Cairns - reef and rainforest

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May 4th 2016
Published: May 4th 2016
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C: So as our time in the Whitsundays came to an end so did our 6 months adventure together. We flew back to Brisbane together and then Roger left for Home via Abu Dhabi. I had a night in an airport hotel before my flight to Cairns the next day.

Brisbane had felt fairly cool but on arrival in Cairns I was hit once again by the warmth and humidity of northern Queensland. It had been a nice flight and I was lucky enough to see Whitehaven beach again from my window seat. I only had a couple of days to spend in Cairns so I headed out from my accommodation quickly to explore and to book the next two days' activities. My principal purpose in coming to Cairns was to go out to the reef so I booked a boat trip that would take me out and give me plenty of snorkelling time. I was also keen to explore the rainforest and so booked a trip on a combination of scenic train and gondola that had been recommended by several people. More of that later.

The boat trip was another early start and we were on the water by 8.30am. It was a big boat with a lot of passengers but there was plenty of room to move around. There are huge numbers of Asian tourists in Cairns, over half of the passengers on the boat were Asian and some struggled with the complicated safety forms we had to fill out. Most of the announcements were done in both English and Chinese so clearly the Australians are getting more geared up for these visitors but I did feel that maybe the complicated forms should have been in Chinese too. I'm sure similar ones in China would have an English translation! It took less than 90 minutes to get to the first reef stop and togged up with snorkel, flippers and stinger suit I jumped off the boat to explore. Since my first experience of snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef in 2007, I've never again seen really vibrant and colourful coral and so I was very hopeful that it would be here. There were some bright colours but generally the coral was various shades of brown. The onboard marine biologist informed me later that this meant it was healthy but I was still a little disappointed. The fish, however, were amazing. Hugely varied in colour and size, they were stunning. There were some really huge ones and some with fairly big teeth that I swam away from rather rapidly. Most seemed very unfazed by the sudden appearance of blue-suited snorkellers and so I was quickly surrounded by a huge array of them. You seem to lose sense of time in the water and so I was quite surprised when I got out that nearly two hours had passed. I had time for a bit of sunbathing on the deck before the BBQ lunch and then it was on to the next reef. Snorkelling again and this time the coral was more varied. Still not colourful but the different shapes and textures were beautiful. While the boat was moored here there was the chance to go on a semi-submersible boat so I do this. It allowed you to see more of the coral shelves which was great. We also found Nemo which was very popular! After this the boat headed back to Cairns and we were given wine and cheese along with some slightly dubious entertainment by a crew member aptly named Elvis! I arrived back, tired and salty, but having had a great day.

My flight to Perth was the next day but not until the evening so I went to visit Kuranda, a village in the rainforest behind Cairns. Much of the fun of going to Kuranda is the getting there, either by vintage railway or gondola over the forest. I booked a ticket that allowed me to do both, one mode of transport each way. The railway journey was great - very slow as it was going uphill but with lots of attractive viewpoints along the way. When the line was built, over a hundred years ago for the mining communities, it was a major feat of engineering and you could still see that today. We went through about fifteen tunnels, lots of bridges and in many places there were sheer drops where the space for the track had been carved out of the mountain. We passed some impressive waterfalls and were given time to get out and take the obligatory photos.

On arrival at Kuranda the heat really hit me again and I trudged up the hill to the village in search of somewhere air conditioned. It was clearly quite a traditional village but, like a lot of places, had felt the impact of tourism and was full of tourist shops and markets. I contemplated a riverside walk but crocodile warnings put me off a bit! After a few hours of wandering I headed to the Skyrail station to get the gondola back down. This was fantastic. Not something for those scared of heights, the gondolas travelled above the rainforest canopy giving us superb views all around. There were two stopping places where it was possible to explore more of the rainforest and see the massive waterfall from the other side. Overall I was in the gondola for about 45 mins, definitely one of the longest gondola rides I've done. At the bottom a shuttle bus took me back into the city and I made my way to the airport for my flight to Perth

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