Wednesday, 29 December 2010
Thursday, 23 December 2010
Thursday, 16 December 2010
Tuesday, 14 December 2010
The day after we got back from our dive boat trip we hired a car and headed north to see some more of Queensland. Our first stop was Port Douglas, a short drive from Cairns. I stayed in PD with my family five years ago, so it was nice to see it again. They have a beautiful beach lined with palm trees. Yet again the jellies are in the water but PD is one of the towns that has a big stinger net in the sea, so people can swim safely in a small section of the water. I didn't have to deal with that element when Mum, Dad, Rach and I came out here in 2005 as it was Aussie winter, so it's new to me. We arrived in PD and headed straight to a brilliant market where we bought some Christmas presents (not telling) and tried some nice food and drink. We had sugar cane juice flavoured with ginger and chilled coconut milk straight from the coconut! When we were done with the drink, we took it back and they chopped it open, then we ate the delicious fruit with some banana and honey:
The man who served us was really into organic bananas. He eats 30 or 40 A DAY! That's quite a habit, eh?! We had a quick paddle in the sea at PD and ate an interesting pizza with blue cheese, walnuts and pears, then moved on to Daintree Village.
There we did Bruce Belcher's River Cruise. Bruce lives on the bank of the Daintree River with his family and is a crocodile expert. We went on a one-hour cruise with Bruce and one other couple, trying to spot a croc! It was quite creepy cruising along the river, wondering if one was about to leap up out of the water! We saw some white-lipped tree frogs and lots of beautiful scenery, and were getting to think we were out of luck, when suddenly we spotted her. A huge female croc was just on the surface of the water. Three metres of pure, scaly, killing machine. We tried to get some pictures and videos but we were too far away. As I stood up the front of the boat trying to film her, I heard Bruce say to Ania, 'What do you think would happen if he fell in right now?'
'You're coming in to get me, Bruce!', I replied nervously.
'I reckon you'd see her disappear below the surface pretty quickly,' said Bruce, 'Not like in the movies when you see them coming on the surface!'
On the lookout for crocs on the Daintree River:
Ania with Bruce driving the boat in the background.
So after a quick change of underwear we drove on to Cape Tribulation. This area of Queensland is another place where Captain Cook landed in 1770. He hit the barrier reef and sent some men ashore to see if they could find a way to get the ship unstuck. They climbed a mountain and were never seen again. It's now called Mount Sorrow. It was then that we noticed all of the depressing names in this area of Queensland: Mount Sorrow, Cape Tribulation, Misery Creek, etc. It became a fun game coming up with new ones, my personal favourite being the Forest of Crippling Incompetence!
We booked a gorgeous cabin in Cape Trib, just seconds from the beach. We had a really nice evening playing board games in the restaurant too!
Next morning we got up and did some Jungle Surfing! We strapped on harnesses and helmets and went with our guides up into the rainforest on some zip wires. This was great fun and the guides were good too. One was from Malta and when we told him that Ania's dad grew up there he embraced her as one of his own! Haha! It was a great adrenalin rush flying through the trees at such heights, although I wasn't so keen on the last one, where you had to hang upside-down.
Ania, aka: Catwoman, ready to fly!
Stu, aka: The Fly!
Ania hangs out in the jungle:
Straight after the jungle surfing we met a man holding an enormous snake outside a cafe, like you do, and couldn't resist asking to have our picture taken. Thanks to Mick, who was really cool about us handling his son's pet!
Then it was on to some slightly less adrenalin-fuelled fun! We went to try some fruit at the Cape Trib Exotic Fruit Farm. I was slightly sceptical about this and was dreading 'Here's some coconut, some banana, some mango, bye.' My fears were unfounded, it was brilliant. Of the ten fruits on the menu, I'd heard of two and had tried none of them! They were really interesting and exactly what we wanted from a tasting. I liked the jack fruit (the largest fruit in the world), the mamey sapote (tasted liked sweet potatoes with brown sugar) and the yellow sapote. Ania liked the black sapote, the yellow sapote and the sapodilla (very sweet fruit that tasted a bit like cinnamon). The farm's run by Digby and his wife, Alison. Our guide, Sarah was excellent too: really enthusiastic and informative.
