Tuesday, February 24, 2009

CAIRNS, Australia

Monday, February 23, 2009 – CAIRNS (Yorkey’s Knob) – Great Barrier Reef
We changed our clocks again one hour backward! (again!)
Gray and cloudy but not raining! Warm, humid and finally sunny!

We anchored about 7AM and were able to get onto the first tender off the ship. After a bit of a delay we were able to get into the first taxi which appeared on the scene…we had to make an 8:45 departure on the SkyRail. We soared above the rainforest canopy in gondolas for 4.7 miles! There were two great stops – one for a guided walk through the rainforest with Rob, and the other was a stop at Barron Falls.
Rob was a great teacher about the various ferns and xxx-phytes, whether they were above the tree, on the ground or attached to the tree…all the words ended in -phyte! We saw a fantastic size strangler fig (tree) that grows from the top of the tree downward and encircles a healthy tree. As it closes in around the tree, it literally kills the tree and the new shell around the tree is of the strangler fig with the dead tree inside the strangler. From the SkyRail, we could see out to the Coral Sea where our ship was anchored. Barron Falls and Barron Gorge National Park (World Heritage listed) are a spectacular example of a Wet Tropics area. The falls were flowing rapidly with muddy water from the two weeks of rain just prior to our arrival. There is also a weir (dam) in the area.

We arrived at the village of Kuranda and went on the free shuttle bus to the end of the village and visited Birdworld, Koala Gardens and the Butterfly Sanctuary.

Birdworld Kuranda is Australia’s largest collection of free flying birds. They have a cassowary bird, which is on the endangered species list. This bird looks prehistoric, eats their food whole and does not digest it very much. Their droppings are a good source for re-planting and re-growth in the rainforest as the seeds are distributed through the droppings! There are approx. 1500 birds alive, according to the most recent records.

Kuranda Koala Garden was great. You could cuddle a koala, walk among and feed the wallabies (smaller kangaroos; macropods), see the freshwater crocodiles sunning on the side of the pond, glance at and run from lizards, snakes and other reptiles and see my favorite, the wombat! On a previous trip, I fell in love with a baby wombat and actually a bought a stuffed wombat which still resides on the shelf above my bed. Wombats are marsupials and are playful, quick to learn and sleep a lot. They can dig up to a six feet of burrow a night. They look like a long-haired, stocky, dark-colored pig with a snout that waddles. So cute!

The Butterfly Sanctuary: There are 382 species that are Australian, out of the 20,000 species worldwide! Butterflies fly by day, fold their wings straight up above their bodies while at rest, can see forward, backward, up, down and sideways and live for several weeks. They feed on nectar from flowers and have no real mouth, but suck the nectar through a tongue-like appendage called a proboscis.

There are many, many shops and cafes and markets in Kuranda. It is an actual village with residents (Aboriginal and European/Australian) and hotels and a post office.
We wandered around but it was quite humid and we were feeling it.

We took the Kuranda Scenic Railway back to Cairns. The line was begun in 1886 and despite dense jungle and cliffs with sheer drops of hundreds of feet and a slope as steep as 45 degrees, the line was finally completed. They created 15 hand-carved tunnels, 93 curves, dozens of bridges and 170 miles of track and opened the tracks in June 1891. “Fortitude, sweat and bare hands…your journey did not come easy.”
The seats are benches and the windows are tiny. For a train buff or tourist, it is a nice ride!

We were delayed over 25 minutes on our return train journey and just made the shuttle bus from Cairns back to the ship in Yorkey’s Knob. We really wanted to wander around Cairns but there was no time! A nice catamaran took us back to the ship, after we were handed cold towels and cold water before boarding. What a life!...
Today, this thought crossed my mind: I am walking around fanning myself furiously in Cairns, Australia, with a fan from Guatemala. And I did not take a plane to get from one country to the other, I took a ship. And I am still on that ship. Oh wow.

We ate in the alternative restaurant tonight with friends – had fondue. It was a nice meal and service but I was still hungry when we left! The show was a pianist – excellent!

Most people come to Cairns to visit the Great Barrier Reef. It is the largest coral reef system in the world, composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for 1,600 miles over 133,000 square miles. It is located in the Coral Sea in northeast Australia. It can be seen from outer space and is the world’s biggest single structure made by living organisms. The reef structure is composed of and built by billions of tiny organisms, known as coral polyps. The reef supports a wide diversity of life and was selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981. We had taken several trips out there on past visits and it is definitely a must-do in this area.

Several of you have asked what happened to my glasses. In Auckland, when the client had to have his glasses re-made, I had them straighten mine as “somehow” they were bent out of shape. At that point, I found out the hinge was broken and when they did straighten them there was no guarantee that it would not make them worse. Well, they did straighten them but a short time later, the arm was bent again and the left arm/bow broke off. I have another pair but they are not the same strength and since I needed a new prescription anyway, it was time to resolve that issue first before trying to get the new glasses. I could have made due with them but I could not put my face into the wind on the balcony without fear of them blowing away into the sea!! And I want to be out there feeling that wonderful breeze against my skin! Therefore, the major expense of new glasses – my gift to myself from our port call in Sydney.