Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Trials and tribulations

Well, no trials really, except ones of endurance! I went straight from the boat to the after-dive party - I suspect I drank my own bodyweight in booze, though it was the gin and tonic at some backpacker bar that finished me off for good. I'm proud to report, though, that the people left standing at this stage (only about 1am, but we'd all been at sea for three days which takes it out of you) were all in our thirties or more, and Ken is 70 this week. The youngsters had all caved and gone to bed long since. Vive les oldies! I was feeling pretty seedy, however, when the alarm went off the following morning to wake me for my next tour, up to the Atherton Tablelands and the rainforest village of Kuranda.

When I got to Skyrail, though, I felt immediately better (that and the ham and cheese croissant worked wonders). This is a cable car ride above the rainforest canopy, going up past Barron Falls and as high as 55om (http://www.skyrail.com.au/), before you reach the artsy village at the top. Along the way you get to stop at various boardwalks and lookouts to see the rainforest at ground level too - it had been raining that morning and there was a beautiful loamy smell, with faint traces of sunlight just filtering down through the canopy. It's all wonderfully peaceful - I was going to say still, but it's never that; even 10m above the trees you can hear crickets and birds singing away like mad. It felt even more luxurious because I had a car to myself, and I could just sit back and soak up the scenery.

And the village itself was great too - OK, it's a tourist trap; once it was an artists' colony and now the only arty thing about it really is the smell of patchouli in the street markets. But it was still great to wander around (I succumbed to a Kiwi guy selling some gorgeous smelling salt scrub - his patter was too good to resist, and though I absolutely do not need a luxury salt scrub in my life it does smell wonderful!). I also headed to some of the best attractions - the koala gardens first, where I finally got to cuddle one. I have photographic evidence of it, too - a picture of me looking rather uncertain (they look and feel lovely and soft but smell appalling!) and a female bear looking terribly bored. Still, I can add it to the growing collection of pictures of me with wildlife - along with a friendly sun conure parrot perching on my finger at Birdworld, the next stop.

This was fantastic - an aviary filled with native and exotic birds of all kinds. There were parrots and parakeets, emerald doves and galahs, finches playing about in the waterfall, black swans and cockatoos... I spent nearly an hour just wandering around and listening to the bird song and watching them fly about, then went on to the butterfly sanctuary, which was also packed with beautiful creatures. They were everywhere, fluttering about the place and landing on your hands or backpack, the most sensational colours and sizes. Sadly I didn't have time for the venom zoo, but perhaps I'd had the best of the wildlife that day!

The following day was another early start, though at least this time I wasn't hampered by a hangover. My tour was heading up for a day trip to Cape Tribulation (finally you get to appreciate the dreadful pun of this post's title), and because of how much we were fitting in to one day it was a bit of a tick tour - I've seen the rainforest meeting the beach at Cape Tribulation, tick; I've seen Mossman Gorge, tick; I've seen Port Douglas, tick; I've seen the world heritage route from Cairns up past the Daintree River, tick. That said, I have seen all these things now, and they were beautiful. Plus, we had a guide who amply made up for any hastiness in the itinerary. Billy had a typical Queenslander drawl and didn't stop talking and joking around from 7.30am until 6pm. This sounds trying but absolutely wasn't - sometimes day tours can be a bit po-faced because people don't get to know each other at all. Billy, however, could remember all 20 names and was introducing us to each other, ribbing us (me especially, being the only Pom) and getting everyone laughing; in the meantime he was giving us some really knowledgable commentary on the history and surrounding landscape. I suspect he might be Australia's top tour guide - he's a tough act to follow, certainly.

And now I'm off down the east coast towards Brisbane. Tomorrow night I arrive at Magnetic Island, off the coast of Townsville, and after all the excitement of the last week I'm looking forward to spending a few days lying in the sun and snorkelling intermittently. This is definitely the life! Now for those horses...

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