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We hope you enjoy our first attempts at blogging! This is to prevent you from receiving long boring messages that arrive on your screen when you're not ready to sit back, relax and read about our life. This way, you can come into our blog on your time, when you want and check up on us.

We hope you like our stories! See you soon.
Gail and Rick

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Hello from the Great Barrier Reef - Port Douglas

We had two weeks off school and we filled it with frivolity and travel time! Since it was the middle of winter and it was surprisingly cold in Kadina; we decided to take a warm winter vacation with one week in Port Douglas, Queensland (near the north eastern tip of Australia) and the other week in Fiji. However, before we tell you about our travels, we need to explain why we have found the winter season to be uncomfortably chilly. This may sound strange as most of you may not associate “cold” with Australia. We certainly didn’t!

In Kadina, the average annual winter temperature is around 15oC, with early morning temperatures in the 3 - 5 oC range. Sometimes the thermometer will dip even lower so that Jack Frost is on the lawn; but certainly nothing that would be considered harsh by Canadian standards. So on average, the winter is a beautiful time of the year and most enjoyable outside. Where the cold issue arises is inside the house.

We are living in one of the many original older homes in the town. The house was built around the turn of the century with an extension added on around 1930 – 1940. These homes are something with which we have no familiarity. For example, unlike Canadian homes, there is no central heating or air conditioning system to maintain a constant temperature throughout the house. The walls of the homes are typically 12-18 inches in thickness, are constructed of stone/rock, have slate or steel roofs with each room typically having 12 – 14 foot ceiling heights and a fireplace. Verandas, the entire length of the house are a standard feature and the houses are, where possible, aligned in a north-south exposure. They have been designed and constructed so as to minimize the unbearable heat in the summer. Given the thickness of the walls, it will take the house three or four days to absorb the full effect of +40oC temperatures. If the heat wave lasts longer than that, the heat is absorbed into the rock walls, thus turning the house into an inferno. Conversely in winter, when the temperatures drop outside into single digits (oC), the house cools down considerably. The fireplaces must be in constant daily use to warm the home as the radiant temperature from the winter sun is not intense enough for the stone building to absorb sufficient heat to provide a comfortable living environment. As you may have concluded, the fireplace is the key feature to ensure that these houses are comfortably warm in winter. Unfortunately because of the age of the homes, many of the original stone fireplaces are in need of repair or no longer operational as they are extremely inefficient. To mitigate, the homes are heated by wood burning Franklin Fireplaces or reverse cycle heater-air conditioning units. Regrettably, the reverse cycle systems and Franklin Fireplaces are not in every room, hence you experience extreme cold during the winter season in those rooms without a heat source. The newer homes have been designed to have the reverse cycle air and heat systems distributed to all rooms of the house. Consequently, these homes have a much more comfortable and pleasant living environment in both winter and summer seasons.

We have placed a thermometer in our kitchen and have yet to see the mercury rise above 11oC. In the morning, it is typically around 8 – 9oC. In our bedroom, comfort is provided at night by use of a portable electric heating element accompanied by a single bed (on a king-sized bed) electric blanket. When we complain to our Aussie friends about how cold it is in the house, they simply laugh; remind us that we are from the land of ice and snow, suck it up, and just “rug up” by putting on another sweater or “jumper” as it is referred to in Australia. They cannot understand how we can live in an environment in Canada where you constantly have to “rug up” by putting on parkas to go outside for a few brief minutes. As one Aussie stated, how can you Canadians stand it when it takes 5 minutes to rug up to go from one rabbit warren to the next warren; only to strip all your outer clothes off and lounge around in tee shirts? It just goes to show that people are generally more comfortable in those conditions that they grew up in and those environments upon which they have become accustom.

When we first arrived in Australia we could not understand why many retired Australians go “north” to the tropics in Queensland and the Northern Territories to escape the winter. Now, we understand why. Unlike Canadians who go south to escape the outside cold, Australians head north to flee from the cold “inside” their homes. Given our unexpected surprise at discovering how cold the homes could be in winter, we were most anxious to arrive at our holiday get-away in Port Douglas, which is located in the Australian tropics.

Port Douglas – Where the Tropical Rainforest Meets the Great Barrier Reef

Port Douglas is located on the 16th degree latitude south, approximately 70 km north of the tropical city of Cairns. The population of Port Douglas is around 3000 people, but easily fluctuates to around 10,000 people in winter as tourists flock to the site where the tropical rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef. Initially we had planned on a golfing holiday as the community boasts two excellent resort courses and one enjoyable local public facility. However, upon arriving at our destination, we quickly came to the realization that golfing would become a secondary activity while on our holidays. Port Douglas proved to be a nature lover’s paradise. Within easy daily access one can travel by boat to the Great Barrier Reef, or travel by vehicle to a world heritage tropical rainforest. Don’t misunderstand us, the golfing was great as we managed to get in 3 rounds, but the tour to the reef and rainforest is what we will remember most.

