Hamilton Island was a lovely respite after Club Med. The only form of transport - apart form the island buses - are golf buggies, which are available to hire. We had good fun exploring the island with one. We had a great hotel room on the 19th floor with amazing views. The only problem was Stef didn't like the external glass lifts (not a head for heights). After a couple of nights here, we headed off for our 'Reef Sleep': a night on the Great Barrier Reef on a floating (tethered) platform. This was brilliant. We arrived on the big boat with 130 day-trippers , but at 2.30pm they left for the mainland and we remained, with 2 others and a crew of 3. Bliss after the crowds. Once we got used to the idea of looking completely ridiculous wearing all in one (complete with built-in hood and mittens) stinger suits (jellyfish season), we had did some fabulous snorkelling. Floss was a bit unsure to start, and got a bit concerned when some of the bigger fish came our way, Max couldn't get enough and was beside himself when a Moray Eel glided past. He was even happier when he mastered diving underwater then clearing his snorkel. He could get a really close look at the giant clams on the reef bed. Some were a meter wide. The fish were beautiful - rainbow colours and so many different kinds. Underneath 'ReefWorld' lives a giant Queensland Groper (known locally as George). He weighs nearly 300kg and is about 2 meters long. Fortunately, he stays under there most of the time. After our private guided snorkel we had a great dinner with wine and the most incredible sunset, followed by awesome (yes really) stars, including a shooting star display. The reef here is about 40km from the mainland so there is virtually no light pollution. The next day we had another quiet snorkel before the day-boat arrived at 10.30am and shattered our solitude.
After taking the boat back in the afternoon to a night at Airlie Beach - big backpacker place - we hired a car and drove north, first to Townsville where we visited the Billabong Wildlife park which had loads of crocs, then the next day on to Cairns. This really is tropical North Queensland, the temperature was around 32 degrees celsius. North Queensland has the last remaining stretch of true rainforest in Australia. We took the 'Skytrain' cable-car across the top of the rainforest canopy for 7.5km. There were a couple of stops on the way where we could get out and walk into the forest for a way. The plants were amazing. The biggest trees, Kauri Pines, stand up to 50 meters high! Flossie told us these were emergents!! (Year 4 project). The canopy generally reaches about 35 meters, and underneath this it was pretty dark. There were some huge Bracket Ferns which grow halfway up the taller trees. The whole thing was so prehistoric! The cassowary is a huge flightless bird that lives in the rainforest and eats some of the giant fruit and seeds produced by these trees. Unfortunately the cassowary is endangered, and if it dies out, no-one knows how the rainforest will regenerate some of its important trees. We also visited an Aboriginal cultural centre which told the history of the Aboriginis and about their culture. It included boomerang and spear throwing which max and Floss were able to try and loved! Max was even given a boomerang which he tries to practise with at any opportunity.
Whilst in Cairns we also met up with another of Stef's old school friends, James Marsh. We had a fun evening catching up and eating some great asian food in town. We left Australia the next day for New Zealand...