Adventures in Cairns
26.03.2012 - 31.03.2012 33 °C
"Come on, I haven't got all day!" The last two backpackers look startled and the rest of us are struggling not to laugh. We are in the shuttle bus that will take us from Cairns' airport to our respective hostels. It's almost midnight and it's obvious that our driver has had a shitty, long day that he just wants to come to an end. Any passenger who doesn't throw his or her bags in to the trolley behind the bus and jumps into the bus get just adds to his frustration and he does nothing to conceal it. We and the other passengers just can't believe that he's for real and giggle quietly. He calls out half to himself and half to us on the bus "well the ones who are left can just get a taxi!" We don't really say anything, thinking that whoever is left probably pre booked their shuttle just like us and most likely are just waiting for their luggage to come through. It doesn't, however, seem to be the time to mention this to him.
The shuttle starts to drive and the driver spots two more people walking across the parking. He squelches to a halt and calls to them through the window "Where are YOU going?". The man and woman look startled but manage to compose themselves enough to say the name of their hostel. They are in luck - this is their shuttle too. Our driver sighs and yells again - you guessed it - "come on, I haven't got all day!!!". These guys aren't even allowed to put their luggage in the back, not to mention taking a seat. As soon as the door is shut behind them, the driver takes off, resulting in the two backpackers lying on the floor, fighting with their massive bags, wondering where the hell they have ended up and if everyone in Cairns is like this. The rest of us are struggling even harder to hide our giggles.
An Irish guy starts chatting to the driver asking about his day. It comes as no surprise to us that it has been "shit". The driver somehow recognises that the Irish guy is making small talk and engages in conversation but without letting go of his angry tone. When he asks the guy where in Ireland he's from it sounds more like he's yelling an insult. The Irish guy handles it in the trademark good natured/cheeky Irish way.
The journey through town begins. Our driver is obviously eager to get home and is racing through roundabouts at high speed and we are holding on for our life. One after the other, backpackers are dropped off outside their hostels. We estimate the time spent at each stop to be something like 3.5 seconds. At the end there is only a Sri Lankan guy and us left. He looks at us nervously and says that he hopes he won't the last one left. He's in luck. His last words as he disembarks is "Good luck". We mouth a thank you. We might need it.
However, maybe it's the call of home or the fact that he sees our efforts to get the hell out of his bus when we finally have arrived at our hostel. He says "Very nice hostel this, you'll enjou it. Have a nice holiday". And off he drives. We look at each other, still can't believe what a strange start we've had to our stay in Cairns and head in to find our room and go to bed. It's time for our last adventures in Australia to begin.
Cairns is the capital of North Queensland and it's main claim to fame these days is the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest, both UNESCO world heritage sites. There is a tremendous amount of things to do on land and in water. Cairns itself is quite a nice small city sitting on the ocean and surrounded by lush green hills. It has a disproportionate number of bars and restaurants to cater for the tourists who flock here from all over, especially Japan. You can't swim in the ocean in northern Queensland unless you want to risk being stung to death by box jellyfish, or being hunted by saltwater crocodiles, but the town has a pretty cool artificial "lagoon" where people can hang out, swim and tan. We spent a bit of time down there.
The marina in Cairns and the bizarre sight of hundreds of bats flocking through the town just before dusk on our last day
We knew we wanted to visit both Daintree and to do some diving on the reef and had a chat with our hostel the next day after our arrival. Our hostel obviously makes a lot of their money from commissions from booking tours but we didn't feel the need to be cynical about it as they clearly knew their stuff and presented us with lots of alternatives, pointing us to the benefits and drawbacks with each option.
Having been on a few tours we decided to discover the Daintree rainforest ourselves and booked a car. Due to the recent rain it wasn't guaranteed that we would be able to go on the coastal roads as parts of the road had been washed away in the flooding. We could get an update at 7 in the morning of our drive, i.e. the following day. Fingers crossed.
The next morning we got the good news from reception "the road is open!". We were obviously delighted and headed to "Thrifty's" to collect our Ford Focus rental motor.
The coastline north of Cairns on the way up to Daintree is beautiful. We were eager to get up to Cape Tribulation (or "Cape Trib" as they say up here) but did stay at the Rex lookout for some photos n the way up.
Eager to get started!
Nice view from Rex lookout
After a couple of hours we arrived at the cable ferry that would take us over the Daintree River, into the rainforest. Felt strangely old school!
Grant waiting for the ferry
Crossing the Daintree River
On the other side it was time for the winding roads of Daintree. Clearly only tourists really come up here because the highway stops and it just becomes a twisting B road through the rainforest. On both sides there was thick rainforest and we stopped a couple of times for a closer view on the way up to "Cape Trib".
What makes Daintree rainforest extra special is the fact that it is one of the world's oldest rain forests. The species here are unique. 30 of the world's 90 types of mangroves grow here. Just to mention a few things. We didn't get to see any tree kangaroos or animals, apart from giant spiders, but still found it very cool.
