Sunrise over Cairns bay is gentle. High tide fills the bay, giving the ilusion of depth. It’s in fact only a few feet deep right here. At low tide it’s just a muddy salt marsh.
Amanda does some quick research and finds a waterfront grill that does good breakfast. Emma gets pancakes – her breakfast favorite. Lily gets nothing. She will not eat anything normally served for breakfast. At home, she usually reheats a burrito before school.
Just a few miles north of the city is the SkyTrain cable car (the Skyrail rainforest railway to be exact) and Kuranda historic railroad trip through the rainforest. It’s got to be the biggest tourist activity to do on land. One way you do the cable car over the rainforest canopy and the other is the Kuranda Scenic railway.
The Skyrail was built in 1995 and carries 700 people an hour. The single track Kuranda railway was built in 1886 on small gauge track at huge expense and cost of lives. The goal was to connect tin mines with a port. Cairns competed with Port Douglas to the north and was selected. It’s the reason it is the primary shipping city and Port Douglas is a quiet resort town.
A little too late I discover that single track trains meant they don’t run both directions regularly. You either get on of the two early morning trains or take them back in the later afternoon. ‘No worries’ the guy at the travel information center in downtown Cairns tells me. ‘Just take the skyrail anytime up there, and one of the afternoon trains back. You need a few hours in between to hang out in Kuranda.’
The skyrail is beautiful. It’s both an engineering feat – they flew all the parts into the jungle by helicopter, as well as educational – there are three stops along the way where you can get out and see the rainforest at ground level. There are so many ferns here it’s astounding.
We look closely at the birdsnest ferns that grown high up on trees by capturing falling dead leaves in their roots and making their own ‘soil’ often a hundred feet off the ground.
Naturally it’s a very soft wood. Amanda sees a beautiful blue Ulysses butterfly, prized locally. There are banyans, strangler figs, and tree ferns.
The Barron Gorge trickles water down it’s rocky face. We see postcards of it bursting with water to the point you can barely see any rocks. That must be exciting, but right now it’s uninterested in performing for the crowds. This gorge was the first in Australia to have a hydroelectric power station.
The skyrail lets us off in Kuranda and begins one of the worst three hours of travel we’ve ever experienced. It’s a tourist trap in the truest sense of the word. There is basically nothing to do here but eat shitty, expensive food and look at shitty expensive souvenir junk. One place said ‘We aren’t taking any more orders for lunch, too busy.’ There wasn’t even a line. A ‘wine’ store was actually a mango ‘wine’ stand in bright orange.
I think ‘maybe the grocery store will have something’ but it was just chips and milk and some weird looking salads. After looking at 10 places and dismissing each, Emma finds one that is decent. It’s still expensive and shitty but edible.
The three hours drag on and we go sit near the return train almost an hour early just to be somewhere else. Kuranda is high up the list of tourist traps we’ve been to. Do yourself a favor and take the train up first – then you can take the skyrail back when you want, which will be immediately.
Again the girls go off on their own for dinner. I think they go to the same place every night, but the freedom from parents is the main attraction. Amanda looks up restaurants and finds one in suburban Cairns called ‘Mr Soy Boy’ with a logo that looks like a used car dealership. Inside there are only a few people eating and mostly it seems like they are doing take out. I ask for the bathroom and am escorted to a back alleyway off which there were two stalls.
Since I started planning for this trip, Lily has been excited to skydive in Australia where the minimum age for a tandem jump is 12! In the states most places (other than Texas) are at least 16 and most are 18.
We just took Emma on her first skydive the week after her eighteenth birthday (left). I was surprised Lily wanted to do it. If there is one big theme of this trip, it’s ‘Lily becomes a daredevil’. She’s always been the more cautious and concerned one.
And sometimes she’s even totally frightened of simple things like fish when she is in a boat or harmless ants. Emma has always been calmly adventurous and bold. Lily much less so – until now. She seems to have totally lost her fear and she wants to go skydiving.
Amanda had heard that the better skydiving was in Mission Beach about 2 hours south of Cairns. The draw was that you land on a beach instead of a meadow. Other than that it seemed about the same. From the time we got up and are picked up by the activity bus, we are concerned about the weather – it is drizzling.
We were right to be concerned. We end up sitting inside all day instead of skydiving over the great barrier reef! Amanda and I huddle next door at a very good cafe. Lily and Emma aren’t unhappy to get a calm day and just look at phones (and horse around a bit). But really we are all frustrated. I did figure out that we might be able to skydive again in Uluru later on the trip.
Nearly 12 hours later we were back in our hotel. I went out on my own for dinner and had that Ramen again. Emma and Lily did their own thing. Amanda stayed back. We are all excited for the next chapter in this trip – a liveaboard scuba boat on the Great Barrier Reef.