Friday, November 9, 2007
Waterfalls and too many tourists!
What a strange place to be! Coming from the remote islands I have been in for the past six months, everything here seems like a giant version of Disney World. When I was here seven years ago, I knew that there were several water falls in the area that were supposed to be quite beautiful. They were all in an area known as the tablelands, a bucolic farm land that sits atop the small mountain range near Cairns. While there are plenty of opportunities to pay a tour company to take you to see them, I can’t imagine paying for a tour to a group of waterfalls. In the islands, all I had to do if I wanted to see a waterfall was ask any local if there were any nearby and of course in Papua New Guinea there always were. After that, I just had to ask someone to take me. They always gladly accepted without asking for a thing. Hacking our way through jungles with an armada of people following along, we would make our way to some of the most amazing and remote spots that anyone has ever seen. Having a week in Cairns before heading back to California, Elina was excited about seeing a bit of Australia. After spending a month on the boat, she was now staying at one of the nearby hotels. Early one morning when Yiannis and I were still trying to figure out how we got home the night before not to mention what happened to all of our money, Elina came to the boat. She was on her way to rent a car and wanted to know if we wanted to chip in and spend a couple of days seeing the area around Cairns. We both thought that sounded a lot better than paying a tour company and off we went! Our first day in the car we visited a nearby group of waterfalls called Crystal Cascades. Following the handicapped accessible path, we were able to make the short walk all the way to the top of the falls before deciding on which one of the many pools to have a swim in. With families and Japanese tourists covering most of the pools, this didn’t exactly look like the place for us. Leaving Crystal Cascades, we headed up the Captain Cook highway towards our next stop, Mossman Gorge. The drive followed the coastline past a series of beautiful beaches without a sole on them. While the beaches in Queensland are absolutely breathtaking, you can’t get in the water here. Crocodiles show up in a lot of places and during the rainy season which we have just entered, the box jelly fish inhabit all of the coastal waters. As the box jelly fish can kill you, not many people choose to swim alongside them, especially me! Mossman Gorge was as beautiful as I remember it from my first trip here. Situated in the middle of the rainforest, the heart of the Gorge is a clear stream with White Granite Boulders protruding from the water just begging to be photographed. While there were a few people swimming here, the short trail followed alongside the water was definitely not handicap accessible. Winding through an amazing stretch of rainforest, we saw wonderful lookouts to the stream below as well as incredible trees that are found only in this part of the world. With the end of the day rapidly coming to a close, we hopped back in the car and headed back toward Cairns. Our second day’s journey in the rental car took us into the Tablelands where all of the tour companies were taking people on what is known as the waterfall circuit. After a steep and winding climb to the top of the mountains we came to a lookout where we decided to get out of the car. It was very hot and very dry. Scrubby forest and brittle soil was everywhere to be seen. With lots of haze in the dry and dusty sky, I didn’t even bother with a photograph. Pressing on in our journey, we came to another turn and suddenly we had entered a completely different ecosystem. Lush tropical foliage and rich black soil were covering everything. The air was clear and our first stop in the car would reveal that the temperature had dropped quite significantly! I have never seen a change in the environment like this anywhere in the world. Our drive continued on into the heart of the tablelands. At one time the entire area was covered in rainforest. Now, there are only small pockets of the virgin forests left. Most of the wood was cut down long ago. Now the area is a series of dairy farms that blanket the landscape. If you can look past the fact that the rainforest was chopped down to give this area the character that it now has, it is an incredibly beautiful place to be. Rolling green hills dotted with black and white cows all resting underneath a blue sky with puffy white clouds slowly drifting by. The entire area makes you feel like civilization just doesn’t even exist. It is a land that feels like you are somewhere in medieval Europe making your way across the landscape between small villages and towns. Our journey led us to a couple of small towns along with two stops at fig trees that were over 500 years old. A fig tree is actually a vine that starts as a seed dropped on a tree by a bird. It then sprouts and begins reaching it’s roots down toward the ground until they take hold. Eventually, the whole tree is strangled by the many roots that begin to grow and the fig becomes the tree itself. The two trees we saw were incredible labyrinths of vines twisting in and out in every direction. A prehistoric looking sight, it is strange to think that these trees were still standing long before any white man had set foot on the shores of Australia. Reaching the waterfall circuit, I was suddenly reminded of the strange ease in accessibility that Australia provides to so many of it’s tourist attractions. Rarely do you find a series of trailheads in the parks here. Most of the sights around, you can drive your car right up to the edge of. It is a retired man’s dream! He doesn’t need to be in good shape to see any of it. You just pull up your car and after a maximum two minute walk you can take a picture and move on to the next destination. There are even toilets, trash cans and concrete viewing platforms for your convenience. It is really all quite disappointing. They have taken a group of amazing natural wonders and turned them into miniature theme parks. Half of the reward of seeing so many things in life is the actual journey to get there. Seeing the world shouldn’t be that easy. Some of these sites actually look better in the photographs than they do in person. The photos never show the metal toilet buildings built alongside or the concrete basins that surround their edges. Feeling overwhelmed by the mass tourism chaos in Cairns, I am looking forward to spending some time amongst the more remote places that lie just beyond the reach of the tourists who flock to Cairns for a chance to see the Great Barrier Reef.