26 in Paradise

Thursday, August 30, 2007

My birthday gift (and what a gift!) from Kirsty, aside from the fact that she came up to keep me company on it, was a three-park pass to Sea World, Movie World, and Wet 'n' Wild. Since Dreamworld was her favourite, we made it our first stop that Wednesday morning. The date, Aug 29 - and three days from my birthday. The sun was shining and it was quite a warm day, perfect for being out at a theme park - especially one with rapids and log flumes! We rocked up, as the Aussies say, around 11:00 and met with one of Kirsty's friends from Melbourne, Anthony. And then the madness began.

I won't go through every ride and fun thing we did, but suffice it to say that we went on the tower of terror (where you're basically catapulted straight up a 20-storey building) about three times. The real winner, though, was the giant drop, a less rickety but very scary drop-of-doom. You get vaulted up... way up... and look around and down and aruond some more and wonder when you're going to plunge down to earth. Man the people are small. And why did they have to make this tower so high? You can look straight down past your feet, dangling in the breeze. You're going to go crashing down any second. It's coming. You hear the hydraulics start to make noise and build pressure. Someone screams (probably Kirsty). Someone else starts counting down from five. 4... 3... 2... 1... and nothing. As if they'd know when it was going to drop, but your stomach is in knots and you want off. You grip the headrest and hope that it's locked shut properly. You think about grabbing another one just to be safe. Someone at the other end is starting to hyperventilate and panic. Terror crawls its spidery legs up your spine and you clench your jaw. That same idiot starts counting again and you wonder why you've voluntarily put yourself in this position. The hydraulics are getting louder. Five. Clank-clank. Four. hummmMMMMM. Three. Hiss. TwwwooooOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! The car is released, everyone is screaming, swearing, or, in most cases, both. There's plenty of time for it, the freefall goes on forever. And then, you open your eyes, wipe the water away, and realize you're stopped and slowly dropping towards the ground. You watch your nail marks slowly disappear as the headrest foam expands and look at everyone else. Frazzled. Nobody is saying anything. The would-be executioner releases the headrests and Dan, Matt, Kirsty and I stand on our wobbly legs and really look at each other for the first time since dropping. Our expressions of shock turn into smiles as we see that we weren't the only one to get a little scared. "Again?" I ask with a broad smile as we make our way towards the exit.

We left Dreamworld and the boys wanted to stick around the hostel for $5 Dominoes pizza (no thanks), so Kirsty and I went out and shared some dinner and stumbled on the beach night markets. There were lots of really cool photography stalls and Kirsty wound up buying a few prints. I resolved to make up a scrapbook of my very best photos that maybe I could sell prints from. I also stopped at a tarot card reader since it was only $20 and I had three fortunes (mom, sister, Kathy) none of which (thankfully) came true. My mom and sister had been to see psychics for fun and they both were told something very similar about me being over here. I admit to extreme skepticism, but even so, I was surprised how accurate and relevant this parlor trick was. Lots of stuff on change and some stuff about my character, I guess. We also got a massage which was sort of weird with all the people walking by, and grabbed some full moon photos of the moon over the beach. All in all a great night, capped by meeting up with the boys again and some of the Irish from our Whitsundays boat.

The next day, Kirsty and I went to Sea World and the boys, bound for home in a few days, went and had a surf lesson. Sea World was better than I expected, with a lot of rides to complement the dolphin and seal shows. If we had planned a bit mor ein advance there were some cool things we could've done there, but the rides and shows and giant aquarium were great. We met up with Matt that afternoon and went for a bike ride up to Burleigh Heads to get some nice photos of Surfers and then came back and got some pretty sunset shots on the beach. Then we went out for dinner at a nice Thai restaurant, though the peanut quotient was probably three orders of magnitude too high.

We woke up early on our final day together and went for pancakes. Yumm! Then Kirsty and I went to Movie World, which was probably my favourite of the theme parks. The rides had stories to them like in Disney. They had one of those mousetrap type rollercoasters called the Scooby Doo Haunted House that's totally in the dark and lots of fun - it reminded me of a little Space Mountain. Also great was the Superman coaster, which accelerates you instantly and magically straight up and then into a huge drop giving 4.2 gs and -1 g. And the Police Academy show was good fun, too, though the clown at the very beginning was arguably the best part. Unfortunately, the Lethal Weapon rollercoaster was closed. Leave it to a girl, but Kirsty had noticed a big sale at the mall, so we met the boys there and I picked up a couple Rip Curl shirts for $15 each, which was a steal. Also, Brad got me hooked on Ben Folds' landed, so I picked up that disc and gave it to Kirsty. Then we picked up their bags, went for a beer and chips on Cavill Ave and finally dropped them off at the airport. Back alone again, I drove back to the hostel, did some work on my laptop, and went to sleep. Tomorrow is September 1st and, weather permitting, I'm meeting up with a friend from Scandi who happens to be in town to go to the waterpark.

