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One Week in Cairns

Author: Pati O.
Date of Trip: April 2011

One week in Cairns and I am not sure I could have possibly done anymore unless I forfeited sleep.

My 6:00am flight Monday morning saw me landing at around 9:15 and with a quick shuttle into the city I arrived at my accommodation at 10:00. Luckily my room was ready so I was able to freshen up and settle in. My first order of business was to contact the Gales, a family from back home whose kids I had taught and were now in Cairns on a teacher exchange. After a bit of phone tag we did connect and planned to get together for dinner that night.

The rest of the morning was filled with wandering about to get the lay of the land, investigating and booking some activities for the week. My hotel was located right on the Esplanade in Cairns right across the street from the lagoon (a large man-made public pool) and a very short five-minute walk from the harbor. It couldn’t have been in a better place.

The weather was gorgeous, a hot sunny 29, which I was very grateful for considering that they had had miserable rainy weather weeks on end and it was supposed to continue the whole time I was there. I felt like the sun had followed me and I needed to take advantage of it so I decided a dip in the lagoon was in order. I certainly wasn’t the only one with this thought but although it was rather crowded it was so refreshing splashing around in the water and relaxing hanging on the edge over looking the ocean. After that I took a stroll to figure out where I would need to report the next morning for my first excursion. A little time wandering through some shops and it was soon time to get ready for my evening visit.

Cindy picked me up and took me out to their place for a great evening. We had a lovely meal and it was so nice to catch up with her Scott and the kids. We also agreed that Cindy, the kids (Scott, unfortunately was away for work) and I would catch up on Saturday for a road trip. Now that they were the locals they would be the perfect tour guides and they planned to take me to a few of their favorite locations in the Atherton Tablelands.

Tuesday morning I woke to another glorious sunny day and I was off early for my first official tourist activity, kayaking and snorkeling at Fitzroy Island. After a 45-minute ferry ride out to the island and a bit of wandering time, we were finally decked out in our flattering stinger suits and lifejackets. Armed with my beautiful purple paddle, I hit the water with a teenage girl from Victoria as my partner. Once again this kayak was slightly different from any I had used before with pedals and a rudder for steering, eventually I got the hang of it without crashing into too many rocks or other kayaks. I definitely much prefer to steer with my paddle. Oh well, when it is time for me to purchase my own boat I will have lots of experience to guide me.

After about 90 minutes we stopped paddling and beached our boats so we could go for a swim and check out the coral surrounding the shoreline. After ensuring I was completely covered up, looking very much like a not so sexy avatar, I made my way into the water. It was very calm and the visibility was fantastic. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the coral and felt invigorated as the colorful array of fish swam around me. Every time I turned my head there was something new and wonderful. I also experienced several mouthfuls of water as I jerked to look below me and submerged my snorkel, no worries though I eventually sorted this out.

Another hour or so on top of the water and it was back to the beach house to trade in our paddles and lifejackets for lunch. Then the rest of the day was filled with more snorkeling and a little bit of beach combing.

While waiting for everyone to board the ferry home I was so lucky to experience my own personal live “Nature’s Wonders” show. Beside the boat there were schools of hundreds of fish swimming around near the surface. After a little bit asking around I found out that the little ones on top were sardines and there were two other kinds on layers below them (unfortunately I can’t remember their names). It was fascinating watching the sardines move around in their group, apparently using some sort of sonar to stay together. Then sadly one little guy was left behind, he was obviously hurt and not strong enough to keep up so the group banished him. I felt so sorry for him swimming haplessly all alone. At one point the school returned close to him and despite my cheering and urging he was not able to penetrate the perimeter. Sadly, his fate was much worse than a lonely existence as eventually a much larger fish swam up from depths, jumped up with an open mouth and ate him! And so ended my nature lesson for the day.

By the time we arrived back in Cairns and I made my way back to my hotel I was ready for a relaxing supper and a soak in my spa tub. I was quite content to stay in and take it easy knowing I had another early start scheduled for the next morning when I would be off exploring again…

Cairns Part Two

Wednesday the plan was head up to the rainforest village of Kuranda. The day began with being treated to stunning views if the local landscape stretching as far as the coastline while chugging up through the rainforest on the historic Kuranda steam train. It was a rather warm day and despite having all the windows down the car it was in was quite uncomfortable so I ended up standing outside for most of the time on the little platform between two cars, as it turned out I think it was actually the best place to be.

