We visited Cairns mainly as the point of departure for our week of diving the Great Barrier Reef. With our two full days before heading underwater, thanks to the plethora of daytrips out of Cairns, we managed explore enough of Queensland to make us want to come back for more.
The first trip we took was to Cape Tribulation and the Daintree Rainforest, a jam-packed trip that offered a taste of many experiences, but not enough time with any of the experiences to be fully satisfying. The excitement started early in the day with a river boat ride to spot crocodiles in the wild. Luckily we saw a few, and we were shocked to see that cows graze right next to the river bank. Apparently the cost of fences is more than the odd cow unlucky enough to step to close to a croc.
After our brief encounter with the crocs, we headed to the Daintree Rainforest.
We could have spent all day exploring and when we go back to Australia someday, a longer trip to the Daintree is a must. With our limited time, we looked around for wildlife, but we only spotted one beetle!
We just stared in awe at all the primitive plants. It is pretty amazing to see vegetation that existed in a similar form hundreds of millions of years ago and the brief descriptions given by our guide just left us wanting to learn more about this incredible forest. Other than looking like a scene straight out Jurassic Park, what struck us most about the forest was how thick and plentiful the vegetation was. Plants and trees grow up and over each other,vying for every bit of sunlight and water they could get, like these mangroves nearly taking over a stream.
Our education was not limited to the impressive evolutionary strategies of the prehistoric plants. It seems to be an Australian past-time to continually describe to tourists in excruciating detail all the ways that the native plants and animals can kill, maim or poison them. The Daintree, of course, is home to several nocuous plants, and we quickly decided we’d have to come better prepared if we were to undertake any serious exploration of the forest. One particularly nasty plant is the stinging bush or gympie gympie, which has leaves coated with thick hairs tipped with silica, essentially little hairs tipped with a shard of glass. Touching the plant causes these hairs break off in the body and release a neurotoxin, causing incredibly painful stinging that can last up to several months. Our guide pointed out several plants growing along the edge of the path, causing me, clad in flip-flops and shorts, to miss out on some great rainforest views as I neurotically searched the ground around me for heart-shaped leaves. Another lovely plant is the wait-a-while vine, which is nasty not from its scary spiked stem, but because of its long barbed tendrils that can grow up to metres long and catch on clothes and skin, digging in deeper and deeper as the unfortunate trapped person pulls away. Of course, the plant’s nasty vines are not part of some mad plot to catch unsuspecting tourists, they are actually a great adaptation that allow the wait-a-while to attach to trees and climb up into the rainforest canopy.
Next, we headed to the magical area where two UNESCO World Heritage sites meet. Cape Tribulation is where the Daintree Rainforest meets the Coral Sea, home to the Great Barrier Reef. The biodiversity above and below the water in such a small area is pretty remarkable.
Of course, even beautiful beaches aren’t without their dangers, with prominent signs warning of stingers and vinegar readily available to sooth jellyfish stings.
The last part of the tour seemed designed to satisfy our desire to have the Australian experience. We visited a wildlife park where we got to see some Australian icons in captivity, the cassowary, captive crocodiles (farmed for their skin and meat), and of course, kangaroos and wallabies.
Jeff also got up close and personal with another type of Australian wildlife, licking an ant’s green body to confirm that it does in fact taste limey. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a second ant for me to try…
Our really exciting experience with wildlife came our last stop of the day to see a waterfall. Walking back to the bus down the path, we were lucky enough to spot an endangered cassowary in the wild! Not only did we spot it, but as we watched it walking through the forest, a man behind us explained to his children about the vital role that a cassowary plays in spreading the seeds of large fruit throughout the forest. Just as the children asked how it does this, the cassowary demonstrated for them by releasing an impressive number of very large seeds onto the forest floor. There’s not much better than nature in action.
It was a busy day to say the least. Hungry after a long day of exploring, we decided to try out two Australian specialties with a kangaroo and crocodile sampler. Both were surprisingly good. Kangaroo is a bit gamey but tasty. Crocodile had a pretty mild taste, sort of like fishy chicken, not too bad, but it was a bit eery to eat something that could also eat me.
The next day we went on Uncle Brian’s, what I can only describe as the most unique tour I’ve ever been on. This tour is part sight-seeing, part summer camp, with a crazy guide who runs crazy games, like passing a lifesaver on a toothpick, and starts choreographed sing-alongs, all while driving a bus along windy roads through the Tablelands. Even if you think you won’t get involved, the guide is so much fun and so crazy that you just can’t help but join in the fun.
The tour stops at some unconventional sights, like the Golden Gumboot in Babinda, awarded to the wettest town in Australia. It gets so much rain it can be measured in metres!
One of the highlights of the tour was a trip to sliding boulders, which create a natural smooth slide into bone-chillingly cold water.
The visits to freezing water continued, with a highlight being a trip to Milla Milla Falls, made famous as the location for Peter Andre’s Mysterious Girl video.
Throughout the day, the drive gave us beautiful views of the Atherton Tablelands.
At the end of the tour, we had another amazing wildlife spotting, seeing a platypus in the wild just before sunset. We actually saw three, but they are very hard to snap photos of since they are very small, fast-moving, and frequently dive underwater.
With our limited time, these tours let us see a huge area and get a lot of unforgettable experiences in a very short amount of time. We’d love to go back someday to explore this amazing part of Australia at our own pace.