Day 18- Cairns to Brisbane, Australia

January 30, 2018

As we were wheeling our bags down to meet our transfer driver, Pete spotted three Bush Stone-curlew hanging out under the shrubs bordering the parking lot. Very shy, they don’t stray far from cover.

We hit rush hour on our way to the airport, so happy we had started early. Upon checking in with my reissued tickets (my first and middle names were reversed on the original), we discovered that I had lost my upgraded economy plus seats.  Some time had been spent the day before making sure that all was in order, but as can happen it wasn’t.  So, we got the first leg straightened out, but were informed that we would have to deal with the other lost seat when we got to Auckland.  As far as cliches go, this was minor.  We have been so fortunate with our flights to date. 

Upon landing in Brisbane it was a half mile walk through the airport and parking structure to our Ibis Airport Hotel.  We arrived a bit after noon and were flying out at 6:05 am.  Not wanting to waste time checking out some of Brisbane, we got cleaned up, changed and headed out to the Fortitude Valley area of Brisbane on Air Rail. Fortitude Valley is a bohemian part of the city with huge cultural diversity including: upmarket boutiques, China town (which consists of Chinese, Korean, Thai & Japanese restaurants),  the few homeless we’ve seen in Australia, and our target, Casa Nostra Ristorante.  

Sculpture on pedestrian walkway
Casa Nostra Ristorante, all the barrels and background are murals very effectively done

After having a walk about the area, our stubs worn down to a nubbins, the owner took pity on us and seated us before opening.  A kind and friendly woman (lower right of photo) she and her Italian husband and chef own the restaurant. All the pastas are hand made, it was total bliss to eat such delicious Italian food. Starters were perfectly dressed salads, then Lamb Ragu for Pete, Squid ink pasta and crab for me. Some wine and lemon sorbet and we were ready to face our 3 am wake up call.

Prince Consort Hotel

The neighborhood had an amazing variety of architecture. The Prince Consort Hotel has a distinct New Orleans feel.  Then there were super modern buildings and the just different buildings.  One thing to be said is, it isn’t boring. 

Two modern buildings with the restaurant located on a little walkway between

Caught their train back to the hotel with lights out by 9 pm.

Day 17- Clifton Beach & Palm Cove, Australia

January 29, 2018

The last day in Australia and we are already missing our little home on the beach.  We have had a wonderful time here with the friendly people, good food and lovely location. 

First thing this morning the suitcases were attacked, packing and rearranging.  Once that was under control, Pete walked to Palm Cove and I took the bus, as I have unhappy feet from all our walking yesterday.  The meeting place was our favorite ocean view Coffee Haven. Then creatures of habit we headed back to Jack and Shanan’s for lunch. This time Pete ordered the Nachos and I ordered a vegetarian, buckwheat crepe.  Both were very good and not too filling.

Coffee Haven

On his walk to Palm Cove Pete discovered that the local swimming area was closed due to a small crocodile getting inside the net. We were talking with our server at lunch and she told us about a lady doing laps in the Palm Cove swimming area, it wasn’t until her 25th lap that she noticed the crocodile in the netted area with her.  People here are pretty blasé about crocodiles.  

Pete headed back to the ocean swimming area and I went in search of little crocodiles sunning themselves in a stream back of one of the hotels. They must have all been taking the day off, there were none to be seen. Catching the bus back to Clifton Beach, I wanted to walk the esplanade to our apartment. It was a beautiful day and I wanted to imprint the scene in my memory. The little walk was rewarded with a pig sighting. He or she was taking a walk on the beach (featured photo). The pig was walking along with it’s owner and dog friend.

Polishing off the wine and food tonight, plus finishing up our packing. Our Cairns airport transfer will be here at 8:10 am for the 10:05 am flight to Brisbane. There will be an overnight then on to Auckland with another flight to Rarotonga, Cook Islands.  Just in case anyone is counting we will be up to 9 flights total by the time we arrive in the Cooks. Crossing the international date line again, we will be arriving the day before we left Auckland, so excited to travel back in time. 

Day 16- Cairns to Kuranda, Australia

January 28, 2018

Early 7:25 am transfer to Cairns this morning.  I was feeling frazzled, but we made the bus in plenty of time.  Decided that this would be the day that I finally got some botanical photos. 

