In and around Cairns
One fine day we visited Lake Placid on the Barron River.
Forgive me if I trot out that hackneyed old adjective again, but 'picturesque'
described Lake Placid to a 'T', as did its name. The lake was
sheltered by a backdrop of steep, forest-clad hills and, high up near the
summit, we saw the Scenic Railway train pass across a small bridge as it
twisted and turned its way up to Kuranda.
Looking across Lake Placid. The Scenic Railway train
is arrowed, passing up near the top of the mountain.
Two giant diesel locos and fourteen carriages . . . up there!
There were canoes on the lake and a lot of water birds, possibly
because Placid is designated a 'fish refuge' - fishing is banned.
We noticed a small white sign nailed to the trunk of a tree, too high for
my eyes to read unaided. The zoom on the camera picked it up, though, and
I've included it as an 'inset' on the picture below.
Lake Placid with cormorants on the rocks. Can you see the small notice on the tree trunk?
It beggars belief that the water level could ever reach that
height! It doesn't say so anywhere, but I imagine the culprit was Cyclone
Rona which hit the area in 1999. The Barron Falls must have been worth seeing
Cairns - Lake Morris
Another 'must see' attraction, quite close to
the caravan park, was Lake Morris, Cairns' main reservoir. It is also
known as the Copperlode Dam. Back in the early 20th century it was realised
that the water supply from the two creeks that supplied Cairns would become
inadequate as the city grew. The City Engineer, a chappie called F. R. Morris,
tramped all over the densely forested Lamb Range of mountains looking for
a suitable place to build a new dam. Got him out of the office, I suppose.
In 1935 he finally settled on the location of the Copperlode Falls. Subsequent
surveys confirmed that his choice was a good one. The cost of building the
dam was estimated at $3 million (peanuts today). However, the dam wasn't
completed for over forty years and the eventual cost was around $6.5 million.
The resulting lake was named after Mr. Morris for his excellent work.
Driving up the 16 kilometre access road to the dam is quite an experience
in itself. The word 'switchback' might have been coined just
for this narrow road with its continuous hairpin bends, cliff faces and
sheer drops. Just to make it more exciting - as if it needs it - there are
frequent warnings of falling rocks. I wasn't sure what precautions I could
take to minimise the risk of a rock descending from above. But it was nice
of the Council to warn us.
Left: Looking down on the Cairns outer suburbs from the lake access road gives some impression of the gradient.
Right: Fabulous views of rainforest and mountains from Lake Morris Road.
The amenities provided at the dam were excellent and the
café staff were exceptionally helpful and friendly. As frequently
occurs though, we were unable to discover the origin of the name of the
Copperlode Falls - even the Cairns Council didn't know, so we were told.
When we visited the dam it was full to its maximum capacity with a little
water still slopping over the spillway. The rainfall in the catchment area
is far greater than that which falls on Cairns city. Good old F. R. Morris
chose wisely. A few years ago, in 1999, over 800 millimetres of rain fell
on the catchment area in just two days! Can you imagine that? Back home
in Perth the average rainfall for a whole year is only 860 millimetres and
this area copped almost that amount in two days. How about that for a shower?
The culprit would be Cyclone Rona again, I expect.
The view of Lake Morris from the café. Wouldn't
you love to build a house on that site?
Lake Morris holds 45 gigalitres of water, that's 45
and nine noughts in litres. Or, if you prefer imperial measure, it's
ten billion gallons. A controlled quantity of water is released from the
dam, not into a pipeline to be pumped to the treatment plant, but back into
Freshwater Creek where it tumbles down the hill to be picked up again lower
down and fed into the treatment plant.
Cairns - Green Island
expense we visited Green Island on the Great
Barrier Reef, just to bring you some pictures back. Hope you appreciate
our dedication. We sailed over on a large and powerful catamaran. Just us,
the crew . . . and fifteen thousand Japanese tourists. The first picture
we took was of Cairns looking back from the boat as it set out for Green
Island. The water was as still as a mill pond, except where our boat's
screws churned it up. Impressed by the nautical terminology?
Cairns looking back from the catamaran.
