Our arrival into Cairns after battling through the bleak, yet in many ways beautiful Outback of Queensland and the Northern Territory, was pretty damn relieving. Civilisation, proper shops, bars, restaurants; an actual city.
The main aim of our few days in Cairns was to A) Replenish stocks on food, water, and the other important essentials required for road tripping and B) Visit the world’s largest living organism, the Great Barrier Reef. There’s no rest for the wicked, so our first morning waking up in a bed and not in a tent was a get up and go sort of situation. Off we went down to Abel Point Marina to find the Deep Sea Divers Den: ReefQuest vessel, which would be our courier out to a couple of different reef snorkelling spots.
Just our luck, as well as the 10 or so other “normal” people on the boat – of which 2 were the sleepiest people I have ever met (Italians that genuinely slept for the majority of their time on the boat – bizarre) and 5 were Japanese and spoke no English and just looked very confused most of the time until one of the Japanese staff translated for them – the remaining 40 or so were extremely boisterous teenagers on a school trip. Great. I’ll give the Deep Sea Divers Den staff their dues, they went out of their way to segregate us from the unruly youths at every possible moment, so it wasn’t all as bad as it could’ve been!
The reef itself was unfortunately a little underwhelming. The weather was a bit shit, which meant visibility wasn’t the greatest, and the wind meant the waves were about as boisterous as the school kids, however there was still plenty of fish to chase around and we even spotted a few sharks doing the rounds – nothing Jaws-esk, more like glorified cat fish (White Tip Reef Sharks), but impressive none the less.
Lots of people have spoken about the “bleaching of the reef”, and it was interesting to see the effects of climate change and pollution first hand. The Reef is noticeably bland in colour, compared to the vibrant colours that most people assume the reef to be. The white-washed effect was fairly widespread over the two snorkel sites that we visited, however when you meander far enough through the sprawling reef, there were some areas that still retained the vitality that I had always hoped the reef to still have. There are hundreds of boats that visit the reef each day, which obviously does not help these negative effects, so the mass of visitors (including myself) are just part of the problem.
After a day exploring the reef, we took a day to run errands and do some life admin, before packing up the wagon again and heading north into the Daintree Rainforest. The Daintree National Park and the Cape Tribulation region was our destination, with rainforest walks, beaches and rivers (which you can’t/shouldn’t swim in due to the area containing the highest concentration of Saltwater Crocodiles in the world!). Not to be too perturbed by the crocodile warnings, we spent 2 days exploring creeks and swimming holes, doing a couple of bush walks through the mangrove swamps, and discovering some of the areas sweeping beaches (including a treacherous river crossing where the river met the beach – an area renowned for croc sightings – which ended being just an ankle deep paddle – pretty relieving but a bit of an anti-climax to be honest. I had envisaged us frantically wading through waist deep water, spotting a croc and having to rock-paper-scissors for who should die first. Thankfully this was not to be.)
Upon leaving the Daintree Rainforest the car almost died!! Ok, not really, not at all, I’m just an idiot. It turns out oil bubbling from your bolts does not mean your car will soon explode, but you just have a couple of leaky seals. Deeper investigation and lots of frantic Googling after a long walk to the headland, where the only mobile phone signal and internet can be found, taught me this. The journey continues and the car lives on. Note to self: Learn more about cars.
From the Daintree Rainforest, via a rather creepy abandoned Rainforest Resort – a huge place, all overgrown like something out of Jurassic Park – we head south, back past Cairns, to the Atherton Tablelands. A beautiful area about 1-and-a-half hours south west from Cairns, the Tablelands is a huge plateau about 700m above sea level, that looks a bit like the rolling hills of Devon, with some more waterfalls and better weather thrown in. We explored the Tablelands for 2 days, uncovering the history of a peculiar place called Paronella Park – built by some Spanish fella back in the 1920s and 30s, set in 16 acres of beautiful grounds with the huge Mena Creek Falls as the centre piece – as well as scaling Mt Baldy (barely a mountain, but more of a hill – still a nice steep ascend to get your blood pumping), eating “Devon Cream Teas” at a tea house on Lake Barrine (they try these Aussies, but Devon Cream Tea my ass), swimming in some beautiful swimming holes and waterfalls, such Josephine Falls which is a natural waterslide, before hopping onto our bikes for a spot of jungle cycling.
The Atherton Tablelands also provided a bit of entertainment, as we decided it was about time we removed the Huntsman spider that had taken up residence in the boot of our car. We decided dusk was a great time to attempt this task (fucking stupid idea), so we proceeded to poke and prod Harvey (the Huntsman – yes we had named him…) with a stick, trying to rouse him, get him on the stick and safely deposit him somewhere nearby, but not too close. Of course, I dropped him from the stick and lost him in the dark, and only found him again after about 5 minutes as he scampered across the grass towards my bare feet (bare feet – another stupid idea). I ushered him onto my stick again and this time released him safely into a nearby tree. Ordeal over.
From the Atherton Tablelands we made our way south towards Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday Islands for a little bit of island time.
**REEF PHOTOS TO FOLLOW – We have a new GoPro and it’s very very exciting!**