Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Friday, March 14, 2014


In Australian English it sounds like "cans", no "r" heard. I am getting better in understanding their accent but only with my hearing aids in. Not only is it that they leave off syllables, they use totally different words. A kangaroo is just a 'roo. A crocodile is just a 'croc. I ordered two draft beers yesterday and the girl looked at me and had no clue what I meant. Only after acting out the pulling of the tab did her light bulb come on and she drew the beer from the tap. What did I say wrong? The 'not understanding' goes both ways.
Cairns is a tropical, jungle town and we are here in the rainy season. We had plans for our time in town, we even booked a snorkeling tour via a travel agent, but that was a costly mistake. Not only did we have rain, we also had a cyclone warning and the small ships going out to the outer reef did not want to take a chance. Our snorkeling tour and the colorful reef, our main purpose for visiting Cairns did not take place. So, what do you do instead?
Carol had the great idea to visit the much closer to shore reef instead. We found a small catamaran that took us out. The ocean was in turmoil, choppy waves greeted us when we came out of the, more or less, quiet harbor. In the boat's bar was a basket with ginger pills for sea sickness pills so both of us, Carol and I, took two pills each. It was a ride for sailors not for landlubbers. Up and down the waves we rode until after about one hour we reached the reef close to Green Island. It was a small atoll island. Getting off the small boat was a challenge as we had to jump off but we both managed. The wind was strong. My Tilley hat would not stay on my head, so I packed it away in my knap sack. Our first outing on this island reef was a glass bottom boat. We went, but there were hardly any fish to see. The reef bottom was gray and had large dead coral pockets among the mostly algae eating species that were left over. The only coral that did flourish the spaghetti coral and the fish we saw were some zebra fish and a larger species (bat fish) that were not good eating because they ate all the trash in the water (turtle droppings) and were very bony. Our little put-put glass bottom boat had a tough time holding its position over the fish. The ocean pushed us back constantly. The reef was very small and while our guide said it was a healthy reef, it was not colorful, but rather drab looking. This reef was just too close to shore and the run offs from the land brought too much pollution to have the very exotic corals and fish living on it that we were looking for. The glass bottom view was disappointing.
Next we thought we would take, and we paid for it, a semi submarine trip. Windows all around to sit smack in the middle of this living, natural aquarium. Well, the sea was so rough by then, that the tour company cancelled our booked trip. We got our money back for this part of the outing. So what to do? To be on this small reef island without a tour was not fun, there was no place to hide. The wind whipped us, there were no shelters. Not ours, but another boat was due to go back soon. We opted to abandon our tour and made haste to go back on this boat to the harbor. While this boat was a bit bigger than our first boat, it still was small enough to be tossed about, too. We should not have made this trip, while we did not get sea sick, it was a waste of money. The results were not what we hoped to see and what was advertised.
The following day, even though the tour we had previously booked to the outer reef was not cancelled and we could have gone an this tour, we did not go. We came to Cairs to visit the Great Barrier Reef, yet only saw the dull, small reef off the coast. Yes, the weather, the cyclone, was a factor, but after the disappointing first trip that turned out to be a dud, we gave up on the whole reef tour.
Instead we took a train ride on that day. We took the famous Kuranda Scenic Railway trip. It took a total of 17 years to build this railroad line of only 56 km. It is not a long track really, it takes just 45 minutes to ride up the mountain. But in the late 19th century, when this railroad was built, it was an engineering feat. All labor at that time was done by hand. The tunnels were dug out by hand with picks and shovels. Workers had to supply their own tools. Landslides and treacherous cliffs made building the tracks almost impossible. This was before fancy survivor equipment, jack hammers, heck, even before bulldozers.
The tracks, from Cairs to Kuranda, were put in to harvest the original lumber out of the local jungles, then haul it to the ships anchored in Cairns. Pictures show the size of the trees that were harvested. Huge! All of the old growth lumber was cut down. It was worth the effort to install the railroad since the money made on the sale of lumber, even though it was harvested without regard to ecological side effects, was tremendous. The jungle has grown back since the railroad was built, yet the trees look skinny and the area still suffers from the raping of Mother Nature. Today, the town of Kuranda, is a tourist town, nice to look at, quaint even, especially the old train station. Yet the town opens and closes with the arrival of the tourists on the train. Once the last train leaves, the town rolls up the sidewalks and goes to sleep. Kuranda, the lumber town, the end of the train town, lives off her old glory days. The scenery of the ride up the mountain, the sheer beauty of the landscape, the waterfalls, the greater region around the train tracks, the jungle and all the living things within have now been turned into a national park. One of many parks Australia set up to preserve the environment. Yes, it is touristy, a good place to visit, should you ever come here.
For the way down the mountains, the way back to Cairns, we did not take the train but a skyrail. A very long cable car that glides over the jungle below with a few stops to get off and look around. I was amazed by how many visitors this whole setup attracted. Each cable car held up to six people and were spaced about one minute apart on the stations. Seldom was a gondola empty even though the operators did not load the cars to maximum, but tried to keep groups and families together. I enjoyed this sky rail, too. The stops were informative. A park ranger gave tours, explaining some of the native wild life, but also pointed out some not so nice plants that grow right on the side of the path. Like I had learned previously in the jungle, if you do not know the plant, do not touch or even lean against it. Some give you some very nasty reminders, should you ever forget. Poison ivy is mild in comparison to what you can find in the jungle.
We came to Cairns with the intension of visiting the Great Barrier Reef. Maybe the next time we are in Australia we will take a reef tour to the outer reef. I liked Cairns yet we came in the wrong season.

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