Blue mountains and blue waters

Trip Start Mar 18, 2011
Trip End May 15, 2011

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Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Thursday, May 12, 2011

Hi again:

We have titled this blog entry "Blue Mountains and Blue Waters" to tell you about our most recent destinations: the Blue Mountains of New South Wales and the blue waters of the Great Barrier Reef.

When our last blog left off we were in Port Macquarie, a resort town 6 hours north of Sydney. After living like Aussies for 10 days, we set out again with the Grobermans in our clunker of a rental car (a Holden, the brand name for GM in Australia) and drove back south  to an area called the Blue Mountains, about 100 km west of Sydney. It is a popular get-away location for “Sydney-siders” who want to escape the heat and frantic pace of the city for a couple of days. (Apparently people from Sydney like to buy North Face jackets and pretend it is winter.)

The Blue Mountains are not really mountains as we know them but the area, about 1000 metres higher than Sydney, is beautiful and reminded us all of  Canada.  The air was bracing and the streets of the little towns were lined with maple trees changing colour.  There are spectacular canyons and vistas, including a lookout over the Three Sisters, a rock formation reminiscent of our much larger version in Canmore!

The four of us stayed at a great B and B called Kooba Roonga in a town called Blackheath, where we could walk to the little downtown area for meals.  There was a cozy fire and complementary port in the late afternoons.  Blissful!

We spent a couple of days exploring the area on foot – there are lots of hikes, including one to Bridal Falls that almost killed Marv!  Although the sign indicated the walk was only 15 minutes, it neglected to say that there were 502 slippery steps involved – first down and then inevitably back up.  Great views though – over a water fall plummeting to the canyon floor a long way below us!  Phil, with his dislike of heights, wisely turned down the opportunity. Another great sighting was our first King Parrot - a lovely bird that looked oddly out of place in such a cool climate – picture a huge parrot flying around Banff!

Then off to the next leg of our journey –we flew to Cairns in Queensland, a popular drop-off point for the Great Barrier Reef.  Cairns attracts people from all over the world who want to either dive or snorkel on the reef, so it is a party town in a wonderful tropical setting.  We had arranged for an all-day trip to the reef for Phil, Ruth and Candace – Marv does not do well on boats but Cairns has a casino so he was content for the day.

The diving areas for the reef are about 15 km offshore so the snorkelling is 'open ocean' and can be quite choppy.  The day we went was a bit cloudy so we all suited up in many layers – first a wet suit with that lovely ‘stuffed sausage’ look topped by a ‘flotation device’ that might have kept the Titanic afloat – you get the picture!  But the waters were blue and the corals and giant clams spectacular – to our surprise there were fewer fish than we expected – probably fewer than in Hawaii – but the thrill of being on the reef was perfect – had I been able to reach through all my layers I would have pinched myself to remember the moment!  In the afternoon, after a huge tropical lunch aboard ship we donned the sausage suits again and were taken in a speedboat to a sandy cay on the reef, accessible only at low tide (check out the picture).  Then we drifted and snorkelled happily back to the boat to end the day.

Cairns is also well located for adventures inland.  Phil and Ruth took in a ‘night spotlighting’ tour that lasted from 2 PM to midnight in an area called the Atherton table lands –  1000 metres above the coast up a road with 264 curves.  On this trip we fulfilled one of Phil’s long- awaited dreams – to see a duck-billed platypus – an animal of his boyhood imaginings.  The actual viewing can be a bit of an anticlimax because the platypus does not come out of the water and so it looks very much like a large muskrat with a big bill, but nonetheless we were excited.  The platypus is most easily seen at dusk so when we located 2 platypuses on a pond it was with the backdrop of a spectacular sunset and the ‘music’ of an hysterical laughing kookaburra in the background - an iconic Aussie moment – priceless!

The rest of the spot-lighting consisted of roaming the rainforest at night with huge searchlights, craning our necks up to the treetops looking for beady red eyes.  Much to our delight, in addition to several varieties of possum we found a tree kangaroo – apparently quite hard to find.  It is believed that kangaroos originally were arboreal creatures that evolved mainly to land creatures but there are still many marsupials that live in trees and can only be seen at night. Ours was guarding her young one so stayed put long enough for a picture.

In addition to being a great place from which to visit the reef, Cairns has bird life along the Esplanade, a long boardwalk from the Reef Terminal to our condo (a drop-dead gorgeous 3 bedroom condo called the Water’s Edge apartments that  we shared with Marv and Candace).

We had a true ‘birding moment’ along the Esplanade involving a group of birders (all men) who sit every day from 4 to 6 PM checking out the wading birds on the mudflats and offering to show special sightings to the tourists.  We met them the first day when we were just carrying our small binoculars so they were civil enough but obviously decided we were not true ‘birders’.  However two days later, now armed with our big binocs and our bird book, we again stopped to chat and they showed a little more interest in us.  Phil had just seen an interesting heron and had fortunately taken its picture so we asked them what it might be.  Well…those of you who are birders will know what a ‘twitch’ is – it supposedly is what birders do when a rare bird shows up.  It seems that Phil’s heron was a juvenile Nankeen night heron that they had not seen in about 6 years in Cairns.  The whole group of rather portly gentlemen then took off down the Esplanade, spotting scopes in tow, to see for themselves – a major twitch.  Needless to say, we were their buddies after that!

On our last day with the Grobermans we drove up to Port Douglas, about one hour north of Cairns.  The Port is charming - much smaller and more laid-back than Cairns, with lots of luxury resorts.  On the way up we stopped at Palm Cove, a small beach community with a spectacular beach, hoping to do some swimming.  However May is still ‘stinger season’ – the box jellyfish are still on the coastal waters – so we just had to look!

After three great weeks of travel and adventures with Marv and Candace, we bid them goodbye and wished them luck on their homeward trek, and then set out for our last week in Oz – more birding in the Daintree rain forest north of Port Douglas and a couple of days on Fraser Island are still in store before we arrive home on May 15th.


Ruth and Phil
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Rosalee on

OMG you had my dream of seeing a Juvenile Nankeen..just kidding, but what an amazing trip you are having. I am jealous and tired just hearing about it.

Miss you both and love the blog. you write so well I feel like I am reading a travel magazine.

Lots of love
PS we are in Fairmont (remember that place?) and thinking of you.

Lisa on

I am bowing at your ffet right now Phil!! Twitch!!!! Great pictures of the birds and great barrier reef!!1 Miss you and hope you enjoy your last week. Soak up every minute. xoxoxoxoxo

Lisa on

I think my spell check had one too many drinks!! LOL

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