Tag Archives: Australia

OFF THE BEATEN TRACK-Part 4: Under the sea fun at Port Douglas

After departing Daintree we made our way through Mossman, the gateway to the famous Mossman Gorge. On reaching the main Mossman Gorge Center, we had to take a ticket to get on board a shuttle that took us to the various hiking trails that led to walking platforms and scenic viewpoints, all surrounded by lush green tropical rainforests and over looking the Mossman River.

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Though swimming was not recommended in the river due to the rocky granite boulders that are in plenty, we were told it was okay to soak our feet in its cool waters. My personal favorite and I bet my dare-devil daughter’s as well was walking over the suspension bridge over the river. It was a lot of fun and a bit scary trying to balance ourselves on the dangling bridge and pretending as though we had magically found our way into some Indiana Jones movie. DSC_0683

It was almost noon by the time we reached our last and most highly anticipated destinations, Port Douglas. I will be honest and admit that this was the part of the trip I was the most nervous about. Don’t get me wrong, there was nothing scary about this cute little town with its boutique style shops, pristine beaches, breathtakingly beautiful coastline and sea-side cafes. Here I had even gotten the part I had been so eagerly waiting for, the romance element of our entire trip. But even while walking hand in hand with my husband, enjoying the beauty of the pacific ocean, I couldn’t help but the think of the big adventure that we were about to embark on the very next morning, an adventure that drove almost all adrenaline junkies to this part of the world. An adventure called The Great Barrier Reef.
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I could almost hear the sound of my heart beat amidst the splashing of rough waves as I boarded the monstrous catamaran that was going to take us to the Agincourt Reef, a ribbon-like reef located on the edge of what is best referred to as the ultimate underwater playground. Pronounced a world heritage site, The Great Barrier Reef is considered to host the largest coral reef systems in the world. On board we were given a number of safety instructions to a few easy ones like don’t throw food in the water or stand on the coral to more eerie ones that drove my anxiety to a whole new level like to not touch any marine animals as many have the ability to sting or disable a person to learning hand signals viz. we see a shark.

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Each one of us was given a lycra suit and also given a number of optional tours that we could sign up while we were there. For the non-swimmers and the less adventurous there was the underwater observatory, a mini submarine drive and a helmet dive to explore all the reef had to offer. For the extravagant and those wanting to enjoy the beauty from a distance there was the scenic helicopter drive and for the rest there was diving, snorkeling and guided marine biologist tours to get up close and personal to pretty coral gardens and exotic marine life ranging from sting rays, clown fish, parrot fish turtles and for the few lucky ones you may even spot a Minke whale.

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It was a full day tour and I must admit, snorkeling in the middle of the deep blue sea and amidst choppy waters was definitely a lot harder than I taught. There were moments I ran out of breath and moments I felt my arms could no longer move, moments I wished I was back in the comfort of my hotel. The chilled salads and cold cuts served on board did nothing to my Indian palette but I was here, right in the midst of the largest and the most spectacular reef systems in the world. I had embraced, survived and conquered this majestic reef in my own little way and that was a feeling I would never forget…
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OFF THE BEATEN TRACK-Part 3: Nature at its best at Daintree Rainforest

To reach our next destination in Daintree, located in the north east coast of Queensland, a destination that could only be best termed as a tropical paradise, we had to fly into Cairns and drive an hour and a half through the picturesque coastline of Port Douglas. It was slowly starting to get dark and we couldn’t see much but hear we did, in plenty, making it certain that we had finally arrived in what was the world’s oldest surviving rainforest. Be it eerie screeches of the spotted catbird, fluttering noises of the Victoria’s rifle bird, a species only found here to the croaking of the white lipped tree frogs and the gurgling sounds of the Daintree River close by, I could tell that this forest had only started to come alive in the darkness of the night.

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One of the major highlights of our trip was the place we had chosen to spent the next two nights. A quaint yet luxurious eco lodge; each of its rooms strategically positioned on top of stilts to capture the beauty of the dense canopy surrounding us. Imagine witnessing the sight of over hundred butterflies flittering to life in the early hours of the morning (almost 2/3rds of Australia’s butterfly species are found here) or simply marveling at the awe-inspiring King Fern, Australia’s largest fern with fronds extending up to 5m long, all while sipping a hot cappuccino in the comfort of your tree-top verandah?

Following our customized made-to-order breakfast, it was time to explore what more this nature paradise had to offer. And if we had assumed that we had seen and absorbed the beauty of Daintree all by sitting in our aerial accommodation, we were instantly proven wrong as we stepped out of the lodge and made way to start our morning cruise across the Daintree River.
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Now what can I say about the beauty that had started to unfold in front of us. Except the cliched yet honest line, ‘If there was a heaven then this must be it! And that this was probably the way God intended Earth to be. Crystal waters so clear that if you took clicked an image, you would probably not be able to tell if it was the blue skies you were looking at or simply its reflection in the cool waters. Lush rainforest and mangroves surrounded the Daintree River, which is one of the longest rivers on the Australian East Coast (extending upto 140 kms). Here you can see pre-historic crocodiles, view innumerable species of birds like the Macleay”s honeyeater, comb-crested Jacana and the Forest Kingfisher amongst many others or simply imbibe the true beauty of this wet tropics. If you are feeling even more adventurous, you can also join one of the fishing boats and try you luck at catching the famous Baramundi, Australia is so famous for.
Having no such desires yet unsatiated with what this magnificent forest had to offer, we chose to head out to the next highly recommended attractions in Daintree, the Cassowary Falls. Located in a private farmland, you need to rent a 4 wheel drive and pay a fee at a local convenience store to reach this scenic location and the drive itself through the bumpy rugged mushy pathway is enough to excite the adrenaline junkie in you, not to forget the grand finale, which is the view of the magnificent waterfall. Here it’s one of the few spots in Daintree where it’s safe to jump in though watch out for the humongous fish, eels and turtles that might want to get a little more cosy than desired.

