I just love exploring this great state of ours but every now and then, the urge to go beyond the borders and venture further into this great nation of ours becomes too much, especially when there are some great deals out there from a variety of budget airlines.Some 9 months ago Jetstar put out an awesome ‘two for the price of one’ deal out. These deals are usually in the off season and not during school holidays. This year is a special milestone for my mum as she was turning 70 so I decided to treat her by booking a trip from Perth to Cairns for seven days. The fare was just over $513 for both of us including 20kg checked luggage. We didn’t pay extra to choose seating as I chose seats together when doing the web check in for free. As I was also able to book more than 6 months in advance I was able to get a great deal from www.wotif.com on a central hotel. 5 nights cost $680 for a twin share including breakfast. Because it was the off season East Coast Car Rentals was reasonably priced at $223 for one week with unlimited kilometres. As we got a very early morning flight, it was too early to get the rental car company’s courtesy bus so we paid $17 for two with FNQ Airport Shuttle. East Coast Car Rentals picked us up from the hotel to collect the car and then took us back to the airport with a shuttle bus when we were done. I took out domestic travel insurance for around $34 that included a Rental Vehicle Excess Waiver of $3000 through Columbus Direct. This option is much cheaper than getting insurance through the car rental company which can add and extra $30 a day to the price! There was nothing off about the off season, except for an occasional cyclone which may pass through. In our case, Cyclone Nathan only delayed a booked reef cruise by a day. Nathan had threatened to cancel our sojourn into the Daintree Rainforest but it all turned out good in the end. Even if Nathan had changed his mind and wreak havoc instead, there is plenty to do in the inland Atherton Tableland area.
No one ever said budget airlines fly at respectable hours, so after a 4 hour flight and our arrival at 0430, we eat breakfast at the hotel at 6am (for I paid for the night before so we could have an early check in) and have a nap for a few hours. After we rest, it’s time to pick up our hire car and then drive to a grocery store to get some supplies for our stay here. After that we take some time out to get our bearings and explore the central area of Cairns, eagerly participate in clothes shopping (a luxury not often afforded to those usually on holiday with a disinterested husband and two teenage sons in tow) and slurped up some awesome gelato at Devine Gelato. For our evening meal we drove to North Cairns to an awesome restaurant, Poemphan Thai, as recommended on Trip Advisor. They weren’t wrong. Some of the best Thai food I’ve tasted.
We save a few dollars by driving to Fairfield Station to catch the train to Kuranda for the 9.00 am departure. It’s a lovely historic station and the journey there is very scenic. We decide to get the train there and get the ‘must do’ skyrail back, as there are only two train departures in the afternoon, but plenty of Skyrail departures, so we didn’t want to be rushed whilst shopping and browsing at the markets. Once there it is very touristy with most of the shops aimed at overseas visitors. However, there is some interesting stalls with different things not usually seen at other markets around the country side. I buy a scarf, some head bands and candy gifts for my husband and kids back home. The skyrail simply is one of the best attractions in the area. To be floating above the rain forest canopy like a bird is simply awesome. Make sure you stop at both Barron Falls and Red Peak Station to explore the rain forest even further. Cyclone Nathan had dropped a bit of rain today so it’s difficult to get decent pictures out of the capsule.
With spending most of the day on our feet, back at the hotel we relax and have a nice swim in the pool and check out our emails where we can get wifi (as we can’t get it in our room L). We are too tired to go out for dinner so I ate my favourite quick meal on the go, the trusty Satay Mi Goreng noodle pack. I just soak the noodles in a large travel coffee mug with a lid with boiling water from the kettle for a few minutes and mix in the flavour satchets with a plastic fork. Mum also introduced the John West tuna and beans meal in a tin. I’ll be taking these next time I’m travelling with the kids on a budget airline where we have to pay extra for meals. This is a favourite travel hack of mine either when I want to save a bit of money or if I’m simply too tired to go out.
This was the day we had planned to go on a Great Barrier Reef cruise but it was postponed to tommorrow due to Cyclone Nathan. Luckily, we had nothing locked in so we were able to explore the Atherton Tablelands area which extends south and east of Cairns. One day certainly does not do this place justice and definitely warrants at least an overnight stay in the area, if not two nights. Paronella Park was on our hit list. Mum was a little disappointed with this attraction as she thought we were going to see an historic mansion. Instead, it was just ruins of a once standing house and the grounds in which it stood. I, on the other hand, enjoyed it because of the atmosphere of the ruins and the way the rainforest is encroaching the old structures. I keep expecting Angelina Jolie to swing on a massive vine rope past the ruins. It reminds me a little of the ruins at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. There were butterflies in the forest and we could feed the turtles with food issued to us. We also saw an eel and a wild Australian Brush Turkey. From a photographic point of view, I had a great time.
