The middle of July - the dry season - was miserably wet in Cairns. When you live in a plastic box, albeit a very comfortable box, you begin to go stir-crazy after a while if it rains incessantly. We had been used to seeing cloud hide the mountain peaks, but for days the clouds came right down the mountains and we lived in constant drizzle bringing back childhood memories of a holiday in South Wales. Only Cairns was warm and there were no soggy sheep roaming the streets.
When we first saw the vine (right) hanging from a tree branch we took it to be a rope, probably used by kids. A closer look showed it to be a vine . . . or perhaps two very affectionate vines.
This story has no connection to Cairns, but I might as well tell it to you while we wait for the rain to stop. In Australia, 'introduced' species such as cats, foxes, rabbits, horses and camels can create serious problems in the fragile environment if allowed to run wild and breed. In this story it was feral donkeys that were causing the trouble - many, many donkeys. Too many donkeys.
Last year our buddies, Ross and Jan, were on a tour of the Bungle Bungles
in the north of Western Australia. This vast region is covered in large
outcrops of rock. Ross and Jan had heard about the donkey problem but,
as the tour progressed, had seen nary a one. They queried the tour guide
as to the location of these beasts.
All gone, was the reply.
Ross and Jan were astounded. How was it possible to eradicate so many
donkeys from such a vast maze of rocks? The answer was unbelievably
simple. The story goes something like this:
The rangers charged with dealing with the donkey problem sedated a 'jenny' donkey by shooting her with a tranquilliser dart from a helicopter. Before the donkey could recover they fitted a collar around her neck. The collar was equipped with a small radio transmitter. Then they went home.
A few days later they took the helicopter and zeroed in on the transmitter. The 'jenny' had rejoined her pals. The rangers shot them all except the 'jenny', then they went home.
Some time later they again took the helicopter and homed in on the transmitter. The 'jenny' had now joined up with another mob of donkeys. The rangers shot all except the 'jenny', then they went home. And so it went on.
In the fullness of time there were no more donkeys left for the poor 'jenny' to join up with, she was all alone. So the rangers shot her and then they went home.
A sad story; the poor donkeys were not to blame. We, the human race, had introduced them to a continent where they had no place. It's a shame we're not smart enough to eradicate the cane toad which we also introduced, and which is now destroying Australian native fauna over a huge area of the north east and spreading west.
One solution to the damned rain was to go out, weather or not, and visit some more dammed water. Lake Morris is situated high in the mountains, twelve kilometres south west of Cairns city which it supplies with drinking water (for those who haven't yet discovered red wine). Pam and I had visited the lake, also known as the Copperlode Dam, the previous year and we covered it on Page 13.
Mother Nature favoured us with a reasonably fine day and we found the lake so full that it was flowing over the spillway. So while 90% of the Australian continent is in the grip of a severe drought, far north Queensland is covered in lush, green rainforest and the Cairns water supply is flushing megalitres of excess water down the creek.
I have been unforgivably remiss in not mentioning that we had been joined by two more friends that we had met in the Northern Territory. Phil and Dawn Sedgmen, who hail from Mildura in Victoria, had parked their caravan next to ours in the Cool Waters Holiday Park. Ross and Jan Taylor were on our other side so we were now six.
One day we all decided to drive up to the tablelands town of Mareeba in the hope of escaping the rain. In that we failed miserably but we had a good day never-the-less. Just out of Mareeba is a very interesting private military museum which the males in our party found particularly interesting. A little further down the road is an airfield where 'war birds' are restored and flown. There we found an old Douglas DC-3 Dakota parked.
The Mareeba Douglas Dakota. (Actually a military C-47 version.)
The aircraft was open to visitors and, predictably, it was the males of our party who boarded and were able to sit in the cockpit. The ladies stayed in the car and probably talked about men never growing up. The Dakota was no longer in flying condition but I believe it will shortly be restored. It was not the aircraft itself that captured my imagination, but the story of another DC-3 which I found printed out and posted up inside the aircraft. It purports to be fact and it's a great yarn. Part of me wants to believe it but it's just a little too far fetched. See what you think.
During World War II a DC-3 belonging to China National Aviation Corporation was caught on the ground by enemy aircraft. While bombs rained down, Captain Woods and his crew took shelter amongst nearby trees.
One 100 kg bomb fell right through the starboard wing of the DC-3, exploding beneath it. The outer wing was destroyed and other damage inflicted on the aircraft. When the enemy had departed, Captain Woods inspected the DC-3 and radioed to his base that if another wing could be brought out and fitted, he thought he might be able to fly the aircraft out.
The Douglas DC-2½. Do you think it would fly?
The DC-2½ took off - to everyone's amazement - and successfully completed a test flight. Not only that, but it stopped off at Chungking on its way back to Hong Kong and picked up a full load of passengers.
There was another good war story posted in the cabin of the same Dakota at Mareeba. This involved an American Army Dakota which had become lost above cloud and, on descending, found itself over water. The only land in sight was an island with an airstrip. Nearly out of fuel, the pilot decided he had no choice and began a landing approach.
