FNQ: Day 6: Saturday 29 April 2006

29 04 2006

ANOTHER rest day – gee, I could get used to this!

Today we had one activity planned – Dave wanted to try the cable water skiing so he did that and seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself, though he was a bit sore afterwards… He probably won't be able to walk tomorrow!

I had a call from the Kuranda Skytrain people and we can't do the train part tomorrow, only the Skyrail as the landslide that has kept the train out of action is still not repaired. At least that saves us $80! So we'll go up to Kuranda and back on the Skyrail.

Today the weather was quite good – and the sea was relatively calm in contrast to how it's been all week. Hopefully it will remain calm for our trip to the reef on Monday.

This afternoon we ventured down to the Surf Lifesaving Club for a bite to eat and to play some more pool. I headed back to the villa at 3:30 as I needed to rehearse my presentation for the conference next week. Also, I have to drive to the airport later on to pick up my sister, her husband, and their little boy – they fly in from Perth for a week (I think).

Update: Picked up the family from the airport in their little car. The brake light continued to go on and off without any logical reason, then when we were heading back to Palm Cove, the horn sounded intermittently. So something's not right with the electrical system in that car. My sister and brother-in-law have just purchased another holiday unit in Palm Cove – this time at the Angsana Spa Resort. It's a penthouse unit, with 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms (3 bed/1 bath upstairs), full kitchen, dining, living etc. And it's VERY nice. Overlooks the ocean across the pool through the palm trees though we couldn't see it as it was dark! They walked me back to where we're staying, then I went out to get pizza. It had been very humid all afternoon – and I soon found out just how humid it was! I got quite wet going down to the pizza place only to find they'd closed the kitchen. Then Jeff went down to the Surf Club to get some beers, and got SOAKED. I think they call this level of humidity "torrential rain"… We eventually got pizzas from Il Forno Italian restaurant – they were good too – and watched some of the West Coast Eagles vs Brisbane football game on TV (the Eagles won).

FNQ: Day 5: Friday 28 April 2006

29 04 2006

Another rest day. The intention was to go to an outer reef on the Great Barrier Reef today, but the weather was 'iffy'. Heavy rain overnight, very cloudy, and the waves were pounding a little too loud on the shore. So I called and postponed the trip until Monday – again, dependent on the weather. We've purchased Dramamine in case it's a bit rough on the boat going out and back, so that's not a problem. However, thick cloudy skies mean that the sun doesn't shine into the water as well, which means you can't see the fish and the coral as clearly.

Instead we decided to try the cable water skiing as Dave wanted to give that a go. Unfortunately, they were putting new equipment into the water when we arrived, and the 10-15 minutes wait grew to well over 30 mins before we decided to come back either later in the day or tomorrow.

Quick change of plans, and off we went south of Cairns to Innisfail. We'd visited Innisfail the last time we were here and it's a very typical Australian country town. However, 5 weeks ago it was in the direct path of Cyclone Larry (a category 5 cyclone/hurricane/typhoon), so suffered a lot of infrastructure damage, though – fortunately – no loss of life.

While there's a bit of an ethical question for me about being a tourist in a town damaged by such a tragedy, the other side says that the town needs all the support it can get, and if that means turning up and purchasing some local goods and services, that has to help the economy in a very small way.

The damage to houses, trees, and plantations (esp. bananas) is pretty extensive. Many houses and businesses still have tarps covering some or all of their rooves, and road crews were visible cleaning up vegetation and damaged roads. Evidence of flooding could be seen at all river crossings too. However, the town of Innisfail was bustling with people and most businesses were open.

In the spirit of consistency, my husband and I had steak sandwiches for lunch (Dave had a Hawaiian burger) at a little take-out cafe in the main street of town (Pete's??). Excellent tucker! And cheap too – $6 each for the steak sandwiches and they were laden with goodies!

After our large lunches we wandered down to the river foreshore at the end of the main street, and saw up close the damage that a cyclone can do. Three HUGE trees in the park were just ripped out of the ground. Clean-up crews have removed all the branches that were hanging over the path and over the boats moored there, but the bases of the trees and their root systems were still exposed. The power of a wind to do that to a tree is hard to comprehend. Strangely, many rooves of businesses lining the foreshore were still intact – I'd have thought that a wind that could rip a massive tree out of the ground would have had no trouble ripping sheets of iron off a roof across the road.

River foreshore at Innisfail

We drove back to Palm Cove, dropping Dave off at the aboriginal theatre (Tjupakai?) near the Kuranda Skyrail while we got some groceries and refuelled 'the tomato'.

Dinner tonight was a stir-fried chicken with fresh ginger (from Innisfail) and chili, salad, and a multi-grain bread also from Innisfail. We may not have contributed much, but we did throw a few dollars into Innisfail's economy.


Restaurant pricing: Australia

28 04 2006

I've said my piece about pricing in the US, but there's an area of pricing in Australian restaurants that both annoys me and pleases me.

