Australia & New Zealand Trip – Cairns
One of the greatest things about Australia is that by traveling a few hours in any direction you can find yourself in a completely different type of countryside. So after enjoying a few days experiencing the city life of Sydney and a few more out in the wild Australian outback in Uluru, our next stop brought us to the rainforest and beaches of Cairns.
Saturday, June 6
After a busy last day in Uluru, we were able to sleep in to start the weekend before catching a mid-afternoon flight out of the desert to Cairns. We made it into the city by six o’clock and wandered around the streets before grabbing a bite to eat. We finished off the day relaxing in the room before turning in. Not much excitement for the day, but the travel days do help us recharge before hitting the ground running again.
Sunday, June 7
Our first full day in Cairns was spent at sea. We were bussed from our hotel to Port Douglas, where we boarded a day-cruise ship and sailed out to the famed Great Barrier Reef. The Barrier Reef is just another one of those “Wow, we’re really here” moments in a country full of them. The boat took us out to, for lack of a better description, a floating, man made island. It included a dock for semi-submarines, a helicopter pad, places to snorkel and dive and a full complimentary buffet. We spent the day out on open waters, enjoying the masterpiece that is the Great Barrier Reef.
We left to head back to the mainland late in the afternoon and made it back nearly ninety minutes later. We enjoyed the drive along the coastline back to our accommodations and turned in early after a long day under the sun.
Monday, June 8
No break for the weary traveller the day after the Barrier Reef as we were off and at it again with an all-day tour taking us to, through and over the Kuranda rainforest. We started the morning on the historic Kuranda Scenic Railway, which was constructed in the late 1800s for tin mining but currently operates as a tourist railway.
Construction of the Cairns-Kuranda Railway was, and still is, an engineering feat of tremendous magnitude. The railway snakes its way up the Macalister Range for over 75 kilometers and was constructed nearly completely by hand. The steep and rocky mountain terrain required that numerous bridges be built and even more tunnels be cut out of solid rock. These necessary measures were extremely dangerous not only because of the terrain on which they were performed but also because workers also dealt with vicious aboriginal tribes and raiders.
The train makes just one brief stop on its way from Cairns to the village of Kuranda, but there is glorious scenery to be witnessed all the way up the mountain. Once we reached the end of the line, we were free to explore the quaint village of Kuranda. We spent a few hours walking around, enjoying the small shops and an ice cream cone from a local homemade ice cream stand. We walked through a bird sanctuary and watched a wood-carving demonstration before meeting up again for our next tour.
We toured the depths of the rainforest in a refurnished Army Duck – an amphibious military vehicle that is capable of traveling comfortably on land and on water. We spent an hour or so in the very loud and very bumpy vehicle learning about the various flora and fauna of the rainforest. We learned which plants can kill you and which ones can heal you. We spotted several small crocodiles and a kookaburra nest.
After returning to the village, we found a place that let you hold koalas and crocodiles and remarkably there was no line and we were able to spend a good amount of time with both animals.
After our encounters with crocodiles, we moved into the Koala and Wildlife Park where we were introduced to other Australian wildlife that weren’t quite as well-known as the koala. Included in the tour were kangaroo, wallabies, wombats and dingos. The Wildlife Park had most of their animals well secured in cages, like the crocodiles, dingos and cassowaries, but the kangaroos and wallabies simply lounged around the park, free to interact with the visitors.
After spending time getting to know the Australian wildlife on a more intimate level, we heaed off for the next part of our all-day adventure, the Dreamtime Walk. This part of the tour introduced us to the aboriginal and Islander culture and history more thoroughly. We began with a demonstration of cultural dances and rituals. Some of us were even volunteered to try our hand at aboriginal dancing!
After the dance demonstration we moved on to boomerangs, spears and didgeridoos. All of which are much harder than the natives make them look. Zachary and I impressed our aboriginal guide with our prodigious boomerang skills, but fared far worse with the spears. We probably would have gone without much meat had we been forced to hunt.
After spending a fantastic day within the confines of the rainforest, we had to find our way out and what better way out than up and over? We boarded one of the worlds longest skyrails and were whisked over the canopy of trees and down the mountain. Comprised of thirty-two steel towers, the Skyrail is 7.5 kilometers long and moves you along at 11mph. It is commonly paired with the Kuranda Scenic Railway as a way up and down the mountain.
Tuesday, June 9
Tuesday would be only our third day in Cairns, but we had packed so much in our first two days, that today would completely free. We took advantage of our lack of scheduling to sleep in a little and have a leisurely breakfast before wandering out into Cairns to do some exploring. As much as I enjoy the structured tours for their informative purposes, sometimes aimlessly wandering around a city is just as enjoyable, if not more so. Traveling this way allows you to wander off the beaten path if you choose, and what you lose in facts and history you make up for in intimacy and experience.
We found a community pool just off the beach and relaxed in the sun for most of the morning and afternoon. While Zachary sunned himself in the Australian sunshine, I wandered around the town and explored the mudflats, which are simultaneously beautiful and disgusting. We found a small cafe for lunch and took our time with our meal outside on the patio, just a stones throw away from the beach.
We made our way back to the hotel for one last dinner in Cairns and enjoyed a random fireworks display from outside the hotel as we ate. The next day would be our last in the great country of Australia, as we would board a plane bound for Kiwi Nation, otherwise known as New Zealand. Slightly disappointed about leaving Australia behind, but definitely excited to start exploring New Zealand, we turned in for our last sleep in Aussie Land, having had an immeasurable amount of fun the past two weeks.