October 30, 2013

Residents of the hostel get a free pancake breakfast, so we decided to take advantage of that. It wasn’t much—three small pancakes with syrup—but it was okay for breakfast. After that we decided to explore Cairns and see the sights. So out we went into the sunshine.

Cairns isn’t very big and it isn’t very old, so it doesn’t have much in the way of architecture. So we headed straight for the wharf, to check out where our snorkeling boat would be starting from on Friday. Once we had done that we went into the terminal to find out where to park. The girl there suggested that instead of parking in the very large outdoor public car park, it would be better to park under the Shangri-La hotel, where we could pay when we left. This seemed a much better idea.

It was low tide, so there were wide sand and mud flats offshore. This meant that there were a lot of migrating shorebirds out there. For example there were a couple of hundred Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, a bird which we would make a special trip to see if it showed up back at home. We watched in amazement as an Eastern Curlew pushed its bill all the way into the sand and then washed it off in a little stream. Walking along the waterfront was very pleasant, especially with the cool breeze. There were a few features along there, such as a couple of artworks, some play areas, and a few monuments. Did you know that the 1956 Melbourne Olympics’ torch relay started here in Cairns?

We followed the waterfront out to its end, then joined a walking path which took us through the botanical gardens before following Lily Creek back towards the city centre. By now the day was getting quite hot and unfortunately there was very little shade along the route. Before we got back to the hostel we stopped at Coles to buy some groceries. Lunch was late today, but it was easy to make because it was mostly leftover pizza.

After lunch we relaxed at the hostel until later in the afternoon, because it was too hot to go anywhere. About 4:30 pm we headed out again to walk back to the waterfront. Now all of the boats we hadn’t seen in the morning had returned. What a transformation! The marina was now full of huge catamarans. We located our Passions of Paradise boat, which looked really nice. Back at the hostel we made dinner and then were off to bed about 10 pm.

October 31, 2013

Today was the day we had planned our road trip to the Atherton Tablelands. So we started out after breakfast and headed north out of Cairns, along the Captain Cook Highway. Our first stop was Barron Falls. When we saw the signposts for Barron Gorge National Park we followed them through Lake Placid and then along a narrow winding road which ended at a dam. Here there was a gorge and a locked-up power station, but no boardwalk and no falls. Eventually we clued in to the fact that we were at the wrong end of the gorge. So we went back to the main road and carried on to the turn-off for Kuranda, where the falls are actually located.

Just beyond Kuranda was the correct car park, and as we walked along the boardwalk through the forest we could hear the steam train passing by. But the path was longer than we thought, so the train had left before we reached the station. From there the view of Barron Falls was very good. At this time of year the volume of water in the falls is fairly low, but there was still enough water for us to see the height of the falls. One of the displays at the viewpoint showed how much more spectacular the falls were in the wet season, but we don’t plan to return to Cairns in the Wet.

Moving on, we followed the Kennedy Highway towards Mareeba, up on the tablelands. This area is farming territory, so we passed by various crops including coffee plantations. Some of the buildings in the town implied that tobacco was grown in the area as well, but the tourist brochures didn’t mention that. We continued farther north and a few kilometers along an unsealed road which passed through cattle country en route to the Jabiru Safari Lodge and the Mareeba Wetland Reserve. When we arrived there we sat outside to eat our lunch, then went inside the visitor centre. This overlooked a wetland pond with a lot of coots and a variety of other waterfowl including Black Swans, a species we hadn’t seen before. (At least, not in the wild.)

We enjoyed sitting there in the shade, and for a treat we had an ice cream each. We could have walked to the other lagoons, but it was too hot in the middle of the day so we decided to take a boat trip around the pond. It took about 45 minutes and we didn’t see anything new, but the lady did tell us the history of the area and how the series of wetland ponds came to be. Along the way she also pointed out a very large metal sculpture of a frilled lizard, which had been made by a Japanese sculptor as a thank-you gift. Apparently this is one of the few remaining areas which supports the pure form of wild rice, which he was working to protect.

Back at the hot car we cranked up the air conditioning and headed back through Mareeba. We still had a while before we had to be back in Cairns, so we headed towards Atherton and Crater Lakes National Park. We stopped to look at the Curtain Fig tree, which is an immense fig tree with air roots which are up to 15 meters long. It’s an impressive sight, but if it hadn’t been for the rocky ground in the area it would long since have been chopped down to make way for agriculture.

After that we passed Yungaburra, where we saw a sign saying “Platypus Viewing 540 m back”. So we made a U-turn and went back to the hide, which was right next to the road bridge. We stayed for a while waiting for the platypus to show up, but unfortunately it never did.

Now it was getting late, so we decided to head back to Cairns. We had to wait at a couple of road-work locations, and then we got to the road going down from the plateau. The road going up to Kuranda had been narrow and winding, but the road down was much worse. It was just continual twists and turns the whole way. If you were prone to car-sickness, it would definitely have succeeded in making you sick, and we were very happy when we finally got down and turned onto the main road into Cairns.

Next: Great Barrier Reef

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