Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cairns Trip

On 1st April 2010, began my trip to Cairns, Australia, solo and not fully prepared. The intention was to visit Cairns as a backpacker (to challenge myself in overcoming the fear of travelling alone). Was there any doubt about making it through as a backpacker? No. None. No fear or worry at all. The key to overcoming the fear was the positive thoughts that if young orang putih (white men and women) who do not speak the native tongues of Borneo could make it to Belaga in the interior of Borneo without fear of losing their heads, why should we, Asians, be so worried? No reasons, right? The orang putih in Australia are sufficiently civilised so as not to chop off your heads and cook you for their meals. The greatest tool at our disposal is the ability to overcome the shyness or fear of asking. Whenever we need information or when we need help, open our mouth and ask, or use hand signals. It is not that difficult.

The air tickets and accommodation have been booked through a travel agent in Port Moresby. The accommodation at Koala Beach Resort at Lake Street with an attached bathroom cost PGK924 for four nights, not exactly what a backpacker would do, but more of what a flashpacker would do. Typically Asian, I was still looking for the security of staying safe, and not accepting strangers in the same sleeping quarters as me.

My plans were to 1) snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef, a World Heritage site, to boost my ego (how many Malaysians have done that?) 2) visit the Wet Tropics, another World Heritage site, especially to see the beautiful Mossman Gorge (more specifically to visit the Daintree National Park, Cape Tribulation and Mossman Gorge) and 3) visit Kuranda to see the Barron Falls and to take the Scenic Railways. These were in the order of 2nd - 4th April 2010 respectively. Plans are plans. Air Niugini, nature and the weather spoiled my plans. In future, I am not going to plan my activities in detail. I will just plan the activities that I would like to be involved and nothing else. This will make my life simpler.

First, the hour and 25 minutes long flight was delayed by 65 minutes by Air Niugini, touching down in Cairns only at 7:30 p.m. Then, there was no taxi or bus in sight at the arrival hall.

The delay in waiting for Sun Palm bus, a shuttle bus service, to arrive and to pick up and drop off the passengers added to my late arrival at Koala Beach Resort.

On arrival at Koala at 9:00 p.m., I asked the receptionist who was already off duty about my plan, and he gave me some brochures. Luckily, there was a Kuranda package, with departure at 9:30 am the following morning. I could book the package when the office opened at 8:00 a.m. the next day, but not the Great Barrier Reef since the catamaran would have left by 8:00 a.m. already.

On the second morning, 2nd April 2010, I booked my Kuranda package but was told that the train had broken down (on the fourth day, the lady receptionist, Sandra, corrected the mistake, saying that there was a landslide, blocking off the rails). If I wanted to, I could take the skyrail both ways and add an additional AUD5 to the package, i.e. AUD107. Pay more but no scenic ride on the Scenic Railway? Could I still see the Barron Falls? Yes, it would take one hour return hike on foot from Kuranda Village. Forget about it. So, the trip to Kuranda was ditched. Failed plan!

In the meantime, I decided to book a trip to the Great Barrier Reef the next day, and told Sandra, the receptionist on duty that morning the package I wanted. She replied saying that I could get a cheaper package meant for snorkellers like me, on the Ocean Freedom catamaran. She herself had taken the package and she said the seats were very 'comfy' and the service very good, and she showed me the pictures on the brochures - and I saw the beautiful cay.

Suddenly, she exclaimed. Oh, the price has gone up! It is now AUD179! Now, I wanted to step my foot on that cay, so I told her that since she recommended it, I would take it. I did not care about the price because I wanted to step my foot on that cay, and to be photographed in that postcard perfect cay!

So, the next day, I stepped foot on the cay for probably less than one minute, and without any photographs of myself on the cay to show for it. Another failed plan!

After making the booking for the Great Barrier Reef package, I decided to explore the city, since I was not going any where that day. I could visit the various markets, go to Cairns Central for shopping and basically to see the city. A big letdown again! 2nd April was Good Friday, and all shopping complexes were closed. Only Rusty's Market, the Night Market, the eateries along the Esplanade in the Central Business District (CBD) and travel operators were opened. One whole day was wasted. So much for planning!

After returning from snorkelling on the third day, I went to book the Daintree, Cape Tribulation and Mossman Gorge package with Sandra. Everything went fine with the booking.

Waking up very early the next day, I found that it was still raining. Hasn't the rain stopped? It has been raining continuously since I arrived, from drizzle to heavy shower. The 4WD finally came to pick me up at 7:10 a.m., late by 10 minutes.

After confirming that I was the passenger to pick up, I went in to take my seat. I was waiting to make my final payment while the driver/ guide was on the radio call. The message came loud and clear. The Daintree River had flooded and the 4WD could not cross the river. The trip had to be cancelled. Trippers could postpone the trip to another day or get a refund. I had no choice since I was returning to PNG the next day. Another disappointment!

Finally, the last failed plan. After cancelling the Daintree trip, I decided that I could not waste another day wandering in the city. So I decided to go to Kuranda, even though I ditched that plan two days earlier. Maybe, the rain would stop later. Surely, I had to take a risk. How wrong I was. On the way to Kuranda, I realised the big mistake. With the unceasing rain, the jungle was misty. Visibility was very poor with everything covered in white mist. At the second stop to Kuranda where visitors could see the Barron Falls, only the thunderous sound of Barron Falls could be heard, and not seen at two lookouts/ viewing points. It could only be seen at the third lookout, then again, under a blanket of mist. This was bad for photography.

My trip was a letdown, spoiled mainly by the weather. Sandra later told me that it had been raining for the last two weeks already. During the entire stay in Cairns, it had been raining, and in the photographs which I would be posting, you would find them taken in wet weather, except those taken out at sea.

My last day in Cairns was 5th April. During my stay here, I realised that transport services were punctual and reliable. For that reason, I had no hesitation in booking a seat on the shuttle bus for my trip to the airport, even though I planned to depart at 5:00 a.m. in the morning. The price for a single passenger was AUD10.

I was soon on my way back to PNG, and that ended my 2010 Easter Cairns trip.

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