AUSTRALIA
2 January 2002 to 18 April 2002

CAIRNS & THE GREAT BARRIER REEF
25 March  2002 to 2 April 2002







We left Port Douglas intending to drive directly to Cairns, but just as we left Port Douglas we reconsidered and turned around, making our way to Rainforest Habitat. Our granddaughter Danielle has a book about a cassowary and we dearly wanted to see one. It seemed that our only chance was to see one in a sanctuary. The aviary was huge with a boardwalk that meandered above the birds. We hurried past the black swans and ibises and passed the parrots without stopping until we saw a cassowary. They are strange birds. Their legs are too short and sturdy and they walk with the heaviness of an elephant. Their black feathers look like silky hair. The base of the neck has red necklace-like wattles and the neck and head are blue. On their heads is a casque (helmet) that is supposed to help it move through the forest. When you look at it full forward this bizarre appearance together with its powder-blue eyelids makes it look like some aging movie star. We spent a few hours wandering through the various spacious enclosures and were glad we had come.

Just before Cairns we stopped again, this time at Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Center run by Aborigines. The introduction was a mimed dance that presented dreamtime – the beginnings of Aboriginal people.
We then moved to the movie theatre where the history of the contact between the British and the Aborigines was traced without minimizing the injustices suffered by the Aborigines. We were delighted by Aboriginal dancing especially as it was about a cassowary.
After hearing about bush tucker (food) we were invited to try to throw a boomerang. Eitan was game and found that it was harder than it appeared.


 

In Cairns we drove to Cairns Coconut Caravan Resort.
We had chosen this park as it belongs to the partner of Jenny Tonkin, who is the sister of Richard Davis our friend in Auckland.
Faced with having to return our motorhome in a few days time we steadily ate our way through the last of our pasta and canned goods. Jenny wasn't at the reception when we checked in, but when she arrived she immediately moved us to a brand new site that was ensuite. On our motorhome site there was a bathroom with jacuzzi and a washing machine and dryer. It was very handy as we had much cleaning to do before we returned the motorhome, including a last emptying of our porta-pottie.

In the evening we went out with Jenny and her children Rachel and Darren.

 
 

We very much wanted to celebrate Pesach with other Jews. Jenny kindly found out from a Jewish acquaintance where the community Seder would be. It was run by two young Habadniks who study at the Melbourne Yeshiva. There were about 100 people; most were Israelis. Mati and Lipster didn’t have a lot of experience in running a community Seder and certainly didn’t know how to organize the heating of the food so everybody was happy to pitch in and help. We were rather concerned when they started to tell stories about people whose Seders continued until the wee hours of the morning, but we didn’t have to worry, they explained more than read. A young boy from South America sang a rousing hand-clapping version of Ma Nishtana, we drank four cups of wine, ate matzo shmura and even gefilte fish and horseradish. When we were serving the chicken soup I asked where the kneidlach were. To my sorrow I learnt that Lubavitchers don’t eat kneidlach because Ashkenazim aren’t supposed to wet matzo. When it came to the singing of course the Israelis sang fast and the others sang slowly; a mess. Despite this, we were delighted to celebrate the chag, be at a Seder and eat matzo. We even came away with a few pieces of matzo shmura for the week.

After working non-stop for three days our things were packed and the motorhome was clean and empty. It was with a touch of sadness that we returned it. We had been very happy travelling about and felt a little lost not having our house with us at all times, not being able to go to the toilet at any time and especially not having to pack and unpack every time we moved.

Early the following morning we went on a three day diving safari with Cairns Diving Center. Their boat Kangaroo Explorer remains on the Outer Barrier Reef so we were taken by their day boat to the Thetford Reef, 66 km away.
The Kangaroo Explorer looked like a floating Chinese shop festooned with drying wet suits, towels and swim suits hanging about.
When we were taken to our cabin it took me a few minutes to get over the initial shock; it was small and sparse, not quite the luxury presented in the brochures. Eitan said after the motorhome it was quite spacious.
We met George and Steve from Georgia, computer people that work with the army here. They are very pro-Israel, which was really nice. When our ears were sore from diving George saved us with his ear drops. Everyone thought us quite peculiar as we walked around with our heads lolling to one side.

We did nine dives in three days visiting three major reefs. Eitan and I were buddies, diving partners who have to look out for each other. We had a laugh when Eitan forgot to untie his air balloon from the boat before the dive and I forgot to check. He jumped up so eagerly he nearly overturned the boat! After that I always made sure we were both untied.
The last day we did the 6.00am dive. We snorkeled out to the reef in the half light and then went down to 20 meters. There was a herd of huge bumpnosed parrotfish hanging about in a strong upwelling current.
On this dive because we were deep and the sun was low I decided to navigate underwater  to the boat underwater. On earlier shallow dives I had just popped up to the surface to look where the boat was. Imagine my delight when I brought Eitan  right up to the decompression bar at the end of the boat. The next dive was more complicated as there was a currrent. The sun was quite high by this time so I decided to navigate by sound - there were only two boats on the reef and the other one was hundreds of meters away. Visibility was not the best and imagine my horror when we reached the boat and looked up and didn't see the decompression bar – we thought we'd reached the competitor's boat. I surfaced to see a coast guard's boat that had arrived since we'd gone diving. The coast guard said he kept trying to get away from me but I kept on following him. Very embarassed I snorkeled  to our boat while Eitan swam the 50 meters underwater.

On the whole the visibility was poor and not what we had expected from the Great Barrier Reef. On our first dive if something wasn’t perched at the end of my mask I couldn’t see it. Some dives were fabulous with very large fish and others with an abundance and variety of coral.  Steve took a photo of us and the little dots are plankton that reduces visibility.  Only when we were dressed to return to Cairns did the wind become still and the sea like a lake. Visibility was so good we could clearly see the reef, the fish below the boat and turtles swimming about.
 

We returned to Cairns and enjoyed a dinner with our new friends George and Steve. After a day spent walking about we flew to Alice Springs, the red center of Australia in the Northern Territory
 
 
 



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