Gold Coast Rush

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

With our two Kansas brothers in tow, I might've been tempted to say to Matt's older bro, "We're not in Airlie anymore, Dan!" thus displaying my appreciation for Kansas' great cultural contribution to the Wizard of Oz. I might've even been tempted to call the duo the Wizards of Aus, but I refrained from that also and so we got along great. Even with some very long stretches of road like, for example, our first day down to Rockhampton. The highlights were few except for a farmer burning his sugar cane field to get rid of dead leaves for harvest. It was a long trip and quickly it became evident that we were going to get in late, so I called the hostel ahead of time (for once!) and booked a late check-in and room for us. I was proud of my foresight at the time, but had I known what would greet us, I might not have been quite so smug.

We pulled into Rockhampton YHA around 9:30 at night and I parked on the gravel beside a jeep and got out. A woman sat at a shadowy picnic table, staring me down unflinchingly, even when I offered a friendly smile. I found this perplexing. "Is... something wrong?" I asked cautiously. "No," and the continued soul-piercing gaze. Not from her perspective, perhaps. I tried again at reception. "Hi!" perhaps too enthusiastically, I toned it down, "how are you doing today? I didn't think we'd find you still here." Which earned me a, "What on earth made you think you could park on my grass?!" There were several things wrong with this query. "Uh, there was another jeep I parked beside and I'm pretty sure I parked on gravel," I explained. "And it always will be if you people keep parking on it!" Well. Touche.

At the McDonalds we were started at by all parking lot party-goers as well, but it was a more friendly, "Ooh! Who are they? Where do you think they're from?" type of gawkery. Us boys, us Eagle Boys, if you will, opted for the $5 Eagle Boys Pizzas on special, delicious and filling. There was a long drive to Noosa the following day and no desire to see much more of this place than our beds, so we went to sleep and left nice and early. The long drive to Noosa was made all the longer by the fact that I thought we'd try to get off the rather uninspiring motorway and hope for some scenic coastal roads. So it was that we wound up heading for the town of 1770. En route, we passed through Agnes Waters, which was actually pretty decent. 1770 itself offered a small hike and not much to see nor any explanation of the town name (turns out it was Cook's second landing in Australia in - you guessed it - 1770). With the tide out it was easy to see why. Lots and lots of sand and nothing else. A somewhat pointless tour there, but I thought I'd heard good reviews and hey - have car, see out-of-the-way places. Matt and particularly Dan were up for exploring though (as was I) so we took another crack at it. Rainbow Beach is, allegedly, so named for the different coloured sands, and was said to be beautiful. So I rolled the dice and attempted to redeem myself.

As is traditional for me, I made the hole deeper. Because of the tide and recent flooding of the area (some of which we drove through on the way down), there was nothing to see. Whatsmore, because of th egloods, we couldn't continue down the road to Noosa; we had to backtrack 100km to the main highway. Everyone took this pretty well, though Kirsty and I kept the worst news to ourselves - that we might not even be able to get into Noosa because of the floods. But, with some McCafe in our bellies, we soldiered on and though the direct road to Noosa was closed, we made it through with some detours. To pass this long day of drives to nowhere, the boys picked up some beer from a drive-through bottle shop and so were quite smashed on our arrival. Matt, "looked around the room and found a box of dignity" and Dan readopted his diminished southern accent to our great delight. While looking for a place to stay as the boys stumbled along several paces behind us, Kirsty and I stopped for some ice cream, but Dan missed this sudden change of task and walked up to the counter asking if the ice cream stand had any rooms left. I'd ordered Death by Chocolate at the girl's recommendation and in a deep southern drawl with lots of thoughtfulness, Dan pronounced, "I reckon there's a better way to go than the-at." I gave him a spoon and he quickly recanted, "I reckon that's the best way to go," then leaned over the counter, flashed the biggest smile ever seen in Noosa, and told the girl, "I like you-ou." Maybe you had to be there, but I hadn't laughed that hard in a while.

We checked into Koala Beach Backpackers and went out to the bar and danced the night away. Well, they danced. I did my old routine of pretending to be dancing by subtly shifting my weight from foot-to-foot and eventually we called it a night. I wasn't really tired so I went for a walk and a little bit of peace to wind down after all that driving. And of course, to contemplate the circle of life as Betsy and I had just completed our circuit of eastern-central Australia, from Noosa down to Adelaide and back up to Cape Tribulation then down to Noosa again. What did this mean for me? For Betsy? For Australia? It took me almost two hours to answer that.