No tree kangaroos here but plenty of things that bite...
Our last stop before turning south again was Cape Tribulation. Again, the name was given by James Cook when he noted the navigational dangers in that area. We took some photos and went for a stroll. This was as as far north we would get in Australia on this trip. Beyond Cape Trib is miles and miles of dirt road up into Cape York.
We did NOT fancy going for a swim at Cape Trib!
On our way back to the ferry we stopped for some locally produced ice cream. We couldn't linger, however, as we were rushing to make the 14.00 crocodile cruise on the Daintree River. We took off and raced to the ferry, and once we were over, continued our frantic drive to Bruce Belcher's crocodile cruise. Just in time, we got on board for an hour of crocodile spotting.
Bruce is apparently something of a northern Queensland legend and it was easy to see why. He has been running these croc tours for 20 years and his knowledge of crocodiles and the other wildlife in the area didn't disappoint us and neither did the number of crocodiles we saw! However, Crocodile Dundee Bruce is not; he loves the crocodiles but keeps a safe distance away from them at all times.
Can't go wrong on a cruise with Bruce
Baby croc, born just a few weeks ago
Crocodile, around two years old
As it is breeding season we were not guaranteed to see much so we were really pleased to see quite a few crocs. There are apparently around 70 crocodiles in the Daintree River - not as many as you might imagine. It must be strange living so close to them and not to be able to go for any swims in the river. On the other hand, locals seem to be pretty relaxed about the whole thing and some of them, like Bruce and his wife, are making their living from it.
We learned some interesting things about crocs. Females lay over 20 eggs each year and of these perhaps half will hatch. However, young crocs are very vulnerable to birds, fish and other crocodiles. From the age of 1 year their mothers leave them to fend for themselves. Up until at least 2 years old they are small enough that they a vulnerable to fish/bird attack, and they are not fully grown until well into their teens. That means that of the multiple eggs laid, it will be a good result if one crocodile infant makes it to adulthood. Amazing to realise these tough killing machines are so vulnerable for so long. However, we shouldn't feel too much sympathy for the crocs: when we asked Bruce if he thought the risk from crocs was maybe exaggerated, he made very clear he would never ever swim in the Daintree river.
Before going back to Cairns, we had one more important stop - Mossman Gorge. A beautiful watering hole with amazingly clear water (and guaranteed to be crocodile free because of the cold water!).
Going for a swim in Mossman Gorge
After a day of kicking back, on the Friday it was time for what we were hoping would be one of the highlights of our Aussie adventure - the Great Barrier Reef. Here we had decided to spend more Aussie dollars in order to go to a better site (out on the outer reef), with a better and faster boat and with good snacks and lunch served on board. We weren't disappointed. The boat was ace.
Once on board, the crew warned passengers that it would be pretty choppy with winds around 30 knots and that they highly recommended getting seasickness pills. Neither of us had ever taken that before but we quickly agreed that this probably was a good time. Having spent quite a few dollars on this excursion, a few dollars more wouldn't make a difference. It was probably the best 3.5 dollars we ever spent. It was very choppy on the way out and the paper bags handed out by crew were going like hot cakes. The crew obviously had lots of experience of dealing with seasick people and brought them all outside, placing them with a paper bag in their hands. Honestly, we have never seen anything like it (those who have seen "Stand by me" and the lard ass story might get an idea). Of the maybe 80 passengers on the boat, at least 20 vomited. People's faces really go green when they are sick.
We both managed to keep our breakfast down but kept our eyes on the horizon, not taking any chances.
Being out on the reef, the risk of stingers (or box jellyfish) is very small. However, we were nonetheless required to wear stinger suits just in case (regular wet suits no required when the water is 28 degrees). We quickly liked our new outfits..l
In the stinger suits - ready for the reef
We were relived to see that we were diving in quite small groups, with most of the people on board going for the snorkelling. We had two great dives in two sites, both on Flynn Reef. We saw green turtles, white tip reef sharks, sting rays, Napolean Rass and of course Nemo (clown fish) to name a few. It really was like diving in an aquarium with so much amazing fish around. On the last site we snorkelled, being required to leave at least 24 hours between diving and our flight the following day. It gave us the chance to explore the shallow reef just a metre or so under the surface, which also was pretty impressive.
We could really see that the "Great" in its name comes from more than the sheer size of it (over 2000 kms long). It was just awesome and so full of life in all shapes and colours. And yeah the lunch on the boat was great too. The next day on our flight to Tokyo we were treated to awesome views of the reef from the plane- amazing to see the scale of the reef system and realise that we only saw one tiny piece of one section of this reef.
Views of the Great Barrier Reef from our plane - you can see that in fact it is made up of thousands of individual reefs that form a band running for 2000 km down Australia's east coast