“The Complete South Pacific”

Part 1

Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef




As described previously, we had several delays getting to Cairns and finally arrived about 2.5 hours late.  We had a airport to hotel transfer arranged and I hoped that they would still be around after the delay, and they were.  Turns out that it was a husband and wife team: he greeted the people in the airport and collected the luggage, and she drove the van to the hotel.  They were very nice, especially the wife, and we got a quick introduction to Australia and the typical Australian personality: friendly and outgoing.


Where we stayed

The Cairns Pullman International hotel is the tan colored one.

We stayed at the Cairns Pullman International hotel which was pretty well in the downtown of Cairns and about 2 blocks from the waterfront and marina.  Because we were arriving a day early, we would stay here a total of 4 nights, the most of any hotel on our trip. The hotel was comfortable, the location was convenient, and it had a reasonably good restaurant.   As with all hotels we stayed at, there was a buffet breakfast each morning and our biggest challenge was figuring out just how the “do it yourself” coffee machines worked. 




Sunday, Feb 24:  After checking in and settling into our room, we took a walk around the marina and waterfront to stretch our legs a bit after so much sitting in the planes.   

The wading/swimming pool along the waterfront in Cairns.


It felt good to walk around some and the walkway through the marina and around the waterfront was pleasant and inviting.   We explored some more of the city and then made our way back to the hotel.  We were tired from the travel and our body clocks were confused, so we decided to just have a light dinner in the hotel restaurant and called it a day.


Monday, Feb 25:  Our tour did not have it’s first group meeting until 5:00 PM, so, after breakfast we looked for things to do.  The next day our tour would offer a choice of either going to “Green Island”, an island on the inside of the Great Barrier Reef with beaches, snorkeling, food and shops, or going further to a platform on the outer part of the GBR so we decided it would made sense to do one of these this day, and the other the next day as part of the tour.  By the time we had done some research, the only real choice for this day was to go to Green Island, so we got our swim and snorkel stuff together and made our way to the marina and the fast ferry to the island.


One of the Fast Ferries used to get to the Great Barrier Reef quickly


The trip to Green Island only took about 30 minutes: as you can see from this video from the ferry, they go pretty fast. 


We arrived at Green Island.


There is a small resort on the island but it also accommodates a lot of daytrip tourists.  I decided that this was for the people who wanted to say they had been to the GBR but didn’t want to bother going to the main part of the reef.  We looked around a little and decided to go snorkeling on the rather small beach area designated for swimming and snorkeling.  


The swim and snorkel area on Green Island


We quickly decided that we hoped the outer part of the reef was better than what we saw here.  The water was cloudy with only about 20 ft. visibility and a mostly sand and grass bottom with only a couple of small coral clusters.  There were a few decent sized fish around, including some of what I thought of as a “Unicorn fish”.


You can see why they are called “Unicorn Fish”.


We explored the area as best we could but soon gave up and headed back to the beach. 


After drying off and getting something to drink, we explored the island a little and found a trail through the National Park section of the island.


The start of the nature walk in the Green Island Park.


 It was about a 10 minute walk to the other end of the trail and another 10 minutes back and was nice enough, but the type of vegetation and terrain reminded us very much of Florida, so was not that exciting. 

At the end of the nature trail, looking back toward Cairns.


After looking around a bit more, we decided that we’d get lunch and then head back to Cairns on the next available ferry, about 2:00 PM.  Lunch was interesting because of the birds that were trying to beg or steal food from the guests.  They especially seemed to like French fries: if one was able to steal a French fry, it would take off running across the floor and several other birds would chase it, trying to get the prize.  It was all quite entertaining.


One of the entertaining birds.

After lunch we wandered out on the dock to look around while waiting for the ferry and saw some of the most interesting sea animals of the day.  As we were walking onto the dock, I saw a shadow in the water and realized it was a shark, probably about 4 – 5 feet long, although I could not tell what type.  There were people swimming and wading in the water about 150 feet from the dock on both sides and obviously had no idea there was a shark around.  It swam from one side of the dock, under the dock and continued up the beach.  About that time, we saw another shark doing the same thing, but this one got within about 20 – 30 feet of a person snorkeling.  It looked like neither of them had any idea the other was there as the shark just swam off.  Soon I noticed another shadow of a different shape and watched as a sea turtle came close to the dock.


