Trip Report: May/June Sydney and Cairns, Part 3

Jul 17th, 2009, 08:43 AM
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Trip Report: May/June Sydney and Cairns, Part 3

This is a trip report from our late May/early Juse trip, and will cover time in Cairns, including reef tour and rain forest/Tjapukai trips.

The next day was getaway to Cairns day. We cleaned up and checked out of our apartment, stored the luggage with the front desk, and went off to the souvenir shops I had found the day before. Our son joined us for lunch at the food court across from Circular Quay, then off to the airport. For some reason, the return taxi ride was $20 cheaper than the arrival. I am aware probably half of that was airport fee, but while traffic was fairly heavy on the way in, there weren’t any real delays, so who knows.

We flew Virgin Blue to Cairns (~Au$220 each roundtrip). We entered and left the plane via the rear door and stairway right on the tarmac. The Cairns airport is currently under construction, so walks from the gates to baggage claim were very long and actually took us outside before returning into baggage claim.

We had reserved rooms at the Bellview, a motel right on the Esplanade across the street from the swimming lagoon. For those unfamiliar with Cairns, downtown sits on the estuary of a river just inside the entrance from the Coral Sea. Because they experience several months of stinging jellyfish, they have constructed a very nice swimming pool referred to as the lagoon right on the water’s edge. It is surrounded by a nice waterfront park with a boardwalk, which in turn connects to the charter boat piers. The street separating the park and lagoon from town is the Esplanade. It has a number of hotels, bars, restaurants and a night market for souvenirs and other items with a large, diverse food court.

The Bellview (Au$65/night for each of two rooms) is an older but clean motel. The accommodations were pretty basic (right up my alley, less so my wife’s) but clean and very quiet, even though it is on the Esplanade. Our rooms had either a double or a queen and either a single bed or bunks. One was carpeted (old and a little tattered), one with linoleum tile. Shower stalls were in both, TV with a basic selection of channels, air conditioning and ceiling fans. They also have a hostel as part of their facility with dormitory-type accommodations. Aside from the excellent location, the other assets of this place are the staff and their tour expertise. Rodney, the owner, was pleasant and informative. The evening desk personnel were equally friendly and helpful. They also provided additional discounts to the already discounted prices for the activities we booked, and were open early morning and late evening for extra convenience. If you don’t require more than a clean and comfortable bed, you may really enjoy the Bellview. Similarly located properties were at least twice the price.

Our arrival night, we checked in, made reservations for the next day’s tour, checked out the night market for dinner and browsed the shops. We found a grocery store on the street directly behind the night market, about a block further away. Later that evening, for a still unknown reason, there was a fireworks display out over the waterfront across the street from our hotel.

The next morning, we went to the charter terminal to pick up our tickets for our Great Barrier Reef tour with Reef Magic. Snorkeling and scuba are not an option for me, so we wanted something with a semi-submersible option for viewing the reef. The 90 minute ride out was kind of rough (I was glad my wife and I had taken sea sickness tablets, the kids wished they had but no big problems) but punctuated with demos and promos from the crew. The other three booked snorkeling lessons, and my son booked an introductory scuba dive. Our trip also included a complementary helicopter ride, which the kids took and enjoyed.

The Reef Magic experience involved a moored platform behind the reef, so once there, despite a 20-30 knot wind, it was very stable with little motion. They have an excellent staff to visitor ratio, and constant supervision of the snorkelers. The divers went out in small teams, always with a guide as well. I took 3 trips on the semi-submersible, each somewhat different than the rest, with different commentators each time, and thoroughly enjoyed them. Lunch was served on the boat and brought out to picnic tables on the moored platform, and was good and plentiful. Our son ended up doing 3 scuba dives, 2 of them to the outer reef wall after the introductory dive. Dives were Au$90 for the first and Au$60 for each subsequent. I don’t recall the snorkeling lesson fee (?Au$30/person), but was seen as well worth it by my family. The ride back was only slightly less rough than going out, but again, “no worries”.

We then cleaned up and walked the half dozen blocks to church, only to hear that one of the first swine flu isolations in Australia had occurred at their school. (We had been in Sydney while a cruise ship was not allowed to dock for several days because of swine flu). St. Monica’s, I believe, a very interesting church with Ausie-themed stained glass windows. Returning to the hotel, my son and I stopped at a corner social club/small casino, and lost a few dollars at some fairly tight slot machines. We then met my wife and daughter for dinner at the night market and some more serious shopping.

