Operation Cassowary: Entering Cook’s Magical Landmass

After less than one hour of sleep, three finished movies, and extreme amounts of Duran Duran music, the television screen on the seat in front of me was counting down the minutes as the mini-map airplane closed in on the east coast of Australia. In my aisle seat, tactically placed for easy bathroom access, I leaned over my two seat mates and looked out of the window. And then it appeared.

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It took fourteen hours to fly from Los Angeles to Brisbane on Qantas Airlines, with a delay until one in the morning in LAX, but it was all worth it. After crossing both the International Date Line (we lost our second day,) and the Equator, both personal feats, the coast of Australia, and later the runway of Brisbane airport, appeared before my very eyes. Eager to depart the plane with my group, I exited through the gateway connector and exited onto a new continent for the first time… and hopefully not the last.

I cringed for about an hour waiting for the next flight, and we boarded a smaller flight bound for Cairns, once again on Qantas. This one lasted exactly one hour and fifty minutes, but compared to the transpacific jaunt from California, it was a breeze. After departure, I could see the skyline of Brisbane from above. I somewhat regretted only passing through, but as a positive, I assured myself I would explore it on another trip. Now, the focus was on the destination. If all things went according to plan, we would make a seamless transition into the fascinating Daintree Rainforest by day’s end.

I had a window seat on the right side of the plane, so I had optimal views of the incoming city. Before you see Cairns, you see pieces of the Great Barrier Reef jutting up from the ocean, and then you see massive green hills covered in verdant trees. We weren’t even on the ground yet and I felt like I was stepping into an Uncharted video game.

When we landed in Cairns, the adventure capital of Queensland and the jump-off point for the reef, we collected our bags in the small airport, the first time we’d seen them since Los Angeles. Since we’d come back here later (a subject for a later post,) we retrieved our rental vehicles, and began our drive up north to the Daintree.

We stopped at a shopping mall in the city, and almost immediately we saw differences in car brands, stores, and ordinary appliances. The shopping carts have axles, so they swivel around. You could easily swerve them, like doing doughnuts in a stunt car. One of my group mates and I ate at a sandwich shop that was popular in the US, but there was a posted sign on the window that warned that because of Indian Ocean cyclones, tomatoes were in shortage. Another thing I would soon come to notice was how Australians take sincere pride in the natural array of fauna living on their landmass. Many local brands featured kangaroos, koalas, and other local species featured as mascots.

My associate and I tried two classic Australian staples. The first were “Tim Tams,” a popular Australian wafer candy. They were alright in my tastes, but I was more excited about the infamous “Vegemite.” Australians eat this on sandwiches with peanut butter, and it’s made from… I don’t remember. I’ve tried (unsuccessfully) to erase it from my mind and taste. I’ll post a video of me trying it. If you have to, or really want to try it, never try it a second time, because by then it becomes lodged into your memory and it never goes away. Now, whenever I think of “Vegemite,” my body shudders, and the taste of what I thought had to be motor oil comes back into my mouth, as if I were trying it again.

Anyhow, by then it was afternoon, and we had to reach our lodgings by nightfall, so we left Cairns along the Captain Cook Highway, which winds its way up north until it merges with smaller roads until reaching the Daintree. I found this road a worthy tribute to the world-changing sailor and his ship, as you could almost imagine the British vessel sailing on the horizon past the winding roads, steep cliffs, and magnificent views of the ocean between teal blue and dark green shades.

To enter the Daintree Rainforest, you must board a vehicle ferry to cross the Daintree River. As we waited, we noticed a sign written in many languages, with an image of a crocodile’s gaping jaw alongside one with a man swimming with a red bar through it. It read WARNING in English, with ACHTUNG in German beneath. Our guides told us (I don’t have the evidence to verify) that awhile back, some German lady was waiting at this very spot and stepped out to observe the scenery, when one of the region’s crocodiles snapped up and dragged her to a watery end. These reptiles inhabit the river, the mangroves, and even in the ocean off the beaches- which was why we never were able to walk close to the water’s edge alone, and especially at night. Now I thought there might be a reason the German phrase was included on that sign…

With those wonderfully positive thoughts, we cross the Daintree River on the ferry and entered Daintree Rainforest, the only place in the world where two renowned ecosystems collide. But that’s for next time.

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