With the word ‘tree-change’ still rattling around our heads we set off from Atherton Tablelands towards Cairns. The Rae family (who we met on our second night on the road) have now set up home at nearby Lake Placid and had managed to secure us a site next to them for a great rate weekly rate.
Whichever way we approached Cairns we were going to have to tackle some pretty hairy roads – both steep and windy. We decided to go via Mareeba and then Kuranda. It was really interesting watching the landscape change and we were reminded just how lush, green and mountainous the area is. It also didn’t take long for us to recall, from a previous visit, just how touristy Cairns is, with the emphasis being on visiting The Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest. The barrage of promotional material was unrelenting.
It was great to catch up with Richard and Vanessa again, who are both now working in Cairns and the kids loved playing with Courtney and Annie. The March Flies here were awful, we were all getting attacked and they bite hard! The kids solution was to swat the flies and then feed them to the many geckos hanging around!
For the time being The Rae’s will be calling Cairns home. We have managed to see them in three states now and who knows, we may expand on that yet!
A day was spent visiting Kuranda. Here there are many attractions such as a butterfly sanctuary, koala gardens, rainforest walking trails and galleries. We were content to visit Barron Falls, check out the Village markets and have a look at the Kuranda Scenic Railway. The railway is fairly expensive ($142 the cheapest option, for a one way trip) and as we were happy with our Ravenshoe steam engine experience we decided to give it a miss. There is a lot to see in Kuranda and fitting it all into a day trip is difficult – particularly as the majority of the shops were shutting at 3pm!
Now, as well as being able to drive up to Kuranda, or catch the train there is also something called the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. This is made up of gondola’s operating along a cable which is 7.5 km long and the tallest tower it passes being 40.5 m high. As well, as running from Kuranda down to Caravonica there are also two stations that can be accessed (Red Peak & Barron Falls) and if you get your timing right you can join a ranger talk about the beautiful rainforest you are travelling over.
It is no secret that heights and I don’t see eye to eye. So I am still confused why, when Reardon & Emma expressed their interest in going on the Skyrail, I agreed to do it with them. Even Paul was stunned!! Of course, as soon as the words of agreement came out of my mouth my brain immediately started backtracking. In fact, going to the office and purchasing the tickets was a complete out-of-body experience!! I couldn’t believe that I was willingly handing over $88 for a potential near death experience (5% discount if you book online). To be honest, I was a little tired of being the one to continually chicken out of doing things and in some ways saw this as being a way to redeem myself – although there probably was an easier way.
When we entered the gondola it worked out that I had my back facing the descent which was probably just as well. As soon as we left the station my heart started racing and my hands were sweating. The only thing that stopped me from launching into a full-blown panic attack was watching the kids faces and seeing how calm they were. They loved it and couldn’t take their eyes off the view, although I could have killed Reardon when he said “Mum! There’s a hole under your seat!” (It was an air vent). I am glad that I took the plunge, so to speak but was so very tempted to do the whole Pope kissing the ground thing when we made it to the bottom!
The weather was hot and humid when we first arrived in town and we enjoyed cooling off at the awesome Cairns Lagoon on The Esplanade Foreshore. This is a free saltwater lagoon with a large shady grassed area and lifeguards on duty. Swimming at Cairns beaches is generally only recommended in designated areas and people should be mindful of stingers, particularly between November and March, as well as the possible presence of crocodiles.
As I mentioned there is a lot of tourism in Cairns focusing on visiting The Great Barrier Reef, mainly because of its close proximity. We had decided we would visit the reef whilst here having previously visited Green Island and intended to do the same this time but were talked out of it by a number of people, including information centre staff, who said that the reef had sustained a lot of damage by boats here and was quite brown. This put us into a complete spin as we were now unsure on exactly how we would visit the reef.
In the end we went with a tour operator offering one of the thousands of ‘unique’ reef experiences! The tour included spending the day on an island (which no other operator had access to), a guided snorkel on the reef, lunch, glass bottom boat tour, a guided island walk and rock pool talk by a marine biologist, as well as complete access to anywhere on the island whilst there. Although we enjoyed our day and as far as the kids are concerned they have snorkelled the reef, the whole experience fell short of our expectations and to some extent we wonder if we could have made a better choice.
The island we visited was beautiful and the Marine Biologist very informative. The lunch was also excellent. Unfortunately some of the snorkelling gear had seen better days and this time it was Emma’s mask that fell apart, causing her experience to be cut short – as well as Paul’s while he sorted her out. It was also a little disorganised with people in the water all over the place, only one name check was carried out and this wasn’t until the end of the day, compared to one after each time we entered the water on our Manta Ray Tour at Ningaloo Reef.
The Reef itself was also quite disappointing – it was very brown and there were few fish on this particular day. In fact, we had a German dive-master on board taking the tour and after the snorkel he remarked that “zis eez not zee paradise vee vere promised”(my German is not so good). He also commented that he himself would refuse to take tourists to such a site. It was interesting when a staff member responded “people will promise all sorts of things when you are paying them money’! On the other hand there were other people who were raving about the experience and couldn’t wait to come back with their grandchildren.
We were also a little disappointed that we only had a short amount of time on the island. All of the activites were a little rushed and we had to be back on board the boat ready to depart at 2pm, meaning only about 4.5 hours on the actual island.
Visiting The Reef is not cheap (our tour was $385) and for many will be a once in a lifetime experience, so I guess the moral of the story is to do your homework. Perhaps consider visiting The Reef further south along the coast where smaller operators may offer a more intimate experience or maybe go further to the outer reef (although some locals suggested there was some damage to the coral caused by Cyclone Yasi).
Whilst in town we also spent some time with The Raes visiting the town of Babinda and nearby Josephine Falls in Wooroonooran National Park. This was a beautiful spot and there was a rock waterslide that the kids had fun sliding down – the big kids too!
Next I’ll update on how we packed up the tent and headed towards Cooktown only to have the weather take a sudden turn and we experience the second Great Stanley Flood of 2011!