Cairns Tours (Tjapukai, Kuranda, Sky Train, Scenic Rail)

Tour Day

This day was one of the tours we booked: a tour of Tjapukai, the Aborigine cultural center followed by the sky train over the rainforest to Kuranda, poking around the town there, then a train through the mountains back to Cairns.


The cultural centre offers a variety of experiences and learning opportunities rotating through different stations. We learned about bush medicine, meaning behind the sounds of the digeridoo, how to throw a spear and boomerang, and saw some performances by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander who explained some of the meanings behind the dances.

I recall having conversations with colleagues and community when I worked in Northern Manitoba about this kind of “attraction”. The response was mostly about the debasement of culture by selling it, or missing the real meaning by promoting surface-level experiences. There was a sense of protection, sacredness, and certainly resistance to the idea. The attitude we encountered in New Zealand with the Maori and here at Tjapukai considered the centre from two dimensions: one as a revenue generating tourist attraction that also served to promote understanding and celebration of the culture. The other dimension was one of self-education and cultural preservation – that the centre can educate participants, can use revenue to immerse their people in the culture, can offer opportunities for study and exploration of the past, and plan for the future. Particularly at Te Pao where the centre takes in Maori artists for intense study and skill development with respected and accomplished Maori artists.

Part of the appeal for me is that sense of “learning out loud” where we open the doors to our experiences, our growth, and understandings. Traditional classroom learning usually takes place in private notebooks and only polished finished work is shared and celebrated. With learning out loud, we share the process and learning journey, rough edges and all. We learn from others’ trials, benefit from their deconstructions, and respect even more the effort required to achieve the final product.

Sky Train

The sky train is a gondola ride above the rainforest offering a brilliant view from high in the sky. There are a couple of locations where you can get off and explore up close on wooden walkways with rails and lookouts over a waterfall. The rainforest is a protected area so traffic is pretty restricted. Even the skytrain construction was carefully controlled and built with an effort to minimise the impact on the environment. Probably the most spectacular sight was catching glimpses of brilliant blue butterflies fluttering above the treetops.

Kuranda Scenic Railway

Being fans of the Prairie Dog Central vintage train back home, we appreciated the trip through the rainforested mountains on the Kuranda Scenic Railway. The cars are beautifully finished with lots of wood and the exterior is quite attractive. The rail curves and winds its way on the side of cliffs, over bridges and through tunnels back from Kuranda back to Cairns.

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School Holiday in Cairns

Landing late at night we found the hotel we booked several weeks ago had us in a small room with two single beds rather than the suite with kitchenette we originally booked. With no other rooms available we spent an uncomfortable night and headed off in the morning to find another place. We did end up at a hotel with lovely staff that treated us exceptionally well and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Queen’s Court Hotel.

We chose not to rent a vehicle and spent our days walking around Cairns through the business district with its many shops and restaurants, and along the beautifully groomed esplanade. There are great trails for walking, fitness stops outdoors with beautiful views, an enormous play area and splash pad, and a swimming lagoon at the end. Be forewarned though… Cairns itself has no beaches, much to our disappointment. The lagoon referred to on most websites is a manmade pool beside the coast – beautiful nonetheless, and a great spot, just not a sandy beach.

I mentioned elsewhere the availability of barbecues throughout Australia. Most hotel / motels / resorts / RV parks, etc. have a free barbecue for guests. Because dining out is so expensive we more often than not stop by a grocery and butcher to get supper fixings. The Queen’s Court facility saw a few great meals (if I do say so myself!) over the course of the week. Most barbecues here have a flat plate which is perfect for frying vegetables or eggs, and frying items in a sauce. The hotel also had a great outdoor living space with a sun shelter and protection from the wind, a dining space, furniture for lounging. Because other guests use the facility too, it’s a fun space to meet people and occasionally share food.

We loved the plants – so many different shapes and colours even with the winter temperatures which plunged to the mid-teens overnight. At one of our stops, Carlen and I wanted a bowl of soup and the folks behind the counter said that choices were pretty limited at the moment because a hot meal was in high demand during these cold winter days. Made us smile because it was about +23c at the time. We do recognize that comfort is relative to our experience!

One early morning we were exploring downtown and heard a tremendous racket from what sounded like hundreds of birds. As we got closer to the source we were a bit horrified to find the trees around us filled with enormous red headed furry bats! (Some research revealed that they were flying foxes.) We saw hundreds and hundreds of them dangling in enormous bunches in dozens of trees. It was a little creepy, but interesting for sure.

We treated ourselves to a couple of lunches out filling up on sushi, Indian food, and a great meal at a posh seafood restaurant. We also had brunch at a Balinese restaurant which amounted to a McMuffin type thing for Carlen, eggs benedict for Alicia, and a spicy greek pizza for me. Both Alicia and I have adjusted to Australian coffee and appreciate the rich flavour and aroma of fresh ground espresso.

The Casino in Cairns was lots of fun though not for gambling. The upper floor has a great play space and zoo where we spent the day. Carlen took on the climbing challenges a few times, had a chance to get up close with some reptiles and lizards, and held a koala. Great experiences and a very fun day.

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Second School Break

Before flying to Cairns for the second school break we spent a few days with another exchange family in Newcastle. They started their exchange in June of 2013 and were preparing to head home after their year here. Part of the visit included a Canada Day celebration with the friends they met there. Was a fun night and we met lots of awesome people, some of whom have “tickets to Coonabarabran”. The following day we went to Caves Beach and explored the many nooks and crannies along the shore marvelling at the mini ecosystems that form in holes in the rock eroded by pebbles and the ceaseless cycle of tides. Carlen popped in for a swim but it wasn’t so warm he wanted to stay in for very long. It is the middle of winter here after all!
Our flight to Cairns was in the evening leaving us some time to visit one of the beaches in Sydney. It reminded us of where we were and counted our many blessings. So much to be thankful for, particularly during this tremendous year of opportunity.

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Aussie Picnic Areas & the Pilliga Bora


One thing we have come to love about travelling in Australia is the abundance of rest stops and picnic areas. Not only do they have covered picnic benches, but there is likely to be a free-to-use electric cooking surface. Not quite the flame grills we have at home, but a solid flat stainless steel surface. Nearby is usually a public toilet and a water source. Some host “driver reviver” stations offering free coffee, tea, and bikkies encouraging people to stop for a break  on those long trips between towns.

Yesterday I went to the Pilliga Bore (30°21’18.14″S 148°54’24.97″E) with my colleague Richie. Several picnic benches were already filled with people and the barbecues were loaded with potato wedges, onions, mushrooms, snags (sausages) and fried eggs. This site also has an artesian pool and plenty of space for primitive camping (no electricity). About two dozen simple RVs were set up and people were enjoying the sunny, if cool, weekend outdoors swimming, visiting, and sharing a meal.

The cost of camping, use of the barbecue and 24/7 access to the hot artesian pool: free. These community spaces are all over the place and great draws for locals and travelers alike. They really contribute to a sense of community bringing people together and celebrating the great outdoors.

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Term Two Weekends on Teaching Exchange

Since we returned from New Zealand we have enjoyed some weekend outings around home: some hikes on different trails in the Warrumbungles, a day trip to Dubbo to get some soccer shoes for Carlen and treat ourselves to a restaurant meal, and a couple quiet weekends at the house. Here is an album of pictures from the first few weeks of term 2.

Cozy fire

Picture 1 of 38

It's autumn, approaching winter now and the nights are quite cool. We appreciate the wood fire in the living room. We are burning ironwood which is tremendously dense compared to the pine or, if we were lucky, oak, back home. It burns for quite a long time.

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