Tropical Queensland: June 29 2008
Port Douglas is 34 miles Northwest of Cairns. A quick sail (June 17) and we were snug in the comfy Marina Mirage (www.marinamiragepd.com.au) with s/v Ultimate Dream two slips down - awesome. Port Douglas is the same latitude as Tahiti...and not surprisingly called...Tropical North Queensland...proud to be where the "Reef meets the Rainforest." The town is smaller than Cairns but charming....complete with tree-lined street dotted with chic boutiques, cafes and historic pubs. June 18 we took a local shuttle to the Sea Temple Resort and Spa (www.seatempleresorts.com) to be in the lobby when cousins Treva and Elena arrived from the states. They freshened up after their marathon travel and off we went to see the local area. A leisurely walk on the beach and a stroll through town...followed by dinner at On The Inlet (www.portdouglasseafood.com). The fun pre-dinner show was the feeding of George the Groper at 5.15pm. Wow - this guy is HUGE! A large, dead fish is tied onto a rope and dangled in the water...in saunters giant George...swish, swish, gulp, gulp...show's over. Dinner was delicious seafood on a wood deck overlooking the harbour entrance. Treva and Elena kept going all day in an effort to get body clocks onto Aussie time...good on 'em.
June 19 we went on a dinghy expedition looking for crocs up Dickson Inlet. Paddy, Kevin and Simba came along, too...the more eyes to spot the better. Sure enough...there were some crocs sunning on the mangrove banks. Yikes...and a few slid into the water as we passed by. Dinner was a grilling event on Barefeet before calling it a night after spotting the Southern Cross. June 20 was a day of snorkeling at Low Isles. Elena and Treva were already booked on a sailing catamaran so we simply followed them over in Barefeet. It was a warm, sunny day with gobs of underwater sea life; giant clams the size of coffee tables, lazy green turtles, coral in various shapes and colors...and, ashore, a small lighthouse established in 1878. The wind picked up in the afternoon which made for a zippy return to the marina slip...ah, snug again. Dinner tonight was aboard s/v Ultimate Dream. Paddy and Kevin had a full dressed table with crystal glasses and lace tablecloth. Food and conversation was a delight.
The Daintree and Cape Tribulation region is a World Heritage Area. The rainforests are the oldest continually surviving rainforests on earth, dating back more than 100 million years. The distance covered is vast which made joining a 4WD tour a great option (June 21). This was a full day from 8am to 6pm...covering all of the diverse bio-systems in the region. Joe, our driver, was a wealth of information and made periodic stops to better explain particular curiosities...including a taste of sugar cane juice directly from the field. The Mossman Gorge is dense rainforest that morphs into a boulder strewn river...complete with a swaying suspension bridge. From land to water and onto the Daintree River...discovered in 1873 with a length of 140 km. We oohhed and awed at the abundant wildlife along the shores seen from an open river boat...yes, including crocs. The crocs have become known to the boat drivers who have given them each a name...Fang, Fat Albert, Elizabeth and Scarface...all sunning themselves as we floated past. The Daintree Discovery Center (www.daintree-rec.com.au) was fantastic! The center has an aerial walkway snaking through the rainforest floor and a canopy tour (via a 75ft high viewing tower) that climbs through the rainforest and out the top of the canopy for viewing...spectacular. We also learned about a new Aussie critter...the cassowary. This large bird is aggressive and very strong...do not stop and say hello. Although weary, we finished the day with a special dinner at Nautilus Restaurant (www.nautilus-restaurant.com.au). This was like having dinner in a rainforest (see the theme of the day) with candles twinkling under a dense canopy of palms. The big hit was whole, fried coral trout...don't forget the cheeks...the tender delicacy of the entire fish. This was our last night with Elena and Treva and what a wonderful visit we had. Now they were off to the center of Oz, Ayer's Rock, and South...and we were off on a 3-night live aboard dive trip to the outer barrier reef.
