A Travellerspoint blog

Monday 21st June - Kuranda and the Rainforest

sunny 29 °C
View Fred & Ginger Go To The Land of Kangaroos... on fredginger's travel map.

After our day of rest today is our first day in the rainforest. About 40 minutes drive from Port Douglas on the Captain Cook Highway is the Skyrail terminal, a cable car taking you above the canopy all the way up to Kuranba, a rainforest village. Fred and I are disappointed to learn there is no glass floor - Mairi and my father are not. Our route will take us up past the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area, the Barron Gorge National Park and the Barron Falls. It was built as surplus to the Kuranda Railway, still in operation, as a quicker and greener way to go up and down the mountain.

Piling into the small cabin we rumble and swing up our first ascent. To start with we are above eucalypt and cycad woodlands with many trees over five hundred years old - you can see right down to the dry, shallow soil underneath as the woodlands were exposed to fire some years ago. Soon however this gives way to a creek valley and much denser, vine-clad trees and more wildlife - birds and butterflies flit above between trees and there are more than a few snakes. There are scores of Banyan trees and emergent Kauri pines, and behind us the view stretches the whole 20 kilometres out past Cairns and the hinterland to the Coral Sea.

We lurch into our first stop - Red Peak Station. There is a small loop here to walk around to get a feel for the rainforest - the main feeling is humidity. The air is so thick at points it feels like breathing treacle - I can only imagine what it's like in the summer proper. Over a boardwalk we find a gaggle of people and a Sky Ranger leaning eagerly over the edge - there is a medium-sized scrub python, about 4 metres long, sunning itself on a rock. We get there too late to get photographs but not to late to appreciate the sheer size of the thing. The guide, with an evil grin, tells us that this one was 'rescued' from local farmers near the rainforest edge after it ate a 35kg goat. Everyone quickly desists leaning over the railing to get a closer look. There is also the massive, 400-year-old Kauri Pine tree, the biggest one in Australia, over 50 metres tall.

We board the skyrail again for another trip over the canopy, this one much closer to the treetops. The rainforest gets more interesting and lush the further we get from civilisation, but it mainly gets louder - at once point we are sailing just a metre or so above the main canopy and actually below some emergent trees and the racket of cockatoos, animals and cicadas is deafening. We also get a glimpse of our next destination - the Barron Falls, and the power station.

Next stop, Barron Falls Station and a longer loop walk, but a more interesting one. We see the vigorous Lawyer Cane, a vine with vicious-looking hooked tendrils so named because once it gets it's mitts on something you can't get it off. We also learn a little more about the natives, the Aboriginal rainforest people of the tablelands, Djanbuganydiji Bama, and their stories of the rainbows that can be seen in the Din Din (Barron Falls) during rainy season:

"Buda:dji (carpet snake), a form chosen by the Rainbow Serpent Gudju-gudju (believed to have created rivers and creeks)used to traverse the range laden with bright miya-miya (Nautilus shells) and trade them for dilly bags with the tablelands Bama. On one of his journeys Buda:dji was followed by three bird men who wanted the shells for themselves but he refused to part with them, believing they belonged to the people of the tablelands. Greed over took them and they ambushed him with stone axes and cut him into pieces, scattering the pieces along the trail where he became a sacred part of the landscape. When the rainbows come when Din Din is in flood, we are reminded of all the gifts of Gudju-gudju and his destruction because of the wanton greed of others."

The traditional homelands of these people stretched all the way from Kuranba to Port Douglas, some 30km north, and they met with the coastal people Yirrganydgi to perform shared ceremonies and share food resources. Both Fred and I feel great sympathy for these people, oppressed so by our own great-great-grandfathers, having taken exquisite care of their reef and rainforest environment since time immemorial only to have their lands and livelihoods taken away by invaders with better weapons and bigger plans.

The Barron Falls are beautiful, all but a trickle this time of year but in the rainy season we are told the whole of the rocky expanse crashes with water. The power station is a green one, dug into the hillside so as to cause as little disturbance to the natural surrounds as possible, and provides a steady 60MW of power to the Queensland grid. It was built in the 1930's, using only a few strung lines and haulage trolleys on crude rails - a horrible task for the workers forced to live in tents and huts battling malaria, diphtheria, snake bite and the perils of the rainforest and construction sites, not to mention the Aborigines, who sabotaged the tracks at nighttime.

