Our guide for the day was Fred Ariel, owner of Raging Thunder Adventures, a Cairns' based company specialising in white water rafting on the Barron River, and the more demanding Tully River. Fred also offers hot air ballooning from the top of the Atherton Tablelands.
During the day we drove some 250km, travelling north from Cairns to the rainforests around Cape Tribulation, the furthest point of surfaced road and power on this side of Australia. En route, albeit under slightly leaden skies at the start of the day, we enjoyed easy driving with the Coral Sea to our right and the cloud covered rainforest rising steeply above us to our left. The coastal plain supports sugar cane production and as we got further north, small tea and banana plantations were seen.
Mangrove swamp, Daintree National Park
Our first stop was 'Wildlife Habitat' just outside Port Douglas. 'Breakfast with the Birds' was our objective, with food taken in a large netted enclosure, with black cockatoos, lorikeets, and parrots flying around us. We had a quick look at the enclosures containing other regional animals, including wallaby, Lumholtz’s tree kangaroo, and a southern cassowary, the latter seen later in the wild.
We then continued north, crossing the ferry into the Daintree Rainforest, took the tree canopy walk in the Daintree Discovery Centre and enjoyed a board walk at Marrdja (between Thornton and Noah Beaches) where we had mangrove forest and a lone cassowary to ourselves. This is croc country, so care needed, even on the local beaches!
Start point of 4WD route to Cape York
Further north, we reached Cape Tribulation, the turnaround point for most day tours out of Cairns, and crossing the river here is the start point for the popular 4WD drive up to Cape York...7 days in the rainforest, and not for the faint hearted.
Returning to Cairns, we took in the more genteel town of Port Douglas, very stylish and with good restaurants, and then further south paid a quick visit to the popular Palm Cove (the Sea Temple Resort looked great).
Nice country this, but watch out for crocodiles, avoid the beaches when the 'stinger' warnings are up (a very small jellyfish that swarms in the summer off Queensland), and sandflies that bite you in the rainforest if you stop to take pictures!
On another short business trip to Australia, I managed to grab a weekend in Queensland, the sub-tropical north east of this huge country. Landing in Cairns, having passed over the Atherton Tablelands amidst rainforest on the way up from Sydney, the approach into the airport came in over the sea, and the patches of brilliant turquoise in the ocean in the distance revealed the presence of one of the mightiest spectacles on earth, the Great Barrier Reef, which stretches 2600km from Papua New Guinea in the north to Fraser Island in the south.
Stumpy out of his comfort zone!
The Great Barrier Reef comprises over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands and is located in the Coral Sea. It can be seen from outer space and is the world's biggest single structure made by living organisms known as coral polyps.
This was to be my objective, with a couple of dives planned for the following day.
Now, those of you who follow my blog know that my natural disposition is to clamber up mountains, so it was with some trepidation that I found myself 30 miles off Cairns, fully kitted up in all the paraphenalia of a diver, jumping into the swell of the sea around Flynn Reef the following morning. I had joined a trip with Tusa Dive, http://www.tusadive.com/ on their boat, the T5, and , in the very capable hands of Claire, my guide for the day, soon discovered the magic of the reef.
My first dive helped me understand the basics and, to my surprise, I was soon swimming independently, down to around 9m and observing this incredible environment. A grey reef shark, a couple of stingrays, red bass, and a host of smaller reef fish including the inimitable 'Nemo', the anemone or clown fish, sergeant major fish (damselfish) and the larger parrot fish.
We were diving the predominantly hard coral reef in the area of the Flynn Reef and the coral beds are truly amazing for their colour and diversity. A couple of turtles were spotted by the many snorkellers off the back of the boat too.
After a quick lunch, we repositioned to Thetford Reef, 15 minutes to the southeast, then diving again, to 9.1m, this time descending walls and swimming through amazing coral canyons, where soft corals like the fan coral were seen. Giant clams, butterfly fish, more damsels, and angelfish were all sighted.
A quick snorkel after the dive, challenging against the current in one direction completed the reef experience before the 90 minute transit back into Cairns.
'Wally', a Maori Wrasse
Sergeant Major Fish
Underwater pictures courtesy of Tusa Dive, Cairns