The village of Kuranda is a lovely settlement with a history of being an artist’s haven. I spent my first couple of hours meandering through the markets discovering numerous unique local wares and products.

Next I decided to visit the Kuranda Butterfly sanctuary. As it turned out I would have to say this was definitely the highlight of my day. The main butterfly area was essentially a large beautiful greenhouse with hundreds of butterflies fluttering about. Not sure how many species there actually were but I believe it was well over a hundred, although most of my attention was captured by one type. A large vibrant blue Ulysses butterfly caught my eye as I entered the sanctuary and it was love at first sight! I desperately tried to capture the beauty of this species with my camera but had no luck, as they never seemed to stay still. Once I resigned to the fact that I was not meant to get a photo I stopped chasing them around and decided to just sit down and enjoy what was happening around me. So I sat on a large rock and dug my water bottle out of my bag, just as I had raised my bottle to my mouth a several butterflies, including a Ulysses began to show interest in me. It wasn’t long before one of these vibrant blue beauties landed on my water bottle having a drink of the condensation. Amazingly he was a little more willing to stay still at this point and I did manage to get a few shots. Several other butterflies also stopped by for a visit, landing on my bag as well as all over me. It was such a peaceful experience and I was in no hurry to leave.

Eventually I did move on and after a bit of lunch I entered into Bird World. I must say that at first I was a bit disappointed in this venue as it was rather small and only took about 5-10 minutes to walk around. Being me though, I wasn’t ready to give up that quickly so I decided to head up in the little patio area where several macaws, parrots, lovebirds and galahs were gathered.

As soon as I got up there I noticed a Blue and Gold Macaw attempting to get into the trash bin. He was valiantly working to push down the foot pedal but wasn’t having much luck. As I sat down to watch him he noticed me and waddled over to where I was seated. Showing not evidence of shyness or fear whatsoever, he came right up to me and started nibbling on my brightly painted toenails. After several attempts to shoo him away I was able to distract him by diverted his attention to my water bottle. Although this was definitely a successful tactic I soon realized that I would have to sacrifice this bottle, a small price to pay for the entertainment it provided for this cheeky bird and in turn me as well. He had a great time working to get the pop-top off and eventually the lid so he could finally dump the remaining water and drink it from the ensuing puddles.

Time passed quickly and I soon realized that it was time to make my way to the skyrail terminal so I could make my way back down the mountain. Even though I was feeling a bit ill (something I ate wasn’t sitting well) I was looking forward to this 7km long gondola ride. As it turned out it was actually two separate lines, I had to get out at about the halfway point and change to another gondola. I was pleased to have a car for myself so I could stretch out and relax as I enjoyed more amazing views all the way down.

With another full day coming to a close I eventually found my way back to the hotel for quiet evening and preparation for the next day….

Cairns Part 3

Thursday morning arrived and I was finally going to do something I had craved since I had discovered it on the internet when I first started investigating things to do while in Cairns. My tour bus picked me up at 7:00 am for our trip out to Cape Tribulation where we would arrive at around lunchtime, an hour or so later we would head up into the Daintree for Jungle Surfing, but first we had to get there.

Our first stop along the way was in Port Douglas at The Rainforest Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary, where we were treated to three informative and interactive talks before we had time to wander about on our own. The first talk was about koalas then we moved on to crocodiles and snakes, during which I got to pet a baby croc and a python, neither of which I had ever done before.

Walking through the park I was treated to some very up close observations of a variety on indigenous animals. Along the way I spotted a couple of young kangaroos in a cage that were acting very distressed so another woman and I went in search of some staff to report the situation. It turned out they had accidently gotten caught up in a duck cage and they were promptly set free once again.

One of the coolest things in this park I actually discovered completely by accident. I was in the canopied eating area when I happened to glance up and noticed the shadows of some birds that were up there. It was such a unique perspective, an absolutely brilliant discovery.

Once aboard the bus again we made our way along the scenic coastal road with a couple of interesting stops along the way. We had lunch at a wonderful remote backpacker’s resort across from where we needed to meet for our quick ride up to the jungle surfing center.