The last leg of the Skyrail takes us over figs, wattles and more eucalyptus then over the Barron River - a prime spot for crocodiles, tortoises and water birds but we don't see anything. Kuranda (Ngunbay, meaning 'place of the platypus') lurches into view and is unsettlingly tourist-focused, especially after hearing the stories of the Aboriginal peoples. Nevertheless we grab a bite to eat and then head up to the Kuranda Koala Gardens for some warm and fuzzy goodness. It's not all warm and fuzzy however - we do feed kangaroos and wallabies and stroke Koalas but we see freshwater crocodiles, pythons and the venomous black snake. The gardens are small and we are out in fifteen minutes or so.

Time for a wander through the 'local' markets back to the train - mainly tourist gift shops and Aboriginal artworks, and not all are open as it's not exactly high season. There are some very Australian things here too however - whole baby crocodile backs made into belts, kangaroo-skin rugs and Koala skin pouches complement hundred of varied leather goods. The Crocodile Dundee lifestyle is in full swing here - one shopkeeper relates to us how he sweeps his house every morning for snakes and spiders, and the legs movements required to get away from such creatures if they have nested in your boots for the night.

Kuranda Railway Station is back down the hill by the Skyrail and the train journey is supposed to take approximately an hour and a half. As we sit in the carriage waiting for the off there is some Australian "folk music" by a bloke called John Williamson, something of an Australian legend. I don't know how he achieved this status - the music is somewhere between sea shanty and football song (very Austrlian) but better sung and with some nice guitars to back him up. "Koala, koala, we love you, but we chop down your home, and you run! Koala Koala, where do you go, when we take your gum tree away?" I thought Koalas lived in eucalyptus, not gum trees… I suppose Aussies like this sort of thing, but it bemuses my British brain.

The train journey itself takes us on a winding track through the mountains, over the Barron Falls and through a total of 15 tunnels, all hand-built by the earliest Cairns settlers from 1884-1910. Even completed there were problems with cyclones, unsanitary conditions and accidents - we are told the story of a little girl who had her leg crushed by a falling rock. It took seven days to get her down the mountain, on a mixture of haulage tracks and horseback, to Cairns for treatment but miraculously her leg was saved.

The train is not as scenic as the Skyrail but you are permitted to stand outside on the carriage ends so Fred and I take our cameras out and do our best to snap the glimpses of the view we get from behind the trees. The Stoney Falls are clearly visible and quite beautiful but you've got to be quick to snap the views over the hinterlands and out to the coast. The last part of our journey takes us through the sugar cane and we see numerous curls of smoke where farmers 'burn' the cane to get rid of pests.

Our coach transfer back to the Skyrail entrance offers another interesting look into outback life - houses on stilts, dust and sand, scabby grass and 4WD vehicles with raised exhausts up by the tops of the windscreens and reinforced windows remind us we are in crocodile territory. We also pop through Cairns which turns out to be simply boring - not a complete Karzi*, but nothing really to see or do there.

Our dinner tonight is at a seafood place called Finz and is actually better than last night. Fred and I are intrigued by some things on the menu called 'bugs', attractively, but they turn out to be somewhere between huge prawns and small crayfish. They are also delicious, quickly becoming our favourite shellfish. The rest of the menu is equally delicious and the service superb once more, a poshish place but not intimidating. Gloriously stuffed once more, we are in bed early in preparation for another busy day of beach rest.

  • From the Zulu word M'Karzi, meaning toilet.

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Posted by fredginger 22:26 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Sunday 20th June - Port Douglas Exploration I

semi-overcast 27 °C
View Fred & Ginger Go To The Land of Kangaroos... on fredginger's travel map.

The morning is cloudy and windy but very warm. I am awake early and elect to go on a walk along four mile beach to watch the sun break through the clouds - this is how I know it was windy. I only wandered a little before deciding to do as others were and make it a run instead so I headed back to the apartment to drop off my camera and breakfast, continental-style, on ham and cheese.

Four Mile Beach extends beyond a point and all the way to a four mile marker but I didn't go that far - instead taking a leisurely run about two-thirds of the way up. The waves were quite gentle and the water was sparkling as I ran, barefoot, watching the foamy bubbles being blown up the beach. On the journey back I meet people dog-walking, cycling, running and even kite-surfing - this looks like fantastic fun and something I might have to try.

Back to the apartment and everyone is up and ready to go. Fred and I head to one of the many surf shops in Port Douglas to buy "thongs" (flip flops, not Borat-esque mankinis) and then join Mairi and my father on the beach where the wind is even stronger and the sun still not out but despite this, the Pacific Ocean is as warm as a bath. The lifeguards are also out - it turns out we can only swim between the big yellow and red flags. I ask why. They tell me it's because of rip tides - tidal currents that cause underwater eddies, removing the sand banks about five feet below the water and causing about 130 drownings a year in Queensland - many of them fairly good swimmers.

