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OzFest #6 - Cairns 2009

OzFest is a gathering of travellers from around the world (mostly the USA) on the Memorial Day long weekend that has happened each year for the past 5 years in various Australian cities.The only things these people have in common is the enjoyment of travel and an internet connection.As a result the conversation is a little strange at time (at least to outsiders) and when the bus driver asks ďWhere are you from?Ē the answer is a bit long winded.But itís an enjoyable time even for a ďplus oneĒ (someone who is not an active member but comes along with someone who is) like me who just enjoys the travel.

 We were rushing around on Thursday night because we hadnít managed to pack earlier.Last year we did the OzFest with just carry on luggage.This year however it is in Cairns and as Iíve never been to the Great Barrier Reef before and Audrey hasnít been for 27 years we decided to stay a bit longer and take along some extra items.Finding a suitcase to fit all the marine shoes and extra photo gear into without being too large took some time.Putting everything else together and packing it took more time.

 We managed to forget Audreyís socks.

 22 May 2009

 20090522Cairns8556.jpg We got up early, well actually at our normal time, did the usual morning routine except for breakfast and headed for the airport.We had breakfast at the Qantas club which is nice and relaxed and means we donít need to do dishes before we leave the house.Audrey invited Noelene who is a Star Alliance member into the Qantas club with us since she is on our flight and a Flyertalker who we will see all week-end.Noelene flies very little domestically and has status in the Star Alliance group of airlines rather than One World which includes Qantas.

 The flight was normal with Audrey looking out the window pointing things of interest out to me.The salt lakes were interesting, but I was relaxing after a rather intense training course and just relaxed during the flight and didnít even get my camera out for them.

 At Cairns we met up with 4 other Flyertalkers from the Virgin flight and we caught a maxi taxi to our hotels.The Hilton where we stayed was green in more ways than one.

 Having delivered name tags that Audrey produced to those people having lunch, we headed off for a walk around Cairns

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In Cairns there is not a lot of beach. A fair bit of mud and mangroves, but not a lot of beach.

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The view from the hotel may look almost like beach, but itís mud.

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Sunbaking is done on the grass, which is probably more practical than sand as itís a lot easier to bush off when you get up.

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The Lagoon is a man made water feature and beach for those people in Cairns who need sand and water.

Cairns is a jumping off place to other places.There is not really that much here apart from tourist shops and expensive eateries.There is however a lot around Cairns, and that is how we spent the next few days.Close to Cairns.

The Night Market had a Hong Kong feel with lots of hawkers and lots of Asian stall holders, but nothing of any interest (unlike Hong Kong).It is the off season (I donít know why, the weather is quite nice) and many of the night market stalls were closed.

We had dinner with the Flyertalkers at Norths restaurant.Audreyís noise cancelling, directional ears (hearing aids) were an advantage in the noisy environment of the bar for pre-dinner drinks and in the restaurant with 20 conversations and music going on at the same time.We conversed with various people, including Doug from Microsoft who agrees that Microsoft has lost the plot a bit with Office 2007 and Windows Vista.He canít do anything to fix it (itís not his department), but he agrees it could be better.

20090522Cairns8572.jpg ††† 20090522Cairns8575.jpg

20090522Cairns8577.jpg Meeting new people in strange places over food is a Flyertalk tradition.The dinner started with an appetiser and 3 courses later we were stuffed.Flyertalk holidays are bad for the waistline, itís a good thing we walk everywhere.

The evening ended with a cake being brought out for Sueís birthday.Flying to the other end of the country (sheís Australian) is not enough to avoid your birthday.

 

 

23 May 2009††

Up early and had a large breakfast at the hotel.The plan is to not have much lunch (which we have to pay or while breakfast is included) and then join the buffet dinner tonight.After breakfast we waited for the bus that would take us to the train station for our ride on the historic Kuranda railway.The bus trip was short but we needed to get about 44 people from 2 hotels to the train station a couple of kilometres away for a 9:30 departure.The bus was the easiest way.

The youngest Flyertalker at the fest only had her first award flight to get to here.QF WP (her dad) expects her to have many more to come.

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Cairns is a jumping off place, and this is one of the ways of jumping.Itís a very slow ride, but then itís a very picturesque trip.Itís also one that I have problems photographing.Wide expanses of natural wilderness are great to look at but it gives me problems when I photograph it.So a day of practice for me.

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QF WP assists with a demonstration of the trainís safety features.

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Yes, we had a carriage all to ourselves.

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Sugar cane country.

 

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The view from the train on the way to Kuranda.

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We visited the Butterfly house and spent a while trying to photograph the Ulysses butterfly before giving up due to the fact they never sit still long enough and there is too much open air to try and track them.

 All the butterflies are raised on the premises and regularly are given fresh food by the lab workers.

