In August 2017, we flew to Cairns to explore the tropical north of Australia and the Great Barrier Reef. We landed in Cairns in the evening, right on time to explore the city’s landmark Esplanade which fringes around the shoreline for two kilometres.
We saw a colony of huge Australian Pelicans and Fig Birds. We enjoyed a seafood dinner right next to the boats at sunset.
The next morning, we took a ferry to Green Island for a day of snorkelling.
While snorkelling, we saw a sea turtle eating underwater as well as starfish and all kinds of tropical fish including coral eating parrot fish.
I explored the Green Island National Park in the afternoon letting the drone fly above the water for over a kilometre away. We also watched Pale White-eyes, feeding in bushes along the western shore of the island.
Taking a break from the water, we headed to Wet Tropics World Heritage in Kuranda on Saturday. However, I first spent two hours in the early morning at the shoreline to view the sunrise over the bay.
After a bus ride to the station, we entered the area via the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway across the canopy of the rainforest.
During the trip, we learned from a botanist that a small part of the rainforest plants grow taller than the canopy of the rainforest, and these plants are collectively referred to as "Emergent" trees. The mature Kauri Pine is an example of such a rainforest giant that uses as little leaves as possible to work up and concentrate on the sunny place to grow. It is continuously peeling bark to shed all other plants that might grow on its bark. The Kauri Pine can grow up to 50 meters, is the tallest tree species in Queensland. However, it is difficult to determine the age of these trees as there is no dry season so all plants grow all year around, resulting in the absence of any growth rings.
We also saw a blooming King Orchid that flowers only every 3-4 years and wilts after just a few days.
The Southern Cassowary is a huge endangered seed eating bird. They are usually shy birds, but are dangerous and unpredictable as they use their clawed toes as weapons, jumping and kicking with both feet at once. We learned that the rainforest plants need big seeds because they require a lot of food reserves for the seedling to get to sun. So big seeds mean big seeds eaters. In fact some plants will die out if not passed through the Cassowary's gentle digestive system.
We looked at the Barron Falls that carried almost no water at this time of the year, but can become dramatic water falls after a Cyclone. The falls are located in the traditional homelands of the Djabugay Aboriginal people. We read about the Barron Gorge Hydro-Electrical Station that produces 60 Megawatt and was commissioned in 1963.
In Kuranda, we first visited the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary which is the largest butterfly flight aviary and exhibit in the Southern Hemisphere with over 2,000 butterflies from a variety of species. We spent most of our time in the main aviary, but also checked out the laboratory and the egg laying area. We were most impressed by the Cairns Birdwing (Ornithoptera euphorion)--the largest of all Australian butterflies found along northeastern Australia. "The female’s wingspan can measure 18cm. As soon as adult butterflies hatch they mate quickly because they only live for 4 to 5 weeks.”
They are mating only once in their lifetime—between 8 and 14 hours with the male hanging upside down.
In the hatching area, we saw a Hercules Moth appearing from its cocoon. This is the world’s largest moth that is only found in North Queensland and New Guinea. "The largest Hercules moth ever recorded was a huge female caught in 1948 at Innisfail, just south of Cairns. The Guinness Book of Records states it had an incredible wingspan of 36cm (14.17 inches).”
We then visited the Australian Venom Zoo which also serves as harvesting station for spider, scorpion and snake venom. The dungeon-like facility showed some of the most venomous snakes of Australia, and the world, on display. One of the harmless snakes was trained to be carried around the neck by tourists.
On our way back, we used the Kuranda Scenic Rail—a historical railway line established in 1891. But before we boarded the train, I had my drone explore the river near the Kuranda Railway Station.
The next morning we explored the Great Barrier Reef from a boat. We signed up for a full day snorkelling tour including lunch on the boat. It took the boat about two hours to reach the outer reef.
On our departure day, we visited the Cairns Botanic Garden with its unbelievable diversity of tropical plants. We saw many heliconias, cacti, orchids, bromelia and tropical trees, such as Teak with huge leaves.
We were particularly impressed by the Tassel Ferns that evolved 400 million years ago—150 million years before flowering plants.
Many leaves were of enormous size.
Other plants showed spikes on their stems to scare off any unwanted guests.
Near the mangroves, we were able to observe Mudskippers and colourful Fiddler Crabs.
More pictures here.
In Adelaide, I attended the International Association for Dental Research (IADR) Australia and New Zealand Conference that was held at the Adelaide Health and Medical Sciences building, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, and was hosted by the Adelaide Dental School.
While in South Australia, Gisela and I could not miss a visit to the Penfolds Winery at Magill Estate Cellar Door, the birthplace for some of the most famous Australian winemaking stories, dating back to 1844.
