OzFest #6 - Cairns 2009
OzFest is a gathering of travellers
from around the world (mostly the USA) on the Memorial Day long
weekend that has happened each year for the past 5 years in various
Australian cities.† The only things these people have in common
is the enjoyment of travel and an internet connection.† As a result the conversation is a little strange
at time (at least to outsiders) and when the bus driver asks ďWhere
are you from?Ē the answer is a bit long winded.†
But itís an enjoyable time even for a ďplus oneĒ (someone
who is not an active member but comes along with someone who is)
like me who just enjoys the travel.
We were rushing around on Thursday night because
we hadnít managed to pack earlier.†
Last year we did the OzFest with just carry on luggage.†
This year however it is in Cairns and as Iíve never been
to the Great Barrier Reef before and Audrey hasnít been for 27 years
we decided to stay a bit longer and take along some extra items.†
Finding a suitcase to fit all the marine shoes and extra
photo gear into without being too large took some time.†
Putting everything else together and packing it took more
We managed to forget Audreyís socks.
We got up early, well actually
at our normal time, did the usual morning routine except for breakfast
and headed for the airport.† We
had breakfast at the Qantas club which is nice and relaxed and means
we donít need to do dishes before we leave the house.† Audrey invited Noelene who is a Star Alliance
member into the Qantas club with us since she is on our flight and
a Flyertalker who we will see all week-end.†
Noelene flies very little domestically and has status in
the Star Alliance group of airlines rather than One World which
The flight was normal with Audrey looking
out the window pointing things of interest out to me.†
The salt lakes were interesting, but I was relaxing after
a rather intense training course and just relaxed during the flight
and didnít even get my camera out for them.
At Cairns we met up with 4 other Flyertalkers
from the Virgin flight and we caught a maxi taxi to our hotels.† The Hilton where we stayed was green in more
ways than one.
Having delivered name tags that
Audrey produced to those people having lunch, we headed off for
a walk around Cairns
In Cairns there is not a lot of beach. A fair bit of mud
and mangroves, but not a lot of beach.
The view from the hotel may look almost like beach, but itís
Sunbaking is done on the grass, which is probably more
practical than sand as itís a lot easier to bush off when you get up.
The Lagoon is a man made water feature and beach
for those people in Cairns who need sand and water.
Cairns is a jumping off place to other places.† There is not really that much here apart from
tourist shops and expensive eateries.†
There is however a lot around Cairns, and that is how we
spent the next few days.† Close
The Night Market had a Hong Kong feel with lots of hawkers
and lots of Asian stall holders, but nothing of any interest (unlike
Hong Kong).† It is the off season (I donít know why, the
weather is quite nice) and many of the night market stalls were
We had dinner with the Flyertalkers at Norths
restaurant.† Audreyís noise cancelling, directional ears
(hearing aids) were an advantage in the noisy environment of the
bar for pre-dinner drinks and in the restaurant with 20 conversations
and music going on at the same time.†
We conversed with various people, including Doug from Microsoft
who agrees that Microsoft has lost the plot a bit with Office
2007 and Windows Vista.† He
canít do anything to fix it (itís not his department), but he
agrees it could be better.
Meeting new people in strange
places over food is a Flyertalk tradition.† The dinner started with an appetiser and 3 courses
later we were stuffed.† Flyertalk holidays
are bad for the waistline, itís a good thing we walk everywhere.
The evening ended with a cake being
brought out for Sueís birthday.†
Flying to the other end of the country (sheís Australian)
is not enough to avoid your birthday.
23 May 2009††
Up early and had a large breakfast at the hotel.† The plan is to not have much lunch (which we
have to pay or while breakfast is included) and then join the
buffet dinner tonight.† After
breakfast we waited for the bus that would take us to the train
station for our ride on the historic Kuranda railway.†
The bus trip was short but we needed to get about 44 people
from 2 hotels to the train station a couple of kilometres away
for a 9:30 departure.† The
bus was the easiest way.