Our next stop was Millaa Millaa Falls where I really wanted to practice my slow exposures on the falls. On the way there, the scenery was just stunning with sugar cane fields and jungle clad mountains as a back drop. There are also normal farming enterprises, tea plantations and plenty of tourist attractions to offload your cash into. I prefer the numerous free National Parks where I can take photos to my heart’s content. Unfortunately, I should have got to the falls very early in the day or late in the afternoon and hoards of tourists, mainly scantility clad 20 somethings leaping out of tour buses and straight into the swimming hole at the base of the falls. I had seriously under estimated the popularity of this very picturesque falls as the location is Queensland Heritage listed.
After this we drove through Malanda where stopped at a bakery for a quick lunch before going to Crater Lakes National Park and the amazing Cathedral Fig Tree. The tree and the falls were a highlight of the day and shouldn’t be missed on a trip into the Tablelands.
The Gillies highway was an interesting trip back with not many sections of the road being over the 30km speed limit due to sharps bends. All mum and I could muster for dinner was a short walk from the hotel to the Cairns RSL on the Esplanade. The Summer Tiger Prawn Salad was awesome. No skimping on prawns here and all for a great price. The whole RSL and pokkie culture that exists in the East is a tourist attraction in itself for a West Aussie so I can definitely recommend this as a novelty outing.
The much anticipated prebooked Great Barrier Reef Cruise day is finally here and it is only a 15 minute walk to the marina right past the amazing huge public swimming area in the centre of Cairns. It was about an hour to reach Michalmas Cay where a stunning array of birdlife was on the sand bar. We weren’t allowed on it, despite another cruise company rocking up and off loading people onto it. Unfortunately, the cyclone had stirred up quite a bit of sand and visibility was poor and the reef was quite deep so it was tricky to get a really close look at it. Nevertheless, it was like swimming in a giant aquarium with fish who are completely oblivious to your presence. After lunch onboard we sailed for another half an hour to reach Hastings Reef. This was much better as visibility was excellent and you could touch the reef (if you were allowed to) as it was so close to the surface. The fish and coral were also a lot more interesting here. The current was quite strong out here and it was difficult to manoeuvre around and I was also quite tired from swimming around Michaelmas Cay earlier. I would recommend saving your energy for Hastings Reef. We booked with Sea Star Cruises because I didn’t have to pay extra for the prescription goggles and they also provided an onboard and underwater photographer so that pictures are posted on Face Book indefinitely and you can share them with your friends. They also cater for people with no swimming experience to experienced scuba divers. I ended up with a bad foot cramp from the flippers toward the end of the tour and gave the signal to be rescued by their tender boat with no drama. You simply have to do a reef cruise while you are in Cairns, it will be one of the highlights of your life.
I have to admit, that today really took a physical toll on me as I’m not 20 anymore as I was the last time I was here, so it’s another half a block’s stroll back to the Cairns RSL for another amazing evening meal. I pride myself in being an adventurous traveller and never like eating at the same place twice so it was a little humiliating when the counter assistant asked “weren’t you ladies here last night as well?”
Time to bid farewell to Cairns and hit the Captain Cook Highway north toward the Daintree National Park. This rainforest is the oldest in the world, estimated to be over one hundred and thirty-five million years old, much older than the Amazon. It’s one of the most diverse and beautiful examples of Mother Nature in the world and is home to the largest range of plants and animals on earth, and all are found within just .02% of Australia’s land mass. This is going to be a highlight for me and I’m so excited. On the southern edge of The Daintree National Park lies Mossman Gorge. From the Visitor’s Centre (which is run entirely by local Aboriginals) you can either walk the 4km into the gorge or pay and take the shuttle bus in. We didn’t walk as it was just getting too hot for us. It was so special as there was a lovely swimming hole that local aboriginals and tourists alike were enjoying.
