Australia was not on my bucket list, but my mantra has been “If I haven’t been there, I want to go.” My kind of trip is rambling through cobble stone streets, ruins, castles, cathedrals, and museums. Phil, grandchild No. 7, was not interested in that venue; he wanted to do things. When he chose Australia because he wanted to scuba dive the Barrier Reef, however, we were ready.
On the other six grandchildren trips, we made loops around the country, staying with host families one or two nights in order to see more while limiting car time. Australia is not conducive to that type of trip, so we house swapped into a lovely, comfortable home in Clifton Beach, about 25 minutes from Cairns. Chloe, a fluffy, grey grimalkin meowed us awake each morning as she announced her breakfast time. Our breakfast setting was the patio and a beautifully landscaped pool.
The guidebook for the northeast section of Australia was not as user-friendly as my beloved Rick Steves’ books, so all I could do was select the information on the activities Phil wanted to do. Since everything was weather dependent, we had to decide almost daily what direction we would take. High waves prevented the scuba diving for the first few days, but I had choices for us.
The Rain Forest Station, a World Heritage site, became our first tourist attraction. We had instruction on boomerang tossing and a chance to throw one, a demonstration of spear throwing, an interesting lesson on the didgeridoo sounds, and a Panegyric aboriginal dance show with Phil reluctantly volunteering to participate. We rode a World War II military amphibious duck through the forest with a naturalist who educated us about the vegetation, including Jurassic Age plants. A guided walk through the Wildlife Park to learn about native animals and snakes and an opportunity for Phil to pet the kangaroos and cockatoo completed our Australian introduction of what made the country unique.
Mothers’ Day 2019 may never be topped. All three of us went white water rafting on the level 4 Tully River, the eighth white water rafting river in the world. Into the 3 ½ hour bus ride to the site, we began wondering if the rafting would be worth the long round trip ride, but indeed it was. Our guide, nicknamed Not Two for Not Too Bad and Not Too Good, was an expert. The owner of a rain forest in Costa Rico and his own company, he was in Australia temporarily for his Australian wife to have their child, thus having Australian citizenship. We usually led the parade of five rafts, as Not Two would dock us and establish the lookout to help if needed. As we watched the other rafts follow our path, I kept wondering, “Did we really go through that?” The rafts splashed down steep drops where the raft was bent in half, squeezed between huge rocks in rushing water, seemed completely submerged in water, yet none of us had fallen out. He took excellent care of Paul and me, telling us when to “get down” and hold on. Phil was at the helm, paddling vigorously with little help from the other two young adults who were visibly scared the whole time. The four-hour river ride, 7 ½ miles, with a break for lunch on the bank, was an amazing day complete with sunny weather and incredible scenery.
Anticipating rain, the next day we took advantage of a sunny spot and went to the Only Bungee Jump in Australia. We watched as Phil dove from the tower, all smiles but with a few choice words at the startled start. Included was a jungle swing which was a bit tamer.
Another sunny day, we headed to the Quad ATV spot. Paul and Phil rode in the morning, then we returned after lunch for all of us to ride. I, however, stayed on the practice trail which was challenging enough for me with switchbacks every few seconds. I rode until they came in for a break, but I never felt comfortable enough to go through the sugar cane and forest trails. Another first for me, and lots of fun.
Herberton Historic Village was a disappointment except for the blacksmith. With many interesting vintage displays, the village’s organization and lack of staff to explain the exhibits diminished its attraction. The Skyway over the canopy of rainforest trees is a must, even in rain and fog. The round-trip excursion included another informative vegetation talk and a return ride on an Orient Express type train with magnificent views of waterfalls, fifteen tunnels, and fifty-five bridges.
Finally, the weather permitted Phil’s scuba diving venture. With only two certified divers aboard, he had the guide’s attention and was able to do what he wanted. The other diver bailed out on the second dive leaving Phil and the guide to explore the reef. Since diving the Barrier Reef was the reason for choosing Australia, Paul and I relaxed with the mission accomplished.
The crocodile farm was much more interesting than I had expected. We saw the tanks where the small farm raises 800 crocodiles a year. Farming them for leather and meat has significantly reduced the poaching which in turn has increased the number of wild crocodiles. A cruise through a lagoon with a guide pointing out various crocs gave us more information about their habits. The crocodile show had a trainer tempting a large croc with chicken dangling from a pole to entice lunges to reach it. Jumping toward the trainer was scary to watch. The snake handler talked about four different snakes while they wound themselves around a metal hook. Feeding time for the kangaroos and cassowaries, a colorful emu sized bird, completed the day.
Another first for Phil was skydiving, a weather dependent event which had been pushed day to day. The professional videos told it all; he was thrilled. When he landed, I jokingly said I was saving skydiving for my 80th birthday in two years, but if 90-year-old President Bush could do it, so can I. At least I’ll aim for the goal. Phil said he’d go with me.
Estuary fishing for Phil and Paul ended our daily agendas. Phil is a fisherman, so he was fine with the wait time between catches. A catch and release trip, he did catch fish including a foot-long hammerhead shark.
As we left our neighborhood at 3 a.m. for the airport, kangaroos were in every yard, like rabbits in some areas. What a sight and a very fitting farewell.
Phil’s remarks to his mother were all we could have hoped for: ”It was the trip of a life-time.” Having only one grandchild for two weeks, doing things they enjoy, eating every meal with them, and talking about myriad topics creates zest in life and expands that treasured memory bank. We have five more trips to anticipate.