The Reef and the Rainforest

Trip Start Jan 10, 2005
Trip End May 10, 2005

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Flag of Australia  ,
Friday, March 25, 2005

To maximize our short time in Cairns, we decided to take a bus tour to Daintree National Park/Cape Tribulation to see the rainforest. About 900,000 hectares of rainforest (along with the Great Barrier Reef) spanning Townsville to Cooktown was declared a World Heritage Site in 1988 to preserve one of the world's most unique and diverse ecosystems. There are over 900 species of trees in the Daintree forest.

One of the reasons why the flora and fauna are so unique here is that Australia is an island and is secluded from other countries. It is believed that it was once part of Gondwanaland which also consisted of South America, India, Africa, Antarctica, New Guinea, New Zealand and parts of the Middle East. Following the last ice age, Gondwanaland split apart and the countries floated to where they are today.

All along the coast are miles of beaches with beautiful pristine beaches with blue, blue water lined with palm trees. But looks can be deceiving. This time of year, the water is rife with box jellyfish and the only safe areas for swimming are those that have been netted off. These jellyfish are huge with tentacles that are several feet long - their stings can be deadly. Signs warn of their presence and bottles of vinegar are located on each beach in case someone is stung (the vinegar helps release the stingers from the skin.)

Much of the road along the coastline is winding and rugged. In particular sections, it is seldom that we reach speeds of more than 60 km per hr. Portions of the rainforest have been cleared away to grow sugar cane, bananas or tea, but this is no longer permitted since it is now a protected area.

In the rainforest, the plant and tree growth is thick; the humidity is extremely high and weighs heavily the lungs. Visitors break out in an instant sweat. There are ephiphytes (air plants) nesting in the notches of trees everywhere you look and vines that fall from the tops of the canopy. A particulariy nasty vine is the "wait-a-while" (actually a type of palm) that has barbs like fish hooks, so that, as the name implies, you have to pause to untangle yourself.

The rainforest is also home to numerous butterflies, insects, rodents, reptiles and birds. The Cassowary, a large flightless bird with a blue neck, lives in this area of the country. It is an endangered species and there are only 150 known birds left. Efforts are being made to increase their numbers, but environmentalists have had little success.

On the Daintree River, we spotted four crocodiles. These are the salt water or estuarine type of crocodiles and are very dangerous. Unlike the freshwater type that reach a maximum length of 10 feet, these can grow to to 28 feet in length and have massive, powerful jaws. Many a cat, dog, cow - or even human being - can go missing if they get too close to the river's edge at the wrong time.
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