The youngest Flyertalker at the fest only had her first award
flight to get to here.† QF
WP (her dad) expects her to have many more to come.
Cairns is a jumping off place, and this is one of the ways
of jumping.Itís a very
slow ride, but then itís a very picturesque trip.Itís also one that I have problems photographing.Wide expanses of natural wilderness are great to look at
but it gives me problems when I photograph it.So a day of practice for me.
QF WP assists with a demonstration of the trainís safety features.
Yes, we had a carriage all to ourselves.
Sugar cane country.
The view from the
train on the way to Kuranda.
We visited the Butterfly
house and spent a while trying to photograph the Ulysses butterfly
before giving up due to the fact they never sit still long enough
and there is too much open air to try and track them.
All the butterflies are raised
on the premises and regularly are given fresh food by the lab workers.
Mini-QF WP was in danger of being kidnapped on several occasions
over the whole weekend.
The common Egg-fly
butterfly. (One of the ones that did sit still for photography.)
anywhere to avoid the photographers.
Apart from the Butterfly house we wandered
around various markets, galleries and tourist shops.†
We didnít do Bird World, the Koala Sanctuary or the Venom
Zoo.† Audrey did manage to find a nice silver pendent
which she felt she couldnĎt leave behind in case someone else bought
We considered something for lunch, and the German Tucker
shop with itís traditional Deutsche Wurst and Krokodil sausages was tempting,
we eventually managed to share a sausage roll at about 2:30 to make sure we
didnít get hungry before the dinner tonight and headed back for the trip on the
Sky Rail (a cable car that takes us back to Cairns over the bush).
A Skyrail car heading
back the way we came.
Heading into a
Skyrail sataion.† Itís a steep drop with
a sudden slowing at the end.
Barron Falls from the
Skyrail lookout side.
A view of the bush
canopy from Skyrail.
Our guided walk at the second stop on the
way back included a talk about the uses of rattan which grows in
the bush here.† The young tendrils have barbs and are used in
various things including fish traps which allow the fish in but
stop them getting out.† The
older vines are used in all sorts of things including balloon baskets.
One of the oldest
trees at over 200 years a kauri pine (though itís not a pine).
Another view from
the view as we head back to Cairns.
Cairns harbour at
sunset as we were on our way to dinner.
tables.† We took up most of the boat.
Dinner was a cruise with
a 3 course buffet and live entertainment.† Iím not sure about the concept of a 3 course
buffet.† How can you put limits
on a buffet?† Just to upset
them we divided dinner into 5 plates (all reasonably small, but
5 none the less).† The cruise was around Cairns harbour as going
out to sea would have made it too rough for having dinner on a small
boat.† I donít know how many laps f the harbour we
did but I saw the casino go past about 4 times and I wasnít looking
out the window.† Audrey was
looking out a window and she lost count.†
Much discussion about gold fish ensued along with comments
like ďOh look, Cairns!Ē† But the food was nice, the company was good
and many bottles of wine were consumed (though not by us).
The live entertainment was interesting.† At one stage one of the people on the table
asked what song he was playing as she couldnít figure it out.† The surprising bit is that I could, though even
then it took her 30 seconds to be sure that is what he was playing.
Flyertalkers (including GreenFireFlyer looking at camera)
enjoying after dinner conversation and drinks.†
After the cruise the drinks continued in room 925 of the Hilton.
24 May 2009
An early breakfast and then we finished packing and headed
for the boat.† The luggage
was checked and that was the last we saw of it until we arrived
in our room to find it waiting for us.†
The catamaran took 50 minutes to take us over to Green Island
with a lot of the time taken up with staff trying to sell us activities.†
We left the Flyer talkers to their various activities, checked
out our room and headed for a look around the island.†
Itís only a small island but it has a huge reef around it
which is one of the attractions for us and how we spent the afternoon.
We met several flyer talkers again as we crossed paths (it
is a small island).
GreenFireFlyer and Irwin8417 snorkel on Green Island.
We had a look at the underwater observatory at the end of
the pier.† Itís been here since the 50ís
and looks old by modern standards with little port holes instead of big
windows.† Not really worth the $10 entry
price but itís free to those who are staying on the island.
The view from the
underwater observatoryís port holes.
The Buff Banded Rail.†
Itís territorial to the point that they each have their own table in the
restaurant they steal food from.† We lost
a hash brown, some bacon and Audreyís last remaining coco-pop.† Others lost fruit juice, tea, toast, a croissant,
a prawn and other things we never did identify.
Marineland Melanesia has some small aquariums set up with
local species of fish and also a collection of crocodiles which we watched
One of the aquariums
in Marineland Melanesia.
Crocodile waiting to
We looked at the lunch options with the idea
of having something light and found nothing of interest.†
Certainly no crumbed sausages even though this is where Audrey
first had them many years ago (remembering that she hasnít been
here in 27 years).† We ended up having a chocolate tart that was
left as a welcome present in our room as lunch and then headed for
As you can imagine we found a fair few things.† Most of them large, much larger than we find
in Victorian waters, though with fewer species.†
In three and a half hours of wandering the reef we found
maybe 30 species compared to the 60 or more that Audrey would find
by herself back home.† I just
wandered from place to place with my camera trying to keep up with
the interesting things that we did find.
Audrey can identify the 6 species of cone shell that can
kill you.† Itís getting her to leave them
where they are that is the hard bit.
Lambis lambis Ė what
beautiful eyes you have!
Itís a small island,
the reef is larger than the island itself.†
This is the view from where we got out to.
We came back to land just in time to catch
up with the Flyertalkers who had been to the outer reef and asked
them how it was (so we knew if it was worth the trip).†
They shouted from the top of the boat (since it was just
stopping to collect the day trippers that were left on Green Island
and they werenít getting off) that it was awesome so it has been
placed firmly on the list for Tuesday (when the tide is not so low
and walking the reef will theoretically not be as good).
The feeding of the fish takes place once all the day
trippers have left and only those who are staying on the island are left.† The sea gulls get in on the act as well, but
they have to be fast to beat the fish.
Fish enjoying a free
More fish enjoying
a free feed.† The species
of fish that turn up changes daily.
It looks like a little
marsupial, but is actually just a rat.† It
caught us and the rest of those who saw it.† Most of the rats were erradicated from the island
to save the buff banded rail which makes itís nest on the ground and is an
easy target for egg eating rats.
Note to self.†
If Audrey says the food at a restaurant is to fussy for her
donít let her change her mind about going.†
We had looked at the dinner menu earlier in the day and decided
that it was too expensive and not really that great Ė modern fussy
food with lots of flavours pushed together with possibly not enough
thought.† Audrey however decided
that tart we had at lunch time was nice and wanted another.† We ordered an entree to go with it and Audrey
needed it to be modified (chicken and tarragon ravioli with red
pepper coulis) and we needed to have it without the coulis.†
The waiter said it could be done, he told the kitchen, but
the kitchen forgot.† It had
to go back (with Audreyís comments about being allergic to make
sure that it wasnít just washed and sent back out).†
The waitress managed to set it down and ran off before we
could mention that it was not right and it took us a couple of minutes
to get someoneís attention and get it fixed.† It was nice though under seasoned (and no salt
available on the table), but to my mind not worth the money (though
being a captive audience as it were there is little choice Ė well
none really).† And me eating mine before Audreyís came out
of the kitchen didnít help make the evening enjoyable.
We finished up the day with a quiet evening
and downloading pictures to my computer while Audrey caught up with
Sunset from the end
of the board walk.
Up early (itís just like us, isnít it?), and
off to breakfast.† We have
breakfast included in our rate and it included a continental buffet
and a menu of hot foods.† We both ordered eggs Florentine with a couple
of sides.† A huge plate arrived
and we both battled to get though it.†
We had a brief wander around the resort before heading out
on the 9:30 glass bottomed boat.
The glass bottomed boat was interesting, but
hopeless for photography.† The
glass reflected horribly and being glass was tinted green which
doesnít help when looking underwater.†
We also sat at the back which got more sediment being churned
up by the engines (note to self: try to be slightly forward of the
middle if ever on another glass bottomed boat).†† But it whetted the appetite for snorkelling
later in the day.
Remora or sucker
We caught the 10:30 feeding of he crocodiles, because we
could and itís interesting to see such big reptiles move so fast and the
turtles move so slowly.†
Iíve never snorkelled before so I really wasnít
sure what to expect and went without our little water proof camera.† The worst bit was sitting in the water to put
our flippers on.† It was cold!† At least for a minute or so anyway.† The rental masks let in a little water around
our noses until we did them up a tighter than was comfortable ,
after that we glided happily around the reef to the left of the
jetty (looking out from the island) until we ended up beaching ourselves
in the sea grass due to the tide going out.†
We leapt into the pool to rinse the salt water off and to
practice diving with a snorkel.
The views on the reef were great.† We saw all the required fish (parrot fish make
a horrible noise while biting off chunks of rock with their food),
corals, sponges and all the rest.†
Tomorrow we snorkel at the outer reef and the water proof
camera comes with us.
After a half a sausage roll for lunch we headed
off to wander the reef.† We
stated just after the main swimming beach where the day trippers
snorkel and worked our way around the island.†
We found a new collection of habitats each with a new variety
of life adapted to live there.† Lots
of large animals, but again less diversity than we would expect
Cyprea annulus - the
gold ring cowrie.
A swimming bivalve
that also managed to sting Audrey as she tried to keep it in one place to have
its picture taken.
The wind came up as we were on the reef and
the ripples got so bad I put my camera away because I couldnít focus
on anything through the water.† So
I got out the water proof camera and tried it out under water.†
This is something I am not used to and will probably never
be entirely comfortable with Ė putting electronic devices underwater
Ė and I hesitated before doing it for the first time, despite it
being what the camera was designed for.†
Apart from having to switch between 2 different macro modes
and a tendency to focus on floating sediment instead of what I want
to take a picture of the camera worked quite well.† Iím looking forward to using it tomorrow.
We made it back to land at about 5:45, too
late to eat from the lunch menu.†
The dinner menu was the same as last night so we thought
we would order from room service.† Our preferred meal (tempura snapper) was not
available but when we asked if we could have the salt and pepper
squid from the lunch menu instead they said yes.†
While we waited for it to arrive I started loading the dayís
pictures to my laptop so I could look at them and preparing pictures
for this missive.†
We ate and relaxed with the internet as the
rain started falling.† Audrey
started nodding off over her laptop and eventually went to bed early
while I processed more pictures and decided I didnít really want
to do the nature walk in the rain.† Maybe tomorrow night.
We got up early and had breakfast (this is
getting predictable).† the
only difference was that the power died just as we were getting
dressed so we had breakfast in the dark Ė well not really because
we ate on the covered deck and the only difference was that the
toast your own toast toaster didnít work.
The boat to the reef boarded at 11:15 so we
did the guided walk to look at 14 different species of plants on
the island and find out a bit more about them.†
The map shows you where an example of each specimen is and
tells you a bit about them.† We missed a couple of plants because the numbers
were missing and found a couple where the number was missing but
we could find the plant from the description.†
It was an interesting diversion.†
We also toyed with the idea of catching a helicopter back
to the airport direct, rather than the boat and a taxi, but the
cost was just too high.
