I have one final installment from my trip back in November. I’ll be quick and just post up the pictures.
Friday November 28
I arrived in Cairns at noon. The sun was shining and the heat was a pleasant reminder of my tropical home. No offense, but Auckland was pretty damn chilly. All those years in the tropics have thinned my blood.
I grabbed a taxi for the 10 minute ride to the Esplanade, the center of Cairns. I checked back into the Bellview, and I actually got the same room again, so I was familiar with all the accoutrements. The flight from Auckland was a long one, and I read a sizable portion of Signal to Noise, so I just flopped in my room and started reading intently. After the hectic schedule of the last few days, it was a pleasure to sit by myself and lose myself in a good book.
I finished the novel around 20:00 that evening and went searching for something to do. I stopped for dinner at a place about a hundred meters down the Esplanade, Rattle & Hum. I’ll admit I was a little confused at first, the waitress never bothered to take my order. When I finally asked, I was schooled in how it is done. In a nod to fast food enterprises, the restaurants makes patrons order from the counter and pick up their own meals when the food is ready. I guess that cuts down on staff or something, but I was confused at the time.
After eating and several Guinness, I took a walk. Here’s a shot of central Cairns from the marina where all the Great Reef tour boats depart during the day.
I was pretty tired by 22:00 (that was 01:00 in Auckland after all), so I walked back to my room and got ready for bed. I pulled out another book, Foucault’s Pendulum, and read for about a half hour. Then I was asleep.
Saturday, November 29
Woke up early and got a good look at Cairns in the early morning. I spent a good part of the morning by the public swimming pool just outside of the Bellview. Truth be told, I was busy transcribing the previous week’s adventures so I wouldn’t forget all the details.
Around 11:00 I found an internet cafe and checked my email. Then I visited the Cairns Regional Gallery and looked at a couple exhibits. It was a small museum, but I enjoyed myself. One exhibit was local photographers taking pictures of sumptuous meals served on beautiful hand-made ceramics. The photo of the meal and the actual plate it was served on were exhibited. Interesting idea, gave me a sense of connection with the photos of food. Unfortunately no photography was allowed in the museum.
I grabbed lunch at Oasis Kebab, next to the Bellview. Those kebabs are damn tasty, certainly something I miss back here on Guam. They are onolicious, and really good late at night. After eating lunch, I spent some time walking through town, but ending up taking a long nap that afternoon.
When I got up at 17:00, I wrote for a bit then went to PJ O’Brien’s, an Irish pub a few blocks away. I started downing Guinness in large quantities and ordered up the bangers and mash. I washed down all that food with more Guinness and polished off dinner with a snootful (or two) of Johnny Walker.
I was pretty tight when I left that place around 21:00, but I managed to enjoy some music in another club and a free outdoor concert. But another beer put the fork in me, and I was done. I stumbled off to the Bellview and sleep.
Sunday, November 30
I woke around 3:30. It was raining. A hard and fast downpour. I listened to the rain and thought about how the locals needed rain so bad. The entire area was parched and brown. 2002 had been a drought year, and 2003 was just as bad. So I figured this rain was a welcome blessing.
It lasted about a half hour, then petered out. I lay in bed thinking about what I wanted to do. Around 4:30 I could hear a band of drunken revelers outside by the pool. Belly flops and loud laughing commenced, at least for a few minutes. Then Rod Mieklejohn came back from the front desk and yelled at the drunken idiots.
After the commotion died down, I roused myself and went to eat breakfast at McDonald’s Not much else was open at 5:30 in the morning. I ate out by the swimming pool on the Esplanade, and enjoyed watching the sunrise.
It was my last day on vacation and I wanted to do something memorable. When I came back to the Bellview, Rodney was setting out a board with the day’s featured activity. It was a trip to a nearby village, Kuranda. It sounded like fun, and Rodney made all the arrangements for me. I just had to show up at a nearby restaurant at 10:30 and the tour would begin. We made a couple stops enroute to pick up other people going on the tour. The last stop was at a condo unit adjacent to Cairns’ oldest cemetery.
Kuranda lies about 20 kilometers inland, along the Barron River, at the start of the Atherton Tableland. It is a popular destination for day tours from Cairns. The village is full of things to do, mostly centered on the rainforest experience. The town lies in the Barron Gorge National Park, a fantastic treasure. The main attraction of the park are the colossal Barron Falls at the head of the gorge, just outside of Kuranda. While it is possible to drive there, most people take either the historic Kuranda Railway or the newer SkyRail, one of Queensland’s most popular attractions.
My tour began at the SkyRail terminal at the base of the coastal range, about 7 kilometers north of Cairns. The SkyRail was a cable car attraction that ran for over 7 kilometers to Kuranda. It was incredible. The views afforded by the cable car, looking down into the jungle canopy, were amazing. I took a ton of pictures, but I will only post a few up here.
The SkyRail included a couple stops during the cable car ride. The first was at Red Peak Station, the highest point of the journey. Red Peak Station included a nature walk through the rainforest, a fascinating look at the jungle plants and animals.
After leaving Red Peak Station the cable cars descended a bit and I caught my first views of the Barron Gorge.
The second stop was at the top of the Barron Falls. The falls were a mere shadow of their usual force because of the prolonged drought, but I was still impressed. Even in their diminished state, the falls were still ten time larger and higher than any waterfall on Guam.
Kuranda was just beyond the waterfall and I got into the village just after noon. I had three hours until the train left for Cairns, so I got busy looking around. Kuranda was a small town, full of shops and attractions. I bought a few things, then relaxed with a beer before deciding to visit Birdworld, a large aviary that advertised a stunning collection of birds. Coming from an island were all the birds went extinct two decades ago, I have a deep longing to see and hear birds. So I went to check it out. And I really wanted to see a cassowary, a large bird indigenous to that part of Queensland.
After my adventure at Birdworld – believe me, dodging all that bird poop is an adventure – I stopped for a burger and a couple beers at the Rainforest View Restaurant. It was pretty good, and it offered a nice view of the SkyRail topping the ridge across the Barron River and heading into town. After eating, I felt like a walk. The people at the restaurant directed me towards a short jungle walk that lead away from the village and along Jumrum Creek.
Time was running short, so I headed towards the train station. I made to the railroad with just a few minutes to spare. Lucky I had a seat reserved. The Kuranda Scenic Railway train was incredible, with original all wood cars carefully restored and the specially painted engines. The train took longer to reach Cairns, but the views were incredible. The train even stopped at Barron Falls, so I got another look at the cataracts.
One very nice thing about the train; it ends right in the middle of Cairns. No bus rides back into town. The train arrived at a little after 17:00. I check my email at the same internet cafe, then went looking for someplace to eat. I chose the Raw Prawn Cafe, near the Bellview. I feasted on some oysters and a tuna steak. Very good, but a little pricey.
My flight to Guam wasn’t until 01:00, so I had plenty of time to kill. I packed everything up, then went down the street to Rattle & Hum to see how many Guinness I could consume before I needed to get to the airport. I think I stayed until about 11:30 and chatted up the bartender. On the way back to the Bellview, I stopped for one final kebab at Oasis Kebab.
And then I was gone off to the airport. It was a whirlwind trip, but I had a blast. I only wish it was longer.