Located close to Dianne’s house and 20 mins by train from the centre of Cairns, Freshwater Train Station was the jumping off point for our ride up the mountain to Kuranda. Even though boarding here means that you don’t get to go through the city, the benefit is that 5 minutes in to the trip you are rounding horseshoe bend and ascending to great views. Getting on here costs the same as getting on at Cairns and it was weird because no one checked our tickets after we had purchased them. Makes me wonder if we had made it without paying! It’s not like we were the only ones who got on there either because a lot of tourist groups were waiting too.
Named because for the railway workers it was the last place to get freshwater before they went off to toil on the mountain, Freshwater Station wears it short history on it’s sleeve. There is a small museum to walk around before the train arrives and a railway carriage that doesn’t leave the station because it is a permanent dining car. You can buy railway memorabilia at the gift shop and then munch on an egg and bacon sandwich.
Pauline and I boarded carriage 7 awkwardly up the stairway and found our allocated seats. The huge leather bench seats face each other and are on the right hand side of the train with the corridor on the left hand side. Above the corridor on the roof are lcd screens tastefully blended in to the style of the train with wood surrounding them. There is one for each group of seats and it’s purpose is to suplement the voiceovers informing you about safety, history and what is next on the line. Oh, and the requisite ads of shops in Kuranda which inspired our later visit to Birdworld. We were sharing our bench seats with two asian girls that smiled at us but were mostly quiet on the ride.
With a toot and a wave we began our journey. The train isn’t a steam train so you don’t get all the smell and puffing that you normally get but judging by the little kid I saw waiting for us at the childcare we passed you can still hear it. The train went past the Red Beret Hotel in Redlynch then around Horseshoe Bend to begin our ascent. It’s cool going round the bend because it means you can get good photos of the front and back of the train. Soon after we passed through the first of 15 tunnels. At each interesting point in the trip the voiceover and lcd screen would combine to warn us what was happening. This was great because it meant that you could ready your camera to be on the correct side of the train to take your momento. The views got better as we got higher and when we reached Stoney Creek Station I was really enjoying myself. We didn’t stop at the station but we did slow down as we got nearer to the Stoney Creek Falls. There is a magnificent bridge that hugs the side of the mountain and takes you so close to the water you could almost touch it. As we left the falls the voiceover told you the precise moment to take a photo so that you could get a nice perspective image as well. A few more tunnels later (including tunnel 6 where a train had been robbed in 1973 – not the scenic train though) and we were at Barron Falls.
After a bit of rain I’m sure it’s worthy of it’s name but today it was more like Barron Dribble. There is a huge viewing area that is accessible by people travelling by car as well as the train. We were allowed to get off for 10 minutes and look at it in wonderment but since the water wasn’t really cascading I spent some time walking to the front of the train to have a look at the engine. On the walk Pauline and I passed hundreds of asian kids in uniform. It was like the whole school was on the train there were that many and they took up probably the first 5 carriages. We did the lovely little poses near the train then waited for the largish english ladies to get back on. They seemed to enjoy everything except the embarking and disembarking. Another toot of the horn and we were off.
The only other item of interest before we reached Kuranda Station was Robb’s Monument named after one of the foreman on the team that built the raliway line. Kind of looks like a phallic symbol and this is the closest I can get to talking about penis’ on this trip because I apparently always talk about penis’ on holidays. I don’t think it was named after his appendage – I think it was more to do with the great leadership he showed or something.
As soon as you get off the train in Kuranda you are immediately struck by how green the place is. This may be because you are likely to get hit in the head with one of the lovely hanging baskets that line the station. There is none of that glass and concrete you get from a city train station because it is all rainforest here baby. It’s bedlam while everyone gets off the train and figures out where they are going but if you take it slowly and wait a while you get time to enjoy the station unempeded. You can browse the shop, have a cup of coffee, walk to the overpass and watch the train change from front to back and then start your walk up to the town. You don’t escape the train immediately though because they have used sleepers and railway steel to make the walkway and also have rail steel seats to sit in halfway up. Passing the pub on the way there was a girl hawking the benefits of the cafe across the road. We weren’t in the mood because we wanted to explore so we kept going.
Kuranda is a small town that feeds off the people visiting for the rainforest, train, skyrail and wildlife that exist up there. We visited some unimpressive markets (once you go to Eumundi there is no other subsititute), the candy store and bought some yummy ice-cream. I wondered why the aboriginal art was located in a store shaped like a european ship and marvelled at the cool bins adorned with metal ants. On the train ride we saw an ad for Birdworld on the lcd screen and Pauline was sold when she saw they had a cassowary. It wasn’t hard to find the place as it is located next to Butterfly World and you can get a deal where you can visit both of those places. We only got the Birdworld deal though because Dianne and Deb were picking us up later to go to Mareeba.
Birdworld was about $14 and as we walked in I passed what I thought was a stuffed owl. Pauline informed me it was quite real so we turned around to take pictures. I turned off the flash and tried to take some photos but I was a bit shaky so I gave it to Pauline. As soon as she lifted it to her eye the ticketsellers freaked out and yelled no flash and came running towards us! We weren’t stupid and had realised that a night bird with huge eyes doesn’t appreciate bright light flashed in it’s face but I think those ladies freaked it out more than the light ever would!
Once we sorted that out we went through the rubber flaps to a completely different world. As soon as I was through the door I had a bird land on my shoulder. At first I thought it recognised my obvious Snow White qualities (yeah right) but quickly got the gist that it was after some food. I gave it a grape so it was happy and then we took a walk around. The walkway is a circular affair that goes down one way and up the other with a bird pond in the middle. There are trees everywhere and it is incredibly noisy with all the birds screeching. I was overcome with the varieties and was quite taken with the Mandarin Ducks. They prance around with an arrogance that comes from knowing that they are the most beautiful ducks around. Even the swans looked humbled. But Pauline was on a mission to find the Cassowary and at the bottom of the hill behind barbed wire was the bounty she was seeking. This huge bird the size of an emu or ostrich but with an incredible blue face and neck is something you wouldn’t want to meet alone in a forest. It’s huge talons and odd bulbous head are formidable fighting weapons but this Cassowary was pretty friendly. This was probably due to the fact that Pauline fed it everything she had. She held out a corn on the cob which it took then threw back it’s head and swallowed. She then gave it a grape so it could repeat the feat. Next offered was a peanut to which the Cassowary shook it’s head and turned away. We couldn’t believe it so we offered it something else which it took. Then we offered the peanut again and it shook it’s head again. This Cassowary knew what it wanted! We wandered around a bit more looking at the red and black cockatoo, made friends with some love birds and watched a bird jump on an old american ladies head. It was quite odd to see this mass of colours inside a mass of grey hair. We posed for pictures as we left while laughing at the little kids screaming their heads off at the birds.
Outside we phone Deb and Dianne to say we were ready to pick up so while we waiting we decided to take a bit of a rainforest walk. Halfway down was a place called Batreach that had a bunch of bats sleeping inside a huge bird cage. As we walked in I tossed some money in the donations box and a lady emerged to tell us what was going on. The place was a refuge for bats that had been injured or orphaned and she was caring for them until it was safe to go out. Bats are quite intelligent and there was one she called Bruce who followed her everywhere by crawling along the edge of the cage. She pulled a couple out to give us a close up view and they actually came when she called them by name. She made sure only to call the females though as the males were in mating season and cover themselves in urine to be more attractive to the females. According to the lady she has never known any of the female bats to be turned on by the smell. She also had micro bats that she woke up to give us a closer look. A lot of people had said that the micro bats look like little pigs which she didn’t think was very nice (I agreed with them). The best bit though was when she pulled out the albino micro bats. They were cute as and looked like sheep. As we left I gave more money because I was very impressed by the talk she gave and wanted to reward her for the work she was doing. If it wasn’t for the Cassowary the bats would have been my highlight of Kuranda.
Deb and Dianne picked us up in Deb’s Rav4 and we headed back in to the Atherton Tablelands for some coffee tasting. On the road to Mareeba there is a turnoff to Jaques Coffee Plantation. It’s in the middle of some cane fields and as you turn in to the driveway you discover that you are actually driving on the airstrip. It’s dual purpose is for the ultralight planes that you can add to your coffee tour for an extra $70. We didn’t really have time to do that (and we are all fraidy cats) so we took the $12 option which gave us a video, a tour around the plantation in the bus and a coffee. It was a surreal experience that can’t really be explained. The place was set up like a minor tourist attraction but was run by the family so it still had an oddity about it. The Jaques family had spent over 40 years trying to make their coffee but were thwarted by banks and spraying until they were finally able to serve it today. We bought a pack home but unfortunately didn’t enjoy it that much. We enjoyed the people there a lot more. Dianne knew the lady working there who used to be a pharmacist in Cairns but had quit her job to move up to the tablelands and live in a caravan. It was a lifestyle choice that she seemed to enjoy because she even had her own ultralight. We got a bit more of a personalised tour from her than I suspect other people get and it was all down to Dianne. That woman knows everyone I reckon!
Leaving the back way we said goodbye to the swagman they had made near the billabong and made our way to Mareeba. The sole purpose of visiting Mareeba was to go to the coffee works coffee tasting. When we arrived we discovered that we had missed the start of the tour but they allowed us to jump on at the end. I purchased an $11 paper cup that allowed me bottomless coffee and a taste of the liquer. There are about 6 coffee filter machines that have different flavours and you can taste each one of them and drink as much as you like. The macadmia coffee was interesting but I think I ended up favouring the Queensland Blue the most. The liquer was the best thing we tasted there and I ended up spending about $60 in the store (most of that was presents though). They gave me a free canvas bag which was good.
After that we headed back to Cairns to make sure we were back in time before the shops were shut. You see after our lunch on the Esplanade a few days earlier we had been taken with the idea of hiring scooters. When we discovered that they were only $35 for 24 hours (plus a $500 insurance fee that gets returned when you bring the bike back) we were sold. It also made it easier knowing that they were the vespa looking vmoto bikes. We signed the papers, handed over our credit details and drove off in to big bad Cairns. Pauline told me to go first so when she lagged behind I thought she was being a bit too cautious like she normally is. Which was odd considering that she actually has a motorcycle license. It turned out that the scooter she was on wasn’t working properly and kept stalling and barely made it through the lights before they turned to red. Luckily the shop hadn’t shut so we took it back and swapped it with a silver bike. Once sorted we finally hit the road.
Riding down the esplanade I had old ladies giving me the thumbs up. It was a complete adrenelin rush smelling the fresh air combined with the fumes of cars and it didn’t take long to get the hang of it. The only thing I didn’t enjoy was that everytime I braked it sounded like a pterodactyl screeching. We navigated our ways down main streets and back roads to get back to Dianne and Debs. Pauline had my back the whole time while I kindly left her behind to take the scooter to the max. Mainly it was because I didn’t want to be tailgated by some big bastard 4×4. As soon as we got back to the house Dianne jumped on and took it around the block. She had a big grin on her face that only disappeared when we pried her off the bike. Wicked fun!
Our final day in Cairns ended with two bikes in Deb and Dianne’s backyard, some pizza and poisoned water at a pizza joint in Holloways Beach and some extremely happy scootering women.