Our Quantas flight swooped in over rainforested hills and came to a stop next to a very small airport. It could have been Africa (well, I've never been, but the couple next to me, who had been, agreed with my suggestion). When we got off the plane, the humidity hit us immediately, but it wasn't anything too severe, comparable to Sardinia.
The bus from Castaways Backpackers, driven by Amanda (from England) came to pick us up, and 10 minutes later we were moving in to room number 17. We don't look very backpacker (especially not with 2 samsonites along with the 2 rucksacks, various knapsacks and of course two daughters) but the place felt like home very quickly. And when I found out the price, we were to pay I was even happier with the arrangement. It was the cheapest room since Sim's Cozy Guesthouse in Chengdu, China. AU$55 dollars for a family room, with its own ensuite. Mind you, we did have to kill the previous occupant of room 17 - a secretive individual by the name of Periplaneta Australiasiae.
We had only one mission in Cairns - get out on the reef. Like getting a tattoo, you can either do this well, or do it cheaply. Not both. So while we took some time picking a day and a tour operator, we headed on a day trip to Kuranda, a tourist town on the Atherton tablelands West of Cairns. The idea was to amuse ourselves around the town's markets, visit the butterfly sanctuary, and take a scenic tour down. I wasn't expecting too much from the day - it was just a filler after all. But it turned out to be a fantastic time, mostly because of this:
We had come close to koalas in Sydney, but touching was out of the question, let alone cuddling. It took a very long time for Nina and Sara's smiles to fade after this experience.
Kuranda is definitely a tourist town (I hesitate to say trap) but a pleasant one. The atmosphere is still very calm, and there are plenty of things to do, including a 45 minute cable car ride up (we didn't do this), an easy rainforest walk, and a scenic train ride back down to Cairns that leads past the Barron Falls.
The falls were beautiful, but I would have been happy for the train to have taken half the time it did. We were well cooked by the time we reached the city and headed back by foot to Castaways. As we did, the rainclouds gathered. We were rained in for the entire next day but that was just fine with us. After a dash up the Victoria and NSW coasts, then the flight to Cairns, we were more than ready for some down time. We sat on 'our' bench outside room 17 and got to know our neighbours - 2 Canadian girls from Edmonton, Alberta. They very patiently listened to a whole load of crap from me - must have made venturing out into the heavy rain start to seem appealing.
The next day - our third - the weather was due to be better. So we finally settled on a reef tour operator. We were going to Michaelmas Cay with Passions of Paradise, to get our heads underwater. More of that in Part II.