The lovely Sarah with a 'small' jackfruit:
Unusual things we ate today:
After all the fruit we drove back to Cairns, where we've been staying at Travellers' Oasis again. Yesterday we visited Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Centre. This was another place I came to with my folks a few years ago and it's brilliant. The Tjapukai working there do some presentations including their tribe's history, bush tucker and Aboriginal weaponry. They also do a dance performance and a didgeridoo demonstration which was just incredible. We also had a go at throwing a spear and a boomerang. I almost got my boomerang to come back!
Trying out some spear throwing with members of the Tjapukai tribe:
So that's all for now, folks. We'll miss Cairns and our lovely hostel, but it's time for a hot Christmas in Sydney! Thanks for reading!
Friday, 10 December 2010
Stu decided to use this opportunity to get his Advanced qualification, which means he's now able to do deeper dives (up to 30m) and night dives, and he also did specialties in underwater navigation, underwater photography and naturalist. We buddied up together and for most of the dives we went off just the two of us, which was really fun. Sometimes we dived with another buddy pair, Clemens and Helene, and on a few dives we had an instructor (e.g. for Stu's course dives). It was fun to mix and match, and to dive independently sometimes.
As for the reef itself: it was beautiful, of course. Lots of gorgeous corals and masses of colourful fish - it's like swimming in an aquarium. We've just watched Finding Nemo back at our hostel and it really did look like that! We saw Nemo himself (a particular kind of clownfish), green turtles, white-tipped reef sharks (don't worry - these are quite small and definitely not maneaters), big pufferfish, mean-looking trevalli, cuttlefish, enormous 260-year-old giant clams neally 2 metres wide...I could go on!
We hired an underwater camera for Stu's photography specialty, so we had a lot of fun taking pictures of each other and some of the cool stuff we saw:
Me diving by some lovely corals:
Stu meditating (with excellent buoyancy control):
One of the sharks we saw:
We found Nemo!:
Some pretty feather stars:
We wore Santa hats on one of the dives, for that Xmas feeling:
I haven't got pics from the night dives because of the whole 'it's really dark down here' thing, but that was also really fun. I always find night dives really exciting and a bit eerie - it feels like you're in space, weightless in a black abyss. Different animals come out at night too, like the cuttlefish we saw and lot of crustaceans. We also saw sparkly phosphorescence in the water, and lots of tiny shrimp were attracted to our torchlight (a couple got into my wetsuit and hitched a ride back to the boat with me). Stu claims not to have been spooked at all, and took it in his stride!
We got on really well with the instructors on board, and several of them were also going back to shore for a few days yesterday, so after we got back on land we met up with them for drinks in Cairns. We're feeling perhaps a little worse for wear today as a result...
And finally... Congratulations to Stu on being an Advanced Diver!
Tuesday, 7 December 2010
We set off on the Tully River with our guide Johnny. Besides Ania and myself, our boat also had Craig (New Zealand), Peter (Perth) and Melanie (USA). Off we set in our inflatable boat, going down loads of rapids to the sound of Johnny's cries of 'FORWARD PADDLE' or 'BACKWARDS'. It was surprisingly hard work considering you're sitting down and only rowing occasionally, mostly allowing the flow of the river to move you. I mentioned rock jumps above, so I'd better explain... It's quite simple! We would occasionally pull the boat up by a rock and we'd all hop out, with the exception of Johnny. We'd then all jump feet-first into the water, which is moving pretty fast! The first time we did this I immediately lost a shoe. Now let me just take a moment here... Lefty and Righty have been with me for eight or nine years and together we've visited five continents. They've been great servants to me, nay, friends. I wish Righty luck in his new home, somewhere on the Tully River in Queensland. I'll miss you, man.
Anyway... Johnny lent me his shoes in the spirit of health and safety and we did some more rock jumps! The second one we did was about 4 or 5 metres and it was a real adrenalin rush leaping into the water from that height. We did a third smaller one a bit later, and then another leap from the boat into a rapid. It didn't look much but we counted as we all went under the water. You have to equalise your ears constantly as you're under deep water for about 6 seconds! That's wearing a life-jacket. You can imagine how long you'd be under if you did it without the safety gear. Johnny seemed to enjoy tipping us out the boat and did so at every opportunity. We all sailed down parts of the river, including a long series of rapids, a few times. As we approached the last pool we were told they'd spotted crocodiles in there before. Craig and Peter leapt into the water while Ania, myself, Johnny and Mel stayed in the boat! The whole day was great fun and despite losing a shoe and ripping a chunk out my knee, I loved it. A big thumbs up for Raging Thunder from us two!
