Oct 13, 2016

The World of Banana Benders

I wish I could see that again for the first time


Famous fountain of Paronella Park, no pumps needed, gravity fed only
Tennis courts to the right, bath house and changing room on the left

The Queensland area is so vast we decided to use the fairly central area of Cairns as our pivot point to travel to and from the various areas of this beautiful region.  We first visited the southern parts then headed north.  We also drove slightly inland (west) until we saw a much dryer area, even though it wasn’t the desert yet. 
In Cairns our host family was comprised of 3 kids, 1 dog, and mom and step dad…  They were extremely knowledgeable of the area, to the point that they would tell us which side of the road to stop for the best lookout, at what time to leave for the best animal viewing, etc…  We felt right at home.

Although they didn’t want to scare us, they made sure we understood that Cairns area is home of many pythons and that, especially at night, one has to be especially careful.  We never saw the 4.5 meter (15 foot) beasts that were often mentioned and the cause for why no one leaves their pets out of doors in this neck of the woods.
Another conversation we found interesting was when our hosts mentioned looking forward to the next cyclone.  Why? was our question…  Because cyclones help clean out all the debris (dead branches and leaves) caught in the tall forest trees.  Eventually there would be so much debris piled up that little light comes through.  Cyclones help trim and clean the fast growing rain forest.  It is an interesting take on the function of cyclones.
We had hoped to meet more aboriginals once up here but were made to understand how dangerous that might be, so only made a feeble attempt that didn’t lead to much.  Aboriginals do not get along with outsiders and can easily throw things at cars coming to visit their villages.  Since we had a rental, we didn’t want to chance having it damaged.
Paronella Park - www.paronellapark.com.au
This gorgeous 13 acre park commemorates the story of José Paronella’s dream to build a castle with beautifully landscaped grounds that respect and honor romance and love.  To fulfill his vision, he came to Australia from Catalonia, Spain in 1913.  He first made money by working the sugar fields then by purchasing and reselling cane farms over 12 years finally having enough money to buy the place of his dreams. 
Kauri Tree Avenue
These trees were planted in 1933 (83 years old).  They can live to 1,000
Can you see the size of the people?
He started building in 1929 accompanied by his new wife.  They first visited around the world for a couple of years to get ideas.  José was actually a Pastry Chef turned architect; designing everything.  The place opened in 1935 and was covered with 7,000 hand planted tropical trees to create the very lush oasis that it is today.  It also contained a restaurant, a ballroom and a theatre that played movies on Saturday nights.  Tennis courts made from crushed termite mounds were near a water fountain strategically placed to enhance the view of the romantic waterfalls.  Many ‘Will You Marry Me’ were uttered in hidden corners over the years.
Fountain at entrance of restaurant or refreshment (aka ice cream) area
In Australia, they were the very first to have electricity, a disco ball, ice cream, refrigeration…  For that he built a power plant in 1933.  The disco ball was called the myriad reflector, and was covered with 1,270 tiny mirrors and suspended from the ceiling.  With spotlights of pink and blue shining on it from the corners of the hall, it was rotated slowly, producing a colored snowflake effects around the walls, floor and ceiling.  Side note: first known disco balls were in Boston in 1897…
Numerous stairways around the property
Nature is slowly reclaiming many of them
The castle was reinforced with old railway ties – something local found for free.  The sand for concrete came from nearby as well however it was full of mica which explains why the structures are in a very bad state today.  The plan is to have everything rebuilt the way it used to be within the next two years.  The plaster covering the concrete was laid by hand and we can still see many of the fingerprints and handprints from the various workers even though most everything is covered with ferns and mosses.
Picnic area near waterfalls
At the base of the waterfall was the swimming pool.  With picnic tables nearby it was a popular place to spend a hot afternoon.  Today no one swims there due to the crocodile population.  Turtles, eels, and fish also populate these waters.
Castle through the trees - sunset to come soon
A tunnel was dug with the intention of having underground aquariums there but somehow it never came to fruition as they could not find a safe way to electrify that subterranean system.  It then became the ‘Tunnel of Love’ that led you to a smaller waterfall.  It is now closed to the public and bats have taken residence there.  Speaking of bats, some taller trees are covered with large fruit bats awaiting dark to begin their nightly rounds.
Many significant floods later the place was still open to the public but not doing too well once the highway stopped running nearby.  You now have to go out of your way to come visit, which I think adds to the cachet.
Near evening, the park is bathed in different lights to add a special dimension
To the right of the waterfalls on reinforced concrete stilts is the power plant
The new owners, Mark and Julie Evans, are putting a lot of energy into rejuvenating this place and their commitment shows.  The power plant is back on line, they use as much local produce and/or materials they can and support the nearby community in many ways. They have won many eco-friendly awards.  
Great place to visit.
Banana field surrounded by property lines of rainforest trees
Unused stairway to Josephine Falls
Josephine Falls, Wooroonooran National Park
Fruit of the blue quandong tree - very colorful
On the way there, we took the opportunity to visit Josephine Falls in the Wooroonooran National Park.   This is where we first saw just how many bananas are grown in this region; hence the locals’ nickname Banana Benders.  You can see banana ‘trees’ (even though they are not technically trees but perennial herbs) as far as the eye can see.  Many of the ripening bananas (which are actually berries) were covered with breathable plastic bags to save them from certain types of insects, animals, and application of chemicals. These covers create a microclimate that maintains a higher temperature and prevent chill damage.  It can also reduce time to maturity. The industry standard is blue since it helps produce the heaviest bunches because it blocks the most UV rays.  Blue covers also do not harden the peel, one of the disadvantages of bunch covers.  For some reason however, in this region we saw blues, oranges, purples, whites, and yellows peeking among the large banana leaves.  Bananas are threatened by a disease that may wipe them all within the next 10 years.
When driving in agricultural areas, you often see fruit stalls where you weigh your own fruits/veggies then pay for what you took with no one around to conduct this transaction.  These are called ‘Honesty Box Fruit Stalls or Stands’. They usually have better pricing than at the markets. It is sad to see that foreigners are sometimes the ones to abuse these places and take without paying.  There are fewer and fewer of these to be seen along the way.
You either weigh and pay or things are pre-bagged and pre-priced

