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Terra Australis Incognita

Rainforest and Reef

AUSTRALIA | Thursday, 9 October 2008 | Views [645]

So while I've been in Cairns, I've been able to stay with Mary, a friend of a friend's mom. Her house is like a tree house - raised up on stilts, surrounded by bamboo, brush turkeys and other critters, and open air. I mean, REALLY open air. There are only a few windows (which are permanently open anyway) no screens, just everything open to the elements. Very cool, except for the mossies! She's an amazing cook, and I've been able to enjoy the food and a nice bed for only a few chores and $10 per day.

I also did the Skyrail - a cable car (one of the longest in the world) over the rainforested mountains around Cairns. It's a great way to see the rainforest canopy, and see the best views possible, which include a gorge complete with a big waterfall, now just a trickle at the end of the dry season.

But in the past three days, I left Cairns altogether and went to Cape Tribulation, a beautiful stretch of beach a couple hours north, where it really starts to get remote. And though becoming a major tourist attraction, it is still both - almost empty, but with nice sandy beaches flanked by World Heritage rainforest on one side and cyan-blue water on the other. The cape itself is a rocky hill, almost an island flanked on three sides by water and connected to the mainland by a low isthmus.  From the side my hostel was on, you can walk up the beach and right over the isthmus to the other side, an even more remote beach with a vast lagoon of two-feet deep water protected by a reef, where I saw a rather large ray puff up from the sand! But the reef is not coral, and so after a few hours of exploring, I really had seen all there was, though I gave myself two days in the area. The next one I had reserved to climb Mt. Sorrow, a short climb to a supposedly beautiful vista overlooking the rainforest and sea. But the trailhead is practically hidden, and I traipsed right past it. By the time I realized my mistake and found the damn thing, I had used up half my water, but forged ahead nonetheless. The trail, though technically short, is incredibly steep and barely existent in some parts, so I got about a quarter or a third up and ran out of water. According to the map, it only gets steeper from there, so I turned around, with nothing to do for the rest of the day. It wasn't a total bust though, because along the trail was some of the best rainforest I had seen yet, with iconic jungle flora such as strangler figs, big fan palms (with circular, radial fronds like helicopter blades), and tons of vines everywhere.

The next day was the big reef trip, out to a highly regarded, outer reef, right at the edge of the continental shelf. The amazement is instant - I've seen coral before, even the same kinds on Fitzroy island. But it's all so IMMENSE - just like with Carlsbad caverns, I've been to caves before, but it's just a whole new, epic type of thing to experience. There were cliffs and hills of coral underwater that were 50 or 75 feet high - and though the fish were also the most numerous, diverse, and beautiful that I've seen on any reef, the coral really steals the show. There are so many species, colors, shapes, textures - and all on the same surfaces, so that you see this psychedlic patchwork landscape of texture and color underwater. It's really one of nature's most surreal creations. I only had a piddly kodak disposable to take it all in, but they rented high end underwater cameras for an exorbitant price - which I sprung for, and thankfully so. Enjoy the results!

Now I'm headed off on another adventure into the outback. The thing that has really blown me away about Australia is how easy this is to do - I'm just hitching on someone else's ride that they offered. It was between this and a sailing trip down the coast! It's tough, really tough, but if New Zealand is anything like this place I can do a sailing trip in my last month there.

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