Trip Start Oct 18, 2005
Trip End Dec 15, 2005

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Saturday, November 12, 2005

Day 21: We woke up bright and early for our first day in Cairns (pronounced Cans)and rented a car for the day. Not only is the first car we've driven in three weeks, but the steering wheel is on the right side of the car and we had to drive on the left side of the road! We chose an automatic for the task. The hard part wasn't getting the car into the correct lane. The hard part was keeping the car in the middle of the lane. "I'm on the white line" was Janell's signal to Jason that he was driving on the edge of the road.

Since we had a car for the day, we decided to go to the Atherton Tablelands just west of Cairns with the intention of hiking through some rainforests. The ascent up to the Tablelands was a gorgeous, curvy drive through the Gillies Range. Once we got to the top, all we saw was farmland. We soon realized that the rainforests were scattered throughout a lot of cow pastures. Oh, well, there were still a lot of waterfalls to be seen, and we had to settle for short walks rather than extended hikes. It was still pretty cool.

We stopped at four different waterfalls. Our first brush with wildlife came only a few steps into the first trail. Janell stepped right over and Jason nearly stepped on a lizard that was a little over a foot long. We didn't even see him until he scampered away on his two hind legs and climbed up a tree. Pretty cool! Also along the way we stopped by two ginormous fig trees! Sort of like the giant Sitka Spruce in Oregon except they look like Treebeard from Lord of the Rings. Later, and Jason had the obligatory swim under the Millaa Millaa Falls. Unfortunately, while driving away from the falls, he noticed the cow pasture just above them and realized why the sign said "Don't drink this water. Swim at your own risk." Eeeeeewwww... At least he wasn't the only stupid tourist to jump in.

At one of the waterfalls, there was a warning that we may encounter a very large endangered bird called a Cassowarry. It is basically an emu or ostrich-type bird that has a blue head and a kind of horn-looking thing. We didn't see him, but while we were hiking back from a look at a big volcanic crater, we heard a very loud and very scary bird call. Although the desire was very strong to go investigate the sound, we decided an alternate route may be more prudent.

One thing about driving in the Atherton Tablelands (I'm on the white line), is that the roadkill looks suspiciously like kangaroos. After seeing dead kangaroo after dead kangaroo Janell finally spotted some live ones (kind of like seeing deer in the States), amidst some gigantic termite mounds. Jason nearly ran off the road trying to get turned around to see them, but we did get to see some real live kangaroos in the wild! They hopped away too fast for a picture though, darn it.

After dinner, we stopped by the night markets for some Chinese neck and back torture...I mean Chinese massages. We wouldn't have thought that a girl that small could inflict that much pain!

Day 22: Ah, the reason to come to Cairns...The Great Barrier Reef. We spent the entire day out on a boat scuba diving (Jason) and snorkeling (Janell). Janell was a little nervous about the boat trip, but she found an Australian wonder pill that prevented her from inadvertantly feeding the fish. There were others on the boat who neglected to take the little pills and regretted it, but Janell was just fine throughout the 9 hour boat trip.

During the diving and snorkeling, we saw tons of beautiful coral and reef fish, including many species of clownfish (Nemo), giant clams, a Giant Wrasse named Wally, a hawksbeak turtle, lots of parrotfish, some angelfish, and many, many other kinds of fish. There was all kinds of different coral with different colors and textures. And there was tons of it! We couldn't believe how bright it was and how many different colors fo fish and coral there were. Very cool!

Day 23: There aren't any beaches in the city of Cairns, but there are several just to the north. We got ourselves a bus pass and headed to the beach! It's funny how small the tourist community is. We ran into the same group from California that we had seen at a waterfall two days prior and at the boat dock to the reef the day before. We also saw our first European style sunbather. She was about 70.

Not too much else exciting happened this day. Mainly hanging out at the beach.

Day 24: On our last day in Cairns, we took a trip to Kuranda by the scenic railway. Kuranda is a pretty small town, but it was once the main stop for the train between the coast and the Tablelands. On the two hour trip, we saw a pretty nice waterfall, but then we stopped to see Barron Falls. These falls were awesome! Even though the rainy season hadn't started, yet, the falls were still roaring. Also, they were named after the great-grandfather of the receptionist at our hotel. Once the train got to Kuranda, we toured the town (in about 20 minutes). I think everybody there was either a tourist or selling things to the tourists.

Since we missed out on the cassowary in the woods, we decided to head to the bird sanctuary to catch a glimpse of one. That place was really cool! They had a ton of birds unique to Australia as well as some other "exotic" birds from other places, including North America (California Quail, for example). Finally, we saw a cassowary. It looks kind of like an emu, except it has a blue head and something that looks like a horn on top. It was almost five feet tall with its neck stretched out. They are native to Queensland, and there are only about 1400 of them left. Man, what a cool bird!

We took the skyrail on the way back. This is a gondola that goes over the rain forest. That ride was awesome! It's hard to describe the views, but the pictures will do it more justice.

After we got back from Kuranda, we said good-bye to Cairns and flew back to Sydney for our last day in Australia.
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