Sunday, October 21, 2012

8 months

Abi is 8 months old now and increasingly showing her unique personality with each passing day.  She woke up after a short nap in the sunshine on Saturday imorning n a gorgeous smiley mood.

Giving everyone a wonderful view of that brand new front tooth and those rosy pink cherub cheeks.

The sight of her poking out that cute little tongue is a relatively new one, after that special snip operation that took place last month.

I want to assure all the readers that Abi did not end up eating that Biginelli Cafe sugar stick, although it did come very close.

Ella enjoyed another great week of happy days at preschool, the start of early Summer swimming lessons and her second week at Little Athletics, in perfect weather again, last Saturday morning.

This seemed to be an early preparation exercise for long jump?

Ella appears to love all the highly organised activities but she seems to get a huge boost of energy when the planned program ends.  This week she spent ages practising her handstands. She's determined to perfect it. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Ready Set Go

It's a new term, and an opportunity to try some new ventures.  Ella is growing up so quickly and enjoying using her developing physical skills, strength and speed.

She's already decided that pretty and girly stuff is passe, and shorts are now her preferred wardrobe choice (She says she wants a pair of Stubbies like her Daddy wore in the 80s - although this maybe just a tactic to stir Granny).

So it was off to the Woden Athletic track last Saturday morning to Little Athletics. Ella joined the Under 6s!

The kids completed rotations in a range of athletic activities. They taught the kids how to do a ready set go start and then run a 75metre race. No one cared who won and they all loved getting a purple ticket to record their progress. 

Preparation for shot putting was undertaken very scientifically. There were bean bag versions, squish ball versions and skittles and buckets to aim at.  Learning to push and not throw was the challenge.  All those parent volunteers are the heroes of the day.

Ella finished her first session with loads of energy to spare. She dared Grandpa to do a circuit of the oval with her and he struggled to keep up. She could have gone on and on and on.

Throughout Little Athletics Abi enjoyed an incredibly long sleep in the fresh air, in her pram - mighty pleased that her first tooth has finally "erupted" (THIS MORNING) after at least 2 months of playing the tease.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Atherton Tablelands

Rob drove us all over the Atherton Tablelands today, starting from the low coastal canefields south of Cairns, running alongside the Bellenden Kerr Range and Mt Bartle Frere, the highest mountain in Queensland, through tropical rainforests, mountain gorges, crater lakes, rich dairy country, waterfalls, country towns and villages and peanut, coffee and mango farms.  The only thing we couldn't find were the tobacco farms which Atherton used to be most well known for.

We drove south and then inland for around an hour and a quarter before making our first stop at the Mungalli Creek Bio-Dynamic Dairy in the rich dairy country south-east of Millaa Millaa.  We enjoyed great coffees and scones, jam and cream - all made at the dairy from these very contented looking herds of Friesian cows. Rob looked very disappointed that I wouldn't let him help me finish my serving of scones. 

We drove on a little further to the tiny Mungalli Village which was the site for the three day "Tribal Daze" Festival.  It looked to be in its early stages but the road into the camping area was already churned up in knee deep mud.  The mud and the rain and the general air of decorative unpreparedness of all the young things gathering in this little damp hollow to celebrate being "tribally dazed" gave every indication of it being a very successful festival. We were so glad we weren't part of it!!!

Instead we were driving on to the gorgeous Millaa Millaa Falls, which we were able to enjoy despite the by now steady rain.

And then driving north past Malanda and Lake Eacham and on to Lake Barrine, a 10,000 year old freshwater crater lake in the rainforest, formed as a result of long ago volcanic activity.  It's only a 5km circuit to walk around the lake but the weather wasn't very encouraging for us to do that today

Instead we admired the colourful garden established around the lakeside teahouse (especially these native orchids).......

And completed the much shorter walk in the rainforest adjacent to the garden.  We were struck by this pair of mature (over 50 years old) bull kauri trees - both around 45 metres tall and with 6 metre circumference trunks. Rob visited this same area over 40 years ago (on a driving holiday with his brother) and he was musing that this pair of trees would have been growing there then.  They have certainly grown much taller and much much crustier than him in the years since then.

From Lake Barrine we headed west again through Yungaburra, taking a peek at the southern rim of the expansive Lake Tinaroo from a lakeside park on the outskirts of this small hamlet.

Back through Yungaburra, heading towards the township of Atherton we turn left off the Gillies Highway and quickly find the Curtain Fig Tree, easily accessed in a small remaining stand of basalt based rainforest.  It's quite breathtaking in scale and impact - the most extreme example we've seen in the past week of the way these climbing figs can overtake and dominate their host trees.

We drive on through Atherton, then Mareeba (lots of mango orchards there but too early to be ripe yet) and soon enough we're at Kuranda and back on territory familiar from our drive yesterday.  We're back in Cairns around 4.30pm, leaving enough time to unwind after all the sightseeing and then to walk to the Esplanade for a wonderful seafood meal at Splash Seafood Restaurant.

Today was a wonderful opportunity to see the range and variety of landscapes (first time for me) in this region......but it is very evident that there's not a lot wealth in this region.  There are lots of individual ventures that are catering to the tourists coming inland from the coastal resorts but most of them look very under capitalised.  There needs to be much more emphasis on local food and less on river cruises and fishing (and bloody markets)!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Port to Cairns

Sadly, this was our last sunset at Port, celebrated from the deck of a very crowded Tin Shed last night

And this was my last gelati in Macrossan Street. We've loved the local tropical fruit emphasis and high quality of all our gelatis this week!

We left Port this morning, turning right a while after Palm Cove, along the Kennedy Highway, to the small village of Kuranda, well known locally for its historic and scenic rail (and skyrail) link to Cairns, and its extensive (tourist trap) markets. The village attracts hundreds of visitors every day via the train and skyrail - but I do wonder what all those Chinese tour groups would think of it once they arrived! The setting is certainly picturesque.

The markets started back in the 70s - but I would say they have not progressed much since then. At least there is a more visible Aboriginal presence in Kuranda, the descendants of the Djabugay people, the Aboriginal custodians of Kuranda and the Barron Gorge National Park.  So at least their music and art work provided welcome relief from all the other market tat.

Rob was delighted to find a genuine German Wursthaus in the village...locally made wursts, with proper sauerkraut and genuine German beers.  Kuranda went up in our estimation!!

The Barron Falls are only a few kilometres drive from Kuranda.  They're easily accessed from the road by a beautiful 600mt long timber walkway through the rainforest.  The view of the Falls and the Barron Gorge was quite spectacular. It must be mind blowing in the wet season!

Heading back along the narrow winding mountain road towards the turn off south to Cairns we were able to get this shot of the coastline from the Henry Ross Lookout.  The strong NE winds have really whipped up these normally placid seas - they still look very grey brown under the hazy sky!

We arrived in Cairns around 3.00 this afternoon and headed to the waterfront as soon as we'd unpacked and got our bearings.  There were hundreds of tourists everywhere. We got to the marina just as the boats were returning from their day trips to the reef.

All the development along the Cairns pier and esplanade looks very recent, and seems very classy. It was really buzzing every which way we looked on this Friday afternoon. We stopped at the gorgeous Salt House on the pier for a drink to celebrate finding Cairns!

I loved the whole esplanade area at this time of the day. Families out picnicking, people walking, chatting, jogging, lots of ethnic diversity, happy healthy looking Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families too, hundreds of people doing a group exercise class, fairy lights, a gorgeous sunset ........

and even a huge free form pool and beach area for kids (and deep enough in parts for adults to have a serious swim).  Cairns has been a pleasant surprise for us.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Palm Cove

We picked a good day to make the half hour drive south to Palm Cove for lunch.  It rained constantly all morning and the sea was looking grey brown and turbulent all the way along the narrow coast road down to Palm Cove.

But the skies eventually cleared and by the time we were on to our delicious desserts at Vivo's, on the esplanade, Palm Cove beach was starting to look much more welcoming.

Vivo's was a great choice for lunch: wild pan fried barramundi for me and a glass of lovely Pinot Gris...and then dessert: rhubarb oliebollen (a kind of Dutch donut??), pomegranate caramel, wattle seed ice cream and persian fairy floss...oh my!  (Note the no make up, no GHD look - I'm on holidays!)

I liked Vivo's style too; and you could not fault it's location overlooking the beach.

The strong winds blew the last of the clouds away but really whipped up the normally placid seas.   Only the hardy stayed fishing off that old jetty at the north end of the beach.

Palm Cove is much smaller than Port Douglas - has a much nicer beachfront and a bit more of a coffee culture.  It still seems very family oriented though.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Sailing to the Low Isles

The Aquarius looked gorgeous early this morning waiting for us to board for a day's sailing and snorkeling at the Low Isles, just 8 nautical miles (13km) NE of Pt Douglas, part of the "inner reef" of the World Heritage Listed Great Barrier Reef, and a Marine National Park Zone in its own right.

We're really travelling in style today. The Aquarius only takes max 23 passengers (with 3 crew) and is the newest and most luxurious of all the boats offering day sailing trips around the reef.  We can pretend we're rich and famous for the day!

We leave the marina under motor, but as soon as we're out of Dickson's Inlet and into the open sea skipper Drew sets the mainsail due NE and lets the spinnaker fly..and we're off!

It takes about an hour of steady sailing to reach the coral cay named Low Island by Captain James Cook in his day.  With its palm trees, fine white ground coral beaches and picturesque lighthouse (built in 1878 and still standing despite frequent tropical cyclones in this region) it looks like a tiny tropical island from central casting.  Apparently the island is only 6000 years old, quite young really in this ancient environment.

Low Island and the adjacent Woody Island (together the Low Isles) are surrounded by healthy, abundant coral reef and marine life so we're excited about the opportunity to snorkel around the lagoon on the sheltered side of the island with good equipment and this experienced crew in charge.

I don't feel very brave in deep water so I elect to start my snorkeling with skipper Drew in the more shallow lagoon off the beach while Rob elects to go with the group jumping straight off the back of the boat around 100 metres from shore.

Feeling very safe and increasingly relaxed snorkeling in the lagoon I was rewarded with close sightings of two green turtles, myriad brightly coloured reef fish and a gorgeous array of corals: spaghetti, lettuce, cauliflower, boulder, hundreds of different ever changing types, and some very large clams with rich purple and aquamarine "mouths".

After an hour in the water we were feeling really cold so it was great to warm up in the sun and take a wander around the northern point of the island. We were lucky to see two more Green Sea Turtles just 20 or so metres off shore feeding off the seagrass here. of course I was too late to get a shot of them with their heads out of the water. This relatively shallow part of the marine park only supports juvenile sea turtles (up to 40 years of age), after that they like a more extensive area to roam when they reach breeding age (they're late starters).

Skipper Drew was as obsessed with shells as he was with coral and showed us some of his collection from many visits to the island. I learnt that most shells are "right handed" as well as many other fascinating facts I may not remember in the longer term.

Well and truly warm again we went back to the boat for a very special lunch (lots more prawns - yum!) that English Jemima and German Peggy put together with very little fuss, in between sorting all our equipment for us, keeping a watchful eye out for our safety and hoisting anchors and things.

In the shot of Rob below he is standing slightly to the left of Mt Alexandra (in the background - with Snapper Island in front of it) where we'd stopped at the lookout on the way up to Cape Tribulation yesterday.

After lunch I felt confident to set off snorkeling in deeper water, this time closer to Woody Isle, covered in mangrove forest and a much more diverse reef environment than we'd both seen this morning. I was so relaxed in the water and with my equipment by now I could really ENJOY every minute of this experience.  Despite their rarity I saw two moray eels this time and at least half of the 1500 species of tropical fish found on the reef, and many more varieties of spectacular abundant coral species.  I also touched a sea cucumber (although not something I'd necessarily want to do again).  It was just a wonderful experience.

It seemed like no time before we had to head back to the boat, get dry and warm again, and more food to eat before heading back to Port by our 4.00pm deadline.

There was a strong southerly blowing on the trip back and a 2-3 metre swell. Skipper Drew sailed with just the spinnaker and it was a pretty wild and rocky but exhilarating ride. Ella would have loved it!

Once inside the marina it was all calm again. I could do this every day!!!