28th May - Cairns & Kuranda
I was pleasantly surprised by Cairns, which was a short journey up the Captain Cook Highway from Mission Beach. I expected something tacky & very touristy but the town is modern with smart shopping malls, wide streets, a lovely Esplanade, a large well stocked marina & of course a Botanical Garden. It is true that every other shop is a tourist agency, but that's not surprising as Cairns is the main centre for trips to the Great Barrier Reef & the Tropical Rainforest.
There is a park on the sea front with a large swimming pool (sorry - Lagoon) surrounded by a little sandy beach & lots of grass - an ideal spot for the hundreds of backpackers the sleep off their hangovers. There are public BBQs with picnic tables & on Saturdays there are market stalls selling tourist stuff & a live band to entertain the hoards.
The Esplanade is lined with both fast food cafes & some decent restaurants. The service is friendly but not very efficient, as many of the waitresses are foreign backpackers, many from the UK. They need to earn money here because all of the trips are very expensive (£50-£100 to go to the Barrier Reef) & food is not cheap either.Skyrail
A few miles up the road are the Skyrail & Scenic Railway which take you to Kuranda, an Aborigine town up in the hilly Tropical Rainforest, north of Cairns. We went by Skyrail, which is 7km long & one of the longest cable cars in the world. They are so ecology minded that, when they built the towers, everything was brought in by helicopter on the end of very long cables, so that the down force didn't disturb the forest (although ironically, whole areas of the forest periodically get wiped out by typhoons). They did get their Eco Certificate & are ISO 14001 accredited (?), so that's OK then.
The cable car takes you just above the forest canopy & high above the Barron River & Barron Falls.
I was disappointed that we saw so few birds, just a few cockatoos - we saw no animals whatsoever !
There are two stops en route, at the first, guides provided interpretive tours through the forest on elevated boardwalks. At the second is the Interpretation Centre with audio-visual displays describing the history of the forest.Kuranda
Kuranda village was a hippy hangout in the 60s but it has turned into an upmarket tourist trap full of boutiques, restaurants & art galleries - the Peter Jarver Gallery sells photographic prints for $3,500 each.
There are Butterfly Sanctuaries, Venom Zoos, Birdworld & the "Blazing Saddles" horse rides (beans supplied free). We ate at Annabel's Pantry, famous for over 30 varieties of handmade pies - they even had kangaroo pie (yummy) but no cuddly Koala pies.
We went on a self guided walk through the rainforest which took us past some Aboriginal houses which were in a sorry site. They looked like overcrowded converted motels - we also saw some of the locals staggering drunk while others were just sitting around idly in groups - I guess there is high unemployment there.Kuranda Scenic Railway.
We took the Scenic Railway from Kuranda back to Cairns on its meandering route past some breathtaking scenery. This 37 km railway was completed in 1891 to supply the gold mines that were discovered in 1873 in the hills . It was an incredible engineering feat taking 1500 men, armed with picks & shovels (& dynamite) 5 years to complete, it was one of the most ambitious railway projects ever undertaken.
Today it is a popular tourist journey with passengers travelling in the original wooden carriages, but drawn by diesel locomotives covered with larger than life aboriginal murals. We were allocated a seat in a carriage full of very noisy Japanese tourists who would leap to their feet to photograph anything & everything - I expect Barbara & I feature in about a dozen Japanese photos. The scenery on the journey was described by a canned commentary which also pointed out some of the interesting engineering marvels. A really interesting journey.