Ch. 5 CAIRNS
Feels like home!
A very early departure from Brisbane this morning, a delay at the boarding gate, and a layover in Melbourne, brought us to Cairns in the early afternoon, where we found our hostess, Jenny, waiting for us at the baggage claim. On the drive to the car rental, we noticed how much like South Florida, our home, Cairns is. Many of the plants we saw were ones we have back home. Croton, ixora, and palms were in many yards and along the streets. The climate is similar, with warm weather most of the year. Even the homes looked much like ones from South Florida. http://www.cairns-australia.com.au/ The mountains, of course, were completely different. Once we booked our car, and followed Jenny to her Home Stay, we met her husband, Lex, and heard their suggestions for maximizing our stay. First, they suggested that we drive to Port Douglas for dinner. They said it was one of the prettiest drives in Australia. They were spot on! http://www.interbed.com.au/listings/jennys.htm We had awe-inspiring views of the sea and mountains, and kept stopping along the way to look and take pictures. Surprisingly, the gorgeous beaches are almost empty. Later, Lex explained that there are so many, none of the beaches ever gets crowded. This drive we enjoyed immensely! The village of Port Douglas is very appealing and worth the short drive. (about 50 minutes without stops) http://www.port-douglas-australia.org/ The restaurant recommended is On the Inlet. We sat on the veranda and watched the sunset, and saw the feeding of George the Grouper, a popular attraction. We ordered two appetizers and two mains, without sides. The appetizers, which we see often listed as entrees, were Sugar Cane Pork Flauta and Seafood Medley. The mains were Sand Crab Chili Rellenos and Moreton Bay Bugs. All were delectable! Total cost for good food and an impressive view was $74 A or about $60 USA. http://portdouglasseafood.com/
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Our introduction to the Cairns area has been a huge success!
Jenny asked us what we wanted to do, and booked everything for us! Such a welcome extra service! All we have to do was enjoy ourselves!
Fresh Banana Crepes! A good start for the day! Chatting with Jenny and Lex about politics, weather, current events, etc. is fun. Today's off the trails adventure is up the mountain to the village of Kuranda, with a couple of stops on the way to see the sights, back down on the steam train, and then off to Tjapukai. The cost of the Skyrail, train ride down the mountain, and transportation back to your car at the park is $90 A or about $72 USA. The ride up the mountain, over the rainforest canopy is humbling. The trees are so tall, the birds and butterflies are beautiful, and the rainforest is so important to us! The car makes three stops: one is the rainforest boardwalk with a park ranger; another is the waterfall; and the third is the village of Kuranda. Riders can choose to stay on or disembark. Barron Waterfall was glorious! At the Red Peak Station, our ranger, Billy, who is Aboriginal, told us about some of the plants in the rainforest. We decided never to touch anything – berries that can blind you, and stinging nettle that can cause pain for months helped us reach that decision! http://www.skyrail.com.au/
Kuranda itself is an enchanting village with Aboriginal art, German food, ice cream, a winery, open air markets, opal shops, and many more interesting and fun stops. http://www.kuranda.org/ For lunch, we had emu sausage and croc sausage with potato salad and kraut, along with a German beer at the German place. They played modern German music – no polkas and no oom-pah. Our bill was $32 A or about $26 USA, for a really delicious and unusual meal!
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Kuranda is perfect for shopping! Clothing, opals, souvenir items, leather goods, Aboriginal art, and more are waiting for you. We went into the Aboriginal art Center and met one of the artists.
The Butterfly Sanctuary was one of our most important stops! It cost just $17 A or about $13.50 USA, and was beautiful. The hundreds of butterflies were active, there was a breeding lab, and we could stay as long as we wanted. Guided tours are available at no extra cost. We completely enjoyed it! http://www.australianbutterflies.com/
The train ride down the mountain was most relaxing and informative. It was a guided trip, and many points of interest were pointed out, and stories about the early railroad days were told. Families then were only allowed to come down the mountain once a month to buy supplies. We stopped to see Barron Falls on the other side of the river. We had some marvelous views of the valleys and mountains. It's been a great day so far. But wait – there's more!
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Tonight, we are going to Tjapukai. It's pronounced something like too-pu-ky. It's an Aboriginal Culture Center and Park. We were greeted at the entrance by aborigines in traditional clothing and paint, who painted our faces. We then heard a traditional dreamtime story, heard didgeridoo music, and saw exhibits of artifacts. Then we were led outside to participate in the Fire Ceremony. We were taught two chants and a dance by our guides. It was a lot of fun, and made learning easy. We were all asked to blow on the fire once it was started, and then one guide shot a burning arrow into the air. It exploded, and other warriors brought the fire back on their boat. Then we entered the Banquet Hall, and were given an international feast. A buffet included pork medallions, steak, chicken, fish, soups, salads, oysters and clams on the half shell, shrimp, bread, fruits, rice, potatoes, pasta, and deserts, including the famous Pavlova. A glass of complimentary beer, wine or champagne was given at the beginning, and those were available to buy at dinner. After feasting, we were treated to more entertainment! Traditional stories, dances and music were presented by the Aboriginal performers with audience participation. The performers had great senses of humor! Their impressions of the cassowary and kangaroo were spot on! We think this was a tremendous bang for the buck – $90 A per person, or about $72 USA. This included all the food you could eat and top notch entertainment, as well as a cultural education about Australia's first people. http://www.tjapukai.com.au/
Then back to Jenny's for a good night's rest!
Diving! We started our day early, and Jenny and Lex were with us! We ate an early breakfast, Jenny made a cheese, tomato, and bacon topping on toast and served fresh passion fruit from her garden, melons, grapes, and pineapple, along with coffee, and offers to make toast or serve cereal if we were still hungry. As if!
