09-September 2011

Luganville, Vanuatu to Cairns, Australia - 1930 nm

This was probably our best passage ever. The winds were consistent, and always behind us, pushing us along to our destination, there were a few days of plus 30 knots and 4 metre seas, so on those days we furled our genoa so only a fraction of it was being used.

We are all reading our share of books, the kindles have been amazing that way (except two are broken already, so the kids are sharing one), we did a huge 1000 piece puzzle, have been playing monopoly deal and uno every day, along with movies, computer games, and listening to books on CD, the days are going by pretty fast. We are getting near civilization because the last two days we have seen lots of freighters heading from Australia to Japan. We are crossing the shipping lanes now, with the AIS it is really easy to communicate with them as we know their name, position, how fast they are going and their heading. We did have to call one ship as it was heading right for us, they answered the call right away and told us they would change course, so we just continued along. They can see us as well with the AIS system. We celebrated our half way point with ice cream sundaes (Australian customs and quarantine may take our Vanautu ice cream!). Just as we were approaching the channel to Cairns, we were still sailing, the large, red ball of an Australian sun was starting to set. Chris called us all up to the bow to watch the sunset, to admire the beauty of it. I can't beleive we are here!

Cairns, Australia

Check-in in procedure.

We have been hearing about the scary check in procedures in Australia from the cruiser gossip mill for years. How they were going to take everything we own, check our bottom paint, be very strict etc. etc. We ate all our fruit and vegetables, popcorn so we didn't have much food left. We did clean and organize the boat and lay everything out that they may want to take like dry lentils, beans and our Fijian dairy goods. Well we were shocked at the reception we received. The two customs agents couldn't have been nicer, the quarantine guy cheerily came aboard, explained to the kids what he was going to do and even brought us a carton of fresh Australian milk as a gift, he took nothing and sat and chatted with us about where to visit in Cairns and where we should do our shopping. It was all over in less than an hour and we took down our yellow Q flag and hoisted our Australian flag! (we cry when we think of how we could have loaded our freezer with cheap Vanuatuan beef!)

Part of our plan was to try to make it to Cairns in time for Cari's 7th birthday so we could take her up the train to Kuranda, we did make it here for her birthday but after check in and getting settled we didn't have time to get to Kuranda, but she still had a fabulous day. Happy Birthday darling (I can't beleive my baby is seven already, sniff, sniff!!)

Cairns is a lovely city, there is always something going on and it is usually free. The winter weather is hot, dry, sunny and warm during the day but really cools down at night for a great sleep.

There is a boardwalk along the mud flats, with bike paths beside them along which you can stop to read the intrepretive boards to learn about the history of Cairns or the birds that you see on the mud flats. They have picnic tables beside free barbeques all along the boardwalk so you can bbq your dinner and enjoy a nice meal by the seaside. There is a massive play park for the kids and a big skateboard park beside the play park, beside that there are three beach volleyball courts and then the soccer field. As well, they have free exercise stations all along the boardwalk and they give free exercise classes like Zumba, beach volleyball, yoga and pilates. Then there is the lagoon which is a massive swimming pool right in the middle of everything by the water, with lifeguards!!

Then we were overcome by the amount of restaurants and ice cream parlours at our doorstep, we found to just name a few: Baskin Robbins, Movenpick, Cold Rock Ice Cream, New Zealand Ice cream, and 5 or 6 more. The restaurants always have some deal on, on Cari's birthday we found the Bella Vista by the marina for a $10.00 steak and potato meal. It was fantastic. All this with the Great Barrier Reef at your doorstep. I sound like I work for the Cairns Tourism Board but I'm really just trying to explain what we see!!

Now with all good things, there will be a few downsides. One is that the anchorage is not that good, one option is to take a berth at the marina but is really expensive and they don't have any room, the pile moorings which would be okay but they don't have any available either, there are lots of local boats on mooring balls near the marina entrance and with the way the currents are here it is very difficult to try to anchor among them. So we ended up anchoring by the channel and it would have been fine except for the plethora of tour boats going in and out all day taking divers and snorkellers out to the reef creating waves and wake to keep us on our toes and all the dishes put away. Plus it is a long, wet ride in the dingy to get to shore.

The second thing is that there are crocs here!!! We found a sign by the boardwalk warning us to stay away from the water. I always check up and down before we get in the dingy.

A few weeks before we arrived, a small croc made its way up the sewer system and ended up on the main road in town! Here is a youtube video of it being captured by city workers:

Skyrail, Scenic Rail and Kuranda Village

One of the popular touristy things to do in Cairns is to spend a day taking the Kuranda Scenic Rail to the town of Kuranda, tour around Kuranda for the day then take the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway over the top of the rainforest and back down stopping at two different stations to walk around the rainforest. (Ryan is holding the map of the train track/route).

The Kuranda Scenic Rail is touted at one of the world's most scenic rail routes and it was very impressive learning about how the railine was made starting in 1886, how so many men died with Bubonic Plague, snake bites, malaria, accidents and other tropical diseases while building the rail line. They had other setbacks as well like in 1911 two cyclones striked the district within the space of one month. Over 22 kilometres of Cairns Range Railway track was severely damaged by the accompanying downpour and caused Tunnel No.10 to totally collapse. It took over 800 men, 4 ballast trains and 10 weeks to complete the repairs.

We went through 15 tunnels in total (all the tunnels were hand carved-how did they blast through this rock to make these?),the longest tunnel is Tunnel No.15 at 490 metres, it has three curves and eleven safety culverts to prevent anyone being trapped by an oncoming train. During construction this tunnel collapsed and seven lives were lost. The train did an ascent up to Stoney Creek Falls, a 265 metre drop, the Barron Gorge Hydro-Electricity Power Station, and scenic views of the towns below. There was one 180 degree bend, a 5 chain (100m) radius curve that was neat too.

In Kuranda, we visited the Koala Gardens and got our first peak at these bears. We also got to feed the wallabies, see a wombat, some crocodiles and pythons that seemed to be out of his cage and sitting on top of a box overhead of the exit!!! We also saw the venomous Red-bellied Black Snake.

We found some souvenir boomerangs. Will these really come back? I guess we will find out. (See September-page 2 for results of the boomerang throwing session). Below is a picture of the kids with the aboriginal artist who painted the boomerangs. To the kids delight there were three different homemade candy shops, where they are making the candy right in front of you. We indulged in a little bit of sampling.

Then we took the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, a 7.5 kilometre cableway, just above the rainforest canopy in the Barron Gorge National Park. The Barron Gorge National Park is part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage area.

There are two stops where you can get off the cableway and walk around the rainforest. I really wanted to find a Southern Cassoway bird but alas we didn't see one. The Southern Cassowary stands two metres tall and weighs 85 kilograms, it is a flightless bird and it is not suppose to be very friendly so maybe it was best that we didn't come across one! We finished off the day at $5.00 pizza night and 2 for 1 beers at Bella Vistas.

Here two pics of the Southern Cassowary bird: