Page 13

In and around Cairns

lake placid

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.

Scenic Train

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

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 that year.
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.

Views From Lake Morris Road

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.

Lake Morris

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

At huge 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 from the boat

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.

Boat Towing Parachute

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 and distortion.

Fish and Pam with Baby Croc

    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.

Fig Tree and Pam

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 together.

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.

Turkey/Curtain Fig

          Left: Mr Very-Full-Of-Himself Brush Turkey.                                      Right: The aptly named Curtain Fig.

Restricted Access Sign

Hanging 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.

While wandering through the rainforest we came upon
this sign 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

Footnote: This re-working of Page 13 was completed on 17 March 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.

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