October 13, 2009 - Packing for a long journey
So the big day finally has arrived. Today we leave. Of course, before we can leave, we have to pack - for three months. We have been determined from the beginning that we would only take carry-on luggage, because we know that we will be changing planes and trains and cars and busses for the next three months, so we have to be able to carry (or roll) everything we need. We also know that having carry-on luggage makes air travel less of a hassle, especially if we have tight connections or if we have to make changes. So it's a good discipline. Fortunately the weather in Australia and New Zealand should be warm (it is their summer) so we don't need a lot of bulky clothing. The problem is always "everything else" - books - cameras - shoes - drugs - toiletries - laptops - you name it. I suspect before we actually walk out of the door, we will have abandoned all kinds of things we had planned to take ! Oh well !
October 14 and 15 - In the air
A big 'thank you" to Clementine and Luc who very kindly offered to take us to the airport. It was a really nice thing to do and much appreciated.
I know it took Captain Cook almost two years to travel from the UK to where we are now and I'm sure he was even more sick of travelling when he got here than I am now, but it's STILL a long way and VERY exhausting. The good news is that all the flights were on time and as flights go, they could have been worse, but all the flights were completely full - not an empty seat amongst them and they seemed to go on forever. In all, we were travelling (door to door) for thirty hours. I don't think I have ever worn the same clothes for that long.
A few highlights. As we were waiting to get off the plane in LA I overheard a couple of guys talking about onward connections and on of them mentioned Brisbane. I asked him if he was travelling on QANTAS which he was, so as he seemed to know where he was going, we followed him. We had to walk between terminals in LA so we got talking and it turned out he was an Aussie from Perth who had been attending a convention in Orlando and was on his way home. We spent about an hour with him over a beer and he turned out to be very interesting. Pity we aren't planning on going to Perth, His name was John Ford (I think I have the last name right). I hope we meet more people like him on our travels.
The flight from LA to Brisbane was a LONG night flight. Because we left at night and flew in the same direction as the sun, it was dark almost the entire journey. They served a hot meal (supper) just after take off and then basically turned off the lights and left us alone for the next eleven hours. As I said, the flight was completely full (and this was a 747, so this was a BIG plane), so no one could stretch out - maybe the people at the front of the aircraft but not us common folks. They did have in-flight entertainment but it wasn't working properly so you had to watch whatever was showing. And the individual seat lights didn't work so you couldn't read ! Bummer. Anyway, I guess we survived.
So we finally arrive in Cairns. The airport is a mess - "under construction" is an understatement. "Under demolition" is more like ! We actually had to walk through what looked like a construction site with guys in hard hats watching us curiously. At the other end of the building was the luggage area and then (more chaos) the car rental desks. Anyway, our luggage and our car was waiting so musn't complain.
AND they drive on the left AND the car is a stick shift. I guess those driving lessons I took in England when I was seventeen are finally paying off. Fortunately, once we were out of the airport, the roads were pretty good and our directions worked, so finally arrived at our destination, the Rainforest Studios, about six miles outside Cairns. As we pulled into the driveway, our hosts, Laura and Jon Trout came out to greet us and even greeted us by name, which was nice. Of course, we were exhausted so they showed us to our studio and then left us to unpack and then to collapse into bed for a couple of hours of "rest" - couldn't really call it sleep.
Our hosts, Jon and Laura Trout
The Cairns Rainforest Studios - from the street
After about an hour, I suddenly realized that I hadn't seen my camera which had been packed in my luggage. I woke up Kris - not the easiest thing to do - she was comatose - but when she came too, she realized that SHE hadn't seen it either. I remembered stuffing it into my suitcase and it was't there. After much debate, we decided the only possibility is that the camera was removed after we checked our luggage in Orlando. I collected my luggage in Brisbane and kept it with me until we arrived at the B&B so it must have been stolen either in Orlando or in LA. Not much we could do about it at that stage, so I guess we just put it down to experience. What a pain ! Oh well.
After discussing the missing camera we decided we were hungry so we asked Laura where the nearest supermarket was. She directed us to a small mall with a Woolworths. In this part of the world, Woolworths are the main purveyors of food. After a couple of missed turns we found Woolworths and spent an amusing half an hour looking at the food that Aussies eat - a bit like American food but not as much choice and rather downmarket. To be fair I expect they have better supermarkets in Sydney and the larger cities. We ended up buying cereal, OJ and milk at Woolworths and a couple of slices of quiche and a couple of cakes at a nearby bakery. The great thing about the Rainforest Studios is that our room has a kichenette. We went back to our studio and settled on our private patio to eat the quiche and drink a half a bottle of wine. Needless to say we had no trouble sleeping that night.
