Live it up in Queensland

Beautiful One Day, Perfect the Next
By Jim McDaniel

So the song goes. It is a beautiful place, and there are plenty of outdoor activities to immerse yourself in. We were told that there's over 150 day tours operating out of the Cairns area, and I can believe it. It's a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts.

One of the main reasons why people come up to Far North Queensland is to experience to Great Barrier Reef. From Cairns, you can take a high speed catamaran or a dive boat out to the Reef and snorkel or dive or, for those who prefer, you can take a semi-submersible boat from the catamaran and view the sights below with commentary provided. The Ribbon Reefs and the Cod Hole are two of the more famous areas near Cairns for diving. For photo opportunities, you can to take a helicopter ride from a mooring near where the catamarans dock and get a much better idea of the size of the Reef and the beautiful colors. Introductory dives are also available.

This area is also very close to the Daintree Rainforest and other wilderness areas where you can take 4-W drive trips out to view primary rainforest or to go camping. These are all led by naturalist guides. There are also lodges in these areas where you can go on walks or even go mountain biking.

Aboriginal culture is making a comeback. At the Tjabukai Aboriginal Dance Theater, we were told that several years ago there were only three people in the local tribe who could still speak the local dialect. Through this group's performances, interest has been stirred and now the language is being taught again and Aboriginal pride is growing. I heard the same story from J.R.—an Aboriginal guide at the Undarra Lava Tubes. He was planning on taking time off to talk to the Elders of his tribe and record their knowledge of history, medicine and culture before it is forgotten—this was always just passed on verbally before. There are Aboriginal guides that will take you into the forest and teach you about plant uses, about living off the land and about the Dreamtime and other cultural issues.

Those lava tubes are interesting. They were formed by the largest lava flow in history and stretch for over 100 miles across the savannah. Guides will take you inside the tubes at various locations where the ceiling appears to be about 30 feet high. They are very knowledgeable about the geologic history and about the flora and fauna of the area. The sleeping accommodations are pretty unique—restored railway cars. You can sit outside early in the morning or at night after the campfire gathering and watch all the kangaroos and other animals feed right outside your car. They also have bushwalking available through the ominous-sounding 100 Mile Swamp to observe the wildlife.

One of the newest attractions in the area is the Skyrail. This is a gondola (like those at ski areas) that travels from Cairns up the village of Kuranda on the Atherton Tablelands above. It is a ride of over 7 kilometers with two intermediate stops. The first one allows for a short walk along trails and the second allows a visit to an interpretive center. The gondola travels just over the tops of the trees and gives you an idea of the thickness and lushness of the unspoiled forest (no roads were built into the forest in order to build this—materials were brought in by helicopter and construction was done on already cleared areas).

If you're into sea kayaking, there are several trips to small, pristine off-shore islands. These can range from 3-7 days. There are also several good rivers for whitewater rafting. These range from half-day trips on a Class III river to full day on a Class IV to multi-day on one with Class V rapids. Biking and horsebacking trips are available in the mountains and through the rainforests, and you can also go hot air ballooning and bungee jumping.

The best time to go is anytime except during our winter—that's their rainy season. It's close to the Tropic of Capricorn so it never gets very cold. It normally gets up into the 80's during the day. Speaking of warm—I must mention the Australian people. They are always friendly and warm and have a "just do it" carefree and adventurous attitude. "No worries mate" is a slogan you'll hear all the time.

Article copyright © by Jim McDaniel

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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