After a fairly uncomfortable overnight flight from Singapore we arrived in Cairns and the first thing that we did was check into our hostel and get some sleep! We woke up a few hours later and met our 2 dorm companions, both of which had been living at the hostel for about a month and working in the area.
We were surprised at how small Cairns is especially in the centre, but were impressed with the free and well maintained public pool, parks and BBQ.
We had originally planned to do a 2day snorkelling trip on the Great Barrier Reef which had been cancelled by the tour company (we later found out that they had crashed their boat into a reef) so we ended up booking a one day tour instead which was actually enough as we found that both the coral and the fish were very similar to what we had seen in Mabul. We were very impressed at the vastness of the reef and really enjoyed our day on the boat.
The following morning we had arranged to hire a car, a huge Hyundai Elantra and set off towards the Daintree rainforest which is the oldest rainforests in the world. It was great to have our own car and own space, especially once we got used to driving the automatic- which is very strange! The Daintree is about 3 hours north of Cairns so we stopped at a few beaches, Port Douglas, and the mossoman gorge on the way up. We crossed a ferry over the Daintree river and drove along the winding roads to Cape Tribulation for an afternoon stroll along the beach. This is the point where the Daintree National Park meets the Great Barrier Reef National Park and it's incredibly beautiful. It was a bit difficult to fully enjoy as there were so many warning signs about crocodiles, we had to keep our eyes peeled for any movements.
There aren't many places to stay on Daintree so we opted for a campsite- except that we don't get the tent until next week so we slept in the lovely Elantra on one of the camping spots. This started out ok but we soon learnt that 2 bodies in a car in a humid jungle equals a lot of heat! We couldn't open the windows as it was the rainy season and the Mosquitos were rampant so we ended up turning on the aircon for a few minutes every hour.
The next morning we were a bit groggy from not much sleep but had been told that the site had a resident croc that would be getting fed in the morning and that we could watch. The owner took us over to the enclosure, introduced us to 4 year old Doris the croc (formally Boris until she layed some eggs a few months ago) and he leaned over the wire fence hanging some meat. Doris eyed the meat for a second or two before jumping up and snatching it from his fingers. All this just a few inches away from us was quite incredible and scary even though there was a fence! It was great to see a crocodile up close and to see and hear the power of her bite.
We had been thankful to see this and were pleased to be offered to go in and see the pet kangaroos at the campsite, all of which have been adopted after their mothers were killed by traffic accidents. There were two swamp wallabies, 2 other wallabies and 2 red kangaroos and we got to go into the enclosure and meet them all. Our favourite was definitely Jack, a very friendly red kangaroo that licked our hands and cuddled us! He is also apparently a minor celebrity on you tube as 'Roo Mail' though we haven't watched it yet. Having only expected to get a space to sleep in the car for the night we were very impressed with being shown the pets!
We visited the Daintree tea plantation, Cow Bay and did a short jungle trek before heading south, leaving the Daintree Rainforest for the Atherton tablelands. This is a farming area west and south of Cairns with lots of natural landscape to see.
We had a quick stop at Newell beach for a packed lunch before heading up and over Mount Molloy to Mareeba. This is a fairly small town which is steeped in recent history and we spent a while in the local museum which had lots of old buildings, interiors, farming implements and other bits and pieces from the turn of the century. We continued on our journey stopping to see lake Tinaroo and going on a short walk to see the Curtain fig tree nearby. Fig trees grow around a host tree which they usually either kill or outlive, and this particular one was growing at 45 degrees with hundreds of vertical roots like a curtain, hence the name.
We arrived in Yungaburra and decided to get a room for the night in the local pub. The town was established around 1910 and has numerous interesting old wooden structures including the pub. We had been told that there were some duck billed platypus living on the area and went to the river to try to spot some. We immediately saw 2 swimming about and playing around and all of a sudden they were gone. We spent an hour trying to find them again but they had completely disappeared! We were so impressed to see them as they are quite rare (so rare that one of us thought that they were actually extinct so it was a bit of a shock to see one!)
The next morning we did a quick walking tour of the historical buildings before driving off to see the Cathedral Fig tree ( another fig tree with lots of roots), and 2 crater lakes with a swim in the second one. We then started the waterfall circuit around Millaa Millaa with a picnic at Millaa falls which was made famous by a Timotee shampoo advert a few years ago. It was a nice waterfall but it's no Dyserth falls!
We had planned to visit a dairy farm after this and were had been looking forward all day to having lots of cheese to sample but after driving there were really disappointed to find that it was closed for refurbishment!
We continued through to Innisfail, Josephine falls and the Babinda boulders before returning to Cairns to make use of the public pool and showers.
We had an early flight booked to Brisbane the next morning so we decided to sleep at the airport as they have reasonably comfy benches in the arrival lounge. This seemed like a good idea until the fire alarm went off at 2am for about 40 minutes meaning that we had to evacuate in the middle of the night.
Overall it was a great start to Australia and we look forward to the next few weeks.