Fair Warning: this is my last travel post from our six week vacation and it is a LONG one.
After our kanga/koala day trip excursion, we tried to get ahold of our travel agent, but it was a Sunday night. Our Qantas flight up to Cairns Airport had not been canceled. We were seeing reports of a Cyclone (Cyclone Debbie) off the coast of Eastern Australia that could potentially hit as far north as Port Douglas, but more likely would hit our end-of-the-week destination, Hamilton Island. We decided there was nothing we could do at the moment, so we continued on as planned. We flew to Cairns without incident and were driven north to Thala Beach Nature Reserve where we were scheduled for three nights.
After some waiting and a free arrival drink, we haphazardly found our way to our room. At check in they had offered to escort us, but they were taking a while, and we were fairly well melting in the heat and humidity of the North Queensland Tropical Rainforest. This photo is from their website, but it is an accurate representation of our room/deck. All the rooms are independent little cabin/treehouses.
This is the actual view from our room looking south to the Coral Sea.
View from the restaurant at Thala Beach Nature Reserve.
All day, every day the restaurant was surrounded by so many birds, but the rainbow lorikeet were by far the most colorful. (photo credit: thalabeach.com.au)
The first night at dusk we were absorbed in a presentation by a local aboriginal speaking about natural plants and how they are used by the native people as cures for all sorts of ailments and diseases, when I noticed this amazing pink sunset.
The following day we had an excursion planned to Kuranda, a small town in the rainforest outside Cairns. Our tour included a Skyrail ride over the top of the rainforest to Kuranda.
I wasn’t sure what to expect of Kuranda, it looked really touristy from the brochure we were given at the skyrail office down in Cairns. We walked around a bit. It was excruciatingly hot in the rainforest at this time as the cyclone was pushing all kinds of hot air up into North Queensland from the desert. By this time we were hearing that the cyclone would not venture as far north as Cairns or Port Douglas, but it was set to hit Hamilton Island (and the surrounding areas) really hard. We were in wait-and-see mode. The travel agent from the U.S. had contacted us and told us their liaisons in Australia would call us shortly. Turns out, they never did, but for the moment we were focused on Kuranda, and staying hydrated, and finding something to do for the 2-3 hours before our train was scheduled to depart back to Cairns.
Kuranda Village (photo credit: skyrail.com.au)
Kuranda Village felt a bit like a cruise ship town in the middle of the tropical rainforest. Souvenirs galore. We did some window shopping and then I came across the artist’s gallery from which we would purchase that piece for the beach house. Here’s another look at it.
All his pieces tell a story about the natural topography, plant life, bird life, etc… of his home. This week, I finalized the specifics with the artist for the bigger commissioned piece, which will hang in my loft/studio. Now I just have to wait for him to create it. Did I mention it will be 4′ tall by 7′ wide? I am so excited.
While I was perusing the map of Kuranda Village, I noticed there was a Koala Garden near the gallery and, the opportunity to hold a Koala. I am not enamored with zoos and animals kept in captivity, but my desire to hold a Koala overpowered my politically correct nature and I figured… when in Australia…
Harvey the Koala. Look at that adorable speckled bum! He was so soft and cuddly. What a sweetheart. Don’t bother mentioning my double chin and my old lady underarm flubber… 😉 reminiscing about holding Harvey and sharing my sheer joy at the experience was worth throwing my vanity out the window! 🙂
Here is what these Koalas do when not being held and cuddled by chubby middle aged ladies! These are my kind of creatures.
The park also had lots of other hoppy, pouch bearing animals. This little wallaby was very friendly.
Eventually, after meeting a really special artist, and hanging out with some adorable marsupials, it was time to catch the Kuranda Scenic Railway back to Cairns.
Chugging through the North Queensland Rainforest at Barron Gorge.
Gorgeous Stoney Creek Falls.
The Kuranda Railway.
Resting our weary feet.
A much needed snack back at Thala Beach Nature Reserve before a walk down to the beach.
The beach at the resort.
