Packing once again, we prepared for the final leg of our Australian journey. We arrived in the ‘tropical north’ city of Cairns before lunch, and were shuttled 40 minutes north to the small town of Palm Cove. The Reef House hotel was perfect, even equipped with mosquito netting, which we both hoped we wouldn’t be using – especially after our India and Cat Island experience. None of the hotels are on the beach, but across the street (steps from the door) from the beach, because apparently saltwater crocodiles are in the water. Last week, a crocodile ate a guest’s little dog. Yep, everything is still trying to kill you, even in the tropical north. There is also a net set up in the ocean if you would like to go swimming. You only want to swim in the netted area, because the nets are keeping out the stingers (jellyfish). Unfortunately it is stinger season and we have learned that the nets keep out only the big stingers, the tiny stingers can easily slip through the net. Luckily, our resort has both a freshwater and saltwater swimming pool. That would be where you could find us.
We sat by the pool and enjoyed an afternoon of relaxing. Touring has been wonderful, but so tiring. Our feet ach and Scott’s feet are still bruised from a day of trekking all over Sydney while wearing flip-flops. For Christmas, I gave Scott the new Fit Force band. It calculates the steps he takes in a day and will buzz when you have achieved your daily goal of 10,000 steps. Pretty much every day, that goal was achieved before noon. That is a lot of steps, so the pool time is well deserved.
There is an honor bar at our resort. Scott and I were thrilled, as this we were familiar with this from staying on Cat Island last year. As you take a beverage from the refrigerated bar, you write down what you’ve taken on a piece of paper with your name, and totals are included at the end of your stay. Originally, our resort, The Reef House, was built as a family home. Soon after, it became a place for travelers and world-renowned writers to stay. The guest would celebrate twilight hour (happy hour) over a complimentary punch. This tradition continues today in addition to the lighting of (the twilight) candles.
Our first night at twilight hour, we learned the beach village, Palm Cove, is a popular destination for locals for their holidays (vacations). January is a popular holiday month, as it is the beginning of their summer. We met a couple in their 50s that live two hours from here and come annually for holiday.
We have learned a lot about the history of Australia. We have always heard the island (also a continent) of Australia was used as a place to send prisoners from England as their prisons were full. There were also free men shipped here, willing to work the land and make a new start. Our Aussie friend, Jake, laughed as he shared the story of how his ancestors had come to the island. His ancestor was caught poaching in England, and while trying to escape, beat the person who saw him to death and was sent to Australia to serve out his life sentence.
Australia is filled with so many poisonous snakes, spiders, frogs, etc. so if they didn’t kill you (because as we learned from Jake, everything here is trying to kill you), the terrain of Australia would. Still today, most of Australia is uninhabited with exception of the coastal areas. The outback is rough, tough and without fertile soil. Mining is big in the central area of Australia. Once the drilling is completed, all that is left is a pile of sandstone. An eye sore for many, but to others they make great homes. There are people who carve homes with rooms, plumbing and electricity into the sandstone. They place matches into the spaces of the cracks in the ceilings. If they find a match on the floor, they know it’s time to move out and move on, as the sandstone is soon to fall.
At one of the Reef House’s Twilight Hours we learned a lot about the Aborigines. They were the original inhabitants of Australia, a lot like the Native Indians of America, and happily lived off the land – well until the English prisoners and free men looking for new land to settle, arrived. Just like our American ancestors, the newcomers to Australia slaughtered them, took their land and sent them some other place to live. So there is still a racial divide between the Aboriginal people and the other Australians. The Aboriginal people mostly stay to themselves. From what we understand, the Australian flags aren’t flown with pride, as we fly the United States and Texas flags. When the flag is flown at a private residence, it can be interpreted as a statement of prejudices against the Aborigines.
The day was finally here. The day we would see the Great Barrier Reef! We have both always dreamed of this day and to share it with the one you love, is truly amazing. With our underwater camera and towel in hand, we caught the shuttle for Port Douglas where we boarded the huge dive and snorkel boat, Poseidon. We were all fitted with stinger suites, which basically look like wet suits with stirrups at the feet, mits for the hands and a hat for the head. Full coverage is required as it is “stinger season” (jellyfish) and there are some deadly jellyfish out there (again, everything here is trying to kill you). As they handed out snorkels and masks, we prepped our personal gear. Last year I was fortunate that our vision insurance enabled us to purchase a prescription dive mask. Wearing glasses underwater is impossible and contacts are very uncomfortable for me.
