Category Archives: Cairns

The Great Barrier Reef

Over the Easter break I journeyed to Cairns where I snorkeled in The Great Barrier Reef.  I felt like I was in the Finding Nemo movie!  It was absolutely incredible.  The only thing I could have hoped for was better weather.  It was such a gray overcast day that the visibility in the water was not great.  It also made the water really rough which resulted in me drinking about a gallon of salt water.

The weather is all I can complain about and even then it could have been worse.  If you know me then you probably know that the ocean and I don’t get along so well.  I have a slight fear of swimming in the ocean, especially when I know there is a potential for sharks and guess what Australian oceans are known for?  But because I didn’t know when I was going to visit this specific wonder of the world again  I was not going to let the opportunity pass me.  Of course once I peeled on my wet suit, fitted the goggles to my face and set my finned feet in the water this gallant idea did not seem so brilliant anymore.  I was one of the last people to set off and I felt so bad because my friend was with me and had to wait for me to toughen up and get in the water.  I had at least told one the snorkeling instructors that I might freak out once I hit the water and one of them came to my aid and helped ease me into the water. They advised me not to put my face in the water until I was above the reef which was probably a smart idea so that I would have something below me when I looked down.

When I finally put my face in the water it was breathtaking.  Even with low visibility the reef was vibrant and buzzing with life. Almost immediately after putting my face in the water I saw something move out of the corner of my eye.  My head snapped in its direction my heart pounding and breathing harsh and labored.  I was fighting my automatic instincts by not moving and keeping my face in the water trying to make out the dark shape about 20 feet from me.  I did not see the tell-tale shark fin shape so I decided I could manage to keep myself calm.  I am very glad I did.  As my eyes adjusted to the underwater lighting I was finally able to make out the shape of a medium-sized sea turtle leisurely floating past the reef!  Unfortunately at the same time I saw the turtle everyone else did as well and started diving towards it to get closer.  It didn’t stay to pose for pictures and disappeared once the first snorkeler got too close.

After the turtle left I turned my attention towards discovering the reef.  It was so bizarre seeing the reef in real life after seeing countless pictures and footage of it throughout my life.  There were so many different kinds of fish and coral I lost count after noticing the first couple.  There were schools of tiny slender blue shimmering fish the size of my little finger.  There were much bigger fish called parrot fish with bizarre shaped mouths and funky pink and green patterning splashed across their bodies.  And the coral!  I never thought coral was interesting until then.  At one point we swam over a forest of brilliant blue twig-like coral. I remember being fascinated that such brilliant colors were all naturally made and that no matter how hard humans tried they would never be able to reproduce the colors nature created in that reef.

What was most incredible was the silence of the water.  At first I took the lack of sound to be eerie.  I think from years of knowing how horror films work I subconsciously kept waiting for something with big teeth and horrifying similar to a shark come at me from out of no where.  When I was able to convince myself that no such thing was going to happen the eeriness of the silence began to fade.  It was replaced by the most soothing of feelings. I watched all of the life and activity of the reef bustling around me- fish-eating, chasing each other, swimming, poking in and out of the coral- and it was all happening below me in complete silence.  I felt like I was in another world!


Australia- Cairns Waterfall and Tableland Tour

If you’re in Cairns for a short amount of time I highly recommend one other thing besides snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef and that is the Waterfall, and Tableland Tour by Cape Trib Connections.  It’s actually really important which tour company you go with because they all provide such different experiences.  Cape Trib Connections provided such a friendly and lively tour guide named Peter and he really made the difference between a normal tour and a great tour.  First of all, for anyone expecting Australian people to act like Steve Irwin the moment you get off the plane, Peter will not disappoint you.  He was charming and friendly and had a whopper of the “classic” Aussie accent.  On top of the knowledgeable tour guides and breath-taking stops, the price cannot be beat-  at $55 its the cheapest of these kinds of tours.  Don’t be fooled by the Uncle Ben’s Tours or any of the others ones that offer the same trip for double the price (literally).  Cape Trib Connections is definitely the tour to be on:

Peter had a seemingly endless knowledge of the Table Lands and regaled us with stories and endless commentary on the bus ride to the waterfalls.  He is actually the person who supplied all my knowledge on the Gimpie Gimpie plant (and the entertaining story about the American soldiers) that was the subject of an earlier post.