When you eat in most Australian restaurants or cafes the price you pay for your meal is what's on the menu – as is what you get. If you want anything extra than what's described (e.g. a salad, vegies, bread, soup, etc.) you usually pay extra for those items. This is great if you just want that meal – if you don't want salad with your meal, then you don't pay for it. So it very much works on the 'user pays' principle, unlike the US where MANY meals come with soup or salad and other bits and pieces as standard. For those of us brought up on the "clean your plate – think of the starving [Indians/Biafrans/whatever]" the whole shebang provided in US restaurants is a trap as you tend to eat WAY more than you intended.

But the down side to the 'user pays for any extras' principle in Australia is that you can end up paying way more for your meal for items that cost the restaurant very little to produce, such as a plain garden salad. We got caught last night – Dave asked for bread and butter. Surprisingly for this restaurant, he got 2 slices of white bread such as you'd use for breakfast toast! We all expected some crusty bread, such as that I had for the Bruschetta. When we paid the bill, the restaurant had charged us $1.90 for the pathetic bread and butter – hell, you can buy the whole sliced loaf in the supermarket for that!

The other thing that got us was the credit card charge – which none of us had seen detailed on the blackboard menu outside, or the actual menu. It was 5% of the bill – and, in my opinion, is an absolute rip-off as the credit card providers only charge vendors between 1 and 3% (vendors are now allowed to pass on this charge). That means we were paying between 2 and 4% extra just because we chose to use a credit card. Well, hello! We chose to use a credit card because we DON'T walk around with that much cash on us all the time, and because we want an accurate reckoning and evidence of expenditure. That meant that we paid an extra $7 on this bill.

However, I do feel sorry for the very young girl who finalised our bill. She apologised most profusely for this charge – numerous times. As we left the restaurant my husband asked if we'd seen the manager walk past. We hadn't – he said that the manager looked daggers at the girl when she heard her apologise to us for the credit card charge. So no doubt the girl is in for it and will be told in no uncertain terms that she should never do that again. Poor kid.

FNQ: Day 4: Thursday 27 April 2006

28 04 2006

A rest day today. We got up late, lolled around for a while, Dave went shopping for tourist souvenirs and gifts (yes, Stevie, stuff for you too!), then we drove in to Cairns to take a walk around there and have some lunch.

Lunch was at the Rattle & Hum bar and grill down on the esplanade; Dave and I shared a wood-fired Peppered Chicken pizza and my husband had ANOTHER steak sandwich! Maybe he's going to write a book on "Steak Sandwiches of the World", starting with those in FNQ…

We played some pool for a while, then headed back to Palm Cove for a swim in a different sort of pool (swimming in the ocean across the road is out of the question – the water is brown and murky, the waves are fairly high, but most importantly, the deadly stingers are still around). The pool is slightly heated so swimming is very pleasant, and the hot tub was nice and warm. Well, what we were doing wasn't exactly swimming! That's way too athletic… mostly we lolled around floating on our backs watching the fruit bats in the palm trees above.

Those fruit bats are really cool. When they fly across the sky they just look like the Batman logo. I'd estimate their wing span at about 12 or 15 inches across, so they're not small. One was so protective of the fruit and flowers it was eating that it literally batted a bird out of the way. Too funny!

Fruit bat looking like Batman!

After an hour or so getting all prune-like in the pool and hot tub,we wandered down the street to the Apres Beach Cafe for dinner. Dave ordered Mango Daiquiris for me and him, while the hubby had a Kilkenny. Those Mango Daiquiris were VERY nice. I ate lighter tonight with some Bruschetta and a Chicken Caesar Salad; Dave had Creamy Garlic Prawns, and hubby had a Jungle Chicken and Coconut Curry. The meal wasn't cheap and the service was lacking a bit, but it was a good feed.

An early night as we have to leave for Cairns at 7:30am tomorrow if we do the Reef tour – the weather first thing tomorrow will dictate whether we go or not.


FNQ: Day 3: Wednesday 26 April 2006

26 04 2006

Another 'tourist' day today, but by the end we were about 'touristed out' for a while!

After booking activities for Friday (Outer Reef trip) and Sunday (Kuranda skytrain and skyrail), we got back into our little tomato-red car (Hyundai Getz) and headed north. The destination: Cape Tribulation, the farthest north you can go on paved road on the eastern coast of Australia. The aim was to head north without stopping along the way and do the stops on the way back. So that's what we did.

The weather was quite nice – cloudy but fine, with moderate winds… a beautiful day for driving in some of the most beautiful countryside in the world.

Some of the sights along the way: rainforest almost falling into the edge of the ocean, sugar cane plantations, "beware of crocodile" signs, Mossman Gorge, the World-Heritage listed Daintree Rainforest.

To keep our stomachs in the state to which they've become accustomed, we stopped for lunch at the general store at Myall Creek – and what a lunch! Dave and I had the superb $10.50 fish and chips (the fish was Red Emperor, no less), and Jeff had the $10.00 steak sandwich (made with rib-eye steak [aka Scotch Fillet]). Great food, great value! Then we stopped for ice-cream at the Daintree Ice-Cream Factory. They only do four flavours at a time, in the one cup. And today's flavours were: banana, raspberry, wattleseed, and soursop. While we were having our ice-creams, lots of fabulous butterflies were flitting between the trees and bushes. Big blue Ulysses, gorgeous lime green ones, and other really large multi-coloured butterflies.

