Exploring Australia Part 2: Cairns

October 7, 2013

This post should really be titled The Animal Post. You’ll see.

We landed in Cairns around 10am, after another really early morning at the airport. It was about 29 degrees (84ish) and amazing. We tried not to be too annoyed when the rental car company took over an hour to pick us up from the airport (looking at you Ace Rental Cars). Then we checked in to the hotel and I saw that the room I had really been looking forward to was on the second floor, had a weird kid’s bed next to the normal one, and overlooked the parking lot and roof. And all of this is where I’d be spending my 3rd wedding anniversary. How disappointing.

So after a little encouragement from Scott (who knows me all too well), I bothered the concierge who cheerfully upgraded our room for $20/night. I didn’t even tell him it was our anniversary, not that I’m sure that would help… anyways, we went from scummy parking-lot viewing porchless weird kid-bed room to this:

Needless to stay, I became quite impressed with the Mercure, and would highly recommend it only if you upgrade to a 7th (top) floor room. The new room had high ceilings, was way bigger, had the balcony overlooking pool and ocean, and even had a Nespresso. And had a sofa instead of a weird little kid bed. Worth every penny of 20 bucks! See my Trip Advisor review here.

Anyways, day one was spent exploring the city and the botanical gardens. I think that’s also the night we both slept 12 hours! A bit of recovery was in order.

Massive spider in the botanical gardens. They should warn you about those…
A gecko being shy…
Up in the trees we saw this bizarre ladder… it crosses the road, and we can only assume is the safe way for possums to cross. They’re protected in Australia! (Hunted with enthusiasm in NZ.)

Cairns was kind of your typical touristy city. A massive hotel to actual population ratio, lots of beachy stores and gelato stands. One unexpected sight though, was the thousands of bats that inhabited the trees right down town. They were very noisy in the mornings and evenings, very active at night, and there was a certain musk around certain parts of the city, under certain trees. Scott loved ’em.

The next day was our anniversary (in New Zealand/Australia). It also turned out to be one of my two favorite days. My other favorite was the following day- our American anniversary date. So anyways, on Sept 25 down-under-time we drove up to the Atherton Tablelands. The scenery here drastically changed from tropical to dry. But beautiful in its own way. 
We stopped to do a short hike in the jungle before reaching the Tablelands. It wasn’t the most epic hike (we were looking for pythons, they were elusive), but we did see some beautiful jungle and flowers… and we met the bush turkey for the first of many, many, many times.
Gummy snake…?
These basket ferns were everywhere. Im still not sure I like them.

After the hike we made it to the tablelands… home of kangaroos, wallabies, and my new favorite animal.

The platypus! Move over orca, you aren’t nearly as weird and cool as the platypus.

Did you know that the platypus is a mammal? Sure it has a bill, lives in the water, and lays eggs… but it is a mammal because the young drink mom’s milk. It is one of 5 animal species like this- known as monotremes. It is also one of the few venomous mammals. The males have a pocket of poison tucked into their hind leg, and can resort to it when warding off predators. So cool.

Also… they swim and hunt with their eyes, ears, and nose closed! They have a “high tech bill” which uses electrolocation to detect electric fields- which are put off by the muscles contracting in their prey. Lastly, that big ‘ol tail they have is just a big storage of fat. Their legs do all the swimming and steering. The fat pad in females is for mom to live off of while the little ones are feeding. I’m not sure what dad’s fat tail is for- but I imagine it’s for bapping baby platypus on the head when they misbehave.

Right- that’s the most technical information I learned on my holiday. Back to your regularly programmed information-free photo stream:

Termite mounds everywhere. Kind of gross.
Ok I know this looks like nothing but that dark lump in the middle/ left is a black cockatoo and he is very noisy.

While at an information booth somewhere, we got a coupon for a free tasting at “Australia’s Only Craft Distillery”. And since it was about 5 minutes out of the way, we decided to check it out.

…and I forgot to take a photo of it, but it was a huge let down. The “tasting” was literally about 3 drops of rum in a medicine cup for Scott and I to share. The prices were astronomical, and the lady clearly knew nothing about the product. But the upside? Going on that 5-minute detour lead us out of the way to a place called Granite Gorge. We figured anywhere with that name must have pretty cool views and maybe a good hike. What we didn’t know it had was…
They were all wild wallabies, but tamed quite a bit by being constantly fed by tourists. There was a fee to get into the gorge, which included a map (which was quite helpful, actually) and wallaby food.
Clearly very fierce animals.
Scenery at Granite Gorge
Mama and joey! Watching her bounce around with him in there was pretty cute!
Wild and dangerous animals. We are very brave.
Kookaburra silhouette

On our way out of the gorge we saw our first and last kangaroos. They’re pretty hard to spot in the picture… thankfully we had binoculars so we could get a good look at them.

You can’t see those kangaroos? Look harder! Hint: there’s 2.

The next day we went out to the Great Barrier Reef (my other favorite day). This is by far the most under-documented part of our trip, because we didn’t cough up the money for an underwater camera. Google the Great Barrier Reef, and you’ll see exactly what we saw. Coral, fish, anemones… all different shapes and colors and sizes. It was overwhelmingly beautiful.

We chose our tour with Passions of Paradise based on it’s option to scuba dive, it’s endorsement by National Geographic, and because it’s eco-certified at the highest possible level. It also received 5/5 stars from all happy customers, and that definitely included us.
The catamaran used by Passions is much smaller than most of the reef boats. This obviously means less tourists aboard. Scott and I are both novice divers. We attended a mandatory education lesson (about 20 minutes) during the sail out to the reef, and we had a guide with us the whole time we were diving. That was the amazing thing about the small tour group though- Scott and I ended up getting a guide all to ourselves. We are both strong swimmers, which allowed the guide to take us all over and show us cool stuff. We found turtles and clown fish (think Finding Nemo)… but unfortunately no sharks.
After diving we had lunch and changed locations, and then hopped in for a snorkel. The water was about 26 degrees (80) and if snorkel masks didn’t always and inevitably give me a headache, I could have stayed in for hours. The reef is really so, so incredible. On the trip back one of the staff gave a short but interesting presentation on the animals in the reef, and everyone aboard enjoyed a beverage or two.
Sailing back to Cairns
Below are the only real photos I got from the trip to the reef, I was too busy in the water!
Fish feeding frenzy when Scott threw one little chickpea from lunch into the water!
We only spent 2 nights in Cairns and our fancy ocean view room- and I definitely wished I had booked it for longer. We also only spent one (full) day at the reef. At the time it felt like enough, but I already can’t wait to go back.
Both nights we were in Cairns we ate at the same burger joint. Amidst all the tourist trap restaurants and take-away places, there’s an awesome burger spot called Grill’d. It is the creation of an Aussie guy who believes in good, fresh meat and veggies. It’s now a massive chain restaurant, but I really felt quality was preserved. Everything we ordered there was amazing.
So that’s it for Cairns. The next day (and my next post) we headed a mere 20 minutes north to Kewarra Beach!

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