, , , ,

Cassowary crossing sign in Daintree National Park

Cassowary crossing...or Sesame Street character?

A few weeks ago for the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, the hubs and I took a trip up to Far North Queensland to cross two more Australian must-sees off our checklist: The Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. Apparently the region is the only place in the world where two World Heritage sites meet, and I can certainly vouch for their amazingness. The weekend was also the perfect time to get up to the Tropics, as it’s totally gotten COLD down here.

Now, I’ll fully admit that living here has made me wussier about the weather, just as happened when I lived in California for two years. However, the numbers don’t lie: last week Sydney suffered its coldest June day in 27 years. Granted, those 40 degrees would be considered borderline-balmy in December or January back home, but like I said, I’m a wuss now.

Therefore, it was completely delightful to step off our Virgin Blue plane up in Cairns and feel the humid, 75-degree air on our faces. It gave me flashbacks to visiting my Grandma in Florida during February school vacations. And FNQ reminded me of Florida in other ways too — the manicured roads, the giant shopping centers, the swampiness, the laid-back vibe. And some of the people seem just a little…eccentric (and also totally  friendly and ebullient), just like some Floridians. Queenslanders also possess what I think most foreigners would consider the quintessential Australian accent; whereas a lot of Sydneysiders could almost sound English, everyone in Queensland made me giggle because they sounded like Steve Irwin the Crocodile Hunter. In other words, an absolutely fantastic place to visit.

Queensland cane toad

Queensland's ubiquitous cane toad

We decided to stay in Port Douglas, a smaller resort area about an hour north of Cairns. It’s that much closer to the Daintree, plus I get the impression that it’s a bit less built up (but also has fewer restaurants and bars). We stayed at Thala Beach Lodge, a resort just outside the main town. It got great reviews on TripAdvisor and I loved the idea of private little cabins right by the beach.

Our cabin at Thala Beach Lodge

The resort was really lovely – each cabin is surrounded by a million species of palm trees and you can hear all the birds and the ocean through the trees – but it was kind of caught in some sort of weird no man’s land between rustic and luxury resort. The breakfasts kind of left something to be desired, but I can’t complain about their fresh coconut cocktails, which were made using coconuts grown right on the property. And yeah, the private beach is pretty amazing:

The private beach at Thala

Oh and speaking of water, um, THE GREAT BARRIER REEF! We made a point to head up to FNQ during the non-stinger season, meaning we were able to swim in the water without having to wear thick stinger suits to ward off stingrays, which are rife during the summertime. A work colleague recommended a dive outfit called Calypso Reef Cruises, so I booked a snorkel trip and they picked us up at 8am to head out from Port Douglas Marina. It was kind of our lucky day, as only three other couples showed up. I have no idea why they didn’t cancel the trip, but I’ll take it. The only issue: although it was sunny and clear on land, the water offshore was incredibly choppy, and the weather was kind of chilly, gray, and windy. The seas were so rough that we couldn’t walk around on the boat while we were heading to our first dive spot, and I definitely had to work on not getting sea sick, but things improved once we reached the reef.

Anyway, I won’t go into tons of detail about it all, but needless to say the reef was amazing. It just doesn’t seem real; you get below the surface and there are all these insane colors and massive objects that look like props from the set of Alice in Wonderland or something. There were giant clams  and huge iridescent fish and electric blue sea anemones and sea turtles and fat leopard print sea cucumbers…it goes on and on. I’m hoping I’ll have a chance to visit the reef again if some more friends come to visit from the U.S., because there is just so much more to see.

We got back to the marina around 4:30pm, and headed over to a fun beach bar called On The Inlet for some Queensland cocktails (XXXX Beer and Bundy with Coke, natch) and to watch the sun set over the water. After that we wandered through the town, which was fairly hopping with holidaymakers and is fun and loose in a way that I imagine to be similar to Key West (where I have never actually been). We actually tried to hit up a restaurant called Salsas (apparently Bill Clinton is a big fan; he was vacationing in Port Douglas – sans Hillary, of course – during the September 11 attacks and had to be rushed out of the restaurant by the Secret Service when he got the news), but they were fully booked with reservations. We ended up eating at a random hotel, with lots of good backpacker people-watching. How pretty is the beach right across from the main strip of bars:

So yeah, Port Douglas was great. I had one major issue with it, though: There is only one cab company in town, and they freaking gouge you. Our hotel was about 15 minutes outside town, but they charge a flat fee of $45. Are you kidding me?! Granted, we had priced out renting a car and it would have been more than paying for coach transfers from the airport since we were only in town for three days and our tour companies picked us up and dropped us off at the resort. But damn, what a rip-off. So if you go to Port Douglas for more than a couple days, definitely rent a car.

On Sunday we took a daylong tour through the Daintree Rainforest. To be honest, I’m not huge on nature stuff, but Bill Bryson’s chapter on the area in In a Sunburned Country made an impression on even me. It’s the world’s oldest rainforest, and, as our awesome guide David told us, includes myriad plant species that only exist as fossils in other parts of the world. It’s also just about the only spot on earth where you can still spot cassowaries, giant birds that are sort of like ostriches, except they’ve been known to gore people with their giant claws. I tell ya, only in Australia.

