For some reason, Cairns was a surprise to me. I hadn’t appreciated how much of an international tourist destination it is. It’s so far north that it’s within easy reach of Asia and attracts tourists from there. It’s also the first city I’ve been in with a sizeable, visible indigenous population. There are wide open roads, it’s easy to navigate, has some beautiful traditional buildings with verandahs and canopies (as above). A good art gallery and lots of good cafes, bars and restaurants. We saw all those, but what remains with me is the easy, genuine, friendliness of everyone we met. Is it only because of the (almost) year round sunshine?
From Cairns, we took a catamaran (not as smooth when there’s a cross wind, believe me) to Green Island, a beautiful tropical island about an hour out east. I needed a walk around the island to find my land legs before we hopped onto a wee glass bottom boat to go look at the Great Barrier Reef. Camera photos just don’t do it, but it was magical, just as spectacular as you’d ever imagine it to be. The coral comes in so many shapes, each one a work of art and the fish were so close to us, some tiny and fluorescent colours, others really big and silvery. A real tick in the box in the ‘life’s aspirations’ to see.
I’ve had a busy weekend here, what with it being the Queen’s birthday holiday on Monday this week. We went to Coolangatta to a classic car festival where about 100 or more cars were parked all along the main road. Immaculately maintained, and as far as I know, just there for the enjoyment of the onlookers. There were also lots of Harley Davidson bikes and a promotion tent with giveaways. We won a branded cap with ticket number 108 – suits me, don’t you think?
Next day we went to Brunswick Heads and had lunch at Paul Hogan’s (aka Crocodile Dundee) hotel. It was warm during the middle of the day so (young) people were paddle boarding, swimming and rope jumping into the creek (no translations, you’ll just have to imagine it).
Yesterday we went to a K-Mart to find a soft eski to carry with us to Cairns and keep our provisions cool and ant-free as we move from Cairns to the Daintree. Apparently we’re going on the crocodile tour in the mangroves and a glass bottom boat trip to the Great Barrier Reef. Well you have to, don’t you?
Took a ferry from Mulimby into the city and went to Southbank which is an area re-developed and now having two galleries and a museum. We saw some great art works, including a guided tour of a NZ installation by Michael Parekowhai which would have been incomprehensible without the guide. Loved the ‘beach’ with the real lifeguard. It’s a public swimming pool with beautifully landscaped walkways with bouganivillia growing up along architecturally irregular steel archway. Just had to go for a wee refreshment in the ‘Surf Club’ – well you have to, don’t you?
I spent the weekend at Maleny, if you want a tour of where, look up this website for photos of Middlepath. We went to the Maleny Agricultural Show and it was just the same as the Turriff Show of the RHS, only smaller. I had a good close up of the show champion – Aberdeen Angus, of course, and saw his offspring, the Aberdeen Angus/Brahmin cross. Both gorgeous. Also saw 2 dogs herding ducks – novel and very entertaining. And fabulous show jumping, but I was more taken by the miniature ponies, who were blinged up to match their owners, all teenage girls. Very cute.
The most unusual event I saw was the axemen. The photo on the right is of the under 15’s, and the boy on the right is 10, wielding an axe and hacking into the log he’s standing on (hardwood by the way), between his feet, wearing trainers. Can’t see the Health and Safety boys letting that happen in the UK. The two photos on the left are of the guy who won the competition. First he had to cut a groove into the pole, insert a plank (with a hook on it for added security!), stand on the plank and work his way up the pole, then chop the top section (again, hardwood) in two. And this guy, in his 60’s, did it in under 3 minutes! Way to go!
We went in our minibus on a tour right around the island. We know we went everywhere as there’s only one tarmac road and as you can see, no traffic for miles and miles. And looking up that road, it doesn’t look so very different as there are no palm trees. I think it’s the palm trees that define ‘tropical island’. There were lots of men out trimming the grass verges (eat your heart out Aberdeenshire), men a boys as young as 8/9, all carrying machetes. Even with the huge smiles and waves, there’s still something disconcerting about a wee boy with a machete in his hand.
Touring around the less inhabited areas of the island, we got a pretty good idea of the devastation they suffered with cyclone Pam. We passed 4 cafes near a touristy place, each closed and with roofs or walls or missing and gardens battered. On the whole people have been working really hard to clear up and the government is paying for trees to be cut and trimmed into very neat piles of logs, which are there free for anyone to take home. On our 5th attempt, we found a beautiful spot where they had re-built and had made it all so bonny, with great attention to detail. I had sweet potato wedges served with soured cream and sweet chilli sauce – very international.