We saw a yellow seaplane with blue floats on the water as
we departed from Cairns. Then there was one moored when we arrived at the
Island. Same one? Dunno. It was taxiing out to take off when we left the
island but I wasn't able to get a pic 'cos this great white catamaran chose
that moment to get in the way.
VH-IDQ, a deHavilland Beaver built by Hawker DH Australia, was delivered on 14th
July 1964. We took this photo
on 11 September 2005. In November 2006 she came
to grief when a new pilot ran her on to a reef and sank her.
She is currently in storage in Mareeba awaiting a rebuild.
The crossing took about fifty minutes and was uneventful. Even the swell
wasn't sufficient to upset Mrs Bucket's stomach so that will
give you some idea. Our fellow passengers were nearly all Japanese and were
good natured, polite and friendly.
Mostly shorter and slimmer than the few
'European' passengers, they served to emphasise the folly of this bare midriff
fashion so popular amongst Australian girls. Do these young things not have
mirrors in their homes? Do their parents not advise them? Do their neighbours
not fall about laughing as they see them sally forth with acres of blubber
bulging, or worse still hanging, over their oh-so-low belts which they,
in their youth and innocence, believe looks sexy? Surely here is justification
for the invention of the digital camera.
Before you go Kylie dear,
take a look at this picture. A beached whale? No, it's you dear, squeezing
through the front door on your way out just now.
People were having a great time as we arrived at Green Island, swimming,
scuba diving, and out in glass bottom boats. Even flying - well, sort of.
Looks a heap of fun, doesn't it? And so colourful too. You next, Mrs B?
I heard somewhere that this was the only island on the Barrier
Reef which is covered in rainforest. Though small - and let's face it, over
commercialised - it is still a beautiful island. The water was crystal clear
and the fish and birds plentiful (feathered and otherwise). The feathered
ones were so tame that they became a nuisance around the food outlets and
it had been made an offence to feed them. However, if the lunch we were
served was any guide, that rule was most certainly in the birds' best interest.
The meal was a total rip off and pretty disgusting.
Left: Do not feed the birds - it may kill them.
Right: Thinks: My God, did they pay for this?
Apart from the lunch it was a wonderful day. The glass bottomed
boat trip was very interesting. We could see a wide variety of fish and
coral as the boat drifted along, and the guide explained all about the different
threats to the health of the reef. Photography through the glass bottom
was not very satisfactory because of reflections off the glass and loss
of colour, however the processing software helped a lot. Pictures taken
looking directly into the water were even worse because of both light reflection
Left: Fish seen through the glass bottom of the boat.
Right: Pam holding a real live crocodile.
On the island was an attraction described as Marineland Melanesia.
There we watched sharks, turtles and crocodiles being fed and we had the opportunity
to hold a small croc which Pam was very keen to do. The sharks were only
small and not very exciting. There were five large turtles, their shells
up to a metre in length. The size of the crocs varied from much smaller
than the one Pam is holding to great scary giants. There were dozens of
them at all different stages of growth.
Cairns - the Tablelands
The little town of Atherton lies high in the region known
as the Tablelands, a flattish area up in the mountains. From Cairns, the
road climbed steeply some 2,500 feet and though wider and better-surfaced
than the 'switchback' access road to the Copperlode Dam, it
was very similar. There were numerous hairpin bends and steep drops. We
were delayed for some time by maintenance crews working to stabilise both
sides of the road. It seemed that the hillside was tending to slide down
onto the road in some places and in others the road was trying to slide
down the hill. There were several attractions on the journey; the two we
liked most were giant fig trees.
Left: The Cathedral Fig had dropped its leaves which scientists estimate would have weighed one tonne.
Right: Pam was dwarfed by the immense root system.
The first had been named the Cathedral Fig though it didn't
resemble a cathedral in any way as far as we could see. The data I've used
(below) was 'borrowed' from an information sign so it's probably
somebody's copyright. However . . . The tree is of the green fig variety.
