Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Atherton Tablelands

Just inland and over the hills from Cairns and Port Douglas sits the Atherton Tablelands.  Unlike the adjacent area on the coast, the tablelands are not a rainforest, but instead a plateau with lots of agricultural activities.  And whenever there is agricultural activity, there is bound to be food.  And I like food.

A lot.

Our first stop first thing in the morning:  Golden Drop Mango Winery.

Yes, yes, you read that right.  Instead of grapes, they use mango to make wine, following the same process as usual but just substituting the fruit.  The result:  delicious!  They had a range of mango wines – including a dry wine, sweet wine, and a medium wine in the middle.  They even had sparkling and a Port-like fortified mango wine!   What was actually most interesting was how they prune the trees.  It apparently makes it easier to pick fruit when they cut them this way.

Now, wine has been known to make me a bit sleepy and the mango wine tasting we had was no exception, so I had to find a remedy as it was only 10am and we had a full day ahead of us.  Luckily, just up the road was Jaques Coffee Plantation.

We got to see coffee berries (coffee comes from berries – who knew?!?!?) and the machine that they harvest them with.

We also got to try some coffee and – even better – some coffee liqueurs that they make.  But of course, my eyes went straight for the prize:  tiramisu made with their very own espresso!

Survey says:  orgasmic.  Also orgasmic was Mr Jaques' adult son - wowzers.  Unfortunately, I didn't snap a photo because that would have been creepy. 

As if I hadn’t had enough sweets for the day, we passed by the Emerald Creek Ice Creamery just a few kilometres down the road and it would have been rude not to sample their macadamia ice cream, right?

Apparently I’m a risk taker.

But the day wasn’t all about food for us.  We did take some time to feed others, namely the semi-wild rock wallaby population at Granite Gorge Nature Park.  It was my sister’s first time feeding these adorable little creatures:

Granite Gorge also had some great walking/hiking tracks which cross over the massive boulders that are on the property.

The next day, we were back in Cairns to catch the Kuranda Scenic Railway.  The railway takes tourist up into the hills and onto the tableland, finishing at the tiny tourist town of Kuranda with views all along the way.

Kuranda is located on the border between the tableland and the rainforest and is best known for its rainforest markets – a place to buy all sorts of trinkets, souvenirs, art, and more.

After a bit of shopping around, I spotted some mango ice cream.  Again, it would have been rude not to get some.

I may have bought some local chocolate and macadamia biscuits too.  Kuranda also offers some hiking trails in the rainforests around the town and along the Barron River.

For the return trip back to Cairns, we opted for the other main mode of transport to and from Kuranda:  the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway.

The Skyrail whisks you above the rainforest canopy and stops at two educational rainforest boardwalks before taking you back to Cairns.

Overall, I would most definitely recommend a visit to the Atherton Tablelands for anyone visiting Cairns.  Especially the coffee plantation.  And the mango winery.  And the ice creamery.

How do I not weigh 400 pounds?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

#84: Great Barrier Reef!

Our trip to Far North Queensland wouldn’t have been complete without the opportunity to cross off one of my 103 Things (  And with it, I finally completed all eight of my 103 Things located in Australia – in just under 3.5 years.  There are many options when it comes to visiting the Great Barrier Reef:  flyovers, glass bottom boats, snorkelling, and diving.  I opted for the snorkelling – must easier than diving and way closer to the action than a flyover or a glass bottom boat.

Many a company offer day trips out of Cairns and Port Douglas to the reef and it took a bit of research to select one.  There are bigger boats at lower cost, or more expensive smaller boats which provide a more personal, small group experience.  The bigger tour companies have floating platforms out near the reef where you can sun yourself between swims, but the smaller companies provide more commentary and information.  We opted for the more personal experience and chose Calypso Snorkelling.  There were probably only 30 or so of us on the boat – not a big crowd for that type of tour.  We also had to select the Low Isles or the outer reef.  The Low Isles are much closer to the mainland and combine snorkelling with stunning beaches on relaxing little islands.  The outer reef is about twice as far out and is 100% reef – no islands, just snorkelling – and usually a better place to see wildlife.  As I was here to see the reef, I chose to sign us up for the outer reef.  And off we went!