The Magill Estate Cellar Door offers fine dining and serene views of Penfolds first vineyard. It’s located just 8 kilometres from Adelaide CBD in the sheltered haunches of the Mounty Lofty Ranges, making it one of the world’s few urban single vineyards.
After the success of early sherries and fortified wines, founders Dr Christopher and Mary Penfold planted their vine cuttings they had carried on their voyage over to Australia. In 1844 the fledgeling vineyard was officially established as the Penfolds wine company at Magill Estate. In 1948, history was made again as Max Schubert became the company’s first Chief Winemaker.
A loyal company man and true innovator, Schubert would propel Penfolds onto the global stage with his experimentation of long-lasting wines - the creation of Penfolds Grange in the 1950s. In 1959 (while Schubert was perfecting his Grange experiment in secret), the tradition of ‘bin wines’ began. Here all the vintages of the Grange in a long row.
The first, a Shiraz wine with the grapes of the company’s own Barossa Valley vineyards was simply named after the storage area of the cellars where it is aged. And so Kalimna Bin 28 became the first official Penfolds Bin number wine. In 1988 Schubert was named Decanter Magazine’s Man of the Year, and on the 50th anniversary of its birth, Penfolds Grange was given a heritage listing in South Australia. After the tour and the wine tasting, we enjoyed a tasting menu of (1) mussels + lemongrass + chilli, (2) beef tartare + fries + béarnaise, (3) roasted cauliflower + lemon + nuts, (4) snapper + parsnip + beetroot crisp + cassalinga, and as last course (5) chocolate parfait + honeycomb + ginger + rhubarb. And of course, all with wine pairing.
On Wednesday, we started our 3-day vacation on Kangaroo Island, the third largest island off the coast of Australia with a population of 4,600 on an area of 4,416 square kilometres (155 kilometres long and up to 55 kilometres wide). We rented a cabin at Hanson Bay. Due to its isolation, the impact of European settlement is minimal on the island’s flora and fauna. When accessing the island via the SeaLink car ferry, many warning signs make visitors aware of the dangers of contaminating this pristine island with pests only found on the mainland.
It also features the oldest bee sanctuary in the world being home to the only pure strain of Ligurian Bee stock. Fifty stationary bee hives at Hanson Bay produce honey on a 20,000 acres foraging area which is 90% old growth native woodlands and 10% native grassland.
Arriving at our cabin at Hanson Bay, we enjoyed the spectacular ocean view of the rugged coast and Southern Ocean and learned that we were surrounded by the 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.
On Thursday, we visited the Koala Walk among Eucalyptus trees. Koalas are an introduced species on Kangaroo Island with their population exploding in the past years.
During our visit, while walking between the Eucalyptus trees and in an open grassland area observing the Wallabies, we were attacked by Australian Magpies. We were able to find many of the Cape Barren Geese, the rarest geese in the world.
On Friday, we visited the Remarkable Rocks, a formation of rocks that was exposed to erosion (heating, wetting, cooling and drying) for the last 200 million years creating a granite dome.
Near the Remarkable Rocks, we saw a colony of Australian sea lions and Long-nosed fur seals at Admirals Arch. We explored the board walk at Seal Bay.
We also saw Echidnas, but only as road kill, but these egg laying mammals can sometimes be seen when they forage for ants. While our first visit to the platypus water holes was unsuccessful, we drove to the same location later at night again and saw for first time in the wild these very elusive animals coming. They came out when it was almost dark, so my pictures leave much to be desired.
On Saturday morning, we drove at dawn back to the SeaLink ferry. During the 150 kilometre drive we stopped counting the kangaroos and wallabies on street when we hit about 50 and estimate that we saw far more than 100 hopping animals on the road... which made as slow down so much that we almost missed the ferry.
Here are more pictures.
The famous Magnetic Termites (Amitermis meridionalis) have wedge-shaped towers which are placed that the long side faces the shade and only the narrow side is exposed to the sun to reduce the temperature in the mound—aligning in the north-south axis to balance the temperature. These termites are found nowhere else on earth. Scientists discovered that the blind worker termites really build the mounds based on the magnetic field by exposing them to artificial magnets that change the direction—the workers dutifully repaired the mound to align it again with the north-south axis. The mounds are often 5 metres high, in comparison the termites are only 5 mm long.
Then, we drove to the Florence Waterfalls and took a nice walk along the creek. The kids enjoyed swimming the the Rock Pool and I made it up the 170 stairs ahead of time and let the drone fly.
We then stopped quickly at Wangi Falls that spill over the Tabletop Plateau into a large pool. The pool is closed when the water levels are high as strong current and the increase risks of crocodiles make it too dangerous to swim.
We were able to see some Rainbow Bee-Eaters which fly way to fast and erratic to take nice pictures of these colourful birds.
We also saw some kits and many large spiders. In the evening, we drove back to Darwin.
More pictures here.