Cairns, Daintree & The Great Barrier Reef
Australia, July 20 / August 10, 2011

Michael J. Ferguson

Journal Index


1  Introduction
2  Boston to Cairns, Wed. July 20 / Fri. July 22
3  Cairns, Sat. July 23
4  Cairns, Sun. July 24
5  Cairns to Yorkeys Knob, Mon. July 25
6  Yorkeys Knob, Rainforest Skyrail, Kuranda to Ellis Beach, Tues. July 26
7  Ellis beach to Port Douglas, Wed. July 27
8  Port Douglas, Thurs. July 28
9  Port Douglas to Daintree Village, Fri. July 29
10  Daintree Village, Sat. July 30
11  Daintree Village to Ferry plus, Sun. July 31
12  Daintree Ferry Plus to Mossman, Mon. Aug. 1
13  Mossman to Port Douglas, Tues. Aug. 2
14  Port Douglas to Palm Cove, Wed. Aug. 3
15  Palm Cove to Cairns, Thurs. Aug. 4
16  Cairns, Fri. Aug. 5 to Tues. Aug. 9
17  Cairns to Boston, Tues. Aug. 9 to Wed. Aug. 10
18  Maps

1  Introduction

This trip was postponed twice. I had intended to go in February, but the torrential rains almost floated Queensland away. My second thought was to go in late June but Peggy was moving back to Montreal and I wanted to go to Toronto to help her with the last of her stuff.

I flew out of Boston, and during my indecision, Qantas added non-stops from Dallas to Brisbane and Sydney. I went via Brisbane and came back via Sydney. Both trips were about 36 hours long.

2  Boston to Cairns, Wed. July 20 / Fri. July 22

It was not really 3 days, Wednwsday to Friday. The international dateline loses a day going west. The day is returned on the way back. In fact it took 26 hours with 21 hours flying. The service on Qantas was quite good, in contrast to the degeneration of all the US carriers, with free, and quite edible meals, and complimentary bar service. My only dismay was the fact that the 15 hour flight from Dallas to Brisbane was completely full and I was assigned an inside seat. I was encroached upon all night which increased the difficulty, which is normally uncomfortable, of sleeping.

However, we arrived on time in Brisbane, and much to my surprise, cleared immigration and customs quite quickly, so I had a enough time to get my bags to the International/Domestic transfer desk. The flight to Cairns was a little over 2 hours, and I had a window seat so I was able to confirm the comment on my last trip to Australia in 1998, when I had to quit my ride in Noosa, that I didn't miss anything because it was mostly desert all the way up to Townsville.

We arrived early in Cairns, and here, as in Brisbane, there were free baggage carts. The only airline damage this time was to my to my four water bottles. They were sufficiently crushed that they leaked.

I put my bike together in about an hour, and filled my rather mangled water bottles. It was an easy, 6km ride to the Cairns Holiday Park where I am staying. Although, the weather is beautiful, my delay from February had put me into high season so things are really quite a bit more expensive, After putting up my tent, I rode into the centre of town to get groceries and tried to exchange some New Zealand dollars from left over from a trip there in 2005. Unfortunately, this was a Cairns holiday, complete with a fair that had rides for the children. It is such a big deal that all the streets surrounding the fairgrounds are closed off to be made into parking lots. Although the banks are normally closed on Saturday, I discovered that the ones in shopping centres are open. I will try again tomorrow.

It was a good day.

3  Cairns, Sat. July 23

The main objective for today was to exchange my New Zealand dollars. Although the bank charged a fee, the rate was sufficiently better than the foreign exchange office that I ended up with more money. My second objective was to get a SIM card for my cell phone to avoid the predatory roaming charges of the cell phone providers. I had done my homework before I came but yesterday they could not find the ``Starter'' package that I wanted at the Vodafone store. I looked it up on the internet again, and found almost what I wanted. They store actually had something close, so I got it. They activated it in the store, but the mobile Internet did not work. With a little more intervention, everything finally worked.

My touristy thing of the day was to ride down to the waterfront and along the 2.5km Promenade. This is one of the most famous, and popular, sights in Cairns. It was Saturday, so it was crowded, and there was something for everyone.

At the south end was the yacht harbour, with the intimidating hills in the background.

4  Cairns, Sun. July 24

Today was a lazy day riding around town. I needed some more coffee and while at Woolworths, I met Ross, a bicyclist who also made tourist maps of Cairns. I spent most of the day riding around aimlessly on bicycle paths and mixed pedestrian/bicycle paths. It appears that no one knows where these paths go in Cairns. I visited a Tourist Information Centre and they did not know anything about bicycle paths. Later in the day I met Ross again and asked him about bicycle paths. He knew about the designated paths, but there are several circuits around town that do not seem to be common knowledge, although they are sign-posted. I rode along one almost all the way to my campground.

