through the bottom of the boat. It wasn’t all fogged up like my mask! The guy taking me around took me over some neat looking coral, and even found some blue coral. I had never seen that before (well, not in the wild … only in a jewelry showcase). A couple of guys on the boat wanted to scuba dive, but even they only took one dive because of the strong current and lack of visibility. We hear that it’s usually better than the day we were out, but no one let it ruin their day. After everyone was back on the boat, they lifted the sails and we sailed a while.
During the course of the trip, they served us fresh fruit, wine, and cheese. By the time we got back to the dock, I think everyone agreed that it was a trip well worth your money! Not the cattle-cars that the bigger tour groups put on. As we passed one of the larger boats, the crew on our boat said 'ok … let’s give them the Ecstasea welcome' and they all 'moo-ed.' Don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in all my life.
Wednesday night, we were bushed, so we found a corner pizza stand and ordered a pizza.
Thursday was our last day to play around town, and we had reserved that day to drive up the mountain into the rainforest and visit Kuranda, an aboriginal village. The drive up was scenic (as was everywhere in the region), but once we got to Kuranda there were people galore. Built to house several markets selling crafty items, we walked through a few of the shops and looked. Nothing there that we really wanted, so we ate lunch (and it wasn’t very good) and headed back down. Along the way, we had seen a wildlife preserve, and decided to stop. At least there I was sure I could see a kangaroo. And boy did I ever! Not only do you get to see them, but I also got to feed and pet several! It was great! Of course, I hear they aren’t like this out in the wild … We also saw several crocodiles, and one was HUGE! The biggest one was about 15 feet long, and was segregated from the other smaller ones. The sign over his cage said that he had killed 12 girlfriend crocodiles. Antisocial fellow, wouldn’t you say? But he was cool to look at. They also had koala bears and also some wombats. Now, before I went to Australia, I wasn’t sure I knew what a wombat was, and I still can’t say for sure, but they sure are cute. I think Steve said they were a relative of the koalas, but don’t climb trees. Instead, they dig tunnels in the ground. Now, if I could just see a duckbill-platypus … but they didn’t have any.
Thursday night, we ate at a place called Rattle & Hum, and once again had great seafood. After dinner, we moseyed back over to The Reef Casino, just for a little entertainment, and once again Steve won at the Black Jack tables! Talk about luck! Wish he could have won us an extra week in Cairns!
Friday morning, we had an early flight back to Singapore, and we both really hated to leave. Cairns was such a good experience for both of us, but as Steve always says, 'it’s best to leave while you still love it and have a longing to come back.' And I agree. I sure hope I do get to come back sometime … Australia is definitely awesome. So … until I see Australia again, I guess I’ll have to say 'Hoo-Roo' which means farewell.
Tuesday we got up to clouds and rain. Actually, that was ok with us, since neither of us really wanted any more sun. We had decided that that day would be our driving tour. Port Douglas is another town close by that…Read More
Tuesday we got up to clouds and rain. Actually, that was ok with us, since neither of us really wanted any more sun. We had decided that that day would be our driving tour. Port Douglas is another town close by that was recommended to visit, so we decided to check it out. One of our Aussie friends had told me to tell the kangaroos hello for her, so I kept my eyes peeled to see one. I thought that Aussies had kangaroos like Texans had cows. Nope. More like deer. I understand you never see them out in the light of day, but in the late evenings or early mornings. Sure blew my idea of seeing a kangaroo. I also found out that they don’t have so many in the rainforest and reef areas. Actually, that was a little surprising since everywhere around the area there were sugar cane fields … and they were in the middle of harvesting. Anyway, the drive to Port Douglas took about 1.5 hours (it’s only about 36 miles), but the road is a twisting, winding road along the ocean. It’s a lovely drive, and you should take it if you ever get the chance.
Once in Port Douglas, we ate lunch at a place called Iron Bar (Steve liked it because they had t-bone steaks as the lunch special), and wandered around the town a little bit. The town itself gave me the same feel that Telluride, Colorado does. Laid-back, with lot of souvenir stores along with the artsy-fartsy shops. You could spend as much or as little as you liked here. I bought a couple of t-shirts (they were on sale), so I could cover up my sunburn. I got so tired of people staring at me like I was a freak, or coming up and telling me that I was sunburned. I mean, get real people … like I hadn’t already figured that out.