October 16 - First full day in Cairns
I woke to the sounds of Paul setting out breakfast on the patio - this is not something he ever does in Orlando so I was surprised and delighted to discover "Vacation Paul".
Breakfast on the patio
After breakfast we decided to go into Cairns to explore the city and to buy a camera and a mobile telephone . At first glance downtown Cairns appears to be in a time warp. The buildings look like something you would expect to see in the 1960's, when we looked closer we found a modern mall hidden behind a '60s facade. The port area was tastefully modern and there were a couple of luxury hotels and casinos. All in all the downtown is rather nice and hasn't been spoilt by the newer buildings.
Having to buy a new camera in Australia was a bummer, a Fuji Film F70 EXR cost AUS$500 - far more than we would have paid if we had brought it on line in the States. The young lady in the picture is smiling because she has just sold a $500 camera to a tourist who didn't really want to BUY a camera (but had no choice !)
We also brought a mobile phone for AUS$49 with an Australian SIM card for $30 worth of calls. It costs AUS 7 cents a minute to call the U.S. or the U.K. so we will be able to call our Mums once a week to let them know we are alive and still love them.
In the afternoon we visted two of Cairns beautiful beaches. The first, Holloways Beach, was a few minutes from downtown Cairns and was situated in a quiet residential community. There were only a few people on this fantastic beach and we spent a few hours paddling (we started walking out into the ocean and gave up trying to swim because it was so shallow). I stretched out under a palm tree and Paul went for a walk (probably in search of hot women in tiny bikinis) There are about five different beaches in close proximity to Cairns so we decided to visit another called Kewarra Beach which was also located in an upmarket residential community. We walked up the beach and sat and watched people walking their dogs and jogging up the beach. We loved the fact that both beaches had lots of palm and shade trees on the beach. I don't understand why they can't plant a few trees on Cocoa Beach - relaxing on the beach in the shade of a tree is wonderful. The Cairns beaches are also surrounded by mountains - maybe Disney could build a few mountains over on Florida's east coast....
Our hosts Laura and Jon recommended a nearby restaurant for dinner, so we set off in search of Sacred Spice. The atmosphere and food at Sacred Spice were great, but the service was probably the worst we have ever encountered anywhere in the world. There was only one hostess/waitress to serve about 50 people. However in spite of the poor service the evening was very enjoyable.
October 17 - Passions of Paradise
No we did not spend the day in bed. Passions of Paradise is the name of a full day catamaran trip to the Great Barrier Reef. You can't visit Cairns without visiting the Great Barrier Reef, it seems to be the only industry in town and there are many, many companies willing to take your hard earned money to transport you to the Reef. We joined our fellow day trippers who all seemed to be under 35 years of age and set off at 8am for Michaelmas Cay. The terrible stench of bird poop announced the fact that it is also a bird sanctuary. Fortunately when you were in water with your nose covered by a mask and a snorkle in your mouth you could not smell the poop. The coral reef is among the best in the world but Paul and I both agreed we have snorkled in places with more species of fish. After lunch we sailed over to Paradise Reef to snorkle in a much deeper area populated by larger fish and different types of coral. We couldn't have hoped for better weather, the sea was calm and the breeze off the ocean made for a very pleasant sailing experience.
Getting to the reef
We arrived back to the marina in Cairns at 5pm and decided to go to Woolworths to buy a snack for dinner. Unfortunately we arrived at Woolworths just after 5:30 to learn that they close at 5:30. So we went to the bakery and brought two slices of quiche. I'm not a big fan of quiche so we are going to have to plan our meals a little better tomorrow.
