The vast Cairns Aquarium opposite our hotel
CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE
23 May 2021
Today we (my lifelong friend Jan and I) catch the 6am flight from Sydney to Cairns. This is a holiday we booked in June 2020 but ofcourse COVID-19 made that impossible, so the holiday was rescheduled to June 2021, then rescheduled again due to changes in train timetables, so today we are very excited to at last being able to travel.
Last night we organised for the taxi to be available at 4.30am for our trip to the airport. We were up at 3.30am, taxi arrived on time, checked the bags in at the airport, and bought a coffee and muffin for breakfast. No problems with the flight at 6am and we touched down at Cairns on time at 9.10am. Our taxi was waiting and we were delivered to the Ramada by Wyndham in 10 minutes. Our room was not ready for us, so we took the opportunity to walk into town and along the seashore and Esplanade. There is a lot of work happening along the foreshore, widening of the road, and it should look great when it is completed. There is a huge swimming pool adjacent to the beach (below right), the reason being that “stingers” abound between November and May and it is unsafe (and I imagine very uncomfortable) to swim in the ocean.
We found Villa Romana cafe, overlooking the ocean, for a casual and delicious late brunch of muesli, fruit and yogurt with coffee. The weather was fairly warm, and we got to know some of the area and the restaurants. After a fairly long walk we made our way back to Ramada to have an afternoon catnap (getting up at 3.30am was starting to take its toll!). That evening we had a short walk into town for a tasty dinner at Cafe Thailand, then a reasonably early night as we have to be ready for our pickup at 7.10am for our first tour to Cape Tribulation and the Daintree National Park.
24 May 2021
This morning we were again up with the birds for an early breakfast at our hotel, then our pickup at 7am for our trip to Cape Tribulation and the Daintree National Park. We had a party of 20 on the bus, and our guide Lisa was great and very informative and patient. Our first stop was the Wildlife Habitat at Port Douglas where our first meeting was with a snake. The young keeper explained various aspects of snakes and we were allowed to “stroke” the snake which we were advised was quite friendly! One could spend hours at the Habitat, but we had time for scones and cream for morning tea then a walk around the habitat talking to the numerous birds and koalas before we had to move on.
Heading north to Cape Tribulation we stopped at the Walu Wugirriga Lookout, Cow Bay (part of the Mount Alexandra Lookout) with its lush green palms and trees against a misty backdrop (left). Heading off again we had a stop to allow a Cassowary to cross the road, it is fairly rare to see these birds so it was a special treat.
Soon after we arrived at the Daintree River and crossed on the cable driven ferry, driving along the rainforest-fringed Cape Tribulation Road through the Daintree National Park, a magnificent wilderness region. We were able to walk on to the expanse of Myall Beach after reading the huge warning sign to look out for crocodiles! This area is part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.
Patterns in the sand made by beach worms, and a colourful beach flower.
On the walk to the beach we again caught sight of a family of cassowarys, apparently the protective father can do a lot of damage with his huge claws if one gets too close to his family. These birds look similar to prehistoric dinosaur birds with their colourful heads.
It was then time for lunch and Lisa was well prepared with food and drink under the shelter, and further chats about the area and wildlife.
Then it was time to board the bus again and make for the Dubuji (“Place of Spirits”) Boardwalk. The boardwalk is approximately 1.2km long through magnificent rainforest and wetland areas.
Finally it was time to leave the beautiful Daintree National Park and return to the Daintree River, again crossing on the cable driven ferry and meeting up with the boat to take us for a glide along the Daintree River with our knowledgeable guide (right) to find a crocodile. We did find one within minutes of leaving the pier, the crocodile looked very comfortable on the bank, then he decided to slide into the water. There was a light shower of rain which spread a misty cloak over the river and the magnificent trees and varieties of mangroves along the banks.
It was late afternoon by now, the sun was going down leaving a silver sheen across the river, very special to be in such an ancient and beautiful area. Tonight we decided to try Villa Romana for dinner, and very pleased with our delicious meal.
