On my last night in NZ I decided to treat myself and checked into a nice hotel in Auckland; the Scenic Hotel – I can’t tell you how luxurious it felt after a month of hostels, shared toilets and bunk beds. I won’t lie – I took about three baths.
That evening Montsey (a Welsh girl I met in Taupo) and I decided to go up the Sky Tower and treated ourselves to cocktails and a cheese board whilst watching the sunset over the city – backpackers what?!
The next day I had a bit of time to kill in Auckland. This was mostly spent in the travel agents getting all my trips booked up for Australia and buying the last few New Zealand souvenirs. I’ve decided to buy myself a piece of jewellery in each country I visit; New Zealand’s native rock is Pounamu (aka green Jade) and is extremely important to the Maori people. I bought myself a lovely pair of Jade and Gold earrings which will be a nice Kiwi reminder.
At about 5pm I headed to the airport shuttle for my 7.30pm flight to Cairns. When I got there I realised my flight time had changed to 6.30pm – I literally had to run through the terminal – I was so lucky to have made it!
I flew with Philippines Airline which was nice, instead of TV screens they hand out iPads which is a bit strange. The flight came across probably the worst turbulence I have ever encountered which was an experience…
We soon landed safely and I was officially in Australia! I was completely grilled by the border control officer – ‘why would a law firm let you have 5 months off work’?! I used to watch border control when I was younger and the Aussies certainly lived up to that tough stereotype in the airport!
After finally being granted access I hopped in a taxi and made my way across to my hotel for the night – the Cairns Colonial Club. This was also a bit of a splurge but the last thing I wanted to do at 11pm at night was check into a hostel dorm! I pretty much got my self sorted and fell straight to sleep – I was exhausted!
When I woke up the next morning the first thing that hit me was the heat! It was 9.30am and already 30 degrees! It was a complete world away from the wintery New Zealand that I had grown to love. It seemed mental that less than a week ago I was walking through the snow in -2 degree temperatures.
I ordered a taxi into town and got talking to the driver who originated from India. I explained that my sister was in a Bollywood film called Yuvraaj when she travelled through India. Turns out it was his favourite film – I’ve never seen anyone so excited. He asked to see a photo of Catriona which I of course showed him ‘she’s more beautiful than you I think’. Great. Safe to say I didn’t tip…
I checked into my hostel for the next two days; the notorious Gilligan’s, and set out to wander though the town. After maybe 10 minutes of walking in the scolding heat I swiftly realised that none of my ‘summer’ clothes were appropriate and made my way to the Cairns Central Mall to buy as many dresses, strap tops and t-shirts as I could! Turns out an Australian winter really isn’t a winter. Especially not up here in the north.
After shopping myself out I decided to walk to the Cairns Esplanade and Lagoon right on the sea front. You can’t actually swim in the sea in Cairns because of jelly fish and sharks, everyone therefore hangs out in the pools that line the shore and sunbathes out on the grassy beds.
I lay out on the grass, read my book, listened to my music and just took in the absolutely beautiful sights around me. It’s so weird being in a new city and a new country not knowing anyone. It’s actually a bit lonely but I keep telling myself that I felt like that in Auckland and met the most amazing people who completely made my trip. I’m sure it will only get better here too!
After soaking up the sun for a little while I headed back to the hostel and met the girls in my room. There was a Scottish girl from Greenock called Allanah, an English girl called Sarah and a Belgian girl called Coco – they all seemed lovely which made me instantly feel better. Allanah very kindly made me dinner so we had soup and crumpets and exchanged our travel stories.
That night we went out in the city – we first went to one of the travel shops who was holding a special night for backpackers with free wine and pizza! I met a really nice girl from Clapham called Millie who I might bump into further down the coast which will be nice!
From one freebie to another we into PJ O’Brians bar which was hosting ladies night. Being a lady meant we got one free drink at the bar and 5 free glasses of champagne – it was probably my cheapest night of my travels so far!
The night was so much fun and it was nice to get to know some people so quickly in the city!
The next morning was a difficultly early one as I was being picked up at 7am to start my journey up towards the Cape Tribulation and the Daintree Rainforest – the oldest rainforest in the world!
After boarding the bus outside the hostel and meeting our extremely eccentric driver, Ritchie, we hit the road and made our way to our first stop of the day; The Mossman Gorge. The drive to the gorge was up the world’s second most scenic road – I must admit I slept the entire way so my photos of the coastal drive are, erm, lacking.
On arrival to the gorge we met by a gentleman from the Kuku Yalanji tribe, the traditional owners of the land. He welcomed us to the country with a traditional smoke ceremony which is supposed to cleanse you before you enter their sacred land.
After being officially welcomed we headed to the Munjal Dinby – the crystal clear water which carves its way through the rocky gorge. This water is supposed to be the second clearest waterway in the world – I’m not so sure about that fact!
It was prefect swimming water and there was also time for a short walk around the area which was nice.
