A good place to….
Day 61/138 and 62/138 2022/2023 Viking Neptune World Cruise, Cairns, Queensland, Australia and a sea day.
We woke up this morning just as we were entering the port area of Cairns, our second last stop in beautiful Australia!
I knew we had to be close to docking when we were seeing sailboats anchored in the harbour in Cairns. The weather was looking very ominous though as we got closer to Cairns.
We were very, very excited for our adventure in Cairns. While a lot of people on the Viking Neptune were going to the Great Barrier Reef to snorkel, we were doing something that most people on the ship probably could not do in Cairns!
After room service breakfast we headed down to the Living Room on Deck 1 to wait for the ship to be cleared by the Australian government. Everyone who was waiting for the early excursions at 9am were all waiting to get going too. Finally around 9am we were allowed to proceed through disembarkation and we entered the cruise terminal of Cairns.
A nice welcome from Cairns! And a nice photo of the very walkable, downtown beachfront area of Cairns.
As we walked through the Cruise terminal in Cairns I had nervous anticipation going on inside me. You know that feeling when you’re excited, and you can’t calm it down? That’s what we both had. As we exited the cruise terminal, standing right in front of the exit was FAMILY! My cousin Colleen, who I haven’t seen in over 20 years was waiting for us!
We were quickly greeted by Adrian, (Colleens husband), as well as my Aunt Kathleen, (my father’s sister and the last remaining sibling of my dad, who had 3 sisters). In the moment I didn’t stop to take any photos, but we had lots of photos throughout our day!
Now for the backstory….
My father and his siblings were born in Northern Ireland, in a small fishing port and beach resort town in County Antrim (now Causeway Coast and Glens District) on the north coast of Ireland called Ballycastle. My dad was the second oldest of his 3 siblings; his older sister Juliette came to Canada first, then my Aunt Kathleen (the third born, when she was 20) and then my dad when he was 25. Their youngest sister Olive never left Northern Ireland and stayed in Bangor with her husband Tom, until her passing a few years ago. My Aunt Kathleen and her first husband adopted Colleen in 1968 in Oakville, Ontario, Canada and after some time when things didn’t work out, my Aunt and Colleen left for Northern Ireland, and then found themselves living in Australia. Colleen lived with my parents for a summer when she was just a wee girl who was just learning to speak. Since I’m 7 years older than Colleen, I remember it well when one day at dinner time Colleen announced to us “See we have No dessert, but there is LOGURT (Yogurt) in the fridge”. We laughed and laughed as she was such a cute little girl! Anyway, the last time we actually saw each other was when Colleen and Adrian brought their children over to Canada for a visit one Christmas and that must have been close to 20 years ago! We do FaceTime every Christmas with my brother Jonathan, and our other cousins Dave and Sharon in Canada and Colleen is always the amazing instigator in setting up our annual FaceTime Christmas chat. During our Christmas FaceTime from the Viking Neptune last year when we were chatting about our upcoming cruise itinerary in Australia Colleen mentioned to us that she and Adrian would grab Granny from the memory care home where she resides and would drive up from Townsville where they live, to meet us at either Airlie Beach or Cairns.
After reviewing the Neptune’s itinerary, we knew that Cairns was the port we would be docked at the longest, so Cairns made more sense for a visit. Colleen, Adrian and Kathleen drove up the day before and spent the night in an Air B’nB. They thought nothing of driving 4 hours and 22 minutes to come and visit with us! We had heard Australians thing nothing of driving because the country is so vast and we’re so glad they came to spend the day with us in Cairns!
Colleen had been emailing me about what we should do in Cairns and she had made some suggestions and we had agreed to a very neat excursion! Since we had some time to spare before our adventure, we drove about 15 minutes north of Cairns to Smithfield, and went to a local shopping mall to grab some coffees as we had been told not to show up too early for our adventure.
This looks like it is going to be quite the adventure!
We had pre-booked tickets courtesy of Adrian and Colleen, so we proceeded right to the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway.
Getting excited for our adventure with Colleen, and Adrian. Colleen needed to drink her coffee before we could board the Skyrail.
About to board the Skyrail cable car!
We were able to fit all 5 of us in the Skyrail to enjoy our journey up over the MacAlister Range between Smithfield where we boarded and the 7.5km above to Kuranda where we were heading. Granny (Aunt Kathleen) really took a shine to Richard!
The Skyrail is a very neat way to see the local area, because it is not a direct ascent to the top, but had stations located at Red Peak and Barron Falls, which we could get off at and walk around to view some wonderful scenery.
