Tag Archives: Cairns

Crocodiles and coastal scenery

For our penultimate day at Cairns we hired a car so we could do some touring in our own time. Just the drive from Cairns up towards Port Douglas is worthwhile. The mountains rise up virtually from the ocean, with only a narrow strip of flat ground before the beach. The road is commensurately narrow, snaking around the coastline and affording wonderful views up the coast.

We were on our way for a visit to  Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures, a crocodile farm and zoo for a close-up look at Australia’s greatest predator.

Looks peaceful – but there are 21 crocs in that lagoon

Salt water crocodiles are ancient, clever, sneaky, and as far as they’re concerned, humans are just another sort of meat. Crocodile hunting was banned in the 1970’s because their numbers were so low. They were an easy target and their skins were worth a fortune – so much of a fortune that they were nearly wiped out. Since then, they’ve re-established themselves with a vengeance and become a tourist drawcard. So we went to look at crocs, as you do. This link will give you detailed information about the species. For Americans, alligators are similar in appearance to salties, but they don’t get as big. Here’s a comparison between alligators and salties. A four-metre alligator is big, a saltie has a way to go. According to the rangers, alligators are also not as nasty.

In Australia we call the salt water, or estuarine, crocodiles salties. The name is misleading because ‘salt water’ crocodiles can live very happily in fresh water, as well as in the ocean. In the wild they can become very large, and a danger to people and livestock. A big croc will take a cow, let alone a dog, a kangaroo, or a man. Farmers can’t shoot them anymore, but rangers will trap them and relocate them to a croc farm, where the big boys will live out their years making baby crocs. You might think it would be enough to relocate the big males to a different, uninhabited part of the world but scientists have discovered that crocs will find their way home just like birds and other animals. Here’s an interesting article about a croc relocated from on side of Cape Yorke Peninsula to the other and went home, swimming 400 kilomteres around the Cape to get there.

Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures used to have one male (Ted) who was over five metres long – the second largest croc in captivity. They reckon he was around one hundred and three years old. He’d lost all but one of his teeth and one eye, and the eye he did have was blind. He died of natural causes several months ago. Last time we came here we were told about a four and half metre male called Snappy Tom, which was caught on the golf links at Port Douglas, where it had taken to lunging at golfers. The ranger also told us about one big male (Spartacus) who had been placed into solitary confinement after he’d bitten off one female’s leg. Bottom line: crocs are not nice. Every big saltie has bits missing – tail, claws, teeth. They fight for females and territory, the females fight to protect their nests. They grow up ornery. They’ve also evolved to handle injury. The female croc which had her leg bitten off is just fine without any need for antibiotics or bandages. And then there was Douglas. He was captured at Port Douglas. The thing about him is he has no teeth. We were told crocs will go through forty sets of teeth and more in the course of their lives but Douglas doesn’t have any. They don’t know why his teeth haven’t grown – but it doesn’t seem to have set him back,

Crocs are harvested when they reach 1.8m (6 ft)

We were taken to see the croc farm where salties are raised for leather used for handbags, belts, and the like. There’s a demand in Asia for top quality hides to be made into handbags that sell for as much as $38,000. (Pass) The meat is used, too, and any leftovers are ground down for fertiliser, so there’s no wastage. Our guide told us it’s the same as running a beef property, or a chicken farm. The animals are raised as a commodity.

We were taken for a boat ride on the lagoon. It’s shady and dirty, perfect for the twenty-one crocodiles who live in there. They behave as they would in the wild, and any eggs the females lay are collected for the farm, where they are incubated at 33 degrees. Our boat guide told us that most of the babies are male, but the incubation temperature is more about getting healthy crocs. Half a degree either way makes a difference.

Crocodile at Cairns

Our guide brought along food (chicken heads and wings) so the reptiles would actually show up. They are usually stealth hunters, sneaking up and lunging. But they can move very fast, and jump quite high. And of course, they knew to expect a meal. They’re smart. Up in Northern Australia the bushmen will tell you never to go fishing at the same spot three nights in a row. If you go back that third time, there’ll be a croc waiting for you.

After the boat trip the rangers showed us salties in a different setting where we could get a better feel for their size and speed. That’s a female croc, and she’s not especially big. Quite often the guide would lure a croc in, then whip the food away before it could be taken. It might sound horrid, like Lucy lifting up the football when Charlie Brown takes a kick, but crocs, being poikilothermic, don’t need a lot of food. A chicken a week is plenty for a large male. It’s more about keeping the animals active and alleviating boredom in a captive environment.

Douglas – note no teeth

The jaws are very powerful. They kill by grabbing hold of the prey and drowning it, rolling over in the water.

