Although Cairns (pronounced Cans) is not a large city by our standards, it is a major tourist stop and boasts an international airport. Trips to the Barrier Reef often begin here. Cruise ships used to put in here, but ships keep getting bigger and the port facilities have not, so we anchored at nearby Yorkey’s Knob and tendered to shore. Moving large groups of people by tender can be problematic, but Princess had things well organized and our tour of the area began promptly with little queuing.
We are in the tropics; rain forests cover the land not used for farming and tourism. Dating back more than 120 million years, these are the oldest continually surviving tropical rain forests on earth. When you see them, it is easy to believe that dinosaurs used to roam here. Barron Gorge, which boasts a dramatic waterfall is now a national park. Rain forests are challenging to visit. Much of what’s interesting is high up in the tree tops, so the Aussies built a lengthy cable car called the Skyrail, that took us up and over the lush greenness. The cable car trip was a total of 4.5 miles, with two stops which allowed us to see the plant life from below in the shadow of the canopy. There were so many shades of green!
The ride ended in the mountain village of Kuranda, a small town teeming with shops, restaurants and other opportunities to appreciate the flora and fauna here. Many galleries featured aboriginal art and crafts. Although we were on a tour, it allowed enough time to prowl around the place filling up our knapsack with things we didn’t know we needed until we saw them.
We took the return trip on the historic Kuranda railroad. The train snakes through vistas of the national park, past gorges and waterfalls and through fifteen tunnels as it descends over 1,000 feet. In the 1880’s it was challenging to lay the track through the rain forest. It took the surveyors two years just to figure out the route. When they dynamited the hillsides to make the tunnels, landslides were a constant danger. The 21 mile track took over six years to complete. Local aborigines also pilfered construction items from the site and added to the delay. It took us just ninety scenic minutes to make the descent back to the coast.
Our only complaint was the high humidity, not unexpected in a rain forest. Neither the cable car or train were air-conditioned and the air hung still and heavy. It felt devoid of oxygen. But considering the fact that it is still the monsoon season, we cannot complain. The rain held off until the very end of the tour and by then we were so sweaty, a little fresh water felt like a blessing on our sticky limbs. We hear that many Aussies our age seek to retire here, but it is a bit too tropical for our taste from what we experienced today.