 

Mini-QF WP was in danger of being kidnapped on several occasions over the whole weekend.

 

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The common Egg-fly butterfly. (One of the ones that did sit still for photography.)

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Butterflies hide anywhere to avoid the photographers.

 Apart from the Butterfly house we wandered around various markets, galleries and tourist shops.We didnít do Bird World, the Koala Sanctuary or the Venom Zoo.Audrey did manage to find a nice silver pendent which she felt she couldnĎt leave behind in case someone else bought it.

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We considered something for lunch, and the German Tucker shop with itís traditional Deutsche Wurst and Krokodil sausages was tempting, we eventually managed to share a sausage roll at about 2:30 to make sure we didnít get hungry before the dinner tonight and headed back for the trip on the Sky Rail (a cable car that takes us back to Cairns over the bush).

 

  

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A Skyrail car heading back the way we came.

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Heading into a Skyrail sataion.Itís a steep drop with a sudden slowing at the end.

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Barron Falls from the Skyrail lookout side.

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A view of the bush canopy from Skyrail.

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 Our guided walk at the second stop on the way back included a talk about the uses of rattan which grows in the bush here.The young tendrils have barbs and are used in various things including fish traps which allow the fish in but stop them getting out.The older vines are used in all sorts of things including balloon baskets.

 

 

 

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One of the oldest trees at over 200 years a kauri pine (though itís not a pine).

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Another view from Skyrail.

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Flyertalkers watching the view as we head back to Cairns.

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Cairns harbour at sunset as we were on our way to dinner.

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The Flyertalk tables.We took up most of the boat.

20090523Cairns8870.jpg Dinner was a cruise with a 3 course buffet and live entertainment.Iím not sure about the concept of a 3 course buffet.How can you put limits on a buffet?Just to upset them we divided dinner into 5 plates (all reasonably small, but 5 none the less).The cruise was around Cairns harbour as going out to sea would have made it too rough for having dinner on a small boat.I donít know how many laps f the harbour we did but I saw the casino go past about 4 times and I wasnít looking out the window.Audrey was looking out a window and she lost count.Much discussion about gold fish ensued along with comments like ďOh look, Cairns!ĒBut the food was nice, the company was good and many bottles of wine were consumed (though not by us).

The live entertainment was interesting.At one stage one of the people on the table asked what song he was playing as she couldnít figure it out.The surprising bit is that I could, though even then it took her 30 seconds to be sure that is what he was playing.

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Flyertalkers (including GreenFireFlyer looking at camera) enjoying after dinner conversation and drinks.After the cruise the drinks continued in room 925 of the Hilton.

 24 May 2009

An early breakfast and then we finished packing and headed for the boat.The luggage was checked and that was the last we saw of it until we arrived in our room to find it waiting for us.The catamaran took 50 minutes to take us over to Green Island with a lot of the time taken up with staff trying to sell us activities.We left the Flyer talkers to their various activities, checked out our room and headed for a look around the island.Itís only a small island but it has a huge reef around it which is one of the attractions for us and how we spent the afternoon.

We met several flyer talkers again as we crossed paths (it is a small island).

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gvdIAD, GreenFireFlyer and Irwin8417 snorkel on Green Island.

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We had a look at the underwater observatory at the end of the pier.Itís been here since the 50ís and looks old by modern standards with little port holes instead of big windows.Not really worth the $10 entry price but itís free to those who are staying on the island.

 

 

 

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The view from the underwater observatoryís port holes.

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The Buff Banded Rail.Itís territorial to the point that they each have their own table in the restaurant they steal food from.We lost a hash brown, some bacon and Audreyís last remaining coco-pop.Others lost fruit juice, tea, toast, a croissant, a prawn and other things we never did identify.

Marineland Melanesia has some small aquariums set up with local species of fish and also a collection of crocodiles which we watched being fed.

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One of the aquariums in Marineland Melanesia.

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Crocodile waiting to be fed.

 We looked at the lunch options with the idea of having something light and found nothing of interest.Certainly no crumbed sausages even though this is where Audrey first had them many years ago (remembering that she hasnít been here in 27 years).We ended up having a chocolate tart that was left as a welcome present in our room as lunch and then headed for the reef.

 As you can imagine we found a fair few things.Most of them large, much larger than we find in Victorian waters, though with fewer species.In three and a half hours of wandering the reef we found maybe 30 species compared to the 60 or more that Audrey would find by herself back home.I just wandered from place to place with my camera trying to keep up with the interesting things that we did find.

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Audrey can identify the 6 species of cone shell that can kill you.Itís getting her to leave them where they are that is the hard bit.

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Linckia laevigata

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Lambis lambis Ė what beautiful eyes you have!

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Itís a small island, the reef is larger than the island itself.This is the view from where we got out to.

 We came back to land just in time to catch up with the Flyertalkers who had been to the outer reef and asked them how it was (so we knew if it was worth the trip).They shouted from the top of the boat (since it was just stopping to collect the day trippers that were left on Green Island and they werenít getting off) that it was awesome so it has been placed firmly on the list for Tuesday (when the tide is not so low and walking the reef will theoretically not be as good).

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The feeding of the fish takes place once all the day trippers have left and only those who are staying on the island are left.The sea gulls get in on the act as well, but they have to be fast to beat the fish.

 

  

 

 

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Fish enjoying a free feed.

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More fish enjoying a free feed.The species of fish that turn up changes daily.

20090524Cairns9337.jpg It looks like a little marsupial, but is actually just a rat.It caught us and the rest of those who saw it.Most of the rats were erradicated from the island to save the buff banded rail which makes itís nest on the ground and is an easy target for egg eating rats.

 Note to self.If Audrey says the food at a restaurant is to fussy for her donít let her change her mind about going.We had looked at the dinner menu earlier in the day and decided that it was too expensive and not really that great Ė modern fussy food with lots of flavours pushed together with possibly not enough thought.Audrey however decided that tart we had at lunch time was nice and wanted another.We ordered an entree to go with it and Audrey needed it to be modified (chicken and tarragon ravioli with red pepper coulis) and we needed to have it without the coulis.The waiter said it could be done, he told the kitchen, but the kitchen forgot.It had to go back (with Audreyís comments about being allergic to make sure that it wasnít just washed and sent back out).The waitress managed to set it down and ran off before we could mention that it was not right and it took us a couple of minutes to get someoneís attention and get it fixed.It was nice though under seasoned (and no salt available on the table), but to my mind not worth the money (though being a captive audience as it were there is little choice Ė well none really).And me eating mine before Audreyís came out of the kitchen didnít help make the evening enjoyable.

 We finished up the day with a quiet evening and downloading pictures to my computer while Audrey caught up with Flyertalk.

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Sunset from the end of the board walk.

 25 May 2009

 Up early (itís just like us, isnít it?), and off to breakfast.We have breakfast included in our rate and it included a continental buffet and a menu of hot foods.We both ordered eggs Florentine with a couple of sides.A huge plate arrived and we both battled to get though it.We had a brief wander around the resort before heading out on the 9:30 glass bottomed boat.

 The glass bottomed boat was interesting, but hopeless for photography.The glass reflected horribly and being glass was tinted green which doesnít help when looking underwater.We also sat at the back which got more sediment being churned up by the engines (note to self: try to be slightly forward of the middle if ever on another glass bottomed boat).†† But it whetted the appetite for snorkelling later in the day.

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Remora or sucker fish.

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Plate corals.

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Staghorn coral.

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A fish.

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We caught the 10:30 feeding of he crocodiles, because we could and itís interesting to see such big reptiles move so fast and the turtles move so slowly.

 Iíve never snorkelled before so I really wasnít sure what to expect and went without our little water proof camera.The worst bit was sitting in the water to put our flippers on.It was cold!At least for a minute or so anyway.The rental masks let in a little water around our noses until we did them up a tighter than was comfortable , after that we glided happily around the reef to the left of the jetty (looking out from the island) until we ended up beaching ourselves in the sea grass due to the tide going out.We leapt into the pool to rinse the salt water off and to practice diving with a snorkel.

 The views on the reef were great.We saw all the required fish (parrot fish make a horrible noise while biting off chunks of rock with their food), corals, sponges and all the rest.Tomorrow we snorkel at the outer reef and the water proof camera comes with us.

 After a half a sausage roll for lunch we headed off to wander the reef.We stated just after the main swimming beach where the day trippers snorkel and worked our way around the island.We found a new collection of habitats each with a new variety of life adapted to live there.Lots of large animals, but again less diversity than we would expect in Victoria.

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Cyprea annulus - the gold ring cowrie.

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A swimming bivalve that also managed to sting Audrey as she tried to keep it in one place to have its picture taken.

 The wind came up as we were on the reef and the ripples got so bad I put my camera away because I couldnít focus on anything through the water.So I got out the water proof camera and tried it out under water.This is something I am not used to and will probably never be entirely comfortable with Ė putting electronic devices underwater Ė and I hesitated before doing it for the first time, despite it being what the camera was designed for.Apart from having to switch between 2 different macro modes and a tendency to focus on floating sediment instead of what I want to take a picture of the camera worked quite well.Iím looking forward to using it tomorrow.

 We made it back to land at about 5:45, too late to eat from the lunch menu.The dinner menu was the same as last night so we thought we would order from room service.Our preferred meal (tempura snapper) was not available but when we asked if we could have the salt and pepper squid from the lunch menu instead they said yes.While we waited for it to arrive I started loading the dayís pictures to my laptop so I could look at them and preparing pictures for this missive.

 We ate and relaxed with the internet as the rain started falling.Audrey started nodding off over her laptop and eventually went to bed early while I processed more pictures and decided I didnít really want to do the nature walk in the rain.Maybe tomorrow night.

 26 May 2009

 We got up early and had breakfast (this is getting predictable).the only difference was that the power died just as we were getting dressed so we had breakfast in the dark Ė well not really because we ate on the covered deck and the only difference was that the toast your own toast toaster didnít work.

 The boat to the reef boarded at 11:15 so we did the guided walk to look at 14 different species of plants on the island and find out a bit more about them.The map shows you where an example of each specimen is and tells you a bit about them.We missed a couple of plants because the numbers were missing and found a couple where the number was missing but we could find the plant from the description.It was an interesting diversion.We also toyed with the idea of catching a helicopter back to the airport direct, rather than the boat and a taxi, but the cost was just too high.

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The spear tree Ė Plant number 8

 It was a very rough ride out to the reef pontoon.Several people were sea sick (though not either of us).Walking around the boat while it was moving was rather difficult as the floor dropped away from under you and the boat went sideways while you were still trying to catch up with the deck.We did arrive however and positioned ourselves near the exit so we could head across the pontoon to the semi submersible for a trip around the reef on the first trip out.

 The semi-submersible is effectively a very deep glass bottomed boat with the windows almost vertical instead of flat on the floor.The glass was cleaner and there were less reflections but it was still not great.Better than nothing, but not great.It was a reasonably gentle ride, but there were still two people at least who got sea sick.

 A light lunch from the buffet was followed by a talk with the eco-naturalist in the underwater observatory.This was fine, except we knew more about marine biology than she did, though she did know the fish quite well (but we donít do fish).She ran away to talk to other people.

 Given that the sun deck was the only activity left to us on the pontoon we jumped off Ė wearing snorkels and flippers Ė and tried the our water proof camera out at what it is meant to be used for.

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Fish and corals - to be identified.

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Another lot of fish and coral to be identified.

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More fish and corals - to be identified.

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Sponge or soft coral, also to be identified.

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Still more fish and corals - to be identified.

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The pontoon.It has 3 levels.The main deck which has most of the facilities, the sun deck covers the right half and the underwater observatory which is under the last 8 feet of the left of the pontoon.

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Green Island as we left at high tide.

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Green island when we arrived back at low tide showing almost 2 thirds of the reef.

 Our trip back was a lot gentler than the trip out.It was also low tide so the boat had to take a meandering path through the reefs while on the way out they could go over the top.The reefs were out as we got back to Green Island, and the power was back on, but we didnít walk out on the reef again and it was probably a good thing as a shower with driving wind came up during the fish feeding that would have been VERY uncomfortable if we were standing on the reef.

 We split a tempura snapper for dinner, again from room service.It was easily enough for the two of us and I am getting the feeling I am eating too much despite always working it off during the day.

 We joined the 9pm nature walk which due to the conditions was out the pier to the underwater observatory.There wasnít a lot to see, though we stopped to look for sea turtles which sleep wedged into the coral and come up to breathe.We didnít see any on the way out but we did see a couple on the way back.At the observatory we looked out into the water that had been stirred up by the wind and saw baby fish swimming in the plankton, some shrimps of various species, a top shell wandering away from the light, anemones and so on.It was interesting enough, but the turtles were the highlight.

 We finished up the evening with a relaxing bath and a bit more packing.

 27 May 2009

We wandered out on the jetty at sun rise to have a look and contemplate a last snorkel before we left.It was a bit dark and there was rain coming and with a tight schedule (needing to have our luggage packed for collection by 8:30) we decided against it and went for a short walk before finishing packing and heading to breakfast (see below).

 Our final walk was interrupted by more rain so we headed for reception to check out and find out which boat was collecting us from where Ė It was a smaller boat because there were only about 8 of us going back and the large boat was already on the island having brought a large school group.Time to leave the island.

 The trip back was uneventful and having arrived back we went looking for a taxi, eventually finding one at the casino (about 5 minutes walk).This brought us to the airport where e waited for our flight and had a light lunch in the Qantas club.I leave the flight details to Audrey who knows all the right stuff to mention on Flyertalk.I just sit back and enjoy it.

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Sunrise from the jetty on Green Island.

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We had our usual guests for breakfast and given that Audrey was happy to have a plate just for them we attracted a fair few new friends this morning.I didnít know that birds liked camembert, but they all went for the cheese rather than the croissant. One table had 2 small boys sitting with their parents and one boy was chasing the birds with far too much enthusiasm with his parents taking no efforts to stop him.He ended up having his breakfast stolen while he was off chasing birds that were not causing him any problems.

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Coming in for a landing.

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Cheese is good.

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Whatís on the buffet today?

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