Richard's Travels

Tales from the Southern hemisphere

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Tuesday: Cairns

I guess it was because the flights to Cairns from Alice Springs yesterday were cancelled, but my flight was rescheduled for later in the day, and when I finally got to the airport, it was delayed even more. However, I eventually arrived in Cairns. I found a hostel from the airport, then got picked up and checked in. As we drove through Cairns, I could see trees blown over in quite a few places, but no other real damage. Cairns got off lightly with the damage, just receiving some high winds.

Once I checked in, I just spent the rest of the evening walking around Cairns. Many of the hostels here provide vouchers for meals in a couple of the bars. Although the meals aren't exactly great, you can pay extra to have proper food. A steak for A$6 isn't too bad!

One of the guys in my dorm was a divemaster working for one of the dive companies, and I found out from him that the visibility in the water wasn't great. I was hoping it would improve with each day I left it, as I was in Cairns primarily to do a diving trip!

Wednesday: Around Cairns

Upon talking to the hostel staff, it became apparent that the damage from the cyclone was worse than I thought. Although Cairns had not really been affected, towns south of Cairns (mainly Innisfall, but also Mission beach) had been hit quite hard. With the high volume of rain that the cyclone had brought, the main roads south had become flooded and the buses running south were not running. This was my planned route out of Cairns!

I spent the day walking around Cairns, visiting travel agents and trying to find some good deals on a trip to Cape Tribulation and a dive liveaboard. However, due to there being another cyclone off the coast and headed inland, I was also considering further options of flying to Brisbane and working my way overland back up to Cairns in the hope that the sea will have settled by the time I got back. However, this would require me to buy 2 extra flights as I'd have to get back to Brisbane at the end. I did actually decide to fly, but then realised this too late to book the ticket. In the end I just booked a 2 day trip to cape tribulation to do tomorrow instead, hoping that things would have settled by the time I got back.

Thursday-Friday: Cape Tribulation

I was picked up today to go on a bus trip upto Cape Tribulation, an area of tropical rainforest along the coast north of Cairns. The day began driving along the Cook Highway, with nice ocean views along the way. At the end of this, we took a smaller road and ended up at a river crossing. While the bus went across the river on a ferry, we took a boat trip down the river with the intend of finding crocodiles. Although it wasn't the best season to find crocs, we eventually found one sitting on a bank, and further along a female in the water next to some babies!

Back on the bus, we carried on heading north. It soon became apparent that this area had also received high rainfall, as some of the many creeks crossing beneath the road had risen to flow over the road. The first one we came to was preceeded by a line of cars unwilling to try their luck with the fast flowing water. The depth markers indicated 40cm of water. Our bus was fine though - obviously intended to do this sort of stuff! I did wonder how high the water had to be before the bus wouldn't go through!

Cape Tribulation is an area of tropical rainforest, where many areas of land had been given to veterans as somewhere to live. Some of these areas of land have been converted for tourist use, by the owners or by the government. We went for a walk around the rainforest, seeing mangroves and lots of other plants. And a very big spider! By this time people were starting to get bitten quite a lot by mosquitos, so we headed back to the bus to finish our journey. By lunchtime we arrived at PKs jungle village, where we would be spending the night. However, shortly after we arrived, it started to rain. A lot. It would be continuing this for the next 24 hours, the time we were meant to be staying here! My original plan had been to go kayakking, but this was cancelled due to the weather. Instead, I just went for some walks, dressed in swimmers and a lightweight shirt, just accepting that I would get soaked! The beach next to our accommodation wasn't as nice as I expected, but I was using pictures of another beach as my reference! I tried to walk along the beach to the nicer beach, but came across a creek flowing into the sea with a warning sign indicating crocodiles had been seen here recently. I decided not to try my luck swimming across and turned back.

The next day, I found the beach I was looking for by walking along the road instead. I still had to cross the same creek however, as it had risen above the road. Not as bad as the one from yesterday, but still 20cm of fast flowing water. I was more concerned about a car coming through at the same time and soaking me! When I reached Cape Trib beach, it was probably the nicest I've ever been to, the mythical white sandy beach with rainforest behind, and no signs of other people in sight. If only it had been sunny, it would've completed the image by adding green and blue water as the reef was just off the beach.

On the trip back to Cairns, we stopped off for some more walks and photo opportunities. Back in Cairns, I found out that while I had been away, the second cyclone had changed its course and was almost down in Brisbane! A good thing I didn't fly down there in the end. I booked a dive trip to leave tomorrow, and went for some food.

Saturday-Monday: Dive Trip

I was collected in the morning for my 3 day trip aboard Cairns Dive Centre's boat, the M.V. Kangaroo Explorer. KE spends its time on the outer reef, where the best dive sites are, and customers are transferred out there by their day boat, Sunkist. This trip took 2 hours, and had a few of the passengers making trips to the toilet with seasickness! KE was a twin hulled boat which was much more stable and more comfortable. After a spot of lunch, we were shown to our cabins. Comfortable, but very small beds and with a ceiling about 2 foot above my bed!

Over the next 3 days, I did 10 dives. After the first dive, I was quite disappointed by how low the visibility still was - well below 10m. In my previous dives, I've been spoilt with 20m visibility normally! However, there was still plenty to see - in the first dive we found a turtle, and there were hundreds of other fishes around. For our first dive, a guide was provided. However, on subsequent dives, we had to pay extra for a guided dive. Lots of people took this option, and on the second dive we ended up with one guide for about 10 people! This was more of a problem than originally thought when Kate (my buddy) and I realised that we were following the wrong group when they started doing open water course skills! The two groups had got quite close in the water, and with the bad visibility and unfamiliar people we'd followed the wrong one! We decided to surface as we had no idea of where to go to rejoin them, and neither of us had done unguided dives before!

The third dive was a night dive, another new experience for me. We were given torches and then proceeded as normal, with a few extra procedures for signals in the dark. This time, Kate & I were making sure we stuck right behind the guide, although it was actually better visibility with the torches than during the day! Didn't see anything extra special on that dive, but I enjoyed it! For the rest of the dives, we had pretty much the same visibility. However, in the middle of the second day we went to a much better dive site with hundreds of fishes, swimming about in big groups. Saw turtles, sharks, stingrays, nudibranches and much more that I haven't a hope of remembering!

At our final dive site, I had to do an unguided dive as the guide wasn't available. We'd seen quite a few turtles swimming around on the surface, so my objective was to see another one up close. Fortunately, this was accomplished very quickly as we saw one at the start of the dive! Navigation on this dive wasn't really a problem, as we could see where to go from the boat, and no matter where we came up at the end it wouldn't be a long swim back! This was good as we actually surfaced on the far side. This marked the end of my dive trip, and we got the day boat back to Cairns. Now I have to try and find somewhere else in Australia to get a dive or two with great visibility!


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