Meanwhile, an American P-51 Mustang fighter pilot spotted the Dakota and tried to warn the crew by radio that the island was in Japanese hands. Receiving no response he dived across the nose of the Dakota. That had no effect either so the fighter pilot flew in close to the Dakota and tried to attract the crew's attention. The crew ignored him. In desperation the fighter pilot gained height then dived on the Dakota, firing his guns into its engines, causing it to ditch in the sea. The crew had just escaped into life rafts when the Japs, who had watched the whole fiasco from the shore, opened fire. The Americans paddled like mad to get out of range and were eventually picked up by an air-sea rescue boat which had been alerted by their attacker. The P-51 pilot received due recognition for his action and was permitted to paint an American flag on his fighter along with some Japanese and German flags which were already there. The name of his fighter was Bad Angel.
After leaving the airfield we visited Granite Gorge where we came across the tamest colony of Rock Wallabies that we'd ever seen.
There were some picturesque walks around Granite Gorge but they entailed scrambling over large rock formations while streams surged around their bases. At one point following the path involved jumping from one boulder to another. Pam decided that such antics were the province of Rock Wallabies, not middle aged ladies with arthritis, and so we called it a day. The cloud descended again as we returned to Cairns, making driving hazardous.
One fine day - yes, there was the odd one - we walked up the Crystal Cascades.
Lake Morris, described and pictured at the top of this page, was formed by the damming of the Freshwater Creek. Drinking water for Cairns is released from the dam back into the creek bed where it flows down to the water treatment plant. There, some is pumped out for the city's supply, the remainder flowing on down the Crystal Cascades until it eventually meets the Barron River. Before reaching the Barron, however, it flows past the Cool Waters Caravan Park where we feed the turtles. When these pictures were taken Lake Morris was overflowing, thus swelling the creek's flow.
The weather forecast was positively good for a couple of days so all six of us took the Scenic Railway to Kuranda, the village in the rainforest, and returned on the Skyrail. I just loved travelling up and back, probably more than the time spent in Kuranda. I doubtless described it all last time we went so I'll tell the story in pictures.
The pictures below show the train when it stopped at the Barron Falls station so that passengers could alight and view the falls.
Just look at the drop from the ledge the train was on - and it went down a whole lot further!
The engine driver waited ten minutes for everyone to take photographs, then gave an impatient blast on his whistle to hurry us up.
Dawn elected to remain on board as the steps
were steep and her legs were not too good.
The whole journey from Cairns to Kuranda takes an hour and a half but our destination wasn't much further after the stop at Barron Falls. Kuranda itself is just about 100% tourist oriented. It is in a beautiful setting as the name village in the rainforest suggests and within the village there are plenty of fig trees and greenery. The village centre seemed to be comprised almost entirely of stalls selling T-shirts, scarves, pictures, carvings, post cards, decorated mugs, soft kangaroo toys, ice creams . . . you name it, if it brought in a buck it was there. The irony was that most of it was made in China and was being sold to Japanese tourists. Restaurants were also well represented, of course. The atmosphere was happy and jolly; everyone seemed to be having a good time.
As on our visit last year, we took time to walk through the Butterfly Sanctuary. This year I listened to the guide's commentary because I tend to miss a lot when I'm concentrating on trying to get good pictures for you, my favourite reader. There are some of last years pictures at the bottom of Page 13 if you'd like to see some.
Do you know the difference between a butterfly and a moth? I would
have said something like
a moth settles with its wings flat
only a moth flies at night. Perhaps there's
some truth in both, but the correct answer is that a butterfly's four
wings are all separate and can be moved independently. The front wing
of a moth is joined to the rear wing so that they can only move as
one. As a result, a butterfly is much more manoeuvrable and almost
impossible for a bird to catch.
On this occasion we also visited Bird World where the inhabitants were in a very difficult mood. Every time I'd just composed a picture they would fly away.
Who's that joker with the camera, Bruce?
Dunno, Mate. Wait till he's ready to shoot then vamoose.
The day ends early at Kuranda. The last train on the Scenic Railway leaves at half past three in the afternoon and we were in our Skyrail gondola high above the rainforest soon after it had departed. In fact, we saw the train in the distance as we rose skywards.
As Dawn uses a sort of Zimmer frame on wheels, we found it better to take two gondolas on the Skyrail home. This left Dawn and husband, Phil, in one car and the other four of us in another. Phil had told us that the thought of riding in the cable car terrified him but Phil's a bit of a joker. He wasn't kidding this time, however, and later declared to everyone who would listen that he had never been so frightened in his life, claiming that they were "a thousand feet above the rainforest". And it didn't help when Dawn stood up to take a photograph, causing the car to rock. Phil's description of how he felt was typically graphic and involved a bodily function.
The fact that heights scared Phil to death didn't deter him from riding that Skyrail. There were other options available but he chose to face his demons. Good for you, Phil Sedgmen.
And next, two pictures that are out of sequence . . .
Want to hear a funny incident that happened one morning? Pam, still in her nightdress, was re-stocking the caravan fridge with Coca-Cola cans. One slipped from her grasp and, to prevent it dropping on her foot, she jerked her leg sideways. The can hit the floor and burst, squirting a jet of high-pressure Coca-Cola straight up her nightie. You should have heard her squeal!
And that ends Page 28. The rain in Cairns is still coming down as we move on to Page 29.
Footnote: This re-working of Page 28 was completed on 10 April 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.