Most are very rustic
On the way back we meandered through the Tablelands near Atherton and saw among other beautiful peaks, Mt Walsh, in the shape of a near perfect pyramid.
Walsh mountain, perfect pyramid shape.  Flanked by sugarcane fields - yes another rainy day
There are many signs warning you of train tracks along the highways.  These special train tracks are narrower than what we are used to and are used only for sugarcane trains.  They are much smaller and run the cut sugarcanes to the mills where they will be processed.
Coming back from Daintree having to stop for a sugarcane train

Another train south of Cairns
At first, we were amazed by Josephine Falls but soon discovered that Queensland has a major waterfall just about every 30 minutes of driving or so.  We also saw falls at the Babinda Boulders, at Behana Gorge Creek, and at Crystal Cascades.  
Babinda Boulders - Huge rocks carved by water

Babinda Boulders - Clear water - one feels dwarfed by these boulders
Babinda Boulders - Contrast between dark rocks and light water is stunning
Even with minimal flow (not rainy season) it moves swiftly and rocks are very slippery - beware
Babinda Boulders where they get upwards of 15.5 feet of rain a year!
Our anti-erosion friend - tree roots - Babinda Boulders
Behana Gorge waterfalls
Barron Falls - dry times.  Called Din Din in the local language
410 feet tall
During rainy season (thank you Wikipedia)
Crystal Cascades
Thrown for a loop - neat plant
Atherton, Tablelands
Naturally air-conditioned, being an average 2,300 feet (700 meters) above sea level this district is free of coastal humidity and high temperatures, the perfect summer retreat.  Had we stayed in Australia any longer, we would’ve probably visited this area a little more, the heat and the humidity were steadily increasing to the point where it was no longer comfortable to do outdoor activities in the afternoon.
Savannah grasslands with crisp blue skies and clear nights.  Coffee and mango mostly grown here but we came here for our first glance at termite mounds…
Mike staying a 'safe' distance from the termite mound - not to upset them
Many can be found per acres - a little like tombstones
Millions of termite mounds (termitariums). There are 2,800 species worldwide with 350 in Australia.  Of these 350, only 20 are destructive.  One mound can be active for 100 years.  Even though they are only built from spit, shit, and soil, they are very hard outside, destroying vehicles that crash into them.  Some are so beautifully crafted that they are called ‘Dirt Cathedrals’.
Depending what type of termites build them, they can be up to 7 meters (23 feet) tall, 30 meter (100 feet) in diameter and weigh 10 tons.   A network of mounds can cover 1 hectare, resembling cemetery headstones with 100s of them scattered around.  Each is a home, kitchen, nursery, fortress, heater or cooler, fungal garden to help extract nutrients from wood, and storage for wood (from dead leaves, wood, or humus) their main source of food.  Animals often go atop to see long distances in the grasslands.
Some build these intricate homes according to the passage of the sun so that it never shines squarely and directly on the broad surface of their mounds.  Studies show that soil around each mound absorbs twice the water after a rain and that many more plants grow where there are mounds nearby.  They are a very important part of the ecosystem.
They are also inhabited by geckos, lizards, pythons, ants, spiders, or birds. 
Early explorers used them as ovens while aboriginals used them to inter their deceased.  They would dig out a hole and the termites would reseal it for them.  For that, they had reverence for the termites.
Didgeridoos are made from termite hollowed trees or branches.
Termites are more closely related to cockroaches than ants even though they look much more like the latter.
Lake Morris Dam
Calm waters of Lake Morris
To the right, water intake in the lake