Since we were moreorless on schedule, we decided to stay an extra night in Noosa. So the next day, we all went kayaking around the Noosa river for a few hoursand then went to the beach. Kirsty and I rented boogie boards which were actually pretty fun and stayed in the surf until sunset. There were some great waves that brought us right back in about 100m to shore. We also moved to a place that Kirsty had found on her morning run that was a significant improvement on our last spot and not a significant cost. We went back, showered, and went out for gourmet pizzas, then Kirsty and I split some cheesecake and had a chai latte before heading home. The next morning, the two of us got in a few more waves on our boogie boards though the surf was definitely NOT up. We returned the boards, picked up the boys, and then we all split up for the day. I dropped Kirsty off at Maroochydore where she was going to run, swim, and shop her way down the coast to Australia Zoo, where I then dropped off the boys. Since I had no plans aside from that, and it was my job to be on call to pick coordinate the meet up when the zoo closed, I went to Caloundra (the nearest town) to recharge my phone credit and spent a bunch of time walking around, exploring, and talking on the phone to home. I also had a slightly overdue haircut and Kirsty walked by just as I finished. We picked up Matt and Dan from the zoo and took the scenic road to Brisbane through the Glass House Mountains, climbing Mt. Beerburrum and pullin into Brisbane as the afternoon waned. We wined and dined at an Irish Pub and slept early because we were going to Moreton Island the next morning and then continuing down to Surfer's Paradise.

Chris, our Moreton Island tour guide and 4WDriver picked us up from the Tinbilly hostel bright and early and after picking up a loud Edmontonian and a family with two young boys that reminded me of Justin and Cortland we were on the ferry. Our first stop: sandboarding! We went down the big dune in our makeshift toboggans which were fun as long as the surface was waxed and you kept your elbows up. Our sandboard itself was pretty ghetto, with no bindings or foot pads or anything even resembling them. So we pretty much stuck to the smaller backside of the dune, though I did pretty well coming down the big side at the end. Next on the agenda was a walk up to the lighthouse where we could see some humpback whales breaching, then we had lunch on the beach. Why do whales breach, incidentally? There are lots of theories but it seems nothing is known for sure on the matter. Anyway, lunch on the beach, some fun at the Blue Lagoon (frisbee, vortex, my adopted nephews) and finally we went to the wrecks but didn't get to snorkel them which disappointed me greatly.

Back on land, we loaded the car and drove down to Surfer's Paradise that evening, checking into a small room at the Sleeping Inn - my mattress being on the floor didn't help matters. We got there just in time for dinner at Melbas though Kirsty didn't come with us. There was a lunar eclipse which was a pretty cool welcome back to the gold coast, where I had first bought Betsy. Yes, you guessed it. More contemplating the cicle of life that night, this time with Matt, and then to sleep.The last few days were a flurry of driving and activity, I was exhausted, and the coming few days promised to be just as packed with activity. Theme Parks, markets, and fun! Tomorrow, Dreamworld, where our story resumes.

Witty Sun Days

Thursday, August 23, 2007

More than just a place to tell especially clever jokes on a warm and bright afternoon afternoon (and for once the weather was actually warm and bright), the Whitsundays are a collection of over 90 islands sitting off the coast of Australia. And though detached from the mainland, they are arguably one of the most beautiful parts of the country. And Kirsty and I were going to be spending 2 days sailing among them, snorkeling, and enjoying one of the world's top-rated beach. But I'm getting ahead of myself. We didn't board the boat until 2:30 that afternoon, so we rented some bikes and pedaled around Airlie and the coastline. We also stopped at the Shark Hunter's lair/museum for a rather large jaw dropping look at sharks in Australia and an interesting perspective. And then, at last, we were on the Atlantic Clipper heading for paradise.

Within minutes of raising anchor, a loud chorus of people echoed from below, "12, 11, 10, 9... tree, two, one!" That's no typo. The Irish weer (that IS a typo) belowdecks and knee deep in drinking games, and sir/madam, there were a lot of them: half our 40-person group, in fact. Also aboard were two nice Canadian girls, particularly Emily from Victoria who had great taste in music and as such, a lot in common with me, a Calgary boy who really lives up to the Alberta stereotype, three really friendly English blokes that Kirsty befriended right away, and most importantly, two brothers from Kansas representing the best country in the world as they liked to amusingly remind us.

We anchored for the night in a bay separated by a small strip of land from Whitehaven Beach, had a potato dinner (probably inspired by the Irish quotient) and got to sleep early. We were the first ones to get to Whitehaven the next morning and got some nice high-tide photos with not a soul to be seen. Kirsty and the English lost patience with my photographic philandering and were gone across the tidal pools by the time I arrived, so I took my camera and philandered some more. It was absolutely beautiful, sparkling white sand in tiny islands, perfect blue water, no photo was a bad photo in this place. I even got what I consider to be one of the best photos I've ever taken in my life of the little soldier crabs marching along the beach to the shore and a small palm-fringed island sitting on the slightly skewed horizon. Then I put the camera away and enjoyed all these things without a lens in front of me.

