Queensland (Brisbane & Cairns) (February 3 - 16, 2002)


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It was a short 1.5 hr drive from Byron Bay to Surfer's Paradise, but other than having beaches on the same ocean, they are not even remotely similar. Byron Bay town council had all development stopped a few years ago. It is the only town of any size I can think of that has no McDonalds, Burger King or KFC. Surfer's, on the other hand, is just one long stretch of skyscrapers that is visible from miles away - sort of like Miami beach. We avoided going anywhere near downtown Surfer's.

We stayed overnight with Joanne, Grant, Jarrad(12), and Danielle(10) Amor in Helensvale. Joanne is Rae's sister, who we stayed with over Christmas in Tauranga. They took us to Sanctuary Cove where we had lunch, and then to their boat where the kids fished. 

Kids on Wipeout at dreamworld

We left bright and early on Monday and spent the day at DreamWorld, one of the 5 amusement parks in the Surfer's Paradise area. There were two rides that made this day memorable: The Tower of Terror is an open car on rails that hold 15 people - it accelerates from a standing start to about 160km/hr in 7 seconds before the rails go vertical up a tower. After going straight up for about 50 metres, you then free fall back down  the track to where you started. The whole ride takes maybe 15 seconds. It cost me $2 in bribes, but Chloe was much better at it the second time she went! The other ride was called Wipeout. Its difficult to explain, but basically you and about 40 other people get spun around and turned upside down for a few minutes. 

After a full day at Dreamworld, we drove 45 minutes to Brisbane and stayed 2 nights at the Explorer's Inn on Turbot Street. 

I think there must be more zoo's per capita in Australia than any other country. Mind you, they probably have more unique animals per capita as well. All the zoo's have a slightly different focus, so it's difficult to leave one out. The upshot is we went to two more zoos in our last few days in the Brisbane area. 

Sarah with Koala at Lone Pine

We took a short boat cruise up the Brisbane River to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Starting in 1927, they were one of the first zoo's to specialize in Koala conservation. Here's a bit of trivia - did you know that Koala's used to be killed for their fur? Millions of pelts ended up in clothes in the early 1900's. The sanctuary has 130 Koala's, and they let people hold them. Sarah has that look in her eyes that makes me glad that I was 'fixed' after our third child. Three children is quite enough, thank you. 

Australia Zoo

Harriett at Australia Zoo

After a day in Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast (about an hour north of Brisbane), we went to the Australia Zoo. The Irwin family started the zoo in 1970, and specialized in crocodiles and snakes. Of course it's world famous now - Steve Irwin is 'The Crocodile Hunter' whose crazy antics and breathy commentary you have no doubt seen and heard on TV. Steve was not at the zoo, but there seemed to be no shortage of staff who enjoyed risking life and limb to entertain the crowds by feeding the crocs by hand. See the grass the keeper is standing on? Apparently, two lawn mowers and one whipper snipper have been attacked by the crocs over the zoo's history. 

Here's another bit of trivia. Did you know that the land tortoise was used as a model when designing E.T.? There is a striking resemblance. This is Harriet the land tortoise. She is 171 years old, and is expected to survive for another 80 years or so. The other amazing thing about Harriet is that she was captured by Charles Darwin in the Galapagos Islands, and brought to England in the 1840's. Over the past 160 years, she has made her way through various zoos to Australia.  

While in Mooloolaba and the zoo, we stayed at the very nice Forest Glen Holiday Park.

On February 8th, we flew to Cairns in northern Queensland. If you have been following our story, you'll remember that we have had to use our Ansett tickets on Qantas. We were especially concerned because our tickets were for a Sydney -> Cairns flight not a Brisbane->Cairns flight. Well, it was an anti-climax. We had no difficulties at all - the gate agent didn't even mention it when he gave us the boarding passes.  

Cairns is the major tourist centre for the Great Barrier Reef. We had no trouble finding accommodation by phone from the airport. We booked a 2 bedroom apartment at the Cairns Queenslander Apartments. The accommodation and facilities were very nice, but it was a bit of a walk to the town centre especially since it was so hot and humid. 

Mark completed a four day course and is now a PADI certified junior open water scuba diver. He will become an open water diver automatically when he turns 15 in a year and a half. I joined Mark in lessons and re-certified as an open water diver. I used to be an assistant scuba instructor... but that was 20 years ago and things have changed. Besides, taking the course allowed me to dive with Mark. 

Mark diving at the Great Barrier Reef

The course included two days of diving on the Great Barrier Reef. We took a boat 55km to the outer reef each day. Diving was great - lots of colourful fish and coral in warm clear water. A tropical cyclone well offshore caused a wind change that stirred things up a bit, so the 10 metre visibility was not as good as it could have been. We did not see the white tipped reef shark that was in the area, but we were excited to swim with a medium sized green turtle. We wondered if the turtle was from Turtle Island in Malaysian Borneo?  This is Mark with a batfish in about 10m of water - this 40cm (15") fish followed us around for most of the dives on our second day. 

While the boys were on the diving course, the girls kept busy too. They spent one day taking the Kuranda Scenic Railway through the rainforest. Then they took the Skyrail gondola back through the rainforest canopy, and visited the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park where they learned a bit about aboriginal culture and how to throw a boomerang and a spear. 

The girls joined us on the boat for our first open water dive. They happily snorkeled over a shallower part of the reef while Mark and I dove with our class. Chloe was the big surprise today as she was extremely comfortable in the water with her mask and snorkel. Heather continued with her quiet competence that she has shown since snorkeling in Cuba a few years ago. 

I think one of the big factors in getting Chloe to swim was going to "Reef Teach" the night before. A marine biologist gave an extremely entertaining talk in the Reef Teach classroom, describing the kind of aquatic life we could see including telling us what we could touch, and what we could not. We bought Chloe some small plastic pages with colour pictures and names of the reef fish on it - she was very busy identifying fish (and humming to herself) while she swam. 

On our second day of reef diving, the girls elected to go to Green Island and explore. They explored the reefs very near the island both from a glass bottom boat and by snorkeling again. They saw much more aquatic life including a honeycomb moray eel (which was trying to feed on smaller passing fish), and some bluespotted lagoon rays. 

After a day of administration (homework etc), and a great Valentines Day meal (a seafood platter filled with lobster, crab, 'bugs', barramundi fillets, calamari and whole shrimp), we left Cairns in a rented car for a short drive to Port Douglas, Daintree and Mossman. We took a boat ride up the Daintree River looking for wildlife in the rainforest. We did not see any crocodiles, but there were lots of small birds. For those of you who have read Bill Bryson's "Down Under", our tour boat launched from the same dock where Beryl Wruck met her untimely end by crocodile in 1985. There were crocs around, but they were difficult to see because they weren't sunning themselves on the beach. It was nice to be on the river, but it didn't really compare to our last rainforest boat trip on the Kinabatangan in Borneo. Oops - sorry for saying that. We really are becoming tourist snobs! 

We spent the night in Mossman at the White Cockatoo Motel. The next morning, we stopped at the picturesque Mossman Gorge before driving back to Cairns and flying to Darwin.

On to Darwin.