Saturday, December 17, 2011

The North Queensland’s Coast

Map picture

Our stop yesterday was at the northern city of Cairns, Australia. Sadly the weather for our one day visit was absolutely awful. At times we experienced drenching tropical downpours, but even in the best of circumstances, it was a slow drizzle. DSCN0450The weather broke for about an hour during the time that we were enjoying the highlight of our day, our ride on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway.

Over the years I have heard so much about the city of Cairns, but I really had no idea what to expect. It turns out that the city is a resort community that today serves as the Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, and to the area known as the Far North Queensland. The city reminded me of my visits to Atlantic City, New Jersey. There were plush hotels, nice shops, cafés, casinos and just about any kind of entertainment that you could desire. DSCN0453It was striking that there were virtually no tall buildings in the city, and as it turns out this is by design. On this part of the coast, the city is frequently the victim of large cyclones, which are the equivalent to our hurricanes, and thus tall structures are discouraged.

Strangely enough, for a city that has such a "beachfront" atmosphere, there are actually no beaches in the city of Cairns. The closest beaches are many miles to the north, but unfortunately they are virtually unswimmable for half the year as a result of the jellyfish population that is so deadly, that they keep the stunning beaches empty. As we saw on Thursday Island, they also have salt water crocodiles, which only adds to the excitement of swimming on what otherwise appear to be idyllic beaches.

The city is quite literally carved out of the rainforest. You need only drive a few miles into the countryside, before you enter rainforest and a virtually unpopulated landscape. The city itself is home to roughly 200,000 people, and it was first founded in 1876 as a supply town for miners going into the wilderness prospecting for gold. Later it became a railroad terminus for the shipment of sugarcane, and indeed sugarcane is one of its main cash producing crops today, along with fishing.

Because of the drenching rains, we did a quick drive around the city, and then drove north towards the zoo. Along the way, we did not see any cuddly koalas, or kangaroos, but we did see a large population of wallabies. I'm certain that as we go south we will encounter more of these animals. For those of you who have never been to Australia, let me give you an analogy that would help you appreciate the difference between a kangaroo and a wallaby. Kangaroos in Australia act very much in a manner similar to deer in our country. They travel in herds, they are frequently seen on the edges of clearings, and in certain parts of the country they are pretty ubiquitous. Wallabies, on the other hand, appear to be a much smaller version of the kangaroo, but they act like rabbits. They hop around in groups, and they tend to live underneath bushes and trees. As we go further south, I'll have an opportunity to get more into the differences between these two animals, but since this was our first introduction to them, I wanted to make mention.

When we arrived at the zoo, the drenching downpour had relented to a gentle drizzle. We paid our fee and went inside hoping to see some of the exotic animals that are indigenous to Australia. Unfortunately the little critters seemed to be hiding, and for the most part, the zoo was geared towards animal shows, rather than animal exhibits. DSCN0470(3)Once we figured that out, there was no reason to brave the drizzle for something that was of little interest to us.

Our driver then suggested that we go see the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. DSCN0483I was a little hesitant, but since the cable cars were enclosed at least that was something that we could do given the weather. As it turns out, I should have had no hesitation at all. This tourist attraction is an award-winning trip. Completed in 1995, it has almost 5 miles of cable, and three stops. The first stop allows you to go for a walk through the rainforest, the second stop takes you to an interesting series of waterfalls, and the last stop allows you to depart in Kuranda, which is a quaint little village up in the mountains of the rainforest.

Sadly at this point the drenching rains were back, and so Lisa and I decided it was time to tuck tail and head for our ship. Today we are continuing our cruise south and are due to anchor off Hamilton Island. Rather than write a separate article, I'm going to combine that stop with the information about Cairns. So as they say-this is to be continued.

Hamilton Island

Map picture

The ship has managed to do it again! We are visiting WhitSunday Islands, but it is a Saturday. It all gets very confusing, and I have heard several guests complain that we should be visiting the Whitsunday Islands on a Sunday-but it's a Saturday! I mean what is a fella to do?


Following on my comments the other day about islands, here we are with yet another island chain about which I was totally ignorant before this visit to Australia. There are 74 islands that comprise the Whitsunday Islands, and they lie only 40 miles off the coast of Queensland, Australia. The largest of these islands is Hamilton Island, which is our destination for today's visit. As the ship approached the island chain, I was very surprised that it barely slowed down as it begun to navigate its way among the many islands. We twisted and turned among small island chains for almost an hour before finally coming to our anchorage off the island of Hamilton. At times, we were so close to the islands themselves that I swear if I had had a long stick, I could've grabbed a leaf from one of the trees!

I must admit that Hamilton Island, and indeed the entire island chain, was a complete surprise to me. As we entered these waters, we encountered large numbers of sailboats and other pleasure craft. It was clear from our position at anchor that Hamilton Island was heavily populated, and we could even see at the other end of the island, that it had its own airport. Usually at an island airport like this, you may expect the plane to arrive and depart maybe once or twice a day, but for the entire afternoon that we were visiting, the airport was continually busy with the departing and arriving traffic! Hamilton Island, as it turns out, is an extremely popular resort and serves as the offshore gateway to the Great Barrier Reef.

Since Lisa and I had not signed up for any activities in advance, we decided simply to take the tender ashore to see what could be seen. DSCN0590When we landed I was really shocked to find that we were in the middle of a huge resort complex. It reminded me of Hilton Head in South Carolina. Condominiums lined the hillsides for as far as you could see, and over the ridge from where we were standing, the tops of tall hotels could be seen. The tourist Bureau handed us a brochure as we departed our landing craft, and it listed over 65 activities that were available on the island. You could visit their own wildlife Park, take a glass bottom boat tour, engage in bowling; they had an 18 and a nine-hole golf course, water sports of all kinds and at the airport, they offered rides in helicopters and seaplanes to soar over the reef and the surrounding areas.

Along the waterfront, they had essentially a boardwalk which included a bakery, pharmacy, numerous restaurants, and shops of all kinds and sizes. DSCN0597There were really only three ways to get around the island: you can of course walk; they offered a series of shuttles that would circle the island at 15 minute intervals in all directions; and there was the ubiquitous golf cart.DSCN0605 There were literally thousands of golf carts, some being driven by children that looked to be no more than nine years old. We had to be very careful when crossing the narrow streets, because the carts themselves make almost no sound so your eyes are your only early warning. From what I could tell the resort community was well populated by all kinds of people. There were plenty of teenagers, families, elderly, and quite frankly if I had the time and the money to come all the way back to the area, this would certainly be a place that I might explore as a “get away.”

We purchased a few items in the pharmacy, but when we decided to grab a pastry and a Coke, they refuse to take either our credit cards or American cash. At this point we decided – it was probably better to go back to the ship.DSCN0649

Today is a very pleasant resting day at sea as we had south towards the city of Brisbane. We will arrive there tomorrow at eight in the morning, and depart at 6 PM. Neither Lisa nor I have ever been to Brisbane previously, so we are both looking forward to the visit.

Hope everyone is doing well.


No comments: