Australia Trifecta Part II – Cairns, Crocs & Cassowaries -- The Daintree Rainforest
(click on thumbnails for larger pics)
We arrived in Cairns at about five in the afternoon, which I thought would give us plenty of time to get our car, get to the hotel, and enjoy some daylight before collapsing. Sadly, it was not to be. After picking up the car, during which Wendy had to do all the talking since I could only gesture in feeble sign language that even Coco the ape couldn't understand, we began the drive to our hotel. The Royal Harbour Tradewinds Hotel is not an easy one to find, especially since the entrance is not on the street that shares its address. After driving back and forth on the Promenade more times than I care to remember, we finally found the hotel and settled in to enjoy the comforts of home. The hotel was AUS$242 per night. A little expensive, but worth it after the dry and dusty Outback. However, be forewarned there is no luggage service (no big deal for us), and if you want your rom cleaned every day, it's extra. By the way, we booked everything in Cairns through Jane at Visit Cairns. If you have any questions about where to stay or what to do in the area, give Jane a holler. She will take good care of you.
I had wanted to take Wendy to see Reef Teach, a fantastic reef program put on by a hyperactive Irish marine biologist/dive instructor. It is a great way to spend an evening and learn about the Great Barrier Reef, and I highly recommend it. At about 6:45 we were all ready to head out. Unfortunately, Reef Teach starts at 6:15. We decided to hit dinner instead, with a stop at the chemist on the way to see if I could get any relief for my ailing throat. I had really come all this way to dive, but added the Outback as a lark. The thought that I would not be able to dive as a result did not make me happy.
Although I did get some medicated lozenges, I got some quintessentially Australian medical advice as well from the pharmacist: “Throw a couple beers at it. It certainly couldn’t hurt.” Hey…. Doctor’s orders, I have to follow them…. So we went to a nearby Italian restaurant and ordered the afore-prescribed medicine in the form of VBs (Victoria Bitters, for the uninitiated). While they didn’t necessarily help, after a couple of VBs I didn’t quite care so much…. Guess that was the point.
In the morning, after a much-missed café mocha on the Strand, we headed for my “surprise” for Wendy, an hour-long helicopter flight over the reef and rainforest. Sunlover Helicopters, was the same company used by Mark Burnett during the filming of Survivor: Outback. Even the same pilot. And, we saw the very helicopter that lifted that idiot out of the Outback after he killed a pig and fell into the fire. And, as I am reading this, I see how pathetic that sounds.
Because there had been so little rain, the rainforest waterfalls were virtually non-existent.
Left, Cairns from the air, and right, and north towards Pt. Douglas, Cape Tribulation, and beyond.
The flight over the reef was amazing.
Green Island Reef out the window
We passed over Double Island, Sandy Caye and Agincourt Reef. We even did a short touch-down on Sandy Caye. Just us and the seabirds. We also got great views of Green Island. Price for the 1 hour reef and rainforest flight was AUS$449 per.
Conveniently, although we had taken off from the airport, we were dropped off at the Cairns Marketplace. After a traditional Aussie Johnny Rocket's meal and a trip through the very disappointing Cairns Aquarium, it was time to do some shopping. Although we were really just window shopping, I was drawn back to a shop called Ancient Earth. It helped that we were at the end of the fiscal year, with a 20% off sale and free international shipping. We were also entranced by the description of Mimis, something we had never heard of before:
Mimi spirits are believed to inhabit ... the rocky escarpments around Gunbalanya (Oenpelli). They hide within the rocks during the day and emerge at night after blowing holes in them to make doorways. Some Mimis prefer to shelter in tiny caves and crevices. Mimi spirits are extremely shy: at dawn they retreat back into their rocks to sleep, pulling their rock doors shut behind them...Mimis are respected spirits as they are considered to have taught western Arnhem Landers many of their customs and laws and also how to paint and hunt. They are usually friendly and their sexual adventures are renowned as they are believed to have spent much of their time when out at night making love.
They are renowned for being the ones that hide your keys. How could you not fall in love with them? We ended up with two Mimis -- one male and one female -- a turtle drawing, a boomerang and click sticks.
That afternoon we drove up to Crocodylus Hostel, a YHA hostel set back in the Daintree Rainforest. I stayed here in 1999 and really wanted to share it with Wendy. Because it is technically a hostel, you have to reserve judgment until you see it.
It was exactly as I remembered. There are ten or so sturdy cabins sheathed in green tarp material. The cabins blend in very well with the rainforest background, and the interior, although completely covered, is open to the elements. Including the huge Golden Orb and Huntsman spiders, both of which can grow as large as your hand.
Our cabin was named Satin Ash, and had a huge Spurwood Mahogany tree to one side, and an enormous Strangler Fig right out the front door.
The view out the front door wasn't bad either...
