Thursday 22 October 2015

From tourist to trekker!

By this stage Cameron and I had finished up work as the tourism season had almost finished for the year. We decided to become tourists ourselves one last time in far north Queensland and visit the popular destination Kuranda, 25km north-west of Cairns. It is known for being a rainforest village with many markets.

There are a few options to get to Kuranda. The first is the normal, and least expensive way by car on the road, which is how we got to Kuranda the first time when we briefly visited in June to see Barron Gorge. The second and third are the fun, but penny pincher ways, Kuranda Scenic Railway, and the Skyrail Gondola. The view that you get from both is beautiful as you go either up or down the mountain side.

The railway was fairly slow going, but the commentary of the history was interesting to listen to. It also stops at the Barron Gorge Railway Station for 10 minutes to allow for guests on board to get out and take a look at Barron Falls.

We took the Skyrail back down to Cairns after our day of adventuring, and although a little tired we could still appreciate the spectacular view that could be seen from the Skyrail. There are two stops on the Skyrail at Barron Falls Station, and Red Peak Station. You must disembark the pod you are in at both of these stations. The Skyrail is not one continual conveyor system, but rather 3 sections. You may then enter a new pod for the next section of your journey. At these stations you also have the option of going for a short walk to see the beauty of the rainforest surrounding you and see Barron Falls. Unlike the railway, your stop at each of these sections is not timed as the Skyrail pods come and go continuously, so one can stay for as long or little as you like.

The first thing we saw when we got to Kuranda was the old faithful pub, Kuranda Hotel Motel. Back in the day many a worker would have been greatly relieved to take a visit and have a coldie here. During construction of the railway working conditions were shocking and we certainly take our privileges for granted. Search for a suitable route began in 1882, and eventually it was completed and opened in June of 1891. A 75.1km slow journey up the mountain. While our journey seemed long, it was nothing compared to what it would have been back in the day. We went in, had a drink in honour of the workers. The beer was also in honour of Cam's father who had previously visited Kuranda with his wife and friends. He stayed at the pub while the ladies went shopping for the day at the markets!

After our honorary beer, off we went exploring. Neither of us think much of shopping so it was decided that if we have time at the end of the day on our way back to the Skyrail we would do some browsing in the markets, but priorities first and it was off to visit Australian Butterfly Sanctuary. There were so many butterflies to be seen. The Ulysses butterfly is my favourite and the Birdwing is Cameron's. Both are a stunning variety of butterfly with beautiful colours. During our time at Paronella Park we had seen many of the varieties that were here at Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, but to see so many of them was incredible. They also run tours which is included in admission. These go about once every 20 minutes or so lasting about 30 minutes each. You will learn how they feed all of the butterflies and hungry caterpillars, the lifespan of differing butterflies, how the eggs are collected in the sanctuary then taken to the lab to be cared for until it is time to release the butterflies. We happened to be there at the time some new butterflies were released which was cool to see. Some butterflies even landed on Cam!

Our next place to visit was Birdworld Kuranda. I am sure the birds knew the reason I never wanted a pet bird was because I didn't want them to poop on me. I am also sure they were out to get me as there were a few times I looked up only to see a bird preparing to do its business, narrowly missing me as I dodged the bullet. Once again though as with the butterflies, Cameron was the favourite as the birds landed on his shoulder a couple of times. Perhaps blue shirts are better than yellow, or they may have been looking at his beard though thinking it would make a nice rug for their nest and young ones. All that aside, at Birdworld Kuranda there was a large variety of birds, and upon entrance you are given a sheet that tells you the bird species you will find here which was good for identification.

The last attraction we visited was Kuranda Koala Gardens. This is what I would call a miniature zoo. For those interested you can have the opportunity to cuddle a koala and get a photo taken with one. We also saw the freshwater crocs being fed, and the squirrel gliders which are oh so cute! As a skydiver like Johnny Jump Bear, the Li'l Aussie Monsters character on Cam's shirt, my mind often reverts to always thinking about it, and I wondered if the design of a wingsuit was based off these gliders.

