Iris’s Whirlwind Tour (Swimming Through The Forest)

So my friend Iris decided it was time to take a vacation and it just so happened she knew someone (me) living in Australia, so she decided to fly out and see how things were down-under. I’ve been holding off doing some exploring because I knew I had friends visiting while I was over here and it’s a lot more fun sharing experiences.

For sanity’s sake, I am chopping this up into four separate posts:

  1. Welcome To The Gold Coast
  2. Climbing Sydney
  3. Swimming Through The Forest
  4. Home Again Home Again Jiggity Jig

Warning, these are long posts, but I have included photos 🙂 click the “Read the rest of this entry” to venture forth…

Swimming Through The Forest

June 3rd and June 6th

Day Twelve:


Today we are off to Cairns (which is pronounced “Cans”, yet my brain fights me every time it try to say it). We packed our bags, checked out of our hostel and made our way to the train station. We initially had a hard time finding the right platform but eventually got it … only to realize that the train to the airport was not running that day (blink, blink). Luckily they were running a free bus service to the airport in its stead. We lugged our stuff back to the main bus stop and hopped aboard. I was worried about getting to the airport in time, but thanks to our (INSANE) driver, we got there with time to spare (I could almost hear him shouting “That light was PINK!”, as we grabbed air … in a bus!).

Getting to our flight was a painless experience, we discovered that with JetStar, you only need a form of ID (CA drivers license worked fine) to get your ticket and hop aboard. They are a pretty good airline (we didn’t expect much given the low fares we got), they have comfortable leather seats, entertainment, and food (which is where they recoup their costs = $3 for a cup of tea).

As we approached Cairns, Iris took some nice photos of the coastline. We landed, grabbed our luggage, called up our ride to the hostel (“Calypso Inn“, another suggestion from Debs), and then donned our hats and sunscreen while waiting. The bus came by rather quickly, and it was a very short ride (10 min) to downtown. We checked in, dropped our bags, and headed out to grab a bite to eat. We opted to walk to the central food district, but unfortunately it was Saturday afternoon and (almost) everything was closed. Iris wanted to try Montezumas (Australia’s attempt at Mexican food … strong emphasis on “attempt”). Forewarned, I went for the simple (chorizo and chicken) tacos while she got a chili verde burrito. Mine wasn’t to bad, but the chorizo was sweet (not spicy). Iris couldn’t finish her burrito, it just tasted too odd. The sangria we got was made with tequila, wine and very tart fruits (not ripe enough yet), again with the “doesn’t taste right”. All of that coupled with the fact you have to purchase the chips and salsa (the chips were store bought) pretty much turned us off of Montezumas for good (though on the positive side, we weren’t starving anymore).

We then wandered over to the local mall to see if we could get something for the sniffles I’d had. I picked up some pills from the local health food store and then we went searching for shorts for Iris (she hadn’t brought any with her on her trip to Australia). Unfortunately we could not find a store that had anything in her size (most places were stocked for Barbie wannabes). With luck one clerk directed us to another mall across town. It was late, but there was a chance we might make it, so we headed out, found a bus stop (no easy feat), and then rode it over to the other side of town. As we disembarked, the stores were closing down, we ran through the mall trying to find the aforementioned store. Luckily we made it before she closed, but after Iris tried out the selection, she found that the problem was that they were now too big. With luck being quite generous (I think it was making up for Montezumas) the clerk said we had one more option just around the corner from her store. We ran over and Iris found the perfect pair to enjoy the Great Barrier Reef with.

With both of our goals achieved, we headed back to the hostel. By this time, evening had established itself, the hostel was in full gear, all-you-can-eat BBQ was on, the bar was open, and we relaxed for the night. We had the BBQ, played some backgammon, watched the projection TV, and enjoyed some drinks. I headed back to the room for a bit since I was fighting something (sniffles), Iris hung around and made friends with the local bartender. Later on, I came back and was treated to a few free shots of this Vodka and Chocolate mixed drink (which was quite good). Afterwards I took a photo of Iris and the bartender and then we retired for the night since we had to be up early to check out and hop on our tour going up the coast.

Day Thirteen:


Ah to wake early without a hangover (yay). We were up and out by 7:30am, split a bacon and egg sandwich and then met Sydney, our bus driver. We loaded up and were off to Cape Tribulation. It is normally a 3 hour drive north, but this was a tour package so we had a few activities planned for us.

Our fist stop was actually for the bus driver, he had some business with someone at a beach diner, this also gave everyone a quick bathroom and coffee break (if needed). I headed out to the beach and took some photos, saw lots of signs about jellyfish and UV warnings. Afterwards we all hopped back on and were off again.

Sydney was entertaining to listen to, he was a aboriginal who moved down from the far north of Queensland, he talked about the local areas, the progression of tourism, the wildlife, history, and the occasional joke thrown in. We stopped a few times for photo shots of the coastline that we were driving up (again with the stunning beauty). We had a few long stretches between stops (I caught Iris napping in one photo 🙂 ) but we eventually made it to our next major stop.

