Four years have come and gone since my experience as a Top 50 finalist for Queensland’s Best Job in the World, a campaign that took over my life for the first few months of 2009, and was a leading catalyst in my metamorphosis from a desk-chained publicist who helped others travel the world to an untethered world traveler myself.
Even though ultimately I didn’t win the job as Island Caretaker, once I set my sights on experiencing Australia in such a robust way, I couldn’t imagine planning a trip there that somehow fit into my meager handful of available annual vacation days. After the campaign ended, I began to plot my escape from CubicleVille, and in 2010 I left on my RTW journey. So I’ll always be grateful to Tourism Queensland for the extra push I needed to go out and explore the whole wide world.
Four years later, I have another reason to be grateful to Queensland. Having just spent a week there on an adventure-focused itinerary, I found a destination similar to my home state of Florida in so many ways – beaches, sunshine, theme parks, resorts – but with its own creatures, indigenous heritage and adventure offerings. My itinerary was all about challenging myself physically and mentally, so I spent at least a portion of every day with trembling legs and a fluttering heart wondering what I’d gotten into. Story of my life!
In honor of the four year anniversary of my relationship with Queensland, here are four words you should know before you plan a visit!
Indigenous culture is massively important in Australia, and if you skip it in favor of beaches and theme parks, you’re missing an important piece of the puzzle! In Queensland, be sure to meet a few folks from the Kuku Yalanji tribe, also known as the rainforest people. Their intimate knowledge of every tree, berry and critter in the Daintree Rainforest is astounding. If somehow you end up stranded out there, these are the folks you want to call for tips.
I was fortunate to get a glimpse into the life and heritage of the Kuku Yalanji tribe at Flames of the Forest, a dreamlike nighttime dinner experience in the middle of the pitch black Daintree. While eating a beautifully prepared family style dinner including kangaroo and local reef fish, one brother from the tribe recounted dramatic stories about their heritage, and another inhaled and exhaled some unbelievable didgeridoo jams in the midst of the dark forest.
For a completely different experience, and one with an adventure hook, I checked out Kuku Yalanji Cultural Habitat Tours on the fishing grounds at Cooya Beach. I followed brothers Linc and Brandon Walker out onto the beach where they explained how to spear mudcrabs (ps – I STINK at it. I couldn’t even FIND one, much less spear one!) and showed which snails & mussels were edible, how to munch a green ant’s butt and how to navigate a muddy mangrove forest with no shoes. It was at least a 4-mile roundtrip that I probably would never have chosen to do on my own, but I’m so glad I did because there’s nothing like learning about a local culture from the locals themselves.
AJ Hackett may be a Kiwi, but his brand of adrenaline is one very familiar to those wild and crazy Australians. I don’t know what it is about this part of the world, but I swear these South Pacific folks love to jump off high stuff with abandon. I love it!
Given my back problems from a 2006 car accident (oh, and my completely normal aversion to launching myself directly at the ground), I’ve always considered Bungy jumping a no-go. And I didn’t change my mind when I visited AJ Hackett Cairns, an adrenaline junky paradise tucked into the edge of the Daintree Rainforest.
Instead of hurtling myself off the 164-ft. Bungy platform, I made like Superman and signed up for the somewhat less terrifying (or so I thought) Minjin Swing, a 1, 2 or 3 person adventure that takes you from 150 feet to 3 feet in like, no seconds, then sends you tearing through the jungle like some sort of enraged wilderness beast at 60 MPH. There’s a much more in-depth post coming about this adventure, including multiple camera angles that mostly involve me screaming bloody murder and frightening half the rainforest creatures to death. It.was.awesome.
Speaking of creatures! You’ve heard of kangaroos, koalas, platypus, dingoes and wombats, because yeah, Australia has some of the coolest animals around – many that you can only see there.
But what about the endangered, elusive Cassowary? It’s not half as cute as the ‘roos and the koalas, in fact it’s kinda homely, but if not for this flightless bird, the Daintree Rainforest wouldn’t be the diverse ecosystem that it is today. Cassowaries eat fruit and seeds from hundreds of rainforest species, passing them through their digestive tracts and dispersing them, you know, in their poo, far and wide. Many of the seeds for the plants in the rainforest won’t even grow unless first passing through a Cassowary, so these birds are absolutely vital for the Daintree’s survival.
And you have a great chance of spotting one when cruising around by Cape Tribulation. Just don’t hit one with your car!
One of the coolest facts I learned on my adventure is that the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, both two of the most spectacular of all UNESCO World Heritage Sites, push right up against one another. You can literally wander out of the jungle out onto the reef and be smack in the middle of a huge number of unique species. That doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world! (ps – one of those species is the monster Aussie croc, so you know, beware!)
Cairns – whose pronunciation I always stumble over – is it CANS? Care-ns? Carns? – is known as the gateway to these two huge natural wonders, where you can see 30% of the frog, reptile and marsupial species in Australia, 65% of its bat and butterfly species and 18% of its birds in the country in just .2% of its land area. On the reef, you’ll find 600 types of coral, 100+ species of jellyfish, 3000 types of mollusk, 500 species of worms, 1625 kinds of fish, 133 varieties of sharks (YAY) and rays, and more than 30 species of whales and dolphins. If you’re a creature person, this is the place to whip out that checklist and start ticking boxes!
Now that you’ve had a glimpse of Northern Queensland, how bad do you want to go? I’m ready to go back for more rainforest, reef and adventure, and I’ve only just returned!
Watch this space, as I have many more posts featuring the adrenaline-spiking activities, beautiful resorts and wildlife experiences of Cairns and beyond. In the meantime, check out my Get Challenged in Tropical North Queensland album on Facebook.
Special thanks to the folks at Tourism Queensland for organizing the trip! All opinions and irrational fears as always, are my own.