All three of the above attractions, Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, Birdworld Kuranda, and Kuranda Koala can be bought as a combo deal. It is called “Kuranda Wildlife Experience”.

Although our time was almost over, we still had one thing we wanted to achieve here up north, a hill climb and bush walk that many of our colleagues had talked about. Not knowing the name of it, we did drive past it back in 2013 and I dubbed it Mount Pointy Pointy due to the look of it but its actual name is Walsh's Pyramid and is located about a 30 minute drive south of Cairns. The closest town is called Gordonvale. We decided to climb Walsh's Pyramid as the last thing we did up north. We did it the day after we visited Kuranda.

Walsh's Pyramid looks like an Egyptian pyramid but made of bushland and mountain instead of sandstone, and at a height of 922m. In comparison the tallest Egyptian pyramid is 147m, Uluru in Central Australia is 348m tall, the top of the antenna on the Empire State Building in New York City is 443m, and the tallest building in the world called Burj Khalifa inDubbai reaches a staggering 828m! Therefore achieving the hike of Walsh's Pyramid which is over 100m taller than the tallest building in the world was no easy feat. The walk to the top is a steep 4km up, and then 4km back down. Not wanting to do it alone we convinced 2 of our work mates to join us as they had both done it before. Having only read the above information after we climbed as I trusted the info from our work mates (my mistake for not researching it myself), it was certainly more of a challenge than we were expecting, but we can say we survived climbing the Pyramid. According to the internet, an experienced hiker will take between 4-6 hours. We left the car park and base of the pyramid at 6.30am and returning to the car by 11:45am. We must be experienced hikers... I am glad though that we brought a few litres of water, and a few snacks for a morning tea break.
Our recovery from the Pyramid has been down in Townsville, catching up with mates, and downing some Dos Equis which is a Mexican beer that Cam and I discovered when in the States in 2014 and found that it is now sold at BWS. It may be a few years until we are back in far north Queensland so for now we are just taking it easy.

Happy travels.

- Jeni

Monday 19 October 2015

Livin' like a local.

Cassowary Coast is one of the wettest regions in Australia. While this is not very enjoyable for Cam and I to live in Rocky, it does mean that there is a lot of fresh, local produce in the area to choose from. Fruit and veg, coconuts, honey, chocolate, sugar cane juice or coconut milk just to name a few. As we start to head back down south over the next month or so, roadside local produce is something I will certainly miss. Even just the other day I bought bananas from the shops for the first time in 6 months and could instantly taste the chalkiness in them. This post is about the local community, and just some of the local produce places that we came to love such as the fruit shop on the north side of Innisfail which had delicious passionfruit, a lady who had a juicer in her van and sold sugar cane juice, and of course Stevo's Bananas which was a small shop only 2kms north of Paronella Park which sold delicious bananas for only $1.50/kg. Needless to say Cameron and I had many banana smoothies during our last 6 months and I am very glad we brought our blender this time around.

One place that Cameron and I visited during our time in the area was Charley's Chocolate Factory which is located at Mount Edna on the way to Mission Beach. Originally the land was a banana plantation but there are plenty of those around so when the new owners bought the land a few years ago they decided to change it into a cacao plantation, the tree that cocoa pods and beans grow from. Much research was done into growing cacao trees in Australia as it does not naturally grow here.

Charley's Chocolate Factory run tours on Thursday and Friday morning. It is an interactive and hands-on tour where we were taught the history of cocoa and chocolate through the centuries. We were then taken through the farm where we got to see all the stages of growth of the trees, all the way through from bean to pod. We were shown how a natural rainforest tree is tricked into growing in a plantation, the flowers, the cocoa pods, and finally how the pods are harvested. It was all very fascinating, but not over just yet. 

