Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Rainforest

Monday we visited the rainforest near Cairns. Of course, it was raining on and off all day, the first day of real rain since we arrived. The trip started with the scenic railway from Cairns to Kuranda, stopping once along the way to view the Barron River waterfall and slowing down a few times for other sights. Kuranda is a small town that was originally a mining town, and then became a sort of artists colony in the 70's. Now it is just a tourist town, with lots of shops, cafes, art galleries, markets, and small tourist attractions like a koala petting zoo and butterfly pavilion.  We had some great pastries, shopped, got a massage, walked through the nature preserve, and did a jungle walk.

After Kuranda we took the Skyrail above the rainforest. It is a 50 minute gondola ride, with two stops along the way at nature stations. It is 4.5 miles long, which doesn't sound like much, but it is when you are 10-50 feet above the tallest trees in the rainforest. It was quite incredible. At one stop we had a nice ranger-led walk around part of the rainforest. We saw lots of trees, HUGE spiders (6 inches), bugs, lizards, and bush turkeys. They have a special way to cook bush turkeys. First, you take off your boot and fill it with water. Then you clean the turkey and boil it in your boot. Then you eat your boot, because it tastes better than a bush turkey.

Most of the wildlife in the rainforest is nocturnal, so we didn't get to see many animals, but the forest/jungle is amazing. I am glad we did not get to see any crocodiles while walking along the river. The one animal we are getting our fill of is the flying fox, which we call a bat, except larger. The large trees in Cairns are full of these flying foxes, or bats. Each is about the size of a very small cat, and they even sort of sound like cats. During the day they sleep in the top canopies of the trees, 50-100 per tree. It is ridiculous how many there are. At night when they start to fly around they make a small black, swirling cloud. It would be sort of creepy, except they are pretty cute.

On Tuesday we had a tour with a variety of activities. We started with a bus trip on the Captain Cook highway, which follows the coast north to Port Douglas. Supposedly it is the 6th most scenic drive in Australia. I assume number 1 is the Great Ocean Road outside of Melbourne. Our first stop was a wild animal park where we got to feed the kangaroos and wallabies. There were also a variety of other native Australian animals there, such as koalas, emus, and ossuaries. Our second stop was a walk through the rainforest, with views of the Daintree River. Then we went into the Daintree National Park for lunch where the rainforest comes down to the coast, and the UN World Heritage listed rainforest meets the UN World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef. It is the only place in the world where two World Heritage sites meet.

After lunch we went for a guided nature walk through the lowland rainforest. The trees are so different from whatever I have seen before. For example, the strangler mango tree grows from the top down, starting up in the air, and then sending roots down to the ground. Other trees have roots that they send up through the water to breathe like snorkels. One kind of tree has roots like buttresses on Notre Dame.

The last activity before the bus ride back to Cairns was a river cruise on the Daintree River to see the crocodiles. The largest we saw was about 8 feet, and the smallest about 2 feet. The little ones are so cute it is hard to imagine they grow up to be the deadly monsters I am so afraid of. The whole day was nice, in part because there was a neat group of young people on board, from Ireland, England, and Germany.

For dinner we went to a little nicer place than usual, because if you go before 6:30 they have specials such as 25% off. After 6:30 everything is busy anyway, so they work hard to get you in early. I tried kangaroo and crocodile skewers. The crocodile was edible, the kangaroo not so much. Misa's Barramundi fish, which is also from Australia, was much better.

Now it is time for some homeschooling, and a day off tomorrow to relax and pack for our trip to Brisbane.