Sadly not us, but this gives you an idea of what we did. This is the company we went with though, our boat, on a rapid called 'Corkscrew' which we did!
The next day we said goodbye to Mission Beach and headed for our final stop (of this bit of the trip), Cairns! We did make a couple of detours though. First up was the Mungalli Creek Dairy, where we ate an incredible cheeseboard. Along with cheese, of course, there was fruit, chutneys, salad, crackers and freshly-baked bread. It was one of the best meals we've ever had! Yum! The place is in the Atherton Tablelands, which Ania tells me is known as the 'tropical dairy'.
Our amazing cheese platter for two. Mmmmm....
Stuffed, we then went for a swim at Lake Eacham, a nice spot that was rammed with families because it was a Sunday. The sun baked us both and the water was very refreshing!
On Sunday night we arrived in Cairns. On Monday we handed back our Jucy van, that's been our vehicle, home and world for the past month. It was quite sad saying goodbye! I also did a refresher dive on Monday in a swimming pool, as we're about to go and live on the Great Barrier Reef for three days and I haven't dived in a while. We delayed our dive trip for a day so have spent a really nice day today chilling out at our hostel and having a walk around Cairns. We've seen the lagoon and had a dip - you can't swim in the sea because of the jellyfish which will kill you!
Cairns' lagoon. So strange to see a giant swimming pool next to the sea!
I must also mention our excellent hostel. We're staying at Travellers' Oasis. It's brilliant. It came second in a list of Australia's best hostels in October this year and I can see why. We're in a dorm room, sharing with one other person (lucky them!), all in single beds. There's a nice, small pool here and we've got a TV room and two kitchens, plus loads of hammocks to sit in and read a book. If you're coming to Cairns, book TO. You won't be disappointed!
A girl in a hammock. Relaxation personified!
Last night and this morning I managed to watch some of the Ashes on TV with a couple of like-minded Brits, Ben and Phil. This morning we had the game wrapped up by about 11am and England are one-nil. Yes! Last night we went to the hostel's barbecue, which they hold at their sister-hostel, Tropic Days. Apparently they've held it since 1997, so it's a long-running thing. We brought our own booze and were ferried over to TD, where we met up with loads of other travellers. An amazing array of meats and fish were on the menu, including crocodile, emu, kangaroo and barramundi, along with sausages and loads of salad, plus veggie burgers for Ania. After seconds and thirds for some, there was a didgeridoo competition, which we didn't enter! We did have a quick go afterwards. For anyone who hasn't tried it's hard, but the hostel owner Gabriel made it look easy and even played the end pipe from a vacuum cleaner!
Making bad noises on the didgeridoo:
Thanks for reading as always and keep your comments and emails/Facebook messages coming. We've heard about all the snow in Europe and it looks like you've had even more than last winter. This humidity... Could someone post us some snow?!
Thursday, 2 December 2010
We spent a happy few hours on this beautiful beach, although its 'stinger season', which means that we there are potentially deadly jellyfish in the water so we had to wear stinger suits when we got in the sea:In one bit of the shallows there were lots of big stingrays:
Then in the afternoon we went snorkelling, which was amazing! Within about two minutes I'd seen some of the most extravagantly colourful fish I've ever seen, as well as bright corals and giant clams everywhere. I'm something of a fish enthusiast (although I no longer squeak loudly through my snorkel from the excitement of it, as I gather I often did as a kid), and I won't bore everyone with a list of all the different species we saw, but I assure you there were LOADS of fish, from barracuda to metre-long wrasse, to bottom-dwelling leopard sharks and massive batfish!
The evening was a bit crowded on the boat, as there were about 22 people on the trip and not a lot of cabin space! (Stu and I had a 'cosy' double bunk with a leak above it...) But we met some very nice people on the trip, which made all the difference.
The second day the weather was completely different, and we were washed out the whole day! Spot the difference. Day One:
But we enjoyed the bracing winds and had some fun in our yellow sailor macs, shouting 'Land Ho!' through the mists. And in any case the second day was for snorkelling, so we spent a lot of it underwater anyway!