After a quick look around some of the other animals in Hartley’s zoo, we drove down to Palm Cove so John and Sue could see the magnificent paperbarks growing up through the buildings. We grabbed a sandwich for lunch, then drove back towards Cairns, stopping off at the intriguingly named Yorkeys Knob. It turned out to be a beach suburb with a prominent headland. ‘Yorkeys Knob, or “The Knob”, as it is affectionately called, receives its name from both a natural topographical feature and a British immigrant from Yorkshire, named George Lawson, who lived in the area in the late 1800s. Because of his Yorkshire origins, locals gave Lawson the nickname “Yorkey”.’ [1] There’s some very expensive real estate on that headland with some amazing views.

That night we had dinner at C’est Bon, a French restaurant not far from our hotel. It was nice, but we all agreed the wonderful dinner we had at Dundee’s, on Cairn’s waterfront, the previous evening was better. Tomorrow we’d all be going home.

 

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,

 

Time to go home

Sunset from the train. We’ll be home around sunrise.

Sunday was to be our last day in Cairns. Pete and I passed on the half-day city tour – we’d been up this way for a week just a few weeks before and we thought we’d like to check out the city for ourselves. There’s some lovely colonial architecture in the streets beyond the esplanade along the foreshore, and lots of restaurants and shops selling anything from massage to T shirts to local arts and crafts. We ventured as far as the shopping centre next to the railway station, then meandered back, soaking up the relaxed sub-tropical atmosphere. I’m sorry I missed the Cairns Botanical garden – it’s reported to be a lovely place, and the markets were on there.

We went into one arts and crafts shop, attracted by a magnificent bronze sculpture of two humpback whales. Out of our price range, and we really don’t need any more dust-gatherers. However, it was fun chatting to the lady at the counter. She had a very positive feeling about the outlook for Cairns. This time of year was the lull before the busy times, when the Japanese and the Chinese have holiday breaks. Here’s a bit of info about Cairns. With pictures. We didn’t take any this day.

Although Cairns is built next to the sea, the bay itself is pretty uninspiring, especially at low tide. They’ve built a great beach pool which is popular with adults and kids alike. It was great to see families enjoying the surroundings.

We walked up to the ferry terminal, where we’d gone for our boat trip the previous evening. The Pier shopping centre surrounds a hotel and right around the wide veranda restaurants offered a variety of cuisines. It was one option for tonight’s dinner. We’d decided to forego the tour’s dinner, preferring to do what we were doing now – getting a feel for the city.

Later that evening, after a drink at the Rattle and Hum pub, we went to pick a restaurant. One we’d had in mind, up at the Pier complex, was by now a jumpin’ venue for the junior dance crowd. Pass. None of the other restaurants appealed, so we headed into the back streets to look at a few of the places we’d passed earlier in the day. We picked one and sat outside on the pavement with a burger, fish ‘n chips, and a glass of wine/beer. Perfect.

The following morning we were back on the train. That 20kg limit for a bag is strictly adhered to; one woman was turned away to take 1.3kg out of her suitcase. She would have put the items in her carry-on. Um…

At least this time we got to see some scenery. Rainforest at first, then cane fields, pasture, wetlands in between stops. After dinner Pete and I elected not to turn our beds down. We hadn’t slept last time, and this time we were getting off at 4:57. Needless to say, we woke up at every stop to check the time, and a couple of hours before arriving we didn’t even bother trying to go back to sleep. We rolled into the station about half an hour late, and were home by 6:30 (approximately). Huge thanks to our mate and neighbour, Bruce, for hauling himself out of bed well before sparrow fart to come and pick us up.

Looks like a bit of storm damage in that paddock

Australian white ibises startled off a wetland

Serious wetland in late afternoon

A ploughed field, mackerel cloud

The sun has set – but the sky show’s not over. Look at the header picture

Thanks for coming with us. I hope you enjoyed the trip as much as we did.

Back to Kuranda

Halfway to Kuranda, looking back at Cairns

Last time we were in Cairns we took the trip up to Kuranda, a tourist village at the top of the mountains, via cable car going up, and by the Kuranda scenic railway going down. This time, we were driven up a steep, winding road to the village, with a short stop at a lookout over the Barron Gorge. Like last time, I was struck by the size of the chasm the river had carved over the eons. But the several waterfalls, which were probably quite substantial in reality, looked like trickles in comparison.

I wrote a blog about our last visit to Kuranda and it’s probably worth reading it (here’s the link) to give you a comparison to this one. For a start, the weather was completely different, being actually fairly cool, and with low humidity, as opposed to last time’s sultry conditions. The rain that had lashed the coast still threatened here and there, but ended up to be no more than a couple of showers. Perhaps for that reason the village was much less crowded.