Our first jump was fantastic! We checked out all the coral reefs, lingering over them to see what might shoot out from hiding. There was every Angel Fish you can imagine, Yellow Tangs, Puffer Fish, Parrot Fish, Sea Cucumbers, Sea Slugs, oh the list could go on forever. As we swam from one coral reef into the deep open ocean, we spotted a shark approaching. I think we nearly tore our fingers off, trying to unclasp hands and get to the camera quickly to capture the shot. We swam to several other reefs, checking out the fish, before it was time to load. As we swam to the dive boat, we found a larger shark hanging out under the boat. What a perfect ending to the first round.
The second jump was much more challenging, with hard rain and strong winds blowing and we were swimming against the current. Determined, we pushed forward as hard as we could. My arms and legs were beginning to hurt. We were told if we were pushed back to the boat by the current, to get out of the water. We did not want this. Finally we made it out of the ocean deep and were somewhat protected from the current by a reef. There were several pretty fish that we had seen. We looked for anything unique and found a brilliant red starfish, posing perfectly for a picture. Snap! When it was time to board the ship, we rode the ocean current in without a problem.
Ah, it was time for lunch. They prepared quite the nice spread for lunch. There were prawns, grilled chicken, turkey, ham, seafood salad, rocket salad and some nice breads (unfortunately for me, there wasn’t any gluten-free bread). Also between sessions, they served hot tea, coffee and biscuits (cookies). Knowing this ahead of time, we had packed gluten-free cookies.
Suited up and ready for our final plunge, we jumped into the clear blue water. The Coral Sea is beautiful with its deep blue color and feels so warm, like bath water. Unfortunately, the warmer temperatures make it perfect for jellyfish to breed and cause the coral and other sea life to die. The guides explained how this was another symptom of global warming, dead spots in the sea where little but Jellyfish can survive.
Scott is an excellent swimmer and is able to dive down further than me and is so graceful in the water. We hold hands as we swim from reef to reef. It is here, that we find Nemo. Nemo is the animated character in Finding Nemo. We have found, the movie wasn’t exactly correct. In each Sea Anemone lives a queen Clown Fish, much like ants. If the female Clown Fish dies, then the head male Clown Fish turns into a female within one week. So Nemo’s Dad, was really Nemo’s Mom. Go figure.
On this last adventure we spotted a ton of bright blue starfish. They were everywhere! It was like hunting for Easter eggs, so fun to find them! The amount of color all over the reefs was breathtaking and we found that the coral had flowing grass-like bits covering it, like sea anemones. In other reefs, these coral pieces were dead, and I had no idea because they still had their color. We leave the Coral Sea and return back to land forever changed.
The Palm Cove village that we are staying in is quaint and quite cute. We looked for a dinner place with some atmosphere, energy, music and good food. We chose the Aloha restaurant. We spoke to the waiter about gluten-free options. We have found Australia is far more progressive with their gluten-free options than Austin. Everything we talked to the waiter about for possibilities, well – unknowingly to us he literally wrote it down and ordered for us. When our meal came out, we were shocked. Meals are terribly expensive in Australia, so spending $100 on a shared meal and cocktails is common. Thankfully, Scott was able to settle the confusion with our many meals, as it could have easily cost $200.
Ready to kick back with a good book, we spent the next day poolside. Scott read his book, while I caught up on my travel journal. The day flew by and before we knew it was time for twilight hour. We met a couple of fun people. A lady who was from Melbourne on holiday from teaching, who was pretty funny to listen to and liked to talk about films (movies) she had seen or was looking forward to seeing. She recommended a restaurant to try, as she had been here several times. There was a younger couple that we didn’t get to visit with long, as they took their punch to challenge each other at a game of chess. We opted for an early dinner and walked to Vivo, as recommended. On our way there, we spotted the tiniest little frog jumping in the grass. Remembering Jake and his father’s advice of not touching anything (everything here is trying to kill you), it took every inch of will power for me to not pick it up.
