Cairns: An affair with water and wildlife

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September 12th 2012
Published: September 12th 2012
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We set out on the long day journey to Cairns with one thing on our minds- find kangaroos! We did spot a giant mango- something someone started in Coffs Harbour with a giant banana and there are now over a dozen around the coast randomly at small towns and we were happy to have seen at least one! Unfortunately we only saw two indigenous animals but these were roadkill- a kangaroo and a wombat. Ah well to the hostel. Which to be honest was quite good with a few amenities including a free dinner at a local pub in the town centre. In true backpacker style we couldn't turn this down. Buying the obligatory drink we happily supped on beer and cider and got plate of spaghetti with cream sauce and tomato sauce. The verdict- well we couldn't finish it, it wasn't huge no, disgusting! What did we expect though!

We had hired a car for our first full day to ease us back into driving, luckily it's on the left as in the UK! We had researched our route to go to the waterfall circuit and see a bit of the Tablelands. A volcanic area between an hour and two hours south of Cairns centre. Lots of hills and mountains surrounded by the rainforest. We got given an advertising map and Lauren quickly spotted a chance to do her only regret of the entire trip, hold a koala! We sussed out a route and drove the half hour north of Cairns. The reason we could fit this in- we were given an extra two hour rental period, result! We passed through a beautiful town and arrived at the aptly named "Koala Garden Sanctuary" we paid our entry and Lauren paid the extra $16 to have a picture with the cuddly animal. We got a few extra treats though, watching freshwater crocs scramble over one another, loose iguanas and lizards wandering around plus hand feeding kangaroos which was definitely a Brucey! Lauren's big moment came and she was handed Fred to cuddle! He was so soft and cute just like you would imagine, a little heavy so lauren had to lean back meaning she looks pregnant in the photos! But it was an awesome experience and his claws didn't hurt like you would expect, the guides were great allowing Ben to take extra shots and letting Ben come up in the photos and stroke our new friend! Fred was wonderful posing perfectly and snuggling in obviously wanting to have a gum induced sleep as per usual!

We left with Lauren having the biggest smile ever! It cost less than half of what it would have in Brisbane and it was the one thing she wanted to do! Which was enough to satisfy Ben! We drove around the corner to see our first waterfall of six! A nice walk through the rainforest with one eye for snakes we were becoming a bit to accustomed to! We drove out again basically making our way inland through the entire Tablelands till we got to our ultimate destination of the Waterfall Circuit. The Tablelands themselves we a real home comfort, just like driving through the Lake District back home. Except seeing bits of rainforest as you do in these parts! We passed some interesting towns that seem to come from the land that time forgot and some great viewpoints. It was a main highway but single lane and stunning scenery, nothing like our motorways back in the UK.

We stopped at a bakery for lunch before arriving at Millaa Millaa around 2. These are the most photographed falls in the country and seeing as there were around twenty just in this one area that was saying something! They are the star of the Quantas ads and XXXX beer and of course Peter Andre's "Mysterious Girl" video from yesteryear! The water cascaded in one clear drop from 70feet into the pool below. Miraculous considering it is completely natural from a volcanic eruption 1.5million years ago! Ben took to the water despite the day not being its usual 28degrees and did the obligatory Peter pose hand through hair! Ha did he look good! He made out to the fall and heard the deafen of the water as he scrambled on the slippy rocks getting some great shots from Lauren.

We left here after drying out and hit the the other two falls in the circuit, you can't swim here but they were still as pretty to see, the volcano activity again creating these but with differing rock layers as one would expect. We also drove to two others a little way north passing more viewpoints. One was more rapids and the other was a series of pools on different levels that had created almost smooth slides but the water didn't seem very deep as they are currently suffering from the worst drought on record so we gave it a miss after photographs. We enjoyed the rest of the journey north practically seeing the entire Tablelands and all surrounding villages and stopping at a K mart for some shopping as Lauren's trousers had been ripped in the washer, sorry mum! We passed on dinner and having briefly spoken to Lauren's mum for the first time in over six weeks we settled with an early night before our 6am start in the morning.

The alarm sounded too early for Ben as he saw Lauren already ready and waiting, she really cannot sleep well when we have a deadline! We headed to the marina and boarded our big catamaran sailing us around two hours to the outer parts of the Great Barrier Reef. We travelled to two different reefs, Michaelmas Cay and Paradise Reef, the latter solely for our tour company but the cay was pretty quiet anyway! We undertook our snorkel hearing and Lauren listened to the scuba one as they offered a free ten minute scuba where if you liked it you could undertake a thirty minute dive for $70, again out of budget but when else are we gonna be here?! She tried to convince Ben but he felt he would be claustrophobic and didn't want to miss out on time snorkelling.