Stoney Creek Falls iron lattice built in 1890’s

We caught the Kuranda, narrow gauge train up to the North Queensland Tablelands. The railway was initiated in 1887 as a supply line between the coast and the gold fields in the mountains.  The Cairns-Kuranda rails have 15 tunnels through mountain ridges, all dug out with pickaxes and shovels. Even today this railway is considered a tremendous engineering feat. Several routes were scouted by a the famous bushman, Christie Palmerston and after much debate the 75.1 km (47 mile) Barron Valley Gorge route was chosen. 

Kuranda Train Station

Pete and I at Barron Falls stop

The 1600 men that worked on the line had to bring their own tools in order to be hired for a wage of 80 to 85 cents a day. Some of the cars still being used are over a 100 years old.  The stations on both ends of the line are historic, dating back to the early 1900’s. The trip was amazing with views to the coast and Cairns, rainforest and waterfalls.  

View to the ocean and Cairns

Stoney Creek Falls
In 1890 governor came to commemorate the completion of Stoney Creek Bridge with it’s tight turning radius and construction in the steep gorge. A lunch banquet and marquee were set up on the bridge, but the sound of the falls was so loud, that no speeches could be made. It had to be the all time perfect political event.  
Not sure what to expect with the consistent reference to Kuranda being in the Tablelands. Maybe flat, yes that’s what we were thinking, but not what we got. The reality is stairs, stairs and slopes.  Maybe this area is just is less steep than the surrounding mountains, so it seems flat in comparison? None the less, it is a charming village with lots of things to do and see.  I opted for the Butterfly sanctuary where they work to propagate and various butterfly’s indigenous to Australia, while Pete opted for the nearest 

The Lacewing and Cruise
The Orchard and Common Crow

While viewing butterfly’s, the laboratory and various exhibits, a very big storm rolled through dumping loads of rain.  This is a day that was suppose to be 90 degrees F and it got close. The tricky part of the weather here is that it can be 90 degrees F, then all of the sudden you are in the middle of a warm torrential downpour. Granted we are here in the rainy season, the storms just blow through and seem impossible to predict.  

After the monsoon blew through, Pete and I met to do some more exploring of Kuranda.  We were feeling hungry at 2 pm and decided to check out the village food stalls.
We found a little Indonesian food spot and ordered fried rice and some little vegetable things that I can’t pronounce or spell. Anyway, absolutely delicious food all served up by the most delightfully outgoing, stylish Indonesian lady.


After lunch/early dinner we headed back downhill through the village to the Skyrail terminal.  This aerial car ride gave us an overview of the rainforest, with stops for walks to outlooks. In the rainforest there is incredible competition for light, so many plants have developed creative ways of getting towards the top of the forest canopy.

This basket fern has established itself on a palm tree and as you can see it is sitting in the sun.  There are parasitic plants all over the forest, but these ferns can be seen sprouting from the tops of trees throughout the rainforest.  

An aside, our driver yesterday to Green Island marina, told us about Crocodile management.  We were wondering why there were so few human deaths per year from Crocodiles in Australia. Less than 2 a year, although being eaten has to rank at towards the top of bad ways to go. The Crocodiles became a protected species in the 1970’s and now number over 100,000. Colin told us that they have been trying to trap a local Crocodile because he is over 2.7 meters (8.86 feet).  They have discovered that is the size they become a threat to humans.  Once they are caught they are placed in a Crocodile reserve or farm and there they stay.  

Days 14 & 15, Clifton Beach, Cairns and Green Island, Australia

January 26, 2018

Friday the 26th was a recovery and regroup day, plus it poured all day, with just a few little breaks. On my way to see Jane in reception, I ran into Garon, who informed me the reception closed early for Australia Day, Independence Day. Garon and I started chatting and he asked me how Trump got elected.  We get that question in our travels. From Trump we moved on to immigration in the USA and Australia, minimum wage, etc.  We have been rather mystified by the lack of tipping here.  Our first night in Australia the server at the restaurant told us not to tip, because wages were high enough that it was’t necessary.  That’s a first….please don’t give me money, Pete and I were gobsmacked. Anyway Garon was telling me about a friend of his with a banana farm further north in Queensland. He hires packbackers to harvest his crop, with about 75% coming from India.  They make about $400/week, which would be decent money back home in India. Minimum wage in Australia is $672.70/week, which sure beats the US. 

