Cairns - the end of the road

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January 15th 2016
Published: February 26th 2016
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We left Townsville to travel to Cairns feeling fully refreshed after our week's rest, which was a good job really as we had to set the alarm for 4.15 am to get up in time to catch the bus. The bus didn't leave until 6.45 am and the taxi ride would only take five minutes but we found our travelling was beginning to take its toll (or was it just that we were getting older?) and I now needed at least two cups of coffee, not just one, before I could even contemplate any sort of cogent thought or physical activity.

Now I'm naturally quite proud of being from Yorkshire and am really interested in local accents and dialects but I was amazed when our Danish taxi driver, who had moved to Australia 30+ years ago, immediately asked which part of Yorkshire we were from after my introductory sentence of 'Morning! Greyhound stop, Transit Centre please.' How could he do that?! I don't even think my accent is that strong and the greeting didn't contain any of those flat 'u's or 'a's which are the normal give away. It turns out he had Yorkshire friends who were doing a roaring trade in Australia making and selling things like Yorkshire puddings, parkin and Pomfret cakes and I sounded just like them! The bus arrived on time, Townsville being its originating point, there were only 14 of us to travel initially and, for the first time since Laos, we were the oldest on the bus (not that I'd been checking, you understand)!

This was our last journey on the Greyhounds and it was fitting somehow that the journey took place in bright sunshine through mountains and flatland, inland and coastal areas and it was a real pleasure. We passed through vast areas of sugarcane, mile after mile of it, with constant roadside warnings instructing 'Do not carry sugarcane' so there must have been something particularly nasty living in it. Eventually, the cane gave way to trees and the signs told us that 'pine plantation recovery' was in progress. Don't know what that was all about. We travelled through cassowary country at the Hull River National Park and the signs told us 'Drive with care. Cassowaries use this land' and then there were more of those termite mounds about which there were no signs at all but they didn't seem to be a good thing to have to me. We had a comfort break in Cardwell, which was a beautiful place and at Mission Beach a man clearly older than us boarded the bus, so phew! We arrived in Cairns, on time, at lunchtime and managed an early check in at the Ibis Styles Hotel where we had a bit of a rest before setting off to explore.

We found a wonderful food hall where you could fill your plate with as much of anything you fancied from a Chinese vendor for very cheap and it was a great way to try different combinations (who would have thought that fish balls in plum sauce would be nice, but they were!). A little stroll to the edges of the town's main street took us out of the hustle and bustle into quiet back streets, where we discovered that Cairns has a sizeable population of bats, though nowhere near as many as Hervey Bay, and the esplanade. Once again, the health conscious Australians had access to free keep-fit equipment dotted along the prom and the ubiquitous BBQ areas were present and well maintained though it did strike me that one would cancel out the effects of the other. There was no beach, as such, as the water lapped right up to the breakwall but we noticed that, once again, no-one was in or on the beautiful water. The reason for that, it turned out, was that not only is Cairns blighted with the same stinging jellyfish problem as Townsville but there are also CROCODILES!! Definitely no paddling for me then. I tell you, Australia is full of things that can kill you! Cairns didn't provide any safe swimming netted areas in the sea that we saw (I doubt they would be effective against crocodiles!) but it had built a swimming pool as close to the sea as it possibly could be without being in it. That was very well used but didn't seem quite the same to me.

Our main reason for visiting Cairns was to see the Barrier Reef. I understand that this had started as far down the coast as Rockhampton so we had been travelling parallel with it for some time, but Cairns seemed to offer the best access so Cairns it was for us. How a non-swimmer (me) was going to see the delights of the reef was a mystery but a friend suggested they might do a glass-bottomed boat and she was right, they did! Good-o. We went down to the harbour to book the trip for the following day; the first trip provider we approached had no spaces left (oh no, had we left it too late again?) but the second firm we went to, who did exactly the same trip, had plenty of space so jolly good. Saved me having a little rant about too much to see and not enough time to do it .... We wandered down to the harbour the next day to catch the ferry across to Green Island and, after initially trying to catch the wrong ferry, we were soon on our way.