We got in the cold (!) water after being dropped on the beach. This was basically a small sand flat out of the shallow water that was actually a bird sanctuary known to home over 70,000 birds! We rode over in a glass bottom boat and got our first glimpse of the magnificent reef. It was a struggle to put flippers on in sand with mini waves crashing at your feet and we hobbled backwards, luckily all of us looking stupid together! Once in the water we amazed at how shallow it was and how close we were to the reef, we could touch it, although asked not to as even a small amount that breaks off could take twenty years to regrow and you never knew was was lurking within the soft coral as it swayed on the sand bed! We saw some amazing fish, both tiny schools of electric blue plus bigger fish around three feet long and Ben even saw a small shark! It's all good though, of the 400 in the species only four are actually dangerous! Lauren flipped back to the boat after being slightly scared as there was quite a surge in the water making you dip a bit under and she was scared of swallowing too much salt water! Plus the scuba was to start!

She got kitted up and looked hilarious - one photo is still cracking us up! Feeling very nervous she hobbled up, the weight of the oxygen tank nearly seating her back down! You are told to walk to the jump off section and walk out onto the water where you will drop then float and no longer feel the tank! It was all correct but Lauren does not like jumping in the sea with large fish not moving away! And we mean large at least 20 pound size fish! Still she did it and underwent the ten minute training of proving you could use the equipment, equalise your ears and how to breathe etc. She succeeded and although felt a bit claustrophobic, not something she suffers from, wanted to do the dive having agreed with Ben prior that it was ok! Off she went arm linked with the instructor and swam down roughly six meters. Two Japanese people were on the other side who took a camera. At one point Lauren had to come up as they kept pushing her into the coral as they wanted to get photos and Lauren got really pissed off! But they went down again spotting Nemo in his anemone house and gorgeous white sand fish that literally rose up out of the sand perfectly camouflaged! We didn't see any turtles sadly but as we had swum with them in Whitsunday's we weren't too upset. After the dive Lauren was frozen so we tucked into our warm buffet lunch and she lay down to warm up!

We arrived at the other site but Lauren just could not get back in the water so instead sunbathed on the trampoline netting at the front of the boat as Ben went to take some last pictures with the disposable camera, he was glad Lauren didn't come in, as although it was stunning, the sea was really rough here and no beach/island to retreat to. We arrived back in port around 5 and headed back to wash the sea away and chat to Ben's parents for the last time before we see them in a few weeks.

And so here we are, at Cairns airport on the 12th September our affair with Australia coming to an end. We fly to Sydney then onto Christchurch later today. We are gutted to be saying goodbye but definitely leave with no regrets, just a full itinerary if we make it over this side of the world again! We had an amazing time, spent far too much money, ate too much soup and noodles and had one too many sleepless nights in a dodgy dorm but all in all we are in love with this country. We didn't appreciate the sheer size of it but as with most things beauty is underestimated. We would come again in a heartbeat if it wasn't so far away and maybe the biggest beauty in things is seeing them for the first time which you don't get again. But if anyone does find themselves here and wants a guide let us know where to sign up! And also sign up to a big loan!

Things of note:

Cairns is pretty much a small town on the map due to the area, most people do tours for the following- Great Barrier Reef, Daintree Rainforest, Cape Tribulation, Tully river rafting and the waterfall circuit. Quite a big draw but nothing actually in the centre!

Koalas actually smell really bad, but you get over it when you know you are holding one!

There is a lot of farmland here but no big houses at all, just very modest farm houses and shacks really!

The land is so great that the farmers have a whole set of train tracks to move crop over! We aren't sure who commissioned this but we saw it on the edge of fields the whole drive up from Airlie! It looks like a model train line and you have to keep a good look out while driving as they can appear behind a huge high row of corn etc!

Kangaroos love to jump around on golf courses, although we didn't see any we did try and pass a few craning our necks as we did!

Cairns was home to a huge amount of huge crazy trees! They looked like the ones the Rainforest Cafe would create, with many branches all interweaves with one another! We felt like we had been transferred into the Jungle Book!

What would we do differently:

We could have had a few more days here to go to the rainforest but we feel we have seen enough of what is to offer. We didn't want to water raft here saving that for somewhere else.


Near Misses: can you count a shark?!


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