Monday 14 March 2016 to Thursday 18 March 2016

The trip to Cairns does not require a time change and the coach trip in from the airport to the town centre does not take long as Cairns is much smaller than either Melbourne or Brisbane.  The inward trip follows the shoreline and our hotel – a Hilton – is close to the town centre.  A decent room with a view over the harbour greets us – a huge improvement after a view of two car parks!  Pronouncing the name is a challenge – almost the same as Cannes in France seems to be close enough.

Travelling seems to cause tiredness and Jackie is still looking for a burger, so we head out looking for “Grilld” which we find.  It is along one of the main drags and is noisy and lacks air conditioning and so we retreat and walk along the shoreline boardwalks from the hotel.  We eventually choose “Boat House” and have a reasonable meal enhanced by being in the open air; other choices seem to be further away.

Having had a fairly busy schedule until now we have a relatively quiet day (Tuesday) in prospect and we head to the pool to try and catch some sun.  We are outside for about three hours, although with fairly thick cloud and then some spots of rain lead to a retirement indoors.  In the evening we are taken on a cruise around Cairns inlet.  It is not the mouth of a river and then entire area is tidal.  Surrounding the inlet are significant mangrove swamps and the generally beneficial nature of the mangrove and its ability to help avoid erosion are noted.  At the far end of the trip as we turn around a crocodile is spotted under the trees.  Light is poor but some pictures are captured.  Dinner is in Crocodiles on the waterfront, for once eating as a group.  Much enjoyed.

The prime reason for coming to Cairns is of course to visit the Great Barrier Reef which entails a coach journey to Port Douglas on Wednesday morning, a speedboat out to the floating pontoon and then use of the facilities there.  Luckily the speedboat is of a decent size so no problem for Jackie this time.  We are able to use the semi-submersibles and the viewing walkway but the planned helicopter trip cannot happen as the weather between shore and pontoon is not good and helicopter operation would not be safe.  We do not participate in the snorkelling (or indeed diving) as I simply do not feel my swimming is strong enough.

In fairness the photographs do not do justice to what our eyes can see.  The colours and shapes cannot be as well caught by cameras as our eyes manage which is a great pity; different trips make different claims – we do not see a turtle but one is reported by another trip.  I can attest that sitting on the left side is better than sitting on the right – we did two trips and I made a point of sitting on the left for the second trip but by then poorer weather was descending and the light was not so good – still stunning though.  On our return trip it is clear that the helicopter would have had difficulties with the weather as the rain has set in quite badly.

Another free day is due to follow on the Thursday but we have elected to take “Skyrail” – a cable car system – up to Kuranda and return aboard the scenic railway.  A rather nice side trip and as we shall be inside in both directions for a trip which hopefully cannot be hindered by adverse weather.  The outward journey is broken at the second intermediate station to visit the Barron Gorge Falls.  These are not yet at full flow – but with the current rain will be in a few days!  Photos on the trip on Skyrail are here.

The town of Kuranda obviously exists for two purposes – obviously for the benefit of visiting tourists but it also to allow Australia to keep all of the ageing hippies and potential New Age travellers in a single locale, judging by the occupants we saw!  We walk through the town to the Butterfly sanctuary.  Here we thank the invention of digital cameras as buttons are pressed numerous times and perhaps we manage to get some decent pictures of the butterflies, especially the one which sits on Jackie for a considerable time.  The very attractive green ones never seem to stop moving to allow a photograph!  The resulting pictures (good and bad) can be found here.

The return rail trip is an obvious highlight as we travel gold class, although the rain reappears as we head downhill.  The train is headed by two Co-Co locomotives – I assume that the power is needed more for the uphill rather than the downhill journey which needs the braking power.  A good commentary tells us the history of the line – now I suspect a pale shadow of the original use in moving timber and servicing the forces in the Second World War.  We get another stop near the Barron Gorge Falls and see them from the other side of the river – so it looks very different.  Kuranda Scenic Railway photos are here.

We disembark at Freshwater station and a coach returns us to Cairns (still trying to remember to say Cannes as best I can render).  Due to a misunderstanding at Freshwater Jackie loses me and there is a moment of panic on her behalf when I do not respond to her urgent summons.  Luckily we find each other before too long.

Having had four nights in Cairns we now have a very early start for a short but stimulating visit to Uluru.