September 13, 2006

Cairns - Saturday

Queensland is a big place. The state begins at Australia's northern border (around the equator) and moves rapidly south, nearly two-thirds the distance down the coast. Despite its massive size, Queensland has only one large city, Brisbane, and several smaller ports (Cairns, Port Douglass, and Townsville). However, it boasts a massive diversity of ecosystems, from outback bush to dry desert to steep mountains to lush wetland to beach coastline. It also is the home of the world-famous barrier reef, one of this planet's natural wonders.

Many of these ecosystems are found in the tablelands, our destination for the day. Among them are a particularly isolated group of tree kangaroos that dwell on the top of a single peaked hill surrounded by grassy knolls. On the outskirts of Atherton, a scattered country town in the tablelands, Matt's parents own a rather fascinating house, complete with outdoor camping kitchen (stocked with iron pots and dutch ovens) and a variety of fruit plants (lemon, orange, tomato, and mullberry) in the yard.

Upon arriving, we were greeted by the dog (a friendly little bloke who is apparently not allowed to lick you), Matt's parents, and Bundy, a Galah (a sort of parrot) who enjoys seeds, flowers, and a scratch behind the neck. I kid you not: the bird is more domesticated than our dog, working his way around the cage (inside and out) as entertainment, in between his little squeeks for attention from anybody around. He prefers walking to flying, using his beak and two little feet to climb the cage to its open doors, using them as ledges to perch upon and beg for a scratch.

Unlike Cairns, Atherton is more varied in its temperatures. Instead of Cairns' two varieties (hot/dry and hotter/humid), Atherton claims a wider range, from just above freezing to hot and beyond. An example: when we arrived, it was quite warm, and we were all sweating. When we ate dinner, a mere four or five hours later, the temperature had dropped to the point that we all changed into jeans and long-sleeved shirts. I'm told that in the evening it may drop to just above freezing (roughly 2C), but I'll be inside and don't intend to find out.

Before dinner (on empty stomachs, as we hadn't eaten since the breakfast burgers we had at 9am), we found our way (aka Matt and Shawna walked with Liz and I in tow, struggling to keep up) to a spectacular waterfall and natural pool on the side of one of the mountains at the end of a long mountain road. By "long mountain road," I mean a very long old logging road that was barely a foot path (by Adirondack standards). And we drove the length of it with four of us packed like sardines in a very small, decently aged coupe that can bottom out if you ate too much for breakfast. Somehow we made it in and out without major damage to the car and mostly intact nerves. Then we walked through a thin little path through the trees of varying elevation (lots of up-and-down) over scraggly sharp rocks and finally down a steep, peril-frought cliff.

But the waterfall was spectacular. I took a picture.

In the evening, after a scrumtuous roast that had been cooking for four hours, we retired to the living room to watch the Brisbane-St. George's footy game (which Brisbane lost, to our dismay), and then went to bed, stuffed with good food.

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