Our timing was perfect when we exited the Skyrail at Red Peak, because there were Ranger Guided Tours every 45 minutes, and we just so happened to arrive at 10:30am, when the next tour was about to start with our guide Emma.
Perfect timing for the next tour!
‘The Wet Tropics’ where we exited the Skyrail at Red Peak, is the World’s Oldest Tropical Rainforest and is 80 million years older than the Amazon! The rainforest runs for 9000sq km from Cooktown in the far north to Townsville (where Colleen,Adrian and Kathleen live), in the south. The Wet Tropics is the wettest region in Australia with an average annual rainfall between 1.2 to 8.17 metres! The area includes over 30 national parks, waterfalls upon waterfalls, the Atherton Tablelands and where two World Heritage areas (reef and rainforest) meet at Cape Tribulation and Mission Beach. The Wet Tropics only makes up 0.2% of Australia’s land mass, but its habitat is more than a quarter of the marsupial species in the country. The Wet Tropics has 58% of Australia’s bat species, 58% of the butterfly species and 40% of bird species. The oldest critter in the Wet troops being about 400 million years old is a cross between a worm and a crab and called a ‘velvet worm‘. It measures 10cm and it is carnivorous.
Velvet worm….we did not see any velvet worms but we did learn a ton from Emma about the Rainforest!
The Moreton Bay Fig tree (ficus macrophylla) or ‘Strangler Fig’ which is massive, lives in the sub tropical Wet Tropics rainforest and has a strangling habit! The fig tree starts life in the rain forest in the canopy of a host tree where the seedling lives until its roots establish contact with the ground when it enlarges and strangles its host, eventually becoming a freestanding tree reaching over 200 feet in height. The crown of the tree will emerge above the tree canopy. You can see in this photo how the fig tree has reached out with an arm over to the tree next to it, and it will eventually grown around the tree and the host tree will die.
Strangler fig tree!
As we moved on to learn more about the Wet Tropics rainforest, Emma then threw her ranger hat at a palm tree. Strange….!
Emma’s hat stuck to a palm tree. The palm tree that is holding up Emma’s hat is called a ‘Wait-a-While’ palm or Lawyer Cane palm tree.
The wait-a-while palm has stems that can reach heights of up to 110 feet and the leaves are produced on the youngest part of the stem. The leaves have a long leaf sheath which is densely covered with needle like spines. The sharp hooks on its leaves are used to grab onto other vegetation to gain support to grow higher towards the rainforest canopy. The cane of the ‘wait-awhile-palm’ has water in it that can be used for drinking water and the flexible stems were used by the Indigenous Australians for shelters, axe handles, snares and fish traps. The thorny tendrils were used to catch fish! Adrian says the palms are nasty as he says he’s been running and one of these palms will blow into his face and scratch very badly with its spikes.
We had another tourist from Tokyo take our photo at Red Peak as we were following our guide Emma around.
Just as if it was on command a beautiful large butterfly flew over our heads as Emma was speaking. I was not able to capture the beauty, but we did see some butterflies that matched it, on display at this stop.
The common green bird wing, Cape York bird wing was the butterfly that had flown over us! How beautiful!
When James Cameron was creating the original Avatar movie he said that “Avatar was based on and flowed out of my fascination with and love of science, nature, the environment, science fiction, history and philosophy” and the inspiration for Pandora in the movie was from the photos that he had taken from the Skyrail over the Wet Tropics we were visiting today. The legendary English biologist and natural historian Sir David Attenborough when asked “Of all the places in the world, what place has surprised you the most?” He replied “ One of the places that is really, really extraordinary is the north of Queensland in Australia, it is full of great things. One tends to think that the Amazon is the great place for jungles, but the Northern Queensland jungle is absolutely fantastic and very few people go there!”
With over 9,800 varieties of spiders in Australia it was surprising we had not seen any yet.
Until we saw the Golden Orb Weaving spider hanging just above our heads! Native to Queensland the golden orb spiders build large, semi-permanent orb webs. The strong silk has a golden sheen. The bite of these spiders for humans is some pain, numbness and swelling, but not dangerous.
After walking around the Red Peak area and learning a ton about the rain forest and its inhabitants, we got back on the skyrail to head to our next station. What I appreciated about being able to stop on the way up to Kuranda, was the fact that we were not on any time schedule. We could take as much time as we wanted at each station, and then jump back on the skyrail at our leisure.
The rainforest below us as we hovered up high in the sky on the skyrail.
A river! The ‘Barron River’ bed from the skyrail.
