Our stay in Australia got off to a slow start. We arrived at 5:30 a.m. from Osaka, Japan and were very tired from flying all night. We had a long wait at customs where there were signs all over the place stating they take their quarantine very seriously, and don’t even try to sneak anything through. We lucked out and got the friendliest customs agent ever. When I declared our variety pack of spices from India, the look on her face as she unrolled a 2 foot long variety pack of seeds, powders, and leaves made me think that we were going to lose them for sure. However, after a quick conference with her supervisor (and a worried look at the growing queue of tired angry travelers behind us) our friendly Australian customs agent sealed the questionable stuff into a zip-lock bag, wrapped it in quarantine tape, and put a note on it saying that we were not allowed to open the bag in Australia. That worked for us – and we were cleared to enter Queensland, Australia.
As we looked out of the airport terminal with bleary eyes, it started to rain. (Spoiler Alert: it didn’t stop raining for five days) First order of business was find a place to hang out for a few hours because we didn’t get an early check-in to our apartment due to a SNAFU with the rental company. Les asked a taxi driver if he could take us to a place where we could enjoy a nice three hour sit-down breakfast (where is a Denny’s when you need one?)
The taxi driver said there was a Mobil gas station that sold some stuff we could eat!?! After a few minutes of confused discussion the best suggestion he had was McDonald’s, so we went for it. We hung out at the McDonald’s patio, ate breakfast, and took advantage of limited, but free WiFi.
In our sleep deprived daze we slowly came to the realization that we were not in South East Asia anymore. We experienced sticker shock, even at McDonald’s! After traveling in Southeast Asia for a few months, everything in Australia seemed extremely expensive – like 4 to 5 times as expensive!
After loitering on the McDonalds patio until the employees started giving us the stink-eye, we headed out to our apartment, a bit north of town. It was a nice apartment, but included nothing, no wifi, no dish soap…no nothing. So, after dumping our gear on the floor we waded out into the rain to catch a city bus to the store to provision for the next 10 days. What a day!
Later we learned that Queensland was experiencing a drought; that is until the Sherrys arrived. It started to rain the morning we arrived and continued to rain for the next 5 days due to cyclone Oswald that had mellowed into a tropical storm. Our plan was to limit our time in Australia to 10 days and only 1 location. Australia is a big country and it takes weeks to see even a portion. The kids really wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef, so we chose to focus on this area. By day four I was beginning to worry that we may not see much of the area if the rain didn’t let up. We did manage to take the bus into town and take care of logistics at the mall, catch a movie (Life of Pi), get dinner at a local pub, etc. But we really wanted to snorkel on the reef.
Lucky for us, on day 6 the storm moved South and the sun came out. We went down to the pier to make reservations for a snorkeling trip to Green Island. They informed us that the wind was blowing from the wrong direction and the swells were too big; bottom line, we should wait a few days. So, instead we headed to Kuranda in the rain forest. We rode a historic and scenic railway up a twisty rail into the tropical rain forest. A stop on the line was a beautiful waterfall at Barron Falls were we were told that there was almost no water going over these falls just five days earlier. As you can see from the photo, we got a lot of rain in the 5 days we were hanging out in our apartment!
The train winds up through a beautiful rain forest to the village of Kuranda where we visited a zoo with Australian animals; koalas, kangaroos, wallabies crocodiles, cockatoos, and a crazy looking cassowary bird. The highlight for Alex was feeding the kangaroos. From there we got on an Army Duck Rainforest tour, an amphibious vehicle from World War II. We rode through the forest and they taught us about the plants and insects that live there. One of the interesting plants was one that was nicknamed “wait a minute there”, if you happen to brush against it, the thorns grab hold of your clothes (or skin) and convince you to wait a minute and untangle yourself. From there we did a little aboriginal cultural tour, watched a short dance performance, didgeridoo demonstration, and we all threw a boomerang into a field (none of our boomerangs came back). To end our fun day out we took the Skyrail down the mountain. The Skyrail is a gondola that glides over the rain forest canopy and provides a unique view of the forest from just over the top of the trees. We all enjoyed the day and were so happy to get out and about and no rain!
Saturday was Australia Day! Kind of like USA’s 4th of July, without the fireworks and with a little more weird dressing up.
It used to be called Anniversary Day to commemorate the First Fleet landing in Sydney Harbor back in 1788. However, the aboriginals called it Invasion Day. In 1946 they renamed it Australia Day, and it traditional for many emigrants to receive their citizenship on Australia Day. We spent the day at the promenade in Cairns, swimming at the man made lagoon, purchased a boomerang at a little craft fair, listened to music in the park, and mostly people watched.
The wind was still blowing the wrong direction on the reef on Sunday so we rented a car and headed out to explore the Atherton Tablelands. The Tablelands is a beautiful drive over a high plateau west of Cairns. We stopped for lunch at an old pub in a little town called, Malanda and looked for platypus in the river, but sadly didn’t spot any of the shy little fellows. We also stopped to see one the remaining ancient curtain fig trees, tasted cheese at a local dairy, checked out the farm animals, and generally enjoyed a nice drive through the countryside.
At this point, I’m beginning to think the only way we will see the Great Barrier Reef is from the plane on our flight out of Australia, but the man that books the dive trips assured me that Tuesday would be our best bet. So, we kept our rental car one more day and headed North to Port Douglas, a nice little resort town on the coast where we browsed the shops and took a short hike into Mossman Gorge where we found an awesome natural pool for a refreshing swim.
Tuesday finally arrived and we were going to the reef, come hell or high water (literally). We took a ferry boat to Green Island, which I visited as a child back in 1974. Things have changed over the past 40 years. It was quite undeveloped back then and now it is set up for many tourists to do day trips to the reef or spend a night or two at the resort.
When we arrived,we quickly suited up and waded into the surf; however, the wind was strong and there was a lot of chop on the sea. Swimming through the surf to the reef was difficult but we saw a few fish and some coral before we relented and allowed the wind to blow us back to the beach so we could take a break for lunch.
After lunch on the ship, we headed back out to take our final try to see the reef, and thankfully the wind had settled down and the sea was much calmer. We saw amazing sea life; tons of coral, tropical fish, anemone, urchins, a sea snake, giant clams, sea stars, a sea horse, and (best of all) as we were on our way back to the beach a giant sea turtle swam right by us! To top off our day on the reef we boarded a semisub, where we were able to see many of these same creatures without getting wet. We had a great day on the reef and it was worth the wait!