Back in the shed a cocoa pod was cracked open, and we were shown the cocoa beans in their natural state being surrounded by a thin, fleshy, fruit layer, and later I got to try it. Set up on the bench was an array of contraptions. We learnt these are small versions of what is used in the process of changing the cocoa bean into cocoa powder, and then finally chocolate! The best bit after all was said and done was that we got to taste a variety of chocolates! All produced in Australia at Charley's Chocolate Factory. The cocoa beans themselves were from different parts of the world, but the recipe used was the same and it was incredible to taste the difference in chocolate considering they all used the same recipe. The day was then finished off with a BBQ lunch cooked by the local Lions Club.

It was August when we visited Charley's Chocolate Factory. As it is still a relatively new farm, there was not yet have enough cocoa to be producing chocolate 100% grown from the farm. They told us it won't be long though. There has recently been a new harvest of pods. It is a pity we left Mena Creek only on Thursday 15th October because only two days later on Saturday they posted on their Facebook page that they needed 2 helpers to crack open the newly harvested pods and separate the beans on Sunday the 18th. That would have been a fantastic experience! Now more than ever with the recent harvest I am keeping my eyes peeled for their updates when their home grown chocolates are ready as I'll be buying some for Christmas presents!

Something else we were in the area for was World Cassowary Day. This was also held at Mission Beach. Cassowaries are a large, endangered rainforest bird. Cassowaries live in the New Guinea islands and north-east Australia. There are three varieties, northern, dwarf and southern cassowaries.

It is the southern cassowaries that live in north-east Australia. World Cassowary Day was to raise awareness of them. As they are shy creatures we did not see any on the day, but we had seen them plenty of times nearby at a place called Etty Bay. However a package arrived just in time for the big day. Cameron's latest Li'l Aussie Monsters character, Cassowary Col and a new shirt for me too, Charlie Chocodile! Of course both shirts were worn for World Cassowary Day, and many people admired Cassowary Col, which by the way is one of the only happy looking cassowaries either of us have ever seen. When Cam was looking at other Cassowary drawings for inspiration he found it difficult because even the cartoon ones looked angry.

Another thing I will miss up here is the strong community spirit and support for the local farmers. Celebrations are held every year at the Babinda Harvest Festival. This year was the 52nd year the festival has taken place. Leading up to it the community starts to raise money which goes to the committee. That way if a farmer is in need of help, they go to the committee who can donate the money which has already been donated by the locals. This year $15 000 was raised!

The event was kicked off at 3:30 in the afternoon with the parade down the main street of Babinda (the town closest to Babinda Boulders). Many groups participated including the local pre-schools, kindies, schools, military, farmers. The parade was fantastic with many participants. It partially reminded me of Christmas time when the Firies go around in their trucks on Christmas Eve and throw out small bags of lollies for the kids. I was reminded of this because the people in the parade floats were also thowing out lollies to the kids.

After the parade was over it was time for the show. Entrance was only $3 per person. Besides the parade the highlights of the day was the lolly drop and seeing the Storm Troopers dance formation. The lolly drop was where the helicopter flew over the field, dropped a bunch of lollies and the kids ran out to gather as much as they could. Needless to say the sugar high the kids were experiencing from the lollies in the parade and the lolly drop was quite obvious. It was nice to watch them though. As it is a small community most people knew each other as did the kids. The night was finished up with fireworks.

The following day was our last day working at Paronella Park. It was sad to say goodbye to the wonderful people we worked with and the friends we made, but the tourism season had come to an end. As a leaving gift we were given a bottle with heartfelt goodbye messages, a postcard, and a home made delicious cake. Goodbye Mena Creek. Goodbye ParonellaPark. Goodbye Cassowary Coast. For now we are finished livin' like a local, and back to “Livin' La Vida Loca” which means the crazy life. Some people tell us we're crazy for doing what we do because we go against the grain of the Great Australian Dream of being married, with kids and a mortgage, and others to tell us to do it while we can, usually implied that later on we will have the above. But life is an adventure. Our dream is simply to make the most of the adventure!

Only one more blog post coming your way after this one of our time up here in far north Queensland as we are “On The Road Again” and livin' our dream!