For your reference here is the run down of our entire day in sequential order:

1. Babinda Boulders

There is an aboriginal story about the creation of these boulders which is very similar to Romeo and Juliette.  There were two opposing tribes who were trying to come to a peace agreement.  The princess from one tribe fell in love with the handsome warrior from the other tribe even though she was promised to another man from her own tribe.  When her tribe caught wind of the two lovers they tried to escape to be together but the tribes followed after them.  Eventually the tribes caught up and when they did they shot her beloved warrior.  The princess is said to have rooted to the spot and cried until the great rapids of Babinda Boulders were formed; the spot where the princess is said to have cried over her dead warrior is now, coincidentally, a whirlpool called Devil’s Pool.  It is said that her ghost still lurks around the boulders to lure young men to their death.  Even now young men, especially aboriginal boys, are cautioned not to go near the boulders.  The creepy part is that in total, as far as anyone has been able to count at least, there have been 17 deaths by drowning in rapids by the boulders- they have all been young men.

2. Josephine Falls

3. Milla Milla Falls

These waterfalls are renowned for being the backdrop of Herbal Essences commercials in Australia.  Unfortunately upon our visit there were no bathing beauties with the luscious locks that Herbal Essences promises but it was still a pretty gorgeous waterfall.

4. Malanda Falls

5. Atherton Table Lands

6. Lake Eacham

And after a very long rainy day- I do recommend going on a sunny day- when we finally shed our shoes we were appalled at the sight attached to the ends of our legs…

Its been three weeks since our Cairns trip and my shoes still smell!

Australia- The Gimpie Gimpie

I really shouldn’t be surprised that along with the world’s most dangerous sea creatures and land animals that Australia is also home to one of the most deadly plants in the world: The Gimpie Gimpie.  Do not let the pansy-sounding name fool you, this innocent looking plant seems like it would be something out of a sick horror film.

The plant is completely covered in small looking hairs.  Turns out they are silica-tipped thorn like tubes.  Brush up against it, even slightly, and you will endure the most excruciating pain that lasts… not for a couple of minutes or hours, not for a couple of days or weeks but a couple of months.  Three to six months to be exact, if you’re on the younger side of life.  Our rain forest tour guide mentioned that he once met an elderly gentleman who had accidentally brushed up against it and dealt with The Gimpie Gimpie pain for ten years.

So of course, I was morbidly fascinated and needed to know what exactly this plant did.  I was informed that in coming into contact with it releases the silica-tipped thorns into your skin. And there is no way to get them out. People have attempted to use depilation wax to remove the thorns, and although it can sometimes work, there is no cure for the pain and no way to thoroughly remove all the needles.  So this means you have to wait until the thorns slowly and very painfully break down into your skin while your body fights it out of your system.

Turns out that American soldiers are well acquainted with the plant.  Apparently in the past, Australian soldiers had a distinct disliking for American soldiers as they charmed away all the Australian women.  In retaliation, Australian soldiers would sneak into the American soldier’s camp and switch the plain plant leaves (used as toilet paper at the time) with Gimpie Gimpie leaves.  Needless to say, after this happened verbally charming women was as far as those soldiers could get with the Australian women.

I thought this was the worst of the plant.  Turns out that is just the beginning.  If you’re unfortunate enough to be around the plant when it is shaken roughly, you will be dead with in a few moments by suffocation.  What do you suffocate from?  Your  own blood.  Apparently the plant releases some kind of chemical into the air which, if inhaled by humans, will cause the lungs to start violently bleeding.

The only way to completely handle this plant is with full bio-hazard suits.  And in fact that is actually what is used when attempting to clear patches out of the rain forest or to check rain forests after fires.

How to look out for it?  The deliciously-tasting completely harmless bright red little berries that hang from it.  Of course.  What is pleasure without a little pain?