A mini-break at Cairns

The waterfront at Cairns

It was supposed to be an all-girls chill-out – just my best friend and me, but the boys decided they wanted to come, too, so we booked flights and headed off to meet in Cairns, FNQ (Far North Queensland). Pete and I left on a respectable 10am flight. We had a slight scramble at Brisbane when we discovered our flight to Cairns was in ‘final boarding’ pretty much as soon as we got off our flight from Hervey Bay. We made it – but our luggage didn’t. This was all about mis-communication – the flight had been changed but we presented the piece of paper with the original flight, imagining that Qantas’s flight system would have had the correct details. Oh well. Luggage was delivered to the hotel in due course.

Sue and John had a rather longer flight from Perth, up at 3am to catch the plane to Sydney, wait for several hours, then fly to Cairns, arriving around 5pm. Dinner that night was pizza.

One of the fun things to do in Cairns is to take a ride up into the tablelands on a the historic railway, and come back down again on a Skyrail cable car after you’ve pottered around at the quaint little town of Kuranda. (or vice versa – here’s all the info) Kuranda is one of those very touristy places, with cafes and restaurants, and markets filled with didgeridoos, T shirts, postcards, artwork, tea towels, stuffed kangaroos… you get the picture. But it also has some other attractions, such as a bird sanctuary, a butterfly house, and a wildlife exhibition where you can get your picture taken holding a koala (for a price, of course). Here’s the Kuranda website.

On a warm humid day we caught the train up to Kuranda. It’s an old train with antique carriages where the air conditioning is you opening the windows. The train laboured up the steep gradients, passing through hand-dug tunnels and over bridges spanning deep gullies, the track curving so much several times we could see the end of the train from where we sat in carriage three.

Cairns from the train

We crept past Stoney Creek Falls thundering down the mountainside to the Barron River far below.

We also stopped for ten minutes at Barron Falls, which was just as disappointing this time as it had been on the other occasions I’ve been here. I think those waterfalls from close-up would be pretty spectacular, but they’re dwarfed by that mighty chasm. I expect that after heavy rain when the whole gorge is full of churning, roaring water, anyone standing on that viewing platform would get wet. All the way, we learned about how this railway line had been built in the 1880’s, opening in 1891. Here’s a little of the history. OH&S hadn’t been invented then. All the tunnels (there are fifteen) were dug by hand after initial blasting, and the workers were expected to bring their own tools. Many men died of disease, snake bite and accidents.

A close-up of part of Barron Falls

After we reached Kuranda we pottered around the markets for a while, then Sue and I headed for the bird sanctuary, a large, free-fly aviary with an assortment of native and exotic birds, many of them very friendly, especially if you brought in food (sold by the sanctuary). We were warned before we went in that the birds would be attracted to jewellery, buttons on caps and the like.

Here’s a selection of pictures.

Female eclectus parrot

After the bird park Sue and I wandered through the butterfly house. The enclosure is warm and very humid, the setting a beautiful tropical garden surrounding several pools. It was worth the admission just to enjoy the garden. Butterflies flittered around, sometimes settling on a leaf or a person, sometimes performing graceful duets in the air.

I’m pretty sure that’s a Cairns bird wing, largest butterfly in Australia

Later we found the boys (or they found us)  and we took the Skyrail cable car back down to sea level. There are several places on the way down where people can get off and look over the rain forest. It’s interesting comparing what you see going up in the train with the very different views from the cable cars and the board walks over the forest.

We hopped off the cable car at Red Peak, the journey’s highest point, and took a walk along a board walk through the top of the rain forest. Tour guides take groups along and explain the ecology, and you can admire the view for as long as you like before you jump back into a car to continue the journey to the viewing platform for Barron Falls.  I’d seen some pictures online from just a few weeks before, showing the falls thundering down into its gorge. It wasn’t doing that now. Still, there’s a weir at the top and the water is used for hydroelectricity, so not all the water comes down in normal circumstances.

Barron gorge. That’s the train on the opposite side to give context.

It had been a fairly long day for tired people. That night we relaxed over a few drinks,