An hour passes and the clouds are not shifting. Fred and I get bored of cloud-bathing and he wants me to show him how far up the beach I got so we walk instead. Halfway up we find coconuts on the beach and spend about an hour trying to get into one - coconuts, as it turns out, have a hard, fibrous shell layer before you even get to the hard, fibrous coconut. We didn't get into it and were forced to abandon our efforts when I saw something ominous-looking floating in a creek at the back of the beach. Convinced it was a crocodile, I was out of there in two seconds flat, knocking Fred flat but having no effect on the coconut.

Drama over and into town for lunch at Rattle Bar and Grill. Passable pub food, definitely not the best I've ever eaten but Mairi and Fred enjoyed theirs and it was fairly cheap. We also book a table at a restaurant called Bel Cibo for dinner and then head back to lay by the hotel pool (out of the wind but in the sun which has just appeared) for a few hours. Fred breaks out the Fred Flounder again, much to the amusement of some people in the next block on a balcony, who spur him on with whoops and cries of "Come on Pom, you can do it!" He emerges very tired and ready for food after ten lengths of the five-metre pool.

Food that night is set up some steps and looking out over --- Street. Bel Cibo is, as the name suggests, Italian, and we go for the full three courses plus wine, all of which are fantastic. The service is also excellent and the bill reasonable, apart from the wine but I think that's more to do with the vintage than the restaurant. It's all quite rich Italian fair and we all stagger home looking in varying states of food pregnancy before curling up in our beds by 10 o'clock, like the party animals that we are.

Posted by fredginger 22:24 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Saturday 19th June - Flying, yet again

To Cairns!

sunny 28 °C
View Fred & Ginger Go To The Land of Kangaroos... on fredginger's travel map.

Saturday gets off to a bad start when my father and Fred get up at half four to watch the England match, which turns out to be terrible, and we all miss the ferry as dearest father also misread the timetable, meaning we are 15 minutes late. This makes them both very grumpy - Mairi and I help by laughing at the pair of them. Despite the ferry mishap we arrive at the airport in plenty of time, get a culture shock as my (step)parents' suitcase is weighed (27kg! Again!) and then rapture! The Platinum Flyer lounge! Comfortable chairs, soothing music, panoramic views of the airport and the surrounding green areas and free buffet breakfast of toast, pancakes, cereal and croissants, not to mention bottomless tea and coffee. This is the way to fly! After breakfast our flight is called and the dream comes to an end - Fred and I are in economy so we bid our elders and betters goodbye as they disappear behind the swooshingly mysterious business class curtain.

After two and a half hours we are cruising over an aquamarine sea getting ready to land. Cairns Airport is not what you'd call expansive but is land-locked by rainforest which is a stunning sight so close to runways. Baggage, rental car, and out onto the Captain Cook Highway towards Port Douglas, a 50 minute drive away. I hadn't been particularly looking forward to our drive but the highway is set in gorgeous surrounds, the rainforest and grasslands to the left and the sandy beaches of the Pacific to the right. The air smells somehow of holidays - of tropics and sand.

After the prescribed 50 minutes we see a shack labelled "Port Douglas Plantation", which means we must be there. I am thankful we stocked up on waterproof cameras and sun cream before we left as there seems to be nothing at all here apart from sleepy hotels and greenery. We find our lot, the Beach Terraces, and find our key sellotaped to the office window in an envelope with our name on it. Clearly the crime rate is not a problem here. Our apartment is fairly spacious with two ensuite bathrooms and it doesn't take long to get all our stuff unpacked. We are now left with the problem of finding a supermarket or something of the like - the last one we saw was back down at Cairns. Investigation is required, so we all blot on sun cream and head for the beach instead.

Our hotel "campus" is about 70 metres from Four Mile Beach and it is, quite simply, amazing. A huge expanse of light sand stretches around the sea, lined with trees. We also find something that looks like a main road and venture up - it turns out that civilisation does exist here. There are surf and beachwear emporiums, bottle shops and a Coles supermarket so we stock up on breakfast foods and check out the smattering of restaurants. Most are Italian but there is also Chinese, Thai, pub food - even one that is situated a few minutes' walk into the rainforest. We resolve to go out for dinner every night. Back to the hotel again to sample the pools as the beach is now shaded. There are three, two exotic-looking, small, shallow ones in front of the reception with small water features and trees overhead and more clinical-looking one right next to our apartment, for "quiet swimming and sun lazing". There is also a communal barbecue next to it. Fred and I initially make a beeline for the front pools but they are freezing cold having not been in the sun (the sun goes overhead to the north here, not the south, which takes some getting used to) and we opt for the warmer, if less pretty, back pool.

