I’m long overdue to blog the great trip we took over the holidays to the Great Barrier Reef at the end of December. The best part about the trip was that Vic and Elaine were meeting us in Cairns, but the trip itself was great, too.
Invisible and Silent R’s
First a lesson in pronunciation in Oz. Cairns is pronounced “Cans.” The R is silent in Australia. Almost all R’s are silent in Australia, you just sort of mumble through it. Melbourne? Hell no, it’s pronounced “Melbon.” But never fear, Aussies conserve those R’s and stick them on the end of all words that end in a. Lisa is called “Lis-er” by her colleagues. Australia is “Aus-trayl-yur”. So the circle of life continues – every R not pronounced in one word re-appears in another. It’s a thing ar beauty.
Good times despite weather
We rode SkyRail into the rainforest, which lived up to its name by dumping a torrential flood on us on the return trip. A big selling point of SkyRail in Cairns is that there are places to get out and walk in the rainforest. This turned out to be the biggest disappointment as we discovered you could walk about 100 meters total, on a constructed walkway, and were not allowed to leave the walkway. Lame. The SkyRail ends at the biggest tourist trap I’ve encountered in Australia, in Kuranda, which must be a First Australian (aborigine) name for “Place to sell crap to foreign people.” Actually the SkyRail gift shop wasn’t that bad… The view into the rainforest from the SkyRail car is fantastic – getting to look down into a rainforest is pretty cool, even though the activity is about as touristy as they come.
After checking into our hotel, taking a swim, and picking up Vic and Elaine from the airport, we hit “the Night Markets,” which Vic and Elaine were very excited about because they had “crazy food that Asians like to eat.” We went along for the spectacle and I think Vic and Elaine might have ended up eating a meat pie by the end of the night. Let’s just say the Night Markets are not that great.
We took the ferry to Fitzroy Island our second morning, where we had a half-day sea kayaking tour. Vic and Elaine did fine, but another couple on our trip held us up. The snorkeling was great, and Lisa and I found another beach to snorkel on after the tour, returning to find Vic and Elaine sleeping against each other at the resort on the island. The ferry ride back brought more rain, and after cleaning up we headed to Ochre in Cairns. Despite a full on ant-attack (no kidding, I had about 30-40 ants on my leg in under 5 seconds), the dinner was excellent – Vic and I split the Australia platter. Previously I had avoided eating any of the giant rat varieties in Australia (kangaroo, wallaby, etc) but took the plunge. Kangaroo was excellent, though apparently it’s very difficult to cook well. Ochre did a great job. I was the only one who enjoyed the crocodile.
Great Barrier Reef
If you only remember one thing from this post, it’s that if you ever want to snorkel (not dive) the Great Barrier Reef, go with Wavelength. Boat with less than 30 people on it, and they take you to great spots. As soon as we got in the water, I shot off, duck diving (where you hold your breath and shoot underwater to swim for a ways before surfacing for air) down a channel I found in the reef. I kept following the channel, amazed at the colors of the reef. More fish were in the channel than out, so I kept going. After about 10 or 15 minutes, I noticed a swimmer right next to me – one of the crew. We surfaced and he said “You’re a pretty strong swimmer. But you’re not supposed to get separated from the rest of the group.” I looked back and saw that everyone else was in a little cluster within 100 meters of the boat, I was almost a km away.
While I think the fish in Grand Cayman were actually more interesting, the reef colors in the Great Barrier Reef (say it like an exclamation and it’s a lot more entertaining) were incredible. Definitely a great experience, and all the swimming wore me out. Of course it began to rain on the way back. We grabbed dinner at a crappy pub in Port Douglas and then I drove the dark, windy, waterlogged highway back to Cairns.
Atherton Table Lands
Our last day we left Vic and Elaine in Cairns and despite the advice of TLC, we went chasing waterfalls in the Atherton table lands. Usually, a scenic drive is useless to me unless it’s getting me somewhere, but I have to admit I enjoyed a lot of the drive. We saw the Curtain Fig Tree, Cathedral Fig Tree, Lake Eacham, Lake Barrine, and the three waterfalls along the route. We thought it might involve some hiking to get to the waterfalls, however there was a nearby car park (parking lots) next to each one. We returned to meet Vic and Elaine at the airport.
All in all, the Great Barrier Reef was excellent. Though it doesn’t rate anywhere near my top ten list of natural wonders. If I had to do it all over again, I might stay in Port Douglas or one of the islands off the coast, but I’ve heard that both are snooty.