Cairns, Australia: A Tropical Rain Forest

by Julie Royce / Mar 23, 2010 /
Julie Royce's picture

The Rain Forest coach picked us up at 9:30 am and along the way to the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway our guide pointed out a restaurant that serves delicious kangaroo steak. When we first arrived in Australia Kangaroo meat was on my list of things to try. After petting those sweet dispositioned, trusting little guys at the Cairns Tropical Zoo I couldn’t subject myself to the trauma of eating one. I saw a dead kangaroo on the side of the road and realized how different Australian road kill looks from ours. They have no deer here.

 

Gliding by cable car over the Tropical Rainforest

Gliding by cable car over the Tropical Rainforest

Gliding by cable car over the Tropical Rainforest

 


When we arrived at the Skyrail we met Duncan, our personal escort for the Skyrail journey. Duncan explained that it took more than seven years to get all of the permits necessary to build the Skyrail. Approval was required from 23 separate governmental agencies and the construction had to be carried out by helicopter to avoid damage to the ecosystem of the forest. There are more than 3000 plant species in the Rainforest Park. 

 

The rainforest with the Barron Falls coming into view

The rainforest with the Barron Falls coming into view

 

The beautiful Barron Falls

The beautiful Barron Falls

 


At our first stop we met Ranger Mel who took us on a short tour, pointing out a vine that can provide water and a plant with such awful pricklers that an accidental touch leaves you in misery for days. Mel told us the Cassowary is absolutely essential to the continued health of the rain forest because it eats seeds and excretes them miles away at spots where they have a chance to grow.  If the seeds remained on the rain forest floor they would get no sunlight and wouldn't sprout. Of course you don't want to annoy the Cassowary because they have brutal talons and can disembowel a human. The rain forest is so dense that at the base there is barely any sunlight and the various trees and plants fight to outdo each other growing towards the sun. We saw few animals because most of the forest's inhabitants are nocturnal. 

 

Some vegetation struggling to get sunlight

Some vegetation struggling to get sunlight

 

Cairns, Australia

Above, Barron Falls and below, the lake at the bottom of the falls

 

Lake at the bottom of Barron Falls

 


When we reached Kuranda, a rain forest village, we found that shopping was one of the main attractions. Kuranda is described as an alternative life-style village, a name it got because many hippies from the 60s settled there and began selling local aboriginal art and creating their own crafts as well. Bob immediately got himself a bush hat. He needed something to shield him from the blistering sun.

 

Brilliant tree welcoming us to Kuranda

Brilliant tree welcoming us to Kuranda

 

 St. Saviour’s Chapel in downtown Kuranda

 St. Saviour’s Chapel in downtown Kuranda

 

Inside the modest but lovely St. Saviour’s Chapel

Inside the modest but lovely St. Saviour’s Chapel

 


I browsed a string of shops, but couldn’t escape noticing that Bob stayed outside on benches. Each time I exited another boutique he seemed more ashen gray.  I agreed to stop the village exploration (i.e. shopping) and instead join him for a rain forest walk. On the way to the trail we visited a small chapel and looked at the bones of an airplane that crashed in the dense vegetation.

 

 Plane downed in the forest

 Plane downed in the forest

 

 


At the entrance to the walking trail I made one small request: That Bob promise me we had enough time to make it back to the train station by 3:30 pm.  We had tickets to return to Cairns on the Kuranda Scenic Railway. The last train pulled out at 3:30.  If we missed it we'd be looking for a hotel in Kuranda. 

Bob said confidently, “No problem.”  He knew what he was doing and we’d just follow the signs. “It’s only about a mile walk,” he assured me. “We’ll be back in town with plenty of time for more shopping if you want.”

An hour into our hike we realized there WAS a problem.  We had taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way.  The good news was that we had one bottle of water to split between us on this very hot day. We also remembered the vines that Mel told us could, in a pinch, provide water. The bad news was the train waited for no one. We passed no other humans along our trek and fortunately no Cassowary. We were beginning to worry. Signs were conspicuously absent.

At 2:45 we finally emerged, sweaty, hot and exhausted, onto a major highway. There was an arrow that pointed towards Kuranda and we weren’t about to disbelieve the one bit of intel to come our way in the last couple hours. Minutes later we stumbled on a woman who, over a broad grin, gave us directions to the train station. We made it with fifteen minutes to spare for a coke at a café along the way.

 

Viewing the rainforest from our car aboard the Kuranda Scenic Railway

Viewing the rainforest from our car aboard the Kuranda Scenic Railway

 


We boarded the Kuranda Scenic Railway and it chugged through the forest showing us amazing gorges, falls and more rain forest. We reached the highest point of the journey and perched on a shaky trestle. We were warned not huddle to one side of the train. My phobia about heights kicked in big-time. I stood alone on the non-view side of the train and noted from the window across the aisle a steep plunge. I feared all the gawkers pressing to scrutinize the perilous drop would cause us to tumble over.

 

A view of the Skyrail Cableway taken from rail car

A view of the Skyrail Cableway taken from rail car

 

Watching the cars ahead of us round a mountain curve

Watching the cars ahead of us round a mountain curve

 


Across from our seats on the train sat an older man, maybe in his mid to late 80s. I smiled at him a couple of times, but his very stern, angry look remained fixed.  His forehead appeared etched in permanent frown wrinkles.  Otherwise, he was a nice looking fellow, full head of white hair and deep blue eyes. He wore khaki shorts, running shoes, high white athletic socks, and a multi-colored shirt that actually looked as good on him as they had on Tom Selleck (factoring in the age difference, of course). But, oh, that scowl made me believe he was a terribly unhappy chap. My mind created all kinds of stories. I believed he was German. Maybe he'd lost his wife and that explained why he was traveling alone. Or maybe he was a Nazi war criminal who had avoided capture – that would surely explain his unfriendliness.

Suddenly about twenty minutes into our ride the fellow started talking, first about how complicated his camera was and then about everything else. He didn't stop until we disembarked. It was amazing how different he looked with a smile on his face.  He and his wife are on a six week holiday visiting cousins and taking in family reunions.  I felt it would be presumptuous to ask why his wife wasn't with him in Kuranda, but we did learn he was a Brit not a German as I'd suspected. He was going to the Great Barrier Reef the next day and I told him he simply had to snorkel. I didn’t know if he would or not, but if Meg got me out there and back safely, I'm sure she could do the same for him.

I sat there thinking that travel has the benefit of acquainting you with many short-term friends. You may only enjoy their company for an hour or two, but they make the journey pleasanter.

 

 

To read other parts of Julie's Cairns adventures, please see:

Cairns, Australia: A Sun-Lover's Paradise

Cairns Tropical Zoo

 

 

Julie Royce, the Travel Adventures Editor for Wandering
Educators, 
is the author of Traveling
Michigan's Sunset Coast
and Traveling
Michigan's Thumb
, both published by Thunder Bay Press. She writes a monthly column for Wandering Educators.

 

 

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Robert and Julie Royce

 

 Disclaimer: The Rain Forest Skyway Cable Cars gave us 2 for 1, the Kuranda Scenic railway gave us two for one.

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