On the road: Australia eclipse trip, days 3 and 4

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Green Island is a popular tourist spot anyway, but it will be teeming with eclipse watchers on the 14th. Among them will be the group Astronomy Editor Dave Eicher is leading. // all photos by Michael and Holley Bakich
On November 12, we enjoyed a natural Australian attraction as famous as the Grand Canyon is in the United States: the Great Barrier Reef. We took a boat that held more than 200 people out to a part of the giant wonder. It was a long ride (about two hours) that stopped briefly at Green Island to drop off dozens of tourists. This location is the chosen eclipse viewing site for the group Astronomy Editor Dave Eicher is leading.

Luckily, and unlike a lot of people on the boat, I didn't get seasick. They actually had crew that came around, brought sick bags, waited while you "filled" them, and then trashed them for you. Yuck! And the crew didn't look thrilled either.

The sea was pretty rough, and many of the voyagers had eaten or had chosen a seat in the boat's inner cabin. Bad ideas. We were out in the open air. It meant an occasional spray of ocean water, but those were mostly refreshing.

The semipermanent platform at the reef provided shade, food and drinks, and gear so that visitors could snorkel or scuba dive at this spectacular location.
We moored to a pontoon vessel that became our base of operations. The tour operators had a snorkeling area (roped off so visitors couldn't affect too much of the reef), a diving area, a place to rent Scuba Doos (an odd vehicle that looked like a cross between a diving bell and a jet ski), and a "semi-sub" that had windows below the water line so you could watch the fish without getting wet. That vehicle held more than 50 people.

We snorkeled most of the three hours that we were there, and it was a blast. We saw lots of colorful and amazing fish. And from the sub, we saw a sea turtle! That made my wife Holley's day. It took us a little while to get used to our snorkels again, but soon we were exploring right at the area's limits. Our whole group had an absolute blast.

The ship was large and full of people from all over the world. Many Japanese and Chinese people dominated the numbers. I even met a college astronomy professor from Hong Kong who traveled with his entire class to observe the eclipse. When I told him what I did, he said, "I get your great magazine every month. It helps me teach better." Then, from behind him, one of his students said, "You are Michael ..." I filled in my last name, and she laughed. "I wouldn't have said it like that," she said. Wow. It's pretty good when people halfway around the world know Astronomy staff names.

The Astronomical Tours group really enjoyed their journey on the Kuranda Railway.
The next day, our eclipse-chasing group experienced the Australian rainforest. Around 9 a.m., we boarded a bus for a 15-minute ride to Freshwater Station in Cairns that would take us to Kuranda, a small town in the rainforest. The train moved slowly as it climbed up into the mountains through switchbacks and more than 15 tunnels. The rail line was an incredible engineering feat when workers finished it in the early 1890s. They actually used just picks and shovels to dig the tunnels, some of which proved quite dangerous to construct. The Kuranda Railway travels a scenic route past waterfalls and other impressive vistas. The train cars had wood interiors with tin ceilings, which imparted a very old-time look.

At the top of the climb is Kuranda Village, an old hippie town that's full of art shops, souvenir shops, and various animal attractions. We didn't hit much beyond an excellent Vietnamese restaurant, which may have had the best green curry I've ever eaten. Because we had only a bit more than an hour free time, we didn't peruse the shops, although we caught their flavor by peering in the doors as we walked by.

At the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, the Astronomical Tours group learned a great deal about the indigenous culture of Australia. Here, an employee gives a rousing demonstration with a didgeridoo.
We didn't take the railway back to Cairns. Instead, we took the Skyrail, an hourlong cable car ride that flies above the canopy of the rainforest to give sweeping and unusual views of the amazing treetops. The Skyrail has two stops that provide grand views of canyons and waterfalls for the photographically inclined.

The two rides felt like a whole day's worth of fun, but we weren't done. Next, we spent three hours touring through the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Center, where Aboriginal people did dances, played didgeridoos, told us about their culture, and even let us throw native hunting spears and boomerangs. It was a long day, but a fun one.

Next up is the eclipse. I'm certain we'll have clear weather. The trip organizers are a bit less confident. What do they say here. No worries, mate!

To so all the pictures from my trip, visit the Trips & Tours area at www.Astronomy.com/readergallery.

Related blog:
On the road: Australia eclipse trip, day 1

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