25 May 2021 – half day tour around Cairns
Today we can actually have a sleep in and another walk around the town, as we have an afternoon tour around Cairns. Our driver, Matt, collected us from our hotel and our first stop was the beautiful St Monica’s Church, well known for the spectacular windows, especially the Peace Windows.
St. Monica’s Cathedral in Cairns houses the largest modern commission of stained glass in Australia. Gerry Cummins and Jill Stehn completed the “Peace” Window before being commissioned to make the twenty-four “Creation” Windows. The “Peace” window took a year to build, followed by four more years to complete the “Creation” windows.
The “Peace” window occupies 80 square metres of glass in the Cathedral, and the “Creation” windows 240 square metres. Collectively, these windows occupy all of the glass in the nave of the Cathedral. This commission was the largest hand-painted kiln-fired stained glass project ever undertaken in Australia. The windows have been nationally and internationally acclaimed.
Next stop was the Cairns Museum where we were divided into two groups and shown around the exhibitions. The Cairns Museum has amazing stories to share about living in the tropics. Stories of heat, sweat and hard work. Of cane, railways, rainforests and reefs. Of White Australia, Aboriginal resistance and European isolation. Tales of tourists, hippies and local celebrations, amidst humidity, cyclones, toads, mould and mozzies. The Museum showcases the Cairns Historical Society’s amazing collection of objects, photographs and archival records. This collection holds the secrets and memories of the people, places, events and changing environment of Cairns and Far North Queensland.
Colourful totem poles outside the Museum
Matt had organised our afternoon tea at a cafe where we enjoyed scones, jam and cream and coffee, then we were off to the fantastic Botanic Gardens. Only four kilometres from the heart of Cairns City, the Flecker Botanic Gardens are a tropical oasis. 38 hectares of native Australian gardens are maintained to lush standards, and many plants found here cannot be seen elsewhere in the world. Admission to the Cairns Botanic Gardens is free, however collection boxes are placed around the gardens for people to make donations and help the park exist.
The Cairns Botanic Gardens area includes four distinct areas
- Flecker Gardens
- Centenary Lakes
- Mt. Whitfield Conservation Park
- Tanks Art Centre
With our limited time we were only able to see the Flecker Gardens, which are huge, and we were able to see plants and trees that will only grow in the tropics, many that were unfamiliar, but all spectacular.
Next stop was Campbell’s Lookout with some great views looking over Cairns city with the beautiful mountains as a backdrop.
Our next stop was Surprise Creek Waterfalls situated in the Barron Gorge National Park, north-east of Cairns. The waterfalls descend from the Atherton Tableland into the Barron Gorge below. The falls are located near Barron Gorge Hydro (below right) and cascade 243 metres (797 ft) into the gorge.
Our final stop was Palm Cove where we had time to walk along the jetty, with views across the water to the mountains and the beach. The area is named after the tall and beautiful palm trees that line the beach.
On our way back to Cairns it was suggested by Matt that he could deliver anyone interested to the famous Night Markets back in Cairns. A number of us were interested, so we were delivered right to the door. Each night when the sun sets, Cairns Night Markets come alive. Featuring over seventy retail outlets and home to a myriad of food options, Cairns Night Markets are the perfect place to grab dinner and hunt for a bargain. The hustle and bustle of the market in the open air setting makes for an electrifying shopping experience.
In 1991, Hayden Redfern and Elise Warring noticed the increasing demand from tourists to purchase locally made goods so they set about creating an open air market in Cairns. The creators drew their inspiration from the open air markets in Hawaii and South East Asia, but underestimated the popularity they would have with both locals and tourists alike. They temporarily gave the space a term of six months with only 28 vendors but soon they had over 100 vendors knocking on their door. Up until COVID-19 there were 131 stall locations in the complex we attracting 2.7 million people annually.
