‘Let’s play a game.’
‘I’ll give you a word and you tell me the first thing that pops into your head.’
Haven’t we all played this? Someone says a word and out pops the first thing we associate with it. Association is a weird thing. It’s influenced so much by where we are, who we are with, what we do, what we read, where we go, and it embeds itself so deeply within the mind that sometimes, we don’t even see beyond it. And I think that is SO unfortunate, because man, do we miss out on so much more!
Context? Folks I spoke to before going to Australia, most of ‘em hadn’t even heard of Cairns. Those who had, knew it is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. I admit, I was one of them. I knew about Cairns, but not much more than the fact that I knew I had to go crack the surface of the blues and greens of the Pacific and lose myself in the world below. But it’s amazing what a little bit of research can do! A slight bit of reading up and Cairns opened up a whole new vista of natural beauty for me. Not only is it the perfect springboard for that bloody beautiful Reef, it also lets you experience the dense lushness of the rainforests – those gigantic trees, the poisonous plants, the waterfalls, everything!
I went chasing waterfalls with this tour company called Uncle Brian’s. I’m a complete water baby and it can get extremely difficult to get me out of the water once I’m in (I admit it), and Uncle Brian’s Atherton Tablelands waterfalls tour promised a LOT of jumping into water, sliding into water, swimming in the water.. Basically a lot of staying in the water. They had me at waterfalls! The photos looked like a lot of fun and basically promised a grand old time, so this mad, excited child went ahead and made the booking 😀
When Gus the Bus pulled into the lobby of my hotel in all its rainforest-printed glory, and Cuz Rohan got out of the driver’s seat to let me in, I knew I had made the right decision. VIBES are so important right? Gut feeling is everything, it’s just EVERYTHING, and Gus looked like the cutest bus ever, and Cuz Rohan.. Well, let’s just say his enthusiasm for life is so infectious that not only does it last all day, it stays with you long after. No kidding. The guy knows how to bring complete strangers together and band us as a family (that’s why they’re called Cousins!), he knows how to keep up a tempo, he has a great sense of humour and can totally consider an alternate career as an RJ. He also knows his stuff, he spoke to us so much about the history of the place, and how it has shaped the country to be what it is today, and there were tidbits of information we got at every stop along the way. What more could you even ask for in a tour guide?
Our first stop was at Babinda Boulders, or Devil’s Pool. This is a confluence of three streams, and it is sacred to the Aboriginals. The part where water gushes over the rocks, shaping and smoothening them, is called Babinda Boulders. ‘Babinda’ means ‘water’ in an Aboriginal tongue, so the name of the place quite literally translates to ‘Water Boulders’. We passed through the forest lined with exotic trees and bushes, some that I have never heard of in my life. Rohan told us about the ‘Wait-a-While’ – a long creeper lined with thorns that will snag themselves onto your clothes, your bags, your skin, wherever, and if you try to escape, they WILL tear through. Ouch. Solution? As simple as the name, wait-a-while! Don’t panic, take a step back, and gently remove the thorn from where it’s snagged. You’re now free to go 😀
I also learned about ‘buttress roots’ – the giant roots of the trees that grow above the ground and eventually curve onto themselves. This is the perfect burial spot for Aboriginals, as they believe we are made from the earth and that is exactly where we return. Nature should reclaim us after our death.
And so my first experience in a rainforest involved tidbits of knowledge, poisonous plants, water gushing and foaming among boulders, delicious greens and a striking blue sky. Was I captivated already? Hell yeah!
We did have the option to go swimming for a bit in THIS little pool, but we decided it was too cold and chose to stuff our faces with sugar instead.
A quick breakfast comprising of said sugar items (I really tried to stay healthy guys, but Rohan had LAMINGTONS, and there was CHOCOLATE, how could I stop myself?) and we were on our way to the next stop!
AMAZE. This is the waterfall I had seen in so many photos and the rocks formed a SLIDE, y’gaaaiiisss! A freakin’ slide! The water flows over this stone slide into a little swimming hole below, and it was PERFECT. Who even cares if it’s WINTER, you don’t get to be at a waterfall stone slide every day now, do you?
