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Green and Blue Australia
Tonight, as I was looking over two days worth of photographs from here in Cairns, Queensland, I realized that there is a distinct color theme running through them. Yesterday the major color was green as we traveled into the Daintree Rainforest. Today, it was blue as we snorkeled and swam at a small portion of the Great Barrier Reef. Tomorrow we will head out to the Outback and the next posting may very likely be called Red Australia. But I get ahead of myself....
Green Australia begins at the Freshwater Station of the Kuranda Railway. This is now a tourist railroad of 23 miles length but was originally conceived in the 1880's as a way for the tin miners in the Macallister Mountains to get their ore out to the port at Cairns.
Train pulling into the Freshwater Station
There were 12 passenger cars in the train's consist pulled by two diesel engines that took us up the 2,000 foot incline to the Atherton Plateau.
The bridge over Stone Creek
Stone Creek Falls. This is the end of the dry season with the wet season beginning in a few weeks. With over 80 inches of rain annually, these falls become huge in February.
Looking to the rear of the train whilst on the Stone Creek Falls Bridge
Close-up of the train through the forest
Looking to the south across the coastal floodplain as the Kuranda Railroad winds upwards into the mountains.
The Daintree is one of the oldest rainforests on earth considering that this part of Australia has not experienced an Ice Age since the forest was first established in the Cretaceous time period. It thus may be as old as 100 to 140 million years.
Barron Falls during the dry season. Imagine the entire rocky area running with water
This is an obvious knickpoint on the Barron River, where the gradient undergoes a substantial change from that found both upstream and downstream. It was interesting to see that the river had a low gradient both above and below this point but that the falls (at over 600 feet high) were placed in the middle of this. I know of no obvious faulting downstream from here or uplift upstream. Perhaps rock type has determined the presence of this knickpoint?
At the Kuranda Station where numerous tropical plants line the platform
The Barron River Gorge slices through the Atherton Plateau
Note the relatively flat top above the gorge. Superposition? Antecedence? I was struck by how the river seems to have been "let down" into the plateau here.
There is a gondola called the Skytrain that takes visitors down from Kuranda to the coastal plain and this photo was taken from that gondola.
I got into a gondola with a glass-bottomed floor and took this picture of the pattern of a tree fern, growing near one of the gondola towers.
At the end of the day we were invited to a presentation by a biologist about koala's. Everyone got to hold this two-year old female named Nellie.
She was quite calm during the whole event, which lasted about an hour. Nellie, as you can imagine, charmed the daylights out of the people in our group.
They eat the leaves of the gum tress (eucalyptus)
A little less attractive but no less interesting was this giant crocodile within an enclosure. This concludes the photos I took from Green Australia.
The next day we boarded the Ocean Spirit for a two hour ride out to Michaelmas Cay
The skyline of Cairns recedes into view
Approaching Michaelmas Cay. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the Original Severs Wonders of the Natural World - the other six are Grand Canyon, Mt. Everest, Victoria Falls, the Northern Lights, the harbor at Rio de Janeiro, and Paracutín Volcano (Mexico).
Remember that ride at Disneyland? Well, there is a submersible craft at this cay that we were privileged to ride in.
The view from the inside of the submersible
And the view outside
This spaghetti coral waves back and forth in the water currents
"Sam" has been working on the Ocean Spirit for about 6 months and here she approaches a noddy sitting on the egg.
Close-up of the noddy
There are as many as 16,000 birds nesting on this coral sand island
A view of the egg
I had one of my best days ever snorkeling over this part of the reef. Here a giant clam rests on the sandy bottom.
Close-up of branching coral
Colorful branching coral. I was using my Panasonic underwater camera for the first time in water and was pleased with the results (although after having looked a the photo's, I know I could do better a second time). My mustache made the mask leak water and I was constantly fighting the intrusion of salt water into my eyes.
The great limestone factory of the barrier reef
These all have names but I never heard what there were and would not remember them if I had
Blue branching coral on a boulder coral
Canyon and monuments of coral
Corals are tiny soft polyps that secrete a calcium chamber for themselves, one on top of the other
I chased this guy for good while through the canyons
Or was he leading me away from the rest of them?
I have always told my geology students that if they wanted to attain a certain kind of immortality that they should write in their will that they want to be "buried" at the the Great Barrier Reef. Then when Australia drifts northward and collides with Asia sometime in the future, their fossilized bones will be uplifted in a Himalayan-type mountain range and might become exposed on a high-standing ledge of limestone. And then, here I was snorkeling on the reef! Magic...
The ride back into the city of Cairns was fantastic. I had never been on a catamaran before and the experience was quite pleasing.
The sail was hoisted but we never did turn off the engine
Returning to the harbor in Trinity Bay. We are now going to travel into the heart of the Australian continent to Alice Springs and Ayers Rock (Uluru). Stay tuned!