26 Jan 2017, Australia Day. It celebrated the day Captain Cook landed in Australia for the very first time and claimed Australia for the burgeoning British Empire. There are some in Oz who are campaigning for this date to be changed because they think this day celebrates the day the indigenous people (Aborigines) lost their lands to “invasion” and Australians should not be celebrating this. Most folk these days just see it as a good excuse for a family BBQ and a few beers!
As far as Cairns is concerned they were planning a big party for the city down on the esplanade with bands and performers all day, all free, all welcome. We saw the preparations when out for our early morning run at about 7am. Still very warm at that time of day.
We decided to enjoy Australia Day at Port Douglas, a small village what the Aussies call a short distance away but was in fact a 90 minute bus ride. Hey, thats close. The bus driver picked us up from our hotel and after a drop off at the airport (it’s on the way) he set off to “Port”as it is known to the locals. This driver must have been practising to do the Welsh Rally in a bus as he was mad, tailgating slower drivers, pulling out to overtake and ducking back in again. Absolutely no finesse at all.
We arrived at lunch time and decided to eat before exploring. Port Douglas is famous for 2 things, its beach (Four Mile Beach) and its Marina with boats providing dive trips to the Great Barrier Reef. The beach is awesome and stretches out right around the bay. It rivals anything we have in UK for landscape, with the mountains behind and in the distance.
Four Mile Beach – Port Douglas on Australia Day!
The barriers you can see half way up the pictures are Stinger Nets. Eastern Australia has massive problem with Stinger Jellyfish. These are about an inch in diameter and normally inhabit the Torres Strait area in the Northern tip of Queensland. Global warming has meant the plankton they live on are moving south to such an extent that these jellyfish are now a common site of the Eastern Seaboard almost as far south as Sydney. To protect swimmers the authorities have erected Stinger nets on most public beaches to prevent them getting in. Beach goers are only allowed to swim inside these areas patrolled by Lifeguards unless they are wearing Stinger suits, more of which later. Stinger jellyfish can be lethal if you are unfortunate enough to be stung, though rapid medical attention and hospitalisation should ensure survival.
The Marina area at the other end of the village has bars and restaurants, all crowded with party-goers, its own brewery (Hemmings or Henderson I think) and several million dollars worth of large boats moored on the jetties. It is also the start of a narrow gauge railway that takes you safely into the swampland….. and back. You can also take a boat trip to spot crocodiles though why you would want to wind up a croc by buzzing a boat round his home is beyond me. Further round the Marina we could hear a live band playing for a party in the park. Loads of people out walking, eating and drinking in the glorious warm sunshine. Did I mention it was around 34 Deg C……every day. Tough gig but someone has to do it!
Clockwise from top left: Two of the smaller boats in the Marina, Further round the bay, Australia Day flag waving, St Mary’s Church.
More of the beach and Marina
Before catching the bus back home just time for a coffee. Many of the cafes and shops had closed early for the public holiday but we found a delightful little place on the main street, a combined coffee and book shop. Go in, buy a book, settle down with a coffee and start reading….or just browse whilst having a coffee. This is what we did. Lovely coffee and a cake. Yum.
Lyn outside the While-Away Cafe/bookshop. Great idea.
Back to Cairns in time to see the all day celebrations on the Esplanade conclude and people pouring them selves into the bars or going home. One celebration down, another looming. The Chinese New Year on 27 Jan celebrated the Year of the Rooster (don’t eat chicken – might bring you bad luck!) and it seemed that half the population of Beijing had rocked up in Cairns for some reason to celebrate. The majority of guests in our hotel were of Chinese origin so it looked like another big party on Friday. Not for us though. we were off to the Great Barrier Ref early on Friday morning so early to bed for an early start.
The Reef was one place I have always wanted to visit. Lyn had talked of diving the reef, as in a previous life she had qualified as a BSAC (British Sub Aqua Club) Sport diver and has over 40 dives in her log book. On this occasion though both of us had elected only to snorkel. Sharply at 8.15 we departed the harbour for a 90 minute or so transit to our first stop, Norman Reef on the outer edge of the reef chain. The run towards the first anchor point as a bit choppy resulting in both of us feeling seasick when we anchored. Nevertheless to the briefing and donning of our protective full length lycra Stinger Suits and fitting of mask and snorkel and we were in. We were told to use buoyancy aids which made things worse for Lyn as she suddenly had this urge to throw up on the reef. She made her way back to the boat where she sat on the dive deck and was promptly sick. I had another 15 mins snorkelling before deciding enough was just about enough and returned to the boat. The reef is stunning, but worryingly you can see dead coral as much as live; whether the regular trail of boats – there were 4 boats anchored within a mile of us – or global warming, or a combination of both is having a bad impact. the marine life (the fishes) is outstanding and they seem to be surviving. We saw many species, and a sighting of a large Mauri Wrasse, a huge beast but very timid. One look at 40 odd divers and snorkelers and he gently swam away.
Lunch was taken on board whilst we transited to the second stop point of Hastings Reef. Lyn elected to sleep off her sea sickness and I stayed with her so I missed the second outing. I am told that Hastings reef was a good as Norman. I am just sad that I did not snorkel again and that Lyn missed out because of sea sickness. The company had a photographer on board who was taking pictures of us all in the water but at A$40 a go we politely declined the offer to buy. So the only picture I have is of another boat on Hastings Reef next door to us.
Us before Lyn went green. Bottom right: On Hastings Reef
Saturday – we pack, taxi to the airport for Virgin Australia Flight to Brisbane. David 5kg over the baggage limit so another A$70 to pay. (Singapore Airlines has a 32Kg baggage limit so thats why I am over)