So guess what we did? Stripped down to our ‘swimmers’ and JUMPED RIGHT IN!
I have NEVER jumped off a rock into open water before, but it looked like so much fun that who could even resist? I clambered onto it and considered for a minute that this might be the maddest thing I have ever thought of doing, before taking a deep breath, shutting down the constant overthinking and just letting go.
SPLASH! I swear I had the breath knocked out of me. You have to be prepared for a certain level of cold when you visit Australia in the winter, but the water was FREEZING! I surfaced, and the current swept me towards the rocks as I struggled to find some ground. Instincts kicked in and I thanked God for all those swimming lessons I took when I was a kid, and made a beeline for the boulders. Also, I am only making it sound this dramatic because it was a brand new experience for me. It’s perfectly safe and nothing but fun for anyone who has done any of this before. Rohan assured us he wouldn’t go anywhere till all of us made it safely out of the water, and I suppose that’s what gave me the confidence to even do something like this.
Rohan also told us it was here that we would need to go back to our roots. Our absolutely primal, ancient roots. Evolution level types. Because once you’ve swum across the swimming hole and reached the rocks that allow you access to the rock-slide, you feel like an absolute idiot.
You need to flap across the first level of rock on your belly (else you will slip and slide back into the water and then it’s just a vicious circle till you just get down and flap on your belly), get onto all fours like a Neanderthal when the water level reduces and then find some foothold to bring yourself up into all your two-legged human glory. I am dead serious. I know because I did it too! And once you’re up and standing, it’s a simple matter of walking up and across to the smoother part of the slide, plonking your bum down and going WHEEEEEEEEE!!
Take a look?
You only need to do it once, and that’s like steroids for your confidence levels. I went again. And again. And again. And yep, I didn’t wanna leave!
We stopped for a quick home-made lunch at The Falls Tea House before hitting the next waterfall, and I was delighted to see that the folks here had gone out of their way and prepared special vegetarian and vegan dishes for those of us who had made these choices. Lunch was topped up with a DELECTABLE date and walnut cake drenched in caramel sauce, and people, I kid you not, I dream about that sauce!
Milla Milla Falls
Another waterfall! And this one would turn out to be one of my favourites by far.
‘Milla’ means water in an Aboriginal tongue, and when repeated, it adds emphasis. So ‘Milla Milla’ basically means a LOT of water, and you can see for yourself what that’s like.
This is also known as the ‘Herbal Essences’ waterfall, because a lot of hair commercials have been shot here and most popularly the Herbal Essences one. It involves a gorgeous model enjoying a luxurious shower, and at one point, she dips her hair into the water and flips it back to form a gorgeous arc of sparkling water. Something like this –
Last stop for the day, and home to a crocodile! We had the option to go swimming here as well, but it really was quite cold by then and given that this was my second day in Oz, I didn’t want to fall ill. So a couple of us decided to go hunting for said croc instead. Yeah, we failed at that. How can you search for something that will be seen only at will?
Cuz Rohan had magically produced more sugar. Marshmallows and hot chocolate, and those darn Lamingtons again! We cuddled up to some delicious hot choc after what had been a long, wet, cold, but unbelievably fun day, before getting back into Gus the Bus for the long ride back home.
You’d think after the high of the day, we’d all be dead and sleepy and have a warm and toasty journey back among the hills, right? HAHAHAHAHA no. Trust Cuz Rohan to KEEP US SINGING till the last person was dropped off! He regaled us with tales and experiences from his other tours, taught us moves to some typical Aussie tunes and had us dancing and singing all the way back to Cairns!
We bonded together so well and I made some lovely friends that I’m actually still in touch with. Mad, mad world, but such a wonderful one, eh?!
You’ve GOT to do this if you’re headed to Cairns! You’ve GOT to experience the magic of those falls and go mad splashing around as much as you can! This totally makes it to my list of fun experiences!