A Day off in Paradise

We achieved our mid-morning departure goal from Johnson Creek, and drove five hours up to Cairns and the Crystal Cascades Holiday Park. The women volunteers were assigned one cottage, the men another, and the research staff a third. Luxury! We had real plumbing, soft fluffy towels, real beds (I claimed age before beauty and got the big bed while Emily, Carolyn and Kirsty had rather diminutive bunks, but real sheets and pillows), electricity, kitchen facilities, furniture, and AC. The park had laundry facilities (solar driers - everything dessicated in an hour) and a sweet little salt water swimming pool. We had swapped a vehicle en route, and temporarily lost Alex a day earlier when he went to James Cook for graduation. We washed the vehicles so as not to transport seeds or hitchhiking critters to our next site, aired gear, then bathed, did laundry, and swam while Steve, Collin, and Nadiah did a few errands. Eventually, we could all relax and enjoy wine, beer, and pizza on the veranda of Steve et al’s house.

Kirsty, clean and pressed

Moon over the cottages. This is a fuzzy shot and fails to show that the moon waxes (in this case) and wanes backwards… of course.

After a night of comeraderie and frivolity, the research staff headed out to reprovision for the following week after dropping most of us off at the boat docks in Cairns for a day of snorkeling on the reef. George stayed home to rest, but probably spent the day taking photographs.

Leaving Cairns. Yes, it was that clear and beautiful, and the temperature worked its way into the low 30’s°C for the day.

Carolyn was given an underwater camera by her Dad for the trip. With her permission (and attribution), I will add some underwater photos when I get them from her.

This is Rodney who was with us only a week because he had to return to Melbourne and look for work. The somber expression is uncharacteristic!

Michaelmas Cay, our diving destination. There are far (very very far) more birds on the cay than there ever are people. Their greeting was raucous as they dive bombed us at the shoreline, and a common noddy gave me a welcome gift, plopping it right into my snorkeling mask as I was about to suction it to my face. This photo shows about 75% of the cay. It is just a tiny blob of reef that for now, is above water and behaving like a landmass.

There were a lot of birds that looked like variations on the theme of terns, and when I looked them up on our return to dry land I learned that I had seen lesser crested terns (Thalasseus bengalensis), crested terns (Thalasseus bergii), sooty terns (Onychoprion fuscatus), and the prettiest, black-naped terns (Sterna sumatrana). We also saw brown boobies (Sula leucogaster) (teeheehee) perched on this boat when we swam by.

We enjoyed two 90-minute sessions of snorkeling, seperated by a break for a huge and tasty lunch back on board the ship. The reef was gorgeous and in good shape, with an abundance of fish species almost characaturish in their colorfulness and fanciful shapes. The giant clams were, in fact, giant, some measuring well over a meter in length. They were also beautiful, with purple mantles speckled with green or orange or yellow fluorescent dots glinting in the UV rays of the scorching sun. I also saw a cool cobalt blue seastar a couple of times the width of my hand, some gnarly log-sized sea cucumbers, blue, orange, and red tube woms imbedded in round living coral “rocks,” and corals of every shape, fluorescent hue and color ever seen in nature films. We swam with a green sea turtle and dove to touch bottom to feel white coral sand made by chomping parrot fish. It was surreal. I was very proud of myself for being able to dispense with my customary obsessive attention to my appearance, and donned a full-body stinger suit as a hedge against sunburn, there being few to no stinging jellies around this area at this time of year. As I hope to show you when I get Carolyn’s photos, I maintained my normal skin tone and looked, well, dively. With the exception of James, who was recovering from having celebrated his 22 birthday a couple of days too early, we all had a delightful time.

The boat trip to the cay was about two hours, so we had lots of time to chill (in a very warm way) on deck.

A side of Adrian we had not yet met.

Rodney being as demure (?) as Adrian.

Me, happy to be doing just what I was doing, and not being seasick!

Heading back to Cairns: Rodney, James, Adrian, and Kirsty.

The view from the foredeck as we approach land

We were met at the park near the docks, and one car quickly departed to take Rodney to the airport. We were all sad to see him go. Back at the holiday park we rejoined the rest of the team, and were treated to a barby - marinated kangaroo filets (Collins secret recipe that may or may not have included some of the Glenfiddich we’d seen in his possession), lamb sausage, salad, and veggie burgers for those so inclined. The night ended earlier than the previous one after all of us had taken an extra shower, just to front-load cleanliness for the next week in the bush.