5  Cairns to Yorkeys Knob, Mon. July 25

It is really quite pleasant this morning. The last two mornings I had to really add layers to fight the cold. This morning we were visited by a flock of Australian White Ibis.

They were quite aggressive, jumping up on the table to try to steal food.

On my way out I followed a small part of the pedestrian/cycle Cairns CBD Circuit path that seemed to be unknown yesterday. I also joined the one of the real bicycle paths that died by the airport.

I continued up the Captain Cook Highway and passed some extensive sugarcane fields. This still appears to be alive, in contrast to Hawaii, and had really extensive narrow gauge sugarcane railways to haul it away. The gauge is only about twice the length of my bicycle helmet.

I doubted they were used now, but there were junctions, bridges, and tunnels under the road, and discovered I was quite wrong when I got near Mossman. After stopping for some lunch at the huge Smithfield mall, I took the beach road to Yorkeys Knob. I was under the impression that the Villa Marine was a holiday park campground, but when I arrived, it was clear that it did not. Not only were they not a campground, all the campgrounds in Yorkeys Knob had been closed for at least five years. After some discussion with the owner, he generously gave me a, rather elegant room, at an incredibly steep discount. In addition, he made reservations for me, tomorrow, on the Rainforest Skyway to Kuranda. I spent a very relaxing afternoon staring at the trees and pool.

6  Yorkeys Knob, Rainforest Skyrail, Kuranda to Ellis Beach, Tues. July 26

It was a beautiful morning again, andan easy 6km ride, first to McDonald's in Smithfield and back to the Skyrail terminal. The local innovation at McDonald's is a Brekkie Roll. It is excellent and much better than my normal Egg McMuffin. The ride up on the Skyrail was quite rewarding, with a wonderful view of the canopy and with the Staghorn Ferns growing rootless and harmless to its host on the top of a tree.

The plants all compete for light, and those stuck on the on the floor have to climb.

Barron Falls is rather quiet in the dry season.

Just before we arrived in Kuranda, the gondola crossed the Kuranda River.

The Village Walkway is well signposted for the tourist hordes that apparently ascend on the town. I was very early in the morning, so it was quite uncrowded. The rail park bench is more quaint than comfortable.

As one might expect, the centre of town is full of stuff shops. However, the banyan trees lining gave it some charm.

For those of us who do not find stuff shops charming, there were a number of trails around town. I started on the River Walk,

Nd then continued on the Jungle Walk, and finally ended up on the Jum Rum Creek path.

One disappointment about these rainforests is that I did not see any orchids.

After I got back down at about 1:00pm, I continued on towards the campground at Ellis Beach. On the way I saw a strange yellow-whiskered bird, which I learned at Daintree Village is a Masked Lapwing

Just before I arrived at Ellis Beach I saw a sign that said the next 27km of the Cook Highway has been designated a World Heritage Site. I wonder what that means for tomorrow.

7  Ellis beach to Port Douglas, Wed. July 27

The road was an interesting challenge with many ups and downs, which to me seemed to be only ups. The beaches gave way to cliffs that went right down to the ocean.

I think the lookout was probably at the top of the point in the last picture.

The cliff was sufficiently interesting that a hang glider was being set up.

I presume the winds were good enough that you were able to come back down at the lookout rather than on the beach way below.

Just before I found the campsite, I saw a flock of Straw-Necked Ibis. They seem to be quite common.

8  Port Douglas, Thurs. July 28

It was a very easy ride into Port Douglas and my GPS routed me along small back streets and with a bicycle path paralleling a cane railway track.

After putting up my tent at the Pandanus Campground, I rode into town, and reprovisioned at a decent sized Coles, which is apparently the last supermarket before Cape Tribulation. Port Douglas lives on tourism, but has a few other charms, such as the small St. Mary's by the Sea.

It also boasts a huge beach on the opposite side of the peninsula from the harbour.

After spending sometime in the shade on the grass watching people fry themselves, I rode back to camp.

9  Port Douglas to Daintree Village, Fri. July 29

I left Port Douglas with overcast skies and they remained that way all day. A few hours later, just south of Mossman, it became obvious that the Cane Trains were in real use.

Mossman appears to be a sugar industry supply town rather than primarily a tourist centre like Port Douglas. In the center of town, was a Cane Train crossing, complete with signal lights.

The Royal Hotel has seen better days but St. David's Anglican Church was well preserved.

One delight of the day was an Orchid? tree.

The road was quite flat until the junction for the road to the ferry to Cape Tribulation. After that it undulated 10km to Daintree Village. The campground was exactly where it should have been and cost only $10 per night.

10  Daintree Village, Sat. July 30

The small village of Daintree consists of a few small shops, the campground, the boat jetty by the river and some surrounding fields.

There were also a few 4wd vehicles that were parked after returning from a trek in the woods. Queenslanders take their off road voyages seriously. The SUVs have snorkel pipes sticking up from the engine that allow them to drive across streams with the engine completely submerged.

Daintree is also the launching point for several river Crocodile cruises. I got on the first boat in the morning. Normally it will seat about 60 people but we were only 5 so it was a rather personalised tour. The captain/guide had grown up as a child on the river, and lived there for over 40 years. Not only was it personalised, it only cost $25, in contrast to the $80 at the two places I stopped about 6km out of town.

The river is quite large, and rather brackish.

The prime reason for the cruises is to see crocodiles. We saw two large ones, but they were mostly submerged so it was a little difficult to appreciate their size.

However, the highlight of the trip was a tiny, one foot long baby on a small branch above the river.

Lex, our guide, would stop the boat and tell us to look for wildlife that he saw but for which we had to hunt rather hard. When we remained blind, he brought out his laser pointer. Our first surprise was a mostly leafless tree with green and yellow tree snakes.

Then it was an almost invisible owl, hiding among the branches.

Two green lizards blended in rather well on a branch.

The plants by the river were also of interest. The huge yellow hibiscus trees have edible flowers that Lex picked for us to taste. Apparently they are used in salads.

The Wild Taro is not edible, the Rattan Vine is used for Rattan furniture, and the Spiked Vine has vicious thorns. Lex said unwrapping yourself from an encounter is rather painful.

It was a good one hour trip.

I had a delicious sweet-thai-chili chicken wrap for lunch and spent the afternoon talking to my neighbours.

11  Daintree Village to Ferry plus, Sun. July 31

It was an easy ride to the ferry that crossed the Daintree River on the way to Cape Tribulation

Before I crossed, I took another Crocodile Cruise. It was not as interesting as the one at Daintree Village but we did see two big crocodiles, Scarface and Nelson.

From the ferry, it was uphill,

and my energy levels flagged, my water was very low, and I was almost out of food. I passed a place that I thought I could wild camp, and then decided to come back to it. It seems to be reasonably isolated,

12  Daintree Ferry Plus to Mossman, Mon. Aug. 1

It was indeed isolated, but I did have a visitor. A cassowary bounded by the tent just after midnight, and I saw another while I was having breakfast. It was too far a way to photograph and didn't stay around very long.

I decided my lack of everything meant that I should abandon the ride up the hill. After a mostly, but not entirely 5km down hill, I crossed on the almost empty ferry. I had a breakfast bacon/egg sandwich, better than McDonald's at the Crossroads Cafe and also replenished my water supply. Then it was against very strong headwinds, past a few rather nice beaches,

I arrived in Mossman in the early afternoon to find that all the campgrounds that I had located on the Internet before I left had closed, but one I didn't find was open. After some thought, I decided not to go on to Port Douglas and stayed.

13  Mossman to Port Douglas, Tues. Aug. 2

This was another day of battling headwinds, fixing a flat trailer tire that had picked up a thorn when I rested beside the road, and the resolution of small mystery. The cane railway is still used to transport the sugarcane to the refinery, but trucks, and huge cane cutters are used in the fields. Today I saw a truck dumping its load into a cane train carriage.

It appears to only work on the right hand side. I trust the drivers never forget.

I arrived just afternoon at the campground, and discovered that the trailer tube had several holes. I just threw it out. I brought two extra tubes so I should be OK until I get home.

14  Port Douglas to Palm Cove, Wed. Aug. 3

This section of road climbs up to the Rex Lookout and was a continual battle with the winds. This side is longer and not as steep as the other side, but still is a strain. From the lookout you could see fires, apparently controlled burns, a long way down the south coast.

Some were burning in ribbons far up the hills and did not seem that well controlled.

Palm Cove is described by Lonely Planet as the St. Tropez of Queensland. It is indeed new, clean, upscale,

and comes with warning signs of the dangers of swimming.

The residents were not all displaced visitors.

This high class town has a very popular, less than high class campground. It appears to be perpetually full, but they did manage to find a site, for one night, for me.

15  Palm Cove to Cairns, Thurs. Aug. 4

Palm Cove is sufficiently dynamic that my GPS kept sending me over changed roads and it some time to get back to the Cook Highway. That was the penalty I paid for wanting to see some other parts of town.

I had drizzle, and some rain for most of the ride, but did see my first wallabies of this trip. It was overcast and dreary and I almost missed the 100 or so in the field.

There was one that was much bigger than all the others. Is it a Wallaby?