Besides shooting the breeze with Garon, Pete and I decided we had so much fun snorkeling we needed to do it again. So, we scheduled a transfer to Cairns, boat, snorkel and glass bottom boat adventure off Green Island for the next day. This meant that I had to download the advanced Manuel for my underwater camera and study, study, study. A glass of wine was helpful. 

January 27, 2018

Our transfer was at the civilized hour of 9:50 am and we arrived in Cairns to catch our 11 am Green Island Reef Rocket boat with time to spare, so since we were the only people on the shuttle the driver took us on a little tour of Cairns.  I loved the old pre-air conditioning homes that were built way off the ground to allow all around ventilation.

The trip out to the island was a bit rough and the poor lady in back of us was having to use the sick bags. Although she had my sympathy, I’d really have liked to have been sitting somewhere else on the boat.

The dock at Green Island, our boat on the right

We threw our bags in a coin locker, took our rented Stinger suits and headed for the best snorkeling beach on the island, which is the area to the left of the pier. Unfortunately when we reached the beach, Pete discovered he had left his Stinger suit in the locker, so went without. The good news is there were no Stingers in the vicinity, the bad news is Pete has a terrible sunburn on his back. Those suits are good for more than Stingers.  It was a very lucky day with beautiful sun, it had poured the previous 11 days on Green Island.

Although the water was more turbid than the previous snorkel trip, there were more fish. Underneath the pier was darker, but especially packed with schools of fish.  

White Tipped Reef Shark, about 4′ long
Five Lined Snapper were feeding around a pier support

It might be a Sweetlips on the left, with a Parrot fish on the right.

Lovely Brain Coral, holding still, thank you very much
I believe this animal is some type of Bryozoa
After snorkeling we hit the outdoor shower, changed and had headed off to half an hour on the glass bottom boat.

Pete got this shot of a Green Turtle with reflecting glass bottom

Pete also took the featured photo of another giant clam about 1 1/2′ across.  

After the glass bottom boat it was off to a late lunch of smoked salmon Caesar salad, fries, drinks and some serious people watching.

These photos were taken with the underwater camera, there’s hope!

No sooner had everyone got on the Reef Rocket for the return trip to Cairns, when a wild storm blew through in about 30 minutes.  By the time we got back to Cairns the sun was out again. 
Off tomorrow for a train ride to the Rainforest and Tablelands of Kuranda, then a Skyrail back to Cairns.

Day 13- Port Douglas/Great Barrier Reef, Australia

January 25, 2018

Up early to catch the 7:20 am shuttle for the 40 minute drive to Port Douglas, where our boat the Calypso leaves for the 1 1/2 hour run out to the Great Barrier Reef. This was an all day trip to three different parts of the reef with 1 hour snorkeling at each stop. Looking around at the group of 29, Pete and I were possibly the oldest people onboard. I took my new underwater camera (thank you Santa!). Taking photos underwater had a steep learning curve. I was moving, the fish were moving and focusing was very difficult.  Also with the wave action and current, the water didn’t appear as clear to the camera as it was to the eye.  

We covered ourselves with sunscreen before leaving the apartment. As you can see in the above photo, it wasn’t necessary. Because it is Stinger season the tour operators required everyone to wear Stinger suits that were full length, with hoods and hand covers. The Stingers, as they are commonly referred to, are box jellyfish that have 10′ tentacles when extended, with millions of exploding cells that fire darts of venom. The Australian species’ venom packs quite a painful wallop and can be quickly fatal to humans. Lycra suits are effective against the the stings, because the cells won’t explode with out pressure and protein chemicals*. 

Pete and I snorkled off on our own. We hadn’t signed up to be part of the snorkeling or dive tour groups, so I think we were able to cover a lot more reef area.  
According to our onboard biologist brownish colored coral is healthy reef, with the color coming from algae. The pink, orange and mauve coral is stressed and can recover if the water temperature cools. The blue coral has oxygenated algae and is also healthy. White coral has had all the symbiotic algae die off, resulting in the death of the coral.  

Our fearless captain is standing to the right of the seated biologist. 

