Thursday, January 4, 2001
By 8:30 the next morning we were aboard the Cairns-Kuranda Railway making our way back up to the tablelands. The railway was originally built at the behest of tin miners as a way to run supplies and product between the mines and the coast. The railroad, completed in 1891, follows the Barron River valley. The track climbs over 1000 feet via 15tunnels, 93 curves and dozens of difficult bridges, from Cairns to the town of Kuranda. Along the way, the train stopped at Barron Falls so everyone could get a look at the most spectacular feature of the river that cut the valley we were ascending. At the top, Kuranda, is now a tourist’s shopping haven with art, gift and collectable shops spanning a wide range of economics and goods. Also there are a butterfly sanctuary and a aviary. We dutifully spent a few Yankee dollars before we left.
The way home was via a cable car called Skyrail. This 4.7mile trip skims the treetops and spans the valleys on its way up and down the mountain. It affords excellent views of the rainforest and the coastal plain. It also has two stations where you can get off to view the Barron falls from the other side of the river and explore a dense area of rainforest vegetation.
At the bottom of Skyrail is Tjapukai (try dropping the “T” to pronounce the name), an Aboriginal cultural park. We toured the facility, which did an excellent job of giving the visitor a cursory understanding of the history, beliefs and white man’s atrocities as they affected the aboriginal peoples of this area and, by extension, the rest of the continent’s native population. This was accomplished in two theater presentations. The rest of the park attended to more popular themes including traditional and modern song and dance, use of herbs, playing the didgeridoo(cool!) and throwing spears and boomerangs. We were tired by the time we entered this park. It was well done, but we thought it too structured with little opportunity for self paced exploration and learning.
That evening we had dinner at an Italian restaurant on the beach and returned to the apartment to collapse and, again, be ready for the next day’s event.
Friday, January 5, 2001
The wind was finally forecast to be under thirty knots and this would be our last opportunity to get out on the outer Great Barrier reef to snorkel and dive. Our tour was aboard Reef Magic, a medium-sized (22 m) fast (25 kn)catamaran. We boarded and got underway for the reef, a 90minute run. Along the way the friendly, efficient crew performed all the necessary safety briefings and pre snorkel and pre dive instruction. Once on the mooring at the day’s site we were issued the necessary gear, optional wet suits and off we went.
We were on a pretty section of the reef, but the going was still a little rough. Though it didn’t blow 30, but it started out about 25 and tapered to 20 by day’s end. The water was rough in spite of the low tide level and we had a bit of difficulty learning to keep our snorkels clear. Finally, we acclimated a bit and had a pretty nice time. Bill signed up for a free introductory SCUBA dive and had a good enough experience to sign up for a second dive before the day was out. The diving was especially nice because the water was calm below the surface. Sandy also did a glass bottom boat ride which gave a really nice view of the coral and fish.
Five hours, two teas, lunch and lots of water time later we headed back to Cairns. Seventy sunburned, windburned, waterworn folks got to watch a video of their antics taken during the day’s activities by the boat’s resident underwater videographer. Nice!
Saturday, January 6, 2001
We repacked our gear. Sandy went to prowl the local shops, including one that will custom make swimwear in two days, and found two new sun dresses that she couldn’t pass up. After spending just ten minutes sitting by the Palms pool it was time. We said farewell to our gracious hostess, Bev Palmer, and jumped into the van with Tom for the ride back to the airport and our return flight to Melbourne and the McAllisters embrace.
Five hours later we were met by Steve, Ryan and Brett who’d spent the afternoon on a golf outing. We loaded our gear in with their clubs and headed straight away to the house. Mary met us and whipped up one of her patented “this isn’t really a meal” delights that we devoured out on the deck as we compared notes from the past four days and discussed our three-day trip to the western beaches that would commence the following morning. After agreeing that 11:00 was our target time for departure the next morning, we headed off to dreamland.