Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Adventures in Oz: Cairns! (Part 1 of 6)

We took a trip to Australia. We flew in to Cairns on the northeast coast to spend a few days scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, then took a road trip to Sydney before flying back to Tokyo.

Unfortunately, the flight from Tokyo to Cairns was an overnight adventure and I am completely unable to sleep on a plane. So that was annoying, but dawn happened just as we started our descent. Admittedly, it's hard to be irritated at a pretty sunrise.

Dawn breaks over Cairns.

We found our hotel with no problem (Cairns isn't a big place), but because it was only 6:30am we couldn't check in yet. So we wandered around the city center for a while, amazed that we weren't the only ones around outside and that we only had to wait a little while before cafes and restaurants started opening.

The city square in the heart of downtown Cairns

And we found this noisy tree:

Cairns seems to be a very Spring Break kind of place. Lots of young people partying late into the night and lots of retirees getting up early. Not a lot of families or middle aged people. It's a good place to hang out between adventures, and there are lots and lots of places to book an adventure. Everything from scuba diving to rainforest exploration to skydiving. Skydiving, by the way, was part of our plan. I knew we would be flying in early and we'd be tired, so I figured a high-adrenaline activity would be a good way to spend that day. That and we'd be scuba diving the next day, and it's really best to get all the high altitude stuff out of the way before going below sea level.

Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating so we ended up spending the entire day walking around the city center (more than once...it really isn't that big) and checking back at the office every hour or three, drinking coffee in between, until they finally canceled all the flights that day.

One of the things I liked the most about Cairns is the wildlife dome. It's literally a glass dome almost completely without walls that is home to a handful of animals and a variety of native Australian birds. It's not a large place, but there are walkways on two levels and it seems to have enough room for the critters to wander and lots of room for birds to fly.
All open and airy and stuff.

They have some koalas, but since they sleep during the day and just look like gray balls of fur in trees, they weren't interesting enough to photograph.

There were also some pademelons (related to kangaroos), but they were shy.

Then there was this guy who was happy to just sit there with his mouth open. It's weird, when you see alligators up close they really look like movie props.

You know what isn't shy? The birds. Especially the Bush Stone Curlews (birds that fit the same kind of niche as roadrunners in the US), who were all irritable because they're in breeding/nesting season.

Not only do they have ridiculously long legs and a facial expression like they are sure you are the one that stole their keys, but they have a piercing shriek. For a sample, see this video:

I'm not sure what this bird is, but it's a little creepy. Partly because of that vivid red eye and partly because it looks like it's wearing an oil slick.

Kookaburra (left) and frogmouth (right, a little dopey looking, and surprisingly not related to owls). Those two species were in the same enclosure (waist-high fence, no roof), so they must get along well enough.

These birds, on the other hand, don't seem to be getting along as well.

By the entrance to the dome is an open (roped off, but not contained, the fencing you see is around the stairs of the entrance) area where some black cockatoos hang out. One of them climbed along the fence over the rope to get as close to me as possible and stare at me meaningfully. Eventually I figured out he wanted me to offer my arm to stand on. I made a friend!

So I have this large bird on my arm....now what? It was a good five minutes before a staff person walked by and I asked if it was okay for me to be holding the bird. She said, "Oh, he loves everybody" and walked out the door. Clearly she wasn't concerned for my or the bird's safety, so I stopped being so concerned about the bird's motivations. A few other people came over to see what was going on and we passed the bird from arm to arm (he was a little bit picky, not everyone's arm was good enough) until he'd had enough. Then he came back to my arm (yes, that made me feel special) and let me put him back on the fence by his tree.

We wandered around a little more and a pigeon flew to Husband's shoulder for no apparent reason.
Then it jumped to his hand and started chomping on his fingers. Luckily, pigeons aren't really designed to eat people, so it was pretty ineffective.

Back in the hotel, when we could check in, I took the opportunity to take a picture of Aussie money. I'd never seen it before, so humor me.
I love that all the dollar bills are colorful and have little plastic windows, but the coins throw me for a loop because the sizes don't even come close to corresponding with the values.

Their money has windows. From an artistic perspective, I think this is very cool.

We went to a place called Paddywhacks for dinner. They offer a great pear cider.

There are some things I've never seen on a menu before and I'm not entirely convinced they belong there. Particularly that last one.

Our hotel room that night was right on the strip where all the partying was happening. It would have been great if we'd been there to party until the sun came up, but we were trying to get as much sleep as possible before meeting the rest of our group to go on a 3-day dive trip at 6am.

We were kept awake until about 4am by a hundred drunk people in the street. When we left the hotel at 5:45am, there were a hundred birds picking up debris off the street. I assume there is some sort of Curse of Cairns in which everyone partying past 4am is turned into a bird. This is obviously the only explanation.

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