Back in Tropical Port
pulled into the very tropical town of Port Douglas (pop. 4,000) last week, I was pretty tired from my long drive across
the bone-dry Outback, so I decided to stay put here for a few days. Port
Douglas turned out to be a really nice little town, though, so I ended up staying
week... and I could've stayed a month, because of all the small towns that I've visited in Australia so
far, Port Douglas is probably my favorite. March is towards the end of the
Wet Season, or simply "The Wet" as they call it, and Port Douglas is usually pretty
rainy during this time of year. Fortunately, though, the weather cooperated
and -- although it was hot and sticky with occasional afternoon deluges -- it wasn't any worse
than, say, the Deep South in June.
The main city
in northeastern Australia is Cairns (pop. 100,000), which is about an hour south of Port Douglas.
Australians pronounce it "Cans," but when Americans pronounce it that way,
they sound like idiots, so I just say
"Cairns." Cairns is the only city on the northeastern coast that
has an airport capable of handling 747's, so most tourists who fly from Sydney
to the Great Barrier Reef just stay at Cairns, which is a big mistake. Other
than having an airport, Cairns isn't that great. In fact, it's kind of a dingy town. Furthermore, the Reef is just as close to Port Douglas as it is to
Cairns. Since Port Douglas is a lot more pleasant and has a lot
more to offer than Cairns, including the nearby Daintree Rainforest and Cape
Tribulation, here's a
Reef Tip #1
you're going to the Great Barrier Reef, stay in Port Douglas and not in
Cairns (or Cans).
spending about a week in Port Douglas getting caught up with my e-mail and
updating my website, I finally emerged from my room at the Lazy Lizard Motel,
the nicest motel I've stayed at so far and, with off-season rates of only US$37 a
night, a real bargain. I drove up to the tropical Mossman Gorge that
afternoon and hiked around the steamy, old-growth Daintree Rainforest there for
an hour. This is a really interesting jungle and it's a place I'd
definitely recommend visiting if you ever get up to Port Douglas. Be ready to sweat, though, because after about 10
minutes into my hike, my shirt was drenched.
The Australian group,
the Bee Gees, have Jive Talked me all over Australia.
RealPlayer. If problems, see
that afternoon, I hopped on a small, quiet electric-powered boat for a "croc
spotting" cruise on the peaceful Daintree River. The trip lasted only an hour, but
we did see a couple of crocodiles (albeit disappointingly small) along with lots of tree snakes and exotic
birds. Best of all, the guide looked just like Jennifer Aniston.
Not bad for 8 bucks.
left: Croc spotting on the
lazy Daintree River near Port Douglas.
center: That little blob is one of the "salties" we spotted. Definitely not a good idea to swim here.
right: The quiet Daintree River and rainforest at sunset. A
few minutes later, a flock of HUGE bats descended (they were as large as
seagulls). It was like the monkey scene in "The Wizard of
Oz" and I thought I was going
to get carried off. "I'll get you, my pretty..."
GREAT Great Barrier Reef
morning, I stuffed my daypack full of suntan lotion, thongs (as in sandals, not
as in bathing suits), and a towel and
headed out to the Great Barrier Reef, something I'd been
looking forward to doing since I arrived in Australia. The Great
Barrier Reef, which
is actually a patchwork of several hundred small reefs, lies about 50 miles
offshore so you have to take a boat out to see it.
gazillion boat companies in Port Douglas that offer Reef trips every day and I
picked the biggest boat, called the QuickSilver. That was a mistake
because, as I discovered, the larger the boat, the older and more sedentary the
clientele. As I realized after I paid for my ticket and hopped on board,
this was definitely a Lawrence Welk boat. Not that I dislike Lawrence
Welk -- I just don't want to go swimming with him. Especially since he's been dead for
it was a beautiful morning and I perched myself on the top deck as the
QuickSilver cruised out into the Pacific Ocean at 25 knots. After a couple
hours, we reached Agincourt Reef where we tied up to an offshore pontoon, and I immediately dove in the water and stayed there for the most of the
next three hours. As ridiculous as it sounds, I was one of the few people in our
300-person group who actually WENT IN THE WATER (what a strange concept). In fact,
I swam so far from the QuickSilver that one of the lifeguards had to hop in a
Zodiac and round me up (oops!), giving me a friendly lecture about not swimming alone in
box jellyfish territory. The other
folks mostly ate lunch, walked through the underwater viewing platform, took
a trip on a glass-bottomed boat, and listened to Lawrence Welk.