Port Douglas was the last stop and there we ended up at the Iron Bar to play pool and for the guys to have a couple of beers (cider in Dave's case).


FNQ: Day 2: Tuesday April 25

26 04 2006

We decided to 'do' the Cairns Tropical Zoo today, then meander up in to the Atherton Tablelands in the afternoon. As it was Anzac Day, most retail places were closed, but the Zoo was open and we expected a pub or two to be open after 1pm so we hoped to have a late lunch at one of them.

The highlight of the Cairns Tropical Zoo was the free flight bird show. We needed to sit in the shade and where we sat was just the BEST. Two of the birds (a red-tailed black cockatoo and a barn owl) had their flight paths directly over our heads… close enough to touch us with the downward beat of their wings. Amazing.

Other zoo highlights were the crocodiles – man, are some of those guys HUGE! – and the koalas. I think it's the first time I've touched a koala and the fur is amazingly soft. One of the koalas hung asleep in a branch looking like he'd had about 5 or 6 Jack Daniels and cokes too many (he's the one on the right in the pics below). Too funny.

As far as zoos go, this one was quite small, but came with a hefty entry fee of $28 per adult. I'm not sure it was worth that, but it was a pretty neat zoo nonetheless.

Koala at Cairns Tropical Zoo Too many Jack and cokes?

We finished at the zoo about noon, then drove south of Cairns to near Gordonvale where we turned inland towards Atherton. Going up and over the Great Dividing Range is pretty hair-raising. The road is narrow and winding, and the drops off the side are deadly. The views are fantastic, but some of those bends were a little stomach-churning for me (I was in the back, so that didn't help).

We decided to stop for lunch at the Peeramon Hotel just off the main road. We'd been there before and had a great steak snadwich, and as this is an OLD Queensland pub (built in 1908 and full of character – and characters!) we thought it would appeal to Dave. However it was a bit of a disappointment as there was no lunch on today and the place was looking quite tired and jaded after sustaining some significant structural damage from Cyclone Larry only 5 weeks ago. So the guys had a beer each and played (badly!) one game of pool, then we went back to the Lake Eachem Roadhouse and had lunch. Dave reckons the hamburger he had was the best he's EVER had, anywhere. That was probably because it was home-made, not like the burgers in the US which are all pre-packaged reconstituted cardboard (in my not so humble opinion!). We had steak burgers and they were great too. Good old Aussie burgers – beetroot and all!

After lunch we continued on to Atherton looking for somewhere that sold ice-cream, but Atherton was basically closed. However, on the road to Mareeba we came across a roadside market at Tolga that sold locally made ice-cream. It was delicious. I had 2 scoops – one of banana/coconut, the other of macadamia nut/caramel. The lady in the store talked to us about the various fruits they had and mentioned something none of us had ever heard of – dragonfruit (aka 'pitaya' from Central and South America). They made a sweet chili sauce from it and Dave was totally hooked!

We bypassed Mareeba and headed back towards Cairns via Kuranda. Another very winding road with sensational views of the coast at various points. Well 'do' Kuranda later in the week.

In honour of Anzac Day I cooked kangaroo fillet steaks tonight for dinner with chili sausages and a plain salad. We were going to have a BBQ but it was pretty dark, so I cooked inside. The kangaroo was delicious – it had marinaded in chili and Cajun spices and olive oil all day! We had Wild Lime dressing on the salad, and that was delicious too – wild limes are an indigenous food, and I'm not sure they are actually from the cirtrus family, but they have the same tang.

All in all, a satisfying day… even if our stomachs were groaning a little under all that lovely food!

FNQ: Day 1: Monday 24 April

25 04 2006

My American friend and colleague, Dave, was on the same flights as us from LA to Sydney to Cairns, and is spending a week with us in Palm Cove before we all head to Cairns for the next conference. Palm Cove is about 25kms north of Cairns and we're staying in a holiday villa right on the esplanade, overlooking the beach through the large melaleucas and palm trees.

FNQ (Far North Queensland) has had a LOT of rain in the 5 weeks since Cyclone Larry went through, according to the locals, and today (Monday) was one of the first fine days they had. Of course, you get rain in a tropical rainforest… that's to be expected (as is the humidity), but I hope we get some more fine days so Dave can enjoy this little part of the world in the sunshine.

So far we haven't made any plans for the week – we'll do that tomorrow. Today was all about arriving in Cairns from the US, getting the shuttle to Palm Cove, checking in, unpacking, renting a car to get us around, and doing some grocery shopping before the shops closed because tomorrow (Tuesday) is Anzac Day and almost everything will be closed, either for the whole day or until at least noon. And going for a dip in the pool and watching the fruit bats in the palm trees and flying overhead!

As the day drew to a close and we sat out facing the ocean with a red wine for me and beers for the guys, we wondered what the rich people were doing!