The seas were choppy on the 90-minute ride to Opal Reef, site of the first and second of our three swims.  But once we got in the water and took in the views, the rough ride was totally worth it.

The variety of colours was gorgeous.

And the colours weren’t just on the coral either.  There were plenty of fish in the sea, literally, and they came in every colour of the rainbow and then some.

I saw 1 fish!

2 fish!

Red fish!

Blue fish!

I’m a nerd.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see any turtles, sharks, dugongs (a cousin of the manatee), or any other crazy species, but I feel like another trip out to the reef will be in my future, so I wasn’t too disappointed.  Instead, I put my feet up and enjoyed the ride back to shore.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Daintree Rainforest

Aside from the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree Rainforest is one of the major tourist draws to Far North Queensland.  The largest rainforest in Australia, the Daintree is world heritage listed and contains a disproportionately massive percentage of Australia’s bird, frog, reptile, marsupial, bat, and butterfly species.  It’s home to the endangered cassowary and one species of the elusive tree-kangaroo.  Port Douglas is a great launching point for a day trip into the Daintree, though two or three days would definitely be more appropriate.  But that’s ok – it leaves me with more to do and see next time.

We began our day just down the road from town at the previously mentioned Mossman Gorge.  The gorge marks the generally accepted southern end of the Daintree Rainforest.  From there, we moved north, and our first big stop was none other than the Daintree River.

We had seen crocodiles in captivity the previous day, but we thought it better that we should see some in their natural habitat.  With several tour companies to choose from, we opted for Bruce Belcher’s Daintree River Cruises.  It had the best reviews on TripAdvisor and the name seems more home-grown and less commercial than some of the others.  The boat didn’t get too close to the crocs (there are restrictions in place to protect the vulnerable species), but I got to really test out the zoom on my camera and was pleased as punch with the results.  We saw a baby croc:

A few female crocs:

And even a big nasty male:

The guide also pointed out some tree snakes:

And a wide variety of birds, including this gorgeous blue Little Kingfisher, a cousin of the kookaburra:

From there, we headed on the quick car ferry over the Daintree River and stopped at the destination that I was most excited for:  The Daintree Ice Cream Company!

We were in the middle of one of the richest, most diverse habitats in the world and all I could focus on was ice cream.  Typical me.  The Daintree Ice Cream Company has unique tropical flavours – 4 to a cup.  On offer for our visit was banana (always my sister’s favourite), macadamia (always my favourite), wattleseed (a popular flavour from the edible seeds of Australia acacia trees, with flavour that contains hints of nuts and coffee), and black sapote.

I was most excited by the macadamia, but most intrigued by the black sapote, which is a fruit I had never heard of before.  Originally from Central America, the black sapote has been introduced to the US, Australia, and the Philippines.  The fruit’s pulp, when ripe, is often likened to chocolate pudding.  While I didn’t think the flavour was quite that chocolate-y by any means, it was indeed delicious.  The Daintree Ice Cream Company grows the fruits on their property and also had fruits on display so we could see what their rare fruits look like.

We stopped at Thornton Beach for a photo opportunity or two… or more:

And from there, we headed up to Cape Tribulation, our northernmost destination for the day.  Cape Tribulation is a headland, small village, tourist stop, and most importantly, the last place on the paved road.  From there, it’s over 100 kilometres north on an unsealed road to get to the next sign of civilization – a little place called Cooktown.  We went no further in our tiny little rental car.  We set out on the little boardwalk to see some of the viewpoints from Cape Tribulation.

Afterward, we stopped at the Dubuji Boardwalk for a look around.

One of my biggest hopes for the day (aside from the ice cream) was to see a cassowary in the wild.  A rare bird, sightings are seldom but I had hope.  Unfortunately, the closest we got to seeing a cassowary were the constant warning signs about them:

And, of course, the cassowary speed bump signs.

We did, however, see a wild pig!

It was far less exciting.