Eli and I have been in Cairns and the surrounding area for the past week and a half. The population of Cairns is about 100,000 but it feels like it is mostly full of tourists.
It is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. Even though it is on the coast, it is 10 miles from the nearest beach and when you do get to the beach via bus, you can't actually swim in it during the summer (Oct - March).
Well that's not entirely true...you can swim in a blocked off area where they have stinger nets protecting the innocent swimmers from the deadly box-jellyfish that are present this time of year. Eli and I braved the small area of "safe water" for about 30 seconds before we both decided it wasn't worth it. I noticed that the waves carried water right over the floating devices holding up the stingernets and I'm no engineer but I'm pretty sure those nets couldn't stop all those jellyfish. Luckily, Cairns has catered to the lack of swimable beaches by building a large lagoon (public pool) that overlooks the ocean. Pretty much the whole town hangs out at this lagoon. Eli and I spent 3 afternoons there to escape the 90 degree muggy heat too.
After a few days in Cairns, we got antsy to get out of the tourist scene so we rented our smallest car yet (stick shift) and set out for a few days. We first headed towards Cape Tribulation to check out some rainforests. We camped 1 night in Daintree National Park near the ocean.
The wildlife did not want us to sleep that night. The brush turkeys and wild cockatoos squawked endlessly. Once again Eli and I thanked the inventor of our most valuable travel possession...the mighty earplugs. While in the rainforest we took a boat tour up the Daintree River. We were guided by a very knowledgeable croc enthusiast. We saw 2 large crocs and 1 baby croc and lots of mosquitoes. It was worth it!
Ever since we landed in Australia Eli has been anxious to see some authentic "Outback." We were amazed at how quickly the terrain changed from tropical rainforest to dusty outback. We headed to Mt Surprise and the big surprise for us was that there wasn't a dang thing there, let alone a mountain. But it was all Eli hoped it would be. I enjoyed it as well as it did represent my preconceived notion of what Australia would be. The one good thing about this blink of a town was the dinner/gas station/general store. We ordered burgers there and we were delighted to get big juicy beet garnished burgers like none I have had before. Delicious. I was thoroughly disappointed that we did not see herds of dingos but we did see lots of kangaroos, most of them seemed to be napping right on the side of the road. Hmm, what kind meat was in our burgers???
After quickly escaping the outback, we headed towards the Atherton Tablelands. The tablelands have lots of waterfalls and a few extinct volcanic crater lakes. We cooled off by taking a swim in Lake Eechum. That night we camped at Lake Tinaroo. When we arrived there, we discovered that this campsite only allowed pre-booked campers. The sign told us to go online or call to register and pay for a site. Easy enough, not! Without a cell phone or Internet at the tips of our fingers, we faced a moral dilemma. After seeing that the campsite was literally empty, we concocted a plan to set up our tent late that night and take it down early the next morning, before any park rangers might patrol and give us a fine.
The plan worked, however, we both tossed and turned most of the night with bad dreams and we frequently checked our one watch to make sure we didn't sleep in too late.
Since we couldn't sleep, we busted out of camp at a cool 5:30am and went on a search for a cup of coffee.
The Laughing Kookaburra birds laughed at us as we drove away. After 3 or 4 unsuccessful stops at cafes (nothing opens here until 9am usually) we found ourselves in a little town called Kuranda. Eventhough it was still only 7am we found a local hippie-run coffeeshop, we were the first customers of the day, and we ordered the "Godzilla Mochachinno." Eat that Starbucks! After getting a coffee buzz, we walked through Barron Gorge National Park. We were amazed to see the waterfall in this park as it was about 900ft tall! We also came across a Lace Monitor Lizard climbing a tree.
He was at least 3 feet long. I love lizards.
The rest of the morning, we stayed in this happy little hippy town and surveyed the assortment of didgeridoos, crocodile dundee hats, and painted boomerangs in the market. We also stopped in the Aboriginal art galleries and saw some beautiful paintings but we decided we could find a better way to spend $34,000 dollars than on a painting of dots. Yes I did write $34,000 dollars for dots. We then drove a little ways out of town and found a campsite for the night. When we got to the campsite, we realized it was still only 1pm but since we had been up so early, we didn't feel like doing anymore sightseeing. Since it was too hot to take naps and since our newest insect nemesis, the huge biting fly, was pestering us, we sat in our tent playing chess. Nerd alert! We did sleep good that night after it cooled down.
The next morning we headed back into Cairns eager to get out to the Great Barrier Reef. We booked a trip for the next day and found a hostel to stay at for the remainder of our time in Australia. The 2 of us, along with 120 other eager reefers, set out for the 1.5 boat ride to the reef. The boat was nice but a little cramped so we were very happy to jump into the bright blue waters and snorkel on the reef. The coral was fascinating! We saw countless types of brightly colored tropical fish differing in size from a fingernail to a wheelbarrow. One of the most interesting fish we saw was turquoise and pink, about the size of a very large watermelon. This fish liked to snack on the coral and we could literally hear them chomping away while we floated above. The biggest fish we saw was "Wally" a Maori Wrasse fish, a local friend of the boats. When he came up to the boat I was quick to get in the water as he let people pet him.
Totally awesome. While this was almost the highlight of the day, my favorite thing was when Eli discovered that his beloved newly grown mustache was causing his snorkel mask to leak and he was forced to use his leatherman to cut it off. Poor Eli. Poor Mustache. Overall, the reef meet our expectations as one of the natural wonders of the world!
Our time in Australia is coming to an end as we prepare for Bali. We realized how vast Australia truly is and we might try to return here someday to explore the other 99% of the country.