As we flew over the rainforest from Red Peak to the next stop which was Barron Falls, my cousin Colleen who has a ‘cracking’ sense of humour looked down and said “A good place to bury a dead body”. I was shocked! What do you mean by that?” So she explained by playing me a YouTube clip from a comedy show called ‘The GRUEN Transfer’ which has a section called “The Pitch” where they invite two ad agencies to try and pitch an advertising campaign and the week she was referring to was when they were looking for an ad campaign to actually REPEL tourists away from Australia. Since the internet is not that great I’m not sure I can put the YouTube clip in the blog so instead I’ll just give you the words from the video:
With very majestic music playing and beautiful scenery showing in the ad: ”A land of wide open spaces, untouched wilderness, and deserted beaches, So many beautiful places to dispose of a body!” Apparently when the ‘anti tourist ad campaign’ was on when Colleen and Adrian’s kids were younger, they used to joke about places they used to go that were remote and use the line “so many places to dispose of a dead body!” You have to understand Australian humour to understand the ad campaign, but I thought it was hilarious!
Barron Falls known as DiniDin to the Djabuganydji people, Barron Falls is a sacred place that has been an important part of their storytelling for thousands of years. During the wet season (December to March), the topical rains bring the waterfall to life.
Posing with Barron Falls.
Colleen, Kathleen and you know the rest….dressed in our Canadian clothes today!
Barron Falls was a spectacular sight to see! Richard does not like heights so he really didn’t like standing on the glass floor.
We proceeded back to the sky train for the short ride over the Barron Gorge National Park until we reached the mountain village of Kuranda.
Kuranda Village Centre.
Kuranda is a mountain village 25 km northwest of Cairns in Far North Queensland. Surrounded by the world’s oldest living tropical rainforest, the colourful village of Kuranda is well known as the ‘Village in the Rainforest’.
We wandered around a bit in the charming town of Kuranda and then decided to stop for a bite of lunch.
Some of the cute shops in Kuranda.
Richard had mackerel fish tacos with a Bundaberg, Lemon, Lime & Bitters.
I saw that there was a nature park in Karunda called “Koala Gardens“ and since I thought this might be my last chance to see koalas before we left Australia I paid for admission for Colleen, Kathleen and me.
Besides seeing koalas we also saw quite a few other interesting creatures:
Central bearded dragon who communicate through physical movements vs vocal sounds. Bobbing their head and inflating their beards shows aggression or dominance. Waving their forearms shows submission. Remember that next time you’re having a domestic!
Boyd’s forest dragon.
Coastal carpet Python. I guess the workman forgot to remove the snake! If you look at the sign to the left of the shelf!
Australian tree frog!
Isn’t this a cool shot of an Australian tree frog?
And of course, last but not least my favourites….
KOALA…not Koala Bear. The Koala is a marsupial NOT a bear.
As I was watching this little hunched up Koala, he decided to give me a pose!
I’m looking at you kid!
While we were wandering around the wildlife sanctuary Richard and Adrian found something else to do.
Richard has taken a liking to this Australian beer.
We were supposed to catch the 2:30pm train from the Kuranda Railway Station back down to Cairns, but we missed it because we were enjoying Kuranda so much. Adrian called the Railway up and got us new train tickets for the 3:30pm train, but we could not miss that train!
We meandered through Kuranda visiting a few shops. I got a very cool dot art t-shirt which Colleen pointed out to me. I never realized that the dot art symbols actually had some meaning behind them, and since I have been doing dot art, I had to buy the t-shirt.
At least I will know what these signs mean if I see them again!
We meandered over the bridge down to the very quaint, old, Kuranda Railway Station.
Our train was waiting for us on Platform 1, but we were still a bit early, so Richard bought us all some frozen ice cream bars to cool us down, and pass the time.
The vintage Kuranda Railway Station.
The platform of the Kuranda Scenic Railway.
The Kuranda Scenic Railway was constructed in 1891, with construction commencing in 1886. Many people died during the construction of the numerous tunnels and bridges on the line. With 15 hand-made tunnels and 37 bridges, built to climb from sea level to 1,076 feet up the MacAlister Range, 3million cubic meters of earth had to be excavated curing construction. The train was originally built to provide a bettter supply route as devastating wet seasons brought misery and near starvation to people with mountain passes being constantly washed out. The thought of building a rail link from the rich mining belt to the sea was one of the most ambitious railway projects ever undertaken. The Kuranda Scenic Railway travels on a narrow gauge track which measures 3 feet 6 inches. The Kuranda track is a National Engineering Landmark.
We boarded in Kuranda and were going to get off the train at Freshwater Station. What I couldn’t figure out was how did we get back to the car because we had parked at the Skyrail and not Freshwater station.