We were lucky enough to spot a cassowary crossing the road (and it really was as goofy as the silhouette in the picture above!), though it moved very quickly because there were motorcycles up ahead of us and they’re very shy. We also took a little cruise on Cooper Creek and spotted a bunch of crocodiles among the mangroves:


Check out that huge checkered tail!

Aside from the entertainment of spotting crocs, the cruise was also funny because there was a middle-aged American couple wearing matching t-shirts (over the course of our trip we came across a lot of Americans wearing matching outfits, since when is that a thing?). There also happened to be a very loud toddler on our boat who not only wailed to the point that my ears bled, but also insisted on stripping down to only a diaper and running around the boat. At one point we came to a spot where the boat guide spotted a giant croc lurking just underneath the water’s surface, so that none of us on the boat could see it very well. People started speculating about how we could draw it to the surface when the American guy said really loudly, “Throw the kid in!”

Unsurprisingly, her mother looked horrified, and everyone else sort of gasped awkwardly. The hubs and I were cracking up to ourselves, because it was kind of like the best and worst of Americans in a nutshell. Yes, American tourists can be ridiculous and loud and kind of obnoxious, but the truth is everyone was annoyed by that kid, and it was damn hilarious when they said it. The parents reading this probably don’t agree, but ah well.

We took our Daintree tour with Daintree Deluxe Safaris, which is owned by the same people as Calypso Cruises. Once again we lucked out on numbers and ended up with a private tour in a Toyota Landcruiser. Our tourguide, David, was an affable former Sydneysider who seemed to possess infinite knowledge about Australian flora, fauna, and history. I’m not sure I’ve ever learned so much on a tour before. Besides walking through the rainforest, we also had tea on the beach near Cooper Creek, a picnic lunch on the beach at Cape Tribulation, and ice cream at the Daintree Ice Cream Company, which makes flavors like Soursop and Jackfruit using only ingredients grown on their gorgeous tropical property. Yes, it was kind of touristy, but also pretty unique and very tasty!

cape tribulation beach

The beach at Cape Tribulation

A lush vista overlooking the Daintree River as it empties into the Coral Sea

All in all, totally gorgeous. My only regret about this trip was that we didn’t have more time to spend up there. Just like with our last trip to Melbourne, this one only reinforced for me just how much there is to see here, while also putting me into a panic about finding the time to see everything!

On a fairly unrelated note, I wanted to address a rather upsetting comment that I received a couple weeks ago from an anonymous poster calling himself “Representative of all Australians.” I’m assuming that he was male, because I don’t think a woman would call another woman she’d never met a bitch. Maybe I’m wrong, who knows. I don’t like to censor comments, but this one was addressed to the general “About this blog” page and I don’t really want to have it up there. So I’ve decided that I’ll post the comment in its entirety below. I might take this part of the post down at some point, but for now I’m embracing my journalistic roots and being totally transparent.

All I can say is that this blog is a place for me to describe my expat experience here in Australia. I think there’s been plenty of good, but fuck yeah, there has been a lot of crappy stuff to deal with. Personally I don’t think I’ve often targeted Sydney, nor do I frequently compare it to New York (other than the fact that most of our friends live in New York, and I miss having lots of friends around), but maybe that’s how some people see it. I’ve certainly never meant to offend anyone in Australia, but I do know that I can be snarky. I guess this is just a terse reminder of how nasty people can be when they’re anonymous on the Internet. Without further ado, my harshest critic to date:

I’m an Australian who has lived in the US, and quite a few other countries over the past 15 years. I know it is natural for expats to bitch about the new country they are in – the food, weather; how you can’t get this or that thing you can get in your own country; how people do things differently; how things can irritate; I know it’s natural and it’s human nature.

But I came across your blog while searching for something on the net, and curious, read a bit. You have a problem. I can almost here your whiny American voice making all the complaints.

You know, I won’t try to say Sydney is better than New York City. I genuinely think NYC is the best city in the world. San Francisco is great too. The rest, however, is pretty crappy to be honest.

I don’t know why you have this whole superior tone going-on. Sydney has lots of great things about it. I went to plenty of other cities and am pretty sure my hometown is a better place to live than most of them. So why are you such an arsehole about it.

Are you just really homesick? Or do you really have some issue ( is the ADD thing really a joke?). So basically f-off back to the US will ya. I’m serious. GO HOME!!!!

Your blog is hugely insulting and you are just a bitch. You know, I don’t know why you spend all your energy and time finding things to hate about this city and country. It’s not that bad. If you really don’t like it then just buy that ticket and fly right out of it. We’ll be totally happy to see you go. Seriously.

Apart from NYC and SF you don’t have so much to be proud of. It’s not like you have a Rome or Paris over there.

Also, take your medication ok.

Oh by the way, a belated Happy 4th of July to all you expats out there. Would you believe I felt particularly homesick over the past couple weeks?