Apologies for the long delay in reaching this, my final post about travelling – there have been a lot of changes since I came back, which I’ll go into at a later date.
My trusty Bruce Cobber pass held one last complementary extra: a tour of the Atherton Tablelands near Cairns, with Barefoot Tours. The Tablelands are a huge plateau, 1km above the city and formed by volcanic activity: they’re partly covered by the Daintree rainforest, but are most famous for their waterfalls.
Brett of Barefoot (he claims not to have worn shoes for 16 years) picked up me and the rest of the group before 8am for the long drive up to the Tablelands, in Shikaka: the (now retired) bright orange van. Bedecked with flower wreaths, Shikaka is as hippy as they come.
Being thrown together with a group for just a day can be an awkward experience, but Brett has a magic formula for breaking the ice: Queen, intimate enquiries and weird animal sex facts. Between bouts of Bohemian Rhapsody, we took turns answering Brett’s barrage of questions: “Folder or scruncher?” (worryingly a 50/50 split), “Single or coupled up?” and “What animal would you most like to be, and why?”
Our first stop was a 75m deep extinct volcano caldera called Lake Eacham – a single crocodile lives here, but it’s a small freshy, so nothing to worry about. Morning tea was served while sunbathing – Barefoot puts on a great spread of fruit and cakes. The backpackers, says Brett, are always easy to spot as they’re the ones throwing themselves on the food and smearing their faces with Tim Tams.
With a stop in Malanda to buy lunch (the curry pie was bloody bonzer), we went on to Dinner Falls and the Mount Hypipamee Crater. The latter, formed by a volcanic gas explosion, is more than 85m deep, with a water level starting almost 60m down from the observation point: throwing a rock down there sounds like a cannon blast. The nearby Dinner Falls are a world of opposites: on one side you can get a relaxing massage by sitting under the flow; on the other, you need to fight against the current to press into a tiny cave behind a curtain of water.
There are two more big tourist spots in the Tablelands. The first is Millaa Millaa (lit. ‘Lots of vines’) Falls, where the Herbal Essences advert was filmed – naturally we all gave our own hair flick a go, and mine was long enough by this point that it worked pretty well! Finally, we stopped at Jubilee Falls, which is a natural water slide – great fun!
If you’re stopping in Cairns for just one day, make sure you go to the Tablelands – and book with Barefoot.
I had two more full days in Cairns, one of which was spent sunbathing at the Lagoon: an artificial swimming spot, because the stingers and saltwater crocs in the estuary aren’t friendly.
On my final day, I took my free (remember Byron Bay?) trip out to Green Island, part of the inner Barrier Reef. Unfortunately it’s more island than reef, so I didn’t get the amazing views of the coral that you see in Finding Nemo, and what is there is very bleached. However, it’s the only coral cay (a sandy island on a coral platform) in the world with a rainforest, and the marine life is impressively varied: a stingray swam right under me, and I snorkelled with a shark for good five minutes. There are sea turtles all around the island, too. I’ve swum in more impressive places, but for a free trip I couldn’t fault it.
My final day of travelling was the 27th November, and everything went off without a hitch – which doesn’t make for a particularly exciting entry. I caught a seven-hour flight to Hong Kong at 3pm, landing at 8pm local time; I had five hours to kill in the airport, then took off at 1am.
I arrived back in the UK at 5:50am on the 28th November. I didn’t sleep at all on the way back to Oxford, as I’d had an hour to wait before the coach and the most convenient place was Costa. This new coffee habit might become a problem…
My family met me at the Oxford coach station, and shortly after breakfast I fell into bed – about 36 hours since my head last touched a pillow.
I was away for three months; it felt like longer, and I’d have happily stayed for more than twice that time. No matter where I was in the world, the people were friendly, the food was good (if not cheap) and the
bikinis were small weather was excellent. So why did I come back? Because a few days after I landed, Max and I turned 30 – and this decade’s already brought a couple of big changes. Watch this space…
I’ll leave you with Barefoot Brett’s Golden Rules of Backpacking, which are totally legitimate and definitely not racist:
- Don’t share a room with the Irish;
- Always use the top bunk (added after a nasty episode involving a drunk bunkmate); and
- If someone in the room is having sex, it is your duty to get up and cheer them on.
快乐旅行 / 행복한 여행!
Get going – it’ll be ripper!