Our final two weeks in Australia . . .
03.16.2009 - 03.26.2009 99 °F
Daintree Rainforest meets South Pacific Ocean with the Great Barrier Reef just miles off shore.
There isn't much to say about Cairns unless you are crazy about tacky T-shirt souvenir stores. There area heaps of them everywhere. For us, Cairns was a home base to explore the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest, which is one of the few tropical rainforests to meet the ocean.
Cairns does have a pretty swimming lagoon right in downtown.
Great Barrier Reef below and around this boat near the Frankland Islands.
The Great Barrier Reef extends roughly 1100 miles, primarily down the northeast coast of Australia. There are more than 1500 species of fish living in the region, 400 types of coral, and more than 100 boat operators who want to take you there. We decided to visit the reef surrounding the less traveled Frankland Islands, allowing us to snorkel around the islands and hike inland to check out the rainforest.
It was sunny on the day of our visit, but the ocean was murky from recent rainfall and storms. Regardless, we thought the view through our novice masked eyes was exceptional. There were plenty of coral and colorful fish. A highlight for Dave was swimming with green turtles.
Snorkeling without a waterproof camera. Sorry! Please note the funky one piece jumpers we are wearing. These are to protect us from jelly fish.
We also viewed the reef further from shore through a glass bottom boat. The photos don't do it justice.
On the island, there was plenty washed up coral and shells to check out on the beach. Inland was full of enormous trees and spiders.
A few days later we headed north to visit the Daintree Rainforest. We hopped on a tourist bus from Cairns to Cape Tribulation where the driver started with something along the lines of
"since you're all in your 20's..." Shhhhh.....
Along the way we visited a part of the forest with massive trees. The leaves are bigger than me.
The Strangler Fig Tree wraps around another tree, ultimately strangling it over hundreds of years. It is nourished by the nutrients of its host, which ends up decomposing and leaving the Fig Tree hallow.
We also went on a crocodile wildlife boat ride along the Daintree River. Unlike our ride in the Adelaide River (last blog) the ride was very tame.The captain of the boat told us it was illegal and inhumane to feed the crocs meat to get them to jump out of the water, as we had seen before. We couldn't agree more. The last croc ride was bothersome; very contrived and unnatural.
We saw two crocs in the Daintree River sunning themselves on the shoreline. Look closely! You'll be able to see one of them.
Mangroves along the Daintree River.
Dave was in Cape Tribulation ten years ago with his friend Matt and had memories of beautiful, white sandy beaches, colorful birds, incredible hikes and probably hammocks, cabana girls and free beer, so expectations were high. What we failed to digest ahead of time is that his experience in September would be very different than his experience in March.
The northeast of Australia has two main seasons; wet and dry. We are here on the tail end of the wet season, which has made the tropical rainforest extremely lush, but the beautiful, white sand has been flattened and hardened by harsh rain, and long hikes to watering holes are out of the question because it is breeding season for crocodiles, which means young crocs and their moms are hiding in creeks, rivers and along the ocean edge. It is also breeding season for box jelly fish who flock to the ocean's edge in this area. If stung by a box jelly fish, it will paralyze the part of the body it stings.
Cape Tribulation Beach during the wet season. The beach isn't too welcoming!
Warning signs for box jelly fish, as well as crocs, are on every beach in tropical north Queensland.
All of the amenities in Cape Tribulation are run entirely on generators. The area has few stores (not even a real supermarket), and although very peaceful, five days was a bit much, especially with the hiking and swimming restrictions. On the flip side, we saw our first Australian snake on a mini hike (not sure what kind.)
It rained buckets at least once a day during our visit. It was an unbelievable site.
We spent a little too much time playing backgammon.
When the sun shined, we splurged on a pina colada. Ok...we shared it. Pretty lame, but I'm cheap and was craving a tropical drink!
We also participated in jungle surfing, which if done right, is a great way for an adrenaline junkie to view the rainforest.
Unfortunately, we were disappointed with the tour as the zipline was pretty slow, and although we did get a great view, we expected to see more colorful birds, flora and other wildlife. Additionally, our 'expert' nature guide didn't seem too knowledgeable about the area.
Dave went on a night walk to see nocturnal creepy crawlies. Ironically the guide was from Jungle Surfing, but this time she shined with knowledge.