This was such an exciting trip, approached with some trepidation. It had been a long time since we’d done any open ocean snorkeling. Pete got a bit concerned, spending some time corralling me in as I’d go wandering off chasing fish and photo opportunities. Eventually I got better at looking up to see where the boat was located. The boat operators safety instructions asked us to not go more than 45 degrees out from the back of the boat. This is because they wanted to watch us to make sure we were safe, they also had people in the water and a zodiac to come to the rescue. After a stop, we would all briefly stand in place while multiple members of the crew independently counted to make sure we were all back on board. One of the most difficult parts of the trip was getting back on the boat. Even with steps down into the water, if you weren’t careful the strong wave action would slam you into the metal steps, then yank you off before you could get completely out of the water. It took me until the 3rd snorkel to be able to exit the water with any grace at all.

The big guy below is a giant clam, the shell was about 2′ across, you can see the whitish siphon on the right. Thick algae around the edge of the shell was a rich blue with yellow flecks that unfortunately don’t show through the turbulent water. Earlier we saw shells of much larger clams, but this is the only living one we found.

Next time I’ll give Pete the camera for a while. He’s a good snorkeling diver and can get closer to the fish. That’s a big part of the trick with underwater photography. 

After a full day we were pooped. Pete picked up some good IPA at the Hemingway brewery located at the marina, while we were waiting for our transport. He has had a difficult time finding his preferred IPA’s. 

It was so good to get home and into dry clothes. Dry didn’t last long as it started raining on our way to Coco Mojo’s for a light dinner. We were amused that an Australian woman stopped us of our way to ask for directions, we can find our way to the restaurant and shopping center, that’s about it. One thing for sure is that I’ve been struggling to tell direction. The ocean is on the other side along with the driving, resulting in the perception of North being South.

* Courtesy of Wikipedia 

Day 12- Clifton Beach & Palm Cove, Australia

January 24, 2018

Determined to get a bus to Palm Cove, we were up early, breakfasted and off to the nearest approximation of a bus stop. Sure enough here it came, we were positioned across the street from a bus stop for the other direction.  We waved our arms at the bus as instructed by Jane in reception. The bus driver slowed down, but kept going slowly by, we waved more vigorously, he slowed some more but continued on, finally I was waving both arms over my head and he stopped.  The driver informed us that we were standing in the right place, but that we weren’t waving enough.  Next time we will jump up and down along with the waving.

It was a short, maybe 15 minute ride up the coast to Palm Cove, a lovely oceanside vacation area filled with shops, restaurants, sand and esplanade.

Couldn’t resist this shot of Pete’s Place, with a reluctant Pete posing in front, see the big smile.

After strolling down the esplanade a bit, we decided to stop for a refreshing drink at Coffee Haven.  I ordered ice tea and Pete ordered an iced Mocha coffee.  We laughed when Pete’s order came; is that a milkshake or a Mocha? I’m feeling so virtuous; poor Pete, don’t think we can walk enough to burn those calories off.

Having cooled off, we headed further north towards the swim area.  The ocean front park is loaded with amenities; esplanade, BBQ picnic shelters, outdoor showers, restrooms, dock, and kayak/fish equipment rentals.  Everyone swims in the netted area due to Crocs and Stingers.

Continuing north we came to the dock, where tour boats make day trips to the local islands.  The locals however make different use of it, with well organized fishing gear, coolers, bait nets and chairs, all wheeled out in clever little trolleys.  People were fishing with multiple poles and the nice gentleman below caught 5 small sharks yesterday and was looking forward to deep fried shark dinner.

While he was getting set up, his wife was netting bait fish from under the dock.  The fish identification station below let the anglers know which fish, how many and what size they could keep.  There were no limits on many fish. Pete and I watched with fishing envy, dreaming of catching fish and fresh fish dinner.

We noticed that it was cooling off from the earlier 86 F, with cloud cover rolling in from the ocean. It was a beautiful walk back down the strip, with lush landscaping everywhere.

I was beginning to feel a bit peckish, so as we strolled along we looked over the posted restaurant menus along the sidewalk. Finally towards the end of the strip we found Jack and Shanan’s with a menu that looked just right.  We were not disappointed, the food was delicious. Thai salad with prawns (no they aren’t burnt, but have a very yummy black breading), natural oysters and bruschetta. All served by the engaging, Mary, who somehow found her way here from France.

