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.