Kirsty and I left a little early and got some even nicer low tide photos of Whitehaven before heading off to lunch and our first snorkel. The water was surprisingly chilly which was unexpected, but the reef was in really good condition (considering the millions of tourists tramping through here) so the surprises canceled each other out. Most of the afternoon was spent lounging on the sundeck, then another snorkel, dinner, and Kirsty went to bed while I worked on my photos and blog for a while. Then I joined the festivities upstairs and was impressed by the hoola olympics briefly before going to sleep myself. The next morning and it was already our final day on the Clipper. Neither of us were remotely ready to trade our free-wheeling sailing lives back for the open road and get off the boat, but we did anyway. Not before a morning snorkel, however, and getting to know a few more of our fellow passengers a bit better. Particularly, the American boys, Matt and Dan, who we invited to come along with us since they were headed the same way. When we got back to Airlie we were hoping to do some kayaking or something of that sort and then found a deal for Hamilton Island that night which not only put us back on the Whitsundays but also included a nice hut and all sorts of beach activities. We were on the ferry there one hour later.

Hamilton Island was beautiful, reminding me of a tiny Maui. After checking in, we checked out. Everything. The beach, pools, and four walking tracks overlooking the island, all before sunset. There was a sailing race and party on Whitehaven (we saw our own little race of ships coming back to Hamilton) and then the evening was supposed to kick off on Hamilton. We (I) had some rose with our fruit salad/cheese and cracker dinner. In my defence, I bought it thinking I might have found a wine Kirsty would actually enjoy and couldn't let it go to waste. Then we took a walk to town and decided the party wasn't all that terrific, so the night was again called. The next morning we found the tide precluded any of the water sports we'd been hoping for, so we walked some more hoping to rent a jetski or something. Instead, we found a shooting range and because the guy was from Melbourne and Kirsty shared some common friends, we got to try everything from a .22 to .45, manual, semi-auto, handguns, rifles, you name it. Kirsty had some dead-on bullseyes but also some wide misses, where I had no bullseyes but was never lower than 8 and usually 9(and I didn't even have my glasses on - I guess all those years of Doom paid off). So we declared a draw. Uncle Russ will definitely have to take me now, it was actually a lot more fun than I imagined. And then, like it or not, the Whitsundays were in our wake and we were steaming for shore once more.

Company's Coming Airlie

Monday, August 20, 2007

Kirsty arrived as she always does - about 30 minutes later than arranged. Sure, she insisted she wasn't behind the delayed flight up to Cairns, but I knew better. I actually didn't recognize her for a second with her hair down, which foiled my plan to hide until she walked by and then tap her on the shoulder, but at least I had a piece of cheesecake waiting to surprise her with. After a quick driving tour (included for all guests) we dropped her bags off at the hostel and took a walk around Cairns. Which is to say, we ambled around downtown, walked to the lagoon/pool and muddy croc-dwelling shore, stopping to do some chinups and play around in Muddy's Playground. Both were much more fun than they should have been. Tomorrow, our trip down the coast would begin in earnest.

Wow! Through the magic of the Read More(tm) button, you've been whisked in to the future. Today is now tomorrow, or specifically, Aug 17, which is also the past. Time travel is not for the faint of heart. We took the Friday and the degrading weather to flee north to Port Douglas and specifically the Daintree Rainforest since Kirsty had not been this far north. The rainforest lived up to its name, but we did have lunch and a nice bit of sun along three mile beach. We were back in Cairns in time for dinner and made it a short night - after all, it's not every morning you wake up at 4AM to go hot air ballooning! After a prolonged, winding, and dark passage up to the Atherton Tablelands, we were in a field as the sky grew lighter watching the balloons, still on their side, fill with hot air. The sky grew pink and the first group went up while we did a balloon chase that lasted about 500m. I was a little disappointed that we weren't on the first group, but we were up soon enough and it was gorgeous: warm, scenic, and I suspect a more interesting ride than the first group got. Kirsty and I both loved it. Then, the White Water Rafting followed right on its heels. The river was quite technical, meaning lots of rocks and difficult passages, but also not much water. It was still lots of fun (especially our group) and we did get to hop out down some decent rapids, which was a real highlight. Unfortunately for Kirsty, the raft was not fitted with a washroom, but otherwise great fun.

It had been a long Saturday and we were both pooped pretty early, which let us get an early start on Sunday. We drove down to Townsville, stopping to do the Millaa Millaa waterfalls and more importantly have what we both describe as the best chai latte ever and some cheesecake at a nearby place. We also found some nice other waterfall you could probably slide down, but it was rainy and wet and neither was up to finding out. We arrived late in Townsville, which is to say after 7:00, and the hostels were dodgy and closed, the apartments full and closed, and that left only hotels, most of which were booked up for some event passing through. Kirsty managed to find us a decent hotel anyway and we spent the night there fueled by the only 'restaurant' still serving anything even resembling food. Well, sort of.