The next day was off to the rain forest and Kuranda and Tjapukai Culture Park. We took the train from Cairns to Kuranda, which offers an interesting narration as well as great scenery, especially the overlook at Barron Falls. At Kuranda, we were a lttle limited on time because we wanted to get back for the culture park, but were able to do the koala park and browse a few shops and still have lunch by taking the shuttle up to that area. Queensland allows the holding of koalas (unlike NSW). It is a bit misleading in that after you pay the park entrance fee, you then find out there is another $15 “cuddling fee” as we called it. But, the kids loved the cuddles, the pictures are wonderful, and we weren’t rushed during the experience so we viewed it as worthwhile.

After lunch at a street side café, we took the shuttle bus back to the entry to Sky Rail, a cableway over and through the rain forest canopy. It was misting during our trip, but the views were still amazing. Half way down, there is a stop to change gondolas for the last half of the trip. The board walk there was interesting, and with the gentle rain falling (“loaner” umbrellas were available for free on the gondola platform) it flet very much like the rain forest. On our way back to the platform, we came across a cassowary and her chick, a pretty unusual and amazing sight. At the restroom area also was a huge spider web with an equally huge (6-8 inches across, leg tip to leg tip) spider in the middle.

At the bottom of the Sky Rail, it is a short (less than 1 block) walk to the Tjapukai aboriginal culture park. A fairly small operation, it was none the less very interesting. Our visit started with the music and dance show, where a group of about 6 Tjapukai put on a very entertaining show, starting with a very talented didgeridoo player and including dancing, explanations of the body art worn by the various cast members, all accompanied by the beating of clap sticks, spears and boomerangs. The show concluded with the audience participated in the singing and dancing, with a number of people being given the opportunity to come on stage and dance with the troupe. Next, we went to the didgeridoo presentation, a fascinating look at the versatility of the very simple instrument in the hands of an accomplished performer. We then had a presentation on edible and toxic plants and fruits in the rain forest.

Our next stop was the spear throwing area, where ~6 foot long spears are thrown with the aid of a handle at kangaroo targets. Everyone got a try, and I was even able to get one airborne for 50 yards or so, receiving a compliment from the staff. Our last outdoor activity was the boomerang throw, where my son was able to not only able to get it to return, but to do a complete 360+, a very fascinating experience.

Our day there concluded with 2 indoor presentations, one a very interesting multimedia view of the Tjapukai view of the creation story, and the other a video recording of the Tjapukai view of the European colonization of Australia. The latter was a harsh, sobering, and no doubt controversial look at a side of the Australian history not presented elsewhere in our experience there. Also, the same half dozen performers in the music and dance show did all the other cultural demonstrations as well.

We then returned via bus directly to the Bellview, had dinner at the night market and more shopping.

So ends part 3. Last part: other side trips in Cairns, back to Syndey and home, and general observations.
Adamant is offline  
Jul 17th, 2009, 05:33 PM
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Six-eight inch spider??? Yikes.
Melnq8 is offline  
Aug 10th, 2009, 08:31 AM
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Thanks, Adamant, for the splendid report. I was about to lay out $$$$ for a Cairns/Great Barrier Reef tour. You've saved me a lot. I'm heading to Oz, myself, in December, and can't wait.
fmradio is offline  
Aug 10th, 2009, 04:00 PM
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A Cassowary and HIS chick. It is the male which sits on the eggs and raises the young.

The spiders are friendly. At that size and in a web my guess is that it was a Golden Orb. Did it have a grey abdomen, black legs and golden knees; or did you not get that close?
Saltuarius is offline  
Jan 8th, 2010, 01:33 AM
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Adamant, I am enjoying reading your travel reports around Australia so much. I'm from Sydney but it is extremely interesting reading the points of view and adventures of travellers into our country. Hahaha! Had to laugh about the size of that big spider. It sounds like it could be a St Andrew's Cross Spider (did it have an unusual cross pattern on the web?) This spider, like the large webless Huntsman, are very large (but harmless) spiders - nothing to worry about. I'm heading up to Cairns myself shortly (en route to Cape York Peninsular) and as I have not been there before, I have found your advice and information on this area most helpful. Cheers!
Salstar is offline  
Apr 8th, 2010, 03:07 PM
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That's a great trip report. I plan to follow much of it when we arrive in Cairns next week. I hope the recommendations still apply even though it is one year later than your post.
chargar is offline  

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