Wednesday 14th December, Cairns, Queensland, Australia
That's right folks
, yesterday just a couple of hours after dropping our trusty little rental car back to Ace Car Rentals
, we were jetting our way to tropical north Queensland, my favourite place in the world. We arrived at dinner time (that's 7:00 pm here in Australia, which the Spanish amongst you will find hilarious!) and phoned Calypso backpackers hostel
to take advantage of their free airport pickup service. My call was received by the very friendly (and as I soon discovered, extremely cute!) Amanda, who said she would jump in the van straight away, and be there in ten minutes.
Amanda (did I mention she was very cute?) got us back to Calypso
just in time for the $8 buffet dinner. Every night of the week, their in-house chef prepares a themed feast, and last night's was curry, our favourite. Actually, since we've been on holidays, every food is our favourite!
There was a good crowd in the entertainment area
, taking advantage of the great value food, and slurping down some icy cold beers at Calypso's own Zanzibar.
Maria and I quenched our thirst with a couple of refreshing Tooheys during the after dinner Happy Hour, and then called it an early night.
We got up early this morning and hit the pool before it got too hot.
For those of you not familiar with Cairns and tropical North Queensland, the weather is always hot here. Even in winter, daytime temperatures usually reach well into the mid twenties, and in summer the mid to high thirties but with a tropical humidity that makes it feel like you're standing next to a bonfire in a sauna. Swimming pools are almost unuseable during summer unless they're at least partly shaded... because they will be too hot!
We grabbed a quick bite to eat before we left the hostel.
Zanzibar was quiet at that early hour, a different place to the party scene we had seen the night before. Just around the corner on Sheridan Street awaited a little white Daihatsu Sirion with our name on it...
Cairns Cruising Car Rental is impossible to miss.
Just a couple of doors away from the giant statue of Captain Cook (one of Cairns' most identifiable landmarks), it's a bright yellow and blue building with a yellow car on the roof... and the car is wearing sunglasses! The boys at Cruising Car Rental got the paperwork out of the way in record time, and I was back at Calypso fetching Maria before you could say "Hasta la vista baby!"
We had a very important meeting with a girl called Julie
, the Communications Manager of Skyrail
, one of Cairns' most popular tourist attractions. I lived in Cairns once upon a time; just for a few months. That's a bit of a long story that I won't get into here, but all the time I was in Cairns, I was fascinated with the Skyrail. It was one of those things that I 'just never got around to doing'. Well, now I had an excuse. Now I had a 'guiri'
-foreigner- (that's what I get called in Spain!) to show around.
Skyrail is a 7.5 kilometre long cableway
, stretching from the coastal fringe of the rainforest all the way to the mountain town of Kuranda, above Barron Gorge National Park, which is part of the Wet Tropics Worlkd Heritage Area. Along the way, your gondola glides silently just metres above the rainforest canopy, and in places where there are natural breaks in the vegetation, you're so close that it feels like you're amongst
the treetops. I have to bite my tongue to stop from referring to Skyrail as a 'ride'. It's so much fun that it feels like a ride, but in fact it's far more, and Skyrail prefer to call it a rainforest experience. A large part of the Skyrail is to educate people about the rainforest, and make them interesting in protecting it. Julie rode with Maria and I, and filled us in on all the interesting facts and figures about Skyrail's construction and history.I remember that the original plan to build Skyrail was met with fierce opposition. This area is after all, a prized and unique piece of rainforest, and conservationists were concerned that the construction of a 'ride' would cause a lot of damage to the fragile ecosystem. But the construction of the cableway was done largely without disturbing the forest flora or fauna. The numerous towers -the tallest one over forty metres high- were placed in existing clearings, and the materials for the towers were lowered in by helicopter. Workers hiked in each day on foot. As Julie pointed out, the last thing Skyrail wants is to have a filthy great road running through the forest! In fact, besides the 'Best Major Tourist Attraction' award at the Australian Tourism Awards, Skyrail has been presented with a number of environmental awards, including the British Airways 'Tourism for Tomorrow' ecotourism award, and the EIBTM for MOst Environmentally conscious Visitor Attraction.
As we swept inland, the vegetation below became thick and lush.
Massive tree ferns, surely weighing hundreds of kilos, could be seen in the upper limbs of towering rainforest trees. The dense green was punctuated every so often by the bright red shout of a flame tree, an unusual species in that it has chlorophyll in it's branches, so doesn't require green leaves for photosynthesis, just a sudden screaming blast of red disappearing back into the greenery as our gondola passed by.