So, we took our walk before dusk, which I guess was lucky for us as we found out later in the week that there are crocs in and about the water here at dusk. I am pretty surprised no one warned us and there were no signs. I guess it is just common knowledge in that area that there are crocs in the rivers and the creeks and the oceans. Yikes!
The beach hut at Thala Beach Nature Reserve.
The next day, Wednesday, we were getting a bit antsy as we had not heard from the Australia travel agent and we had no idea what was happening with our Hamilton Island Resort. We knew the storm had set down in the area of where we were headed, but we had no idea what the damage was, mainly because phone service was out down there. We took the shuttle from our resort into Port Douglas and headed into a travel agency to see if they could give us any information. We ended up finding out that our resort had been hit heavily and they would be closed for at least three to four months. Strange that our flight down had not been canceled yet. The agent called Qantas and they confirmed that they were in the process of canceling all flights to the Islands.
We had some choices, but at this point, the original travel agency had our money. We figured we would be given the opportunity to stay at Thala, but we were kind of wanting a change at that point. Our last few days were scheduled to be spent relaxing by the pool or beach at a luxurious full service resort and spending one day out at the great barrier reef. What to do, what to do. The Sheraton was the nicest Port Douglas beach resort and the travel agent was warning us that it probably wasn’t going to be up to what we were expecting. It was not in the same class with the resort we had booked at Hamilton Island.
She suggested we look into Silky Oaks Lodge. Another North Queensland location, deeper in the rainforest, but a more luxurious resort. We ended up calling directly the agent that was supposed to have been working with us, but whom we had not heard from and she did end up booking the Lodge for us and they also comped us a Daintree forest day excursion for Saturday. We then went and booked a catamaran day trip to the Great Barrier Reef for Friday, and we were set.
After finally getting ourselves locked in for the next few days, we walked down to four mile beach in Port Douglas. We were thinking about hanging out at the beach for the afternoon, but it was SO HOT. Over 100 degrees. We spent a good part of our days Down Under applying sunscreen. What with the hole in the ozone layer directly above them and all. It was take your breath away hot, burn yourself in five minutes hot, so we went into town for lunch instead and then headed back to our resort. This beach in Port Douglas is beautiful, but the reason for the roped off area: stingers. This time of year there are deadly stinging jelly fish along the shores and they have to net off areas, and remove the stingers, in order for people to swim and play safely. Unless you want to wear a full on stinger proof body suit, then go for it, but watch out for crocs and sharks.
Thursday morning we headed to Silky Oaks Lodge in the Daintree Rainforest.
Lobby photo courtesy of Silky Oaks Lodge website.
Photo of the lodge rooms from the river. Photo courtesy of Queensland.com
Our room, the Billabong Suite.
Our resident spider lady, just outside the bathroom window. With leg span she was about a foot in diameter with a five foot web around her. Nothing was getting by her. We were grateful she liked to stay outside.
The lodge pool photo courtesy of Silky Oaks website.
The view from our room just before it started pouring rain and all the power went out in the entire resort. Our room went from a comfortable 75 degrees to about 95 degrees in 15 minutes flat. Dinner in the fancy restaurant was an interesting affair, but of course we didn’t starve. The power came back on, thankfully, by the time we returned from dinner.
Friday was all about The Great Barrier Reef. We had to see the reef. I cannot imagine going to Australia and not seeing the reef, but it is true that some of the reef is dying off. There are lots of areas where the coral life is still thriving, but we weren’t prepared to go that far out and I am still not comfortable snorkeling, but we thoroughly enjoyed our catamaran ride out to and our relaxing afternoon at Low Isles.
Low Isles is adorable, if islands can be called adorable.
Low Isles beach, North Queensland Australia.
We walked all around the island, which is truthfully quite tiny. We spotted lots of fish, and birds and a little black tipped shark swimming next to us in the shallow waters. It was lovely. Those that did go snorkeling had to wear the full stinger proof suits from head to toe. We took the little glass bottom boat tour and saw the requisite tropical fish and a big sea turtle swam next to the Catamaran.
Low Isles lighthouse with two Osprey sitting on the rail and their big nest up on top.