After lunch it was Monsoon time.  The wind picked up and the sprinkle turned into a downpour.  It was a wet wait for the bus.  We waited across from where the driver dropped off a rider on the way into town.  Of course we waved madly when we saw him coming, and for some reason he threw his hands up into the air, but he stopped.

Day 11- Clifton Beach, Australia

January 23, 2018

Out enjoying our morning coffee on the balcony when raucous squawking broke out in the tree tops.  Pete and I were trying to see what was making all the racket when we spied two Cockatoos (Sulphur-crested) way up in a palm tree. They appeared to be digging into the bark with their beaks. There were more in the trees, but we were only able to see the two.  

Part of the morning was spent looking at brochures and websites for tours we want to take while we are here.  Of course the Great Barrier Reef is on the agenda.  It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is so impressively large that it is visible from space. It is the largest living thing on earth, at 1429 miles it is comprised of thousands of reefs and islands.  We have booked an all day snorkeling trip to 3 of the reefs for Thursday. We also booked a train ride up through the rain forest to the tablelands of Kuranda, where we will spend a couple hours then take another route back by Skyrail this coming Sunday.  

The plan for this afternoon was to catch the bus to Palm Cove, a busier, more commercial village up the coast.  Jane in reception warned us that there had been a serious accident on the main highway and that our bus might be long delayed.  We stood at the stop and waited until well after the scheduled arrival time.  It was while waiting that we spotted two Wallabies nibbling grass right beside the road.  Finally, hot and tired of standing, we backtracked to Coco Mojo for some refreshment.  Sure enough, just minutes after delivery of our beverages the bus came roaring by.  The people at the restaurant, our server and other guests were so kind, trying to help us figure out the schedule and where on the highway the bus stopped.  

After a light lunch, we headed back to the apartment, having decided to wait until tomorrow morning for the bus.  Pete took off down the coast to a screened swimming area.  I took a walk later towards his location, ran out of road, was warned about crocs and spied the swimming area another half mile down the beach.  The decision was made to walk the neighborhood instead. We are staying in such a quiet area, with old and new beach houses lining the street across from the esplanade.

One of my favorites is this house with the tree growing through the porch and balcony.  

Feeling ambitious, I made vegetarian enchiladas for dinner from a recipe found on Epicurious.  Boy, were they spicy! They required lots of avocado and wine to cut the heat.  

Day 10- Clifton Beach, Australia 

January 22, 2018

Today is a day off for relaxation and grocery shopping.  We took a beautiful walk along the ocean to the Clifton Village Shopping Centre. It’s about 2.4 miles round trip, so not too much exertion other than hauling grocery bags. As you can see the weather has been overcast with few sun breaks. It’s still 80 degrees and there are no complaints about not having to slather myself with sunscreen.  

What did I tell you? Sand and palm trees, you haven’t seen the last of them.

The center was a very different layout, similar to some in South Africa, with shops and restaurants on the outside breezeway, large grocery store inside with separate local fruit/vegetable store, bakery, Thai food stand and butcher.  Last is the Target store, which I was startled to see in this small village.

Geesh seeing the Dental sign is almost like bad juju….


We picked this area of Australia because Christina, at Willamette Travel, recommended we see the Great Barrier Reef while we where traveling around the South Pacific. We readily agreed it would be a good addition to the trip. So, as soon as we catch our breath and get some sunny skies, we will book a trip out to snorkle along the reef.  

Pete is dying to ocean swim and it’s right across the street.  There is a swim area protected with shark safety nets not far away. It’s not a great idea to just jump in the ocean, even through the possibility of meeting sharks, salt water crocs or box jelly fish is very slim. The organized tours keep an eye out for these animals out at the reef and are very safety conscious.  

I case your curious here are some photos of the apartment and complex:

Day 9- Pohnpei to Cairns, Australia 

January 21, 2018

Here is where Alison, Nancy, Pete and I go our separate ways. Alison and Nancy are heading back to Guam, then on to Oahu for 3 days. We had fun and learned some about the island and it’s history; met very nice people and ate a lot of food!  It’s sounding like Alison and Nancy may be back to Pohnpei with students to tour Nan Madol and other ruins in the area.