The spear tree Ė
Plant number 8
It was a very rough ride out to the reef pontoon.† Several people were sea sick (though not either
of us).† Walking around the
boat while it was moving was rather difficult as the floor dropped
away from under you and the boat went sideways while you were still
trying to catch up with the deck.†
We did arrive however and positioned ourselves near the exit
so we could head across the pontoon to the semi submersible for
a trip around the reef on the first trip out.
The semi-submersible is effectively a very
deep glass bottomed boat with the windows almost vertical instead
of flat on the floor.† The
glass was cleaner and there were less reflections but it was still
not great.† Better than nothing, but not great.† It was a reasonably gentle ride, but there were
still two people at least who got sea sick.
A light lunch from the buffet was followed
by a talk with the eco-naturalist in the underwater observatory.† This was fine, except we knew more about marine
biology than she did, though she did know the fish quite well (but
we donít do fish).† She ran
away to talk to other people.
Given that the sun deck was the only activity
left to us on the pontoon we jumped off Ė wearing snorkels and flippers
Ė and tried the our water proof camera out at what it is meant to
be used for.
Fish and corals - to
Another lot of fish
and coral to be identified.
More fish and corals
- to be identified.
Sponge or soft coral,
also to be identified.
Still more fish and
corals - to be identified.
The pontoon.† It has 3
levels.† The main deck which has most of
the facilities, the sun deck covers the right half and the underwater
observatory which is under the last 8 feet of the left of the pontoon.
Green Island as we
left at high tide.
Green island when we
arrived back at low tide showing almost 2 thirds of the reef.
Our trip back was a lot gentler than the trip
out.† It was also low tide so the boat had to take
a meandering path through the reefs while on the way out they could
go over the top.† The reefs
were out as we got back to Green Island, and the power was back
on, but we didnít walk out on the reef again and it was probably
a good thing as a shower with driving wind came up during the fish
feeding that would have been VERY uncomfortable if we were standing
on the reef.
We split a tempura snapper for dinner, again
from room service.† It was easily enough for the two of us and I
am getting the feeling I am eating too much despite always working
it off during the day.
We joined the 9pm nature walk which due to
the conditions was out the pier to the underwater observatory.†
There wasnít a lot to see, though we stopped to look for
sea turtles which sleep wedged into the coral and come up to breathe.† We didnít see any on the way out but we did
see a couple on the way back.† At
the observatory we looked out into the water that had been stirred
up by the wind and saw baby fish swimming in the plankton, some
shrimps of various species, a top shell wandering away from the
light, anemones and so on.† It was interesting enough, but the turtles were
We finished up the evening with a relaxing
bath and a bit more packing.
27 May 2009
We wandered out on the jetty at sun rise to have a look and
contemplate a last snorkel before we left.†
It was a bit dark and there was rain coming and with a tight schedule
(needing to have our luggage packed for collection by 8:30) we decided against
it and went for a short walk before finishing packing and heading to breakfast
Our final walk was interrupted by more rain
so we headed for reception to check out and find out which boat
was collecting us from where Ė It was a smaller boat because there
were only about 8 of us going back and the large boat was already
on the island having brought a large school group.† Time to leave the island.
The trip back was uneventful and having arrived
back we went looking for a taxi, eventually finding one at the casino
(about 5 minutes walk).† This
brought us to the airport where e waited for our flight and had
a light lunch in the Qantas club.† I leave the flight details to Audrey who knows
all the right stuff to mention on Flyertalk.† I just sit back and enjoy it.
Sunrise from the
jetty on Green Island.
We had our usual guests for breakfast and given that Audrey
was happy to have a plate just for them we attracted a fair few new friends
this morning.† I didnít know that birds
liked camembert, but they all went for the cheese rather than the croissant. †One table had 2 small boys sitting with their
parents and one boy was chasing the birds with far too much enthusiasm with his
parents taking no efforts to stop him.†
He ended up having his breakfast stolen while he was off chasing birds
that were not causing him any problems.
Coming in for a
Cheese is good.
Whatís on the buffet