Again it was a little sad to notice that a number of the food outlets were still closed however we managed to buy some take aways (Chinese and Suchi) and find a table, and that resolved what we were having for dinner that night! The markets are only a short walk from our hotel, so we were soon home and getting ready for our tour tomorrow to Green Island.
26 May 2021
Green Island and Reef
A taxi pickup into the waterfront had been organised for us to board the boat for Green Island, and there were a number of people on board, but not as many as was usual pre COVID-19.
Once we reached Green Island it was quite a long walk along the angular pier to the main settlement and we had a view to the two beaches on either side of the pier.
A view of the beaches when we arrived (left) and a few hours later (right)
We had plenty of time to have a meander around the island before returning to the pier to board the glassbottom boat mid-morning. We spent about thirty minutes on the boat, when we returned to the pier it was time for us to board the semi submarine boat which I found a little claustrophic and had me wondering how we would all get off the boat if there was some disaster! In the early 1960s I had visited Hayman Island and had the opportunity to snorkel over the reef to see the beautiful coloured coral and fish. Sadly there are now fewer fish and the coral is sparse and brown so it was very disappointing to see how the reef has not coped with global warming and human intervention. I believe there are some areas where the coral is still alive and can only hope that some day the reef will be revived.
We returned to the island for lunch to find that many of the shops and cafes have closed. There was one cafe where we could purchase a pre-made sandwich and another cafe where we could purchase a mocha coffee. Obviously the island has been much quieter due to COVID-19, some businesses have closed and may not reopen. We had conversations with the cafe owner, and the owner of a clothing and souvenir shop, both were grateful that people were returning to the island, but nowhere in the numbers they were used to. Green Island is usually a very popular place for Chinese visitors who ofcourse are now not arriving. There is accommodation on the island, which seemed to be vacant.
After lunch it was time for another walk around the beach and we noticed how quickly the tide had run out. There were still some people snorkelling but only under the pier leading to our boat where the water was obviously deeper. We were able to board the boat to wait for the return trip back to Cairns and noticed again how quickly the tide started to rise before we were heading back to the mainland.
Tonight we again walked the short distance into the restaurant area and had dinner at the Great Northern restaurant, delicious pizzas, then on to the hotel to catch up on some washing.
27 May 2021
Kuranda Railway and Skyway
Today we were collected early for our trip on the Kuranda Railway and Skyway, I have set out a short history below. The scenery from the train was spectacular, catching part of the Barron Falls, over the countryside to the ocean, and a stopover for photos.
On arrival at Kuranda Village, we had a break to wander around the Village and have scones, jam and cream (our favourites) and a walk to the village and markets where we found some amusing blackboards (below).
Again we noticed that there were not as many people that would normally be doing this trip and it must be very difficult for the business people.
Our driver then arrived on time to get us to the RainForestation Nature Park where we had a very bumpy ride on the Army Duck which was partly on land, and partly on water – and very enjoyable again to see the beautiful tropical trees, plants and flowers and a spectacular water feature.
Then a chance for a coffee and cake before being collected to descend on the Kuranda Skyrail (Rainforest Cablecar) which was quite exciting being so far above the ground and having a bird’s eye view of the lush greenery below us. There were two “stations” where we were able to alight and have a short walk to take in more of the fabulous tropical scenery, then return to the Skyrail before being lowered down at the Smithfield end of the Skyrail, and the bus back to our hotel.
To celebrate our last evening in Cairns we again had a delicious dinner at Villa Romana then returned to our hotel to complete our packing for tomorrow’s adventure on the Spirit of Queensland train.
An incredible engineering feat
Construction of the Cairns-Kuranda Railway was, and still is, an engineering feat of tremendous magnitude. This enthralling chapter in the history of North Queensland, stands as testimony to the splendid ambitions, fortitude and suffering of the hundreds of men engaged in its construction. It also stands as a monument to the many men who lost their lives on this amazing project.