It started life around five hundred years ago as a tiny seed dropped into
a hollow or crevice high in the canopy of a 'host' tree by a
bird or bat. There it germinated, drawing nutrients from leaf litter and
rainfall. In due course the young fig sent long tentacle-like roots down
to the ground, a rich source of food. Other tentacles twisted around the
trunk of the host tree. As the fig continued to grow it may have eventually
strangled its host which then died and rotted away. By that time the fig
had enough roots stretching down into the earth to support itself. The Cathedral
Fig has grown to 150 feet tall, the height of a five storey building, and
if twenty four people linked hands around its base they wouldn't quite meet
Fig trees, as we learned from an elderly Aboriginal man when we visited
Kuranda, are home to a multitude of other plants. The Cathedral Fig is home
to at least ten different species. However, we now learned from the information
sign that it isn't just plants that reside high in its branches and among
its roots - so too do a wide range of birds, insects, bats and other mammals.
The red fruit and fleshly leaves of the fig are rich in nutrients.
The other fig specimen we visited was a curtain fig. It began life in much
the same way as the Cathedral Fig but after dying and starting to rot, the
host tree toppled over until its fall was arrested by an obliging neighbouring
tree. The dead host became lodged at an angle. The fig continued to drop
roots down vertically from its trunk which formed the curtain-like appearance
in the picture below. In due course the host rotted away but by then the
fig was quite strong enough to stand on its own two thousand feet.
Left: Mr Very-Full-Of-Himself Brush Turkey.
Right: The aptly named Curtain Fig.
about in the vicinity of the Cathedral Fig's parking area were several Australian
Brush-turkeys. They were probably hoping for food scraps but, in their own
best interest, they didn't get any from us. One of the males was a fine
specimen, strutting about in his colourful mating plumage as the picture
shows. He kept chasing the dowdier females into the forest, possibly to
keep any food for himself. Horny or hungry? An arrogant fellow, either way.
We also visited a 'crater' on our journey to Atherton. Whether
caused by volcanic action or perhaps a meteorite, we didn't know. There
was no rim, just a hollow filled with rain forest vegetation. When we found
an explanatory sign we were surprised to read that the 'crater'
we were in was probably not a crater at all. At the bottom was a stream
where I unwittingly adopted a blood sucking leech which Pam later spotted
on my foot. I flicked it off but it left its head behind. Serve it right!
I suppose it had some anti-coagulant properties 'cos my foot dripped
all over the place for a while.
wandering through the rainforest we came upon
forbidding us to drive our car beyond the barrier.
To be honest, it never occurred to us to do so.
We found nothing of exceptional interest in Atherton itself, so meandered
back to Cairns.
Cairns - The Butterfly Sanctuary at Kuranda.
The Kuranda Butterfly Sanctuary resembled a mini-rainforest
with a stream tumbling through it, lush green foliage and the air full of
brightly coloured fluttering wings. We followed winding paths between butterflies
of all sizes settled on leaves, chasing each other through the air, and
even landing on us. Being just a little 'follicly challenged'
I was frequently able to feel butterflies crawling on my head. They tickled.
A selection of the butterflies at the Kuranda Butterfly Sanctuary.
Insects coloured orange, yellow or red, we were told, are
frequently poisonous. If you eat them, that is. We tried not to. On the
other hand, many butterflies use those colours to fool predators into thinking
they are poisonous, when really they are not.
We also discovered that it is a myth that butterflies only live for a day
or two - some live for three months. The ones that are most active have
shorter lives because the powder on their wings falls off as they flutter
until they can no longer fly. Males are more active than females because
their role in life is to catch as many females as possible and mate with
them, therefore males have shorter - and you might think, merrier - lives.
The females, however, are very choosy about which male they mate with, and
once fertilised, will not mate again. I just hope that the males embrace
the philosophy that it is better to travel in hope than to arrive.
A special area is set aside for the females to lay their eggs. Each will
lay around five hundred eggs at a time. To persuade them to lay in the designated
place, the plants most favoured by the butterflies as food for their future
caterpillars are all grouped together, away from public access. The staff
periodically collect the eggs and transfer them to a private breeding area
where they hatch. The caterpillars are nurtured as they grow, protected
from predators. This system ensures the highest possible success rate and
enables the emerging butterflies to spread and dry their wings without 'help'
from little humans. It also has an added advantage; the foliage in the public
enclosure through which we walked was pristine. If many thousand hungry
caterpillars were allowed to feed on it, there soon would be no greenery
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