October 18 - Exploring the Coast
One of our guide books to the world (left behind in the US) is the "1000 places to see before you die" and one of the 1000 places is an area known as "Cape Tribulation" - named such by Captain Cook because in 1770 he struck a reef twenty five miles north east of the Cape and almost sank his ship, the Endeavour. As the most famous sea captain of the time, this would have been a great embaressment ! Fortunately he managed to make land and fixed his ship. Anyway, it was a place we wanted to see, so we set off North on the Captain Cook Highway which quickly becomes two lane outside Cairns. The road is very pretty - sometimes going high around a hill, sometimes going right down to the ocean. We turned off after about forty miles and headed east to the Cape. The only way to get to Cape Tribulation in a car is by ferry across the Daintree River
Ferry across the Daintree River
Then we drove the only road in the area which is very windy, hilly and in places only wide enough for one car. Not quite as narrow as the roads in the Yorkshire Dales but pretty close. Like the Cook Highway, sometimes it hugs the sea and sometimes it climbs so you can look down. Along the way were various hotels, motels, boat tours and eco-tours but it was obviously very lightly populated and extremely green, even though this is the dry season. In places during the wet season, the road floods but fortunately that wasn't a problem for us.
We finally ran out of road at Cape Tribulation itself, where there is a pretty beach and an overlook of the Cape. We stopped and took pictures and then headed back. It's pretty clear that Cape Tribulation is a place where you could easily spend a week exploring and taking tours, but we were being typical tourists and just did the highlights. Maybe next time !
By now we were getting rather hungry and the other place we wanted to visit on the way back was Port Douglas. Port Douglas is a couple of miles off the Captain Cook Highway, so after crossing back on the ferry, we soon arrived there. Port Douglas is obviously a rather up-market place compared to Cairns. We passed many five star hotels and came to a very pretty main street lined with restaurants, shops, dive shops, pubs and everything else that a tourist might want. We grabbed a quick lunch and then set out to explore the main street. There was a small market taking place at one end, but by the time we had lunch, it was already beginning to shut down. We took a quick tour but didn't see anything that was a "must have".
Kris looking for something to buy
We spent some time wandering along the main street and treated ourselves to an ice-cream - not part of our diet, but it served as dessert for lunch. As were leaving Port Douglas we passed a small steam train and I couldn't help but stop and take a picture !
Steam train in Port Douglas
October 19, 2009 - The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
Hello if you are reading this in the States or the UK - I'm contacting you from the future. As I write this it's 12.30am in Orlando and 5.30am in England on Monday morning, but 2:30pm on Monday in Cairns.
This morning we rode on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway through 4.7 miles of tropical rainforest. In fact according to the brochure it dates back more than 120 million years (the rainforest, not the cableway). This really was a very unique experience and it was awesome to glide above the rainforest canopy and look down on Barrons Falls Gorge and the Barron River. The cableway ends at Kuranda, a quaint village with the obligatory shops selling aboriginal arts and crafts. Unfortunately the Rainforest lived up to its name and the rain detracted from the pleasure of exploring the village. The return journey on the cableway was a bit freaky because we couldn't see more than a few feet out of the cablecar and its was very strange hanging from a cable 130 feet in the air and not being able to see where we were going.
October 20, 2009 - Hiking Stoney Creek and discovering more beautiful beaches
G'day mates. Many of the hotels and pubs have signs outside promoting Pokies. It's been driving us crazy speculating what the heck Pokies are, so we Googled Pokies and found out that they are the Australian name for slot machines or as they call them in England "fruit machines". So if you are going to poke your money in the slot and hope to see matching fruit signs don't forget to set yourself a limit on what you can afford to loose. (Are you reading this Jay?)
The Rainforest Studios are located on Stoney Creek Road and about a mile down the road is the entrance to a section of the Barron Gorge National Park and a beautiful hike along a stoney creek to a fabulous swimming hole. The hike was pretty strenuous as you had to climb over rocks but it was well worth the effort even if I did slip on a rock and bruise my bum!
Stoney Creek Trail
This afternoon we decided to visit some more of Queensland's outstanding beaches starting with the upmarket Palm Cove which I think is my favorite. It sounds like an oxymoron to put unspoilt beach together with small boutique hotels, classy shops and trendy restaurants - but Palm Cove does the best job that I have ever seen of combining all of these elements making it in my opinion one of the best beaches I have ever seen. Nearby Clifton Beach is really an extension of Palm Cove with homes fronting the beach instead of commercial properties. Trinity Beach was a close second to Palm Cove, very nice but not quiet or as upmarket.
Palm Cove beach on a VERY windy day
We leave Cairns tomorrow for Darwin so we stopped off at Woolworths on the way back to the Rainforest Studios to buy two steaks and a bottle of good Australian wine (which costs more here than you pay for it at Total Wine in Orlando). Our dirty clothes are spinning around in the washing machine as I type this reminding me that I will have to iron them before I go to bed tonight. Now if I can only get "Vacation Paul" to do the ironing.