Along the way we stopped at Barron Falls station
, with stunning views over the falls, and at Red Peak Station, where a park ranger gave us an educational tour of the rainforest, via a specially constructed boardwalk. I have to be honest, I never found biology very interesting in school (except for the snicker value of the unit on human reproduction) and I've always been more interested in the aesthetic beauty of the surrounding nature as opposed the the scientific facts and details pertaining to it. But Ranger Billy's tour was really something. In the photo above, Billy is demonstrating how the roaming barbed vines of this rainforest palm led to the palm earning the nickname of 'wait-a-while'. (Because if you run into it, you have little option but to wait a while!) He also showed us small red berries, growing on a prickly bush. These berries, if ingested, will cause complete but temporary blindness. A matter of hours later, the victim will regain their sight with no side effects. I asked him if we could play a trick on Maria by slipping a few of the berries into an ice cream or something, but he was worried about losing his job, and said he'd rather not be part of such a prank. Another plant, Billy told us, produced a fruit which although perfectly edible, could cause complete, irreversible blindness if the hairy skin of the fruit was to come in contact with your eye. He pointed to a plant (the name of which I'm sure I forgot within seconds) that was traditionally used by Aborigines for fishing. If the leaves of this plant are crushed up and dipped into a small pond or a slow flowing steam, any fish unfortunate enough to be in that body of water will be stunned, and float to the surface. Billy was quick to point out that once the Aborigines had collected as many fish as they needed, they would remove the leaves from the water and the fish would slowly come back to life and swim away, probably losing any recollection of the whole experience in about as many seconds as it took me to forget the name of that particular plant.
And before long we were in Kuranda
, a pretty little mountain village that just happens to be surrounded by World Heritage listed rainforest. I was sad to have to leave the Skyrail. Kuranda is quaint and its location is unbeatable, with some of the planet's most beautiful nature all around it. But don't let this lead you to believe that Kuranda is a place to spend a lot of time. If you've heard the saying "Life's a journey, not a destination", well, that saying was begun in Kuranda. Getting to Kuranda was an unforgettable experience, something that will go down in the highlights of my years of travel. But once we were there, we were ready to leave. The main street is home to two or three pubs, a few overpriced cafes and restaurants, and about fifty times as many souvenir stalls and didgeridoo shops as the town's traditional charm and character could reasonably withstand. Okay, there's Birdworld, the Noctarium, and the Butterfly Sanctuary, and if any of those attractions sound like your cup of tea, then knock yourself out!
One of the more interesting things we found in Kuranda
was the Flying Fox Rescue Centre, down a side lane at the end of the main street. This is where orphaned or injured flying foxes are brought to be rehabilitated. The kindly lady at the centre was good enough to bring out a flying fox (I think its name was Ralph) for us to meet. Although many (most?) Australian despise the flying fox, mostly because of the costly damage it does to fruit crops, we were told of the importance of the flying fox in the ecosystem. It is responsible for the germination of many of the trees and assorted plants that are found in the rainforest. Without the flying fox eating seeded fruits and pooping the berries out all over the place, hundreds of rainforest species would potentially be threatened with extinction... and so would the other species- flora and
fauna- that rely on those. And so on. I made a small donation to the cause, but having grown up in an area where my family and my friends' families all relied on fruit growing for their survival, I found it difficult to find any real warmth for the flying fox.
But after washing down a couple of meat pies with a few cold schooners
of Carlton Draught at the local pub like two proud Aussies, Maria and I were Cairns bound again. Besides driving, there are two ways to travel between Kuranda and Cairns; the Skyrail and the Kuranda Scenic Railway. Each one provides a different view of the surrounding nature so we, like many tourists, decided to give both of them a try; up by Skyrail and home by train. Well, I wouldn't say the train wasn't enjoyable, and Kuranda Railway Station itself was beautiful, but after the breathtaking sensation of floating through the treetops on Skyrail, it was something of an anticlimax. Pleasant but not really thrilling, I'd say. If you're going to do both, I'd suggest leaving Skyrail for your homeward journey, and ending your day on a high!
Just for your interest
, here's a few almost unbelievable facts (I swear I didn't
make them up!) about the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area:
Although covering only two percent of Australia's land mass, these rainforests are home to:
65% of Australia's fern species
50% of Australia's bird species
60% of Australia's butterfly species
37% of Australia's freshwater fish species
36% of Australia's mammal species
0% of Australia's yobbo species
0% of Australia's MacDonalds outlets
If you're interested to learn more about these rich, unique areas, visit www.tropeco.com
Guys, all of you should go to Cairns. It is a beautiful town, but what really impressed me about it was the lagoon that has been built near the ocean. One of the sides is sandy and resembles a white sandy beach. On the opposite side some covered wooden decks have been built, so anyone can choose what suits them better. I don't know how the council manages to keep the water so clean but it is spotless. And the whole lagoon is surrounded by grass where barbecues have been placed for anyone to use. It is an amazing place and I spent my whole time in Cairns looking forward to having a swim there. Because many of you may not know, but in most of the beaches in the area swimming is not permitted as there are stingers. And if they bite you it hurts like hell, so Steve says. Unbelievable how you go to one of these beautiful sandy beaches full of green palm trees in a hot day and you cannot swim. We really felt like crying.
Somehow we managed to find a beach where a net had been installed and it was "safe" to swim, no stingers there. I find all these things funny, in Spain we don't get stingers in the beaches that I know of, we never get snakes in our back yards, we never run into kangaroos when driving, etc. What a country!!!