A Rainy Day in the Australian Rainforest

Day 68, Grand World Voyage 2020

Thursday, March 12, 2020; Cairns, Queensland, Australia

Yes, it rains in the rainforest, but how else would it be so green and lush? And when you are passing high above the forest below in a gondola, you appreciate the beauty that comes with the rain.

The Kuranda Experience, as it is called, is a popular excursion from the port of Cairns, and given the rain, the better choice today than taking a boat out to the Great Barrier Reef. In fact, we had significantly less rain in the mountains at Kuranda than they did in Cairns. I’ve been here twice before, but always in drier November. Turns out that March is in the rainy season.

Kuranda is a rainforest village not far from Cairns, connected by a scenic railroad and the Skyrail, a series of gondola rides. Like most tourists, we took the train one way and the Skyrail the other, stopping in Kuranda for shopping and lunch.

The Kuranda Scenic Railway runs 21 miles on narrow gauge rails built to support a gold rush in the 1880s. It passes through 15 hand-carved tunnels and over 55 bridges. We rode in 100-year-old carriages with wooden benches and open windows. The train stopped at Barron Falls Station where we could photograph the falls. Unfortunately, the recent lack of rain meant we didn’t see the falls at their best, but we still were impressed.

Once in Kuranda, we scattered to browse the many arts and crafts studios and souvenir shops. Light showers came and went, but umbrellas were sufficient to keep us dry. And in a timely move, last night Holland America gifted each of us with automatic umbrellas printed with a map of the world on the inside. We stopped at a sidewalk café for lunch before leaving for the highlight of the day.

From Kuranda we descended back to the coast on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. The four-passenger gondolas move smoothly for nearly 5 miles above the rainforest canopy. Australia’s rainforests are the oldest continually surviving tropical rainforests on earth. At first we moved above the Barron River and then stopped for a short walk to the see the same falls we had seen earlier from the train. I even overcame my fear of heights to stand on the clear Plexiglas platform.

At times we glided just yards over the canopy and could see flowering plants and occasional birds nesting in the trees Long tree trunks stretched high to find sunlight. As we moved through the mountains, we could peak into the dark spaces under the canopy of trees but couldn’t see the ground.

As we came to the end of the ride, in view of the Coral Sea, sharp-eyed Elaine saw a group of wallabies napping in the tall grass. None of us were quick enough to get a photo. But on the bus ride back to the ship, we stopped by a field where hundreds of wallabies were resting in the distance.

COVID-19 Update

Back on the ship, we caught up on the news of the day. Crystal Cruises canceled the rest of its world cruise and announced passengers would fly home from Perth. Its planned itinerary took it from Mumbai, which has closed its port to cruise ships, to Rome, where Italy is shut down. Princess and Viking Cruises are canceling cruises for the next few weeks. Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson have been infected with covid-19 here in Australia, and last weekend they were at the Sydney Opera House as were some passengers from our ship, but apparently there was no contact.

Captain Jonathan told us at noon on Friday, March 13, that while our situation is fluid, Holland America has no plans to cease cruising, and our cruise is continuing on. We take it day by day, hoping we will be able to sail to Africa as planned. Some passengers have suggested if African countries won’t let us dock, we could instead continue around Australia, perhaps go to New Zealand’s South Island and then head slowly back to Florida, skipping Caribbean ports so we will have 14 sea days — a virtual quarantine — before arriving in Fort Lauderdale on May 12.

I am encouraged to hear that for now we will continue on, and I think being on this ship is one of the healthier places we can be. Cruise ship passengers are used to washing their hands thoroughly. The ship has taken a lot of measures in the last few days. We no longer have tongs at the buffet, as crewmembers serve us everything. Waiters at dinner serve bread (which is better for me because it’s not sitting there on the table tempting me for the whole meal).

The contract of one of our cabin stewards was due to end on March 25, but he says it has been extended until April 21. That means we won’t have the risk of bringing an Indonesian replacement on board.

Now we have three sea days before we get to Darwin, Australia, and I have lots of pages of my sketchbook to paint.