My mom has officially joined me from across the pond, and our first big stop is Cairns! The evening of our arrival, we checked into our Airbnb, got a little advice from our host, and headed out to town. After a walk down the Esplanade and a lovely dinner at a café, we headed in for an early night.
For location references, Cairns is essentially the main tourism point of Australia where people go to visit the Great Barrier Reef. I was expecting a smaller town with mostly tourism, however this is the first place in Australia I have traveled to that gives me a slightly odd feeling. Although a beautiful area filled with activities to do and places to see, the town and surrounding area is just not what I expected. The main attractions here include the Great Barrier Reef, Daintree Rainforest, and aboriginal culture. The towns themselves are very old fashioned, looking like the type of area that could easily (and realistically) get swept away overnight by a natural disaster. The streets aren’t designed the best, and the villages are very small, considering most attractions are on the water or in the forests. Although the weather is a bit off from what is normally expected of this time, it has been completely overcast with dark skies and rain. It has been quite an abrupt change from the beautiful beaches and clear skies of Gold Coast, but hopefully Cairns has some wonderful things in store for us!
Aerial view of the Great Barrier Reef from plane
As a perfectly-timed way to start our trip, our first day in Cairns is was also Anzac Day. Essentially, this is an Australian War Memorial holiday that commemorates the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (abbreviation: ANZAC) soldiers who landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey during the first World War. This day reminds Australians of those who served and died in war and on operational service with qualities of courage, mateship, and sacrifice. For celebratory purposes, the best way to describe it is like a combination of America’s Memorial Day and Thanksgiving. For Australia, this holiday is so important that it is known second to Christmas, and even has it’s own official website (https://anzacday.org.au/home). Although our tour that day left too early to see the Cairns Anzac Day Parade or join in on an early morning remembrance ceremony, we still got to spend the day learning about Australia’s natural and historic beauty!
This morning we joined a tour through Wooroonuran National Park, one of the wet tropics world heritage areas, which contains some of the oldest surviving rainforests in the world. Just one of the many unique trees of this rainforest, the Blushwood tree, has been found to cure the breakdown of cancer tumors. This has been successful with animal testing, and human trials are in the process. This just goes to show what other undiscovered secrets might be hidden in this ancient paradise. Contrary to common belief, parts of the Australian rainforest are actually older than the Amazon, comparing the Amazon’s mid 50 million year old ecosystem to Australia’s 180 million year old landscape!
This freshwater lake was formed when a large volcano erupted over 17,000 years ago, leaving a crater that was formed then filled with rainwater. At 730 meters above sea level, there are no streams or springs that feed into the lake, but one small creek that flows out during the wet season. We also walked through the Lake Barrine Tea House Restaurant, and it looked like a lovely place to enjoy tea.
Stopping through Yungaburra village, we learned it is a haven for wildlife, including the platypus, tree-kangaroo, wallabies, and many species of birds. We took a drive around Lake Tinaroo, and headed to the Curtain Fig National Park. With traditional aboriginal owners, this national park is part of their country, so naturally it is a place to be respected. The park protects endangered mabi forest and a large fig tree, in fact one of the largest recorded in the world. Technically known as the species ficus virens of the strangler fig, this tree’s aerial roots drop 15 meters to the forest floor forming a curtain-like appearance, hence the name curtain fig. Esentially they grow by germinating on top of another tree and trying to grow roots into the ground, then grow more, until the hosting tree is killed and it can grow independently. These trees are considered epiphytes, which feed from the ground, as opposed to parasitic plants, which feeds from the sap of host plant. This protected tree in specific has overtaken four other trees in its time.
Curtain Fig Tree
Millaa Millaa Falls
This was one of my favorite stops of the day, as I have recently discovered I am slightly obsessed with waterfalls. “Millaa millaa” is an aboriginal phrase meaning “plenty of water or waterfall.” This particular fall is known casually as the most photographed waterfall in Australia, with a suitable swimming pool at it’s base. Unlike most of the rock pools I’ve encountered, this one was quite flat, and although it was a bit too cold to try out, it looked like a lovely place to go for a swim.
Millaa Millaa Falls
Our next stop took us to Crawfords Lookout in Mamu Valley. It was still a little foggy, but we could still see the view of the North Johnstone River Gorge.
This tiered cascade waterfall is a natural beauty, and also danger. At 192 meters above sea level, it is impossible to see the top of the waterfall when standing below. It is also impossible to tell what rainfall activity is happening above, and essentially the basin at the top fills and fills with water until it hits a tipping point, then spills of the edge all at once, flash flooding the rock pools below. Although a fantastic swimming area at first glance, it can also become a nightmare in an instant. A great place to visit though!
Our second last stop of the day was the Boulders at Babinda Creek. As compared to above, this lake-like area is perfectly suitable for swimming. The creek is lined with huge boulders, which help to give it its name, but also have aboriginal significance. According to local legend, the boulders are guarded by the spirit of a beautiful girl named Oolana, and you can still hear her calls for her lost lover.
We ended the day with an hour-long crocodile cruise through the Mulgrave River, although the unfortunate weather made it not super successful. We learned above the lives of crocodiles, and explored an area with beautifully reflective waters. Overall, it was a lot of driving through the countryside, but a great day of sightseeing South of Cairns!
Mulgrave River reflections