Thursday, July 19, 2012

Cairns - from one cascade to the other!

It was the end of May and one of those mornings again: an unreasonably early wake-up and off to catch a morning flight from Darwin to Cairns. I felt I had barely fallen asleep the whole night, thanks to the Darwin party people keeping everybody awake (well it was Saturday night so what could I expect). I was counting the days 'til I would be home again, in my own bed, enjoying the peace & quiet…

From one small city to another, I was making my way through the northern parts of Australia. Cairns is the biggest city on the northeast coast, in the middle of tropical nature and the Great Barrier Reef. The city doesn't really have a beach (very strange) but a nice promenade by the sea. This is the centre of most of what's happening in Cairns with big lawn areas, spaces & equipment for the sports enthusiasts and BBQ spots as well as a 4800m2 saltwater swimming lagoon. And a lovely place to go see the sunset!

Lagoon at the Promenade
Sunset from the Promenade
The city's main activities, shops, restaurants and numerous bars & clubs (Gilligan's and the Wool Shed seemed to be the #1 party places this winter) are in the streets close to the promenade. Once you walk beyond that there's nothing but wide roads with more or less dull hotels, residential buildings and palm trees. One spot in the centre of Cairns I do recommend is the veggie and fruit market, Rusty's market on Grafton Street. There's a fantastic selection of fresh groceries and everything is quite cheap, they also have nice small international food court.

There are lots and lots of travelers and internationals in Cairns (mostly young students spending their gap years before, after or between studies) who stay there for a month or even a year working & enjoying the laid-back party life in the tropics. A lot of the activities and nightlife in particular is geared for the budget minded backpackers so you'll find lots of ads for pub crawls and adrenaline sports. There's also bars and hostels that offer free meals and free tours. The city also hosts free sports events and fitness classes weekly Mon-Sat on the Promenade; zumba, yoga, bouldering, boxinfun, walking, pilates, aqua aerobics, mubalates, bootcamp and ViPR was on the schedule now. Cairns is also a bit cheaper place to live - a lot cheaper e.g. than Darwin (even half the price for hostels).

But you don't have to stay in Cairns - and most people don't. There's lots to see in the Far North Queensland! This was my last 9 days in Australia so I wanted to make it special - I sat down in front of the amazingly slow computer and at the travel agencies, and booked myself a week full of trips and activities! It was going to get quite wet, I tells ya...

Crystal Cascades

After resting the first couple days in Cairns I was ready for my first small adventure: a trip to the closeby Crystal Cascades. A group of us jumped in the van and drove a bit out of the city to a freshwater cascade. It was an interesting little trek through the tropical woods up to a creek and following that creek all the way to a set of waterfalls. You can climb up all the way to the front of the main cascade and jump in - if you dare! We also stopped by at another point of the river to slide some of the waterfalls - it's quite a pretty area. They have actually hosted some international kayaking competition there so parts of it is very rough!

Climbing to the waterfall at Crystal Cascades
Clear waters!
Local big guy!
This daytrip was organised by the place where I was staying (Northern Greenhouse) and was - wait for it - free! The cascades are quite close to Cairns, about a half an hour drive though you may need some help to find to the cascades through the woods... perhaps there's an easier way but definitely it will be less interesting. Bring good shoes (trekking shoes); I was wearing my flipflops aka thongs and had I known about the walk I would have opted for more stable footwear.

Atherton Tablelands

A bit different scenery opens up from about an hour southwest from Cairns - the Atherton Tablelands. At a bit less than 1km in altitude this area has some beautiful green hills rounding up to a fertile plateau with nice fresh water cascades. It looks like the area is mostly inhabited by cows and sheep, only some small villages here and there.

On top of the tablelands: Heales lookout
After we reached the top our first stop was Lake Eacham, a volcanic crater lake. Some of the more adventurous of the group already had to jump in despite the chilly winter morning (well, winter in the tropics is never that chilly). I just focused on enjoying the super breakfast our tour organiser, "The Captain", set for us. There was also another - a bit more interesting - lake in the day's agenda: Mount Hypipamee Crater. This had been formed in an explosion of volcanic gasses way way back. Great acoustics by the way. But don't think about jumping in: you'll never come back.

Mount Hypipamee Crater - over 130 deep above the surface and over 80m below the surface!
Again I could get my feet wet - the Far North Queensland has an abundance of cascades and waterfalls! At the Tablelands tour we stopped at a couple of them. First it was the Ellinjaa Fall (I think.. or Dinner Falls, was hard to keep track of all of them). A couple of the guys were excited and started to monkey around, jumping from the cliffs all around, even from the trees.
Ellinjaa Falls - I think... May have lost track with all the names
I was saving my energy (and heat; it was a cold day) to the two last - and the most spectacular - waterfalls. The Milla Milla waterfall is known for its gorgeous surroundings and it's been a site for music videos and shampoo commercials. The water was freezing but I was determined. And also as soon as I stripped down to my bikini I was promptly carried into the water – so no choice either :D I swam all the way to behind the waterfall! And was close to hypothermia when I came out but boy was it a thrill!!

The last waterfall, Josephine, was a long strip of wide cascades. It was a perfect natural waterslide! Sliding down was scary, especially on the far left side of the stream where it's quite strong and it tosses you around like a little leaf... but it was amazing! The place is know for getting flooded and the water levels can rise dramatically - at those times it gets dangerous to swim so go with someone who knows the place.

View of Milla Milla from the hill: stunning, tall waterfall but oh so cold!
More waterfalls: Josephine Falls
Not even half of Josephine Falls... it's massive!
Best waterslide in the world!?
If you want to do one (inexpensive) tour in Cairns and like water, this is the one :) There's a couple of different options for the Tableland but I have to recommend the Barefoot tours – possibly one of most fun tours I did on my trip. The guy who runs it, Captain Matty, is an authentic, funny guy that has exactly the right attitude and concept. No hurry, no schedule, no hassle; fun & beautiful places, includes great food and plenty of it. 85 (75 on offer) AUD for the full day.

But this was just the beginning of the week! And it definitely wasn't the last time I got soaked before leaving Australia...

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