Soon after we arrived at the center we were fitted in harnesses and helmets which all had names on them. For the rest of the time there I was known as “Wonder Woman”. We had a bit of a climb ahead of us before we reached the first tree of the course where would finally begin our trip through the tips of the rainforest on a series of flying foxes or zip lines. I couldn’t wait to get going.

The first three lines they sent us in pairs so we were able get a few photos of each other. The final two lines we went solo and this was where I had the most fun. I wanted to go fast and let loose! I even accidently turned upside down when I wasn’t really supposed to! So when I was allowed to I went the whole way completely relaxed with my arms hanging down and I didn’t want to get off. At each change over point our guides were very entertaining and shared a great deal of information about the vegetation of the rainforest. The only thing that would have made this adventure better would have been it lasting longer.

Another three hours on the bus with our driver Fraser, whom I really clicked with and it was time for another drop off at my accommodation. I even got a hug good-bye, at Fraser’s request?

Cairns Part 4 Friday morning and I had to get up insanely early as I needed to be out for my pick up at 4:45am, but I was so excited this wasn’t a problem. My first activity of this day was to be a sunrise balloon ride. On the way up to the Atherton Tablelands I discovered I would be on the second flight so I would not be up in the air when the sun came, after a brief moment of disappointment I took it in stride and my anticipation level rose again.

When we arrived at the take off sight I was awestruck as I saw the massive balloons being inflated, lit up against the dark sky they were an unbelievable sight. Of course I had to get out into the wet dewy farmer’s field to take tons of pictures. Just as they were taking off my camera started to act up and froze. I knew from past experience that the only way I would be able to restore it would be to reformat it and in doing so it would delete everything I had on it. Hoping I would be able to recover at least a couple of them later I decided that I didn’t want to miss the chance of documenting my ride so I went ahead. Thankfully I was able to recover all the photos from that morning using a recovery system I had previously purchased.

Shortly after the camera incident I noticed that one of my sister’s rings was missing from my finger. I desperately hoped that it had fallen off in the bus and immediately went to search my seat area, but it was nowhere to be found. I was determined to not let this turn ruin my day so I reminded myself how much Betty loved Australia to, and now a part of her would always be there. Half jokingly I commented that maybe I would be lucky and it fell out in my backpack as I looked unsuccessfully through it. Amazingly later that night when I emptied my pack out I was ecstatic when I came across the diamond ring sitting among some trash on the bottom. I think my angel was definitely with me!

After the balloons took off we boarded the bus to chase them. As balloons have no navigations systems and rely completely on the prevailing winds they are never sure exactly where they are headed, thus the chase. About 30 minutes later we caught up with ours and I excitedly watched it land knowing that it wouldn’t be long before I was “up up and away in my beautiful, my beautiful balloon”, and yes I was singing the song!

The basket was very spacious with four separate compartments big enough for three passengers each but we only had two in each so there was plenty of room to maneuver around. Everything about the ride was peaceful and heavenly. Just floating so smoothly through the air is something that I think everyone should have an opportunity to experience; I certainly didn’t want to come down.

The views were absolutely magnificent and so varied, from the mist topped rainforest to the numerous crops to the brush land filled with wild life to the distant coast line and ocean, we pretty well saw it all. Our pilot was also very knowledgeable about the area and wild life and had a keen eye for spotting things. It was awesome seeing a kangaroo move though the brush from a bird’s eye view, a very unique perspective indeed.

Our landing was also incredibly smooth, but then came the real fun as we got to tip over sideways and crawl out of the basket. Once the balloon was partially deflated we all helped in rolling it up, stuffing it into a massive duffel bag and loading everything back onto the trailer. My next stop of the morning was a trail ride through a rainforest property about 50km from where we had landed. When I was dropped of at the ranch I found out I was the only one booked on the ride, so it was just me and my lovely little guide, Kat, a young Japanese woman. There were a couple of horses in the paddock saddled and ready to go and when Kat told me I could choose which one I wanted I was instantly drawn to a white mare and chose her. I soon learned her name was “Cheeky” which I thought was rather fitting, as I am often attracted to and usually get along rather well with cheeky people?