(FROM DAVE) The best way to appreciate the tropical rain forest is definitely on a night walk. All of the interesting critters are nocturnal and their adaptations to the rain forest are fascinating! Here are some of the creatures I saw.
The Boyd's Dragon is only found in this part of Australia. It always sleeps on vines hanging far away from any trees. This is so snakes, it's main predator, can only get to it is by climbing up the vine. The snake would either shake the vine or bite the lizard's long tail first, which would wake the dragon up and allow him to escape.
The Golden Orb spider is the largest web spinning spider in the world and gets it's name from the golden glow of it's web. We saw these all over north eastern Australia and the female orbs are huge, but harmless to humans. The male is very tiny comparatively. The fiber they spin to make their web is the strongest natural fiber in the world. Apparently scientists are trying to recreate the fiber artificially for human needs. Female Golden Orbs sometime mistake their mate for another insect in their web and eat them. Oops!
This looks like a leaf that fell and got stuck in a spider web, but what you are looking at is actually the home of a spider. The spider carries the leaf up the tree and hangs it in the middle of the web as protection from rain and predators.
This Huntsman spider doesn't spin a web and is harmless to humans. When I was working in Port Stephens they had a huge huntsman spider that lived on the office wall. It protected me from mosquitoes. Thankfully, we never saw some of the world's most poisonous spiders Australia is known for... namely the Funnel Web spider.
This cricket has super long antennas - of course good for getting local gossip on other crickets. It is always found about a meter above the forest floor in little trees to increase it's cell reception. Airflow is poor on the floor and much better off of the floor.
On the way back to Cairns we took a ferry over the Daintree River, stopped at an ocean lookout and pulled over to view the Mossman Gorge. Then we stopped in Port Douglas for two days, primarily to take our second painting class. Port Douglas is a classy coastal town just north of Cairns.
Dave busy at work.
The results: I painted an embrace, shown on the left. Dave's post box is on the right. Start your bidding now! The early paintings of Chernack and Greenstein are slated to be big sellers!
Back in Cairns, we spent much time at this McD's as it was the only free internet spot in town. To help keep the economy going we bought plenty of 50 cent (30 cent US) ice cream cones while we were there.
We are definitely sad to leave Australia, but we are excited for the unexpected in Asia, as neither of us have traveled there. We fly to Bangkok, Thailand, tomorrow morning and get things rolling with a two week biking, hiking and kayaking tour of the country. We will extend our visit in that country by a few weeks and hope to volunteer with a charitable organization.
We wish you well, and happy travels wherever the road shall take you.
Stay tuned for details from Thailand.
-Elizabeth and Dave
Three general observations about Australia that we've yet to mention in a blog, but thought were interesting.
- Australians can drink! Granted we are light weights who drink about one beer and call it a night, we are more than savvy to know that a case of beer or three bottles of wine a night for seven nights in a row can't be good for you. This is a trend we saw to some degree everywhere. More puzzling is how Aussies can afford to drink. Alcohol is heavily taxed and prices in the smallest of towns are comparable to New York City. More concerning is that the government has a strong “drink driving” (DWI) campaign in the media and on the roads, but with no laws to prevent drinking on the streets, or even as passengers in a car, it doesn't seem to be working.
- Backpackers in Australia are from all over the world, but primarily from Europe and Japan. The crowd is in their early twenties, a lot younger than the 30-somethings we met campervaning in New Zealand and hosteling in South America. For one, most of these 20-somethings are on holiday working visas, which Australia readily hands out for jobs like fruit picking and bar tending. (Not sure of all the rules, but these visas seem to be available for those under age 30, and especially those from a British commonwealth.) Residents of other British colonies have reciprocal rights to health care here making it an appealing country to visit and live. Australia is also a great place for these travelers to practice or learn English, which seems like a prerequisite for many jobs these days. (We are very lucky to be native speakers.) And reputation is everything. Positive word or mouth from traveler to traveler has continued the cycle of tourists visiting and living in Australia. It is unfortunate that this form of traveling is not part of the US culture. It is great way to showcase ones country.
- US tourists we talked with were primarily college students on their study abroad programs, or adults in or entering retirement. With such a great distance between the US and Australia it is an understandable challenge to visit, but we urge everyone to take at least two to three weeks in their lifetime to make the journey. It will be worth it!