It was a Sunday and there is an Aboriginal Community (not open to tourists) in between the Visitor’s Centre and the actual gorge, so the locals took advantage of the day to pack a picnic lunch and enjoy their special place. On the way to the swimming hole is a wonderful boardwalk where forest butterflies will try to land on you and you can jaw drop in awe at the array of plant life strangulating each other and fighting for light. We arrived at the Daintree Village at about 1400 and booked into the Daintree River View Lodge through www.booking.com for $120 per night for a twin share. It is a little like a back packers for the over 50s. Small and basic rooms for the undiscerning traveller. All the rooms face the river and adjoin each other with its own toilet and shower and with a great shared deck area for reading and a well equipped camp kitchen with cookware, crockery and cutlery to cook up a feast. No TVs or wifi here so it really forces you to wind down and soak up the atmosphere on the river. We saw it in all its glory, a mirror in the morning to mist rising off of it after a rain storm.
I was up early and the river looked like glass so it was a good chance to get down there and take some pictures. The guy from Crocodile Express was down there getting his boat ready and he said he always sees crocs on his tours after I asked him. After a 5 minute drive, we were at the Daintree River Cruise Centre for a 0930 boat trip up the Daintree to see some crocs. Unfortunately, the boat was packed with people on prearranged tours. We also didn’t see a thing. No crocs and not even any birds, just the Daintree River Ferry. Very disappointing. I wished we went with Crocodile Express instead. After the cruise we boarded the ferry across the Daintree River to explore the whole area up to Cape Tribulation.
The guy on the cruise already answered my question by explaining that they can’t build a bridge over the river because of the severe flooding during cyclone season. He also said after cyclones a local farmers need to get their tractors to retrieve the ferry from a surrounding paddock! The trip is about 5 minutes and the ferry goes backwards and forwards every 15 minutes and it runs until midnight. We got a return ticket for $23. Our first stop was at the Walwurrigga Alexandra Range Lookout Point followed closely with an awesome stroll through the Jindbalba Boardwalk.
We chose this free activity over entry into the famed Rainforest Discovery Centre (as this is aimed at overseas visitors). By this stage things are well and truly steaming up in the jungle so we had a well deserved ice cream at Floravilla. I slurped my way through a home-made Mango and Coconut which was unforgettable and hit the sweat spot. I filled up with fuel at the last fuel stop at Rainforest Village as I just wasn’t sure if we’d have enough. In hindsight we would’ve had plenty, but the hire car was a bit of an unknown. We surged northwards over the speed humps and past all the yellow Cassowary wildlife signs and finally made it to our destination, Cape Tribulation.
This is where the sealed road ends before the 4WD only track continues onto Cooktown, just over 100 kms away. We walked to the lookout point and this is where I spotted my baby Cassowary. Well I was convinced that it was as it looked exactly like the picture of a baby one on the interpretive sign at the beginning of the trail. After wading my way through the jungle trying to get a good picture of it and just about passing out from the heat, I found out that it was nothing more than a common Orange footed Scrub Fowl. On the way back we stopped at the Mangrove Boardwalk which was an interesting insight into Mangrove life. We saw heaps of crabs and I saw a huge lizard up a tree in the forest. I asked a nearby tour guide about it and he hastily tried to track it down after I told him its whereabouts, to show it to his American tourist family. He reckons it was probably an Iguana. The size of it sure scared the heck out of me as it was making its way down the tree and quite possibly up my torso. Not sure that guide knew what he was talking about as apparently Iguanas do not live in Australia at all. I’ve since Googled it and found it was just a massive goanna. “They are usually seen hanging motionless on tree trunks but can pounce on prey at amazing speed”. It was little wonder that we didn’t see a Cassowary either with only 1200 left in the wild.
We had an afternoon flight so had plenty of time to drive from Daintree Village, stopping at Port Douglas and all of the lookouts along the way, back to East Coast Car Rentals, before they dropped us off back to the airport. There is nothing worse than stressing about whether you have bought too many things on your holiday and can’t bring them back or having to pay heavy fees for being overloaded on your luggage, and believe me, budget airlines really crack down on this. To take care of this I bought a cheap portable digital luggage scale from www.amazon.com so I know exactly where I’m at.
I really enjoyed this special time with my mum and I am lucky enough that she is physically able to do the things I enjoy as well as me inheriting the same wunderlust genes as her. I’m sure this won’t be our last trip together as long as those cheap budget airlines keep operating. My poor husband got a shock when he was listening to the radio on the way to pick me and mum up from the airport. We were in the air on a Jetstar A320 when there were reports of an A320 crash. Thankfully, it wasn’t us, but a German Wings A320 crashing into the French Alps due to foul play by the co pilot. During the next lot of school holidays my family is going to Vietnam with Air Asia and now my fourteen year old son is frightened of flying because of another recent Air Asia crash. As a result, it’s leading me to another future blog on how to quell such travel fears.