Now you might think I'd be a good traveller, given how much we've done over the years, but I'm not. If I'm on the ground I'm better (feet/cars/buses/trains) but put me in the air or on the water and I'm rubbish. Nevertheless, I've learned that you can't walk everywhere (see, I'm not daft) and I just take on the chin whatever is thrown at me on the journey with just a little chunter or ten along the way - childish, I know, but it helps me feel better. Happily, the ferry journey across to Green Island was smooth and uneventful, it took about 45 minutes, and the views were really pretty. Apparently, Cairns gets a lot more rain than a lot of other parts of Australia (God help them, if our experience of all the rain everywhere else got was the norm). Everything is green and lush as a result and the sight of the verdant hills rolling down to the edge of the blue water was a real picture. We didn't really disembark when we got there - it was more a case of moving from one boat into another (there's probably a word for that but I don't know it - trans-shipping??), which was a challenge for me as these things don't bob about to the same tempo.

And what a good invention the glass-bottomed boat is! It gave us brilliant views of the reef beneath, we had a knowledgeable commentary from the skipper, we didn't run the risk of getting wet (or drowning, in my case) and we probably saw more than we would have done swimming or snorkelling as we were able to cover more ground, or water, as the case may be. Everyone is very protective of the reef, and rightly so. The boats take great care not to damage it as they travel over it and only move slowly and gently so as not to scare or interfere with its inhabitants. The wildlife we saw seemed totally unconcerned about the activity taking place above them. I don't know too much about marine fish and wildlife but I can tell you that we saw some seahorses, pufferfish, angelfish, sea cucumbers, huge clams, brain coral, sponges, sea urchins, blue fish, green fish, stripey fish, big fish, small fish and all sizes and colours in between. And, we saw TURTLES!! There was lots more that I didn't recognise and couldn't name but they were all wonderful. Just amazing. There were times, and this was one of them, that I had to keep reminding myself that I was on the other side of the world, having the most fantastic experiences, seeing the most incredible things and meeting all sorts of different people and not to forget to appreciate every single moment. Pinch me.

After our trip in the glass-bottomed boat we had leisure time to explore Green Island properly. It is quite a small island but it does have one hotel where a room can cost up to $650 per night! It might be exclusive after all the day trippers had gone but while we were there it was pretty bustling and I'd want a bit more peace and quiet if I were paying that much! Nevertheless, we were able to wander round the island, pretty much on our own and the well laid out paths led us to hidden coves and secluded beaches through thick woodland bursting with birdlife. It was lovely. We caught the last ferry back from the island and were joined by many of the hotel staff and others associated with island activities. I can think of many worse daily commutes to work though the return ferry journey was harder for me than the outgoing one, compounded when we had to wait ages for a cruise ship to set sail. It was somewhat bigger than us, so fair enough, but in the end it took too long to get underway and our captain ignored the rules of the sea (don't do battle with much bigger vessels I'm guessing) and nipped quickly beneath its bows and into Cairns harbour, for which I was thankful.

We returned to our hotel to pack and prep for our departure the next day. Silly things that you take for granted at home can become something of a trial. Printing out our boarding passes for the plane would be a cinch at home but, not being willing or able to carry a portable printer around the world with us, we were relying on the hotels and motels to provide the facilities for us to do this or to do it for us themselves. On this occasion the hotel was willing but the receptionist was unable to get it to print. We reluctantly tried several versions, including a .pdf, a .doc and eventually, in desperation and despite the airline's strong advice to us not to forward the e-mail in its entirety because, you know, lots of confidential/personal information, we just forwarded the whole kit and caboodle to discover that she had managed to get the first version to print anyway. Huh, technology.

Cairns was the end of our journey travelling through Australia. After two months we had just one night left in Sydney before flying on to a different country. As we undertook our travels in Australia, we were struck by the regular occurrence of huge red road signs declaring 'Wrong way - go back' presumably aimed at those drivers who came from countries where they drive on the 'wrong' side of the road. They always amused us because by the time you saw the signs, you had already committed to going the wrong way and trying to go back could only involve some reckless and potentially dangerous manoeuvres. It seemed fitting that one of the last things we saw on our taxi ride to Cairns Airport was one of those signs saying 'Wrong way - go back', seemingly aimed at us. Too late Australia, we're committed ....


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