July 17th:

I forgot to turn my alarm clock on last night after setting it, but I got up in plenty of time anyway. For once, the bus pickup was actually early, and we left the hotel right on 7:20 am. I'll be sure to be downstairs a little earlier than I was today, for tomorrow.

Once again, there was a little confusion as to what was going on, especially when the bus driver first announced that he was picking up for Kuranda, even though I wasn't doing Kuranda and he had my name on his list. We picked up a few more people and eventually headed out of town, where the confusion got cleared up - the bus was going to Freshwater Station, from whence several tours were leaving, including the 4WD Clohesy River tour.

At about 8:15 am, the driver of a small orange bus picked up six of us for the tour. The driver/guide's name was Ray, and he did a very good job of keeping up the patter, this time about rainforests, flora, fauna (of which we saw none), ecology, etc. The tour took us up to Lake Morris, the source of all fresh water for Cairns and formed by damming a catchment area (i.e. there's no river there, just rain runoff). We stopped to overlook Cairns and its suburbs, and then at a little waystation beside the lake where we got tea for free. Next, we crossed over the dam and went 4-wheeling up and over a mountain through a sub-tropical rainforest. We stopped a few times in the rainforest to look at specific trees, especially a nice long stop at a small boardwalk set up around an absolutely huge strangler fig. Strangler figs start as seeds that birds deposit at the tops of trees. They then sprout and send roots rapidly down to the ground, over and over and over, until they eventually strangle the life out of the host tree and end up looking like a banyan once the host tree rots away. They are classified as epiphytes - they live on other trees without tapping into them for nutrients, but they do end up killing their hosts like parasites. We saw native bananas, lawyer cane, king ferns, stinging trees, strangler figs, milky pines, red cedars, and huge termite mounds that were 2/3rds below ground (but the termites are grass eaters, not wood eaters). We heard about snakes and spiders and lizards and cassowaries (but didn't see any of the above). When the tour was over, we got dropped off in three different places - two (from New Zeland) at the Sky Tour (headed for Kuranda), three (from Texas) at their hotel in Cairns, the Oasis, and me at the Reef Pier for my Green Island trip/tour.

At the ticket counter, I got my boarding pass for the Reef Rocket and my time for the glass-bottom boat ride. I had a nice little lunch of a croissant with ham and cheese, and a side salad, then went out to get on the boat. I signed up for a semi-submersable tour for an extra $18, and then waited until the boat got to Green Island.

Green Island is a coral cay along the Barrier Reef that has had mangroves help build it up. There is a resort there, but there's also a pier where regular (several times a day) boats dock and discharge passengers for the same kind of Barrier Reef stuff that Quicksilver did out on its pontoon - SCUBA diving, bottom walking, glass-bottom boats, semi-submersables, and snorkeling. Since I had had no idea of what Green Island was (because the tour was bought through the travel agency without any real details given), I hadn't brought my swimsuit, so I did the stay-dry stuff.

The glass-bottom boat was nice, but pictures were hard to get. The semi-submersable was also nice, but the water was a bit murky because of the wind stirring up the sandy bottom. We did see a green sea turtle munching on some sea grass (it went by too quickly to get a picture of), but no sharks. When that tour was over, I walked down the pier to the island and walked around a bit, but didn't really have time to go far. There was a museum-cum-wildlife park somewhere on the island, but I didn't go looking for it (I would have if I had had more time).

For some reason, we ended up with a lot more people on the Reef Rocket going home at 4:15 or so than we had taken to the island. On the way back, someone spotted some humpback whales, and we spent ten or fifteen minutes looking at them (I got a few pictures). Then, we sped back to Cairns.

I walked off of the pier at Cairns, intending to find my bus and tell them I was walking back to my hotel (which was about a block and a half away). I went over to the Down Under Tours busses, but they sent me away because I had come off the Reef Cat/Reef Rocket. I bypassed all of the busses and walked down the Esplanade looking for dinner. I hope no one got too delayed by my not turning up on a bus.

I had dinner at Villa Romana - a nice salad, followed by a nice pizza. They had a caprese salad on the menu, but it was using roma tomatoes and some other kind of cheese than mozzarella, so I didn't try it. They had some other interesting things on the menu, and they're open for dinner before six, but I think I'll look for Chinese for tomorrow's dinner.

When I got back to my room, I decided to confirm my pick up time for Tuesday's airport transfer. I finally connected to the office and found some disturbing news - my flight, 709, had been cancelled. The woman at the office gave me Qantas' number and left the day person at their office a note to call Australian Outback Tours (all of my stuff was booked through them, though they're just a travel agent/wholesaler, not a tour operator) to see if they knew what the new arangements would be. She also told me that the other people she had seen changed over from flight 709 had ended up on a 7am flight (709 left at 10:30 am, getting into Brisbane at 12:30). I wasn't happy about having to spend from 9am to 4:40 pm at the Brisbane airport, that's for sure (nor about getting up early enough to be at the airport for a 7am flight).

I called the Qantas number, and followed the automated menus until I got connected with a person. That guy took my info and quickly gave me my new flight (709 had just been cancelled a few days prior, which is why I hadn't heard anything about it). The new flight leaves at 1:15 and gets in to Brisbane at 3:15, leaving me enough time to get to my next flight to Sydney (which had its number changed but not its times) without having to spend any extra time in the airport. I doubt that Brisbane's airport is so huge that I will have to run between gates. I think I will order room-service breakfast for Tuesday, especially since checkout time is 11am, and my airport transfer is at 11:30.

I just noticed on TV that the KFC commercial where the mother is bringing home KFC and the kids all try to place their order even though she's already got the food (it's for the sampler bucket or whatever - all three types of chicken at once) - they've got that one here, but the actors are all Aussie ...

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