Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Friday, March 18, 2016

Australia - Part 2 (Cairns)

From Sydney, we packed up the kids and flew to Cairns near the Great Barrier Reef. We flew Qantas and were amazed at how well the airline accommodated families. We weren't allowed to keep our stroller past check-in but received loaner strollers to use in the airport. Once boarded, the flight attendants passed out activity packs with coloring books and pencils for the kids. And on a three hour flight, we were served a full meal and then ice cream bars and then Lindt chocolates. Then when we walked off the plane, the flight attendant handed us a bag of extra chocolates for the kids. Chris and I kept asking each other if this was some sort of joke. Such a difference from flying in the U.S.

In Cairns, we checked into an apartment-style hotel which gave us space to spread out toys and the ability to cook simple meals for the kids such as eggs or pasta. The apartment building had a walk-out directly onto the Esplanade to access shops and restaurants. In addition, we were located directly across the street from the lagoon. Swimming from the beach is not recommended in Cairns due to the presence of lethal jellyfish so the city built an extravagant beach-side pool to accommodate locals and tourists. It is probably my favorite swimming experience I've had with the kids. The lagoon pool had concrete access on one side like a normal pool but the other side offered a zero-entry sand beach with canopies built overhead for shade. While Chris ventured out to the sprinklers with the kids or floated in the salty water, I could hang out in the shade and built sandcastles with one or both kids. Eloise wore a flotation vest, and Fiona wore inflatable arm bands for swimming security. Eloise would wake up in the morning and say the following sequence of words: "Pool, Beach, Dada, Nona (Fiona)." I wasn't generally in the list. Our apartment complex also had a small pool, which Chris used to give the girls swimming lessons.

Pictures of the Lagoon

Having a fridge/freezer in the room gave us the ability to keep popsicles available, which the girls would "cheers" with each other before the hot air melted the popsicles all over hands, feet and floor.

We booked a couple excursions in advance of the trip. The first was a half-day trip to nearby Green Island via a half hour catamaran ride back and forth to the island. Our day on the island was very hot, and we all hurried down the long dock to the island canopy when we arrived. We first walked to the crocodile zoo where we saw the adult crocodiles in their unblinking, frozen poses. Then a handler brought out a young, 5 year old crocodile (mouth taped shut) for us to hold, pet and kiss (just the girls). Both girls really like petting the crocodile, although Eloise was a little rough and Fiona was bothered by its nails digging into her skin while it was on our laps.

Sunny smiles on the catamaran

Green Island


After the crocodile farm, we hurried back to the dock to board a semi-submersible submarine. By this point, the girls were hot, hungry and increasingly cranky. We did our best to enjoy the underwater view of the reef and fish and saw a stingray, lots of sea turtles, fish and the reef itself. Chris said it wasn't nearly comparable to scuba diving on the outer reef, which he did a couple days later.

After the submarine, I took the girls for a quick ice cream treat while Chris snorkeled. Chris didn't bother to rent a suit to protect against the jellyfish so only snorkeled a couple minutes and turned back to shore with haste once he found himself encompassed by the tiny creatures. He said he could see the circular shadows of the jellyfish on the seafloor.

Chris snuck up on the girls with his snorkeling mask. They thought it was hilarious as they are both pranksters themselves. 

Checking out the beautiful water from the dock

Our second full day in Cairns, we spent a leisurely day browsing shops and swimming in the lagoon. In addition to the lagoon pool, Cairns also offers a couple beautiful beachside playground. The first called "Muddy's" was a combination splash/sprinkler pad and sand-based playground. The girls loved running around in the sprinklers with other kids.

Our third day in Cairns, we embarked on our second excursion, this time to the rainforest via the historic Kuranda train. While there were bright spots, the day was harder than expected. Eloise is very prone to ear infections, and it seems that major changes (such as long trips) trigger them. I asked our pediatrician in advance if she would prescribe antibiotics as a contingency, but she declined. In hindsight, I think Eloise's ears were probably starting to bother her, and I spent most of the hour train ride holding her while she watched a show and drifted to sleep.

The train ride itself was beautiful as we ascended hills and wove through outlook points to the ocean and past a couple waterfalls. The ride was narrated which provided us an overview of the history, ingenuity and dangerous conditions surrounding how the rail line was carved out 150 years prior to enable delivery of supplies to miners.

Once at the Kuranda stop, we took a bus to a touristy rainforest center. It was really touristy which Chris and I agreed was probably good since we had the girls along but not very adventurous for the two of us. There, we toured a small zoo with crocodiles, kangaroos, Tasmanian devil, dingos, etc. The  small wallabies wandered around the zoo, and we purchased food for the girls to hand-feed them. (Although, the brochure indicated we would be surrounded by the animals, we had to spend a lot of time hunting for the animals who didn't seem all that hot on us petting them.) From the zoo, we enjoyed a buffet lunch, where Fiona slurped down a bowl of crocodile soup, and then we took a picture with a koala. I had wanted to just get a picture of the girls with the koala, but neither of them were big enough to hold the bear by themselves.

After koala pictures, we climbed aboard a duck boat to tour a small patch of water/jungle. The guide pointed out interesting/native vegetation, but Eloise was so fussy that all I could think about was getting off the boat. We ended up skipping the last two parts of the tour and took the Skyrail back early.

Beautiful Fan Palm Tree

Eloise fell asleep on the walk to the Skyrail, and we were able to lift the big double stroller into the cab without waking her. So our return in the sky was peaceful while Eloise got some much-needed rest.

While Chris scuba-dived one day, the girls and I walked to another play area, this one built into a fig tree. The girls climbed around with another little boy and enjoyed an outlook to the water. My tough Eloise took a spill and bloodied her knee, but she didn't even cry and wanted to keep climbing. While on the hunt for diapers that day, I also discovered a local Target store with the exact same logo and similar product selection as US-based Targets. However, it turned out that the Target was not in any way affiliated with our Targets. Very strange. (It still felt like home to me). I picked up some new clothes and toys for the girls at the store, and otherwise, we spent a little extra time indoors or on the balcony playing until Chris arrived home and took the girls for a swim.

Some of the cute outfits for the girls I purchased.

Chris only took a couple pictures on his scuba adventure

Apartment swimming pool

Some other highlights from our trip included watching the birds and bats that would flock together and shriek. At a particular outdoor restaurant, a tree full of birds was so loud, they overpowered our conversations. Fiona was particularly enthralled by the bats and made up a story about how the bats were going to be in trouble at school because they were late for music class. I think the process of creating a story for the bats was impactful for Fiona to such an extent that when we ask her about her favorite memories of Australia, she mentions seeing the bats first. Our last night in Cairns, we took an evening stroll. Fiona begged for ice cream which we purchased, but she feel asleep before finishing it.


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