- Jeni


For anyone who has watched 'The Big Bang Theory' and heard words such as 'Comic Con' being thrown around, this post's for you. On our visit to Cairns back in April we saw some advertisements for a thing called 'Tropicon' out the front of a game shop 'The Wicked Goblin'. We figured it would be the same sort of thing as Comic Con and having not been to anything like one of these events before we decided to buy tickets, and take the day off in mid July for it.

The name Comic Con is short for comic book convention, but it is commonly referred to as a festival of pop culture for nerds. It is an event you will find fan bases for comic books, games, a variety of creative arts, anime and science fiction, all under the one roof. You will also see many a cosplayer which in short is people dressed up as their favourite character from a movie, television show, or comic strip. It is also similar to what Cam and I experienced in USA 2014 for Halloween. More often than not, a variety of actors, and actresses will be there as well.

The most well known Comic Con is the original which is located at San Diego. It started in 1970 and as I said the name is short for comic book convention. The first event had 300 people attend for a 3 day event. These days it is a 4 day event with over 130 000 attendees! Over the years Comic Con has spread with national then later international success. Australia has recently started hosting its own version of Comic Con called Oz Comic Con which is held in the major capitol cities; Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne. Perhaps it will it to one of these events in 2016!

Cairns is in the Wet Tropics of Australia, and has a population of almost 150 000 people. Cairns is a long way from Brisbane and the populations of far north Queensland is far more spread out so most popular events do not always make it up this far. This includes music concerts, sporting matches, and many other such events. Just because one does not live in, or close to a city does not mean that they do not want to attend fun events. Pop culture fans of far north Queensland decided to take matters in their own hands and create their own event for the fans in this region and called it Tropicon. This was the first year of Tropicon. It was held at the Cairns PCYC. About 1000 tickets were pre-sold, however there were at least another 1000 sold at the gate. With so many people in a relatively small building it was quite cramped, but the atmosphere was exciting. This year was a test to see if there was an interest, and given the success, the organisers are planning another such event next year, hopefully in a bigger venue.

Twerkin Gherkin's Bubba Bunyip
Evey Dantés with her new Daryl Dingo.
Many people put a lot of effort into costume design and many of the costumes were hand made. Even though it was considered a small event compared to the bigger city events there was still an impressive line up of guest speakers and cosplayers. Evey Dantés, Vicky-Vic, Twerkin Gherkin, Liam Mcleod (as the 11th Doctor), Alana Pearce, Dean Rankine, Paul Abstruce, Wayne Nichols, Shaun Paulet. Tropicon was just days after Cameron set up Li'l Aussie Monsters. Sadly we didn't have the business cards or any shirts yet, but we got talking to a few people about it. Evey Dantes and Twerkin Gherkin loved the idea and each have their own Li'l Aussie Monsters Shirt. Evey has Daryl Dingo, and Twerkin Gerkin has Bubba Bunyip. Both have generously taken photos wearing the shirts and put them on their social media sites so their fan base can see them too! Thanks ladies! It was a fun day spent looking at the exhibits, the costumes, talking with artists and authors. It was our first such event, but won't be our last. Purhaps next time I will create a contume that is a Li'l Aussie Monster Character!

- Jeni

Sunday 18 October 2015

Mamu Tropical Skywalk

Forest walk
If you love visiting and exploring rainforests as much as I do then a visit to Mamu Tropical Skywalk where you are surrounded by the canopy of the rainforest is well worth the visit. It is located in the Wooroonooran National Park as is Babinda Boulders and Josephine Falls which I talked about on previous posts. As Mamu Tropical Skywalk is managed and operated by the same people who own Paronella Park, Cameron had the opportunity to also work here for a few months.

Elevated skywalk
View from the top
Almost all who visit Mamu Tropical Skywalk are able to have a similar experience of being surrounded by the rainforest and canopy of the trees despite the thick nature of rainforest and steep mountain terrain below. To ensure equal accessibility, groups such as Innisfail Disability Focus Group, Disabilities Services Queensland and Guide Dogs Queensland were consulted before and throughout construction. Admittedly a lot of the places Cameron and I visit and write about are not always accessible for everyone such as those with wheelchairs, mobility scooters, prams, or vision impairment. Mamu Tropical Skywalk is.

