After a few stressful weeks at work, Mat suggested the two of us get away for the Australia Day long weekend.
That night we sat together staring at our glaring computer screens and comparing flight + hotel deals. Neither of us had been to Cairns before and we found a great deal so without any research or plan, we booked it.
Immediately after, Mat had a notification on his phone saying, “Sydney trains on strike.” We laughed and agreed that we’ll just take an uber to the airport. We then thought to look at the weather and discovered it’s actually monsoon season. It turns out that January/February is the best time of year for cyclones. I didn’t actually mind, I thought it would be kinda fun to experience a cyclone and write about it (it didn’t happen though).
We woke up at the crack of dawn on Friday to catch our 8:00am flight. Domestic airports in Australia are unbelievably relaxed and uncomplicated. The border security made jokes, smiled and waved me through. You’re even allowed to take liquid over 100ml. It felt like I’d gone back to the simple pre 9/11 terrorism days.
After going through security, I smiled and waved at my new border security friends and popped into the Newslink to see what books are on offer. Airports only sell a small selection of the most popular books around the world so it’s always exciting to see what they choose. There were so many amazing options in the psychology section, I ended up getting “50 Psychology Classics” which is a summary of 50 major psychologists and the theories and ideas that have changed the world of psychology. It’s an amazing book!
Our flight there was on Qantas which was just incredible. You know those horribly boring safety videos that talk to you about how to fasten your seatbelt and you just sit through and don’t actually listen? Well, they turned it into a fun marketing video of flight attendants all across Australia explaining safety. I’ve never actually watched an entire safety video until now, it was so well done.
3 hours later we arrived in the lush jungle tropics. Raindrops rolled down the airplane window as we made our way through the tarmac. We stepped outside into the steamy humid air and noticed an older Australian woman with bleached blonde hair and pink lipstick holding a tray of lamingtons, “Happy Austraya Day! Have a lamington!” she said cheerfully. It was so cute and thoughtful. We thanked her and then caught an uber to the city to check into our uninspiring hotel, the Southern Cross Atrium. I recommend not staying there and going to the Shangri La instead, it’s not even that much more expensive and its right in the centre of the city. We couldn’t check in so we dropped our bags and went out for a walk. It rained like crazy then the sun would come shooting through clouds evaporating all the puddles and drying your soaked clothes. I love that. I absolutely love the extremes of the tropics. I love how dramatic and humid and intense it all is. I can relate to it with my own personality. It’s cool to find a reflection of yourself in nature.
We walked through Rusty’s Market which is only on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. As I wandered through all the vendors and fruits stands I felt like I was back in Indonesia. I got a bag of lychees because I never do and snacked on them and as we walked to the city center. We passed by a large tree and I asked Mat what that sound was. I thought it was loud chirps from birds or insects but when we looked up we noticed that the tree was jampacked with furry headed bats. They were absolutely everywhere, weighing down the branches, balding the tree. It mesmerizing watching them squeak and chirp to their friends and shake the water off their little bodies. It looked like a whole bunch of broken black umbrellas got stuffed in the tree.
The next day we woke up early, again, but this time for some Great Barrier Reef action. Considering that it was monsoon season, the sun was shining and there was no rain expected for the day. Our boat tour was through Compass Tours and we paid $110 per person. This included the boat ride (obviously), snorkelling equipment, stinger suit and an absolute feast of a lunch. The tour was run by a group of mostly young Aussie’s and Brits, as you’d expect. The guy who gave the safety spiel was a young Quebecois who looked like Tom Hanks in Castaway. He asked that anyone who is prone to seasickness to please come to the bar and buy a $3 seasick tablet. Everyone on the boat looked confidently back like “no way do I get seasick!” Within 30 minutes of our 5-hour boat tour, half the people on the boat were gagging in brown paper bags staring helplessly into the horizon.
We later approached the Quebecois to learn more about the stinger suits and asked him about “living the dream down under.” He slumped his shoulders and said “Yeah… well, I just want to go back home now. I’m done with this.” His honesty took me completely off guard. He said he missed his family and has a dream of becoming a cop in Quebec. Apparently, the life of taking tourists on a boat and scuba diving in the great barrier reef wasn’t all that it’s cracked up to be; he wanted snow and hockey and family. Funny how things can look on the outside, isn’t it?
About two hours later we reached our first snorkelling point: Hastings Reef. We all got dressed up in our blue stinger suits, everyone on the boat looked like aliens. These suits help protect from jellyfish (theoretically). But they are light and flimsy and Mat’s suit had holes all over them. I was sort of hoping that they’d give more information about the reef; like what the major contributors to its destruction were and what can we do about it. All we got was “don’t stand on the coral or kick a fish in the face with your fins.” I suppose because our boat was filled with mostly international tourist, a lot of whom didn’t speak much English. I anticipated that the reef was not going to be as bad as what I’d heard, but sadly I was wrong. As soon as I put my mask on and scanned the ocean floor it looked like a forest that had been incinerated by a massive fire. It was so sad to see these amazingly vivid colorful fish standing out like sore thumbs against a background they were meant to camouflage into. I watched them as they nibbled on bits of coral and swayed to the rhythm of the ocean, completely unphased. They reminded me of little kids who had no idea what was happening and trusted us to help them fix their home. I just felt like hugging them all. I suddenly noticed a few white things in my peripheral vision and looked closer to the surface at about 18 jellyfish that were all around me. I held my breath and went under water, looking for an empty spot to get air without them getting in the way.
