Yesterday we had one of those adventure days where you just go and go until you can't go anymore, then you go a little more - totally worth it!
Started off with a helicopter ride out over the great barrier reef - Our Pilot Gus was awesome - (of course I'm saying that because we lived) It was a first for both of us, so we didn't know what to expect, but it is like being in a fish bowl that flies - incredible views in all directions and it almost feels like you are suspended in the air with nothing under you (except a big motor, of course...)
The reef runs 1300 miles along the northeastern coast of Australia and is much farther offshore than the reef in the Florida keys - it starts about 15 miles out and goes as far as 50-75 miles away from the coast - There are lots of ways to access the reef - boat, boat, or helicopter. Or a really long swim across dangerous waters. For me, I like flying in a helicopter...it’s my new favorite way to see things.
After our flight, we hopped into a very small rental car (the guy at the rental place kept asking us how tall we were as we filled out the papers - by the time we were supposed to get the car, he had us wondering just how small the car was - he had a good laugh when it turned out to be a normally sized very small car...We walked in hunched over when we returned the car, saying our backs were out from having to bend over the whole time...he liked the joke...)
So, driving in Australia is just the same as in the states, except completely backwards. Stay to the left. And try not to forget! I let Karen drive, as I am not adjusting to the backwards thing as easily. She did great ( I’m glad to be here to say!)
We went south along a coastal valley, between mountains, through sugar cane fields that completely filled the valley for our entire journey 120 kilometers to the south. It is fall here, and the cane is tall and very green, so the drive was beautiful. They have a small rail system set up to harvest the cane - the rails go unused 11 months out of the year, but when it is harvest time, very small trains are all over the place, crossing the major highway with huge loads of cane. There are no crossing gates or guards, so it might get interesting looking out for all the mini trains at harvest time....
We passed several banana plantations, and the bunches of bananas are in bags to protect them from cockatoos. I can’t believe they have to cover every bunch of bananas to keep the birds off. Super labor intensive. Think I won’t start one of those type gardens. We also saw papayas being grown in large groves - the trees are full of ripening papaya right now, and they look like a large art installation. Beautiful countryside.
We stopped at a few waterfalls along the way to our real destination which I’ll get to momentarily. the Boulders in Babinda and Josephine falls a little farther down the road were both lovely spots in the rainforest. They have a few signs like ‘don’t touch this or that plant, and don’t swim here or there, but mostly it is assumed you won’t go off running through the rainforest, as the flora and fauna are quite inhospitable in places. One vine is called the ‘wait a while vine’ - I think that means something like this...You think it hurts now? Wait a while...!
We ended up at a magical place called Paronella Park in late afternoon, just in time for the tour - It was built by a Spanish man who was way before his time in many ways - It functioned as a sort of theme park starting in the 1930‘s. Located next to a sizeable waterfall, he installed a generator to provide his park with electricity, many years before the nearby town had power. He built two eccentric looking castles - not huge, but gorgeous works of art. He landscaped the gardens and grounds with tropical trees and plants, and provided a ballroom with a stage for shows and movies. He also installed what was most likely the first disco ball in Australia in the 1940’s, predating the 1970‘s American disco craze by at least 3 decades...
We took a night tour a few hours later (so I could do some photography, thanks Karen...) What an amazing spot - I wanted to stay for several more hours as it was a photographer’s wonderland, but I’m happy with the images I made while there.
There’s a lot more history to Paronella Park - if you’re interested, go google...
We’re off to Melbourne this evening and we teach again starting tomorrow, so our adventure in Cairns is coming to an end, but it has been a fantastic side trip.
Ok, so I talk too much, but I’m sitting in an airport waiting for a plane.
And it is a long wait.
Enjoy the photos!