Once Kirsty got back from her all-encompassing Monday morning Townsville tour, we grabbed brekky and drove up to Castle Hill to look out over the city. And then we escaped and drove down to Airlie Beach, passing the paradise destination of Bowen (okay, okay, less sarcasm) en route. Airlie was quite pretty on its own, nevermind that it serves as the gateway to the most beautiful islands of Australia: the Whitsundays. We checked into Magnums after lunching to sort out our options because they gave us a free room for booking our sail with them. We set sail tomorrow on the Atlantic Clipper, a larger boat that would offer us some shelter below-decks but the compromise was that it wouldn't sail quite so much. Still, it seemed a fair trade and after sorting that out, Kirsty went for a walk to call Dave and I took my iPod and strolled the beach listening to some surf music. Ahhh. We met up and did, yep, more walking, watched a few episodes of Lost which I've now hooked her on remorselessly, and went to sleep. Tomorrow, the Whitsundays and our sailing adventure begins.

Athertonnes of Waterfalls

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

With just over a week until Kirsty arrived and I could finally leave Cairns, the only somewhat close frontier I could really travel was the nearby Atherton Tablelands, renouned for its hot air balloons and most importantly, waterfalls. I had met someone on my dive of the Great Barrier Reef that was likewise interested, a girl from Finland named Anni, so it was that I had much-needed company for the journey. I first killed a couple days in Cairns just getting adjusted to land again (and not having to latch doors open and shut) and getting all my photos and so on up to date. Thursday morning, I arrived at Inn the Tropics at 10AM to pick up Anni. After a few stops for Mackers, petrol, and groceries, we were heading off on an all-day trek to Kuranda, almost 30km away.

No, nothing ill befell us en route. At least not yet (I've got to maintain SOME suspense to keep you reading, don't I?). But rather, we found the road there had lots of little delights along the way. Our first stop of note were the Crystal Cascades. Sounds beautiful, right? Well, we thought so, and so we stopped in and started walking. The track wound along a stream and then banked sharply uphill. Thinking we were going to be treated to a lookout of a bunch of waterfalls that were really clear (say, Crystal Cascades) we trekked and trekked as the trail faded and faded. Points were so steep that we weren't even able to scramble up easily and finally, when scrambling the loose dirt was too much and I slid back down about 10m, we turned around. The trail was no easier down than up and more than once we weren't sure which way the trail even went, but we found our way back down and walked along the stream instead. THIS was much better reward for our effort. A beautiful waterfall and rockpools that called to our sweaty and dirty souls. Three locals were just leaving and gave us a tip about a place called Behana Gorge and we had it to ourselves for a bit. Very nice.

We did finally make it to Kurunda late afternoon and have a look around, but most things were closed. We used the picnic facilities to very slowly make some pasta with spinach and a veggie burger since Anni had some kicking around. We made our way to the campsite and set up Dave's tent, which was not quite what I was expecting. Mostly, there was no rain fly or anything, and it was definitely not called the rainforest to make it sound pretty. Luckily a fellow camper had a spare tent and actually let us use it for the night - and lucky thing, it poured almost the whole night through. A little Swedish girl and her dad were around the campfire too, and she was pretty cute and insisted that we roast marshmallows with her. Well, if I have to, I have to. It was a pretty friendly campground and we enjoyed our stay there. We looked around the next morning but it was basically a tourist trap. Still, fresh rock candy being made and sampled, so worth it for me. Then we set of towards Mareeba. There wasn't much for stops other than some crater lakes, notably Lake Eachan for lunch. We ran into some guys that were supposed to have gone skydiving except for the weather, so they were dressed in Superman/Batman suits and touring around instead. Hilarious! Anni and I got some photos with them and we looked around the beautiful lake. Very pristine and even on a cloudy day it was gorgeous. Plus, there were turtles just swimming around. We stayed the night in Ravenshoe where we went for a walk and rented Lion King and Pan's Labyrinth. Unfortunately, Lion King didn't rip to my computer properly, so we only saw Pan's which I thought was quite exceptional.

The next day was pretty busy. We woke up and within the hour were checking out an old volcanic crater and waterfall. The weather was still pretty poor, so we decided that today we'd head inland to the Undara Lava Tubes and hope for a better waterfall day tomorrow. We stopped for lunch somewhere quite poor and neither of us felt terrific afterwards, but at least we stumbled on a triceratops warning sign. On the way to the outback, we passed Millstream Falls, which is the widest waterfall in Australia, and is quite pretty. Then, the road out. One lane and when you pass oncoming traffic, you both move onto the dusty shoulder with one wheel still on the road so you stay in control. It was a nice drive regardless, and it felt good to get back to the outback, if only because the weather dried up pretty quickly. And this meant we could finally use Dave's tent. There was no moon that night and so we had some great star viewing and an interesting conversation before going to sleep early as we were on an 8AM tour of the lava tubes the next morning.