After P-Douglas, we decided to drive on north and check out the Daintree Rainforest at Mossman Gorge. What we saw there, just whetted our appetite for more! After taking their short hiking trail (and making a potty break), we decided to drive on up north to Cape Tribulation, where the paved roads end in northeast Australia. This involved crossing the Daintree River by ferry … LOTS of signs warning about the crocodiles in the area!!! No swimming, no standing by the water, no walking along certain areas. OK, they convinced me! We also saw signs along the road to watch out for the cassawaries … the big Australian birds. Although we watched and watched, we NEVER saw any cassawaries. Steve decided it was just a ploy by the highway department to make people slow down.
We did reach Cape Tribulation around 5:30 PM, and I have to admit that they should have named it Camp Tribulation instead. There just wasn’t much there. We did see a tea farm, which was cool, and there was a sign for an ice-creamery (which we didn’t see). By the time we got there, the roadside potty buildings were closed, and the crocodile signs had me worried about going behind a bush (and with good reason). We stopped at a roadside fast food joint and each had a bag of chips, and decided that maybe we should start back down the mountain and try to have dinner at P-Douglas. It’s a good thing, because by the time we reached the Daintree ferry, it had gotten dark. Needless to say, I never actually saw a crocodile, but I sure saw some likely places for them to be.
Tuesday night, we ate dinner back at P-Douglas at a Thai food restaurant that I had seen earlier (Star of Siam). This was the poorest excuse for a Thai food restaurant that I had ever seen. The service sucked, and the Tom Yam Gung soup was sweet! I love that soup, and if it doesn’t give you a good burn, there’s something wrong! I’m sure they had adjusted their recipes to suit the tourist tastes, but I’ve been to Thailand and I can tell you that it didn’t taste right. The man waiting on us smiled when he heard that we were from Cairns, and were heading back. He proudly told us that they also had a Star of Siam in Cairns. Sure glad he saved us the trouble of going there.
On Monday, we had to meet on the dock at 7:15 AM (ugh – 5:15 AM to us) in the morning. We had signed up to take a Mixed Fishing trip, which was a combination of deep sea pole fishing, and also hand fishing…Read More
On Monday, we had to meet on the dock at 7:15 AM (ugh – 5:15 AM to us) in the morning. We had signed up to take a Mixed Fishing trip, which was a combination of deep sea pole fishing, and also hand fishing on the reef with a spool (similar to what we did at the Maldives). The name of the boat was Bill Fish, and soon we met Bill the driver, who we ended up calling Wild Bill. There was a total of 6 guests on board, and 3 crew members. The first fish hooked was a young black marlin, and it was so exciting seeing him jump out of the water as they reeled him in. Unfortunately for the guy reeling, the line broke just as the fish was coming in to the boat. We all got a good look at the fish, but not a one of us got a picture of it! Despite trying for a few hours, the only other fish caught on the poles was a Long Tom, or barracuda to us. Out of the water he looked to be about 3 or 4 feet long, but if I had been snorkeling, I’m sure he would have looked 6 or 7 feet to me!
I really don’t like swimming with those guys. We had a little excitement mid-morning. One of the other girls on the boat (there were 3 girl and 3 guy guests) looked out once and said 'oh my god, is that a shark?' We all looked out just in time to see a dorsal fin headed right at our boat. Even the crew said 'it sure looks like it,' but just before the fish got to the boat, it was apparent that it wasn’t a shark. It was a couple of dolphins (yes, like Flipper). They came up beside our boat and put on a show, swimming together and then leaping out of the water. Just like the dolphin show at Six Flags! You’ll have to just trust me on this one though, because by the time I had retrieved my camera, they had left. They were so cool to see! We also heard that they had humpback whales come up in that area a lot, and one had even beached himself in the mud flats earlier this year. I watched all day to see one, but it wasn’t meant to be on that day.