It’s a DC3, but it didn’t crash here. It was a prop for a film, and moved here as something to look at

All in all, we’d seen most of it last time. We’d been to the walk-in aviary to see the birds, weren’t all that interested in the other animal displays, so we mooched around enjoying the atmosphere and talking to the locals. Pete’s good at that. While I was taking pictures of the DC3 above, Pete was talking to a man selling ice cream from a van. He was about our vintage, an old sailor who had served on HMAS Sydney (the third one) and he knew his naval history. He mentioned HMAS Sydney 1, which sank the German raider Emden in WW1, and HMAS Sydney 2 which sank, and was sunk by, the German raider Kormoran in WW2.

We found a gemstone and fossil museum and went down to take a look. It was fascinating. The owner had turned his hobby into a job and he was more than happy to tell us about the copy of an allosaurus skeleton guarding his shop. Needless to say, he has ammonites and coprolites and all the usual pretty stuff like amethyst and agate.

There’s a distinct German flavour to parts of Kuranda. One shop sells German small goods, including a few varieties of German sausage served in various ways for lunch. I opted for käseknacker served in a hot dog roll with fried onions, no sauerkraut, eaten with fingers. Pete, always much classier, had his sausage on a plate with German potato salad and sauerkraut, eaten with a knife and fork.

Kuranda is full of arcades and stalls selling souvenirs, clothes, books – you name it. Pete bought a recipe book for “Indian style” food, and I couldn’t go past a bag with a baby elephant on it. I don’t need another bag – I’ll frame the picture.

Eventually we headed for the train to travel back to Cairns. This was much more comfortable than the sauna-like conditions we endured last time, when every seat on the train was filled. We had an entire carriage almost to ourselves, maybe 25 people in all. We were in the classier service, too, drinking several glasses of champagne and munching on salted macadamia nuts as the train eased its way down the mountain.

The train’s locomotives are decorated with the indigenous people’s Dreamtime story of the origin of the gorge. You can read it here.

After we were returned to the hotel, Pete and I went for a wander. The Mantra Esplanade Hotel has seen better days, but it’s in a great location, right at the start of Cairns’s food and entertainment district. Restaurants and bars, dive and tour shops, and souvenir places line the street. Every kind of restaurant imaginable is along there, offering food from cheap and filling to Masterchef stuff. There’s also a wonderful place called the Night Markets where you can pick up all sorts of tourist bargains as well as take away food from stalls. We found a T shirt shop selling T shirts for as little as $8 – they had stitched designs as well as the usual stuck on patterns and – get this – they were made in Australia. I bought 3.

Dinner that night was at another sporting club offering a seafood buffet. It was an improvement on the previous evening, but frankly we would have preferred to stroll down the Esplanade in town to see what caught our fancy, at our own expense. It’s much more fun and involves you in the life of the city. Organised eating is fine when there’s little to no choice, like in an outback pub.

We’d come across plenty of those in the rest of our journey.

Australia’s cuddliest critter (not)

Would you believe not all of Australia’s animals are cute and cuddly? You would, wouldn’t you? The place is crawling with lethal snakes, deadly spiders, murderous little octopuses, excruciatingly painful jellyfish… It’s all true, of course, but it’s pretty much a case of if you leave them alone, they leave you alone.

But not salt water crocodiles.

They’re ancient, clever, sneaky, and as far as they’re concerned, you’re just another sort of meat. Crocodile hunting was banned in the 1970’s because their numbers were so low. They were an easy target and their skins were worth a fortune – so much of a fortune that they were nearly wiped out. Since then, they’ve re-established themselves and become a tourist drawcard. So we went to look at crocs, as you do. This link will give you detailed information about the species.

See that lump of wood just under that overhanging foliage? That’s Ted’s snout

In Australia we call the salt water, or estuarine, crocodiles salties. The name is misleading because ‘salt water’ crocodiles can live very happily in fresh water, as well as in the ocean. In the wild they can become very large, and a danger to people and livestock. A big croc will take a cow, let alone a dog, a kangaroo, or a man. Farmers can’t shoot them anymore, but rangers will trap them and relocate them to a croc farm, where the big boys will live out their years making baby crocs. Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures, where we went to see crocodiles, has one male (Ted) who is over five metres long – the second largest croc in captivity. They reckon he’s around one hundred years old, he’s lost all but one of his teeth and one eye, and the eye he does have is blind. It seems he still enjoys the mating season, though. We were told that one of the park’s most recent additions, a four and half metre male called Snappy Tom, was caught on the golf links at Port Douglas, where it had taken to lunging at golfers. The ranger also told us about one big male who had been placed into solitary confinement. He’d taken to attacking the females, and ended up killing one. Bottom line: crocs are not nice. For Americans, alligators are similar in appearance to salties, but they don’t get as big. A four-metre alligator is big, a saltie has a way to go. According to the rangers, they’re also not as nasty. Every big saltie has bits missing – tail, claws, teeth. They fight for females and territory, the females fight to protect their nests. They grow up ornery.