Nowhere in the US that we know of could you simply drive or walk on a dam used to create a reservoir for drinking water.  Fear of contamination and destruction are too high.  Here this can be done at leisure, no one watching…  You can also kayak and do some stand-up paddle boarding.
Two aboriginal kids fighting over money earned playing didgeridoo
Don't stand or camp or eat under one of the green ants nests.  They'll drop all over you!
Built among the branches of various trees.
Beautiful train station at Kuranda
About 30 years ago, a US/Canadian couple met with some aboriginal elders and put together a show to educate people about indigenous life, culture, history, etc.   It all started in this little ‘hippie/artistic’ town of Kuranda which is now a tourist attraction with little left to draw us as it is too crowded and with very little authenticity left.  The show called ‘Tjapukai’ started in 1987 and became so successful that they moved to a larger cultural center nearer Cairns in 1996.  More than 6 million people have visited the center, making it the largest indigenous employer.  See below for more information on the show.
Port Douglas
Would have never guessed that Vancouver is closer than Los Angeles from here...
Shrimp boats are much smaller than ones in Mexico and still made of wood rather than steel.
Port Douglas is a very small town where famous Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin died in 2006 while filming the documentary ‘The Ocean’s Deadliest’.  He was snorkeling directly above the stingray when it lashed him with its tail, embedding its toxic barb.  We just wanted to see the coastline north of Cairns and went this far to get an idea of what the marina also looked like.  Many boats are just anchored in fairly shallow water surrounded by mangrove.  Resorts are starting to pop up since Port Douglas is so close to the Great Barrier Reef.  This sleepy town is being discovered and expanded quickly.
Daintree National Park
Quaint little church on the way to Daintree
Someone with a sense of humor changed the sign
showing a speed bump into a dead cassowary bird.
Lace monitors are quite dark and difficult to see in the rainforest
Rainforest all the way to the beach
On the way to Daintree we saw hundreds of wallabies enjoying the wet morning grass found along the highways.  Founded in 1981 and part of the Wet Tropics of Queensland.  It is now part of the World Heritage Sites due to its incredible biodiversity.  Cape Tribulation is part of this national park and has extensive beaches with increasingly rare littoral rainforest.  You have to take a ferry across the Daintree River to get there.  Although beautiful there was nothing new to see here after visiting so many other rainforests up the coast.  It is fair to say we didn’t see the most remote areas since we didn’t have a 4x4 but we still managed to see a lace monitor.
The one with the small speckles is wattle, the purplish is Davidson plum the peach is passion fruit
These three flavors cover the coconut ice cream - yummy
The very next day the ice creamery was giving all their proceeds to saving the cassowary birds
On the way back we had to taste the famous Daintree Ice Cream.  They specialize in in-season locally grown exotic fruit ice cream.  They usually scoop 4 flavors into a bowl for the pleasure of your tastebuds.  We tasted a combination of wattle, passion fruit, coconut, and Davidson plums.  Delicious
You see these at all major beaches
Vinegar in case of jelly fish stings
Palm Cove a little north of Cairns on the coast
Palm Cove's Double Island
Tjapukai - Where Australia begins
Making fire the old way
"Talks a Little" our guide and also the artist
who made shield above
Mike learning to throw a boomerang with 'Dingo'
Now trying a cousin of the atlatl
Playing the kangaroo song
'Woman of the Forest' with basket of bush tucker (food)
Each body painting represents your name
World's creation show indoor - picture from their website

