Sounds like a good night’s viewing, but in fact, it was a very busy week. Palm Cove is a lovely wee Caribbean style holiday village on the coast, about an hour from Mareeba. It was our next stop as friends from Sydney were flying up for a few days. Not to see us, but it just so happened that we would be passing by at the same time.

Unbeknownst to us, there was also an Iron Man competition on that weekend.

The loudspeaker commentary began at 5am. Right next to our camp.

“Welcome to the Cairns Iron Man!”

Jesus.

“The first tour of the transition area will be in 30 minutes.”

Fuck sake.

“Don’t forget to put your ankle tag of folks, or we won’t be able to monitor your time!”

You are fucking kidding me.

Erin & Katie got up to see what was going on. I waited until Skye woke up before joining them. We had a lovely breakfast of bacon & croissants, watching these incredibly fit nutters swim up and down a beach with crocodile warning signs on it, then run up the road and jump on their bikes.

3.5k swim, followed by a 180k bike ride, then a marathon. Can’t be good for you.

Although I must admit it was quite inspiring watching all these people take on the challenge. Most were super fit but some weren’t in great shape, and some were at least seventy years old. Maybe when we get back into the real world I’ll have a think about something like that. Just a think though.

The Rainforest

A slightly more laconic trip for us the next day. We sat on a cable car for 45 minutes, slowly wandered around a wee village, then sat on a train for an hour and a half.

It was a great day though. The ‘skyrail’ cable car takes you from the coast, near Cairns, over the hills to a village called Kuranda that’s hidden in the middle of the rainforest. It’s famous for its markets, and attractions such as the Butterfly Sanctuary – which I wouldn’t have picked myself but was actually pretty cool.

The skyrail took about 45 minutes, stopping now and again to let you do a boardwalk, take in the view, and then back on board for the rest of the trip.

It was actually much nicer than I was expecting. Well maintained, and again the road was lined with massive old fig trees. We had a good wander round the markets, checked out the butterfly sanctuary then boarded the beautifully restored train for the return journey.

The kids were exhausted after their big day, and were quite happy to take it easy for the trip down.

Katie perked up when we were almost at the bottom however, when a couple of local teenagers thought it would be hilarious to moon us! And they were right – the whole train was in stitches laughing. Ahhh… those were the days…

The Reef

We had a nice picnic lunch with our friends the following day, then it was off to the Great Barrier Reef. This was something I had been looking forward to for a long time. I’m a diver, and I’m almost embarrassed to say that I’ve been living in Australia for 12 years, without having dived there. As Katie has been imbued with my enthusiasm for the underwater world, she was very excited too.

With young kids in tow a ‘platform’ seemed to be the way to go, so we boarded a catamaran headed to a pontoon with submarines, helicopters, underwater viewing platforms, snorkelling trips, dives and even talks from marine biologists.

I toyed with the idea of a dive, and realised that despite the 12 year wait to get here, today wasn’t about me seeing the Great Barrier Reef at all, it was about the girls seeing it, while it’s still here. It’s such a unique, fragile ecosystem and it truly saddens me that we’re fucking it up. Hopefully the next generation can take a bit more care of the planet than we have.

Katie really seems to have picked that up, even before the trip. She’s disgusted when she sees litter, and she can’t understand why we don’t stop burning coal. Some of the conversations we’re having have been pretty in depth – like when Trump pulled out of the Paris Accord. Anyhoo…

They were ecstatic as we descended into the semi-submersible, and Erin and I just soaked up their enthusiasm. What an adventure for them both.

It was an overcast day so I knew the visibility wasn’t going to be great, but even still, it was gloomier than I felt it should have been. The girls loved it but I couldn’t help being a little disappointed. There was a fair bit of bleaching, and the colours seemed pale, drab – beyond what I would have expected from the conditions. Erin dived on the reef about 20 years ago, and she said the difference was unbelievable.

Jees. Look at what we’ve done. I feel ashamed.

We did see a lot of fish from the sub though. We saw corals of all sorts, two white tipped reef sharks and Katie even spotted a turtle, which she was very chuffed about. Then we donned our ‘stinger suits’, which was a laugh, and when we reached the water they had just started feeding the fish. Some large trevallys, parrot fish and coral trout were breaching the surface and causing a commotion. For their first snorkelling experience the girls found it a little intense, but eventually we got them both in the water. Yee hah – job done 🙂

I’m sure there are still bits of the reef which are amazing. It’s 2,900 kms long, and I’ve heard the southern section hasn’t suffered as badly from bleaching, but still, I found myself driving back a little saddened by the experience.

About a minute from home however, Skye pipes up with a big smile underneath her lovely blonde curls.

“We had a lovely day snorfelling today daddy, didn’t we?” 

I looked back at her and my sadness evaporated.

“Yes we did sweat heart, yes we did.”

Friends

Interspersed throughout all of this, we were madly trying to get ourselves ready for our ‘push to the top’, and were also trying to spend some time with our friends. It was the same people we had caught up with towards the very beginning of the trip, and their little fella was still coming along well.

I’ve known ‘the dad’ since I was three. We grew up together in Glasgow, some might say we didn’t do a very good job of it, but hey – life had taken us both out to Oz, and we seem to be keeping our heads above water. It was really nice to be spending a bit of time with an old friend. His brother and sister in law were there too, and we all had a good couple of nights reminiscing, and talking shite. Mostly talking shite really. Glaswegians are particularly good at that.

Tweaks to the car were finished, fixes to the camp completed, last minute purchases were made. I became obsessed with tyre pressures. Although truth be told this obsession has been going for a while.

And eventually, we’re ready.