Mossman Gorge” is a protected rainforest area (as part of the “Daintree National Park”). Sydney gave us a personal tour around the area, taught us some aboriginal history, and talked about the different species of plants and animals. He then let us go exploring the walking trails for a while. Iris and I made it up to a cable/wire bridge before we had to turn around. On the way back, we stopped by the bank of the river and took a few photos.

The next stop was the “Daintree River“, here we all loaded into a river boat (with other tourists) and were treated to a cruise up and down its banks. Along the way, the driver took us to crocodile nests, where we saw everything from baby crocks to HUGE (don’t lean out of the boat because you look tasty) crocodiles. We also happened to catch a python sleeping in a tree. Other than the crocks, one of the bits of information that worried me was the “Blinding Mangrove Tree” the branches of the tree are brittle, and if you break one off, the sap can spray into your face, causing permanent damage to your optic nerve. (guh)

Back on the bus we discovered we had to get across the river we just toured and since it is a protected rainforest there were no bridges. Sydney took the bus down the road to a crossing station where they have a ferry setup on cables that span the river. The bus (and a few other cars) pulled up onto the ferry platform and we rode across.

Further up the road we stopped off at a lookout that saw over the river, the gorge, the beach and upto a mountain on the horizon. I was told we had started our trip on the other side of the mountain (quite a distance).

After another 30 minutes we pulled into Cow Bay, and had lunch at a local hotel. I snapped a few pictures of a large spider in a bush next to our bus while Iris scurried as far as she could from it (grin). While there, we made friends with a local dog that would happily will fall at your feet, roll over onto his back and give you full access to his belly (he was cute).

10 more minutes down the road and we were at the Daintree Ice Cream Company. We stopped in to try their exotic fruit pack, they only make ice cream using the local fruit that is currently in season, you’ll never find any basics here like vanilla, strawberry, or chocolate (though they have a fruit that tastes like chocolate pudding), some flavors were a bit funky, but mostly quite delicious.

The final stop was going to be our places of accommodation at Cape Tribulation, but Sydney wanted to show us two things along the road. The first was a bit humorous, this area is the last known habitat of the “Cassowary Bird” (think prehistoric, ostrich sized, bird with no innate fear of humans, and can disembowel you with a single kick). Since there are so few left (around 50 have been spotted) there are multiple road signs, some warning about crossing areas, others warning about speed bumps. Well someone got cheeky and combined the two signs (you’ll see it in the photo gallery). The second was of a more serious warning about the area. Sydney wanted to show us the “Gympie Gypmie Tree“. Now this was a particularly nasty tree, (I really suggest reading the link I provided), to sum it up, think millions of silicon fibers covering the tree, each carrying a neurotoxin (akin to the pain of childbirth) that is stable for at least a century (after plucked), oh and your skin can grow over it, preventing its removal. People have retained effects upto a year of being stung (btw: “Gympie” is aboriginal for “BAD!”).

We finally got to our stay at the “Cape Tribulation Beach House“, checked in, and almost immediately decided to extend our stay another day. We realized with our itinerary, we were going to be up here one day, and that was going to be out on the reef, we then would get off of the boat and instantly onto the bus back to Cairns to kill a day there (which is way to saturated with tourists). No, this rainforest canopy with white sand beaches was a much better place. Calls were made, and stay was extended (yay). We also signed up for a packaged deal. There were two activities we wanted to do while here and we found that one company provideded both for a deal. For $95 (AUD) we got a nighttime tour of the rainforest and a canopy surfing adventure (more on that later).

We headed out to the beach, soaked in the beauty, had dinner at the onsite bistro, broke out their backgammon board and enjoyed a few glasses of wine. As the evening wore on, it was about time for our nighttime tour so we headed upto the front office to be picked up. Along the path, we saw a large “Huntsman Spider” and then heard a bunch of scuffling noises in the bush. We think they were wild pigs or Bandicoots due to their size, but we only saw their back ends as they snuffed around the tree base (in low light).

After we were picked up, and heading away from the Beach House, the driver saw a wild kangaroo cross our path so he pulled over to take a look. We then continued along to the start of the trail (on Mount Sorrow), there we met our guide for the night, he handed us our flashlights, then gave us the rundown on the path and the animals we might (or might not) see. There were only four of us on this tour so it was quite intimate. We spent the next hour and a half trekking through pitch darkness, aided only by our flash lights. At times we would stop and turn off everything to listen to the forest. We learned how the animals rely more by sound than sight (due to the lack of light under the canopy). One of the more surrealistic moments was when he had us turn off our lights, and then waited for about 5 minutes. All of a sudden I could see one patch of area quite clearly. It was as if there was a full moon out and a beam was breaking through the canopy onto that one spot, but he then had us wave our hands over the spot (as if to block the moon light) and we discovered that the light was not blocked, it was being generated by the ground, or more specifically a florescent moss growing on the dead tree trunk right there. I cannot put into words how that moment seemed. There weren’t too many animals out that night, but we all had a great time anyway. He showed as a dead snake that had eaten one of the poisonous frogs in the area and then took us to a stinging tree. We were told of some of the locals experiences with this plant, one unfortunate lady had taken a shortcut through the forest one night after getting pissed and stumbled into a large patch of the “Gympie Gympie Trees”. Her screams could be heard all the way back to the party she left. She survived but never returned to the town again. He then proceeded to pick some of the fruit on the tree and offered it to us to try. He assured us that there were no needles in the fruit, but did say the taste was uninspiring, it was more of an offer to allow us to say we ate fruit from the “Gympie Gympie Tree”, only one of us took his offer. (not me, I was good just seeing it). We headed back, took a photo of our guide and then went home for the night.

