Riding the Rails to Kuranda
Sunday, May 22nd
There's going to be an overarching theme for Cairns. The weather has been super crappy. Like really, really crappy. The sky opened up as we landed and wasn't going to let up until we took off to the next location.
So there's that.
I mean, I regret nothing. There wasn't anything we'd be able to do about this unfortunate turn of events. The rain is unseasonable. And because I'm writing this a few days after we went on this excursion, I can say, the rain is so unique for this time of the year that this day had the most rain in Cairns since the 1920's. Yay, timing!!
The other overarching theme about this trip versus many of the others is that there are guided tours or excursions. This is a thing for several reasons.
#1 - I'm traveling with the family.
#2 - There are more "off-site" things planned. I don't do well with busses and I will not drive in Australia. Spain damn near did me in and not only was I barely driving, but that was on the same side of the road.
#3 - We worked with a travel agent. I think they steer you more towards some guided tours.
And honestly, this is fine. There is the sense of ease that comes with a bus picking you up at the hotel and dropping you off at the end of the night. It's not something I will do for every trip, but this one makes more sense.
Back to today. Our tour was riding the Skyrail to Kuranda. Which makes no actual sense until you do it. So stick around here. We'll get there.
Our day began at the Tjapukai cultural center. The Tjapukai people are the aboriginal natives in this area. It was kind of like a luau, where they teach you about their tribe, but without the food.
I'm not sure that description was totally fair. But if I say the cultural center was like being at Epcot?? That is a 100% accurate description. And it is also high praise.
We began in a room where our guide "Galway" told the story about the Tjapukai tribe through art. There are two different sides of the tribe. You are either Wet or Dry. And you had to marry on the other side of the tribe. So if you were a Wet person, you had to marry a Dry person. And the children always took the side of the father. So if Dad was a Dry person, the kids were Dry people. Poor Mom always gets the short end of the stick in tribal cultures. Most cultures, actually.
Next, we went into a room, similar to the Canadian pavilion at Epcot. There were video screens all around the room, telling the story of the two brothers who began the tribe. Or something. I'm not gonna lie, I didn't entirely get this part. But it was cool to see. Especially since there was interpretive dance going on.
As we went from room to room, the tribe people showed us everything from dancing to the didgeridoo. We watched them throw boomerangs (they really do come back!! This is not just a cartoon thing!!) and spears. There was an intense pride in their heritage. And by the end, we were also excited about the Tjapukai people.
The nice part about this excursion was most of it was indoors or under a canopy. So the rain wasn't much of a problem.
Next door to the Tjapukai center was the Skyrail to Kuranda. While we were on the bus this morning, the driver told us the train we were going to take back from the Skyrail was not functioning because of the weather. So we ended up getting some money back from our excursion.
You might be wondering what exactly a Skyrail is. We wondered too. We were ushered into a small box, shut in, and sent up a mountain hanging by a cable. Kind of like a Ferris wheel, but going forward and backwards instead of in a circle. The Skyrail was basically a way to soar above the trees and up the mountain.
Along the way, there were several stops. At each stop, you could continue or you could take a walkabout (which is a term I want to make happen in the States. Or at least in Chicago). These included waterfalls and scenic outlooks.
The ride on the Skyrail was pretty darn cool. But it would have been much cooler had we been able to see the scenery. Remember the rain?? It hampered everything, really. But the cool part was at each stop, we were given giant umbrellas for the rain. This was definitely helpful.
The final Skyrail stop was Kuranda. This used to be an artist's colony. You know, pretty granola back in the day. And it kind of still is. But now a touristy-artist colony. Touristy makes all the difference.
Not that this was an un-cool place. Far from it. If you wanted to do some heavy shopping for art stuff, you couldn't do much better than Kuranda.
There is a free shuttle bus that moves tourists from the Skyrail station to the heart of the city. We just missed the free bus, so we walked the few minutes to the town. On a regular day. It wouldn't take too long. 10 minutes or so. Today, it was a little longer because we were dodging raindrops. And because Dad wasn't going super fast. Valid. I don't want him to keel over because I'm trying to keep my hair dry.