We also passed several traditional villages, which are very neatly organised, with very well kept gardens. We were told that there’s a big effort to maintain traditional life there, and as an example of how they live, they have to be home and quiet by 9pm to let everyone sleep. But by then the men have probably been to the cava bar. They are everywhere and are simply a square with a roof and some benches. Cava is not alcoholic but apparently it makes your mouth numb then leaves you very relaxed. Didn’t try it (women don’t), but some of our lads did and they were pretty queasy looking next day. Pass!
No – it’s not what you’re thinking! At 1 am in deep sleep I was wakened by the most awful loud banging and realised that the whole house was shaking. I shouted to my ‘roomie’ who said ‘it’s an earth tremor’ then she settled back down to sleep. Thankfully she didn’t tell me that she was actually listening to the sea – in case it went quiet which would be the sea going out before the tsunami roared in! Although it only lasted for a few seconds, it felt like much much longer as the brain raced through all the possibilities of what it was and how to react to it. There had been a 5.8 earthquake in the ocean south of Vanuatu and we were on the rim of its spread. I can honestly say I never want to experience that again, it was just so scary and very disorienting. So next day I really needed to stay calm and get myself relaxed again. I succeeded.
This photo was taken on the day we went to visit a couple of schools to deliver some materials (and a wee bit of chocolate) from schools in Brisbane to schools suffering from post-cyclone loss. We went there with our mini bus and driver as it’s the only way to get 12 people around at once. All the buses have names across the top of the windscreen. Ours was ‘Smashing Success’. Another one I saw was ‘Job Marley’. Anyway, he was great for local knowledge. So the kids and fathers went down to the river while we women looked around the kindergarten. Emma, the teacher told us she has two sittings of classes, one finishes at 11am then the next one starts afterwards. 19 kids in each class!
So look closely and you’ll see the tallest person in the river is holding a baby, that’s our Kelly and baby Wyatt (20 months). By the time we were all at the river, the local kids were climbing up the bank and jumping in, so guess what – yes our Kelly did too – with baby in his arms! And not from the lowest part either, it must have been about 10ft at least. The locals have been talking about it ever since. And what did baby Wyatt say afterwards? A wee finger pointed to the sky and he said ‘more’. But the 5 mums on the bank couldn’t take any more, so we made the schoolteacher tell him ‘enough’!
Our first trip to the market was slightly embarrassing as we’d just been to the exchange shop to get some local currency, Vatu (158 = £1), and although we thought we’d asked for small money, actually we had the equivalent of £20 notes when trying to pay for a pound of tomatoes and as it was early morning, the stallholders didn’t have that much change. Stupid foreigners!
Anyway, it’s beautiful the way they sell the sweet potatoes in hand woven baskets, just to carry them to the market. Different villages bring in their products on different days, and they’re all women. There was also a woman giving a long speech with strong religious overtones and praises to God, the government and the local council etc. When she’d finished the listeners, again, all women, had a fantastic buffet lunch with generous piles of food. So given the setting, it’s clearly understandable why two of us there heard her preach against prostitution, whilst the majority heard her praise the constitution. Easy mistake to make! And in fact it was about setting up a legal constitution for the stallholders to deal with continuing issues around the facilities in the market.
Food was the same sort of prices as in Sainsbury’s (surprised?) and everything had prices written on them. We were told there’s no bartering and no tipping – suits me!
To see the full description of the Reef House, see the link. It has fantastic views over a bay, with particularly beautiful sunsets. We had two local ladies as housekeepers who even collected all our washing and brought it back usually the same day. Just as well, as I have minimal clothes for sub-tropical weather, so wear, wash, dry was essential. Of course my arrival was welcomed with 2 days of torrential rain – I expected nothing less. But I can confirm that there is such a thing as warm rain and even warm wind. Who would have thought it?
I inadvertently spent a few minutes sitting in the garden at dusk without re-applying my mozzie spray, so I’m now suffering from big, nasty, itchy, blotches which are slowing turning into something worse. I had already prepared for this eventuality though, and have some heavy duty cream from the chemist to avoid catching any serious infections.
Went down to Byron Bay yesterday, it’s off season for the back packers, so it was quiet. Lovely shops full of lovely clothes that we could never wear they’re so light and airy, but interesting for me to see. Had lunch in the pub belonging to Crocodile Dundee, where I saw this wall painting.
Off to Vanuatu tomorrow, and may or may not have internet access, but hopefully I’ll be able to get some good photos.