We started this week overnight on a boat at the Great Barrier Reef. It was most surreal and memorable to see in person. The boat docked at three viewing spots: Saxon Reef/Twin Peeks, Norman Fingers, and Hastings, over the 2 days. Loren and I went out on four of the seven snorkeling opportunities, and I took the glass bottom boat option twice while Loren passed the second time to have more time to snorkel. Loren and I were called to the side before we ever entered the water – first to confirm that we are in the 61-70 age bracket, then to give us bright orange snorkeling gear and slim red life jackets so the sighters would be able to keep more of an eye on us, due to a new legal age requirement. That was a good thing for me because I am such a poor swimmer that after being out only a few minutes on each of my first three snorkels, I returned to the boat…
When the photographer asked me about coming back in after my first time, she called for a Snorkel Guide among the crew to lead me with a life preserver. That was awesome. Back on the boat our captain pointed out a sea turtle swimming by – it came up for air, looked at us, dunked under, swam further, came up for air, looked at us, dunked under, swam further, came up for air, looked at us, then swam down and away out of sight. I did not have my camera, but the images remain in my head. On my second snorkel outing I tried a short while and when I returned to the boat my Guide was all set to take me out longer again. That time as we returned to the boat he spotted Frank, the large friendly Wrasse in these waters who the experienced crew said routinely seeks people out. I could not capture its photo but found an image of a similar Wrasse on a ship’s poster.
During the evening we glimpsed sharks by torch – flashlight, and saw our boat’s night scuba divers thanks to their underwater lights. The next day we saw a large pod of small Pilot Whales pass by our boat. My photos of all these are too small to do justice. On my last snorkel I took the life preserver myself to stay out longer on my own. Then Loren and I rode the transfer boat back with a couple who we had ridden over with, and another new friend. I am grateful for our several snorkel experiences to have seen the coral reef and marine life.
We left Cairns – by the way the name is pronounced more like Cans, the next morning in a rental car and headed north. We first stopped at Tjapukai – said Jah-pook-i, to see portrayals of an Aboriginal community. Not only did we learn about ancient cultural practices of preparing foods and using weapons, we also saw a fresh water turtle whose photo I was able to capture. And, the dance performance of traditional practices before a hunt was outstanding. One man played a didgeridoo, another used clap sticks and narrated, while two other performers acted out a Cassowary and a Kangaroo, each with convincing accuracy. It makes this quote from a friend’s email come to life: “The very creation of dance was for rituals and celebrations…” BayAreaDanceWatch
Continuing north along the east coast of Australia we stopped briefly at Four Mile Beach where we saw our first Kookaburra perched high up on a dead branch just perfect for it. Again heading north we stopped at Mossman Gorge where we had about an hour of hiking through the rainforest at the end of the day. By the time we returned to the car it was dark. We then drove further north, taking the ferry over the Daintree River to wind up at our bungalow accommodation on Thornton Beach. The area is advertised: where the rainforest meets the reef.
We stayed about halfway between Cow Bay – cow meaning female Manatee, and, Cape Tribulation. We had three nights here to soak up the beach and rainforest. On the first morning we took an early beach walk and found this view of Thornton Peak – covered in cloud as is usual. Later we went walking more in the rainforest where we saw our first Fan Palms…
and we walked more on two other beaches, where we were more taken by the artistic sand formations created by Bubble Crab behavior that we had seen in the morning. We also saw several Brush Turkeys both on the beach and in the the rainforest.
And we were very fortunate to also see a Cassowary youth. This one has not yet grown the unique horn on the crown of its head, the rich powder blue coloring to its face and neck, bright red wattles, nor the entirely black coat that will develop as it matures. It came right over to our car in its curiosity, then jumped back in surprise and meandered away after Loren made a noticeable slight hand movement.