In the short time we were in Cairns it became obvious that crocodiles are becoming a growing problem. I read a heart-wrenching story about a man whose elderly dog was taken from the shallows. He’d thrown a stick for her, just a couple of feet. As she was coming back he saw a bow wave behind her – and that was that. A spearfisherman was taken by a 4.8 metre croc. And an imbecile escaped with his life after trying to impress a girl. Seems this 18yo idiot told a backpacker that crocs only took tourists and jumped into the Johnstone River to prove it. He no sooner hit the water when a big croc latched on to his arm. He managed to escape with a badly lacerated arm, but apparently his brain cells are as bad as ever – he said he’d do it again. Keep an eye out for him in the Darwin Awards. Here’s the story from the news.

These guys are destined to be handbags.

At Hartleys we were taken to see the croc farm where male salties are raised for mainly leather used for handbags, belts, and the like. There’s a demand in Asia for top quality hides to be made into handbags that sell for as much as $38,000. (Pass) The meat is used, too, and any leftovers are ground down for fertiliser, so there’s no wastage. Our guide told us it’s the same as running a beef property, or a chicken farm. The animals are raised as a commodity.

Boat on the lagoon at Hartley’s. There are crocs in that water

We were taken for a boat ride on the lagoon. It’s shady and dirty, perfect for the twenty-one crocodiles who live in there. They behave as they would in the wild, and any eggs the females lay are collected for the farm, where they are incubated at just the right temperature so the hatchlings are all male. Our guide brought along food (chicken heads and wings) so the reptiles would actually show up. They are usually stealth hunters, sneaking up and lunging. But they can move very fast, and jump quite high. And of course, they knew to expect a meal. They’re smart. Up in Northern Australia the bushmen will tell you never to go fishing at the same spot three nights in a row. If you go back that third time, there’ll be a croc waiting for you.

After the boat trip the rangers showed us salties in a different setting where we could get a better feel for their size and speed. That’s a female croc, and she’s not specially big.

The jaws are very powerful. They kill by grabbing hold of the prey and drowning it, rolling over in the water.

And then on to the freshies.

Don’t try this with a saltie

Australia has two croc species. So far, I’ve talked about the salt water crocodile. Fresh water, or Johnson River, crocodiles are a very different beast. They’re smaller, are much more docile, and their skins are worthless for the leather trade. This croc is like most Australian critters – leave it alone and it will leave you alone. Poke it with your foot (as one tourist apparently did) and it might get upset. After all, it’s still a crocodile. The ranger is in there amongst the freshies – he would not do this with a saltie. That would win him a Darwin award.

The resident buck – an Eastern Grey

A couple of wallabies – like Alan (see below)

Hartley’s park has quite a few other animals, too. This is another place where you can get your picture taken with a koala, or if you prefer, a python or a baby crocodile (no doubt with its jaws taped shut – they’re born nasty). We decided to look at the kangaroos and wallabies instead. Like most zoos, these marsupials are housed in a walk-in compound. Many are tame enough for tourists to approach. On our way out through the double gates we noticed someone hand feeding a wallaby. The man walked away but the wallaby hung around and we noticed a sign with a photo of a wallaby. “My name is Alan. Don’t let me sneak through the gates” or words to that effect. We figured Alan must have escaped from the roo enclosure, so we let him back in and went on our way to photograph birds of prey. While Pete, Sandy and I thought we’d done the right thing with Alan, Col wasn’t so sure. Maybe we shouldn’t have let him into the compound. We all poo-pooed that. After all, shouldn’t a wallaby be with the other wallabies?

On our way back from the aviary we came upon a ranger and Col asked him about Alan. “We keep Alan out of there,” the ranger explained. “He’s antisocial and chases everybody.” Admitting nothing, we went back through the roo enclosure – and there was Alan, chasing a female kangaroo that must have been three times his size. Oops.

Oh well. As we pointed out to the ranger, the sign wasn’t clear.

Let’s finish with a couple of the lovely raptors in the bird enclosure – another walk-through environment.

Dozing. Of course. An Australian sooty owl

A brown goshawk