OGLING GROPERS AND CUDDLING CANE TOADS
Trip Start Mar 15, 2011
35Trip End Jun 11, 2011
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It's amazing what the thought of crocodiles can do. Apparently it can get you out of bed early enough to get to the airport for a peak-hour flight, have your bags properly packed (as opposed to our experience going to the Barossa) and not making strange postal orders at the airport! What a success!
Clearing through security, we had time to check out the Qantas Heritage Museum which is actually strangely quite interesting. Zipping three hours north, we touched down at Cairns and made a beeline for our transport to Port Douglas... a minibus! We quickly realised that we should have taken the same approach as we did in the Barossa and hired a car for several days. Oops! Considering that Port Douglas is a hub of tropical activities - and is one of the best launch points for the reef - we simply took the option of transfers. These were not bad at all, and hey, it's always nice being driven around, but the little minibus took a little longer than we thought and spotting some amazing coastline and excellent places to visit along the way, a car of our own would have been much better!
We checked into our accommodation, 'By the Sea', in the early afternoon, and were pretty excited to see that it lived up to all our expectations! While researching options in Port Douglas, this jumped out and seemed just brilliant. It was super reasonable, newly outfitted apartments with little kitchens and even more exciting - awesome communal BBQ areas! If you so required, they would hand out beach towels, fun beach equipment, eskies (cooler boxes), boogie boards... everything!
But before any of that fun stuff, there was something serious to attend to. We were hungry! Any time approaching mid-afternoon in a country town is a danger zone as far as food outlets are concerned, so we grabbed some tips from our reception desk and made our way into the main strip of Port Douglas. They told us to head towards the wharf where one bar (On the Inlet) would offer a decent menu from 4pm - perfect. It also happened to be one of the places Matt told us we had to go to, because they feed George, the giant local groper at 5pm every evening. Sold! We tucked into a snack and then watched the great spectacle provided by the bar staff.
They lure George with fish carcasses from the kitchen, and the odd huge fish head, all placed on the end of a rope. After 10 minutes or so of trying to get George interested in their offerings, he finally surfaced! Via that huge rope they pull him to the surface for a minute or so, giving everyone a glimpse at George in all his glory!
From there we wandered to the local supermarket to grab some stocks for the evening, for we were going to barbeque! Then it was back to our apartment for the next instalment of Masterchef, before our very own masterchef tended the steaks on the barbie for a hugely delicious meal!
Our focal point for the visit to Port Douglas was to be a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef to snorkel amongst the coral. Through our wanderings on Monday evening we managed to book that in for Wednesday (our preferred boat was sold out for Tuesday!) and then worked out other activities to fill the other days. Up the top of the list were Hartley's Adventures - a wildlife park with a particular focus on the local crocs - along with nearby Mossman Gorge and exploring the coastline. We really needed a car for these! So we wandered about 200m down the road from our hotel and grabbed a car for the day. Too easy!
It was a terrifically relaxed day. We wandered through the town, checking out our dining and entertainment options for the evening (at the top of the list was cane toad racing at the Ironbar and again, another tip from Matt!), browsing some of the stores and wandering down to the beach for lunch - some rather delicious leftovers from our barbie the day before! Erin was particularly careful to declare the beach free of crocs before we sat down to our gourmet steak sandwiches!
In the early afternoon we headed south to Hartley's, in time to catch the main event: their Crocodile Attack show at 3pm. We raced in ahead of a recently pulled-up bus tour and with a good hour to spare we wandered around the grounds. In what is (we think!) an old farm, the wildlife park has a series of enclosures for a huge amount of salt water crocodiles - some absolutely enormous! Many had been retrieved from farms or populated areas where they began to take a liking to snacking on cows and sometimes people!
We took the obligatory boat ride around the man-made lagoon to see a bunch of crocs being fed - it's completely entertaining to see the power with which they roar out of the water! We then hustled down to the little arena where they hold the croc attack show, gaining front row seats.
The show itself was hilarious, all dedicated to how dangerous crocs are, how they attack, and what to do if you happen upon one. Handy information! It was a double act, with the senior croc attack expert attempting to train the other staff member in the ways of the croc attack show. Serious business. The croc expert ran backwards and forwards across a pond in front of a 5m beast sprouting off facts, and luring it into attack mode with rough bits of cow, before the grand finale - getting him to do a death roll. So, the basic facts are: stay away from them! Especially the pointy end.
We drove back to Port Douglas, stopping off at a lookout to see some hangliders in action, before getting stuck into the serious business of the evening: Cane Toad Racing! The Ironbar is the classic pub location in town - a newish bar in comparison with the beautiful old Queenslander pubs, and built for the enjoyment of the tourists. We could imagine just how much fun it would be in peak season with our little taster!
The whole point of holding these races is to let tourists know a little about the awful menace of the toad. It was introduced in North Queensland some time ago in the hope that they would knock out the cane sugar beetle. Unfortunately the toads who were proven to eat the beetle in the lab couldn't, in reality, climb up the top of the sugar cane to reach it! So it never managed to eat any beetles, but had a right party down the base of the cane and bred like there's no tomorrow. So now they're the greatest pest in Northern Australia with pretty much no predators (they're a wee bit poisonous) and a will to hop throughout all the warmer bits.
We arrived early and gained pole position at the races, paid our $5 entry and learnt the rules: the race master draws a raffle and five winning ticket holders become cane toad jockeys for the first race, and for the second he auctions off positions. Fun stuff! Those lucky enough to assume jockey status were handed out their toads and on the blow of the whistle, had to encourage them to hop from one side of the table to the other, with the aid of a party blower as a whip. It became quickly apparent that once released, they jump any where they like and Erin was extremely quick to jump up from the couch we were sitting on to stand up on its furtherst point so as to avoid any situation that would involve toad-meeting-feet.
We didn't score any jockey rights (to be honest, the small Australian would have forfeited them immediately, since it involved holding and kissing the toad) but it was a huge amount of fun. At the end of the evening, the cane toad master let people hold his treasures, and while squirming, the tour guide managed to snap a few pics of the tourist getting up close and personal with the introduced wildlife.
Next up, the usual search for something delicious to eat! Port Douglas is one of those ideal holiday spots - awesome location with loads of great things to do and see, and packed with fantastic restaurants and bars. However, as we keep discovering, it of course runs at country hours! We'd deliberated for a while as to what to eat (do we do some of the great looking Italians? the awesome seafood spots? the tapas and wine bar? and the burgers and steak at Ironbar did look fabulous) and thought we'd take a little side-step and try the cute-looking Mexican restaurant in the middle of the high street. Popping in at 9pm, we didn't realise how lucky we were that they were still serving, and only just at that!
We ordered hastily and hungrily, and were pretty pleased with what came up! Some of it was terrific, some of it was a bit..unexciting! Nevertheless, we were happily fed and wandered on to the Central Hotel which seemed to be the most happening place in town. The conundrum about Port Douglas is that while the restaurants close early, everything else is open as long as there are people interested! The Central became our location of choice for our stay, and indeed it was brilliant - mostly for us because it was playing the French Open tennis on a big screen out in the beer garden! It's a pretty cool place - they show free movies every night (Grease and Mamma Mia seem to be on a recurring list) but is a great mix of locals and tourists. After watching Nadal in fine form we called it a night, ready to take to the reef in the morning!
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