During our nearly three hours riding again I learned lots about the local area, of course asking an abundance of questions. During our conversation I also discovered another small world coincidence as Kat told me she had done an exchange to Canada when she was in high school. At first she had trouble remembering the name of the small town in Alberta she had stayed but eventually we figured out it was Sundre!!! (For those of you who don’t know that is in my school division.)

After a barbeque lunch at the ranch with all the people who went out on quads for the morning, it was back to Cairns. Getting back earlier for a change gave me a chance to wander about the city a bit more and do a little shopping.

It was another great day but there was still more to come…

Cairns Part 5

Saturday was the day I had planned to spend with Cindy and the kids and I was up too early, surprise surprise! This gave me time to finalize my last couple of days’ activities as well as wonder through some local markets before they picked me up.

We had a couple of specific destinations in mind but other than that we were going to let destiny play a role in our day as well. Our first unplanned stop for a toilet break proved to be very informative as we ended up at a roadside coffee plantation. Not only did we learn about how coffee is grown, harvested and planted I was able to provide the kids with their first coffee ingestion experience. As it turned out all three of them really like chocolate covered coffee beans and readily downed the entire bag, only sharing a few with Cindy and myself. Amazingly there were not any adverse side affects such as three kids bouncing off the car roof!

Our next stop at the Crystal Caves was also unplanned and again it was definitely meant to be. Although I had expected real caves I was not in the least bit disappointed by the man made caves in the back room and basement of this crystal shop designed to display an amazing array of crystal samples from around the world. I was in awe at the beauty that nature creates underground often hidden within caves and rocks. It was absolutely fascinating.

Once we emerged from our time in the cave we also spent a considerable amount of time browsing through the shop upstairs. In addition to a collection of crystals and gemstones I also purchased a so-called Mexican Coconut. Darby and Haley also got one of these geodes that were formed by gas bubbles in volcanic lava about 44 million years ago. The coolest thing about our geodes was that we got to crack them open to discover what was inside them and then the shop expert analyzed them for us. This was such a unique and memorable experience and it was so awesome to have done it with Cindy and the kids.

After a short lunch break we were off again, this time to find a waterfall to swim under and also to visit an amazing fig tree. I honestly can’t remember which one came first but it didn’t really matter they were both wonderful in their own way. Although the waterfall was nothing like the one had swum under in Litchfield it was still a fabulous experience. This waterfall was only about 3-4 meters high but it was about 20 meters across and was extremely powerful. Swimming towards it was extremely difficult, as the current grew stronger the closer I got, so much so that I eventually had to enter from the side instead. Then once under the falling water I had to fight against the current attempting to pull me under. It was a really bizarre feeling although it is perfectly logical.

Although they had been to the Curtain Fig Tree before the kids all thought this was definitely worth another visit and something I would love to see. They were spot on. Fig trees are very unique in that the can plant their seeds into an existing tree and they grow down as if their roots are above ground. I am not quite sure how to explain this particular tree; I think it would be best if you were to have a look at my photos of it instead.

Our final stop of the day, which was actually our main destination, was Lake Eachem, an insanely beautiful crater lake. This lake proved to be the clearest, cleanest, most beautiful deep hole surrounded almost entirely by lush green vegetation. As there was virtually no shoreline and thus no natural way to enter the lake there was a concrete platform with steps that descended into the depths. This was definitely another awe-inspiring location and swimming and floating around in the warm clear water with plenty of fish below couldn’t have been more enjoyable.

Eventually we had to head back to Cairns and after a nice dinner it was time to bid adieu to my Canadian mates. Hopefully they will have a chance to come to Sydney while I am still here and I can show them some of my favorite spots!

Cairns the Final Chapter…Finally

I was determined to pack in as much as possible during my last two days in Cairns so I booked two full day tours to conclude my trip.

On Sunday I set out to do some whitewater rafting. Although I have been a couple of times back home I have since then often said I would love to do it in a warm climate where I would not have to wear a dry suit and could be comfortable floating down the river. So how could I pass up the opportunity to spend a day on the Tully River’s grade four rapids?

By the time I was finally geared up in my life jacket and helmet and in my boat my anticipation was at an all time high and although I was rather anxious I couldn’t wait to get out on the river. When our guide asked us how we wanted to go the English bloke in front with me and I responded without hesitation, “hard”. I am pretty sure this elicited an immediate sense of fear and concern to the three lovely young Asian girls behind us, but they would thank us later.