Just after I arrived at the Cairns Holiday Park and after I had put up my tent, it started to pour rain. I just sat in the camp kitchen and watched. It stopped in the late afternoon so I was able to go out and get some battered fish for supper.

16  Cairns, Fri. Aug. 5 to Tues. Aug. 9

For these five days I rode around Cairns, exploring bicycle/pedestrian paths that I had not seen before, and generally taking it easy. My major enterprise of the time was to visit the Great Barrier Reef. The cruise to Green Island which is simultaneously, a National Park and incredibly expensive resort ... $600/night ... was the place of choice and convenience. I had flown over it from Brisbane to Cairns, and it looked, in contrast to the other barrier islands we crossed, to have a lagoon. I booked the trip for Sunday, but it was raining in the morning with junk weather predicted for all day. I was easily able to change my reservation, and decided to go on Monday, rain or shine.

Monday turned out to be a glorious day, and well worth the delay. The trip was almost an hour, into the morning sun. We arrived at about 9:15am,

and since I had my own snorkeling equipment, I opted for the free optional glass-bottom boat instead of the free optional snorkeling equipment. I saw much more of the diversity of the reef from the boat than later when I was snorkeling in less accessible waters. There were 1 metre long giant clams, that occasionally would show you they were alive by jogging their jaws. There were other large fish that I couldn't identify or remember. It was definitely worth while, but impossible to photograph. I would suggest that you take your own snorkeling equipment. Mine consisted of a simple snorkel and swimming goggles that I have used on previous trips.

I started out to the snorkeling accessible water by the jetty, at a very low tide. You had walk a considerable distance before there was anything interesting, or water in which you could swim. It was much different, in the same place, in the afternoon at higher tide.

For this trip, I bought a new underwater camera so I could record my experiences. Although it allowed me to record, in many ways it decreased the enjoyment because I had to try and compose and remain stationary in currents to take a picture. Perhaps, if there are more opportunities, I will be sufficiently skilled that I won't notice it

Although the coral was incredibly diverse and interesting,

I saw very few fish, and those that I did see tended to swim away before I could get organised.

One mystery, from the glass-bottom cruise, was what appeared to be small, clam mouths, totally surrounded by coral. That is indeed exactly what they were. The mouths opened and closed as I passed over.

The Green Island Resort esplanade area with shops, swimming pool and exorbitantly priced food in their restaurants and snack bars, were what you first saw after you left the jetty.

The resort property itself was off limits except for guests.

The Buff-Banded Rail was ubiquitous, and a delight.

A large part of the Island is officially designated as a the National Park, with a rather pleasant boardwalk through the rainforest.

It almost, but not completely surrounds the island so you have to continue back to the jetty on the beach, which for me was during very low tide.

I left on the 2:30pm boat for a rather fast and pleasant ride back to shore. About half way, the entire boat was delighted to see two Humpback Whales breaching about 50m off the side of the boat. It enlivened an otherwise dull trip, and finally, after several other whale watching failures, I saw my whales.

17  Cairns to Boston, Tues. Aug. 9 to Wed. Aug. 10

Late afternoon was the beginning of the long trip back to Boston. My flight left for Sydney at 5:45am, when it was still pitch black, and there were no hotels near the airport. This meant that I had to stay there overnight. I was not alone. I am not at all certain why QANTAS scheduled such an inconvenient flight but they must have known there was a market. It was almost full. I was not hassled very much about my bicycle and trailer, and much to my delight they did not even weigh my hand baggage, as they did on my previous trip. The routing to Sydney was entirely over the interior so I saw, after the sun rose, a part off Australia that was totally new. Coming into Sydney, we flew right over the harbour and Opera House. The transfer from domestic to international was painless, and we embarked on the 15 hour flight to Dallas. In Dallas, I had only about 2 hours to make the connection to Boston. Customs and Immigration was very crowded and the security screening was slow. I arrived at the gate about ten minutes before the flight was supposed to leave but was told that the doors were closed and I could not board. I was placed on a flight that left 4 hours later, and did get out then. All the flights seemed to be overbooked, with a large number of standby passengers. My guess, is that my seat had already been given to a standby passenger when I arrived. The flight I left on also had about ten standby passengers so it appears I was lucky even to be able to leave. My bags were waiting for me when I arrived in Boston having come on an earlier flight. Kiyoko had arranged for a limousine to pick me up, but I had no idea how to make contact with it. I finally found it hidden away at special area just for limos, at the very far end of the terminal, just before the meter started to kick in for a too long wait. I arrived back at Kiyoko's place at about 1:30am. It was nice to be back.

18  Maps

This the link to the Google Earth map of the trip.

File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.02.
On 16 Aug 2011, 11:50.