After catching the barracuda, we anchored and did a little reef fishing. In reef fishing, they give you a spool with heavy-duty fishing line on it. After baiting the HUGE hook with real fish and cut up squid, they instructed us to let the line run until it stops, which means we had hit the bottom. I never seemed to get the hang of this, since the fish ALWAYS got my bait, and I NEVER caught a fish. It wasn’t until about the end of the fishing that I discovered that you were not supposed to leave your hook and bait on the bottom, but pull it back up a little. I could feel nibbles sometimes, but the fish never took my hook. Everyone else on board caught some of the colorful reef fish, but not me. I decided that I was better at photography anyway. So I went to have a sandwich and gave up on the fishing.
The end of the day was fun, but a little scary. Since the weather in Cairns had been a little stormy, the sea was fairly rough. And when it came time to head in, Wild Bill opened that boat up to what felt like full throttle. Steve and I were sitting up on the top deck (where Wild Bill was), and when we would hit waves at certain angles, it soaked us. I don’t really think he was doing it on purpose, but he certainly wasn’t doing anything to prevent it either. It would have been fine if the weather had been really hot, but by this time it was cloudy and had cooled off, not to mention that I was sunburned to a crisp. Now let me stop right here and tell you that if an Aussie ever tells you to put sunscreen on, do it. Since the weather felt a little cool, and the sun didn’t feel that hot, I didn’t think I was getting burned. At least I did have the good sense to buy a hat the night before. I guess that kept the part in my hair from getting sunburned. My face, ears, neck, shoulders, arms, and even hands got baked. Hey, for a few days, I had a GREAT tan … and then the peeling started. Oh boy, was that ever fun. I don’t think I’ve had a sunburn that bad ever. Oh, and mid-day, I did put on 30 SPF. It was the morning sun that got me so bad too. Who would have thought? Anyway, going back to town, Steve and I ended up sitting VERY close to try and stay warm. It was too rough to climb back down and get inside the boat cabin, and neither of us wanted to sound like a sissy by asking Wild Bill to slow down. Actually, it was fun and a little exciting. All-in-all, it was a great day.
That night, we decided to try a restaurant called FishLips that Jan and Tommy Doerr had recommended (they had gone to Cairns in February). This one had several awards on the walls saying it was voted 'Best Restaurant in Cairns,' and if the food hadn’t convinced us, the service would have. I had a fisherman’s platter with fried prawns, oysters, fish, and lobster! YUM! (Wish I had a plate of that right now!) Steve had their signature fish and chips, and you didn’t hear either one of us complain. Full and tired, we decided to call it a night. However, once we got back to the hotel, Steve mentioned going to check out the casino (The Reef) that was across the street from the Hilton. By this time, I had caught second wind, so we went over. He played Black Jack while I hit the slots. And Steve walked out with more money than he went in with! That Lucky Dog!!!
Written by Happy Cappy on 13 Jul, 2003
A 25 minute drive from Cairns heading inland towards Mareeba lies the township of Kuranda. Centered around tourist activities, the township offers a cool respite to the tropical heat of Cairns. Here you can visit the Butterfly Sanctuary and see the famous Blue Ulysess, and…Read More
A 25 minute drive from Cairns heading inland towards Mareeba lies the township of Kuranda. Centered around tourist activities, the township offers a cool respite to the tropical heat of Cairns. Here you can visit the Butterfly Sanctuary and see the famous Blue Ulysess, and also see some of the local wildlife. Many of the shops offer high quality souvenirs and Australiana gift lines as well as collectable paintings and phototographs from well-known local artists. The Kuranda markets are open Wednesday, Thursday, and Sundays from 9am-3pm and are a bargain hunter's mecca. For the sweet tooth, the Honey House offers a huge range of unique Australian bush honeys –- with free tastings.
Barron Gorge is a five-minute drive from Kuranda and offers magnificent views of the waterfalls and tropical rainforest. There are well signed walking trails. You can reach Kuranda by Sky Rail and the famous Kuranda Train –- a suggested option is to Sky Rail up and Kuranda Train back down -– there is some awesome scenery along the way.