Archive | July, 2009
July 18, 2009

“This is Awesome”

 

Sydney Sundancer -- Our home in the Whitsundays. GBR

Sydney Sundancer -- Our home in the Whitsundays. GBR

 

 

Whales!

Whales!

 

 

Dundee comes face to face with a batfish on the GBR

Dundee comes face to face with a batfish on the GBR

 

Sunset from our perch on Whitsunday Island

Sunset from our perch on Whitsunday Island

Yep.  This is awesome.

Yep. This is awesome.

Sometimes, there are moments in life when words seem simply inadequate..incapable of capturing the moment’s magic and mystery.  Sacagawea discovered one of those moments this morning, eyes wide and dancing, as she said time and again, “this is awesome.”  The setting, the forward deck of our sailboat, perched amidst the Whitsunday Islands, as a pod of whales — two adults and two babies — spun synchronized pirouettes just off our port side.  Absolutely magical.  Raw, powerful, captivating… nature at its finest, and us just privileged enough to snag a glimpse.

our captain -- would you sail with him!

our captain -- would you sail with him!

And thus we awakened to our first morning in the Whitsundays, welcomed with open arms.  We came aboard yesterday, meeting up on Hamilton Island with our delightful hosts, John & Lynne, to set out on our week’s adventure aboard their spectacular 54′ sailboat, Sydney Sundancer.  They’ve been hosting private charters around the Reef for more than two decades, yet still have that special touch that immediately made us feel we’re the most wonderful guests they’ve had aboard.  A week on a live-aboard sailboat is a first for all of us, but with their gentle guidance, we’re quickly catching on.

 The Whitsundays are a cluster of 74 exquisite islands scattered about the Great Barrier Reef, with all but a handful of them completely raw and undeveloped.  It’s idyllic, one of those spots you dream about, and I find I’m pinching myself to believe we’re really here.  We sailed out of Hamilton Island Marina as the sun settled into the afternoon sky, and anchored in a beautiful little bay for the evening.  John ferried us by glass-bottom tender to the beach, where Lynne led us on a sunset walk up into the rainforest, through ancient trees and cackling kookaburras, and back onto another beach abit further up, where John and our chariot met us.  We watched the sun sink below the water’s edge from our trail perch above the beach, catching the palette of crimson and gold through a canopy of forest green.  This week will pass much too quickly, I realized with  regret.

The morning’s whales simply set the stage.  It’s still our first day onboard, and already we’ve enjoyed gourmet meals between our adventures of fishing, sailing, and — the first of what will be many highlight moments — snorkeling one of the naturally wondrous reefs of the area.  Sacagawea and Dundee proved to be naturals in the water, gliding between coral heads, spotting fish of all shape, size and color, and excitedly surfacing to report their latest amazing discovery.  We watched in awe as eagles swooped in to catch fish swimming near the surface as we snorkled, hoping they didn’t mistake us for a tasty morsel.  Then back at the Sundancer, Sacagawea and Dundee swam with batfish, not the least shy about swimming up to say hello.

And as I sit on the boat’s deck, watching the kids fish from the platform as they sing our bedtime favorite, “Glad to have a Friend Like You,” with the sun setting on the horizon beyond them, I find myself humming a different tune . . .”and I think to myself, it’s a wonderful world.”

July 17, 2009

Tropical North Queensland

 

Prue brought the Daintree to life

Prue brought the Daintree to life

 

 

Taking in the trails in Kuranda

Taking in the trails in Kuranda

 

Timara Queenslander, our Kewarra home

Timara Queenslander, our Kewarra home

We’ve had a magical week in far north Queensland…first the Daintree, then several days in north Cairns, on a remote stretch of beach in Kewarra, at a wonderful resort nestled in the beachfront rainforest.  While Cairns is a bustling beach town — with all the touristy honky tonk and beach buzz — Kewarra is a world away.  In some ways reminiscent of our Kailua, it’s a sleepy neighborhood, with this little resort tucked into the bush at the end of the road.  Friday night is pizza night on the beach — (much like our outings to Bob’s in Kailua!) — and we sat under the stars at the beach shack, nibbling prawn and tandori chicken pizzas with the local families who congregate each week.  The kids played in moonlit sand with neighborhood kids while we soaked up the soulful music and intoxicating magic of this special place.

