The semester ended more quickly than anyone could imagine and we said goodbye to our students and had a few brief days to clean up the Centre (washing and folding sheets, washing and folding and sorting through and donating all the clothes that had been left behind, cleaning out the refrigerators, collecting the pillows and mattress pads from the cabins, stacking chairs and bringing things inside that might be tossed about in a cyclone, etc.), and then I went down to Cairns with the interns to bring them all to the airport. On my way back from the airport, I walked through the mangrove forest on a quiet morning before heading back to the Centre by myself for a week of cleaning, packing, and thesis-writing (about three-fifths finished!).
On December 17, I picked up my family at the airport in Cairns and we headed up the Gillies highway to the Centre. I was looking forward to their reaction when I turned into the Access Road, and sure enough, as I turned, my mom screamed, “Why did you just do that!?” and I continued down the mile or so dirt road through the rainforest to the Dongas.
I packed as much into our two days touring the Tablelands as I could. On the 18th, we woke up in the morning to a double rainbow outside the Dongas, and then started out on the Waterfall Circuit, stopping first at Malanda Falls, then Mount Hypipamee to see the giant crater and Dinner Falls (no cassowaries), and then driving to McHugh’s lookout near Millaa Millaa. It was my first time to the lookout, and though I had heard it is usually too cloudy/foggy at the top to see much, we had a perfect view of the surrounding countryside, which was absolutely beautiful. We ate lunch at Millaa Millaa Falls, then continued on to Zillie and Ellinjaa Falls, as described in a previous blog entry. We also had lunch at the Mungalli Dairy “Out of the Whey” teahouse and stopped at the Cathedral Fig tree on the way home.
The next day, the 19th, we stopped first at Lake Barrine and to see the giant twin Kauri Pines, then the Curtain Fig tree, and then headed out to Granite Gorge, where I explored a little bit more than I previously had, hiking along the granite boulders with Sam. Whale Rock was particularly exciting—the furthest point of the loop-trail that we took. The rock wallabies loved Sam almost as much as he loved them. On the way home, we stopped briefly at Lake Eacham, and had a lovely dinner at the Dongas and got ready for an early morning.
We woke up at 5AM on the 20th to head back down the Gillies to Cairns, where we got on the Ocean Free sailing vessel for our day on the Great Barrier Reef. I tried to control my motion sickness early on, but before we were even halfway out to the reef, I started getting sick. I’ve actually never been so sick in my life, and I could barely snorkel because I still felt sick while swimming. (Luckily, I’ve already seen the reef…) Even when we were transferred to Green Island I was still vomiting, and it took me the rest of the hour or so on land to recover. Nevertheless, we walked around on the island and had some beautiful views and even saw a sea turtle. I survived the trip back without incident, and we ate at one of my favorite Thai restaurants in Cairns and stayed at the Northern Greenhouse, the hostel that had been my home as an SIT student. The next day would be the start of our long road trip south to Sydney!