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Friday, March 5, 2010

Saving the Best (Weekend) for Last

Leaving audacious, foolish, dazzling Sydney for gentle Brisbane (‘brizz-ben’) after 3 weeks was my closest version of inter-country culture shock. Instead of basking in that awkwardness, I quickly caught a flight up to Cairns (‘cans,’ no ‘r’) for a launching point to the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Landed Thursday afternoon, and stupidly booked Thursday night at Gilligan’s, seemingly the biggest backpacker’s hostel in the world. Well, maybe not the biggest, but potentially the loudest sleeping over 500 bodies per night, and dishing up raucous fun on a nightly basis in the throbbing bar, which conveniently amplifies music to nearly every room in the house. Thursday night was “Ladies Champagne” night, but even after 3 glasses served by half-dressed buff men, the noise in my top bunk could not be blocked out even after earplugs supplementation. Oh the life of cheap accommodations! Honestly though, who cares?! I was leaving bright and early Friday morning on a catamaran for the GBR!!!

Two days and one night of miraculousness followed on a live-aboard 120’ catamaran with 8 dives / day on the GBR. Words cannot accurately describe the colors and sights that I saw…
colors that I have never scene before in my life, patterns that I have never imagined, creatures that I didn't know existed. Simply remarkable. Words cannot describe the experience, nor can pictures. I hope that each of you has an opportunity in life to experience something in nature that touches you more than you can describe.

Two days later, I was at a rental car company being lectured of “no off-road driving, no unsealed roads, no… no… no…” The guy was exhaustively panicky about the wellbeing of each car, and threatened numerous fines if there was “any evidence” of misbehavior. I already knew some of the roads were unsealed, some extremely windy and more risky, but I quietly kept those facts to myself. Before the weekend, I was torn between The Atherton Tablelands, 60 kms southwest of coastal Cairns at 1500 – 4200 feet above sea level, or Cape Tribulation, a rainforest crashing down in the middle of desert. My deciding point? My guidebook’s write-up about a little hostel, “On the Wallaby,” in a town of less than 450 people… Starting the weekend with the world’s loudest hostel, and ending with 2 nights in the world’s best hostel, was by far the right choice!

The charming Atherton Tablelands offer picturesque rolling hills sidled up to unspoiled forests, scattered waterfalls and platypus in the wild. Seriously, does it sound better? Ok, fine… award-winning scones, a coffee factory with 21 coffees and 14 chocolates to taste, and Australia’s most photographed waterfall. And getting my rental car stuck on a quiet Sunday afternoon. Oops!!
Platypus viewing platforms

The Bashful Platypus—The curious little monotreme (1 of 3 egg-laying mammal species) best seen at dawn and dusk, is evasive, bizarre and intriguing. Yungaburra is one of the best places in Oz to see this animal, and has dedicated Platypus-Viewing spots that have wooden walls with cutouts looking over small streams. I took on a 5:30am dawn walk and spotted 4 different little buggers! The area also has a dedicated “Waterfall Circuit” that is to die for, winding around 5 spectacular waterfalls across 20kms or so. During this drive, I pulled off the road to safely check my directions on the map, instead of wielding my right-hand drive around curves and maps. “Ok, on the right road, going the right direction. Rightie-O, off we go.” Hopped a curb. Whoops. Car not moving. Oh shit. Wheels spinning in the air. Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. Get out of car. Left front wheel is hanging in the air over a ditch, and the undercarriage of the car is sitting on top of a big curb. After an hour and several VERY philanthropic Aussies stopped to help me (because they seriously saw my facial emotions and body despair on the side of the road), my car was chained and pulled over the curb successfully.
Picture captured during my early morning platypus hike

The first car that pulled over to generously help me was an elder couple out on a Sunday drive. We thought the logical stop for help would be the police station… no such luck, as the Police Station in this pop. 400 town was only open on Tuesdays from 10:00am – 12:00pm. Did you read that correctly? Yes, opening hours scheduled for 2 hours per week.
I’ll stop the stories now as this is getting pretty long, but this was a lovely long weekend packed with beautiful adventures.

Pix Great Barrier Reef

Pix Atherton Tablelands

Hugs to all!

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