Quiet swimming goes completely out of the window as the Fred Flounder gets underway. He launches himself forwards with an intense frown of concentration and makes frantic breaststroke arms on the surface, kicking his legs up and down as if he were doing front crawl and gradually turning purple from holding his breath despite his head being above water. The result of all this is a huge purple thing splashing it's way vociferously from one end to the other but fortunately only a few times - he gets tired quickly. Our challenge is for Fred to be able to do recognisable granny breast stroke by the time we go snorkelling, but it is looking like an insurmountable challenge. Out, shower, and into town for dinner - a pub called Iron Bar takes our fancy. They offer Aussie grills and steak and I decide to try an entree of emu, crocodile and kangaroo (when in Rome, and all that). The emu is a lot like frying beefsteak, hard to get your teeth into, but the crocodile is more familiar, more like a sort of dense chicken. Kangaroo is by far my favourite. It's gloriously tender, dissolving in your mouth, with a flavour not unlike sweetened beef.

All of a sudden there is commotion and gathering behind us - we hadn't read the signs at the front of the bar that say "Cane Toad Racing, every night at 8pm!" and now there are eager punters, local and foreign, gathered at the back of the restaurant. There are seven creatures involved in the Cane Toad Racing all with names like Aussie Aussie Aussie, Jerry Springer, Fat Basterd and Mr Amazing. There is a $5 fee to be involved (this is put towards humanely eradicating the cane toads from sugar cane farms as they are a huge pest) and then you choose a toad, kiss it for good luck (this is also a requirement of entry) and then proceed to blow your toad with those roll out party whistle things until it hops off the table, whereupon you must catch it and place it in bucket. Two heats into this, drunken Aussies betting left right and centre, we were all laughing our heads off. It was a highly enjoyable evening - cane toads, very nice food, cheap(ish) drinks and good company. We retire to bed in preparation for another day of rest tomorrow.

Posted by fredginger 22:20 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Friday 18th June - Darlinghurst and King's Cross

sunny 15 °C
View Fred & Ginger Go To The Land of Kangaroos... on fredginger's travel map.

Another late morning after all the alcohol last night turns quickly into an early afternoon before we get ourselves together enough to be in Sydney proper. We have opted to explore King's Cross and Darlinghurst today - indie haven, shopping mecca and alternative lifestyle central. Known for years as the red light district, it's been cleaned up a lot in recent times and has been transformed into an area known for vintage clothing and accessories, cheap pubs and underground arts.

We walk through Hyde Park to get to Oxford Street, the main road to get down to King's Cross (where are we again?). It's gorgeous weather again and there are rainbows in the fountain, soft buskers guitar music and Sydney Grammar's schoolboys eating lunch on the grass. Fred is deeply amused by their attire - part of their uniform is shorts and long socks, the poor sods. That wouldn't be so bad in primary school but these all look about sixteen. There are also some women two-footed hopping up sets of steps, which is a very odd thing to see, especially when combined with the avid looks of concentration etched on their fair faces. Sydneysiders are very keen on exercise and there are always scores of people running, boxing, cycling and doing aerobics in the parks but the "Kangaroo women" are a new phenomenon.

Oxford St. is bustling in contrast and lined with shops selling all sorts of goodies - Mexican and Japanese food, skateboards, jewels, and even a store dedicated to Chairman Mao, of all things. There are tattoo parlours, rockabilly clothing stores, lingerie shops and adult stores upstairs and vegan/organic/cultural food places, gay bars and vinyl shops below. Fred finally manages to find himself a pair of sunglasses he likes ("I don't do graduated lenses"/"I think these are women's ones"/"They don't fit on my head"/"How much?!) and I replace the two pairs of jeans I have managed to destroy since we've been away so it's a successful little outing. We get burritos for lunch and read all the posters detailing independent theatre performances, festivals and French films. Everyone we interact with is very friendly and helpful, we even get a cheerful "See ya, Poms!" when leaving a store.

It's a pleasant if uneventful way to spend the day, especially with a hangover. We return to Circular Quay via the Botanic Gardens and my favourite film shop (I'm sure I'm keeping him in business) to stock up on rolls before we are off to Port Douglas, tomorrow! The Great Barrier Reef and Daintree rainforest await, I am excited about seeing all these ecosystems, life and new places. Fred is fretting that he can't swim and that there might be large bugs ("I need to look up what big spiders they have...) but he'll get over that. Future updates might not be so regular folks, but rest assured photographs and ramblings about the Australian tropics will come eventually. First we have to get up early to fly.

