While Cairns may not be the most ideal place to spend much time, it is a well-located place for visiting some interesting areas. We spent one day exploring the tablelands–a cool, lush plateau ostensibly centered in the town of Kuranda. This hyper-touristy town, with its multiple craft markets, restaurants, shops and locally-themed tourist activities (butterfly garden, aviary, wildlife center, aboriginal culture center, venomous animal center) was, for us, more of a transfer station than a destination.
Kuranda was a boom town during the 1890’s Gold Rush. Today it mainly consists of a main street and a couple side streets, all lined with open-air shops, cafes, jewelry and clothes stores and galleries (primarily featuring aboriginal art). The markets do contain some interesting items, especially local crafts. We were particularly taken with one of the market shops that specialized in everything made of kangaroo fur. Joyce was somewhat tempted by the kangaroo fur bikini (not!). Tom was barely able to resist the kangaroo scrotum pouch. But we showed restraint and purchased neither those not the many styles of kangaroo fur postcards.
We did find a couple of other interesting attractions. Although the venomous animal center was closed (an information office volunteer suggested that they may be “out milking the snakes”), we had a chance to taste mango wine (we liked the mango port and especially the mangocello) and visited a couple of interesting nature centers.
- Fossil and Gemstone Museum, while not very large or formal, did have a reproduction of a dinosaur skeleton, prehistoric ape and human skulls and some lovely fossils and unusual semi-precious gemstones.
- Bat Rehabilitation Center that recovers and rehabilitates injured bats and prepares them to be released in the public. While the Center works with all types of bats, the giant Megabats (aka, Fruit Bats) are most numerous and prominent. As the name suggests, they are very large, weighing about a kilogram (2.2 pounds) and having a wingspan of up to 1.2 meters (3.5 to 4 feet). They are also voracious eaters, consuming up to 40 percent of their body weight in fruit and dispersing the seeds over a range of 50 to 70 kilometers each night. While they were all impressive creatures, we were particularly taken by a baby bat (a couple weeks old) that had been separated from its mother. A fascinating stop where the knowledgeable staff were more than happy to answer any and all questions.
And we also enjoyed a lovely rain forest walk to and by the Barron River.
Our other great find in the city was a restaurant–Frog’s Restaurant. From what we were told and saw, it has the most interesting menu in the city. We enjoyed three dishes: four Dukkahs (an Egyptian style of nut, seed and herb blends into which toast points with olive oil are dipped), a combo of emu, crocodile and kangaroo skewers (emu was by far our favorite) with peanut sauce and Tasmanian smoked ocean trout with mashed avocado on croutons. And we also enjoyed both of the roughly two-foot-long lizards that kept us company through lunch.
Although Kuranda was the ostensible destination of our day trip, we went more for the journey than for the destination—a journey that spanned two mountain ranges and two gorges and went through one of the most lush and most rugged tropical forests on the continent. And that is the subject of our next blog.