Thursday, November 09, 2006

Mission Beach and Snake Bites

For my last stop before traveling on to Cairns and finishing the first leg of my Australia trip I spent 4 nights in a little place called Mission Beach. Mission Beach is a small little town on the coast. In many ways it is similar to Magnetic Island in that it is small, things are spaced out with 15 or 20 minute walks everywhere and there isn't a lot to do if you haven't booked a tour or an activity.

However Mission Beach, for me, was the total opposite of Magnetic Island. It was really enjoyable to spend the day sitting by the pool in Scottys hostel and then at night just sit at tables outside with a few drinks, playing cards or just talking. In an earlier post I mentioned how the people in a hostel can make or break a place. The crew in the hostel were really cool. It was a mix of people I have spent 5 weeks meeting as we all travel up the East coast and people fresh out of Cairns and on their first stop off on the journey down. That made for a nice friendly atmosphere and everyone just relaxed and got on. Also, finding out most of the people there thought I was 24 made me particularly happy (I'm 31 :-))

However I didn't plan my stop in Mission Beach just for some time to relax. This was where I had decided I would do my skydive. Mission has rainforest all the way down to white sandy beaches, on which you land, and an amazing view of the Great Barrier Reef from 14000 feet. This was the place everyone recommended as the best place on the East coast for skydiving. I have to say I didn't quite know what to expect though I was more worried that I would freeze and refuse to get out of the plane than that anything would go wrong during the jump itself. In the end I didn't have to worry about getting out of the plane as it was a tandem jump and I really didn't get much of a say in when we left the plane. My jump master was Ivan and I had signed up for a DVD which included a second jumper called Dan filming me during free fall. It was amazing fun. Once we jumped out I had a 60 second free fall during which I shouted myself hoarse. Dan came in and out with the camera and I was amazed at how easy it is for skydivers to link up while in free fall. After the 60 seconds Dan waved to me and I was puzzled for a second until Ivan pulled the cord, the parachute deployed and I found myself getting dragged to what seemed a sudden halt. The view from the parachute was amazing, the sea, the reef, the rainforest. I could see dolphins and sea turtles as we approached the beach. It was great. I was on an adrenaline high for about 2 hours when I got back to the hostel, much to the amusement of the others as I was basically bouncing off the walls.

I spent the rest of the 4 days just relaxing, grabbing the bus into the small town area and markets, or jumping into the pool to cool off. Others went for whitewater rafting, apparently some of the best whitewater in Australia is just a short drive from Mission. I didn't particularly want to do this so I decided to skip it though those who did go said it was great fun. There are also trips organised to Dunk Island but I don't know anyone who went there.

An interesting thing about Mission Beach and the surrounding area is that in March of this year they got hit very hard by Cyclone Larry which was as powerful as Hurricane Katrina but got none of the same media coverage. Larry flattened parts of the rainforest and while it is still an amazing sight from the air apparently it has not returned to its same beauty. Driving along the roads the damage is still clear to be seen with huge numbers of trees uprooted and lying where they fell as well as damaged signposts and buildings. For the most part the damage now is repaired or hidden but you can still glimpse traces of how powerful nature can be. There was serious concern at the time about the damage that could have been done to the cassowary population of the rainforest. Cassowary's are the third largest bird in the world, look a bit like emus with blue heads, and are apparently the most dangerous bird in the world as they are aggressive can eviscerate people with hooks on their feet. Basically imagine a dinosaur with feathers. Pretty to look at with their bright blue heads but deadly dangerous. They are native to the area and a pair walked right past the hostel I was staying in and down a path towards the shops. This sent people scurrying to a safe distance and to get cameras.

After Mission Beach I hopped on the Oz Experience Bus and headed to Cairns. Cairns is the last destination on the Oz Experience East Coast Bruce pass. The drive to Cairns is just 2 hours from Mission but it took us all day as we stopped at a crocodile farm where we could get really close to crocodiles being fed and for those who wanted to, get bitten by a snake. Bit strange but they let people get bitten by a carpet python which is non toxic but can still draw blood. I decided to not stick my arm into a snake cage, but several others went for it. After the croc farm we went to Millaa Milla Falls and Lake Eacham where we stopped for a few hours for lunch and swimming.

I'm in Cairns now and I head to Cape Tribulation tomorrow morning. That will pretty much end my East coast travels. On the 18th I leave Cairns and head overland to Alice Springs and eventually back around to Sydney on December 10th.

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