The train is not air conditioned but the windows opened and we had a beautiful breeze coming in through the train as we travelled. We were assigned seats, but no one seemed to sit in the right seats, so we all sat together on two of these benches facing each other. The train carriages date back to the early 1900’s with the earliest one still in operation built in 1909. Each carriage is made from Silky Oak timber, but repairs are now done using more sustainable materials.
Waiting for the train to move was quite hot!
We were in the first of 15 cars so it you look in the distance you can see the trains going around the corner behind us.
I had not seen my Aunt Kathleen in probably 55 years so it was nice to have a chat with her on the one hour and 55 minute train ride down from Kuranda. Suffering from memory loss, my Aunt was telling me about growing up in Ballycastle, Northern Ireland and she sang me a sond called “The Ould Lammas Fair” which is a the oldest traditional fair held in Ireland, in Ballycastle, on the last Monday and Tuesday of August each year. I asked Colleen if she could ’hotspot’ my phone so that I could show Kathleen some photos from 9 years ago when my dad was still alive and we were in Ballycastle together. When she saw the photo of my dad she knew it was her brother and she said “He was the kindest, gentlest man”. It was so wonderful to be able to have her recount her memories of my dad to me, who passed away 6 years ago. I then showed Kathleen a picture of the home which the Smith family lived at when she was growing up in Ballycastle and she said “That’s where I used to live”. Amazing!
A close up of the train cars.
The rain started pouring in the rail car as we made our way from Kuranda to Freshwater Station.
Our train car as we exited at Freshwater station. We were the furthest car away from the station, but we didn’t get too wet as we climbed into waiting buses, that had the singular purpose to take us back to the Skyrail station and our waiting car.
We wanted to have dinner all together in Cairns before we headed back to the Neptune, and we had a hankering for Thai food. Colleen knew of a spot on the beach for great thai food so we jumped in their Holden diesel automobile and away we went.
Trying to decide what to eat at Tuk-Tuk Thai food in Trinity Beach. Trinity Beach is north of Cairns by about 15 minutes.
Richard had chicken pad thai. I forgot to take a photo of my cashew veggie chicken but it was delicious thai food and so much better than the last thai food we had in Napier!
Alas all good things had to come to an end and we needed to be back onboard the Neptune by 10pm. We made our way from Trinity Beach back to the waiting Neptune, but before we left Colleen and Adrian, they gave us a jar of their homemade honey from their own bees! How cool is that? We will save the honey until we get home and then I can have it in a cup of tea remembering our time together in Cairns!
‘Honey be mine’ honey made by Newnham-Kirby (NK on the label).
Adrian said that their bees fed on eucalyptus so I think this could be very yummy honey! If the Koalas each eucalyptus then it must be good!
Viking Neptune selfies!
We definitely dodged a bullet with the weather! We never got wet when it rained as we were always inside the train, or in the restaurant. It seemed like we had a ‘dome’ over us protecting us from bad weather! It was the best day being able to visit with long lost family who we keep in touch with, but don’t see very often. I’m so glad they made the big effort to drive up from Townsville, and overnight two nights to be able to spend the day with us. That was very special! And for Richard to finally meet my family in Australia was also amazing! A fabulous day seeing wonderful sights, with fantastic people! What could be better? We gave an open invitation to come and visit us in either Florida or Canada if they ever find their way over there.
Today was a lot slower day than than yesterday. Since 7am I’ve been writing the blog off and on, and this big blog has taken me most of today to write! I also went to Calligraphy class - I am kind of liking it now that today we used proper calligraphy pens and got to write a quote that meant something to us using the letters of the Uncial font we have been learning.
This is the second time I wrote out this quote. The next few sea days we will continue to write out the same quote until we have it in a better, more consistent manner. We will also be able to embelish the quote with some colour and characters. I messed up on the ‘P’ in peace and the letter ‘D’ is very difficult to write consistently, but at least it looks like calligraphy!
We also had another long ship building session with our team. I’m so glad we had a sea day today to let us catch up a bit from yesterday and the sailing today was gorgeous as we sailed along the Great Barrier Reef. Calm seas, gorgeous waters, and the warmest weather we have had since we left Ft. Lauderdale!
Sailing by the Great Barrier Reef in Northern Australia.
Tomorrow is our last day in Australia. I’ve really enjoyed being able to see the different areas of Australia; from the uniqueness of Tasmania, to Melbourne, Sydney, Eden, Mooloolaba, Airlie Beach and Cairns. Each place a little bit different than the next, but so amazing to learn about and we have wonderful memories of our time here. I think we may have to come back to do a deeper dive into Australia on another trip…or two….three!