While in both Port Douglas and Cairns, we literally came across groves of trees that housed thousands and thousands of "Flying Foxes" which we believe are a type of Fruit Bat. The noise was deafening and the smell was "rank"

Daintree Rainforest
The world heritage listed Daintree Rainforest is located immediately north of Port Douglas. It is the epitome of ecotourism. Cruise boats will take you up the jungle setting of the Daintree River where you will view crocodiles lazing along the river’s edge and catch glimpses of tree snakes camouflaged with the hanging vines of the trees that make up the mangrove swamp. Colourful birds fly overhead or chirp relentlessly from their tree top perches.

The day spent in the Rainforest was truly unforgettable. We rode in a 4X4 vehicle to access remote areas within the rainforest. As we gripped the door handles of our 4X4, we forded a number of raging streams or rivers throughout our journey. Around each bend in the road we were rewarded by either stunning ocean vistas or dense rainforest wilderness. We hiked along rainforest trails, unable to comprehend the botanical biodiversity that was saturating our craniums. Our guide would simply chuckle at us as we struggled to soak it all in. He would then point out another interesting tidbit such as the large Buttress Fig Trees which were once used by Aboriginals to make shields and boomerangs. We visited Bloomfield Falls and marvelled at the volume of water cascading over rock faces and steep precipices on its way to the ocean. Part of our day tour took us to beautiful un-inhabited beaches that awaken all your senses. Your lungs and eyes tried to breathe in and capture the untouched, unspoiled natural beauty. We spent what seemed like eons of time just watching soldier crabs create a landscape painting as they burrowed in the sand and scurried along the beach.

Daintree River Cruise

Mangroves growing along the Daintree River

Bloomsfield Falls – After coming from arid Kadina, it seemed strange to see “Water, water everywhere”

Buttress Fig – Aboriginals use to make shields and boomerangs out of the flat (buttress) portion of the above ground root system.

Beautiful Pristine Beaches

Soldier Crabs – Nature's Artists on a micro scale and

……on a macro scale.

Great Barrier Reef
At Port Douglas, the Great Barrier Reef is located approximately 45 minutes by boat from shore. Being at the reef will meet or exceed your greatest expectation! What more can we say about the world’s largest reef system that stretches over 2600 km in length? Seeing the world’s single biggest structure made by living organisms is more stunning than you can ever imagine even if you have seen it on a number of television documentaries or read about it in books. On our tour, we stopped at three locations along the reef. We were able to experience the thrill of snorkelling amongst sharks (the non threatening kind but don’t tell!), giant clams the size of ½ a bathtub, moray eels and a plethora of tropical fish. Colours! Incredible! Amazing! Awesome! Fantastic! Humbling! Spiritual! On our way back to shore from the reef, we were also entertained with a little whale watching. No wonder approximately 2 million tourists annual flock to see this natural wonder of the world. It is easy to understand how the reef can generate over 1 billion dollars a year in tourism.

Our only regret about the trip was the fact that we did not have an underwater camera with us so that we could capture the breath-taking beauty. Then again, we are not convinced that a camera would do it justice.

Gail gearing up for snorkling on the reef.

At the reef – unfortunately there is nothing at the reef which provides one with scale, or relief. Hence the rather “bland” picture of the reef. However, we felt it imperative that we show you the reef in our blog as it was on our “must see” list prior to coming to Australia. Remember the beauty lies below the surface of the water!

One day we decided to take a 7.5 km tram line ride over the rainforest to the small town of Kuranda. It is a picturesque mountain retreat high in the hinterlands just 25 km northwest of Cairns. The town is characterized by up-market restaurants, cafes, bars and artisans. Yes, it is a “Tourist Trap”, but it is well worth a visit. Clearly, the residents live there for the lifestyle since the weather is not as humid as the coastal area. After a day of visiting the numerous shops and enjoying a scrumptious lunch, we traveled back to Cairns via Kuranda’s historic railway. Originally constructed in the 1880’s, the 2 hour journey winds its way through dense rainforest, across steep ravines and pass scenic waterfalls.

Sky Tram over the rainforest on the way to Karunda.

Canopy Walk in the Karunda Rainforest.

Karunda Arts and Crafts Shops

Karunda Historic Train – Pictures Anyone? Seems like a number of passengers had the same idea.

After our week of go, go, go at Port Douglas, we were looking forward to a week of rest and relaxation on the beach in Fiji. Look for our blog on Fiji in the next week or two.
We put in a couple of golf photos below just to show you that we did go golfing.

Beautiful Resort Courses

Sugar Cane Fields in the background. Forget about finding your ball if you have an errant shot!

Rainforest Walk between Holes

Gail’s LPGA Pose

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