Thursday, September 22, 2016

Cairns, the Great Barrier Reef, and Bartle Frere

From Daintree we started the drive south in the general direction of Sydney.  We had 2 weeks until our flight out and plenty of options for things to see along the way.  And some really nice weather  - we were extremely lucky with the weather for our whole trip.  After the rain in Melbourne/Adelaide it was all beautiful days.

For example, the blue sky for the requisite "Jucy at the coast" shot:

We passed oodles of sugar cane fields, cane harvesting operations, and a couple of cane transport trains.  In this particular section of highway, with the tall sugar plants and the lush green mountains, we were very much reminded of Maui.  Where are we again?

Hang gliding, cool!

We stopped to watch a couple floating around above us:

We stayed in Cairns for a couple nights, just as a base for our snorkel/dive tour.  After being in the empty Outback, the town seemed to have a lot of people.  Probably just our readjustment to "normal".  It was a base for tons of tour options and a common vacation destination.  The campground rivaled the one near Uluru for number of people in it.

The Great Barrier Reef!  That was an amazing experience, one of the top in the whole trip for me.  It's kind of one of those things you just have to go see, and I say that partly because we didn't bring the camera (and didn't buy the pictures from the onboard photographer, although perhaps we should have).  We packed light to not worry about our belongings or things getting wet and to just focus on the day.

The Reef Experience tour company was top-notch, everything we could have asked for and more.  Shuttle pickup at the campground, efficient process to ensure everyone was in the right place (and a system to make sure everyone was onboard before we moved anywhere), food every time we turned around, and an interesting slideshow about what we would see at the reef.

The most amazing part was that we had the option to do a beginner SCUBA dive in addition to the snorkeling.  Why, yes please!  It has been many years since our SCUBA classes and Borneo experience, but I did remember enjoying being underwater and still able to breathe.  Plus we'd actually get to see fish this time instead of the murky waters of Lake Travis and whatever we saw in our night dive during Eco-Challenge (my sleep-deprived memory of that dive is hazy)

John and I were in one of the first groups to get suited up for diving.  We started off a couple feet underwater hanging onto a bar of the boat while our guide worked with a couple other people who were trying to get something sorted out.  It was a good time for me to reacquaint myself with the basics of SCUBA - basically, relax and breathe deeply and slowly, just float and experience it all.

We ended up with just the 2 of us with our one excellent guide.  He put us through the mask-clearing and regulator out/in exercises and we were good to go see the fish!  I was floating a bit high and John was sinking a little, so our guide spent some time keeping us together and helping us along.  My sinuses took a bit to adjust, making my head feel a little weird, then there is the whole "don't freak out, you're 20 feet underwater!" thing I have to deal with whenever I think too much about a situation.

It was SO worth it - the colorful fish everywhere.  The amazing coral!  We had seen some great fish while snorkeling on Maui, but the coral here was beyond anything we had ever seen.  All kinds of shapes and colors and textures, absolutely clear and beautiful, fish darting through it, reeds waving in the sea breeze.  Our guide took us on a little tour and I almost forgot I was underwater.

The neatest thing was we got to see a sea turtle!  It was hanging out near the bottom, just moving slowly around as turtles do.  I love swimming with turtles!  I wish more of the divers got to see it, apparently this was an uncommon thing.  Our guide was quite excited about it.  When the dive was over we surfaced with all of us grinning.

We had to go sit and recover for a bit after that amazing experience.  By the time the boat moved to the second location we were ready for some snorkeling.  More beautiful fish and coral, fun little canyons to explore.  It was truly incredible and we're so glad we made sure to see the reef.

That evening we wandered to the park next to the campground to see what sports was going on.  Something called "netball" - ?  Similar to basketball, but no backboard on the goal and no dribbling.  Just passing and shooting, with some extra rules about who can be inside the circle and for how long, if I remember right (and we were just guessing by watching and trying to figure it out).  Looks like fun!

We departed from the hustle and bustle of Cairns the next morning, driving right away from the "crowds" and to a remote trail to climb Mount Bartle Frere.  A jungle hike, should be interesting.  John had the camera again, and although I was climbing decently well (and the knee held up fine), he still had plenty of time to take pictures of me hiking in front of him:

A few rock obstacles along the way:

Checking the map while eating a snack by the creek:

OMG, a leech!  Speaking of Borneo!  These little guys were pretty harmless, just wiggling around and not getting too attached to anything (and we didn't find any inside our socks).  But they did cause some flashbacks.  I still have an efficient "flick them off" motion with my right middle finger.  The shot's a bit blurry, but trust me, there were leeches:

Fun ascent through - and on - the trees:

I made it!

Way up the trail, finally a view:

We made it almost to the top, but then there was bouldering.  An Aussie child would probably have no trouble with this.  I didn't do so well, just tentative over the large rocks with the big gaps in between.  John of course was fine and would have continued up, but we were running out of time.  It was warmer in the northern part of Australia but still winter, so sunset was pretty early.  Time to head down.

We didn't get a picture of the boulders, ah well.  Further down, here's a view back toward the greenery:

A bit of sunlight through the canopy and an example of a large rock:

Working backward down one steep rooty section:

Pondering the stream crossing:

We made it down before dark, no problem, and it was good that we had some spare evening time because the first campground we tried near Innisfail was full.  We ended up instead at a wonderful little place at Etty Bay.  Quiet and right on the beach, just lovely:

No sunset for us, but some striking clouds over the ocean:

Too many clouds to see the sunrise either, but we were rewarded for being early at the beach by seeing a young cassowary wandering around!

How cool is that?

He attracted a bit of attention:

Queensland sure has been amazing so far!

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