Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Airlie Beach and Cairns

I'll start this off one off by telling you about what Aussies call 'Schoolies'. Schoolies is the week after final exams for seniors in high school. This marks the end of their high school education, and basically every single high school senior within driving distance of the east coast of Aus flocks to the beaches of Byron, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Airlie Beach, etc. for a week long party. The Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast seem to be the most popular for this even, as those are the only places ever mentioned on the news. For this reason, I expected to avoid the crowd when I went to Airlie Beach. Well, I expected wrong.

The overnight train from Gympie to Prosperpine was long and uneventful. I arrived at Proserpine station and took a 30 minute bus to Airlie beach. The city was very familiar to me, and just as Brian and I had left it last year, with the addition of some 3000 students. Because of this, I was unable to find a room in any of the seven or eight hostels along the main strip. I ended up having to spend $100 on a hotel room for the night. An unwanted expense, but a welcomed luxury. I had my own private room and bathroom, balcony, wifi, the works. Lucky for my wallet, that was the last day of Schoolies, and I was able to find a hostel room the next night.

I had looked up some (free) local attractions for the area before leaving Mothar Mountain. After getting checked into my hotel on the first day, I grabbed a city map from the information center, and found my way to the Airlie Creek Track; a two hour return trip walking track through the rain forest hills just behind the main strip of the city. I came to the end all too soon, and found myself wanting to keep exploring. The end of the track was rather open-ended, so I just kept going. It quickly turned from walking into climbing boulders and cliffs. There were vines growing up (or down?) a cliff face that looked like they would be good to use to climb up. So I did just that.

A bit further on, I came to some steep, rocky terrain that also made for good climbing. To capture this pic, I set my camera up on a rock and put it on its ten second timer, and made it up as far as I could before it snapped the pic. I only fell once on the way up :)

Later, I found an information/tour center and asked if there were any good rain forest walks in the area. I was given a map and shown the way to the Great Whitsunday Walk. The lady told me that is was a two hour trip up and one hour down, because of how steep it was. I figured out later that the real Great Whitsunday Walk was actually a three day trek. The part I did was only a small leg from the start of the trail to a lookout point.
I had to check out of the hostel at 10 AM the next morning, so I woke up early to give myself time to do the whole trail, come back and shower and pack. The trail was indeed very steep, and even in the cooler early morning hours I was sweating heavily only a half hour into the walk. Now in case you didn't get it before, let me say that this trail was steep. It wound its way up and through the hills behind Airlie Beach, through thick rain forest inhabited by many species of birds and countless small lizards and skinks.
 The Mount Pilchuk hike in Washington was pretty difficult, but I could handle it just fine. This trail, however, left me sweating buckets and stopping to catch my breath; but I kept pushing through to the top, and was rewarded with an amazing view from the lookout at the top.

It wasn't until I got to the lookout that I realized how long the trail was, and how far I had gone. Where I'm pointing is roughly the location of the main Airlie Beach strip, and where my hostel was.

The marina in that picture, just to the left of my finger, is where Brian and I boarded the Tri-maran for our 3 day reef diving trip we took last year.

Fast forward a bit, 12 hour overnight Greyhound to Cairns. Again I had no luck with finding a hostel room. I think from now on I'll book in advance online... Anyway, I managed to find a decently cheap hotel for two nights. I checked in and made my way by memory to the McDonalds that I remembered had free wifi. I sat there for a while and people-watched and caught up on emails and such. I noticed that there was a larger Aboriginal population here than anywhere else I had been so far.

My stay in Cairns was pretty relaxed and uninteresting. Browsing through downtown Cairns, the souvenir shops, the art galleries  etc. On the second day, I wandered into an Aboriginal art gallery. I looked around for a few minutes before coming to the didgeridoo section. The man working there must have noticed how interested in the instruments I looked, because he came over and greeted me, and offered to tell me about them. He told me the natives make and use the instruments for more of a ceremonial purpose. They would spend most of a day making each didge, play it during the celebration or ceremony that night, then actually toss it into the fire at the end.
I was also offered a quick lesson on how to play them; of course, I accepted. At first, the noises I was making sounded more like I was farting through a wooden tube, but before long I was impressing myself at the notes and pitches I was able to make. Each instrument is unique and no two sound or look alike. Of course, this makes sense because they are made from tree limbs, no two of which are ever the same. Because of this, it takes some testing to find out which one works best for the player, so I was advised to go around and test different didge's. I spent the better part of an hour in the gallery playing them, and I was very, very tempted to buy one and send it home. The $400-$3000 price tags finally convinced me otherwise.

That's about it for Cairns. I got on the bus to Bloomfield early the next morning, which is where I'll start in my next post.

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