The lava tubes were pretty cool and huge, but I don't think the tour was worth the $40. Still, it was something to see and I've seen it, so for the folks keeping score back home, check that one off my todo list. Lava tubes. Check. We drove back at about 10:30 and luckily we had beautiful weather. The locals were even surprised. See, every time I'd been in the area, mist and rain and misery. Today? Tropical paradise. We saw a LOT of waterfalls, probably about 12 in total. They were all nice, but my favourites were probably Millaa Millaa (the falls, not the very-nearly-dead town) and Tchupala Falls. The countryside itself was very much like New Zealand as well, so all in all it was a beautiful day and we saw a LOT. We also stopped somewhere for delicious cheesecake (ahem, Kirsty) and yogurt and so on. And we were back on the coast in Innisfail before dusk. We stayed at a really grotty hostel that night that I was sure we'd have bedbugs or something from, but close inspection revealed we were probably safe. It was a banana pickers' hostel and I think we got the temporary beds, the main building was decent. Plus free laundry and internet. Pretty nice besides the rooms.

Finally, the next day we made our way back to Cairns, stopping and finding Behana Gorge after a few setbacks. It was quite a long walk to get there, but once we did we had lots of rock pools to choose from and the place to ourselves. It's pretty unknown even to locals, apparently. The only locals we passed (leaving as we were coming) were heading back having given up - it was their first time there and they'd only just heard of it two months prior. They want to make a quarry out of it which would be a shame, I like it just how it is. I went for a swim in the waterfalls and we got some sun and left at about 4:00 for the car again. Anni and I parted ways and I checked back into Gilligans for a few nights until Kirsty arrives on Thursday. Which, it happens, is later this evening. Then a few days here and we're heading down to Gold Coast again. Apparently, Bianca and Frank may be coming up to meet us, but nothing is known quite yet. Either way, it's going to be a fun couple of weeks and now I should probably go get things sorted out for that. See you in a few!

Atherton Tablelands Photos

The Bloody Fantastic Barrier Reef

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Cape Tribulation back to Cairns was done in record time. I sorted out lunch and some last minute details, and decided to rent an underwater camera for what would probably be the biggest diving experience of my life. I had sworn after the Mexican incident that I would never do a boat dive again, and here I was, about to board a five day trek to the more remote stretches of the Great Barrier Reef, and then leave its protection in a small boat for the Coral Sea and Osprey Reef. I stocked up on seasickness pills and definitely avoided alcohol in all its forms and boarded the ship at about 5 PM. The conditions were great for our first night, almost no wind and no problems making our way up to the reef overnight. We started with a great dinner, and the cooks did a great job throughout the dive keeping us fed in style. But enough on the general details. From the title, you've already guessed that I loved the trip.

Day one. As I said, we got on at 5PM. First order of business was picking our beds in the dorms. I was in a room with Sebastian (from Germany, he wound up being my dive buddy, good guy and hilarious) and Ken (from Taiwan, nice guy, fellow magician, terrific photographer). Then we claimed and set up our gear, did some paperwork, met everyone else, and had a great dinner. Brad, our dive planner and consumate host was a pretty funny guy, too, and reminded me a bit of Desmond from Lost. Which I've quite gotten into over here, incidentally. The next morning at 6:50 AM, Brad awoke us and brekky was served. A beautiful sunrise, a beautiful morning, perfect water conditions, great visibility, and the promise of an excellent day. Then, a dive brief and our first dive of the trip. Challenge Bay. We suited up and had a great dive. Some beautiful fish and amazing coral here to see. Sebastian and I consume air at about the same rate, too, which is handy. One of us isn't being pulled up by the other. I've heard from many people that the Great Barrier Reef isn't as great as they expected. I don't think they've been to the right places. I should mention my camera flooded somewhat though I was able to save it, and so I didn't get to take any more photos of the reef. Thankfully, everyone shared and I was able to get my money back for the camera rental since the case was defective.

Our next stop was probably the best dive I've ever done - Lighthouse Bommie. An absolute treasure trove of things to see. There was a turtle just hanging out on the reef completely unbothered by our presence. The reef itself was full of life and crazy fish, I found my first nudi branch, which are really cool little organisms that I'd never heard of before until diving here. In fact, I found two of them, a scorpion fish, two lion fish, a star fish, and some clown fish, not to mention plenty of others. I also got some great underwater photos (not an easy thing to do), and was bursting when I got out of the water finally. Only to find out that some minke whales were in the area! One of the reasons I chose this particular boat is that they are one of the few operators with a permit to allow people to be in the water with these whales. So on with the snorkel and out behind the boat we watched as the minkes slowly circled us, getting closer and closer as they got more confident. Not that they needed to, they're just so big that being far away they still felt close. It was magnificent to be in the water with these giant creatures. Just before we got out of the water one passed within 5m of me and looked at me with his giant eye. Amazing! How this could be topped was unclear, but regardless, it was incredible.

The next big dive was the Cod Hole. Basically, we got in the water and formed a circle in a little clearing between the reefs of sand. Then a massive potato cod came in and fed. It wasn't all that amazing because there was only one there eating, but the fish itself was massive. Bigger than a person. There were also lots of what I think were red bass in the area poaching whatever they could. They look like viscious little fish with their fangs and everything and they certainly did their best to be the focus of the feed. We did a few buoyancy skills for our Advanced course as well, I did just fine. Following that dive, which was a unique experience regardless, was my first ever night dive. That was really cool. We went under just after sunset and it got continually darker as we explored with our torches and looked at all the nightlife that wasn't around during the day. There are some interesting challenges in the night and it is almost a bit helpful to focus your attention to the thin bit of light rather than everything, but at the same time, you probably miss some things that you would otherwise see. Still, it was amazing how much the coral comes to life after dark. A great day of diving, and then a long steam overnight to the northernmost reef in the Coral Sea, the Osprey reef. We were lucky to have good weather, but I still got sick twice. Apparently I was the only one. Once I was in bed with my eyes closed, I was fine though.

The next day was a big day in the Coral Sea. We explored The Wall (I believe that's what it was called) and on the one side, coral and lots of fish. And on the other side of the wall, open sea, crawling, absolutely crawling, with sharks. Very very cool. Below, empty blue stretching down a full kilometre. Bottomless for our purposes. We descended to almost 30m which made it the deepest dive I'd done at this point. Some more exploration, a surface interval, and then back down for another trip highlight - a shark feeding. We all sat in a circle around the reef and watched as Brad lowered a garbage bin full of tuna heads into the ocean. There were suddenly a lot more sharks swimming around in the area, but more calmly than I expected. Then he opened the lid and all hell broke loose. The sharks were tearing at it and each other to get a bit of tuna for themselves. Cod and some other fish would sneak in here and there as well, but the power and visciousness of the sharks, which are just white-tipped reef sharks, was amazing. I can't imagine a great white feeding, but I have a feeling I don't ever want to. The rest of the dives today were likewise beautiful, the reef here is so vibrant, it's great to be somewhere so untouched. I felt like I was on safari in a strange and unknown land (well, water) because there was so much fascinating life.

A rough overnight trip back to the Great Barrier Reef had everyone sick. Everyone, that is, except the crew. And myself. I took a couple tablets at dinner and was well prepared, and they worked well. I was even able to finish all my homework for my Advanced course as the chip rolled and plunged through the swells. It was a great feeling. I slept fine, too, and woke up back on the Great Barrier Reef once more and in calm waters. That morning, two dives of Steve's Bommie, a really beautiful section of reef named in honour of a diver who always visited here. The life, again, was amazing, and hence the second dive. So much to see, it was impossible to do so on one tank. We got another visit from a minke whale as we swam back to the boat which was pretty great too. They're inquisitive little (well, okay, massive) guys. Oh, and we did our deep water dive here, and did a little test for nitrogen narcosis - basically, being drunk off nitrogen in the blood as a result of breathing compressed air. We had to point out the numbers 1-10 and tap four shapes and our noses. Easy and I was pretty fast I thought. No narc for me. We later did the same tests on the boat and I saw that my speed was double on the boat what it was 30m deep. Wow. Then, apparently, we had to leave the protection of the Great Barrier reef, which I managed to survive by laying in bed with my eyes closed. Brad hadn't warned us, and I hadn't taken enough Travacalm.

We did a second night dive unguided, and Sebastian and I saw THREE massive turtles. Like, their shells were 2m long give or take. We saw one swimming for air and two more sleeping in little sheltered parts of the reef. Really cool creatures. We also ventured outside the range of the shiplights, which was pretty spooky as it was just the two of us out there, but we weren't lost at all, so there wasn't too much anxiety. Then, overnight, we had to leave the protection of the reef and head in towards Cairns some more. And so I got sick again. Four times in total on this whole trip, which is better than I did in Mexico (12 times on a day dive, including once under water). There was a sunrise dive which was cold and pretty lifeless. Maybe because it's so close to Cairns. The visibility also wasn't too hot. Quite a few of us opted to skip dive 2 and stay warm. Three days straight of dive-eat-dive-sleep was enough. The ride into Cairns was bumpy and I had my final sickness and it slowly got calmer as we got closer. We said our goodbyes, went out for dinner and drinks at the Green Ant, and I'm going to be heading to Atherton Highlands for the next few days (after doing some laundry and internet stuff today) with Anni from the trip.
Great Barrier Reef Photos

Cape Trib Trip

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Cairns is famous for its access to a World Heritage site and a place that makes almost every "20 things you must see before you die" list: The Great Barrier Reef. But there is another World Heritage Site that surrounds it and, to the north is well-protected and hardly touched. The Wet Tropics area or more specifically, the Daintree Rainforest. In fact, this is the only place in the world where to World Heritage Sites are located side by side, so it seemed prudent to take Betsy north on a bit of a trip while I waited for my turn on the reef. And so we did.

The first stop on the way up was Lake Placid, which, unlike the movie, actually doesn't have gigantic killing crocodiles. Plenty of smaller ones around, but no giants (and none in the lake, lest the tourist bureau encounter my blog). Nevertheless, I didn't really take a swim as it was warm but not quite hot and I was not feeling the call. From there, the drive got really beautiful, rolling up and down and around the coastline, offering great views of beaches below and sometimes engulfing the car in forest. I got up to Port Douglas, my first stop for the night, and I thought, since Melbourne ruled in its own favour on my parking tickets (there was a ticket machine that was out of order but I left my car for longer than two hours, thanks guys!), I would stop at the Post Office and pay them off. Which I can't, so online or by phone it is, I suppose. However, next door was Extras casting for a new Tom Hanks/Spielberg movie called The Pacific. The casting had been done but I thought it was cool to know they're filming up here. Anyway, I stayed the night and had a meal and drink at the hostel's pub. There wasn't much going on here but at least I did manage to chat with some people. I've been traveling a long time, but very little alone, so I've been in that initial 'introverted' phase until now in my solo journey. As for Port Douglas, well, it has a beautiful beach that runs for miles... four of them, to be precise. And it's called Four Mile Beach. I laid there and read my new book (Hemmingway, Islands in the Stream) having finished The Grapes of Wrath not too long ago and enjoyed the afternoon sun.

The next day I got an early start and went up to Daintree Village. On the way up I stopped and walked Mossman Gorge. It was a nice walk and I met some nice people on the way around. There were also some interesting plants and animal noises. One sounded like a guy gargling (apparently a type of pigeon) and it would usually be preceeded by another bird calling that sounded like someone yelling, "Brad!". Maybe I just have former ex-PCers on my mind. Anyway, it was a nice walk. As for Daintree Village, another 30 mins away or so, well, there wasn't much to see or do there but jump on a river tour and see the crocodiles. I thought that, just in case I fall in or am attacked, it would be good to have some crocodile on my breath - you know, remind them who's at the top of the food chain - so I had some crocodile in fried wonton and took the boat. The ride was pretty dull, but it had to be done. We spotted some cows drinking from the river and I was crossing my fingers that we might actually see one in action, but alas, the crocodile we found was sunning itself with a full belly. We also spotted a rare King Fisher bird and two owls asleep. One other thing that amazed me about this place is how often it's underwater. Roads and ramps and things sometimes have markers up to 8m high showing that the water gets there, and the boat launch was routinely under about 5-6m in the wet season. They just live with it and put their air intakes as high as they can.

I got into Cape Tribulation and PK's hostel a little too late to do the sunset sea kayaking, but I did book myself in for a guided night walk through the jungle that I'd heard a lot about. It was a bit pricey at $35, but it turned out to be really worth it. We all had flashlights and kept our eyes peeled. We spotted some white tail rats and a few little marsupials whose name starts with an 'm'. And for my part, I spotted a huntsman spider, a funny flowering plant that the guide didn't know, a scorpion (!!), and a bandicoot. Our guide took us by the water where we saw an eel stalking some crayfish looking things (names don't stick with me, unfortunately) and my personal highlight, a couple tree frogs. The walk was very informative and interesting, and I do recommend this to anyone.

I spent the better part of the next day hiking up to the top of Mount Sorrow, and to my own sorrow the weather degraded as I climbed. It wasn't a great walk or a quick one - it is posted to take 6-7 hours, though I did it in 4 - but maybe it would've been worth it for the view. For my part, there wasn't much else to do because of the weather and it was good exercise although treacherously slippery. The one thing that did make it worthwhile was that I heard a noise in the forest and snuck around carefully and quietly to see a baby cassowary digging through some leaves for something. I watched it for awhile but kept my distance, you never know when mama's near. Since I got back so early, I thought I'd see how far I could get north before the road was really 4x4 required. I encountered a stream soon enough but it was shallow and Betsy forded through no problem. And then another stream and I thought that sooner or later one was going to be too deep and I was just going to have to turn around, so that ended my little trek north. That night, I drank with a bunch of the people in my room. It was good times since jugs were eight bucks, we each had two before taking a walk to the beach and calling it a night.

Now I'm back in Cairns. It was a beautiful drive back on a beautiful day, and I hope that bodes well for my dive, which departs this afternoon. Or, should I say, my dives. Or my 5-day nausea fest. Whichever. I'm really hoping not to get seasick and I've definitely stocked up on anti-motion sickness pills. Travacalm, it's called. Hopefully it works, because I don't even want to imagine five days of seasickness. We have a lot of dives, two night dives (this I'm quite excited for), a trip out to the coral sea to dive with the sharks and see them feeding, and at the end I'll have my Advanced Open Water. Which, hopefully, I will want to use at some time in the future. I almost swore off diving that time in Mexico, five days of that would be the end of boat diving for me I think. Let someone else feed the fish and get throw up under water this time. Anyway, I'm rambling now, but I'll see you on the reef!
View Daintree and Cape Tribulation Photos