Australia: Entry 4

27 April 2003: Cairns, Australia

Subject: Australia

Well for my first few days here in Cairns it has been rather damp and windy, so rather than go out onto the choppy seas and have the waves come down my snorkell tube I have been doing some inland trips.

Skyrail to Kuranda and the Scenic Train

One of the most popular daytrips from Cairns is to go to the village of Kuranda and there is a range of forms of transport to get there and back. I went out on Skyrail, a very long cable car that takes you over the rainforest canopy. It has quite a good view and you can look down into the tree tops and see lots of big epiphytic ferns and a few Umbrella Trees. These have red fruits on stems that radiate from the crown of the tree a bit like the spokes of an umbrella. Although you can here a few bird calls I didn't get to see any wildlife.

I came back on the scenic train, built up from the coast along quite a steep-sided gorge through tunnels and past waterfalls in the 1880s. It's nice to know that as well as being a tourist railway the lines still continue a long way inland. Unfortunately the train runs only once a week.

In Kuranda I went to Birdworld, which was a fairly small place with lots of parrots and other birds, many but not all Australian native species. Here are a couple of friendly ones:

Most interesting were the cassowarries. These are big emu-like birds that live in the rainforests. They range over quite large distances and eat fruit, so they play an important role in seed distribution. They are quite rare (their only predator is the car; there are about 1500-3000 left) and it's believed that they're essential to the health of the forest beause of the seed dispersal role. Anyway, this place had a couple of them, but they were cooped up in what looked like quite a small area for a bird that naturally covers great distances each day. Here's a pic:

By the way, I've found a good Australian Wildlife page here:

Uncle Brian's Tour

I couldn't resist going on this trip for two reasons. One will be obvious to about half of you. For the benefit of the rest, I should explain that I have an Uncle Brian. The other reason was that they advertised a good chance of seeing a platypus.

We spent most of the day looking at waterfalls and swimming under them. To me the water seemed quite warm but apparently it is quite a lot cooler than out on the reef. I still have that to look forward to. This photo is Josephine Falls where we spent some time sliding down a natural rock water-slide:

Here are some of the people from Uncle Brian's Bus. Note how well prepared most of them are for the rainforest weather!

This is Mila-Mila Falls which you'll recognise as being the scene for the famous Timotei shampoo adverts. We swam here too:

So after a lot of aquatic fun, and various childish entertainments in the bus, we got to see some wildlife. Easy to spot were freshwater turtles, which are quite small compared to sea turtles. Then at dusk we went to a river bank and waited for a platypus to appear. And appear it did! It surfaced in the distance at the far side of the river a couple of times, but too far away to make out very well in the twilight. But then, after an extended period under water, it came up on our side and swam along on the surface for a few seconds right in front of us! It was quite close enough to make out its shape and see its bill. Wonderfull. That's one of the things that I really wanted to do in Australia ticked off.

The Plural Of Platypus

What do you say if you have more than one platypus? On Uncle Brian's trip a slightly irritating American guy insisted that the plural of platypus is platypi. "What rubbish", I thought, but he insisted that he must be right because he's a professional writer. (Actually he works in advertising.) So I've looked it up in the Oxford Australian Dictionary, and it's the same as octopus, not surprisingly. The ending -pus is from the Greek word for foot, and in greek the plural of pus is podes. So if you insist on using an original-language plural form it should be platypodes and octopodes. The plural form -pi is from Latin. Stick with the obvious octopuses and platypuses, I reckon.

So now the weather has improved and I've spent most of today in the sun. I'm hoping that the sun is here to stay as tomorrow I'm off to the reef.

One final humerous item from today's newspaper: "Roayl Salute: Yep, happened again at the Anzac [=Rememberance Day] dawn service at a suburb best not identified. The young man dressed in the cadet garb read the 'resolution' to our lawful head of state (remember her?) - he said (and this is the third year running that this bloke has uttered this): 'to our Queen, Elizabeth the eleventh'... etc. Well, perhaps better luck next year?"