On Wednesday, Emily and I flew to Cairns (pronounced cans). It was wonderful to leave the cold weather of Sydney behind for the balmy winter in the north. We had a fun week of adventures planned for Cairns including waterfalls, the reef, and the rainforest.
We were surprised how relaxed security was in the airport- no one ever checked our ids or even made sure we had a ticket when we went through security. However, as Emily is very shady looking, she was selected for a random bag check. We flew TigerAir, a budget airline. To keep down on cost, you have to walk onto the tarmac to load the plane, there is very little leg room (fine for me, not so nice for Emily), and you have to pay for any food and drinks on the plane. However, they got us from Sydney to Cairns with no problems and was grad student budget friendly.
We caught a lift in the free shuttle to our hostel- Gilligan’s. While it wasn’t quite time for check in, they let us ditch our bags so we could go explore the town. We walked to a little mall to check out the offerings in the food court. It was lunch time and we ended up at a Chinese restaurant. We knew it was good because all the locals were eating there. Both of us had some fabulous fried rice full of shrimp, chicken, beef, crab, eggs, and veggies.
After lunch, we explored some souvenir shops and Emily got some gifts for a steal. She’s a real bargain shopper! From there, we walked back to check in. We got a penthouse room (fourth floor) on the pool side of the building. Gilligan’s is “The Number One Party Hostel in Cairns”. So being curmudgeons, we asked for a room as far away from the fun as possible. Our first roommates were from Estonia and Germany. We got a chance to talk with Liina from Estonia but our German friend was very nocturnal and we didn’t see much of her. Once we got up to the room, we donned our swimsuits and spent a relaxing afternoon at the pool (party).
When the sun disappeared behind the palm trees, we showered and sought out dinner. We had been talking about wanting to try some kangaroo for a few days. We found a restaurant, Dundee’s, that offered a “Bush Tucker Sampler”. So, we made our way down to the waterfront and got a harbor-side table. While the service left a lot to be desired, the location and the food was wonderful.
The sampler included a chargrilled eye fillet (beef steak), a pan seared wild barramundi with a lemon beurre blanc sauce, kangaroo striploin satays with a spicy peanut sauce, crocodile tail satays with a teriyaki sauce, emu chipolatas (sausage) with a plum sauce, tiger prawns, and honey roasted sweet potatoes.
Emily and I decided to order salads and split the sampler. It was plenty of food for the two of us. The cocktails were lovely: Emily had a tropical fruit one and mine was sort of like a strawberry mojito.
The people at the table next to us had ordered the Seafood Tower for Two. We had contemplated something tasty like that until we saw today’s market price was $230. It was very impressive to watch them eat it all. In the end, we decided to skip dessert, even though they looked delicious, and opted to head back to the hostel for free sangria.
Sadly, we decided it was juice with fruit in it and no alcohol. But I guess you get what you pay for. We enjoyed the live music and took advantage of my new table philosophy: grab an empty table with more seats than you need and you’ll make heaps (Emily reminded me that we need to use that word more often) of new friends. Along with our Estonian roommate, we met someone from England, Scotland, and two girls from Germany. We stayed for a couple rounds of family feud before we called it an early night. We had been up since 4:30 am to catch our flight from Sydney and had an early tour scheduled for Thursday.
Uncle Brian’s Tours
In the morning, we had a bright and early pick up with Uncle Brian’s Fun, Falls, and Forests Tour. Our driver, Cousin Richie, was a bundle of energy. We boarded Gus The Bus along with 19 of our new cousins.
Their tour company has a very different business philosophy than most. They want their passengers to become friends (or cousins) and don’t believe in staying on a schedule but rather letting the day unfold as the passengers interact. He called it Driving on the Bright Side of the Road. So, over the course of the day there were games and interactions to help us get to know one another. It was great as we ended up hanging out with some of the other girls for the next few days in Cairns.
We set off from Cairns and our first stop was in Babinda called the Babinda Boulders. We did a short bush walk (what they call hiking) towards the Devils Pool. No one is allowed to swim there as several people have died. It was beautiful, though.
However, there is a nice swimming hole a little upstream that everyone was able to enjoy. Cousin Richie had gotten our hopes up as he had seen a platypus there the day before. Unfortunately, Emily and I haven’t had very good luck spotting elusive animals on this trip. The water was very cold so we decided not to get in at this spot but spent our time searching for the platypus.
Cousin Richie set up a nice little morning tea for everyone which included tea, coffee, lamingtons (hyperlink), cookies, and some cake rolls. We had a friend join us for tea as well:
No one else was as excited to see the bush turkey as I was.