The sea turtle hanging around the Green Island dock.


This guy (or gal?) hung around a long time.  It would swim to the bottom and appear to feed on the grass and every few minutes it would come to the surface, take a couple of breaths, and go down again.  After a while another turtle came by but it kept going and did not stick around.  We continued to watch the turtle and point it out to other people until time to board the ferry.  We saw more interesting sea life by standing on the dock than we did snorkeling!


We got back into Cairns, cleaned up a bit and, after a short rest, took another walk along the marina and waterfront.  On this walk we discovered some rather interesting residents of Cairns: Flying Foxes, perhaps more accurately known as “Fruit Bats” or “Mega Bats” (because of their size).  They are not quite the size of a fox, but they are the biggest bats I’ve ever seen.  There is a small park in the center of Cairns and the Flying Foxes roost in the trees by the hundreds.

A few of the Flying Foxes in the trees


We were to see more of these bats the next couple of days, as well as some more normal birds.  We got back to the hotel and cleaned up for our first tour group meeting which was in the lobby of the hotel.  We had received an information packet with name tags so we could identify other tour members as they appeared in the lobby and we introduced ourselves to each other.  When our Tour Manager, Evan, showed up, we went looking for a reasonably quiet place to have an introductory meeting. 


Evan gave us important information about the tour at our first meeting.


Evan went over some of activities of the tour, some guidelines or ground rules for how we were to operate, and information for the activities the next day.  After the meeting, we had a group dinner in a part of the hotel restaurant and got to know some of the tour group a little better.  Dinner lasted a while so, after it was over, we called it a night.


Tuesday, Feb 26: Everyone on the tour met in the lobby at the designated time and headed to the marina.  Some of the group were just going to Green Island and the rest of us were going further to a platform out on the outer reef.  It was not the best of days with a pretty good wind and occasional rain shower so we just tried to stay dry until time to board the boat and leave.


We first stopped at Green Island and let off quite a few people and others (from other groups/boats) got onto the boat we were on.  With everyone on board and settled, we headed to the outer reef. 


Susan, Bonnie, and Michele on the ferry to the outer reef


It was pretty rough, rougher than the previous day and we were on more open water, so the boat was bouncing and rocking pretty good.  Unfortunately, this meant that quite a few people, including Bonnie in the photo above, started feeling queasy, and worse.  By the time we got to the platform and the movement calmed down, probably 15% of the passengers were making use of little white bags.  We got Bonnie to the fresh air and stability of the anchored platform where she did slowly recover and was much better on the return trip. 


The floating platform moored along the reef.


Susan and I got “stinger suits”: basically, rather loose-fitting wet suits that covered you from head to toe, even your hands and fingers, in case there were any of the nasty little stinging jelly fish around.  We snorkeled around a while, seeing some decent soft coral and some fish but nothing spectacular.


Some of the soft corals.  Note the small blue fish also.


Then a nice sized turtle showed up.  He just swam calmly by (check this video) and obliged me by hanging around long enough for a couple of photos.


Turtles are clumsy on land, but graceful in the water.


There really was not a very large area to snorkel within and I think we upset the lifeguards when we strayed outside the ropes, so we headed back, turned in our stinger suits and had some lunch.  One of the activities on the platform was a “semi-submersible” where you sat in an area with windows below the water level and it cruised around the part of the reef.  We did see some more soft coral and quite a few fish this way, but we never did see very much of the colorful hard coral that I think of as part of the GBR.  After the sub ride it was about time to re-board the ferry and head back to Green Island and then on to Cairns. 


 Everyone was on their own for dinner, so we first took a bit of a walk, getting caught in a rain shower and sprinting from one covered area of sidewalk to another.  Well, perhaps not sprinting so much as “walking quickly”.   We passed by the trees with the Flying Foxes so I had to get a couple more pictures.