After an hour or so at the gorge we hopped back on the bus and made our way to our next stop off; a river cruise down the Daintree River and an opportunity to spot some of the Australian salt water crocodiles in the wild.
On the drive to the river we drove through countless sugar cane farms and Ritchie explained to us that sugar cane farming is the number one source of income on the East Coast (followed closely by tourism…) Ritchie explained the the towering stems of the sugar cane attract a plethora of wildlife, the most common being rodents sheltering from the burning sun. The presence of these rodents of course attracts snakes! Australia houses 7 of the world’s 10 most venomous snakes – back in the olden days sugar cane farming was on the most dangerous jobs in the country as one bite from a snake was likely to kill you within minutes. Apparently if a farmer was unfortunate enough to be bitten by a snake the easiest thing to do was to use the farming machete and cut off the limb which had been bitten – as you can imagine this job was not for the faint hearted! Luckily in today’s modern society farming equipment has come on leaps and bounds so the farmers can rest easy – and put down the old machete…
A couple of weeks ago whilst I was in New Zealand the news was for the large part centred around the story of a Kiwi woman who had (against all beach warnings) swam at the beach in the Daintree area and, as witnessed by her friend, was attacked and eaten by a crocodile. Only last week her remains were identified in the stomach of a crocodile caught just off the coast. We actually stopped off at that exact beach, Thornton Beach, where the attack took place during our journey. There are warnings all across the beach so she was crazy to go swimming in the first place! Crocodiles are a real threat here on the northern east coast hence the beachside lagoons for swimming.
After a quick coffee and some biscuits we all boarded the boat and started our cruise along the beautiful river. I bumped into Alannah from the hostel which was nice! It didn’t take long before we spotted a 4m crocodile taking shelter under the bushes. They are literally the craziest creatures and look exactly like they’ve been dragged straight out of the Jurassic era.
We saw three crocodiles on our cruise (including a baby which couldn’t have been more than about 30cm long!). Apparently crocodiles are extremely territorial creatures and one male will occupy a 1km stretch of water – if life wasn’t good enough for them, one male crocodile will mate with up to 8 females! They were the most amazing creatures to watch from the safety of the boat but I’m not sure you would ever catch me taking a quick paddle in those murky waters.
After surviving the croc cruise we drove up a little further and made our way to the Beach House on Cape Tribulation beach. History tells that when Captain James Cook was mapping the coastline of Australia his vessel ran into some trouble and they had to throw much of the ships contents into the ocean to alleviate some weight. This started with the heavy goods such as the cannons and ammunition however soon the boats reserve of rum was deposited in the depths. Apparently the next few weeks until the ship was repaired was a bleak period for the crew and so Captain James Cooke named the area Cape Tribulation to commemorate the trials and tribulations of this ‘dry’ period.
We had a great lunch out on the beach in the most beautiful surroundings. Cape Tribulation is a very rare dual heritage site due to the fact that the rainforest literally meets the reef on its crystal clear shores – this is the only place on earth where this union occurs so it was a pretty cool lunch stop!
Whilst at the Beach House I got my first introduction to some of Australia’s notorious wildlife. I met the hostels resident Children’s Python who I was assured was friendly (!) and saw some of the biggest spiders I have ever seen – they were literally the size of my hand! Argh!
Full up from lunch we headed to the cutest little ice cream shop – Floravilla which boasts 26 flavours of homemade, organic ice cream all made from ingredients grown in their own back yard.
I decided to try something a little different from my usual mint chocolate obsession and so tried the black sapote and coconut variety. The black sapote is a fruit which apparently tastes the exact same as chocolate pudding.
Now extremely full (!) we got back on our bus and made our way to the Marrdja Botanical Boardwalk through the World Heritage Listed, Daintree Rainforest – the oldest rainforest in the world! Our driver Ritchie was more than passionate about the rainforest and was the perfect guide telling us all about the flora and fauna and how the aboriginal tribes people used the plants properties in order to survive. Ritchie came out with some interesting views on western medicine and swore to us that the rainforest was able to cure diseases such as cancer, heart disease, cystic fibrosis and brain tumours just to name a few. As interesting as I find that sort of thing it does seem a little far fetched; perhaps I’m one of those ‘small minded individuals’ which keep the money hungry western doctors in business – according to Ritchie of course!
The rainforest was absolutely beautiful and it was so interesting to learn about Australia’s native wildlife.
After sweating it out in the rainforest we made our way across to the Alexandra lookout (‘Walu Wugirriga’) which gave us beautiful views right over the mouth of the Daintree River, along the coastline and put to the vast blue of the Coral Sea.
The sun was soon setting and we drove through the exclusive neighbourhoods of Port Douglas and Palm Beach before making our way back into Cairns.
That night I was completely exhausted! I had a catch up with the girls in my room and we popped out for dinner before crawling into bed at 9pm!
Tomorrow I’ll be boarding the Ocean Explorer ship and scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef!