I hadn’t noticed any of our roommates coming back at various stages during the night but woke when the large gentleman decided that, since he was awake at 6am, he would say good morning and chat to each and every other person in the room as they got up, regardless of other people sleeping… You could tell that everyone was getting more uncomfortable as he got louder and louder, as their answers went from being sparse to non-existent! With everyone out of the room by 7am, we decided to cut our losses and got up too. We both showered and dressed before heading outside to have more breakfast of champions (fruit toast with cashew nut spread). Went back to the room to pack up our bags before checking out and catching the local island bus to the ferry terminal. An easy 30 minute journey back to the mainland where we decided to head to the nearby aquarium and turtle hospital before catching our bus to Cairns later that day. We had planned to leave our bags at the ferry terminal but the $8 locker fee seemed incredibly excessive, especially since we’ve never paid more than half that amount (even in the major cities) and you could only open the locker once. Decided to just carry our bags around the aquarium so walked the short distance to Reef HQ. After buying our tickets, which they gave to us at concession price, they even offered to store our bags for free! Locking our bags in what I imagine is the schools cupboard, we were free to explore the largest coral reef display in the world.
A staggering 2.5 million litres of water flow through the coral-reef tank, which is home to 140 coral and 120 fish species. They have separated out the ‘predator’ fish as they want to preserve the marine life and reduce the amount of of coral being eaten. They have also separated the male and female zebra sharks to reduce the amount of breeding although the female shark has started laying eggs by cloning herself (parentogenesis), one of the first times it has ever been seen in captivity. We had arrived just in time for the dive talk which took place in their theatre. A segregated room with seating that had a view window of the predator tank with one of the aquarists kitted out in a full face mask with built in microphone so he could talk to the visitors whilst swimming around. It was a really interesting talk where he swam around to point out the fish he was talking about, answered questions from the crowd and, at one point, hugged ‘Cuddles’ (the tawny nurse shark) to encourage him to swim past the window.
After the talk, we spent time just wandering around the displays. Reef HQ isn’t huge but they have managed to achieve quite a lot in such a small space. Being a weekday, there was a large amount of school children racing around in groups, some better behaved than others, all being led around by the aquarium volunteers – kind of made me nostalgic for my old teaching job but not for taking classes on school trips!
We managed to get tickets to visit the turtle hospital so, after a brief talk about what they do and a plug for some money, we were being led out the back to see the two turtles that they currently have in the hospital that are allowed ‘visitors’. The first one (a green turtle) was admitted after being found malnourished and severely underweight whilst the second one (a green and loggerhead hybrid) was found to have two fishing hooks suck in its mouth, causing it infections and difficulties in eating. The second one was obviously fascinating to everyone as no one (not even the marine scientists) knew that cross-species could reproduce. Having seen the facility and learnt that both of these turtles will be returned to the ocean once the weather warms up a bit, we headed back inside to grab our bags and head to the supermarket to get some lunch.
Clearly further down The Strand than we had anticipated, even the palm trees that provided the shade couldn’t keep the heat away. Deciding that it was pointless to both go looking for the supermarket with our big bag, I left Jayne with our stuff to head slowly back to the ferry/coach terminal whilst I continued on looking for Coles. Must have walked a good kilometre further on before finding it, buying some food and then making my way back along the promenade, which is interspersed with parks, pools, cafes, playground and sculptures all alongside the marina and golden sand beaches.
Meeting Jayne back at the transport hub, we sat on the grass and had some sandwiches before catching our bus to Cairns. The most exciting thing about our six-hour coach journey was the rest stop where there was a giant crab (not sure if it is a big thing or not) and our first ‘beware of crocodiles’ sign!!
Arriving in Cairns, we walked to our hostel and checked in only to find out that it was Australian Census night and, because we were in Australia, we would have to fill out the 56 question document (just what we wanted to do after a long coach journey!!). Chucking our stuff in the room, we came back down to reception to fill it in, listening to the poor staff being inundated with questions from foreign tourists who didn’t understand the English on the form and the manager gently reminding (repeatedly) the group of lads clearly heading out on an all night bender to complete their forms. All completed and sealed in the envelope, we headed straight to bed – both of us in a top bunk again, which we both hate! Ah… First world problems.
Tuesday 9th August 2016