Oz: Outside Cairns - Kuranda

Other than as a hop-off point for the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns is quite unexciting as a destination.  Most packages would include a visit to Kuranda via the historic scenic railroad and a return trip by gondola Skyrail, both providing spectacular and often breathtaking views of the tablelands over which Kuranda is perched.  The rainforest park is the primary attraction in Kuranda and tourists are bused into the swamp on army ducks.  You will see below some of the wildlife we encountered on that trip.  

Historic railroad

View from the train

Barron Gorge with the two lakes

Historic railway station in Kuranda

"Jack the Ripper" 5 metres long 750 kg 45 - 50 years old expected to live to 100

Can you see the well-camouflaged iguana?

Spear-throwing aboriginal performer

A striking tropical Torch flower

Perky iguana

This is the life!

This looks like it might be a fearless Bush stone curlew but I could be wrong.  Perhaps my Australian friends can enlighten us?

Stunning ride over the rainforest 

Great Kauri pine

Approaching Cairns on the Skyrail

Cairns at dusk

This is the end of our Australian trip, we hopped on the plane to New Zealand the following day.  The next posts will cover our driving tour of the North and South Islands.  


Oz: The Great Barrier Reef

Cairns was the base from which we visited the Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest structure made of living organisms, in this case, coral polyps.  We enjoyed the trip to one of the reefs - it was indeed an eyeopener, but it was only a minute fraction of the massive reef structure.  We were no where near to experiencing the magnitude of the GBR, considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world.  In that sense, it wasn't the most satisfactory experience even though we thoroughly enjoyed the outing on the catamaran Quick Silver.  

Cairns waterfront

Downtown Cairns
City Library

The "bat" tree - a huge Banyan tree on the library grounds

Port of departure for the GBR

Catamaran that took us out to the reef

The platform from which we "did" the reef - you can see the different shades in the water because of the reef

Below are photos of coral taken from the tourist "submarine" - now I wish I could scuba dive...

The trip back to port

Late afternoon on the Coral Sea


Oz: Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains are about a two-hour drive from Sydney.  Although it is accessible by train, bus and guided tour, we decided renting a car for the day was the most expedient.  It took a while to get used to driving in Sydney because, apart from driving on the "wrong" side of the road, one also had to get used to the narrow driving lanes, both in town and on the highway.  For us, this was the "rehearsal" for our extended driving tour in New Zealand.  Katoomba is the nearest town but we headed straight for Echo Point from where you can see the panorama with the Three Sisters in the foreground.  There are many hiking trails in the area, including a short one to the Three Sisters.  Scenic World is a park in the area with two cable cars.  It is a little touristy but a walk in the tropical forest is worth the price of entry as the trails are well-marked and points of interest clearly explained. 

I was struck by the resemblance between this landscape and some of what we saw in China when we were in the Zhangjiajie National Park in Hunan Province.  I have included two photos below for comparison.

Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia

Zhangjiajie, China

Zhangjiajie, China

Blue Mountains, NSW

And doesn't this remind you of the Grand Canyon?

Pair of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos sharing a meal and the great view from their vantage point

The Three Sisters are over 3000 feet above sea level, but below it, is a tropical forest.

You can see the canopy from above.

The canopy from below.

It is a steep dive for the cable car

Giant Eucalyptus tree in the park

Giant termite mound, apparently home to a million termites.   According to the signage, surrounding it for hundreds of metres is a network of tunnels that the termites used to bring food back to the nest.

View of waterfall from the cable car

The Three Sisters at dusk


Oz: Around Sydney

The Royal Botanic Gardens is a short walk from the city centre and is a great place to see some local birds and trees, not to mention being a beautiful setting for photos .  It reportedly has a million specimens on site.  The Tropical Centre within the gardens is worth a visit for its collection of exotic Australian plants. It reminded me very much of the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.

Take a look at this tree below and see how many white ibis you can see.

A closer look at the big bird

This photo of the kookaburra perching on a pine tree would make a good Christmas card.

An unusual sight for us - bats flying around in the day time and hanging from the tree.

Me, Jane!  Not!  We were lucky to bump into a video shoot for this Australian singer "Ashlea" who would soon be making her North American debut.  But this really gives you an idea of how lush parts of the garden could be.

It is obvious why this plant is called "Beehive Ginger".  You can see it in the Tropic Centre (below).

Sydney sits on a submerged coastline so it is surrounded by many harbours and inlets.  One of the best ways to see the Sydney skyline is to take the ferry to Taronga Zoo or to Manley.  You will be able to see the Sydney Opera House from all angles and then look back across the waters at Sydney from the Zoo, which sits atop a hill.

I still have fond memories of my first koala bear toy.  This is like a childhood dream come true - my first sighting of a real live koala.  A special area was set up to allow people to hold the koala in their arms for a photo, for a price of course.

The large Cassowary, one of the last remaining endemic flightless birds on the continent -

Perky little fella that might be some kind of turtle dove -

And of course, the kangaroo

This peacock strutted back and forth in front of the mirrored window showing off - maybe he thought he was seeing another bird in the mirror!

The ferry to Manley will take you under the Harbour Bridge so you get a harbour tour as well as a coastline tour in addition to visiting the bustling seaside town.  Watching the surf seems to be a favoured pastime as all the beachside restaurants were full when we arrived in late afternoon.

We ended up in a quiet Thai restaurant overlooking the beach away from the crowds.  Great food too!