Sarah and I aren’t cursed. It just so happens that wherever we decide to go, it decides to rain. In fact, the prediction for our greyhound trip up the east coast was for flash flooding and cyclones. In order to avoid these unseasonal storms from Sydney to Byron Bay, we decided to hop a plane to Cairns – a place where it is still raining but at least it is the wet season and therefore expected. As I have been told numerous times since landing in Cairns: “You can’t have a rainforest without rain.”
Arriving in Cairns after Sydney is like entering a new country. I’m sure that had we eased ourselves into the tropics by following the east coast, we wouldn’t have been struck so hard by the differences between the two places. Cairns is nestled by mountains covered by some of the oldest rainforest in the world. The temperatures soar into the 30s and the rain is like bathwater. Even if there is no rain, the humidity soaks you through anyway. Dripping sweat and backpacks do not mix, but it definitely makes one appreciate a nice cold shower.
The Daintree National Park is officially the oldest rainforest in the world. A World Heritage site, it fulfills the wildest of anyone’s “Jurassic Park” dreams. Huge ferns create shade on the muddy pathways. Forest dragons skitter into the brush on their hindlegs. And because of the pouring rain, creeks transform into raging rivers, rushing jellyfish, crocodiles and poor tourists’ flipflops into the ocean.
The best view of this awe-inspiring rainforest comes from the inside of a boat on a Daintree River cruise. I have complained so far that Australia isn’t as amazing as Africa because it is difficult to feel “away from it all” when you spend most of your days inside a shopping plaza and surrounded by other tourists. But this is incredible. Suddenly, it isn’t 2008 at all but millions of years ago, and we are the privileged few who get to go back in time and witness a place where humans are not even a twinkle in evolution’s eye. There aren’t many places in the world you can do that, I think. It is definitely the only place in the world where two World Heritage sites collide in one place: the Daintree Rainforest National Park and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
We spent the night in PK’s Jungle Village, Cape Tribulation. Cape Tribulation gets its name from Captain Cook, whose boat hit the Great Barrier Reef and began to sink with him in it. Hence “Tribulation”. It has certainly earned its frightening moniker throughout the years. Only a few kilometres away is Snapper Island, and it was there, at the mouth of the Daintree River, where famed Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin was killed by a stingray. Cape Tribulation is also where the gear of the lost “Open Water” scuba divers washed ashore. Their boat left from Port Douglas, not too far from where we were staying. The fact that I was about to dive in the same spot where the divers went missing filled me with only a little trepidation. This being stinger season and all, could I have chosen a more dangerous place and time?
Our ship was called the Rum Runner III and it took us out to the magnificent Undine reef, one of the northernmost points on the Great Barrier Reef. In a spot called the “fishtank,” my dive partner Rasmus and I headed out into this most famous of diving spots. The coral is magnificent. Huge fans swaying the current, moved by a watery geisha’s hand. There were pufferfish and stingrays and jellyfish and, of course, Nemo himself frolicking amongst the anemonaes. Alicia, our dive master, was quite interactive with the marine life and brought us a seaslug to snuggle (slimy and very sticky), a giant clam to hold and a Maori wrasse to tickle. She even bounced a jellyfish on the palm of her hand, but I wasn’t having any of that. I still feel too much like a stranger underwater to want to test my luck.
12 hours on a Greyhound bus later and we are sitting in Airlie Beach, about 600km south of Cairns. Tomorrow we embark on a 3-night, 3-day sailing adventure aboard the Anaconda III and I will get to go diving again in the Whitsunday Islands. So whoever amongst you that call Sarah and I cursed because of the weather, I will take cursed any day if it brings me to places like these!