Plant as food, medicine, tools, art, etc
It’s a place to explore the rich history of the world’s oldest living culture, dating back over 40,000 years and gain a deeper understanding of Australia’s diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage by trying their spear or boomerang hunting methods, discovering their ancient medicinal and food uses (aboriginal food is called bush tucker) of bush plants and learn about the didgeridoo and their dances.
This is in no way an in depth learning experience and you soon realize that no matter where you go in the world, natives/aboriginals have, with slight variances, similar techniques for starting fires, sharing dreams and visions, hunting, dancing, body painting, eating, medicine, etc. 

One thing we have learned is that firefighters in Australia have begun to use the expertise of the aboriginals in fighting bush fires.  They seem to know how to control, handle or prevent the very explosive gum tree fires Australia is known for.  It is great to see some cooperation there.
“Gubun gubun galling”
Travel safely

Cairns Botanical Gardens
Panama Flame Tree
Pink Poodle
Pride of Burma
Sorry - I don't know what type of butterflies but they were pretty
Another beauty
Many highways have these above the ground bridges for animals to safely cross the road
For a town the size of Cairns, it has an amazing botanical garden that is comprised of five different sections each with its own specialty with very knowledgeable volunteers to answer all your questions.
It is also home of the Tanks Arts Centre names for the concrete fuel tanks where it is housed. The tanks were completed in 1944 for the Royal Australian Navy and decommissioned in 1987 then remodeled into an arts center in 1995.  An ingenious way to use what was already there.
Cairns tidbits

  • Cairns is the main center of Northern Queensland
  • The town of Cairns was created over the site of a sea-slug fishing camp when gold was found to the north in 1986.
  • However, it was the Atherton Tablelands' tin and timber resources that established Cairns and kept it ahead of its nearby rival, Port Douglas.
  • Today, Cairns is most popular as a base for exploring the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree Rainforest and the Atherton Tablelands.
  • The only beach right in town is a man-made 4,000 sq meter (43,000 sq ft) saltwater lagoon and artificial beach.
  • The world's largest moth - Hercules moth - is found in the Queensland Tropical North (read Cairns).  Its wings can measure as long as 25 centimeters (nearly a foot).
  • The Cairn's Lake Echen is home to the world's longest fern fronds.  The King Ferns have fronds that can measure as long as 7 meters (23 feet).  We saw these ferns on Fraser Island as well.

Queensland tidbits

  • Hungry Jack’s is the name of Burger King – actually this goes for all of Australia.  Burger King was already taken by a food chain in Adelaide. 
  • There are no Taco Bells in Australia but there is a lonely Taco Bill.
  • Grow chocolate, tea, coffee, passion fruits, pineapples, bananas, mangoes, lychee nuts, ginger, some grapes for various wines.  They even make a mango wine in the Mareeba area.
  • Queensland is five times the size of Japan yet it is the second largest state in Australia.
  • The international airline Qantas (Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services) was established in 1920.
  • Residents of Queensland are often nicknamed “Banana Benders” by those from other states due to the large number of tropical areas of the state where bananas are grown.
  • That state receives an average of 261 days of sunshine every year (as a point of reference Arizona gets 300)…
  • Queensland has more than 200 national parks

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