Another VERY early morning (I think my family would disown me if these early morning wakeup calls didn’t lead to something memorable every time!). We were picked up at 6:15am by Denny from SEIT Tours, a small group touring company that operates in Ayers Rock. Our group was only 9 people…from the USA (just the 3 of us), England, and Australia. We’ve been impressed by the number of Aussies we’ve come across who are playing tourists in their own country…way more than the handful of Americans we’ve met.
Our first stop was a sunrise viewing platform, which looks out to both Uluru and Kata Tjuta. This is a popular site for many tour groups and independent travelers, since the platform was buzzing with chatter by about 15 minutes before sunrise. Sadly we were skunked by cloud cover again. We missed out on the brilliant colors, but it was still impressive to see the rocks come to life. They looked painted against the morning sky, and a camera just couldn’t do that justice (although we certainly tried!), so the detailed image will have to rest in our minds.
We continued on to a picnic stop with the Kata Tjuta domes in full view, and enjoyed our outback breakfast (raisin toast, cereal, fruit, tea, coffee, cocoa and juice). Denny gave us a detailed explanation of the geology, drawing in the red sand to illustrate as she spoke. We then drove a short distance to the entrance of the Walpa Gorge. We learned why it is called that, since Walpa is the name for “wind” and there was no shortage of that! It was VERY cold and
“blowy” through the gorge this morning, so I was happy to have my extra layers long johns under my pants, and triple layers on top with a sleeved shirt, fleece, and Patagonia Nano jacket…and of course a beanie hat, scarf and gloves! The walk only took about an hour, and isn’t particularly strenuous, but it’s on uneven/rocky ground most of the way (with a few interspersed stairs and walkways). Denny gave us a lot of information about the Aboriginal history and the plant life, and pointed out special features of the domes. They are absolutely massive up close, and the gorge has a mystical feel to it…really a unique experience.
We were dropped back at our hotel just after 11am, and had a little time to hit the town square again for lunch at a café where they train aboriginals in food/beverage service, and a bit of shopping.
The shuttle picked us up this afternoon for the short drive to the airport to catch our Qantas flight to Cairns. The airport is quite small, but they do have a bit of food and shopping available. The flight itself was only 2 ½ hours, and we were given a full meal, but no entertainment.
On arrival in Cairns, we picked up a Hertz standard size rental car (Toyota Corolla) for our 1-hour drive north to Port Douglas. It was already dark by our 6:30pm arrival, so it was nice to have Steve checking the map and navigating for me.
Our accommodation is Villa San Michele, which is discreetly set amongst shops and restaurants on one of the main streets of town. The entry drive is a bit hidden, so we parked on the street and found our apartment, then parked the car in the free underground parking garage. We are in a 1-bedroom unit with 1 bathroom, kitchen, living space (set up with a cot for Sky), and balcony over the courtyard/pool. The property has a great location, if you like being in town (and it’s not too noisy), and offers free laundry. Due to our late arrival, we didn’t venture far for dinner, and tried Bucci, right next to our apartment building. We were really impressed…super friendly staff, and the food was fantastic (barramundi for Steve, risotto with scallops for me, and spaghetti with meatballs for Sky). The place was also packed, which was a great sign for a Tuesday night.
Ready to start our rainforest adventure tomorrow!
DAY 12 – Port Douglas / Daintree Rainforest
We were running a little behind this morning, so just grabbed some breakfast sandwiches for “takeaway” before our Daintree Dreaming tour, which features local art, aboriginal culture, and the Mossman Gorge and Rainforest. The order of activities is tidal dependent, so today our mini-bus of 12 started with an art lesson.
We visited the Janbal Aboriginal Art Gallery and met the main artist, Binna. He explained his style of aboriginal art, and gave us some background about his family and the art culture in Australia. We were each provided with a small square canvas and a thin bamboo stick, pointed at one end and flat/round at the other, which was to be our only painting utensil. We had only 3 paint colors – a burnt red for land, a mustard yellow for sun, and white for rain. After about 30-45 minutes, our masterpieces were complete! Not sure our little family will be opening an art gallery anytime soon, but there were some impressive little works of art in our group…amazing how different they each were!
We headed to Mossman Gorge next, and started at the Visitor Centre. High up near the ceiling of the entryway was a HUGE female golden orb spider…just a local resident that happened to find a home here. Her tiny male counterpart was on the web next to her, probably not aware of his fate as her dinner…after he helps her produce baby spiders, of course.
The Mossman Gorge shuttle transported us to the start of the walk, which was an easy meander on a designated pathway for just about an hour. Our guide for the day, Dean Nulty, was fantastic…providing us with information about the various flora and fauna we passed. He has an extensive aboriginal background, and in fact teaches other guides. We stopped for about 20-30 minutes to swim in the chilly river before heading back to the Visitor Centre for lunch.
Our afternoon was a truly memorable experience. We went to Cooya Beach, which is a traditional fishing ground for the local aboriginal Kuku Yalanji people. Brandon, one of the Kubirri Warra brothers, took us out to the beach and into the mangrove to show us how to collect mud crabs, mussels, and other local delicacies. All 3 of us caught a crab…I was so proud of us!
After a couple of hours, we returned to Brandon’s house, and he cooked up our catch…it just doesn’t get any fresher than that! Needless to say, it was a yummy (albeit VERY messy) feast on the balcony of Brandon’s home.
We headed back to Port Douglas with a new experience under our belts, and feeling that we had accomplished something and learned a lot. Great day!