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Posted by fredginger 02:04 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Thursday 17th June - The Barracks Museum & Rock The Ballet

10 °C
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Thursday arrives, and with it some of our first crappy weather of the trip. This makes it even harder to drag ourselves out of bed to the shower but it happens in the end and we opt for inside activities for today - Macquarie Street has a few good museums, reportedly, so we hit the ferry and City Extra for breakfast then arduously climb the hill up Macquarie Street. This street is home to the library and art galleries of New South Wales, the conservatories of music and a few lovely old hotels and restaurants, all hand-built by convicts, and it's a nice place to walk around even when it's cloudy and chilly. Up at the end of it is Hyde Park and next to that St. Mary's Cathedral and our destinations - the Mint Museum and the Hyde Park Barrack Museum.

The Mint building turns out to be one corridor of plaques, sovereigns and limestone pillars but it is free and makes for some interesting enlightenments about how Australian currency came to be, or rather that it didn't for a long while. The Barracks Museum is rather bigger and also very interesting once you get into the nitty gritty. Set over three floors it details the experiences and histories of the earliest settlers of NSW, the convicts, the Irish emigrant girls and the military men, all the way from 1800 to 1970. The ground floor is all about the convicts and their jailers, the places they lived, worked and slept in and the things they made for themselves. Artefacts from one of the convict 'hulks' (the transport ships) line the walls of one room and it is haunting to look at dominoes, crosses and love tokens hand-carved, still readable. Most feature names and hearts, one simply says "When this you see, remember me, we will be married, when I am free".

Up on the second floor there are two rooms, the first about emigrants from Ireland during the potato famine, and the conditions endured by the 2,000 Irish girls who came through Port Jackson (Sydney) every year to be employed as maids and cooks by wealthy households. They possessed only three full sets of clothes, one bedspread, two pairs of shoes and one trunk in which to keep personal belongings and reminders of home. All sorts of these things remain - bonnets, socks, prayer books and embroidery. The second room gives a political picture of Sydney 1818-1990 and I am shocked to learn that women in Australia were only grated the right to equal pay in 1973. I am told by one of the museum's curators that Australia is still a quite a sexist nation, perhaps 30 years behind the UK (he lived in London for 20 years). He also says it was to be expected - a nation built almost entirely by men, many of the unscrupulous sort, doesn't want to give up it's hammered-in code of male superiority without a fight.

Three o'clock is approaching so we retreat to the ferry as I have something exciting to do this evening - Rasta Thomas' Rock The Ballet, at the State Theatre. Billed as "ballet with attitude", if it's got anything to do with Rasta it's probably a good fusion of ballet, contemporary, latin and martial arts. He's known for this sort of stuff. I change and hop back on the ferry to join Mairi and co. at Citibank before hopping across the road for a bistro pub dinner, and then together we hop tipsily to the State Theatre.

It is packed out and sold out and the crowd outside is eclectic to say the least - kids as young as seven or eight, boys and girls, pearl-encrusted theatre goers, corporate troops just out of work and the young alternative crowd are all well-represented. The whole thing kicks off on time to "I Gotta Feelin'" by the Black Eyed Peas, and some awesome modern dance. The whole performance is magnificent, done entirely by a cast of seven, six "bad boys" and one "pretty girl". The music is U2, Queen, Prince, Lenny Kravitz and The Dave Matthews Band and the ballet is stunning - a mixture of traditional lines and modern twists given Rasta's signature humour touch - the six boys perform ballroom-ballet to Bizet's 'Carmen' accompanied by blow-up dolls. The lighting and projected backdrops are superb too, from explosions of colour to pinprick stars. It is a spectacular and very cool show (who'd have though ballet could be masculine?) and I'd recommend it to anyone wanting to go to a dance performance.

The evening ends, typically, in the pub, where my father and Fred have already been for a couple of hours. The kickabout this evening is Argentina versus South Korea and two of the chefs are Korean - they are as tipsy as we are and celebrating madly in the corner. By the time 11pm rolls around we are the only people in the place and about to get thrown out anyway so it's home time. Pouring ourselves onto the half eleven ferry is a bit of an event when you're inebriated - I find myself wondering if the rocking is me or the boat. We make it back without anybody falling in and pass out again - this is becoming a bad habit, I think.

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Posted by fredginger 02:02 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

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