|Sunday, March 15
We woke to a complete change in weather – it was a beautiful sunny morning. At 6:50, we caught the tour bus to Port Douglas, a little resort town north of Cairns, via what we were told is Australia’s third most scenic drive. The road follows the coast for the most part and offers lots of ocean views. Inland we saw sugar cane fields (the biggest crop in this area), rainforest and green hills. With its flat plain of green fields and surrounding mountains, it’s reminiscent of the Fraser Valley, except for wallabies grazing, a crocodile farm and signs warning about kanagaroos crossing. Port Douglas is a small town with a beach at one end of its main street and on Sundays, a large market with vendor stalls at the other. Cheryl and Pam elected to head first for the market, while Marilynn and I walked down to the beach. The beach is a curve of sand lined with palm trees – very scenic – but a sign warned anyone tempted to swim that there were stinging jellyfish, slippery rocks and crocodiles. The water is very rough right now, due to the recent weather disturbances, so even without those dangers, it wouldn’t have been inviting. Marilynn tried to touch a small crab and it retaliated with a vicious pinch, just confirming that this Australian beach was not for the faint of heart. We followed a path from the beach up a hill to a viewpoint, then back down to the market side of the town. We detoured to see the oldest building in Port Douglas, an 1879 school now turned into an art gallery, and a small lighthouse. Then we headed up the main street, where we ran into Pam and Cheryl, who had circled through the market and were now going to look at the shops along the street. Marilynn and I decided to get a cold drink, so we sat in air-conditioned comfort until it was time to reboard the bus.
On we went to the Skytrail, a gondola that took us up a small mountain covered in rainforest to a small village in the hills called Kuranda. The original plans for the gondola lift had to be changed because so many protested the cutting down of the trees; the new plan involved installing the towers using huge helicopters to place them with the result that no tree was cut down. From the gondola we had a great view of the flat plains of the coastal area behind us and a birds’ eye view of the rainforest canopy. Along the way there were two stops for us to take a boardwalk path through the rainforest. One offered a view of the Barron Gorge where a hydroelectric project has harnessed the force of the Barron River. The falls at the Gorge were spectacularly in full spate because of the recent rain, but the river, which Cheryl said ran clear when she last saw it, was a muddy brown due to all the silt the river has picked up. Kuranda is a small town lined with shops selling all kinds of goods, mostly Australian souvenirs, clothing and aboriginal art. Like many streets in the Cairns area, the sidewalk is covered by overhanging roofs, a necessary source of shade. We wandered around for a while, then sat at a sidewalk table and enjoyed a cold fruit sherbet cone until it was time to catch the train.
The Kuranda train follows tracks laid down in the late 1800s. The cars are from the early 1900s, but nicely refurbished. Fortunately it was not very crowded so we spaced ourselves out on the padded seats and prepared to watch the scenery as we progressed down the mountain. The train creaked and swayed as it moved, and sometimes it seemed very close to the edge of the mountain, but all was well until the train came to a half. Apparently a tree, the “damned obstacle” as the announcer put it, had fallen across the track and we now would have to wait until a crew with chainsaws was dispatched from down below. We were hot and tired by that time, but everybody aboard was very good-natured about the delay. There were rumblings about invading the first class coaches, even though the train attendant denied that they had air-conditioning and chilled wine. The staff tried to placate the lower classes with chilled towlettes, a small gesture but we accepted the offer. The hour and a half wait passed without violence, and a cheer went up when we started moving again. Our shuttle bus to the hotel was still waiting for us – the driver said he was getting time and a half so he didn’t mind the delay. We felt too tired to bother going out for dinner, so we rustled up a meal from what was in the fridge and spent the rest of the evening “at home”.