Monday, August 6, 2012

Cairns, Australia: Atherton Tablelands Drive

On our third day in Cairns, Nana and I rented a car for a long drive through the Atherton Tablelands, a sprawling plateau in Queensland's Great Dividing Range. Atherton is an interesting region: through tropical in latitude, its elevation makes it relatively cool and dry. It's currently a hotbed of farming and ranching; in days past, its mineral deposits sparked several mining booms and the hardwood forests of the plateau's eastern slopes supported a substantial logging industry.

In fact, Atherton is pretty much the reason Cairns exists: Cairns was established at the mouth of the Trinity River to serve as a port for the area's fertile hinterland.
That's Cairns in the distance below.

The problem? The plateau rises a good 4000 feet straight up into the air to the west of the city. The only two roads up the hillside are at least thirty minutes of hairpin switchbacks. A bit hairy in the morning, downright harrowing at night.

If you clicked on that video, you'll have noticed that it was Nana behind the wheel. That's because, in my infinite wisdom, I left my US driver's license in Japan - and surprisingly the Australians are no better than I am at reading Japanese. Luckily for us, Nana handled the switchbacks with aplomb.

Our reward: an excellent day in Atherton.
The eastern front of the tableland is part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Site, which includes almost 10,000 sq km of tropical rainforest.

We stopped for a walk down the boardwalk that runs along Barron Gorge.

Barron Falls - a trickle in winter, but still a long way down.

Something you don't think about: rainforest often occurs in patches, usually in damp, sheltered gullies, surrounded by sparser upland areas. We imagine a bit of rainforest stretching on endlessly, like the Amazon basin, but sometimes a particular bit is only a couple hundred yards across.

Up into the tableland itself now.

Don't that look like cattle country?

A surprisingly noble post for the parking lot of Humpy Nut World.

Sunset. We paid the price with those switchbacks later!

Of course, we did a lot more in the Atherton Tablelands than drive and eat - we also met some of the local wildlife. More on that to come!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Cairns, Australia: Flecker Botanical Gardens

On our second day in sunny Australia, Nana and I struck out on a long walk to the Flecker Botanical Gardens in Cairns. This free public park is a great place to spot some beautiful Australian plant life. For this post, I'll let the photos speak largely for themselves. Enjoy!

En route along the Cairns foreshore.

The beach gives way to a big mud flat.

The Gondwanan Evolution Garden uses "living fossils" to simulate the evolutionary history of Australian plant life.

One expects to see dinosaurs.

(For a detailed explanation of why Australia's plant and animal life is so weird, check out this article by NOVA. Short version: before the arrival of Homo sapiens, Australia's biome was been isolated from the rest of the world for about 40 million years.)