Everyone came back on the boat for lunch (which was surprisingly delicious) and then we made our way to the next snorkelling stop. I didn’t bother going in this time. It was relaxing to lay on the boat feeling the gentle rocking of the ocean. Plus, it just made me sad to see the “great” barrier reef. Mat came and sat beside me after he finished snorkelling and said he was annoyed because some idiot stood on the coral. He’d asked the man what he was doing and he casually responded with, “waiting for my wife.” I think each tour needs to be extremely strict about things that like, telling people if they stand on the reef they will be electrocuted by a rare species of coral fungi and will die a painful slow death. There should be an obligation that each tour has to ensure that everyone on the boat understands the consequences and they are held accountable for stupid behavior like that.
The next morning we had a Daintree, Cape Tribulation, Mosman Gorge and Crocodile Tour ($140 per person). It started early morning again and was one of those tours that involved individual pick-up at each person’s hotel (it takes forever). But it was great opportunity to look out the window, listen to music and watch life go by. We had a really friendly tour guide who told us about all the crocodile-related deaths that happened recently. It’s actually quite a difficult situation for the council because when a person is gobbled up by a crocodile the families left behind usually want the guilty croc found and killed. They actually have to take the suspects and X-ray their stomach for human remains. But the tricky thing is when a family requests it to be shot, it’s almost always the apex predator, the highest crocodile in the food chain. So if you remove him from the picture then all the young teens now have a chance to grow to his size. The better option is to leave the guilty crocodile to maintain the food chain as it is. He told us that one man, a local tour guide, lost his 5-year-old son to a crocodile. He was obviously devastated but asked that they not kill the crocodile. Everyone in the town was outraged by this and were afraid that since the crocodile tasted human flesh it was now going to kill everyone. The man was so bullied by the community that he had to move away.
The first stop was the Daintree rainforest. Apparently, thanks to David Attenborough that entire area is protected as world heritage. Without him, there would be nothing left but highways and highrises. The jungle was humid and steamy and felt like medicine in my lungs. We passed pythons, huge spiders and bush turkeys. Next, we went to Cape Tribulation for lunch. It’s a spectacular headland and an idyllic beach completely infested with killer crocodiles and boxed jellyfish (if you come into contact with a tentacle you will be dead in 2 minutes). Mat and I ate lunch away from the tour group near a bush and spun our head back quickly whenever we heard a sound. It was usually a harmless bush turkey. The name Cape Tribulation came from Captain Cook who accidentally rammed his boat into the reef. He called it Cape Tribulation because it was the beginning of all of his “trials and tribulations.” Imagine rocking up to this area in 1770? It would have been absolutely terrifying!
After that, we carried on to get some delicious fruit ice cream made with whatever fruits were in season. Wattleseed is my new favourite. It’s a fruit but it tastes like mocha ice cream with bits of almond. I could not believe that it was a fruit. From there we were driven to the crocodile tour. The last time I did a crocodile tour was in Jamaica when I was like 7 or 8. They threw chickens overboard and we watched the crocodiles swallow them whole. I actually remember I had a nightmare where a woman was eaten. She was sitting near the end of the boat and the crocodile shot out of the water and tore the flesh off her back, then went back and grabbed her. It was such a vivid and terrifying dream, I actually thought it was real for a while there. Anyway, there were no live chickens to be thrown overboard. The guy giving the tour casually pointed out the crocodiles that lay along the river so incredibly well camouflaged. “This is a woman crocodile,” he told us as we all piled to the side of the boat staring and taking pictures. “Do you know how I can tell? Because she’s laying there doing absolutely nothing.” Everyone laughed. The boat ride was the highlight for me. I’m amazed and entranced by the incredible sleek design of a crocodile, it’s an evolutionary masterpiece and there is zero chance you could ever survive if it decided to attack you.
We ended the tour with an overly whitewashed tourist experience at Mosman Gorge. We were told it was Aboriginal area and run by Aboriginals. Once we arrived there was one aboriginal who was the janitor. I was sort of hoping for a cultural experience with an elder who would show us plants and point out interesting things. Instead, we were herded like sheep to an air-conditioned bus and dropped at a bus station. It was a beautiful river though and it was nice to soak my feet in the refreshing water.
Overall, we got pretty lucky with the weather. It rained a bit on the first day but after that, it was pure humid sunshine. It was actually nice to be there during offseason, it was quiet, relaxing and so much cheaper. It’s also the best time to see the rainforest in all its glory!