While in Cairns Erin scampered around looking for a dive trip...hoping for 1) loads of scuba dives for Chris and 2) swim with whales for Erin (a mere 8-week window of opportunity). The Mike Ball Fly Dive trip looked to fit the bill (www.mikeball.com). Our luck was amazing...availability existed and a much reduced price for signing up within 10-days of the trip was given. We left Barefeet at the marina in Port Douglas (June 23)...hopping on a Sun Palm shuttle to Cairns at 3.30am...I guess we will sleep when we are dead?! The trip started with a small plane, low-level flight (just 5 passengers and the pilot below 200 meters) to help grasp the enormity and beauty of the Great Barrier Reef (even visible from outer space). The views were, indeed, spectacular. The plane deposited us at Lizard Island where we were whisked aboard m/v Spoilsport. The 100+ foot motor cat with 11 crew made for a luxurious experience...a bit rolly due to 30 knot winds...okay for Spoilsport but these conditions would have been untenable for Barefeet. We were glad we left the navigating and cooking to others. The first dive was at Cod Hole (S14'39.802 E145'39.828). Chris saw huge potato Cod...bigger than himself! Erin stayed aboard and read and got to know some of the fellow passengers. It seems Queensland Channel 7 is filming a show on our trip...nice folks and we might even show up on the episode as they filmed us having lunch. To be televised sometime after the Olympics...September-ish.
Day 2 (June 24) was solely dedicated to finding Dwarf Minke Whales...Erin was very excited! Dwarf Minke Whales were just discovered in the mid-1980s and information is still sketchy about them. One of the passengers on our trip was a PhD student studying these whales, Arnold. Arnold filled us with information and awe for these beautiful creatures (www.reef.crc.org.au)...from realizing that their body markings are as unique as a fingerprint, that behaviour such as "belly presentation" and "motor boating" may occur, size averages 25 feet...and on and on. Just near the Lighthouse Bomie (S14'52.525 E145'41.410) we were in luck. It was an amazing experience! Whales seemed as plentiful as fireflies on a summer evening...15 counted in all. We simply hung onto a rope trailed behind the anchored boat in mask and snorkel and watched. Wow - 30 knots of wind on the surface made photos tricky. However, giving up was not an option as the whales came within 3 feet of us...above and below and even head-on face first. Erin was positively giddy with excitement and giggling between sightings. These critters slowly passed and never once instilled fear (in Erin). Chris and Erin saw both "belly presentation" and "motor boating" behaviour. The whales stayed for hours...becoming more and more curious as time went by. We got out for a quick warm up before going back in again. Awesome! Chris finished the day with a night dive... (Chris - The night dive was something else. You have to understand that diving at night is a completely dark experience. 40 feet under there in NO ambient light, so your flashlight is the only thing going. All of a sudden, BIG fish (3 feet long at least) came whipping out of everywhere - even bumping you in their frenzy. They were "GT's", or giant trevally. Evidently, they LOVE divers at night, because the dive lights illuminate their food. In other words, every time you would flash your light on some poor little fish to see what he looks like, the GT's would go BAM, and eat him! Finally got to feel a bit guilty with my "spot light of murder" and turned it off. Of course, than you can see nothing and it is a bit scary ... ).
Day 3 (June 25) was an open deck (dive as much as you like) afternoon at Flare Point (S15'30.778 E145'46.616)...lionfish galore and colorful coral. Back aboard and it was Aussie BBQ night for dinner before steaming back to Cairns through the night. Erin was a bit fragile after some sea sickness but tablets helped to minimize the nausea. Oh well...nice to have others on night watch tonight. Back in Cairns and back onto the Sun Palm shuttle for Port Douglas (June 26). Kevin and Paddy are still around...the 35 knot wind kept everyone in port...even the big boat reef day-trips. We were lucky.
Back at the marina and sundowners for catching up are a must. Everyone has eyes on the weather...looking and hoping for a decrease in wind speed. It looks like Sunday/Monday will be good so we are all in provisioning and cleaning mode. Most itineraries expect island hops with little to no facilities as we all meander North. Days are filled with diesel fueling, food shopping (yes, even meat in the freezer), grog shopping at bottle shops, laundry, etc. and evenings at the local fish and chip spot with live music on the dock. Sunday is the big market day for crafts and fresh produce. All topped up and even managed to purchase a lovely straw basket for the overflow potatoes and onions...of course we need another basket. Kevin and Paddy headed out early Sunday morning (June 29) and their slip seems soooo empty without them in it. No worries, we expect to cross paths again in a few days at Lizard. Barefeet got a wash and Erin got the log updated amongst several other tasks...busy, busy.