Back in November the go-to Australian low cost airline JetStar was having a mega sale. I used this opportunity to buy up ALL THE FLIGHTS. Well, all of our flights for the first half of 2013, at least. I've since learned that JetStar, as far as low cost airlines go, lies somewhere on the continuum between Ryan Air (shite on toast) and Norwegian Air Shuttle (probs a better airline than Emirates). It's not cheap-cheap, but the frequent and generous sales help a lot. Gold star to them.
"To the reef!" proclaimed I. Easter was the perfect time to go, since the flights to Cairns, FNQ (that's Far North Queensland) aligned perfectly and affordably with our Friday and Monday public holidays off work. JetStar allowed us to class it up a few notches compared to last Easter, where we traveled by Greyhound. We had three full days there, and ne'er a day could go to waste. I wanted to be on the reef all three days but Martin had other desires.
Day 1: Daintree Rainforest and Mossman Gorge
I think this is debated, but the Daintree Rainforest is the oldest rainforest on the planet. It is tropical, as where the rainforests around Brisbane are sub-tropical. Personally, I don't see much of a difference but in my vast experience rainforest walking in the Brisbane area I've never seen a tree like this:
As per usual, we were lazy tourists and booked a tour instead of renting a car and seeing the sites for ourselves. It's just so much easier and you know you're seeing all the must-see sites in one fell swoop. Cairns is 110% a tourist town, so it's what they do. Why would I trust myself (or worse, Martin) when these people subsist on knowing the ins and outs of the place? I rest my case.
We took a river cruise down the Daintree River.
We saw wild crocodiles! Toddler crocodiles, but still! This one was about three feet long. We saw a total of three in the wild (more croc talk on Day 3) and the tour guide reckoned they were all around 1 and 2 years old. The big'uns were hiding from us.
When crocodiles hatch they're like the size of your finger, so 99.9% of them get eaten before they reach adulthood. Even one of this size isn't safe from the freaking bull sharks that live in this river. Sharks! I told you this river ain't calm and peaceful. This is what separates the sub-tropical from the tropical, huge-ass predators. And even more humidity.
This picture was obviously taken in captivity, but we saw a wild cassowary, which is rare because they are endangered:
Perhaps they are endangered because we saw it taking its sweet-ass time walking across a busy road. Stupid bird.
I had never even heard of cassowaries until I moved to Australia. I've heard it described as an "emu in drag", which is hilariously true. However, this fruity looking bird is not something to mess with. Those big talons and bone-hard nub on its head can do some damage.
Then, I licked an ant's ass.
Yes you heard that right: I licked the ass of an ant. It looked a lot like this one:
The tour guide alerted us to the fact that if you grab an ant (just hold it, don't kill it) and lick the butt bulb you will get a little electric jolt on your tongue. I actually licked it twice because I liked the flavor so much (and because I wanted the perfect picture for bragging purposes on this blog). It was like the most super concentrated, strong lime flavor ever.
Martin was too chicken to do it, and I was very proud of myself for my bravery. Until later when we saw a dead beetle and these very ants were swarming all over its dead carcass. Um, eew. That's the price you pay for going around licking the ass of other species, I guess.
We rounded out our day trip with a stop at the Mossman Gorge, with ice cold, crystal clear water.
I don't know water can get so cold in a place that is consistently so hot. Martin loves this picture he took of some Aboriginal kids who were swimming there:
Day 2: Great Barrier Reef
It's taken us 13 months but we finally got ourselves to the GBR. It won't be the last trip (hence the title of this post).
OMG we saw a shark!
Ha, no I'm totally kidding. I wish! It's just a big fish like a barracuda or barramundi or some other delicious species. The boat kept feeding them so they stuck around, and I got within a few feet of them snorkeling. They were huge, like longer than my knee to my foot.
We don't have an underwater camera (d'oh) but the wildlife highlights for me were a sea turtle and 2 Nemo's. The two stops we made were surprisingly shallow. Like at one point you could climb up onto the sandbar and be completely out of the water.
Because of this, in my expert scientific opinion, the colors of the reef weren't as spectacularly brilliant as I was expecting them to be. The colors of the fish, though, definitely delivered. I can't believe colors like that exist in nature. I thought only high fructose corn syrup-laden candy could produce colors like that.
We "only" snorkeled, as we've made the decision not to get scuba certified. We still get to wear sweet gear, though!
This is the reason for the dive suits:
It's "stinger season"! Conveniently half the year is jellyfish season. Some jellies can kill you, but most just hurt a lot, so beaches come equipped with vinegar stations so you can sooth the pain if you're unlucky enough to get stung. Kindly note that there are also saltwater crocodiles in the ocean (not as far out as the reef, though), so you're lucky if your biggest run-in with wildlife is a jellyfish.
Day 3: Kuranda and Hartley's Crocodile Adventure
Kuranda is a teeny, tiny little town on a mountain top just outside of Cairns. They fancy themselves quite the tourist attraction, and I guess if you've got a whole day to kick around there is some stuff to do up there. We didn't have much time to spend in town, as really we just went so Martin could get his kicks from the oh-so-exciting transportation. On the way up we took the Scenic railway:
And on the way down we took the "Skyrail", a.k.a. cable car that takes you hiiiiigh above the rainforest:
I can't speak much about Kurada itself as we only really had time for lunch up there, but there is a butterfly sanctuary, "Birdworld" and koala gardens to entertain the day trippers.
Fun fact I learned on this day: Koalas are a $1 billion industry in Australia. I don't know how they can quantify that, but someone did. Nowhere milks their koalas more than our state of Queensland, which coincidentally is the only state where it is legal to hold a koala. Another not-so-fun fact I learned: Koalas might get endangered because many of them suffer chlamydia and are sterile. Koala STDs!
I was ready for some action after our trip to this sleepy little town, so off to the crocodiles we went!
Hartley's is a crocodile farm and zoo. My favorite thing about it is the boat ride where they dangle meat and make the crocs jump out of the water to grab it.
The sound their jaw makes when snapping shut is amazing. They have the strongest bite of anything on earth, as their teeth really aren't that sharp. They thrash and drown their prey, rather than killing it instantly with a bite, which makes me think death by shark > death by crocodile. It's not known how old crocodiles can get, because once they run out of teeth they can't catch food anymore so they die. I can see why Steve Irwin loved them so much. They're genuinely interesting and they are, like, dinosaurs.
Look at the king sized cojones on this guy:
There are 2 types of crocodiles in FNQ: salt water and fresh water (though they both can live in the opposite type of water). The salt water variety, "salties", will hunt and eat humans. And they do.
Hartley's is definitely a crocodile adventure and there's other types of animals there, too. I'm so sad this picture is blurry but I love it so much I'll post it:
Do you love my fetching hat? A must-have under the Australian sun. That little pademelon is totes adorbs!
We didn't spend much time in Cairns proper, though we stayed there. It would have made just as much sense to stay in Port Douglas because many tours depart from there or pass through there, and you'd escape the scuzzy backpacker vibe. Like Brisbane, Cairns has a man made beach. This is probably a useful feature because of the sharks, crocodiles and jellyfish in the natural body of water.
And if the wildlife doesn't kill you, there's always melanoma.
It's not very high, it's extreme!