DAY 25: Great views of the coast as we left Sydney and more great views as we arrived in Cairns. Reef Palms, our motel, is a new experience, in that we have self-catering facilities. A couple of blocks away, we found both a supermarket (Spar-sized, but dearer!) and a car hire company, and the afternoon was spent driving the esplanade and visiting the city centre. This motel only provides a data port (no local ISP), so we went out in the evening looking for a hotspot, found many requiring passwords and one public, but connection was unreliable. This is the forth consecutive place we have been unable to upload, or use Skype. We’ll have to spend time in an internet café! Cairns is not what we expected, it has a shanty town feel to it, that’s not a criticism, just not the high-rise style of Sydney and the US cities – and an eccentric mix of shops and shopfront styles. It has a man-made logoon for bathers and sun-worshippers, because the sea-front doesn’t offer a beach. The transfer bus driver told us average residency here is about 2 years due to high cost of living (std yoghurts over 1 pound) and low wages.
DAY 26: Off to Tablelands – a mountainous rainforest area SW of Cairns publicised as several degrees cooler than the stifling coast. The A52 was one climbing hairpin after another for 19kms, so we stopped on the climb several times and each time we did so, we got out to hear a sound I can only describe as a loud tinnitus - it was definitely associated with one kind of silver-trunk tree, our guess was that it was crickets, but we’ve yet to find out - we never did see the perpetrators! The views were amazing, but being tree covered hills and valleys, not particularly great through the lens. First visit was to the Cathedral Fig, a 500 year old tree, equal to the height of a 5 storey building with ‘roots’ dropping to the ground from around the third storey! At Lake Barrine, where pelicans were swimming by, we walked to a pair of giant Kauri pines. We then travelled South to pick out just some of the many waterfalls –Turtles (up to 10” shell) and Lungfish were to be seen in the associated streams. Finally, off to a sandy beach (Bramston), where the water was so warm, we could feel the air heat up each time a wave rolled in and cockle/whelk-like shellfish were ‘drilling’ into the sand as the tide turned. There were warnings of crocodiles, sharks and stingers. Narrow gauge railways criss-crossed all roads as we drove ‘home’.
DAY 27: A trip North, first to Trinity Beach – empty, bigger than yesterday’s Bramston but not such nice sand, paddled a while, but it’s very hot and muggy already. On to the Rainforest Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary, where we walked amongst many local species of birds, wallabies and koalas and around a fresh-water crocodile enclosure. It was too ’ot, for both us and the creatures. Next stop, Port Douglas’ large yachting marina and 4-mile beach – the latter we eventually found hiding through a wood behind an exclusive housing estate. Although attractive, signs warned of stingers (jellyfish) and even contained a bottle of vinegar to apply to a sting before a hospital visit, apparently the stingers are about from November to May. Each beach we have visited has had a large netted off area for swimming. Next, Mossman Gorge, still too ’ot but out of the sun, just inside the rainforest. The river was poured into numerous natural swinning pools between large numbers of huge pebble-shaped rocks. On the road again, we made our way back South, calling in at Palm Cove (where we both had a nap in the car!) - best beach visited and good eateries – we’ll probably return.
DAY 28: After booking trips for Mon/Tuesday, we strolled around Cairns’ lagoon and along the esplanade – it’s still hot, but a slight and very welcome breeze helped today. Cairns’ original sandy beach was wiped out by dredging in the 1920s and 30s, and the mudflats that replaced it are now a protected wildlife area – certainly a lot of crabs there! Then off to Yungaburra, last time we did this 19km twisting climb it made Teresa feel very ill, this time she wore her Seabands (acupoint wrist bands) and felt fine. First stop the Curtain Fig Tree - even more impressive than the Cathedral Fig. Both trees were strangler figs, but the original host of the Curtain Fig had fallen into a second tree and the strangler’s root system had formed a curtain to fill the triangular shape between the fallen host and the ground - both the original host and it’s support were long gone. we travelled on to Atherton, but it may as well have been a ghost town, everything was closed (being Sunday!), so back for a walk around the historic Yungaburra and, a short drive later, the shores of Lake Tinaroo (lots of 4WD’s, Ute’s and small boats). Half way back down the multi-hairpin A52, the police spotted me putting a wheel over a double white line (125 dollar fine – no comment!).
DAY 29: The Karunda Scenic Train – a double diesel pulling about a dozen carriages up a mountain-clinging line that included great views back to the coast, waterfalls, the Barron River valley, high bridges, 19 short tunnels and, what for a railway, were very tight hairpin bends. At the top, the village of Karunda (at 334m) was full of attractions and touristy shops and eateries. We chose to wander the High Street and return via a river walk (checking that crocs weren’t idling at the water’s edge!). Our way back down, was via the Skyrail cable car, this carried us over the rainforest canopy, first to a station with a look-out point and touchscreen iMac’s giving information about the forest. On to a second station, where a guide told us about the trees and we spotted a 3”, very spikey red caterpillar. The third Skyrail section was hair-raising, as we came over the top of just another tree to nothing but a drop of 300m+ back to sea-level. A coach took us the short journey back to Freshwater Station and we returned to base for a freshen up. Out again, we went to a laptop-friendly internet café, for an hours uploading (we hadn’t had access since San Diego!), good price at 4 dollars. Then off to Palm Cove, for an evening walk as the sun set, rounded off by fish and chips at a table on the beach.
DAY 30: Today’s trip was by catamaran to Moore’s Reef on the Great Barrier Reef. The crossing was described to us as perfect, but it was fairly choppy and many, including me, were seasick (I record this to give Anna a laugh!). Teresa was wearing her travel-bands and didn’t feel too bad. At the Reef, we moored up to a pontoon, which offered a glass-bottom boat ride, a semi-sub boat ride, snorkelling and swimming, scuba-diving, under-sea-walking and a great buffet style lunch. We registered for the sea-walk (you wear a glass-bubble helmet like an astronaut and walk a platform linked to the surface by a breathing tube), but we weren’t able to do it due to Teresa’s migraine medication – we took advantage of the boat rides and Teresa swam with the fish. We suffered nothing on the return journey (may have been the Kwell travel sickness pill or just staying in the fresh air). The sun is still extremely hot and 30+ sunblock is recommended everywhere (there are even TV ads here, by skin care clinics, offering cancer checks). We returned to base, before driving North to find a supermarket and discovered that Woolworths’ here run Asda-like stores. Sadly, on the way back, a small kangaroo jumped out in front of us and we killed it - not a good end to a great day!
DAY 31. We first visited a local attraction called Centenary Lakes (a nice park with a river and a couple of large ponds in a place called Saltwater), then on to Yorkey’s Knob, which turned out to be a great stretch of easy-walking sand of over a mile, with nothing but the odd shell and crab in it’s whole length. The usual netted-off bathers’ pool was at one end of the beach and the few people around, kept to the pool. If we wwere to live here (but it’s too ’ot!) we’d choose Yorkey’s Knob. Back to our accommodation for a late lunch, returning the hire car on the way. We then spent the end of the afternoon cooling off in the motel’s excellent pool – pity it is directly under the Cairns Airport flightpath – 90% light aircraft, but busy from 07:30 till dusk. We completed our last day in Cairns by walking the two blocks to the North end of the esplanade, to discover hundreds of parrot-like birds (lorikeets?) squabbling over their evening roosts. We continued our stroll northward, across a wide open space where we spotted several lapwing-type birds, many more lorikeets and 2 groups of aboriginies apparently living under the trees.