We’ve done our share of tourist musts, including the skyrail and train roundtrip to Kuranda.  Beautiful scenery both directions — more rainforests, crocodile infested rivers, and exotic birds soaring through the skies.  Kuranda seems a bit overtaken by the visitors, but we found a wonderful pub a bit off the beaten path for a local lunch of Guinness pie on the verandah.  Not a bad way to spend the day!

Once again, our temporary home has been spectacular.  The Timara Cottage at Kewarra is an original Queenslander home, originally built at Mossman gorge by one of the first families to settle the region.  It was moved to Kewarra some twenty years ago and restored to it’s original condition.  Huge verandahs encircle the 2 bedroom cottage, where we enjoyed lunch and family down time every day.  Surrounded by lagoons on three sides, we shared the tranquility with the birds, fish, and the occasional rustle in the bush…wildlife we knew was out there but never quite showed itself.  As we packed up and sneaked out before sunrise this morning, a huge tail and animal back-end darted into the bush in front of us…a kangaroo perhaps?

Shell collecting in North Queensland

Shell collecting in North Queensland

 

Tropical birds

Tropical birds

July 15, 2009

Pictures Tell the Story

 

Another airport; another cozy spot to read

Another airport; another cozy spot to read

So many adventures, so many pictures, so many memories.

 

Strong Aussie Men:  Columbus, Dundee & our boat captain on a Croc Hunt

Strong Aussie Men: Columbus, Dundee & our boat captain on a Croc Hunt

 

Dundee climbing trees at Cow Bay Beach

Dundee climbing trees at Cow Bay Beach

 

Columbus & Sacagawea

Columbus & Sacagawea

July 15, 2009

Crocodiles, Canopy Surfing and Jungle Trekking — Daintree Style

In a place this prehistoric – where something around every bend is certainly ancient and potentially lethal – there’s an undeniable urge to get up close and personal with it.  Sacagawea and Dundee swam with the turtles in the beautiful – and shockingly cold — waters of little Cooper Creek, while Columbus and I kept a nervous watch for crocs.  (As Carmen told us, “Never say never, when it comes to crocs, but I swim here regularly.”  Some comfort, I guess.)  We explored to the end of the road at Cape Tribulation — named such by Captain Cook when his ship was wrecked and subsequently salvaged by wrapping the sail under the ship and nursing it to shore – then just a few miles beyond, on the unpaved, rugged Bloomfield Track that meanders up the coast to Cooktown.  (But don’t tell the folks at Hertz of course.)

We hiked into the rainforest, along the boardwalks and paths, to explore the mangrove estuaries and rainforest floors that lead onto some of the most breathtaking beaches in the world, one of the few places where rainforest reaches to the ocean.   We met up with Pru, a local naturalist, and wandered deep into the old growth forest, well beyond the paths and boardwalks designed for visitors, where we saw trees over 1000 years old, and plants known to date back several hundred thousand years.  We collected shells on Cow Beach and Cape Trib lookout, climbed trees along the shoreline, and spotted birds, lizards, spiders and other native creatures unlike any we’d ever seen.  We climbed the towers of the award-winning Daintree Discovery Centre in an effort to better understand this place, some 135 million years old and largely unchanged, and learned about species, once believed extinct, found thriving in this magical place. 

We met up with our local river guide along the side of the road.  “Don’t walk down to the river’s edge, particularly with children!  Stay on the road and I’ll meet you there,” he told me when I booked our adventure to get up close and personal with salt water crocs.  Watch the trailer for the movie Rogue, and you’ll understand.  A rattletrap tin-can flat bottomed boat, cruising waters straight from jungle flicks, looking for prehistoric creatures longer than the boat with jaw strength that crushes instantly.  “Water comes hootin’ down from the mountains,” he explained, “and these babies build their nests along the banks.  Only one in 200 young crocs makes it to maturity, then they start dealin’ out the pain.”  He went on the point out the occasional sloping edge, leading from the murky waters up onto the banks.  “Nothin’ but crocs ever walk out of these waters,” he matter-of-factly pointed out.  We weren’t disappointed….these prehistoric beasts lounged along the shoreline, casually lumbering in and out of the water.  They rule, and they know it, and we loved every minute of it.

Capping our experience, Sacagawea, Dundee and I headed off for Jungle Canopy Surfing . . . ziplining from platform to platform in the oldest rainforest on earth.  Simply amazing!  We rumbled up the mountainside in a 4WD jalopy to base station, where we were outfitted with harnesses and helmets, then hiked up the mountain to the first platform.  It was interesting to note that Sacagawea was the youngest of our group (perhaps not a big surprise), and that I was, by far, the oldest.  I’m not sure which seems more incongruous – kids watching their mom sail across the jungle, or a mom watching her children dangling from ropes and harnesses in mid air.  We zipped across riverbeds, through the prehistoric jungle, from ancient tree to ancient tree.  We soared at speeds reaching 35 kilometers, and flew upside down along one course, just because we could.  The grins tell the story…Amazing.  Exhilarating.  Spectacular!

The Daintree is a special place.  In many ways familiar to us, with plants we have in our own Hawaiian backyards, and weather that feels like home….yet so distance, remote, and instantly healing.  It is a place where time really has stood still, and a quiet reminder that we are simply passing through this amazing planet we call home.

Nelly upside down in the rainforest!

Nelly upside down in the rainforest!

 

Sacagawea: a natural!

Sacagawea: a natural!

 

Dundee...living up to his name!

Dundee...living up to his name!

July 15, 2009

Magical Rainforest — A World Away

Tropical North Queensland.  Nothing quite prepares you for the raw beauty and the desolation.  In retrospect, perhaps I missed the clues…most visitors book a comfy condo or apartment in Cairns or Port Douglas, then take daytrips into the Daintree, with guides, on compact little 4WD bush buses.  But that’s most people.  Not us.

In Kermit the Frog, our neon green rental car – perhaps easier to spot should we get stuck in a bog along the way – we cruised up the Cook Highway, from Cairns to Port Douglas, stopping for a stroll through the weekly market, lunch at Soul & Pepper, a delightful waterfront watering hole, and a few groceries and provisions, before heading into the jungle.  At first rural, then remote and rugged, we made our way through Mossman to the Daintree car ferry, reminiscent of the car barges crossing Germany’s Rhine , but with crocodile warnings.  Across the river, the road narrows and I catch myself scanning for dinosaurs who surely roam the land.  It’s prehistoric, and stunningly beautiful.

Once across the river, everything is, for the most part, off the grid.  Each spot – restaurant, B&B, cabin – is completely self contained, with catchments for “cloud juice,” solar power, water pumps,  the works.  Efficient, effective, sustainable….and a reminder that it’s way past time for the rest of us to catch up.

This is country that attracts a special breed.  We navigate through the jungle to Cockatoo Hill Retreat, a remote B&B, where we meet Carmen, my internet friend through whom we’ve rented a riverside cabin.  An elegant French woman, probably in her early 60’s,  it’s hard to comprehend that this delicate, fragile woman singlehandedly owns and operates two eco-resorts in the middle of this remote jungle bush.  Cockatoo Hill Retreat is a small, luxury resort, with four treehouses perched amidst the jungle overlooking the most spectacular vistas.  Riverside cabin – our home in the Daintree – is nestled in the heart of 20 remote acres of riverside rainforest.  When her husband – with whom she created this magical place – passed away, she simply took the reins alone and forged ahead.  She kept the resort open during the wet this year, she tells me, through some startling depth of rain and scorching temperatures.  Since Columbus and I held our breath as Kermit struggled to make the vertical climb and rugged switchbacks leading into Cockatoo, I marvel that this slight woman lived on this perch through some of the most fascinating – and inhospitable – jungle weather on the planet.  It’s a special breed, living in a very special place.

Riverside Cottage -- our home in the Daintree

Riverside Cottage -- our home in the Daintree

 

Croc warnings in the Daintree -- a wild and wonderful place

Croc warnings in the Daintree -- a wild and wonderful place

 

Sacagawea & Dundee in the Daintree

Sacagawea & Dundee in the Daintree

July 9, 2009

Wild Wonderful World

DSC03796We only preserve what we love.

We only love what we understand.

We only understand what we study.

These words hang in the lodge at Fraser Island, a poignant reminder of our place as stewards of this amazing planet.

 

spider
shipwreck on fraser island from the air