As for the reef: it's absolutely
incredible. I saw coral of all colors, shapes, and sizes and countless
varieties of fish. Sorry, but I didn't have an underwater camera with me,
so I can't post any cool photos of the reef -- you'll just have to imagine
it. My only regret about my reef trip was going on the QuickSilver, so here's another tip for those who want to swim in the
Reef Tip #2
you want to stay dry and eat barbeque chicken, go on a big boat like the
you want to actually swim or dive (heaven forbid), go on a smaller boat.
mentioned in previous updates, there are a lot of hazards in Australia that keep you on your toes
here, such as
mooching kangaroos. Quite seriously, one
of the hazards of going on a reef trip is being left behind on the reef after
the boat leaves at the
end of the day. That's not a big problem if there's a pontoon nearby and
if a boat comes out every day, like at Agincourt Reef. But a lot of
smaller boats don't come out every day and don't anchor anywhere near a
pontoon. Since the reefs are about 50 miles offshore, this could be...
well... a problem, as you might imagine.
years ago, in fact, a young American couple took a dive boat out from Port
Douglas to this very same Agincourt Reef -- though miles from the pontoon -- and
were inadvertently left behind. They swam alone in the middle of this
shark-infested ocean until they finally succumbed. Bummer...
that passengers aren't left behind at the reefs, boat crews typically do
"head counts" on board before departing in the morning and then again
just before leaving the reef. Sure enough, we sat in the sun for five
minutes while (or "whilst" as they say here in Australia) the crew
scrambled around, counting heads. Unfortunately, the count didn't match
the initial count, so we sat there for another five minutes while the crew did
another count. This time, the numbers matched up, so we left Agincourt
Reef. As we said goodbye to the reef, I humorously (or "humourously,"
as they say here in Australia) kept thinking, "What if their FIRST count
was correct?" Hmmm....
my last Reef Tip:
Reef Tip #3
Don't get left behind.
left: The next morning, it was
onto the Quicksilver for a dash out to the Great Barrier Reef.
center: The best diving is on the Outer Reef, about 50 miles
offshore. It takes a couple of hours to get there.
right: Tying up to the floating pontoon at Agincourt Reef.
left: Feeding the portly
masses on the pontoon. I skipped lunch to get more reef time. Heck,
you can eat anytime -- but how often can you swim on the Great Barrier Reef?
center: Heading back to Port Douglas. I
was one of the few people on the boat who actually went in the water.
right: Arriving back in Port Douglas that afternoon, salty
and sunburned. The Great Barrier Reef, though, was amazing.
morning routine has been about the same since I arrived in New Zealand nearly four
months ago. Each morning after I get up, I fire up my laptop computer,
load an MP3 album (usually Jann Arden's
"Living Under June"), and hop in the shower. You would think
that after listening to "Living Under June" for nearly 120 mornings
I might get tired of it, but Jann's a terrific singer and her album has
been like an old friend. Anyway, on my last morning in Port Douglas, I
listened to it yet again and an hour later, I said goodbye to Geoff in the lobby
of the Lazy
Once again, here's the
1960s Aussie group, The Seekers. This is A World Of Our
RealPlayer. If problems, see
spending eight days at the Lazy Lizard, I bet Geoff thought I'd never leave, but
after he bade me a cheery "So long," I hopped in the Camry and
headed south on Highway 1. The next time I visit Australia, I'm not sure
exactly where I'll go, but I do know that I'll come back to Port Douglas and
stay at the Lazy Lizard.
As I drove south to
Townsville that morning, I passed through the cute coastal town of Tully,
which has the distinction of being the
wettest city in Australia. People think of Australia as being a
very dry continent, and most of it is. But the northeastern part of the country is very tropical
and gets oodles of rainfall, most of which falls between October and
I continued down the highway and late that afternoon pulled
into the phonetically-challenged city of Ayr, a city of about 5,000 folks surrounded by endless fields of sugar
cane, which is a major crop on the northeastern coast. Ayr probably has
the distinction of having the shortest name of any city in the world (no, Oz
After checking in
to a cheap motel, I strolled around town and discovered that Ayr is also a pretty nice
place -- and very lively after sunset. I
got a large pizza there for 5 bucks, my first pizza since leaving the U.S. in
December, and enjoyed it immensely while watching my favorite show, McLeod's
Daughters, the campy Australian TV drama about a family of four
beautiful women who live on a ranch in the Outback, which I started
getting hooked on back in New Zealand. Earlier in my trip, an Aussie
mate and I started talking about McLeod's Daughters and he said, "I've been to the Outback a lot and I've
never seen women like that there." Neither have I, come to think of
it... but who cares?
driving down the coast, I popped into the Australian Sugar Museum near Innisfail.
you know, I just can't pass up food museums.
center: The front seat of my Camry... equipped with Lonely Planet
Guide, maps, two cameras, camcorder, my MP3 player, and a steering wheel
on the wrong side.
right: Looking north near Ingham.
left: I spent a night in Ayr, a pleasant
town in sugar cane country.
This town was really hopping, even after sunset.
center: The cast of McLeod's
Daughters, my favorite Aussie TV show (gee, can you tell why?).
your typical Outback family...
right: Quite possibly the world's largest mango, near Bowen.
Weekend in Airlie Beach
morning, my Camry and I continued heading south down Highway 1, bound for the
town of Airlie Beach. Driving in Australia is a lot different than driving
in the U.S. because, among other things, most folks here don't drive faster than the
posted speed limit,
something that I still haven't gotten used to.
If the sign says 100 k.p.h. (62 miles an hour), everyone travels at 90 to 100
k.p.h. and hardly anyone drives faster. Of course, back in the U.S., speed limits are more like "suggested"
speeds and no one is stupid enough to actually drive at the posted speed limit.
That difference isn't surprising, though, because Australians are generally a lot more law-abiding than Americans, one of many
things I really like about this country.
the Friday afternoon of Easter Weekend, which is a major 4-day holiday in
Australia. When I say major, I mean MAJOR. Easter weekend in
Australia is even bigger than Memorial Day or Labor Day weekend back in the U.S.
If you've been reading my website, you know that the biggest problem I had in
New Zealand was visiting during their two-month summer holiday season, when everyone and their grandmother was out on the
highways. So with visions of the New Zealand experience dancing through my
head, I was thankful to find
a motel room that afternoon in Airlie Beach, one of the most popular vacation destinations in the
it's a bit touristy, Airlie Beach is a nice place --
something like a small version of Key West, Florida. There really isn't
much of a beach there and what little beach there is, you need to be careful of
this time of year because of the "stingers," or deadly box jellyfish (see News: March 25,
nothing like stepping on a box jellyfish to ruin your day. A guy
here had stepped on one a few days earlier and died, and a week before another
tourist got stung by one and she died too. Yep, don't mess with the
stingers in northern Australia.
Beach is probably best known for being the jumping-off point for a beautiful
archipelago just off-shore called the Whitsunday Islands, so-named by Captain James Cook
back in the 1700s who sailed through them on Whitsunday (a religious holiday).
Well, he THOUGHT it was Whitsunday, but because he had unknowingly crossed the International Date Line
earlier in his trip, it was actually, um, Whitmonday. The Whitsundays are
a beautiful group of islands, though, which I'll describe in more detail in my
unpacking at my motel room, I walked around Airlie Beach on Friday afternoon and
discovered that it's a really great little
town. Like Key West, it's a bit lively and a bit
laid-back... and it's also drenched with lots and lots of sun. What made
it even nicer
was that, for some reason, it was packed with hundreds of
beautiful young women. As I strolled down the main street while passing endless
groups of tanned, bikini-clad vixens, I honestly felt like I'd stepped onto another planet,
especially after traveling across the estrogen-challenged Outback... but of
course, I didn't stare. Right
out of a Beach Boys song, there were literally three girls for every guy here and it was that way all
weekend, everywhere I went. But hey, I'm not complaining.
thing that reminded me of Key West was the regrettable abundance of t-shirt shops
here. Well, all right, there aren't nearly as many here as in Key West,
where just about every other shop on Duval Street has a big sign outside that
screams "Three t-shirts for $10!!"
I strolled into one t-shirt
shop and got a chuckle at one of the shirts that was prominently displayed,
reflecting the risqué Australian sense of mirth. It was a humorous
comparison between women's chests and various kinds of fruits, and had a dozen
comical drawings of topless women with the name of the appropriate fruit
underneath, such as "Watermelons," "Cherries"
"Bananas," and so forth. I'm pretty modest and would never wear something
like that, but I thought my Dad would get a laugh, so I bought it for him.
He's also pretty modest and would never wear something like that either, but he has a good sense of humor.
continuing my stroll down the main street, I popped
into an Aboriginal shop, wandered past a hundred didgeridoos, and chatted
with a cheerful guy there named Mick. After seeing me eye a didgeridoo, Mick
suggested that I try to play it. He didn't need to twist my arm because
I've been curious about didgeridoos ever since I first saw "Crocodile
Dundee." I'm not much of a musician, however, and I proved it
in my futile attempts to play one. The trick, as Mick told me, is to put your lips together
and blow like you're blowing bubbles in water. Playing a didge is a lot harder than it looks,
though – and in my case, it was a didgeridon’t.
left: Airlie Beach, jumping off point for
the Whitsunday Islands and my home during the busy Easter Weekend. Though
a bit touristy, Airlie Beach is pretty nice place.
to play a didgeridoo in Mick’s shop.
right: Palm trees on Airlie Beach. As I discovered (twice, in
fact), this is a great place to eat fish and chips in the evening while watching the
1, 2002 (Hervey Bay, Australia)
25, 2002 (Port Douglas, Australia)
16, 2002 (Winton, Australia)
13, 2002 (Alice Springs, Australia)
11, 2002 (Ayers Rock, Australia)
8, 2002 (Coober Pedy, Australia)
5, 2002 (Port Augusta, Australia)
1, 2002 -- Part 2 (Robe, Australia)
1, 2002 -- Part 1 (Robe, Australia)
18, 2002 (Bega, Australia)
7, 2002 (Auckland, New Zealand)
2, 2002 -- Part 2 (Taupo, New Zealand)
2, 2002 -- Part 1 (Taupo, New Zealand)
25, 2002 (Hokitika, New Zealand)
20, 2002 (Geraldine, New Zealand)
16, 2002 (Te Anau, New Zealand)
12, 2002 -- Part 2 (Dunedin, New Zealand)
12, 2002 -- Part 1 (Dunedin, New Zealand)
1, 2002 -- Part 2 (Christchurch, New Zealand)
1, 2002 -- Part 1 (Christchurch, New Zealand)
24, 2001 (Wellington, New Zealand)
20, 2001 (Auckland, New Zealand)
16, 2001 (Auckland, New Zealand)
14, 2001 (Aitutaki, Cook Islands)
10, 2001 (Rarotonga, Cook Islands)
3, 2001 -- Part 2 (Bellingham, Washington)
3, 2001 -- Part 1 (Bellingham, Washington)
18, 2001 -- Part 3 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
18, 2001 -- Part 2 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
18, 2001 -- Part 1 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
6, 2001 (Fort Lincoln State Park, North Dakota)
30, 2001 -- Part 2 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
30, 2001 -- Part 1 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
September 15, 2001 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
30, 2001 (Webster, South Dakota)
18, 2001 (Watertown South Dakota)
17, 2001 (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)
14, 2001 (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)
8, 2001 (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)
8, 2001 (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)
6, 2001 (Manlius, New York)
23, 2001 (Middleton, Massachusetts)
22, 2001 (Boston, Massachusetts)
20, 2001 (Pomfret, Connecticut)
18, 2001 (Denton, Maryland)
16, 2001 (Cumberland, Virginia)
14, 2001 (Roanoke, Virginia)
9, 2001 (Sevierville, Tennessee)
8, 2001 (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)
5, 2001 (Manchester, Tennessee)
30, 2001 (Hohenwald, Tennessee)
29, 2001 (Corinth, Mississippi)
27, 2001 (Natchez, Mississippi)
24, 2001 (Austin, Texas)
20, 2001 (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)
18, 2001 (Clay Canyon, Utah)
15, 2001 -- Part 2 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
15, 2001 -- Part 1 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
14, 2001 (San Diego, California)
11, 2001 (San Jose, California)
2, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
19, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
30, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
19, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
5, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
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Travels (2001-02) >
Australia Trip >
March 28, 2002