On May 10th 1886, the then Premier of Queensland Sir Samuel Griffith, used a silver spade to turn the first sod. Celebrations involving almost the entire population of Cairns lasted all that day and long into the night. Construction was by three separate contracts for lengths of 13.2km, 24.5 km, and 37.4km. The line was to total 75.1km and surmounts the vast Atherton tablelands leading to Mareeba. Sections One and Three were relatively easy to locate and construct. But the ascent of Section Two was extremely arduous and dangerous due to steep grades, dense jungle and aboriginals defending their territory.
The climb began near Redlynch 5.5m above sea level, and continued to the summit at Myola with an altitude of 327.1 m. In all, this section included 15 tunnels, 93 curves and dozens of difficult bridges mounted many meters above ravines and waterfalls.
28 May 2021
Overnight train to Brisbane
Another early start to catch the Spirit of Queensland train, which will be our home for the next 25 hours. It was quite novel to sit in the comfy seats, which the crew transform into beds at night when you are ready to go to sleep. It was not the most comfortable bed I have slept in, but I had a reasonable snooze. We had lunch and dinner on our first day, then breakfast before we arrived in Brisbane. There was also a Galley on the train where you could buy snacks and drinks. Meals were fairly ordinary, not quite up to the standard of The Ghan or Indian Pacific, the difference being that those trains have kitchens on board.
29 May 2021
Arrival in Brisbane
Once we arrived in Brisbane we were lucky that we could leave our luggage at the Amina Hotel while we had a short walk around the area. We were then collected by my niece Lisa who drove us to the home of her mother, Barb (my sister-in-law) for lunch and long chats as it is some time since I met up with them. Lisa kindly drove us back to the hotel late afternoon, and we had dinner at the Pig N Whistle which was close to our hotel.
We had a chance to look around Brisbane city (I hadn’t been there for many years) and especially liked the beautiful arcades, restaurants and plaza areas.
30 May 2021
Heading for Surfers Paradise
This morning we had a slight hitch with our travel plans, as there was rail work being done on the weekend, so on instruction we caught a bus to Yeerongpilly, then changed to the train to Helensvale, then changed to the light rail (tram) to take us into Surfers Paradise. We checked into our accommodation at the Novotel and were able to leave our bags while we had a walk around Surfers before meeting up with old friends, Pete and his son Stafford and daughter-in-law Lyn. An Italian lunch was delicious and we were able to catch up with all the news, really special to catch up with our friends.
Back at the hotel we were able to collect our luggage, and ascended in the lift to the 25th floor and our accommodation. Fabulous views across the city – I even ventured onto the balcony despite my fear of heights! This evening we ate in the Hotel, nice meal but it took ages to arrive!
31 May 2021
This morning we walked to Surfers beach for breakfast, with the company of ibis and seagulls trying to steal some food. My old friends Dianne and Ivan then collected us from the Novotel and drove us to Emerald Lakes Golf Club for a delightful lunch, then back to their home at Emerald Lakes for coffee, and return to Surfers. It was so special to meet up with them, Dianne and I have known each other since 1st class at Earlwood School in Sydney.
Later we met up again with Pete for dinner at the RSL Club in Surfers. It was Music Bingo night so we found ourselves bopping around while having our meal and listening to the music. We didn’t win anything but it was quite a happy laugh and a good way to conclude our holiday.
01 June 2021
Today is our last day in Queensland, we caught the light rail back to Helensvale at about 8am, then changed to the train that took us through Brisbane and directly to the airport. We had plenty of time before boarding our flight, and a smooth touchdown at Sydney Airport. I spent that evening at Jan’s and made my way home by train the next day.
This was my first trip to northern Queensland and I will always have happy memories of our time there, and the lush, green and beautiful tropical scenery.
Wildlife Habitat https://www.wildlifehabitat.com.au/
Daintree National Park https://parks.des.qld.gov.au/
Dubuji Boardwalk https://parks.des.qld.gov.au/parks/daintree-cape-tribulation
Kurandah Railway https://www.ksr.com.au/History/Pages/KSR.aspx
Kurandah Skyway https://www.skyrail.com.au/