OFF THE BEATEN TRACK: Into the wild at Kakadu National Park

Join me as I take you on our ultimate Australian Outback Extravaganza
By Aswathy Kumar
“South Africa…perfect for wildlife?”
“How about Europe…so romantic.”
“I think we should do Philippines…heard their beaches are absolutely spectacular.”

It was my mother-in-law’s big 60th and we were finding it hard to choose a destination for our annual family vacation. After all we were a rather extraordinary group with extremely different ideas of what a holiday should be like. There was my mother-in-law a complete wild life enthusiast, my husband: the adrenaline junkie, my father-in-law, a devout food fanatic, an inquisitive seven year old, my daughter and finally me, a die-hard romantic whose idea of fun was sauntering barefoot on an isolated beach or enjoying a candle-light dinner under a star-studded sky. In short, an interesting mix of people with rather distinct tastes.
“How about Australia then?” Suggested my husband. “It’s pretty massive and I am sure we can find something that each one of us like.” And boy was as he right! Be it getting up, close and personal with the gigantic salt water crocodiles at Kakadu National Park and plunging into the scenic water falls at Litchfield to taking a romantic hike under the rainforest canopy at Daintree to snorkeling with some of the most exotic marine life at The Great Barrier Reef, this monstrous continent did have it all.

Part 1

Into the wild at Kakadu National Park

The sun had slowly started to set as we arrived at our very first stop, Kakadu National park, a 20,000 square km sprawling park declared a World Heritage Site.  A mere four hour drive from the closest International airport in Darwin, we were almost certain that we had finally arrived in the famous Park when the colorless highways and drive-in restaurants started to give way to scenic landscapes splattered with hues of green, scarlet and tangerine and the shrill sounds of thousands of birds soaring in the evening sky started to echo in the background replacing the annoying sounds of sneering vehicles.
Picturesque wetlands, embellished with white and purple lilies, characteristic of Kakadu told us that we were close to our destination. Home to over 2000 species of flora and fauna, I immediately knew that Kakadu was definitely going to be the perfect concoction of wilderness and beauty.

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One of the first things that welcomed us here, were the ’Beware of crocodiles’ and danger signs that were splattered all across the seemingly harmless wetlands, all deceiving us from the danger that lurked right beneath its calm waters. Northern Australia is home to two species, the estuarine (saltwater) and the freshwater crocodiles that are seen in plenty in this region to the extent that any water body that is not mentioned safe for swimming, is better left untouched.
But then again we had travelled this far and that too with my fauna fanatic mother-in-law, so there was no way we were going to leave without getting a sneak-peek. A quick meal and rest later we were walking on top of a wooden bridge, leading us straight towards the Jim Jim Creek, where we boarded our boat that would take us around the Yellow Water Billabong, probably the best and safest way to get up close to these monstrous beasts and experience wilderness at its very best.
Now I have seen crocodiles in plenty at the zoo and even gotten pretty close to a rather humongous one at Crocosorous Cove, in Darwin. But nothing would have prepared me for what I was about to experience in the next one hour. I still remember the feeling as we spotted our very first crocodile. It was about 4.2 meters and could have been easily mistaken for a floating log. But this one was in no way going to let us pass without letting us know its presence or establish its territory, choosing to move as close as it can get to our boat and slowly cruising along with it. “They like to taunt you and the crocodiles know no fear,” our guide said warning us not to put our heads or hands outside. Apparently they can jump up to a height almost twice its own length and cases of crocodile attacking humans were definitely not unknown in this wilderness.

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As our cruise continued, we sat, clad in our plastic ponchos, in a rather unimpressive boat with strangers, soaking wet as the heavens had decided to open up just then, imbibing the several stories of this original Aboriginal lands, our guide was narrating with much enthusiasm. There was the one of the rainbow serpent, considered to be the protector, source of life and creation among the Aborigines, believed to have created the hills, valleys and the rivers along the way it moved. Then there was another and my personal favorite of Ginga or crocodile man who once got badly burnt and jumped into the river to save himself and later changed into the sandstone escarpments seen at Kakadu.
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The less eerier part of our trip was seeing the innumerable birds that swarmed the water body. Be it the large number of magpies, egrets, jacanas and whistling ducks that had gathered around the tributary for our warm welcome. Kakadu hosts almost one-third of the total bird species found in this massive continent, not to forget the 2000 unique species of plants that make up for the fantastic scenery that unfolded in front of us. If still not exhausted from the boat ride and all the hiking and bush-walking that’s probably the best way to truly imbibe the spectacular, that is Kakadu, you can also experience true aboriginal culture and witness some outstanding rock art, dating almost upto 20,000 years old at the galleries in the Nourlangie Rock region.