Port Douglas - Day two
Trip Start Mar 14, 2006
28Trip End Apr 10, 2006
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The scenic train was built in the back end of the 19th century in order to ensure the local mining towns were not cut off from food and water during the wet seasons. IT takes about an hour and a half to get all the way up to the town of Kuranda which sits at the top, and during that time you wind through 15 tunnels and over 34 kilometres of track. One of the most impressive sights which we saw were the Barron Falls - the train track goes right over the top of them and it's a brave person (i.e. not me) who looks over the edge at that point. All the bridges look like they may collapse at any moment but the views from the train are fantastic and we were even visited by a collection of butterflies which flew alongside and inside the train for a stretch before heading back down the paths.
Kuranda clearly surives purely on the tourist trade (no great shock) and the local pub has callers outside its doors trying to get the railway passengers inside. Dad and I successfully ignored them and walked up the main street instead. We tried on hats, loitered in sarong shelves and generally annoyed several retailers by buying naught. We were slightly protected as we'd done a bit of retail therapy down at the station museum in Cairns. However, we tragically fell into the hands of a lovely lady in one of the more expensive shops and emerged with damage to our wallets and sealed up shopping bags...
The second way to get up and down to Kuranda is the Sky rail, which is a fancy version of a cable car ride. Given Dad's love of heights (!), I was surprised that I managed to get him onto another one of these - see Singapore for previous visits. However, it's a pretty big cable car and you are given a tower by tower map to try and spot the various plants scattered about the rainforest canopy below you. We failed spectacularly on this task - the main things we spotted were trees. I gather we were supposed to be more precise than that.
At the bottom of the cable car ride, which stops off at a couple of points on the way down, we had decided to have a look around the local aboriginal centre. These are dotted about the place but this one appeared on a lot of the leaflets that we had strewn about the cocktail lounge and so it got added to the tour. (http://www.tjapukai.com.au) It is a little bit unsettling as certain parts verge on the confrontational regarding the interaction between the Aboriginal people who previously inhabited this tropical region and the European Settlers. It's also a bit weird when the chap explaining how the hunting occured finishes his talk with "then microwave for ten minutes!"
There are, as I say, many aboriginal centres in this part of Australia and one of the things that I found difficult about this one was the underlying victim mentality that it portrayed. Although the actions taken by the European settlers were terrible and extremely costly to the native culture, it seems to me that of all the world's "native inhabitants", such as the American indians, the Celts, Picts and so on, the Aboriginal people have been the most successful in turning around the devastation which they experienced. Australia has taken steps to recognise the traditional land claims which the aboriginal people have (Uluru national park being one example) and as one of the actors in the Tjapukai centre said, "we're all equal now". Given these remarkable steps towards restoration and maintenance of the Aboriginal way of life, the constant undercurrent of anger in these presentations seemed to be extreme. However, maybe this is because the atrocities which occured happened in the relatively recent past - the Roman invasion of the Celtic regions in Britain which also had similar atrocities commited for the sake of land and minerals evoke a much less emotive response.
Anyway, we wrapped up our trip with a good steak dinner and a couple of drinks in the local Irish pub, while a local gent entertained us and the locals on his guitar. Early start tomorrow for snorkeling...hmmm, I think I get seasick on boats....