Four Flying Foxes taking a nap.


Another objective of the walk was to go to the “night market”, a sort of mall or arcade of shops that open at 4:00PM and stay open until 11:00PM.  Evan had told us that everyone needed to get a “fly net”, a netting that would fit around your hat, over your head and face, then close around your neck or shirt collar.  He said they were strongly recommended because of the flies we would encounter in the Outback. We found a shop selling them and bought us each one.  A couple of days later we were very glad that we had bought them.  For dinner we went to a restaurant in the marina named “Dundee’s”.  (We were in Australia… we had to go to Dundee’s!)  A couple of nice salads and glasses of wine made for a very enjoyable meal for us. 


Wednesday, Feb 27:  This morning, as most of us slept late, Evan accompanied the four ladies from New York, who had signed up for an early morning (sunrise) excursion: a hot air balloon ride.  My thanks to Barbara for the photo below.  They reported back that it was very fun and enjoyable.


Evan and the ladies get ready to go for a ride.


The rest of us had the luxury of a late start as our bus departure was 10:00.   The bus ride was about 20 minutes to the base or beginning of a gondola ride (they call it the “Skyrail”) that would take us up and into a tropical rain forest.  There were four people per gondola and this video was from the beginning of the ride. 


The Skyrail ride provided a great view of the area.


There were two “stations” where one set of cables and gondolas would end and another one start so the total ride length is about 5 miles.  At each stop you can take a walk around the station and explore the rain forest on nice trails and boardwalks.  Ranger guided tours are available on a schedule, but our time table did not line up with their schedule, so we couldn’t take advantage of a tour.


One of the stations where we changed cables and gondolas


At the end of the line we looked around close to the station some, finding many colorful plants and some colorful parrots.  After some time to look around, we got on the bus (it had come up to this station while we were on the Skyrail) and it took us the short distance to the village of Kuranda, which is a very tourist orient village built on what was once a Aboriginal village and had now been turned into a major tourist eating and shopping area.  We looked around for a while and then had some lunch (a pretty good pizza) while a couple of onlookers watched us  very closely. 


After plenty of time to look around and buy souvenirs, the bus picked us up and took us back close to the Skyrail station where there was also a train station.


The train at the station before we boarded it.


We had signed up for the ride back to Cairns on an old narrow-gauge train.  Well, the coaches were old but the locomotives were modern.  It was certainly not a fast ride, but there was some interesting history and some very pretty views.


The train crossed one bridge that did not look all that sturdy!


Some parts of the railway were on a fairly steep grade for a train, but toward the end of the line, the grade leveled out more, as in this video.   We arrived at the train station back in Cairns after a 90 minute ride and had about a 15 minute walk back to the hotel.  The pace of the group was rather slow, so Susan and I speeded up and walked ahead.  At one intersection we somehow got “stranded” in the middle of the intersection waiting for the light to change.  I looked back and took a photo of the rest of the group as one of them (Jack) was taking a picture of us.


The rest of our group, watching us stand in the middle of the intersection.


That evening we were again on our own for dinner and Susan and I had noticed an interesting looking Italian restaurant that was on Evan’s list of good places to eat, Perrottas so we headed there for dinner.  Perrottas was close to the Flying Foxes’ tree and a tree that was full of parrots.


There were almost as many parrots as Flying Foxes.


We had some Calamari, pizza, and some good Barbera wine and enjoyed the peace and quiet until about 6:30 when the Flying Foxes took wing  to look for their daily meal of fruit.  When I saw the hundreds of bats flying over, I was very glad they are vegetarians rather than meat eaters.  We would have a very early start in the morning so we called it a day and headed to the hotel.


Thursday, Feb 28:  We had a 4:30 AM departure from the hotel, so it was an early morning for our group.  The hotel restaurant was not open yet, so the hotel had prepared some “Breakfast Boxes” for us with some juice, milk, cereal and such, which was not especially good, but many of us needed something in our stomachs.  We boarded the plane for a 6:25 AM departure, on the way to Ayer’s Rock (Uluru).


Our last look at Cairns looked a bit stormy.




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