I may have shouted “Bush Turkey!” with a mouth full of cookie and got a bunch of “huh?” responses. One of the two Aussies on the tour was a little condescending about my excitement as apparently, they’re a bit of a nuisance or just so common no one cares.
From there, we loaded up the bus and headed off to our next destination. However, we almost left with the one middle aged person on the trip. She decided she needed to go back to the waterfall to take a photo as we were loading the bus. This theme continued throughout the day. She apparently took our driver aside during that first stop and told him that she did not approve of his foul language and choice to smoke when he got off the bus. We think she signed up for the wrong tour.
We passed back through Babinda and stopped to view their Golden Gumboot- a spray painted rain boot that they have in honor of being the wettest city in all of Australia. It was quite fancy.
The next stop was Josephine Falls. We were given very specific instructions here as part of the falls is off limits and can earn you a $364 fine on the spot. Other instructions were needed so we could learn how to properly slide down the falls without dying. Emily and I had both promised people we would not fall off of high, slippery rocks. We didn’t fall. Or jump. We slid… on our bums.
Cousin Richie showed us how to climb up the slick rock face to get to the top of the falls. He basically tossed us into the pool where the freezing water took our breath away. Then you swim against the current to the other side where he (claims) has taken a wire scrub brush to get rid of the algae.
Emily and I watched the first couple people before we swam across. It took a lot of teamwork to get up the fall. It was very slippery even with the clean spot. We stood in the sun at the top of the falls and took some photos. We also watched people sliding for a bit so we could figure out where was the best spot to go down without falling or hitting a big rock at the bottom. When I went, I scooted to the middle to make sure I didn’t fall and knock out my teeth. Richie made fun of me saying I looked like a dog scooting across the carpet. However, I successfully made it to the bottom!
We loaded everyone back up into Gus, The Bus and set off in search of lunch. We stopped at at the Falls Tea House in the middle of the Table Lands. It was a lovely location.
We had chicken and couscous, salad, and homemade slaw. Dessert was a lovely cake with caramel sauce and whipped cream. Emily and I sat in the sun to enjoy it and warm back up. I was pretty excited because I saw a hummingbird while we were waiting to be served.
Cousin Richie took a break at lunch and went to hide for a little while. Based on the amount of energy he was expending being entertaining and facilitating our trip, I don’t blame him. He was on point all day.
Just around the corner from the B&B was another waterfall: Millaa Millaa which means lots of water. This was a lovely, tall waterfall with the water coming down more than 70 feet into a lush pool.
Here, everyone had the opportunity to swim in the pool, go behind the falls, and have a “hair flick pic”. This involved putting your hair in the water and flipping it back quickly to fling water all over the place. As the water temperature was really cold and the whole area was in the shade, Emily and I decided to pass on this fabulous opportunity. We don’t like being cold enough for that. Emily ended up taking photos for all the girls on their cell phones. I had ducked out and went downstream looking for a platypus. I only found catfish and more bush turkeys. Emily tried to catch one for me.
After everyone got their flick pics, we set off through the tablelands once more. The tablelands are where they grow sugar cane, cows, and other agricultural goodies. We passed a tropical fruit winery. I should have asked to stop!
Our final stop of the day was a volcanic crater lake. Here were promised a small freshie (freshwater croc). Sadly, all we found were turtles and more turkeys!
Rather than get wet and soggy again, Emily and I took advantage of the stop to change into dry clothes. Our group enjoyed an afternoon tea of hot chocolate and homemade muffins with another tour group. The only thing that would have made it better was if we had been able to see the sunset on the other side of the lake. The hills and trees were in the way, though.
We had a couple people to drop off at an Eco Lodge called On the Wallaby. It seemed like a really cool place to stay as they are totally off the grid.
They also have platypus spotting in the evenings. We had decided not to do the overnighter because the morning activity was mountain biking and we didn’t really want to do that. However, it would have been a cool place to stay.
Once we got everyone settled there, the rest of us loaded back onto Gus the Bus for one last run down the mountain. Literally. We went down a road that had 237 curves and is so dangerous, the locals won’t drive it at night if they don’t have to. Thankfully, Richie is very familiar with the road and was really sneaky to keep people from thinking about it. He made everyone sing along and dance our way down the mountain.
I think Cousin Richie has ruined us for any other tour guide in the future. Have you ever been on a tour with a wild tour guide or had a tour guide set a high standard for future tours? Where were you? Perhaps we’ll want to try that next! Here’s one final video for you about all the lovely things in Australia: