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March 28, 2002  (Airlie Beach, Australia)

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Kicking Back in Tropical Port Douglas

When I 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 for a 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 tip:  

 

Del's Reef Tip #1

If you're going to the Great Barrier Reef, stay in Port Douglas and not in Cairns (or Cans).

 

After 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. 

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Later 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.

 

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Above left:  Croc spotting on the lazy Daintree River near Port Douglas.  

Above center:  That little blob is one of the "salties" we spotted.  Definitely not a good idea to swim here.

Above 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..."

 

The GREAT Great Barrier Reef

The next 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. 

 

There are about a 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 six years.   

 

Anyway, 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:  

 

Del's Reef Tip #2

If you want to stay dry and eat barbeque chicken, go on a big boat like the QuickSilver.  If you want to actually swim or dive (heaven forbid), go on a smaller boat.

 

As I've 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.  

 

A few 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...

 

To ensure 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....

 

So here's my last Reef Tip:

 

Del's Reef Tip #3

Don't get left behind.

 

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Above left:  The next morning, it was onto the Quicksilver for a dash out to the Great Barrier Reef. 

Above center:  The best diving is on the Outer Reef, about 50 miles offshore.  It takes a couple of hours to get there.

Above right:  Tying up to the floating pontoon at Agincourt Reef.

 

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Above 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?

Above center:  Heading back to Port Douglas.  I was one of the few people on the boat who actually went in the water.

Above right:  Arriving back in Port Douglas that afternoon, salty and sunburned.  The Great Barrier Reef, though, was amazing.

 

Finally Leaving Port Douglas

My 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 Lizard Motel.  

 

Once again, here's the 1960s Aussie group, The Seekers.  This is A World Of Our Own.

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After 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 April.  

 

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 doesn't count). 

 

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?

 

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Above left:  While driving down the coast, I popped into the Australian Sugar Museum near Innisfail.  As you know, I just can't pass up food museums.  

Above 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.

Above right:  Looking north near Ingham.

 

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Above left:  I spent a night in Ayr, a pleasant town in sugar cane country.  This town was really hopping, even after sunset.

Above center:  The cast of McLeod's Daughters, my favorite Aussie TV show (gee, can you tell why?).  Yep, just your typical Outback family...

Above right:  Quite possibly the world's largest mango, near Bowen.

 

Easter Weekend in Airlie Beach

The next 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.

 

This was 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 country.  

 

Although 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, 2001).  There's 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.

 

Airlie 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 next update.

 

After 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.  

 

Another 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.

 

While 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.  

 

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Above 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.

Above center:  Trying to play a didgeridoo in Mick’s shop. 

Above 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 beautiful sunset.

 

 

 

Next News

April 1, 2002  (Hervey Bay, Australia)

 

Previous News

March 25, 2002  (Port Douglas, Australia)

March 16, 2002  (Winton, Australia)

March 13, 2002  (Alice Springs, Australia)

March 11, 2002  (Ayers Rock, Australia)

March 8, 2002  (Coober Pedy, Australia)

March 5, 2002  (Port Augusta, Australia)

March 1, 2002 -- Part 2  (Robe, Australia)

March 1, 2002 -- Part 1  (Robe, Australia)

February 18, 2002  (Bega, Australia)

February 7, 2002  (Auckland, New Zealand)

February 2, 2002 -- Part 2  (Taupo, New Zealand)

February 2, 2002 -- Part 1  (Taupo, New Zealand)

January 25, 2002  (Hokitika, New Zealand)

January 20, 2002  (Geraldine, New Zealand)

January 16, 2002  (Te Anau, New Zealand)

January 12, 2002 -- Part 2  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 12, 2002 -- Part 1  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 1, 2002 -- Part 2  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

January 1, 2002 -- Part 1  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

December 24, 2001  (Wellington, New Zealand)

December 20, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)

December 16, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)  

December 14, 2001  (Aitutaki, Cook Islands)

December 10, 2001  (Rarotonga, Cook Islands)

December 3, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bellingham, Washington)

December 3, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bellingham, Washington)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 3  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 6, 2001  (Fort Lincoln State Park, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 15, 2001  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

August 30, 2001  (Webster, South Dakota)

August 18, 2001  (Watertown South Dakota)

August 17, 2001  (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)

August 14, 2001  (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

August 10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)

August 6, 2001  (Manlius, New York)

July 23, 2001  (Middleton, Massachusetts)

July 22, 2001  (Boston, Massachusetts)

July 20, 2001  (Pomfret, Connecticut)

July 18, 2001  (Denton, Maryland)

July 16, 2001  (Cumberland, Virginia)

July 14, 2001  (Roanoke, Virginia)

July 9, 2001  (Sevierville, Tennessee)

July 8, 2001  (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)

July 5, 2001  (Manchester, Tennessee)

June 30, 2001  (Hohenwald, Tennessee)

June 29, 2001  (Corinth, Mississippi)

June 27, 2001  (Natchez, Mississippi)

June 24, 2001  (Austin, Texas)

June 20, 2001  (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)

June 18, 2001  (Clay Canyon, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 2  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 1  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 14, 2001  (San Diego, California)

June 11, 2001  (San Jose, California)

June 2, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

May 19, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 30, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 19, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

 

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