Thursday, July 07, 2011

Day Five: Kuranda

Right now relaxing by the pool while Jarrah frolics under the waterfall. Okay, Palm Cove is growing on me, I'll admit it. Though the bed is inexplicably full of sand and the towels never fully dry, tropical time is sneaking up on me. There is a clutch of lorikeets right above me.

Just did something I never thought I'd be able to say—voluntarily rose to watch the sunrise. I mean, c'mon, if your hotel is 10 steps from a beach with palm trees on it, isn't it kind of compulsory? Jarrah played in the water, David took photos, and I tiptoed stealthily around the bushes in search of fancy birds. Didn't find any, but I did learn that morning is the time for hundreds of Cairns Birdwing butterflies—huge, green, black—to fill the treetops.

Had breakfast outside at Cocky's Coffeeshop. I wanted to go back there, sort of as a way to say thank-you, after their kindness. I met Cocky himself (dreds, yoga pants) when I snuck next door in search of a flat white for the road while waiting for the Down Under Tours shuttle yesterday at dawn. He was obliging and funny, but rather relaxed, I ended up listening to his stories about the head-sized Huntsman spider that lives in his kitchen until a spate of frantic texts from David alerted me to the bus's arrival. I told Cocky I'd pay him for the coffee but to donate it to someone else, and he and his wife said cheerfully “Just skull it and don't pay!” I was a little confused but got the jist, though I'm glad I didn't take their advice—that coffee stayed hot for the next hour.

We were on a tour called “Best of Cairns,” but to be honest, I had no idea what we'd signed up for. Readers, it turned out to be a beautiful, magical day, not least because Jarrah finally made a friend—Susanna,--aka “Bubblegum”--age almost nine. She was the youngest of three, all totally sweet kids, children of Jenn and Aloysius (“cool!” I couldn't help saying, when he said his name.) We met them at the station while waiting for the historic Kuranda Railway to take us through the rainforest to the village of Kuranda, up in the mountains. The station itself was very cool, containing a tea room and a replica of the train itself, also a little museum with a diorama of the train route—that's where we happened upon our friends from Washington, D.C. They ended up being in the same car with us, and our fabulous guide, Julie, tipped us off that we were allowed to stand on the balcony between cars, giving us a view of the rainforest and several waterfalls that we could almost touch. The train passed over several high bridges and through a dozen tunnels bored through the mountain. We made one stop at Barron Gorge for a photo-op before alighting in Kuranda. The trip passed in a flash, and I don't think I sat down. I chatted with Jenn and her oldest, Reagan, quite a bit, and also delighted in the antics of “Bubblegum” and “Rosy” (“that's with a 'y,' herself informed me) as they created “fairy juice” out of water, Lemon Squash and Sprite and consumed vast draughts of it as they stoked their “powers,” many of which related to reading minds and changing the weather. Bubblegum was infinitely patient with her exuberant but less than sophisticated companion, and it touched my heart.

In Kuranda, as it began to rain (“it's the rainforest!” said Julie cheerily) as we headed for the first tearoom for some scones to fortify us for shopping for aboriginal crafts. I learned that the Cairns Butterfly Sanctuary is in Kuranda, and that was my first priority. Turns out scones and butterflies were all we had time for, but it's probably for the best. We had inadvertently dressed Jarrrah as Butterfly Crack in her pink top and yellow flower headband, so she was much courted in the aviary. She had butterflies on her head several times and one huge one on her shirt, which officially skeeved her out for the duration (“Mommy, it had red eyes!”) We learned that famed Queensland Blue Ulysses kills itself in two weeks from frantic flapping—it's “nervous” because it's so visible to predators. All too soon we were sprinting to the Skyrail for our appointed departure—not realizing that it leaves continuously. We waited for our train friends but I warned Jarrah we might not see them—we didn't. We chatted with Julie while we waited—this tour was very different in that we only saw her at transitions during the day, and the rest of the time were on our own schedule. It also meant that we accidentally missed a couple things—oh well.

The three of us had a private car for the first leg of the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, and oh, Readers, I will be mad at you if you go to Australia and don't do this, too. The cable car glides over a rainforest canopy and the occasional river, waterfall or gorge and it's the loveliest ride ever. It's about 40 minutes of travel time plus two scenic stops. At the first, we were reunited with our new friends—Rosy and Bubblegum hugged like they'd been separated for a year. During a visit to the Interpretive Center, it was determined that Jarrah would ride in their car to the next stop, so David and I had some alone time to admire the view. At the next stop, a cute ranger named Phil gave us a tour—scary stinging plants, cassowary information, basket ferns. David was pegged to return to Cairns with the fairies, while I squeezed in with the rest of the fam. It was easy to talk to them, and before we knew it, we were landing at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, where we discovered that we'd lost Christmas (Jarrah's koala from Sydney) and pretty much missed our planned lunch. We had a few minutes to gobble some cold-ish fare (the waitress was very sweet—we were the only people in the dining room) before dashing off to the dance presentation.

I hadn't really understood what Tjapukai was going to be—it sounded like it might be awful. I was a bit thrown by all the people in loin cloths and ornamental paint strolling around. But there was an earnestness about it that rescued me from my cynicism—I ended up learning a lot and having fun. Over the course of a few hours, we saw a tribal dance celebration, a demonstration of boomerangs and spears, a tutorial on bush foods and medicine, and were invited to throw the boomerang and spear ourselves. Most people lined up to try this, and I was impressed by Jenn, who was one of only TWO PEOPLE the whole afternoon to both throw and catch her own boomerang (if you did, you got to keep it.) We somehow missed the Creation Theatre, but got to be awed by the didgeridoo demonstration and concert before being expelled into the gift shop. I found all our hosts charming and not too slick, and people couldn't have been nicer to us all day.

By the time we got on our return coach, I was feeling pretty dreamy about the whole thing. I gave my number to Jenn and tried to persuade her to join us for the Night Zoo the next day—even if they don't, I'm sure Jarrah will make a new friend at that event.

We watched the last of the sunset from the beach while I looked for shells and Jarrah got wet enough to need a shower before dinner. We stuck close to home and tried the Apres Beach Bar—the food was much better and the service totally sweet—Jarrah's meal came with ice cream and a gift from “the treasure chest”--though her dolly was inexplicably wearing a dress labeled Clinique, she was utterly enchanted and dubbed her “Sparkles.” I have now been calling her both Spanique and Clarkles.


Myrnie said...

It all sounds amazing!!

Stephanie said...

Another day in Paradise!

Jen said...

What a magical day! I absolutely love that photo of the butterfly on Jarrah's headband. So happy for you all.

Anonymous said...

Spanique and Clarkles

That's just wrong, Sam.