The DougBlog
"Et sans savoir pourquoi, disent toujours: Allons!" —Baudelaire

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Colleen and Doug’s Excellent Outback Adventure, Part 4: Port Douglas and The Great Barrier Reef

When we stepped off the plane in Cairns, the heat and humidity was quite different from the chilly breezes of Melbourne. To Colleen, it was a welcome change; I, of course, complained endlessly.

Colleen in Cairns. Where’s the flood?:

Cairns is the biggest city in the northern, tropical state of Queensland. We were actually staying in the rather attractively-named Port Douglas, which is about an hour north, on the shores of the South Pacific.

A coach drove us up the beautiful coastline to the Sheraton Mirage Resort. I was impressed—it was a beautiful resort surrounded by free-form lagoons, all of which you could swim in. Our balcony looked right out on one of them, so you could literally jump right in (I doubt you’re supposed to, but I did!) There were also some man-made beaches on the lagoons.

Sheraton Mirage main building:

One of the lagoon “beaches”:

Two views from our lana’i:

This sad/mad little fish taunted us repeatedly from the carpet pattern at the hotel:

The real beach was only a few feet away. But it’s a wild and protected coastline, so not really for swimming. And with summer approaching, so do the deadly box jellyfish. So it was better for strolling by day to see dead jellyfish and live crabs and whatever else had washed up, or by night under the light of the full moon.

Two views of the beach near the hotel:

Jellyfish washed up at low tide (“Garden variety”, we were told, not the poisonous kind):

Tiny crabs dig millions of these tiny holes on the beach, scooping out the sand in perfect little balls:

That first night we went into “town”, a short cab or coach ride from the hotel. We had dinner at a highly recommended restaurant called Salsa Bar & Grill. I’m not really sure why, since it’s not Mexican…but the food was outstanding and our waitress (who looked hauntingly like Cate Blanchett) was terrific.

The first night, our cab was a LIMO!:

Outside Salsa Bar & Grill:

At dinner, we were discussing the fact that, whenever we photographed cows at Macka’s, they always came out with “crazy eyes”. Here Colleen does a spot-on impression:

The restaurant is actually a little historic. Among the most famous people ever to visit this small town were Bill and Hillary Clinton, after he was no longer President. You see their pictures in every store and restaurant. In Salsa, there is a framed menu and plate on the wall, both autographed “Bill Clinton, Sept. 11, 2001”. Yes, this is where the Clintons were eating dinner that night, and where they learned about the events of September 11th. You may recall that they were in Australia at the time, and President Bush sent the Air Force to bring them back to the US while our airspace was closed.

In any event, I’ll bet old Bill was blown away by the food here (sorry—had to say it). We took a very well-deserved lazy day on Tuesday. We slept in and swam and sat in the sun. Colleen got a package at the spa and came back like a new woman. That night we went back into town for dinner at a Thai restaurant. It was quite good, but BYO…so I ran across the street where I bought some stubbies (bottles of beer).

Colleen with the stubbies lined up and ready to go:

Suddenly, during our meal, the lights went out! Not jut in our restaurant, but in the entire town. Yes, it was a blackout. Why? Who knows. It was a clear and beautiful night. The only explanations we got as to what caused the blackout were “lack of electricity” and “the extension cord must have fallen out”. So we finished our meal by candlelight and paid in cash.

Port Douglas in the Dark:

Two pictures of Colleen eating in the dark:

One place in town—the Central Hotel—had a generator. So that bar remained open and became a beacon. Like moths to a flame, everyone in Port Douglas went to the Central Bar to drink. Of course, we did too. But after about half an hour, the generator died. And thus ended the night the lights went out in Port Douglas.

The Central Hotel, after its generator went out:

We went back to the Sheraton to find live music in the bar, so we continued our cocktails there. The only other folks in the place were two rather drunken, middle-aged Australian couples. They were jealous of our nuts, and then flaunted theirs when they got some, too. It was a gas.

Wednesday was our big day on the Great Barrier Reef. Following along the coast of Queensland, it is 2,000 kilometers long, visible from space, and one of the natural wonders of the world. There are many ways to see it. We went with a group called Quicksilver, which was terrific.

Through some agreement with the Australian government (since it’s a National Marine Park), they have a giant floating platform near the Aigncourt Reef. It’s about 40 miles out from the coast. They take you out and back by boat, which takes about an hour and a half each way. During this time there’s educational talks, etc. Once you get out to the platform, you have about 3.5 hours to see the reef. You can snorkel all you want, either on your own or guided by a marine biologist. There’s also a glass bottom on the platform through which you can see the reef, and a small glass-bottom “semi-submersible” takes people out on 15-minute tours of the reef. They even have a helicopter you can take for an aerial view (some of there things cost extra).

On the platform:

We snorkeled, had lunch, and snorkeled some more. It was undoubtedly the best snorkeling I have ever done. The coral was amazing, including anemones and giant clams. And so many kinds of beautiful fish! We even found Nemo. Colleen was a bit skittish at first, but then she was totally into it. We found this HUGE fish, similar to one we had seen in the Sydney Aquarium and named “Fat Sal”. Colleen almost went out to sea trying to follow him around!

We elected to wear the optional Lycra suits that protect you from jellyfish stings (and sunburn to boot). And we thought that the Bridge Climb outfits were unflattering!:

Here we look like Thing 1 and Thing 2, or maybe some henchmen from an old episode of Batman:

We had underwater cameras, but until they are developed these photos from the glass bottom will give you some idea of what it was like:

When the boat got back to Port Douglas, we went into town to do a little shopping, then went home to rest up. That night we went back to our favorite restaurant, Salsa, for our last dinner together. For some reason, we had a horrible time getting a cab back to the hotel. The down was dead, but the cab companies were backed up. After we stood in the street for 40 minutes, a voice from the darkness said “Remember me? I’m the guy who showed you his nuts.” Sure enough, it was one of the winos from the hotel bar. We chatted a bit, and when their cab arrived first they gave us a free lift back to the hotel. Lovely, lovely people these Aussies.

That night we remarked that just about everything on this trip had gone off without a hitch. Which brings us t the next day…


Some random items:

Australian money is BEAUTIFUL, down to the clear window in each bill:

Funny description on the Thai menu:

Just about every restaurant we went to in Victoria and Queensland offered “Turkish bread with three dips”:

Is it just me, or was serving seafood on the snorkeling platform in bad taste? It could be someone’s mother:

I don’t know what this ad means:

I enjoyed this brand of candy bar:

Note the warning on our whirlpool tub in Port Douglas. I’d like to know what happened to prompt this one:


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