Thursday, August 2, 2007

Back from Australia, part 2

Our Australian saga continues. No trip to a foreign land would be complete without a few bizarre/surreal experiences, and we had three musical ones during our Melbourne stay:
  1. Eating breakfast at the elegant winery while "Heart of Glass" was blaring on the dining room radio. Sorry, breakfast is just too early for Blondie.

  2. Being subjected to an easy-listening instrumental version of "YMCA" on the Melbourne airport shuttle bus. It's just not the same without the lyrics!

  3. We went to the open-air Queen Victoria Market for lunch (souvlaki on thick Turkish pide bread, delish!). On our way to the food court, we saw kids riding around on camels--apparently camels were historically used for transport in the Outback, therefore you can now have your photo taken with them in the middle of Melbourne. As if that weren't strange enough, while we were eating lunch, we were suddenly surrounded by people in navy blue sweaters and kilts who started playing bagpipes really loudly. This turned out to be the official state police highland pipe band, giving a performance. This was followed by none other than...the official state police rock band, Code One, rocking out in uniform. And just when we thought it couldn't get any weirder, the rock band and the bagpipe band played a few numbers...together. The Victoria police force has a 24-piece swing band too, but they weren't one of the acts that day :)

The second week we left Melbourne for Cairns (pronounced "cans"). This part of Australia is in the tropics. It's humid here and much warmer, and the native vegetation is lush green rainforest that just gets thicker the further north you go. Quite a bit of rainforest has been cleared for agriculture since colonial times, and you see many plantations of sugarcane, bananas, and other exotic tropical fruits. Tourism is also big here because of the rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef. Cairns has Miami-style development; other cities and towns further north are less populated and/or have policies in place to limit the visual impact of resorts and other tourism-related development.

Our first day in Cairns commenced with a very touristy itinerary: riding the Kuranda Scenic Railway up through rainforest-covered mountains to Kuranda Village, visiting the village for a few hours, then taking the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway back down.

All three of these attractions are major tourist traps; Kuranda Village is practically one giant gift shop. Skyrail is particularly egregious, as you have to go through a gift shop to board it, and another one to exit it. Disney Australia at its finest. But I cannot deny that it was a pretty neat experience to see the rainforest at ground level from a train and then see above the rainforest canopy from the Skyrail.

And Kuranda did have one big draw for us--the chance to cuddle a koala bear at Kuranda Koala Gardens.

This is Sienna, a two-year-old female koala. Despite the menacing-looking claws, she is quite gentle and calm and very soft.

We fed and petted kangaroos and wallabies, too.

One wallaby had a joey in the pouch that stuck its head out for a little while, but then it hid again.

After visiting Kuranda, we drove up the coast on the Captain Cook Highway for an hour to get to Port Douglas. The Captain Cook Highway reminds me of California's Highway 1, but with rainforest vegetation. You wind up and down mountains and hug the coast, with constant spectacular views of white sand beaches to the east. Upon arriving at Port Douglas, we checked into a B&B that had tree frogs and geckos hanging around the courtyard. Geckos are pretty small, but did you know that they make these really loud, bird-like chirping noises? Loud enough to wake you up at night.

To be time, the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree National Park

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