Friday, 10 August 2018

Cycling in Cairns

So basically, I nailed it.  I made the call to cut the cycling short and head to Cairns early to spend about a month and a half there instead of about a week, as originally planned. It was a marvelous decision; instead of suffering through constant headwinds on roads of endless nothing with an increasingly unreliable internet connection for work, I found myself in paradise, and not just a scenic paradise, suited to cocktails on the beach with your feet up, but an adventurer's paradise too.

It was a relief to get to Cairns after a long haul, both on the bike and on the bus.  I was really hoping I liked it there, as I had a good amount of time before I went to New Zealand.

Well, I haven't been disappointed, I love it here.  It really is the perfect place for me, well in Winter at least.  I hear it is unbearably hot and humid in Summer.  Now in Winter it is about 26-29 degrees and sunny every day and cool at night.  On land, you have loads of mountains within 20-30Km away, and longer trips over 2 - 4 days into the Tablelands and rainforests, as well as lots of trail runs closer to town.  In the sea - this area of the world is famous for that part - the Great Barrier Reef.

The beach in Cairns.
I would say the major passion in my life is a love of nature; if you were to analyse the kind of photos I take, you can see this quite clearly.  The two environments I am most fond of are mountains and the oceans.  I hadn't scuba dived for years before I came here, but when I dived in Fiji, I think I experienced some of the most memorable moments of my life.  Snorkeling is great, but scuba diving opens up a new world like nothing else I have ever experienced.  I was gutted I didn't have enough time to dive at Ningaloo (although I did snorkel a bit), I will in the future as I hear it is actually better diving than the Great Barrier Reef, but at least now I can revisit this world again.

Barron Gorge Falls was seriously impressive.  The picture doesn't do it justice.
The coast in this part of Australia is really beautiful, with the mountains so close.  My first journey out of the city was to Kuranda to see the Barron Gorge Falls.  I tentatively headed out of Cairns on the main highway and was worried about traffic.  I needn't have worried though as there was either a cycle path or a wide shoulder all the way until the turn-off.  It was actually the climb to Kuranda that was a little dodgy due to high volumes of traffic.

There were no cars, but some friendly fellow-cyclists.
Before then, however, I actually made a wrong turn.  I was annoyed briefly, but realised I was actually heading to quite a nice area lower down Barron Gorge, so I thought I'd continue and just make the day a little longer.  It was a good call, there were no cars and a very nice road going through the gorge to an end point near a power station.  The bridge to it offered tranquil, scenic views and after a while I was joined by 3 other cyclists.

As I mentioned, the road up to Kuranda was a bit hairy; big trucks and lots of traffic going up a, narrow at times, winding road.  It was quite a long climb, but with weight off the bike, it felt nicely difficult, a good workout, but not absolute hell.  It was nice to be climbing again and not pushing against the wind on a dead-flat road.  These roads into the mountains should give the legs a nice wake-up call before I go to New Zealand.  The climbs there will be relentless.

A fine view over the rainforest from Wright's Lookout.
I had a few extra kilometres to get to Barron Gorge Falls and Wrights Lookout.  I had seen pictures of the falls on Google, and it didn't look that spectacular, and my picture of the falls doesn't look anything special, but when you are there it is quite stunning, there is just not much in the foreground to give a sense of scale.  It's a huge gorge and a most impressive sight.  Most people drive up there or get the train, which winds through the rainforested mountains, but it is always rewarding to put in the hard yards to get somewhere on your own volition.

Trinity Bay Lookout in Port Douglas.
I made a couple more trips out on the bike, the longest of which was out to Port Douglas and back, about 100Km in total.  It was a very picturesque coastal ride, and as a bit of training for New Zealand, I loaded the bike up a bit more.  It was hard work in the warm, humid weather, and it had been a few weeks since I had been so far on the bike, so I felt it a little.  It is amazing how quickly you lose fitness.

Since arriving in Cairns, indeed since Broome, I have been working out quite a lot; running, circuits, and weight training.  I am without doubt feeling fitter, faster, and stronger for it, but it counts for little on the bike.  It is amazing sometimes how specific fitness is.  Fit on the bike, slow and unfit on your feet; quick on your feet and stronger all-round, but then tired over long distances.

I also took a trip out to a local wildlife park to see some crocodiles.  I would love to observe these monsters up-close in the wild, but well, not really.  A close encounter in the wild with a croc is something you may well not walk away from, so there was no option but to see them in captivity.

I was impressed with the park, however, they had a large lagoon that took 20 minutes by boat to get around, which housed most of their crocs, at least the ones that could live side by side without killing the others.  Those troublemakers were left in solitary confinement in smaller enclosures, but they were still large enough.

They are awesome beasts, the biggest of which was about 5.3m long and over 100 years old.  They are one of the few animals I have ever seen that weren't skittish or scared of humans in the least, in fact it was quite clear by their behaviour that, but for the barriers, they would have quite happily dined on any one of us without a second thought.  To hear one growl deeply at close quarters is quite wonderfully terrifying, to come face to face with one in the wild would be scary to say the least.

Pretty much all of the crocs there were problem crocodiles.  They had been captured because they were either threatening livestock, people or pets.  Most of them were named after the last dog they had eaten.  You have to be careful about where you let the dog off the lead here in North Queensland, crocodiles can inhabit almost any waterway, both freshwater and saltwater crocs, however the salties are especially fearsome. 

There were other animals in the park, and I was particularly fascinated by the cassowaries.  If there is one animal in the world that looks more like a dinosaur than a crocodile, it is these birds.  With the crest on their heads they seems like a living dinosaur.  The one in the picture here was very friendly and you could feed it by hand, but in the wild they can be very aggressive and dangerous.  They are actually Australia's heaviest land animal.

There were also plenty of wallabies, kangaroos, koalas (of the smaller, cuter, northern kind), wombats, and more.  It was a very nice park, with wide-open huge enclosures for the animals, most of whom were rescued or injured from traffic accidents.  

All the way across Australia, I have been very impressed of how the country handles it's ecotourism.  It is clear a balance needs to be maintained between allowing access to see wildlife for the public for economic purposes and not disturbing wild animals or habitats, and in pretty much every occasion I have seen, everywhere gets the balance just about right, and besides, making wildlife and wild habitats economically valuable is going to be the surest way of protecting them in the long-term.  Australia is doing a great job of not over-egging the pudding though and maintaining a great respect for it's natural treasures.  There is some argument over the Great Barrier Reef, though, as it has been suffering in recent years, both due to agriculture and mining, as well as rising sea temperatures, so I thought I'd better check it out sooner rather than later.  This write-up is my next post.

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