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Published: February 24th 2020
Leaving Adelaide, we flew straight to Cairns. Along with Townsville, Cairns is one of the gateways to the Great Barrier Reef. When Jennie and I were here in 2005 we went to Townsville and took a dive boat boat out 200 miles into the Coral Sea for a week, but we never actually saw the GBR. For this trip, we decided to headquarter in Cairns, where the reef is much closer to the shore. Our hotel was right on the waterfront. Initially, it appeared that there was a big harbor outside our door, but when the tide went out it became apparent that it was actually just a large mud flat with sprouting mangrove seedlings. The harbor was at the end of the city, where there was a large mixed use development that appeared to be only partially occupied.
Although the boat offered both diving and snorkeling, neither Chuck nor I brought our dive certification cards, and thus snorkeling was our only option. As it turned out, that was just fine. I have dived all over the Pacific and Caribbean, and seen reef after reef after reef. I frankly found the GBR, or at least the portion we snorkeled, to
be unimpressive. There is no question that the overall size of the reef is unrivaled, extending some 2300 km and covering an area of about 133,000 square kilometers. It is the largest single structure on earth built by living beings. But on a local level, it is not as impressive as the Flinders Reef system in the Coral Sea, or the reefs of Palau. But I am glad I got to see it, and I must admit that part of my lack of appreciation was the cattle-boat nature of the particular boat we went on.
In addition to the proximity to the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns is also a gateway to the large Queensland tropical rainforest. This is an important forest preserve that is one of the WWF Global 200 ecoregions. The forest here is felt to represent the closest living remnant of the flora that became the entire Australian flora. It is called the Antarctic flora and is currently found here, in New Zealand, and in southern Chile. All of these were connected to Antarctica in the time of the primordial supercontinent Gondwana. At that time, it was much warmer large flora were growing there until late in
the Neogene period (28 million to 2.5 million years ago. Plate tectonics broke up Gondwana, and had a major role in much of what we will be seeing on this trip, especially in New Zealand.
Although there are multiple ways to experience it, we decided on a relatively easy but interesting journey on the Kuranda Scenic Railway. There are several options, but we took the train up into the rainforest, spent some time in the pleasant little village of Kuranda, then took the tramway back. The tramway is a 7.3 km gondola car experience. I have been on many cable cars and gondolas and chairlifts, but never before on one that zipped along the top of the rainforest canopy for this distance. There are stops where you can get off for viewpoints, and during our stop at one of these torrential rains began to fall. We got back into a gondola and proceeded downhill unable for a while to see further than a few feet.
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