In the center of the hostel is the restaurant and bar area, and delicious meals are served here three times a day. Happy hour is 6-7:30, and beer is $2AU per. A very tasty end to the day…… There is also a self-serve kitchen with a large refrigerator, stove, and all utensils, so you can cook your own meals, bring your own treats, sodas, etc. We had stopped at a market in Cairns for this purpose, and had our own supply of food for those "in-between" times. Simply mark your food with your name and departure date and store it in one of the many cubby holes. Everyone is on the honor system here, and it would be rare if your food was taken. Laundry machines are available for $2 per wash, $2 per dry. There is also a pool area, games room, travel booking and internet access.
The common area is a great place to relax and talk, enjoy a VB, read, do a puzzle, or just veg after a long day of hiking, swimming, horseback riding, kayaking, croc watching, bat feeding, or whatever else it was you did that day. It's also a good place to meet other travelers, and hear about where they've been, where they're going, or where they're from.
The best time is midnight, when the generators are shut down and the sounds of the night rainforest descend on you, and you suddenly realize that it’s been exactly this way for millions of years. The Daintree is judged to be one of the oldest rainforests on the planet, since the ice age never covered this part of the world. As a result, some of the trees you see have ancestors dating back to the time of the dinosaurs. There is even a flower that has been said to be the first flowering plant ever.
Unfortunately, night time is also when the Orange Footed Scrub Fowls come out to scream at each other. Just like the Howler Monkeys in Belize, these birds have an uncanny knack to choose the very moment that you fall into a deep sleep to scream at one another. These birds are also very smart. They build huge compost piles – the largest one we saw was five feet high and 15 feet in diameter – into which they lay their eggs. They monitor the temperature of the pile with their beaks, and add or remove compost as necessary to regulate the temperatue. Like crocodiles, they instinctively know which sex the species needs at that time, and they know what temperature will produce that sex (crocodiles have even been known to delay ongoing gestation, depending on whether the species needs a male or female). Amazing.
Another incredible relationship exists between kingfishers and the termites that build their mounds in the rainforest. The birds will fly head first into the mound, creating a hole in which they will lay their egg (that is, if they survive the impact). The termites, sensing the damage, will repair the hole, thereby enclosing and protecting the egg. When the chick hatches, it has a huge supply of food – in termites – and can grow strong before breaking its way out of the mound. Which of course will be promptly repaired by the termites.
Then there're the plants. This bush on the right has leaves that like to hold onto the wait-a-while vines in order to move around the rainforest.
We took part in some of the activities offered, including a night walk through the rainforest with Possum, a local guide, and saw cool stuff, including this stick bug..... and Huntsman spider
.... and a daytime botany walk led by a young idealistic local named Adam. The hostel has set up an “orange rope walk,” a self-guided walk through the rainforest indicated by, what else, an orange rope. Rates at Crocodylus were AUS$65 per night for a roomy ensuite double. Shared dorm room style accommodations are much less. Although the double comes with a mosquito net over the bed, I don't think I saw a single mosquito the entire time we were there. Breakfast and lunch are AUS$6, and dinner is AUS$9.
The local beach, about two miles down the road, is called Cow Bay. We had a rental car, so local transport was easy, but the hostel also provides regular shuttle service to the beach, the rainforest interpretive center, and other local sites. There are also single speed bicycles for rent. I spent a day in 1999 riding from Crocodylus to Thornton Beach and back, past signs warning of wild Cassowaries (large, indigenous birds with razor sharp claws on their feet, that have been known to attack humans) and estuarine crocodiles (although formerly known as saltwater crocodiles, they are now called estuarine crocodiles since they do swim up fresh water rivers, or estuaries). Saw neither cassowaries nor crocodiles, although it does make you ride faster........
This is a cassowary.... at the zoo.
During a beachcombing walk along Cow Bay beach one day, we ran across hundreds of cuttle bones. The cartilage of cuttefish, those of you with birds know these are used by birds to sharpen their beaks. Here they were, the only remains of hundreds of cuttlefish strewn across the beach with the shells, driftwood, and other items washed up on the beach.
We also visited some other local attractions. At the Daintree Ice Cream Company we ate wattle seed ice cream (tastes like mocha). At the Bat House we fed apples to Old Boy, a flying fox rescued by the bat house personnel to add to their coterie of rescued flying foxes. Flying foxes are very cute, if a little smelly (just like baby camels and, as we were to find out, koala bears). Suggested donation $2AU. You can feed the bat, but you have to be on your guard here. Flying foxes suck the juice out of the apple piece, then seconds later spit the pulp out. Perhaps on you. We also all know that bats hang upside down. Here’s a hint, if you see a bat hanging right side up, well, just think about which opening is then facing down…..
Unfortunately, our crocodile cruise on Cooper Creek only yielded two crocodiles.
We also went to Cape Tribulation, purportedly named by Captain Cook after losing a ship there. It is a nice crescent shaped beach, but I liked Thornton Beach, halfway between Crocodylus and Cape Trib, better.
After three nights of Jungle bliss, we headed out for the five hour drive down to Townsville. And the Spoilsport.
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