Quick summary of our trip so far:
We left Orlando, Florida the morning of February 5, on a Boeing 757 re-fitted for 84 passengers. In addition to 7 expedition staff members, there are 73 paying members of our National Geographic “Around the World” tour. Mr. GeoK has managed to find a geocache in every country we’ve visited so far – Peru, Chile and Samoa. On the 5th, we crossed south of the equator for the first time in our lives. On our flight from Samoa to Queensland, Australia, we lost a day as we crossed over the International Date Line and we also crossed over 180 longitude, changing hemispheres from west to east! Today – Valentine’s Day – we’re leaving Australia, headed to Cambodia. Over the past 48 hours, we enjoyed several opportunities to view Australian flora and fauna…
Our landing in Cairns was well north of those areas in Queensland so devastated by flooding and by cyclone Yasi. We boarded immaculately maintained tour buses for the one-hour drive north to Port Douglas. The Captain Cook highway was constructed as a work-share program during the Great Depression and it runs right along the coast, twisting and turning, climbing and dipping as it follows the shoreline. Anyone prone to motion sickness (including Mrs. GeoK) didn’t particularly enjoy the last 10 or 15 minutes of the drive!
The Sea Temple Resort is a modern resort, with an absolutely fantastic lagoon pool; we had our own entrance point into the pool, just out our sliding patio door. After the hot, humid drive we were eager to cool off, so much so that we missed most of the cocktail party featuring a special Australian guest – a koala bear!
Saturday morning, we joined a relatively small group headed via bus to the Mossman Gorge in the Daintree Rainforest, part of the Wet Tropics of Queensland – another UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the way, we received the disappointing news that we would not be accompanied by members of the Kuku Yulanji tribe; instead of heading off up a gorge paralleling the Mossman River and learning about ancient uses of the plants and trees growing in the longest, continuously-existing rainforest in the world, we enjoyed a walk along the raised platform walkway that opened a couple of months ago. A local guide spoke taught us about select plants, trees, animals and insects – all from the “western” perspective.
About half-way through our guided walk, Mr. GeoK “went rogue” and headed about 300 meter further along the trail to search for our first (and, as it turns out, only) Australian geocache, GC2AGKH – Mossman Gorge. He couldn’t sign the log book because the container was full of water and ants, but he took a photo of his find, which should be adequate to permit an online “found it” log. As it turned out, our misfortune in terms of changing guides at the last minute, was our good fortune in terms of being able to find a geocache in Australia.
The other highlight of our walk through the Mossman George was spotting a Boyd’s forest dragon; we’re hoping Oldest GeoKid managed at least one really good shot of this approximately 20 cm long creature perched on the side of a tree about 10 meters away from us.
From the Mossman Gorge, we drove another half hour or so to a place known as the “Botanical Ark”. Prior to 1984, the 20 acre parcel of land that supports a multi-continent tropical rainforest was a cattle range, and before that, a sugar plantation. But since Alan and Susie Carle purchased the property, they’ve planned food, fibre, medicine and other useful plants found in rainforests all over the world. Alan’s been on more than 40 trips to gather specimens and their goal is to grow much of their own food. Their house is solar-powered and their guest house is hydro-powered (by a small “run of river” facility on their property).
The last bit of the drive to the Ark was eye-opening, with creeks running over two of the small bridges to a depth of at least 30 cm. Upon arrival, we learned they’d had 40 cm of rain in the past few days. We were greeted with a refreshing fruit smoothie, made with fruit grown on the property. And we set eyes on an amazing display of at least 50 types of fresh fruit, also all grown on the property. Alan toured us around a small portion of the property, regaling us with some amazing stories about just a handful of the plants and trees. He and Susie are truly passionate about their project.
Mrs. GeoK was just about wilted from the heat by the time we were invited to lunch on the veranda. Tea tree oil-soaked cloths soothed us a little, as did the iced tea. Lunch was a treat! Almost every dish was comprised of ingredients grown at the Botanical Ark: green breadfruit fries; roasted pumpkin salad; sweet potato salad; green papaya ceviche; pan-fried barramundi; fried plantain and bread. Everything was absolutely fantastic. When we spotted the certificate from the Slow Food Institute, we agreed it had been appropriately awarded.
We returned to the Sea Temple about 3:40, later than scheduled, but having thoroughly enjoyed our outing. Of course, we headed straight for the swimming pool. We dawdled in the water until we had to rush to catch our shuttle into town for supper at Salsa, a great restaurant in Port Douglas. The staff dealt with our allergies very sensibly and we ate the best evening meal we’ve had so far on this trip, which means two truly great meals today. For desert – a desert sampler for two and chocolate-Cointreau soufflé for two, shared between three of us, with ice cream for Youngest GeoKid.
Our final stop in Australia was a visit to the Port Douglas Rainforest Habitat this morning. It’s a sort of wildlife sanctuary / zoo that provides plenty of opportunities to get close to many of the birds and animals (thankfully not to the crocodiles) and the highlight for Youngest GeoKid was the opportunity to feed a small kangaroo!