Finding Nemo and Jurassic Park


Daintree and Great Barrier Reef 181 September 11-15, 2007:  Our last stop in Australia was to the Cairns (pronounced, inexplicably, “Cans”) area, on the gorgeous northeast coast of Australia, where we explored the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree National Park, as well the surprisingly-interesting Cairns Tropical Zoo.  The northeast coast of Australia is breath-taking, with kilometer after kilometer of rocky or sandy beaches abutting a deep-blue Pacific Ocean.  Cairns itself has a population of 100,000, and most of the neighboring towns are much smaller, so it’s not terribly developed. 

Daintree and Great Barrier Reef 272 We put Cairns on our itinerary because we all wanted to snorkel and explore the Great Barrier Reef.  The proposition involved an hour drive from the hotel, an hour and a half boat trip to get to three drop-off points, and then about 2 1/2 hours of fish and coral-gazing.  I asked the tour group organizers if they’d be showing Open Water on the ride out, but got few laughs (Note:  Open Water is about the last hours of a couple left behind by one of these boats and eaten by sharks :-) ). 

Daintree and Great Barrier Reef 301 The reef is under serious duress from challenges — rises in the water temperarture, pesticides in rain run-off, and the crown-of-thorns starfish.  Signs of strain are apparent in the bleaching that’s occurring.  We went on a smaller boat (100 as opposed to 300-400) with ok naturalists, and it was a bit more touristy than we are generally excited by.  It felt like exploring another planet to see the vast expanses of beautifully-bizarre coral and colorful tropical fish.  But by the end of the day, I was glad to have had a chance to see the GBR, but ready to get away from a group this size.

Daintree and Great Barrier Reef 061 The next day, we had a fabulous guide, Rick Hall with Outback Expeditions, who led us on a tour of the Daintree National Park.  Daintree is only recently appreciated, but it’s a rainforest that dates back 120 million years!  The Amazon, by contrast, dates back 15-20 million years.  Daintree has more plant species in its 250,000 acres than all of North America!!   We loved our day at Daintree and, for me, it was the best single day in Australia. 

Daintree and Great Barrier Reef 118 We saw some amazing birds, mammals, and reptiles, learned boatloads about botany, zoology, Australia and its culture, used local rocks and water to make paint used by Aborigines as warpaint (imagine encountering the ferocious tribe on the left in the wild!), liked the backside of an ant loaded with vitamin C, and swam in a local stream that was so clear that, to the eye, six feet of water looked like six inches!  We saw the endangered Cassowary (a huge, tall, and fierce bird, with only 240 left on the earth), and the tiny musky-rat kangaroo, as well as Australia’s legendary saltie (the estuarine crocodile).  At the tail end of the day, Rick took us to a spot where the trees are full (and I mean FULL) of spectacled flying foxes, a type of bat.  WeDaintree and Great Barrier Reef 166 walked about a kilometer, and tree after tree was full of these very curious, and in many ways beautiful, creatures. 

Our last day in Cairns was spent at a local attraction that required an hour train ride to get to, had a Venomous Animal House (our kids are now infatuated with reptiles), an aviary with all sorts of exotic birds, and way too many touristy shops, where we managed to add Daintree and Great Barrier Reef 217 two more wombats to our growing family.  We returned by the world’s longest tram (45 nervous minutes from start to finish).  The day was shaping up as a loser for me until the very end, when our tram passed over a little lagoon.  I checked out the birds with my binoculars and didn’t see anything of note, but Gibson said, “Hey, that’s a spoonbill.”  The Royal Spoonbill, which I mistook as an egret, made for a great “last bird” on our stay in Australia, where we saw 132 different species in the wild.



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Endangered Cassowary.  This picture was taken in a zoo, but we saw one in the wild (with a much worse picture).  They have an incredibly sharp middle toe claw and can, if threatened, attack and even kill people.


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Close-up of the spectacled flying fox.  These guys were fascinating.  They’d open up their wings and then close them, wrapping themselves up in a blanket of “wing.”  They had the cutest looks on their face, and would seem quite curious about us down below.  Hard to believe these flying foxes, with their 4-5 foot wing span, are actually bats.  And they hang upside down because they have an incredibly light bone structure suited for flying but which can’t support their body weight.


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Two-headed lizard, which, when attacked, runs backwards and if the predator catches up, it will eat the lizard’s tail (which can be re-grown).  Not the dumbest animal in the world, and quite possibly smarter than our not-too-on-the-ball tour guide!


Daintree and Great Barrier Reef 143 Musky-rat kangaroo, unusual in that it doesn’t hop, but walks on all four legs, and is less than one foot in length.  We saw a parent (probably the mother) and two babies in the wild, and were able to watch them for several minutes.


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The golden-orbed mega spider, which actually gets much bigger than this, but even so is very big!  After this, we got serious about checking our shoes each morning before putting them on!



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We were lucky enough to see the common tree snake while navigating along the Daintree River.  About 1-2 feet long and harmless, this snake is unusual for Australian snakes.  Australia is home to all ten of the world’s most poisonous snakes, only one of which we saw while we there there (to Elizabeth’s and my relief and our kid’s chagrin).

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Probably the single most frightening animal sighting during our three and one-half weeks in Australia.  These tree-dwelling and highly-aggressive creatures make the crocodiles, snakes, and sharks of Australia look tame by comparison.  Naturalists advise you to run, not walk, from these wild animals!

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