After my 5 day stay on board the Liveaboard, I still had two nights in Cairns before my onward journey. In my haste, I hadn’t booked a place to stay in Cairns for those nights, so the captain very kindly let me use his internet connection to book a room at Caravella Backpackers.
The transfer boat dropped me off at the pier and I walked to the hostel. After dropping my bags off at my room, I decided to go for a little walk and see what was happening in Cairns. By pure chance, I bumped into some new friends I’d made on the liveaboard: Paul, Chris and Lisan, who by even richer serendipity were in a dorm room opposite my room! Of course, we hooked up for a brew or three:
Included with the hostel room was a ticket entitling the bearer to a free dinner at The Woolshed. Pretty much every backpacker passing through Cairns ate here and I saw a few familiar faces. The food was pretty bog-standard, but for a little extra, you could upgrade to steak, so we did!
We wasted a lot of the following morning. I suppose the diving and the beer can take it out of you. By the time we were working out what to do, it was already lunchtime. We settled on going to the zoo. Regular readers will recall that I’ve already had a zoo adventure in Sydney. This time, I was hoping for a chance to see things a little bit more up close and personal, as well as hold a koala. Tourists handling koalas is verboten in New South Wales (where Sydney is), but is allowed in Queensland (where Cairns sits), so without further ado, we walked to the nearest bus stop and waited for a bus for about five minutes.
After five minutes, we were bored waiting, so we went looking to hire a car. Utterly pathetic, I know: we’re supposed to be frugal backpackers, but we were short on time and patience, and as it turned out we all got a discount at the zoo for going by car. The ticket office also sold kangaroo food – you could walk into the kangaroo enclosure and feed them! This was the up close and personal experience I was looking for! We wandered through the gardens and met Kookaburras and other weird and wonderful birds.
We walked out of the gardens and saw a koala talk hosted by one of the zookeepers. I hadn’t noticed before how big their claws are. They really do seem perfectly adapted to scurrying up trees, eating and sleeping. what a life!
Just beyond the koala talk was the koala house, where I was about to actually hold a koala for a small fee. The koala was a little reticent about clambering onto me, but I didn’t take it personally: a previous visitor had the same issue. The koala was very attached to its keeper. The keeper was wearing leather gauntlets to handle the koala, and I had no protection, and I was pretty concerned about those big claws. The keeper asked me to stand in a particular way and support the koala’s bottom. The koala was surprisingly gentle on me, and very fluffy. It was also very relaxed or very nervous: it took a crap into the hand I was cradling it with!
Next stop was the reptile house and a chance to meet an enormous saltwater crocodile. This thing was 4.7m (15 feet) long:
But despite his menacing frame, he still had a cheeky smile when his mouth was closed.
Next up was the Kangaroo enclosure. It wasn’t too far from the crocodiles, and it was helpfully signposted with the most obvious guidance I think I’ve ever seen on a sign anywhere, somewhere up there with the warning on the apocryphal packet of peanuts, “Warning: contains nuts”:
The kangaroos were pretty chilled in the enclosure: mostly they just lay around in the sun or under the shelter. I still marvelled at how they moved about, using their tails as a third leg (no laughing at the back, please!), as they slowly hopped around the enclosure. I fed a few of them from the bag of feed I’d bought with my ticket. The sensation was akin to feeding some horse-rabbit chimera.
We soon ran out of food. This wasn’t because there was a queue to eat from our hands: the kangaroos knew we’d persist in offering them food as they lay around, so they didn’t make much of an effort. We wandered out of the zoo by way of the ring-tailed Lemurs:
It was my last night in Cairns before heading out to the Cook Islands, I took some time to walk along the Esplanade an watch the sun go down as people jogged by or others did chin-ups at the outdoor gym by the sea. I sat chatting to a guy who was filming some documentary about psychic/ paranormal stuff for YouTube, before heading into town to rejoin my new chums for a last hurrah. My ride was leaving the hotel at 3am, so I had a choice to make: party late or snatch a little sleep.
In my usual style, I compromised and did a bit of both, with more beer, meat and merriment at the Woolshed. As I walked home I saw that the trees near my hostel were full of sleeping cockatoos. I might have spent the day at the zoo, but this little moment reminded me that my whole time in Australia has been filled with a unique beauty and the exotic in even the most mundane things.