Day Fourteen:


Another early wake-up for us, we first had to check out of our room (we originally only had one night, so the room was already reserved for someone else) and move to another room (twice, the first had someone in it that we woke was we opened the door, oops). We then grabbed a quick sandwich at the bistro and ran back to the main office to be picked up for our trip out to the “Great Barrier Reef“.

We were heading out on the “Rum Runner” which we booked while in Sydney with Debs. They took us out to the boat with about 10 other people, and then we were off. Iris and I specifically joined this cruise so we could SCUBA the reef, but on the way there, an issue came up. Since Iris had been certified, she had been given an inhaler for allergy induced asthma, since she didn’t have a medical certificate clearing her, they denied her the dives (even though we had done the earlier dive in Southport). This was quite upsetting and as we approached the dive site, I was planning on canceling one of my dives so I could join her snorkeling, but one of the dive instructors and been pouring over the rule-books and then ended up calling shore. He found out that it was OK for Iris to dive as long as an instructor was with her (Woot!, boy was she elated!) We went down to explore the reef twice and got to see all sorts of fish, sea polyps, and sea cucumbers, but (for better or worse) no sharks. There was a little chill topside on the return trip, but the crew helped by passing out some wine and heated ginger/fruit bread.

Back on shore, we both headed for the showers, cleaned up and headed over to the bistro for some fish in a coconut and tomato curry over rice. It was such a nice night so we decided to grab a couple of drinks and head down to the beach. On the way we snagged some chairs and then sat out under the stars listening to the waves washing onto the shore. We watched the lights of a ship cross from one side of the horizon to the other, the moon diving in and out of the clouds, oh what a great way to end the day.

Day Fifteen:


This was our last day at Cape Tribulation and we had to wake up early again since we were checking out of our room and we had an appointment for “Canopy Surfing“. We cleaned up, dropped off our keys and stored our luggage, headed down to the bistro for breakfast, took some last photos of the beach and the walkways and then met our van up top for the ride into Mount Sorrow.

We were lucky enough to only have two other people signed up for the tour this morning (normally they host upto 16 people) so we got a very personalized tour. We removed all loose items (like the BridgeClimb), geared up and then went over all the safety procedures. One bright point was that they let us keep our cameras, they just attached them to our harness. After all that, it was a quick hike up the mountain and then up to the top of a platform high in a tree. The Canopy surfing was a series of platforms connected by a cabling system between the trees. We had two guides, and one was always ahead of us on the next platform (it was great watching them leapfrog, hooking up their gear and then pulling/or sliding themselves to the next point). Getting to the first platform was slower than the rest, this one was higher so they actually had to pull us up to it using cables. After that it was all down hill. Let me tell you, there is nothing like flying across the tree tops of a rainforest canopy. At times they would stop us in the middle of the run, just so we could look around and take it all in. As they leapfrogged, the one staying behind would give us a lesson in the plant and wildlife, pointing out different things from each vantage point. Then we came to the last two runs, and were told “This is the part we don’t tell our insurance company about”. The first, they pretty much let you ride down at full speed (you are tethered by a rope that they let out as you go) only to slow you down at the last moment. And the final one, well, they pretty much have you slide out, and then while hanging over the forest, they say “Now lay back and wrap your legs around the cable.”. This pretty much puts you completely upside-down (glad my pockets were empty). Then (if things weren’t interesting enough) you fly down the final line just like that (looking UP to see the rainforest floor). WOW!

It was now around noon and we had to kill some time before our bus picked us to go back to Cairns. We ate some hamburgers, wandered over to the “Bat House” where we got to meet a flying fox. I was curious and always thought bats were a bit creepy, but these fruit bats were really cute, they don’t have the beady little eyes, flat face, and huge ears that the smaller American bats have. We then decided to walk along the ocean back to the Beach House where our stuff was. We made our way from the road following a path through the mangroves, and then along the beach, through some streams, over the cape, another (shallower) stream, past a numerous colonies of sand crabs (that left intricate patterns in the ground), and finally up to the bistro where we played our final games of backgammon at Cape Tribulation.

Sydney picked us up and we started the long haul back to Cairns. This time there was less talking, more sleeping, and it took us about three and a half hours to get there (it was odd seeing everything we passed earlier, almost like watching a tape in reverse). Once in Cairns, we checked back into our hostel, had dinner, watched the tv for a bit and then crashed.

…to be continued in “Home Again Home Again Jiggity Jig

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