This was one of the hardest travel days (nights) of our trip.  We arrived at the airport at 11:30 pm to fly out of Pohnpei at 2:05 am.  There had been an attempt to download our boarding passes with no success, which was chalked up to the WiFi. We were wrong about the WiFi. When we arrived at the airport (tiny, with one runway) they hand wrote our passes at the check in counter. The flight from Pohnpei was an hour late, which gave us 1 hour to go through security, get boarding passes and make the next flight when we transited through Port Moresby, New Guinea to Brisbane, Australia. Thankfully Port Moresby has a small airport and we were fairly quick off the plane, so towards the front of the boarding pass line. In Brisbane we changed planes again to Cairns.  We were in airports or flying until 4:30 pm. Can’t say enough nice things about Air Niugini, great safety record, friendly people, good food (actual meals in economy) and clean planes. They got us from Pohnpei to Brisbane.

From the airport there is shuttle service up the coast and we were thrilled to finally reach our apartment in Clifton Beach, about half an hour north of Cairns.

Agincourt Beachfront Apartments


We will be here for 9 days.  After settling in a bit, we hit the beach trail across the street (featured photo) and walked to the local restaurant Coco Mojo. They serve variations of street food from all over the world.  The starter dip tray with bread was delicious. The dips included Baingan Barth a North Indian eggplant dip; Persian dip with feta, preserved lemon, garlic and pistachio; and Guacamole. All were very yummy with the eggplant our favorite. The restaurant has a vegetarian menu along with a lot of seafood dishes, so I’m very happy to have them so close by.

It’s so wonderful having an apartment, there is room to move, laundry facility, a bedroom, kitchen and balcony.  Pete is especially excited about the cable TV to watch conference football games. Our garden view is serene and lovely, and the rates are reasonable for longer stays. We are plan on walking to the local shopping center tomorrow for groceries so we can eat in occasionally.  Certainly don’t want to overdo the cooking, but it will save some money and be a refreshing change from eating out all the time.

This was the room we were most excited to about given we had about 2 to 3 hours sleep on planes during the night. We didn’t last long past 9 pm, especially after a couple glasses of wine.

Day 8- Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia 

January 20, 2018

This is our last day on the incredibly beautiful island of Pohnpei. We had big plans for snorkeling.  Unfortunately we awoke to pouring tropical rain that continued throughout the day.  Although the temperature was still in the 80’s, runoff from the mountains made it undesirable to go in the water.  The guy in the photo below was kept busy cleaning and bailing out his boat.

We hired a taxi and ended up with a wonderfully informative driver, Paul Sandoval.  Paul is the son of one of the chiefs, in the Kingdom of Kitti. Mysteries were cleared up: for instance the city of Kolonia is neutral ground, with a Mayor even though it’s located in the Kingdom of Net.  We had been wondering how Net ended up with the economic boon of the only island city, and the international airport.  Also we found out the citizens must stay in the Kingdom in which they are born, except they can and do move to Kolonia. Paul is one of 8 children, but wouldn’t be in line to be chief, because lineage follows the Matriarch. I must say that the people of Pohnpei are very friendly, they introduce themselves and work hard to make guests feel comfortable and welcome.  

We had a laugh one day at the bar about going to the US Embassy should we misplace our Passports in Pohnpei.  We never dreamed that there actually is a US Embassy on such a small, far flung island, but Paul drove us past the gates. We had a quick drive by of the Nihco Marine Park, just in case we ever get back to snorkel.

This has been a long day, with weather limiting our ability to explore.  We spent more time than usual in our neighboring bar, eating and drinking, whiling away the time until our 2 am flight out to Port Moresby, New Guinea, a 3 hour 20 minute flight.  We will basically be flying all night to reach Cairns, Australia.  

Here are some random photos of Pohnpei:

Alison on the trail to Nan Madol
Santiago our walking guide in Nan Madol
Ruins in the jungle
The sign that makes it seem like you actually know how to find Nan Madol
Marker for the tiny little village near Nan Madol
New Mangrove roots that are taking over Nan Madol

Commoner’s access to the Royal Chamber at Nan Madol
Nan Madol canal and structure
Fishing shack on a little island inside the barrier reef
Stamp, our fearless and talented captain picking his way through sandbars and coral