We were actually in the medical boat and as it turned out we had the craziest daredevil guide of them all. Nori definitely gave us the ride of our lives. We only lost one girl on the first rapid but things got significantly more extreme as we continued on. As you can see from the photos we got very wet and spent a fair bit of time under water. We became a real team with tons of laughter at our blunders and elation at our triumphs. This was very apparent as we huddled at the front of the boat with our backs towards the approaching falls that we were intentionally going to flip over. Once we all surfaced we also worked together to make sure everyone was safe and back together in the boat for our next challenge.

Near the end of the day after a briefing about the potential dangers of the next rapids we made our way towards the aptly named Double D rapids. Although everything happened rather quickly I am sure I experienced this spill in slow motion. With the boat descending at a ninety-degree angle it was inevitable that the back end would flip over the front and we would be going for a swim. The first time I surfaced I found myself under the boat so I had to push away and under I went again. The next time I came up I managed to take a quick breath before another current pulled me under and spun me around. Thanks to my lifejacket, I emerged, but only for a second as I was sucked under yet again. The next time I came up I had had enough and yelled out in a panic “HELP ME!” I really didn’t want to get sucked under again! Thankfully, another boat obliged me, extending a paddle to me and pulling me to calmer waters.

I was a little shaken, but by the time I climbed back into my boat I was okay and ready to go again. Although I have to admit a few minutes later when I realized that Nori was scheming to flip us on purpose in a fairly fast moving current I reacted by yelling at everyone to do the opposite of what he had told us. I really do like to be in control, but it all was cool and we all had a good laugh about it later.

I had a great day and I felt even better when one of the girls later told me she had the best time because I was laughing so much! I couldn’t think of a better compliment!

My final day in Cairns and I was scheduled to do the most obvious activity, a cruise out to snorkel on The Great Barrier Reef. Although I was quite content to be snorkeling when they offered the opportunity to do an introductory dive for a small extra fee I hummed and hahhed for a few moments and then thought why not. Unfortunately it was not meant to be as they rejected me because of my asthma. I wasn’t terribly disappointed because I knew that I would be taking my dive course in Sydney soon. So it was back to the original plan of snorkeling.

Once again donned in a not so flattering stinger suit I soon found myself in the water swimming towards the most amazing underwater oasis. It was so incredibly beautiful and surreal. The whole atmosphere of effortlessly moving through this environment with its overabundance of incredible fish and coral everywhere is one of those things ones needs to experience to truly appreciate. I cannot believe how blessed I am to have had this opportunity again.

I did have a bit of an anxious moment during our morning swim when I noticed that I was surrounded by at least thirty small clear jellyfish. I was most concerned about my bare hands and tucked them under my body until all was clear again. Although I was safe from any big stings I am convinced that a couple of times I did get some through my suit but they were obviously muted and much more like a poke with a sharp pin.

The highlight of my morning swim had to be spotting a huge fish, at least a meter long, following it and actually ending up on the outskirts of a school of about twenty of these massive gropers. They had huge mouths with lips that reminded me of a set of ill-fitting false teeth protruding from their mouths. They were so funny, yet beautiful and graceful at the same time.

During our lunch break we headed off to another part of the reef. I was out on the front of the boat where everyone was sharing stories of their morning experiences. When one woman said she had seen a turtle I felt the slightest tinge of jealousy, because although I had seen many turtles when I was in the Whitsundays, I had never to be in the water with one. A little while later, I abruptly declared that I was going to see one this afternoon, and left it at that.

We soon spotted a pod of dolphins in the distance, which I later learned is a very rare occurrence in the area we were in. It was so wonderful because so many people on the boat had never seen dolphins in the wild before.

The water on reef we were in for our second swim was very shallow with some of the coral actually above the surface. As a result I chose to stay on the edge instead, which was fine as it was very different from what I had seen in the morning. At one point I stopped swimming and decided that I would just float for a while and let the current take me where it would. Amazingly within a minute or two of drifting I was brought to a gorgeous sea turtle. I attempted to follow it for a while but quickly realized that he was diving and I was more than content watching him descend in a spiral beneath me. What a great way to end my swim, day and trip! I really am truly so blessed and I am so appreciative of everything I am experiencing.

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