We took a guided walking tour of the interior of the island and learned some fun plant and birdlife facts. We also learned that this was the small island where they transported Steve Irwin’s body to try and revive him after he was stung by the stingray in 2006. He was pronounced dead on arrival.
Our final full day in North Queensland was dedicated to intimately exploring the Daintree Rainforest. There were five of us on the tour including the guide. Our first stop was to Walu Wugirriga (lookout).
It is incredibly difficult to see, but in the above picture, there are dozens of these gorgeous electric blue butterflies in and amongst the tropical plant life. They are called the Ulysses Butterfly and are only found here on the Northeast Coast of Australia. They were all over the resort as well.
These birds are the endangered Cassowary, also native to the Daintree Forest. They are nearly extinct and very difficult to sight. I’m glad we didn’t see any as they are considered the most dangerous bird in the world.
We visited the Daintree Tea Plantation, but I was most enamored with this cross shaped spider web made by the St. Andrews Cross Spider.
Thornton Beach with view of storm brewing at Cape Tribulation.
Our guide then drove us to the Noah Valley area of Daintree Rainforest and gave us a little lesson on spotting poisonous snakes before we embarked on our proper forest hike. Our guide is a snake expert. He was actually excited to potentially spot a poisonous snake. I was not so excited. Thankfully we did not spot any snakes.
Our guide took a photo of the inside of this host tree. It is very cool looking, but there was no way I was sticking my hand up in there after our snake lesson.
After our rainforest hike and learning all about the types of trees indigenous to the area, we headed to Cape Tribulation:
Cape Tribulation was named by British navigator Lieutenant James Cook on 10 June 1770 (log date) after his ship scraped a reef north east of the cape, whilst passing over it, at 6pm. Cook steered away from the coast into deeper water but at 10.30pm the ship ran aground, on what is now named Endeavour Reef. The ship stuck fast and was badly damaged, desperate measures being needed to prevent it foundering until it was refloated the next day. Cook recorded “…the north point [was named] Cape Tribulation because here begun all our troubles”. (Wikipedia)
I have always been fascinated by mangroves, but this is the closest I have been to these interesting bushes.
Staghorn Fern epiphyte growing on a mangrove bush. I fell in love with this fern and then we returned home to the beach house to find that our designer had left a gorgeous house plant on our kitchen counter that includes a Staghorn Fern. ❤
Cape Tribulation Beach.
Peppermint Stick Bugs. A unique bug only found in a few places on earth and the Daintree Forest is one of them. When disturbed, the bugs emit a milky substance that smells like peppermint. First, they are the most beautiful color, and then they emit something that smells divine. Not exactly great defense mechanisms against the likes of me.
After visiting Cape Tribulation we ventured back to Noahs Valley for a delicious outdoor lunch and another short hike. This time down to a gorgeous swimming hole. It was raining (in the rainforest, imagine that–still 90+ degrees) so we opted not to swim, we were plenty wet already.
Swimming hole at Noah Creek.
After our post lunch hike, we headed to the Daintree River to see if we could spot some crocodiles.
Croc hunting on the Daintree.
We did see a few crocodile, including this bad boy.
After our tour, on our last night in the rainforest, we decided to check out the swimming hole at Silky Oaks Lodge.
Silky Oaks Lodge Beach Billabong (river pool) on the Mossman River. We went in, but Blue Eyes was incredibly uncomfortable after all the snake and croc talk that day. Many of the rivers in North Queensland are inhabited by crocodile. This area of this river is not, but Blue Eyes didn’t spend a lot of time in the water. He wasn’t taking any chances.
Stock photo from the Silky Oaks Lodge website of the beach billabong. It really is THAT beautiful!
The next morning we were back to Cairns for our uneventful flight back to Sydney Airport, and our eventual flights back home. I was really worried about the 13 1/2 hour flight from Sydney to Los Angeles, but the flight was actually quite comfortable. I had opted for a small upcharge to Premium Economy on Virgin Australia. We had lots of leg room, entertainment galore, and our meals were actually served on real china. Totally worth it. Jet lag turned out to be a real bitch, but considering we had an amazing six weeks, I’m not complaining (anymore, ;)).