Cultural Contrasts, Crystal Cascades & Chucking up

Trip Start Feb 05, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Nomads Serpent Resort

Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Wednesday, February 15, 2012

We touched down at Cairns airport around midday. As you step outside the humidity slaps you like a wet flannel. Cairns has essentially a year long Summer. Apart from one month aptly named 'the wet,' where rain levels are up to twenty times those in low season (July) and the humidity makes the place feel like a big sloppy oven. This month is February, and true to our usual form we had inadvertently planned to come slap bang in the middle of it. Luckily for us, the weather has been quite topsy turvy this year and North Queensland has had an uncharacteristically dry 'wet,' with most of the rain chilling out with our friends down in Sydney.

We had booked to stay at Nomads Serpent Hostel which runs a free shuttle bus from the airport. After loitering around with our bags in heat for an hour and eager to meet up with our pals we realised we were being led a merry dance. We flagged down a local man in search of some friendly advice. Far from the wide toothed "Welcome to Australia Mates!" we were expecting, we were received hostilely, labelled tightfisted and then ripped of to the tune of $10 for a 60 second trip to the hostel. Not a great start to our frugal living plans.

Sophie recently watched an expose on 'Today, Tonight' about backpackers in Cairns. It sounded much like the programme 'Brits Abroad' and featured cranky native Queenslander's shaking their fists at disrespectful backpackers who piss in their lagoon, pass out in their streets dressed as Smurfs and litter like gypsies (I worried that we had come to the Magaluf of Australia). The locals, unsurprisingly, are sick to the back teeth of it. This hatred, however, seems to constitute a double-edged sword. Tourism makes up 70% of industry in Northern Queensland, with sugar cane farming accounting for the other 30%. As much as travellers are derided, their presence does increase the quality of life for the majority of Northern Queenslanders. 

We had planned our trip to coincide with some old school pals (Loz, Caz and Cheese) who were stopping at Australia halfway through a world trip. They were at the hostel when we arrived and
after a raucous reunion we headed into the city. Cairns doesn't have a hospitable beach so our first stop was the huge man-made central lagoon (which is much more idyllic than it sounds). The lagoon was abuzz with people enjoying a Saturday afternoon in the sun or taking advantage of the public BBQ's (which are available to anyone as long as you bring your own food and clean up afterwards). Cairns immediately strikes as a vastly multicultural place ,filled with people of every nationality, aboriginals and Australians living side by side - which made a nice contrast to Canberra's fairly uniform makeup.

That night we headed out to sample Cairns' notorious nightlife. We started out with a few civilised drinks in our room. Cheese's sister Becky who moved out to Oz in September joined us and brought along and her new Ozzie boyfriend and fellow pom friend Stacy. Stacy immediately got on the wrong side of Sophie by remarking 'Oh you're from Canberra, I've never been...I've heard it's very......Industrial.' The night progressed with similar success. After getting our alcohol confiscated by a smug-faced jobsworth we headed into town feeling like naughty schoolchildren.

Cairns certainly comes alive at night. I may be getting prudish in my old age, but cramming into a JD soaked bar listening to tunes such as 'The Summer Of 69,' while sweaty, arrogant yanks holler in your ear is not my idea of fun. I also resent having a brash ink motif stamped onto my hand and having a reminder of my trip to such a venue for several days to come. Me and Sophie left the 'party' at just gone Midnight. Maybe we picked the wrong venue.

The next morning, some feeling more worse for wear than others, we walked the 2km from the hostel down the esplanade. It makes for an impressive sight late morning. Despite the lack of beach, the view is simply stunning. Dotted along the walk are a few outdoor gyms and the Cairns council also runs free outdoor exercise classes including Zumba, yoga and Bootcamp (and Britain wonders why it has obesity problems!).

Poor Old Cheese had got a bit carried away the night before and was suffering the consequences. Our pleasant stroll was interspersed with frequent barf breaks, where we stood chatting amongst ourselves whilst Cheese disgraced herself.

As I stood in front of the rolling rainforest hills watching poor old Cheese kneeling in her own sick, whilst retching up in front of a children's birthday party I started to understand why the residents of Queensland were less than fond of types like us.

Becky picked us up in the afternoon and drove us out towards the rainforest and the home of the 'Crystal Cascades' which she called 'Cairn's best hangover cure.'

I'd never heard of the cascades. They don't feature in guidebooks (I've read enough) and there is no form of public transport out to them. They appear to be a well kept local secret - free from those pesky backpackers - and are just glorious. You have to walk through a good stretch of tropical forest before shimmying down a steep verge to reach the water. When you do, you are able to swim in a stream of crystal clear freshwater which bursts through rocks and crevices as it makes its way downstream. The temperature nips at your body, providing instant refreshment. 

The cascades can get quite polluted with people in easy access spots, but if your willing to ungracefully navigate the steep terrain you can find your own personal section of the cascades. Here you can laze on large rocks and soak up the sunshine that filters down through the canopy. A little personal patch of paradise.

Becky has found work in Cairns as a supply teacher. She loves it and it's children; who after working in the inner-city schools of Nottingham, are the equivalent of teaching gleamy cheeked cherubs. She informed me that in Cairns (I'm not sure if the same applies elsewhere) aboriginal children are paid around $30 dollars a day from the age of five to attend school. I was impressed by such an initiative to help heal and lessen the social inequality between the two communities. However, Becky assured me that often many Australians express resentment at it. I guess nobody likes the idea of anybody getting a 'better deal' than them.

When we arrived home, another one of our party (Fran II) had arrived. The rest of the day was spent chilling at the hostel, catching up and taking advantage of a free snake handling event being run there. All in all a busy and culturally educational couple of days.
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