Map board
Mamu Tropical Skywalk is located on the Palmerston Highway section of the Wooroonooran National Park, and is a 1½ hour drive from Cairns. There is plenty of car parking space including a section for caravans and motor-homes making it easily accessible for travellers. You are most likely to be greeted by Phil who has worked for years as a park ranger in the area. Phil is very knowledgeable, friendly and down to earth. He will welcome you to the land on behalf of the Mamu people (the local Aboriginal group). If you have time after your visit take some time to get chatting with him and you will come away a different person. From here make your way up to the entrance deck where you will find some picnic tables as b.y.o lunch is allowed, toilets, drinking fountains where drink bottles can be filled up, light refreshments such as ice blocks and the ticketing booth. It is from here that you will be given a botanical guide (which can also be used at ParonellaPark) and an audio guide and headphones. Grab an umbrella if it is raining or looks like rain before you enter through the entrance gate and the journey begins. For the full experience, allow for a minimum of 1 hour to visit. 1½ is a comfortable time. Timing is up to the individual though.

Observation tower top
Observation tower bottom
The 2.5km return journey starts off with a forest walk. It is a flat path through the forest that very gradually descends leading to the cantilever, the skywalk, and eventually the observation tower. The forest walk goes for more than a kilometre at ground level of the rainforest. There are covered rest shelters with seats through the forest walk, and information boards as well. The breathtaking views start just after the first rest shelter as you make your way along the 40m cantilever. Although only 40m from the forest walk and forest floor on the cantilever you find yourself being surrounded by the canopy of the trees for the first time. The cantilever extends 10m out from the last support posts of the elevated platform. It is very stable as it is designed to withstand cyclonic winds. There is a viewing platform at the end of the cantilever, providing stunning views of the valley, gorge and rainforest below as the ground drops away steeply. Return to the forest walk which then connects to the 350m elevated skywalk. The support posts and platforms are 15m high and between 10-15m apart. There are many parts along the elevated platform that allows you to return to the forest walk at any time. When Cameron and I visited Mamu Tropical Skywalk for the first time on the way to the tower we stuck to the elevated skywalk, then on the return we went via the forest walk. At the end of the forest walk/ elevated skywalk the observation tower is reached. Follow the short final elevated walkway to the first viewing deck, then climb the 100 steps to reach the viewing deck that is 37m high. The second viewing deck is the only part of the park not able to be reached by wheelchair however there are still spectacular views from the first deck. You can see clearly to the North Johnston River, Bartle Frere, Mount Poorka, even all the way to Bellenden Kerr Range. Mamu Tropical Skywalk is a beautiful part of the Wooroonooran National Park.

View from the observation tower
Audio guide
On the audio guide you can choose from 9 different languages. Some audio guides I have listened to before require you to stay in the area while listening to certain tracks. Here though, you are encouraged to walk and listen at the same time, but there is no rush as it is timed well. The tracks are informative and varied covering topics such as the Mamu people, how Christie Palmerston explored the area, the use of timber, World Heritage listed rainforests, the skywalk design and how it is environmentally sustainable. There are also information boards throughout the walk.

As Paronella Park is a sister park of Mamu Tropical Skywalk, you can upgrade your ticket for a two park pass deal. The discount works out to save you about 10% off per park. However the upgrade must be bought from the original park you visit, not when you arrive at the second park. You also have access to a loyalty card at Mamu Tropical Skywalk that lasts for 12 months with 50% off admission on your next visit.

Cameron and Bubba Bunyip on the cantilever
The character that Cameron has on his shirt is part of the Li'l Aussie Monsters collection. Bubba Bunyip is the first character that he designed all the way back in 2011 not long after we met. Earlier this year he decided to make his characters available so that they could join us and others on the adventures we go on byputting them onto T-shirts.

Happy travels, and follow you dreams.

- Jeni