We didn’t have reservations, but they were able to give us a table on the side of the restaurant patio. Perfect. We ordered a delicious tuna steak with bok choy and a garden salad topped with Kalamata olives. For drinks, Scott ordered a Coral Sea Breeze beverage and I had a nice Australian Shiraz wine. Watching the storm clouds we asked for our check to beat the rain. He told us we wouldn’t make it and within two point two seconds, the wait staff released the plastic rain guards covering the patio and then boom! Down came the rain. It was the most exciting and energy filled rain, with the ocean in the background and the palm trees happily drinking their sky beverages. People caught outside came in completely soaked, everyone laughing with the excitement of the rain. Ahh. The earth was getting a bath – or should I say a shower.
We settled in for another drink to watch the rain show. I had another glass of my favorite Australian Shiraz and Scott ordered a margarita. We laughed as Scott drank his first sip and promised to share a real margarita recipe with the bartender before we left Palm Cove. The rain eased up, so Scott searched for a wait staff to settle our bill. Because the wait staff doesn’t work on tips in Australia, any wait staff is happy to also be your cashier. We took our chances and weren’t completely soaked when we made it to our hotel. We spent some time on our patio, enjoying cocktails from our room, watching the rain and catching up on Facebook. Finally there was a break from the rain, so we grabbed our towels to hit the hot tub. On our way, we spotted the first toad frog we had seen in Australia. It was similar to ours, but not as plump. Unfortunately, the waterfall in the hot tub had been turned off, but the bubbles were still there and we had drinks, so it was perfectly relaxing.
Another couple made their way and were disappointed to see the hot tub was taken, and realized it was the young couple we had briefly met at twilight hour. We waved them over and invited them to share the hot tub with us, and they came in, excited to visit.
The young lady was 25 years old and hailed from Melbourne and the guy was 21 years old and we learned he is an Aborigine! Fascinated, we were eager to learn more. The Aborigine people have dark black skin and distinct facial features with typically a long slender nose, a larger amount of space between the nose and upper lip and a high forehead. Our new friend definitely had these facial features, but his skin was definitely not the dark black color, but more of a creamy coco Italian color. He explained the difficulties his culture have faced due to the Australian government. Our understanding is the Australian people decided to “breed out” the color of the Aborigines by forcing the women to mate with white men. The half white and half black babies were taken from the mothers and raised by white families. This continued through the 1970s. Completely appalled by this level of racism, we wanted to learn more. We asked about his skin color. One of his parents is black and the other is white. He shared something he learned recently about his culture. When you are born, you are given two names. The name you are called and a skin name. The skin name identifies the tribe blood line you come from. Your family then tries to constrain the child from contact with other people of the same blood line, to eliminate inbreeding. Also, an Aborigine child calls his father’s brothers and sisters ‘Dad’ and ‘Mom’, and all 1st cousins are ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’. What they call an uncle, aunt and cousin is one more step away (so a 1st cousin is a brother, but a 2nd cousin is cousin).
Earlier on our trip, we saw signs about equality of the people and learned that a Prime Minister (representing president of Australia) verbally gave a formal apology to the Aborigines for the blatant racism and harm the Australian people caused to their people and their culture. This apology upset some of the Australians, to admit the guilt of their people. What we didn’t know or understand until now, is how deep the hurt, humiliation, pain and suffering the Aborigines endured and not too long ago. It is no wonder why many of the Aborigine people stay to themselves. It wasn’t generations ago that these people were so terribly wronged by the Australian people, but as recent as 30-40 years ago that it was still going on. My heart is heavy as I am writing this. Imagine if “the people” did not like my blue eyes and want to “breed out” the brilliant color. I can only imagine the pain of the Aborigines, and send them my healing thoughts.
It’s our last day in Australia. We are again, kicked back at the pool. There was another huge tropical rain storm just after breakfast. We were set up, pool side and Scott got us to cover just in the nick of time, before the clouds released their warm, cleansing waters. I am reflecting on the trip, the people I have met, the animals I have not only seen, but watched, pet and fed in their normal habitat.