Going out to the Great Barrier Reef is a dream come true! Diving was with SeaStar, a family run, one boat operation. Charlie, Anna. Nico, and Takka, and the others were all first-rate. There is a maximum number of 36, so personal service is the norm. MaryJo was the only certified diver on the trip, so Charlie gave me one-on-one service. Our two dives were awesome! The colors of the fish, plants, and coral were so bright and vivid! We saw beautiful, vibrant fish, a green turtle, a reef shark (a real bonus!), giant clams, and plants. Charlie showed me how to touch some of the plants and the clam to make it close up! We were at two sites, one middle reef and one outer reef. We also snorkeled, and Greg and MaryJo saw some spectacular plants and animals. If you have never snorkeled before, SeaStar does a guided tour and demonstrates how to do it. Tea and coffee and muffins are served once you are on the boat. They serve a lovely lunch – lasagna, salads, chicken, sandwiches, fruit, and drinks. On the return trip, tea, coffee, and cakes are served. Underwater cameras are available for rent, and on the way back, CDs are created so you can take back all your pictures! Cost for the camera rental is $50 A or about or about $40 USA. A flat fee to go out to the reef is $155 A or about $ 125 USA. No diving or snorkeling is included in that, but the food is. Dive trips are $265A each or about $213 USA. Snorkel trips are $185 A or about $ 150 USA. Everything is done for you! No need to connect apparatus disconnect apparatus, carry tank to the boat, or determine decompression time. They do it! We recommend SeaStar if you are in Cairns. We will be with them again on our next trip! http://www.seastarcruises.com.au/
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Scuba Diving in the Great Barrier Reef
We came back tired! But wait – there's more! Want some nightlife? We were booked for the Night at the Zoo! After showering and a change of clothes, we were off for a night of learning about animals, and learning about British Australian culture. The night begins with an Aussie BBQ. We had steak, potatoes, chicken, fish, a variety of salads, drinks, and desserts. They do have an open beer and wine bar. Several families had children. We had entertainment with a singer and a charismatic cockatoo. Then we had a tour of the night zoo. We saw and learned about toads, lizards, snakes, crocodiles, koalas, iguanas, kangaroos, and wombats. Our guide demonstrated crocodile behavior by hanging a raw chicken over the croc. It leapt up out of the water and snatched the chicken. Astounding! They are definitely ferocious beasts! We were allowed to pet the koala, the snakes and the toad. At the kangaroo paddock, the swagman, (a wanderer) Swaggy, had bush tea and damper (swagman bread, usually cooked in a can) for us. Scrumptious! We fed the kangaroo fresh fruit mix. They are so gentle! Finally, our singer showed us how to do some bush dances. A stop in the souvenir shop on the way out, and home. Cost was $85 A per person or about $68 USA. What a fantastic day! We will sleep well tonight! http://www.cairnstropicalzoo.com.au/
Today we slept in a little longer, because had no particular place to be and no particular time to be there. After another of Jenny's delicious breakfasts, we embarked upon a journey to the Tablelands. Jenny and Lex suggested it, and they haven't been wrong yet! The Tablelands were exceedingly pretty and varied. There were hills and valley, forest and dairy farms, waterfalls and tiny villages. http://www.tablelands.org/ We stopped for lunch at Lake Barrine, and ate overlooking the lake out on the veranda, looking at the flowers and ducks. We munched on homemade quiche and salad, made with fresh corn, celery, carrots and greens. It was a tranquil setting and we relished our time there. Lunch was $40 A or about $32 USA, fresh, filling and full of flavor. http://www.barrierreefaustralia.com/visitor-info/crater-lakes-district.htm
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. Onward on the very winding road – go slowly! At Millaa Millaa, we viewed the exquisite falls. It was cool, so we waded instead of swimming as we planned. A couple was picnicking, and it was fine place for that activity! There are restrooms and changing rooms, so it's convenient. http://millaamillaafalls.com/ The Curtain Fig Tree is a must see. A strangler fig has been growing for nearly 200 hundred years, and looks like a curtain. Our next destination was Mungalli Falls. We stopped to enjoy the picturesque upper falls and wildflowers. Mungalli Creek Dairy was close by, and the place to tastes some homemade, organic cheeses. We especially liked the lemon-pepper quark. If you are wondering what quark is, so did we. It's a German style cream cheese. Sandwiches, salads, and desserts are available for lunch, and Devonshire Tea is served anytime. ( Scones served with clotted cream, strawberry jam, and tea) We took away some cheese for later. http://www.mungallicreekdairy.com.au/ Yungaburra is a delightful little village in the center of the Tablelands, with shops and restaurants, a little park, and a visitor center. We stopped at some overlooks to take in the astounding scenery. Hope you enjoy the pictures! We took a short walk through the rainforest. It was a wonderful touring day and we didn't spend lots of money!
When we finally returned to Jenny's, it was dinner time, Jade, a Chinese restaurant, just down the street, was recommended by our hosts, and it was a good choice. The food was good, fairly reasonable, and the staff was very friendly and welcoming. We liked the presentation! Rice came in a small wooden bucket, soup came with a cover, and a bit of fresh fruit ended the meal. We each had our first glass of Chinese wine, which has a distinct taste, and Greg ordered a beer. Our total was $74 A or about $ 60 USA. Lots of people were coming in for take away, so the locals seem to like Jade, too.
A short stroll around Cairns completed our evening, because the plane leaves at 6 a.m. We did see many shops, including the night market and food court, which is open until 11p.m., late for Australian shopping. Remember that most stores close between 5 and 6. There was a concert in the park, and some entertainers on a few corners, so it was a lively evening.
We'll miss Cairns, and Jenny and Lex. who were so kind and helpful. If you are in the Cairns area, Jenny's Homestay B & B is the perfect place to stay!