Cairns: Who needs beaches?

By Anna Rushworth

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. Photo / Supplied
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. Photo / Supplied

Floating above a lush rain forest in a gondola, looking down on a carpet of green ferns and broad, tall trees you could easily think you're in New Zealand. But the glimpse of bright, white feathers of a cockatoo or the luminous blue wings of a Ulysses butterfly makes it clear you are above a true tropical rainforest.

The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway is 10 minutes outside Cairns, away from the sandy beaches and the Great Barrier Reef usually associated with this Australian state.

But this is the "green season", when the warm tropical rains fall on Queensland coating the sugarcane and tall, wavy palm trees.

"Going Green" usually means recycling, but in Queensland it is now used to describe the wet season between November and May.

It means going to the beaches can be put on the backburner. But there are still plenty of activities in and around Cairns that don't involve surf.

And there's nowhere better to see the green season's full effect than inside a gondola floating above the Barron Gorge National Park.

I am not afraid of heights but I felt a little peculiar as the view of the floor and walls of the Skyrail's Caravonica Terminal vanishes and the gondola slides out of the building on the cable. Suddenly there's nothing but the wide windows of the gondola between you and the warm Queensland air.

But the view soon makes you forget any fear of heights as the gondola gently pulls you higher up the park on your 7.5km journey over the 2820ha of tropical rainforest.

From just metres above the canopy you can clearly make out cockatoos on the wing, calling to each other. It's strange to see the bright white parrots with their distinctive yellow crowns in their natural environment.

The gentle ride takes you first to Red Peak Station, where you can get your feet back on the ground long enough to enjoy a rainforest walk.
Back in the air the gondola takes us further up the rainforest to Barron Falls Station, named after the 260m waterfalls that break the quiet meandering of the gorge.

Arachnophobics, a word of warning: try to avoid looking up into the roof of this station. Nature is very close in the form of the golden orb spiders - each about the size of my hand - sitting in giant webs in the corners.

Our gondola journey ends at Kuranda Station where we join our next mode of transport, the Kuranda Scenic Railway.

Built between 1887 and 1891, the 37km line offers a relaxing journey back down to Cairns. In the luxury of Gold Class I enjoy a large glass of white wine, local cheeses, and admire the Barron Falls from the comfort of my padded chair - once I have checked the ornate vintage ceiling was golden orb spider free.

But a hand-sized spider is the last thing on my mind ... because a trip to the Cairns Crocodile Farm introduces me to what a $60,000 handbag looks like _ in its natural form. A short drive from central Cairns, the farm has 200 adult breeding crocodiles and more than 20,000 farmed crocs.

The adults live a charmed life munching their way through five tonnes of chicken and fish a day.

The youngsters are on their way to becoming Hermes handbags that adorn the arms of Kate Moss and Victoria Beckham.

The Crocodile Explorer van takes visitors around the adults' natural habitat. But our guide, Gary Meehan, lets us get out and wander around the dirt road so we can spot the adults lounging in the sun or sliding gracefully into the murky water.

Just when you are feeling grateful for the high fence that separates you from the crocks, Gary helpfully says: "People think a crocodile can eat a whole person, they can't, they can only eat portions."
Staff have the job of climbing around the other side of the fence, searching for crocodile eggs in the undergrowth.

Having seen Cairns from a gondola, a train and a van, it seemed only right to experience it by boat, and we board the Wilderness Cruise catamaran for a tranquil journey up the Trinity Inlet and back into Cairns.

Our helpful guide, Paul, tells as there are about 50 adult crocodiles as long as 1.5m, living in the inlet before politely asking us not to dangle our feet or hands in the water.

The shoreline of the inlet is thick with the tangled branches and roots of massive red mangroves, and as the catamaran cruises along you can't help taking a second glance just in case you've seen a crocodile.

Worn out from our adventures with Cairns nature, we head up the coast to the town of Port Douglas.

The light rain coupled with the even warmer air makes walking around the town as we check out the shops and cafes a bit like being in a bath.

Some well deserved R&R comes in the form of the Treetops Resort and Spa. The place just seems to relax you on arrival. The tropical lagoon pool acts as a centrepiece to the calm scene. We walk around the complex by crossing little wooden bridges back and forth over it. It's like being in a little village with a communal lake.

After crossing several of these little bridges I find myself up in the Treetops Life Spa where an hour-long massage helps me to wind down before a fabulous meal of oysters, scallops and crab.

As I watch the tiny lizards scamper outside, and the patterns of the pool water dance on the walls of the restaurant, I think, who needs the beach?

IF YOU GO

* Novotel Cairns Oasis Resort: stay@novotelcairnsresort.com.au
novotelcairnsresort.com.au
* Pullman Reef Hotel Casino: pullmanhotels.com
* Big Cat: bigcat-cruises.com.au
* Kuranda Sky Rail Cableway: skyrail.com.au
* Kuranda Scenic Railway: ksr.com.au
* The Australian Muster Experience: australianmusterexperience.com

Getting there: Pacific Blue flies Auckland-Cairns twice a week, with one-way internet fares from $299.

Anna Rushworth travelled courtesy of Pacific Blue and Accor Hotels.

Find out more at Australia.com

- Herald on Sunday

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