Stage 1: Northern Queensland
After an 7 hour flight to Cairns, we headed up the coast to a hotel in Palm Cove - here's Nigel in the pool.
There's a nice beach at Palm Cove but we didn't swim there as it was colder than we expected. Friends had told us that it was possible to have a beach vacation in Australia even in August (their winter) but in fact the only part of our journey which was really hot was Darwin/Kakadu, which is teeming with crocodiles... so Catherine did not swim once during this vacation and myself only a few times.
From Palm Cove, we made an excursion up into the hills to a village called Kuranda, famous for its handicrafts market. We didn't see the market but we did visit an aviary and got a taste of what was to be one of the highlights of our trip - the abundance of exotic and brightly-colored birds in Australia. This was just as well as we were disappointed to see few wild animals other than crocodiles - we didn't see a single wild kangaroo in 5 weeks in Australia! Here's the Kuranda police station's sign:
And here's Catherine by the river at Kuranda...
These (above right) are some of the birds we saw at Kuranda, though this was far from being the best aviary we visited and there are plenty of exotic birds to be seen in the wild.
Spread for many miles north of Palm Cove are many beautiful deserted beaches such as this one - too cool to swim at in the winter and infested with box jellyfish in the summer unfortunately (their stings can be fatal).
Further north is the very chic resort town of Port Douglas. It has a great wildlife reserve with plenty of kangaroos and a couple of koalas, including this shy specimen:
Port Douglas is a popular launch point of boats heading to the Great Barrier Reef. The reef (actually a group of dozens of reefs) stretches for more than 2000 kilometers down the coast but only in northern Queensland is it close enough to the coast to be easily accessible. After a three hour boat ride on the famous catamaran "Quicksilver", we were at the outer edge of the reef - the water was clear but rather rough and Catherine didn't snorkel. I myself, however, ever the adventurer, spent some time enjoying the fish the impressively sculptural reef formations and the wide variety of fish. Catherine did have the courage, however, to take a trip in this semi-submersible submarine - nice views without getting wet. The Quicksilver is a fast, comfortable boat, seen here returning to port.
As we continued further north the countryside and coastline became ever more beautiful and unspoiled. We loved our stay at the Daintree Heritage Lodge in the Daintree National Rainforest - a wild bandicoot kept us company as we ate dinner and we saw butterflies such as this one...
Daintree the oldest rainforest on the planet - ten times older than the Amazon forests - and nature has evolved some pretty nasty beasts over these 100 million years. Daintree features:
- the taipan snake, whose bite is 300 times more poisonous than a cobra's
- 10 more of the world's 21 most poisonous snakes
- crocodiles ready to drag you underwater and break your neck with the famous "death-roll"
- the Gympie vine which defends itself by injecting silica spines into anything that brushes against it, causing a sensation "like a blow-torch being applied to your flesh"
- cedar trees that spray cyanide into the air when cut
- tree goannas (giant lizards) that have been known to mistake humans for trees and disembowel them with their enormous claws
- 2 meter tall flightless cassowary birds that can smash your ribcage with a kick if frightened
- bird-eating spiders
Amazingly, we survived our brief stay at Daintree...
This picture of Catherine was taken on one of the beautiful deserted beaches that line the coast. Despite the calm water and sunshine, Catherine didn't swim. Reason? Cloudy water, due to the sand being so fine. Oh, well.
We continued north as far as Cape Tribulation, "where the rainforest meets the reef" and where the paved roads ends. Unpaved roads continue several hundred kilometers north from Cape Tribulation, but we didn't have the time (or the courage?) to venture any further.