After 911, I felt a strong pride for my country and how as a country, we pushed through to heal and move on. Ten months ago, we visited Chennai, India for three weeks and I returned home so honored to have been born in America and again so proud to be an American. And now, I sit here realizing the comfort I have felt in Australia and the warmth we were shown by the people. Tomorrow we will return to our country and I will leave proud once again, to be an American and live in the United States where we are granted the freedoms that even Australians aren’t granted. There are so many monopolies, owning, governing and ruling this beautiful country. Cable television is owned by one man and only the rich can afford it. All the houses have the huge antennas on their roofs, in order to catch the local television shows. Our friends, consumed with pop culture, never get to see the MTV awards, and learn about those and other live events through Facebook. They cannot watch television shows online, as we frequently do in the event of a missed recorded show and some websites are even restricted. The option of having Hulu Plus, Netflix does not exist here. You never see people glued to their cell phones, surfing, texting and checking their email, as data plans are terribly expensive. Ah the little joys we have and don’t even know to enjoy. We had thought technology and information in Australia would be as up to date as in the U.S.
For our final dinner in Palm Cove, we walk down to the end of the beach village. There is a beautiful restaurant that sits on the edge of the bay called Far Horizons. I’m disappointed that it is still raining, because the deck has a very promising view of the ocean. We order grilled barramundi (fish) with garlic mussels and everything is perfect. What a delicious way to end our trip.
Other learned realities of Australia:
Cats here have a curfew, of dusk. Otherwise, the cats will hunt the endangered creatures of Australia.
Alcohol is not allowed on any beach. Fines are heavy and the Australia people abide.
The driving age here is 18. You are required to place a big L (for learner) sticker on your back windshield to identify your level of driving knowledge to other drivers, until you have reached or tested into the next level of driving skills which is a big P (for permit) sticker, again placed on the back of your windshield.
To own a vehicle in Australia is extremely expensive – which is why they have a great train and tram system (another government control, in my mind). There is an annual license and registration fee of $800 or $900, to own a vehicle, plus the price of petrol (gas) is about five dollars a gallon.
Australians are not constantly on their phones here, but data charges are huge! Knowledge is power, so I again believe this could be another way for government control.
Traveling within Australia is easy. You are not searched as rigorously here, like removing your shoes, x-ray body scans (now who is controlling? Ha-Ha), etc.
Wine and beer are not sold in the grocery stores. They are sold in “bottle shops.”
Pharmacies are called “Discount Chemists.”
Opals are mined in Australia, but are still expensive.
Shiraz wine is made only in Australia, yet it is more expensive to purchase here than in America. Wine bottles are not corked, but sealed with a screw off cap.
Immigrants are brought here to live are given a place to live and a standard pay to get them started, supported by the Australian government. They want everyone to be equal.
“Tall poppies” are people living a hirer more luxury style of living, and per some locals, are cut down just like real poppies that try to outgrow their neighbors. A couple told us that no one is allowed to become ahead of the next person. After everything we have seen, we do not believe that to be true. Socialism is definitely a part of their culture, but capitalism certainly exists. Maybe the Australian government creates that belief?
“Light beer” in Australia doesn’t mean fewer calories. It means less alcohol.
“Wet season” is the same as monsoon season. Lucky us, that’s the beginning of summer.
There are several different eucalyptus trees found in Australia. The leaves have the same affects as marijuana to koalas. Although the koalas prefer a particular variety, they have adjusted.
Koalas are not bears. Koalas are marsupials.
There are more cases of skin cancer found in Melbourne, Australia than anywhere else in the world.
The tropical area of Australia is in the north, as it is closer to the equator.
Australia is a day ahead of America. So we are basically living in the future.
I have not seen a single toilet swirl when flushed, so I cannot verify if the Simpson’s episode of the toilet flushing in the opposite direction is in fact true.
Toad frogs were brought to Australia, to eat the beetles destroying the sugar cane. This backfired, as they have become a nuisance here and have no predators.
Camels were brought here for transportation. There is now a pack that roam free in the in the outback of Australia, and it is reported as being the largest number of wild camels in the world.
Wool is a big industry here and shearing sheep is a sport competition.
Kangaroo meat is often found on the menu.
Australia must not like kangaroos.
Australia has some of the most beautiful plants, I have ever seen.
Have you ever had two Mondays? We have. We left Australia on a Monday, crossed over the international date line and landed back in Texas, on Monday.
Settling back into our home, we have already begun dreaming up our next big adventure. After-all, Scott is due for another sabbatical in 4.5 years.