26 September 2006

Port Douglas and The Great Great Barrier Reef

Instead of going on the obligatory reef-trip from Cairns we decided to head to a more enjoyable place to be the base of our reef trip namely Port Douglas (Port).

Already the Cook Highway out of Cairns entices one to go further north and Port itself is unlike Cairns truly charming. This charm, however, comes at a price - litterally. The clientelle in Port is less backpakker more executive. Still, there are some hostels; the one we stayed at was Dougie's.

We spent our first afternoon at the 4 mile beach in Port. Although the sand is not that white, the beach is really nice. The only tricky part is the high tidal difference.

The second day in Port we went out on what was probably the most anticipated part of our journey - The Great Barrier Reef. As none of us have any diving experience we chose to take a snorkeling trip. The boat left Port at 8 and we then sailed for 1 and a half hours before reaching the Opal Reef.

The first of 3 diving sites was this pinnacle pertruding the deep water.

It is undescribable how it is to swim right over the potpourri of coloured corals and fish. The fish are swimming around you at an arms length and the you almost hit the corals as you swim over them.

This is Emma with snorkeling gear and a wet-suit to keep her warm. This picture is from the edge of the pinnacle where the sea-floor drops tens of metres.

And here's underwater Daniel!


Little striped fish swimming just below the surface of the water and all around you when you snorkel.

When we ereached the 2nd diving site the tide had already receded and it was no longer possible to swim on top of the shallowest parts of the reef. Instead one could swim around the edges which were sloping gently in to deeper waters. We could swim into small coves where the seafloor is covered with dead coral "rubble" and suddenly you find yourself standing on the sefloor miles from any permanent landmass.

A group of large fish called Redfins patrol the water for tasty small fish. They really look huge when you swim with them under-water.

And here the rarest creature we managed to get a glimpse of - a green sea turtle.

After a lunch on board we plunged into the waters at the 3rd and last diving cite. By now the shallowest parts of the reef were completely free.

A flock of Redfins were cirkling the boat and greeted you as you swam away from the boat.

This entry will be extended soon...

Kuranda day trip

One of the must-do things in Cairns is to go on a day trip to Kuranda up in the hills behind Cairns.

On the way up to Kuranda we took the cable cars. The cable cars go for about 8 km over the rainforest canopy with 2 intermediate stops along the way. Their whole purpose is for people to get a different perspective on the rainforest by seeing it from the gondola above. On the stops one can walk around on small boardwalks and the last stop offered views of the Barron Falls. When one wants to continue the journey one just jumps into an empty gondola and off you glide.

At the end of the cable track is the (themepark) village of Kuranda. After a wholesome brekky we entered Birdland which is a collection of Australian and "exotic" birds from other countries.

The attraction is that one can feed several of the birds and several of them jump onto your hand, arm or even head. These are cery "friendly" parrots from India.

It is also here that we saw for the first and the last time a Cassowary.

This is a real bewdie, a red-tailed black cockatoo! And it's a rally big bird as you can see.


Going back down to Cairns we hopped on the scenic railway that in old days was used for mining purposes. Here our picture is taken in front of the train at the cozy railway station in Kuranda.

It is a 2 hour winding journey down the mountain along the Barron River before arriving back in Cairns. Along the way one passes several beautiful viewpoints and some waterfalls as the one on the picture.

The pictures from this day were taken on a good old film-camera so they had to be scanned before they could come on the blog. The quality is, therefore, so so!

Cairns

The first task when heading to Cairns is to get the pronunciation right! Try and I'll test you if I see you...

First day in Cairns we made arrangements for the rest of our trip, booking hostel rooms and getting a rental car. Unfortunately, we will probably most rememeber Cairns as the place were we had our camera snatched from our bag. Therefore, we have no pictures of the previous destinations as they were all in the camera memory.

Here is a picture of some typical "Queenslanders" in Cairns. A Queenslander is a style of wooden, richly ornamented, two story house that is typical for Queensland. The style of building is not dissimilar from the typical style in southern Thailand and Malaysia.

Brissie

On our arrival in Brisbane we learnt that on that very night there would be a huge fireworks spectacle called "River Fire"! From the balconny of our hostel "Somewhere to Stay" we had the best view of down town Brisbane and so we brought some snacks along and waited to see the free show. Now, the thing about River Fire is that it does not only involve heaps of gunpowder, but at the start and the end two fighter jets fly low over the city centre while spewing an enormous tail of flames from some sort of flame-throwing booster. Not only is it spectacular to see but it also makes an absolutely ear-shattering noise! The fireworks was nice too... It was launched from severeal of the high-rises along the river. As for the rest of our stay in Brisbane we have no pictures to show (See Cairns entry).

Upon the previous night's action, we thought we would have a more soothing day and had decided to go on a cruise up the Brisbane river to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, but we missed the boat. So we spent the day looking around Brisbane from the Queen St. Mall to the pleasant South Bank Parklands.

On the third day in town we had made sure to book the river cruise in advance ensuring a pick up by the boat operator. After a 1+ of sailing we berthed at the sanctuary. The sanctuary had many coulourful birds and parrots, Wombats, Emus, Bandicoots, Dingos, Snakes, Rats, Roos, Wallabies and of course more than 300 cute, fluffy, cuddly, soft, greyish, sleepy, smelly, sharp clawed Koalas. B.t.w. Koala is an aboriginal name meaning "no drink" because Koalas never come down to drink, but get all the fluid from the not very juicy leaves. The special attraction of this sanctuary is that they allow for the Koalas to be "cuddled". This means a short opportunity to hold one of them in your arms while a guy from the sanctuary takes a nice photo of you. Of course this was an absolutely irresistable opportunity for Emma, so off went the 15 dollars and in came the undeniably irresistable Koala.
Later on Daniel got his chance to hold a lovely Olivegreen Python, absolutely free of charge! Another small cash handout secured us two bags of Kangaroo tucker. This was to be given to the animals jumping around in the large Roo enclosure. So we spent the rest of our time at the sanctuary hand feeding kangaroos and wallabies and posing for photos next to them. Another hours cruise took us back in to Brisbane centre and late that evening we took off in a plane bound for Cairns.

Orange Valleys

This post is the first in a series recounting our OZ-tour that mainly took us to North Queensland. However we started of our World Heritage Site tour by visiting the Blue Mountains on a day-trip from Sydney. On an early morning train we travelled the scenic tracks to Katoomba. Katoomba is a little town almost completely "devoted" to serving the tourist hordes. Several cable cars go over deep chasms and up and down the cliffs' edges. The mountains truly are awe insipring. Unfortunately, we cannot show any pictures from this destination (See Cairns entry for explanation). We got back to Sydney late in the evening and went to China Town for a mouth burning Chinese hotpot dinner.

The following day we headed for Paddy's markets, where you can buy the cheapest Australiana. We purchased a big bag to hold some of our burgeoning inventory. Later in the afternoon we headed for Brisbane and that's that!