Our first real stop was for lunch. I hadn't really paid attention to the food options for Kuranda, so we were stuck with whatever quick decision we made. We ended up at the Kuranda Village Cafe, where the promise of kangaroo burgers loomed large for some of us.
The expectation for food has been high. I think partially because we are American and we expect food to be of a certain quality. But there are enough differences in food that have been problematic for some of us. "I thought it would be..." is a phrase that keeps coming up. This place was fine for what it was. My BLTA (bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado sandwich) was different than I'd have at home. The bacon was more of the hammy-type of bacon. It was tasty and I enjoyed everything, but I also didn't expect it to be like an American BLT(A). Now Mom's burger couldn't have been more over cooked. That burger validly sucked. No matter what country you were in.
We didn't do a ton of shopping. Some window shopping as we tried to stay under the storefront canopy so as not to get wetter than we already were. We had one thing we needed to do in Kuranda. It was koala time.
The Koala Garden is not an animal sanctuary. I would have loved if it was. It was a small not-quite zoo. The koalas looked quite happy and well loved. So let's leave it at that.
There are two prices for the Koala Garden. The first was $18 for entrance to the enclosure. We were given a sheet with our tour that gave us a 10% discount for the entry ticket. The second cost was for a picture holding the koala. This is advertised as a professional picture with you holding the koala. But don't be fooled. The second cost is to cuddle with a koala. The photo is added value. You can take all the pictures you want with your personal camera, but you will get a photo and a cuddle for $20. There is no discount with the tour sheet.
Mom, Elias and I were all going to hug a koala. And just like that, the refund we had been given from the train that wasn't running was put to use.
I went first. There was a stupid backdrop for "better" photographs and a set of footprints on the ground. I held my left arm low and curved. The koala's little bottom would fit there. My right arm came out and curved in a hugging position. And then, I was introduced to Charlie.
A koala (or at least Charlie) is lighter than you'd think. And lethargic as hell. He was placed in my arms and he promptly started chewing on my jacket. The handlers laughed and tried to get him to stop. They asked what my jacket would have tasted like. I mean, it's a North Face and they tend to be pricey, so maybe the jackets are lined with a light layer of meat??
He finally stopped chewing long enough for pictures. Then it was on to Elias. And Elias had the distinction of being the only one of us wearing short sleeves. Did you know a koala's claws are insanely long and seemingly sharp (as the handler's bright pink arm scars proved). So Elias was a bit more skittish with Charlie.
Mom was the last of the crew to hold Charlie. Then she was the one to hold the little guy during the family picture the photographer took of all four of us. That was a nice touch and will obviously be used for the family Christmas Card.
The rest of the Koala Garden was fine enough. There were wallabies that we could feed. But you could tell that even on a quiet day (like today definitely was), the wallabies had no interest in food. They'd been fed enough on this day.
We left the enclosure, giddy from our adventure. So giddy that we didn't realize the last shuttle bus had just left from about 20 feet from where we were standing. The rain had let up slightly and we trudged through the rapidly shutting down city. We needed to be on the Skyrail by 330p to get back to the bus on time. It wasn't even 3p yet. We were fine.
Of course, as we boarded the Skyrail, the skies opened up yet again, disappointing us one last time. Sailing over the rainforest in a car of death would be a beautiful sight. Instead, we just made fun of the whole situation.
We were back to the final building with plenty of time before we needed to meet the bus. So we did what is legally necessary while waiting for a tour bus. We grabbed some drinks. This is where we discover a milkshake in Australia is not the same as one in the US ("I thought it would be..."). I'm not sure what was ordered, but Dad's vanilla milkshake was the consistency of milk. But at least it was vanilla milk. And there was a lot of it.
The bus arrived and safely took the group back to the separate hotels, ending the journey along the Skyrail.
Overall, we had a lovely day, even with the weather being as remarkably stupid as it was. The fact that there even was a Skyrail created was amazing. And soaring above the rainforest was really neat, even though we were moving through the fog. In fact, with my slight fear of heights, maybe the fog and rain was for the best?? Nah. Probably not.