In the afternoon we went for Tasting at a tropical fruits farm. We sampled such exotic varieties as baked Breadfruit – the UN has named it the fruit of the future, Custard Apple – my second favorite, Yellow Mangosteen which we learned is a poor cousin to the Purple Mangosteen as much more sour, Passionfruit – the same as at home, Soursop – now used in cancer treatment research, the very sour Davidson Plum, bitter Sapodilla, mushy Yellow Sapote, frozen Black Sapote – supposed to taste like chocolate but one needs to use some imagination, Rollinia – yum, my favorite and somewhat similar to Custard Apple, frozen Jaboticaba – also known as Amazon Tree Grape or Tortoise Shell, the unusual Pangiun Edule or Football Fruit, and, tart Carambola or Star fruit. What an experience! I would show photos of each one cut up, though I prefer to limit the photos in my posts…
The next day we visited the Daintree Discovery Centre. Here we walked on multilevel paths to have interesting aerial views of the rainforest from above. Then we hiked the rainforest trail labeled Adventurous at Jindalba and it was challenging. This is where we found several of the Cassowaries favorite large blue seed that had fallen from nearby trees. They are about the size of a small Idaho potato. We also stopped for tropical fruit ice cream – it was actually gelato, sharing a treat of chocolate, coconut, mango, Davidson Plum, and Wattle Seed. This last one was my favorite of the flavors… well, really a tossup between it and the chocolate.
That evening we had a small boat excursion on the Daintree River to see the flora and fauna before and after sunset. We were treated to two varieties of kingfisher – I snapped a viable photo of this Sacred Kingfisher.
Again reminiscent of the Everglades here, we learned that Mangrove trees might have buttress, ribbon, stilt, or snorkel or aerial roots, all to allow them to breathe when the annual flood conditions occur. We also saw a Darter – or Anhinga or Snake Bird, and a tree snake. At dusk we saw a Night Heron, a few flocks of egrets flying to their roost, a kite raptor and small bats beginning to be active, oh and the sunset over the river and another view of Thornton Peak. In the dark with our captain’s strong torch we saw several salt water crocodiles, a White Faced Heron, a crab clinging on a leaf, a tree frog, and a whole slew of prawns jumping out of and diving back into the water. Again I could show so many more photos…
On our last day in the rainforest we treated ourselves to another first – a morning beach massage where the masseuse brought her folding table to the sand. Hearing the waves and feeling the sun while she worked was delightful. The bonus was that she is the best masseuse either of us have ever had – for example she found my pelvis injury which still bothers me – sort of like a headache at the end of a day when we walk a lot. She gave us recommendations for a variety of treatments going forward. Then, before leaving the Daintree, we walked through Marrdja Botanical Rainforest walk, where I took my best photos of Basket Ferns. We finished with a drive to Cape Kimberley and walked out to the beach where we found two Star Fish.
Now we have spent three nights respite in the isolated Julatten mountains where we have taken part of our masseuse’s advice to fast for three days. It reminds me of when Loren and I have spent three days fasting on our few Vision Quests in California. One difference is that we have slept on a bed in a cabin instead of under the stars. Another was when we broke our fast briefly to enjoy some of the fresh coconut from one we had brought from the rainforest. It had fallen ripe from a nearby palm tree during my massage. Can you make out its face on the interior nut?
Australia has some similarities yet also such incredibly different terrain and eco-systems, as well as flora and fauna, from what we are used to at home. On our drive to Julatten near dusk, a marsupial of some form darted across the road and another jumped across a grassy path near our cabin. I think it was too small to be a Wallaby, as it was just a but larger than a jackrabbit. In Julatten there is a delicate yellow bird with a yellowish-green helmet who appeared to gorge on the cactus flower just outside our cabin door. We were also treated to seeing and hearing Laughing Kookaburra – seriously, they sound like monkeys chattering but a bit like human laughter when they announce the dawn or dusk each day. Two or three of them liked to perch on a tree just across the driveway from our cabin.
We have our last few days in Australia coming up, then will fly from Cairns, Queensland to Sydney in New South Wales, then on to San Francisco, California to spend time with Loren’s Mom. Both flights are on Qantas – which our guide in Darwin explained stands for Queensland and Northern Territory Air Service. There is always so much more to learn about our wide world.