Road trip, eclipse
09.11.2012 - 14.11.2012
The somewhat un-Australian gothic crumbling ruin of Paronella Park first stop on our little Queensland road trip. Built in the 1920-30s by Spanish romantic visionary/architectural fantasist Jose Paronella as a symbol of his love for his fiancee, he became so engrossed in the construction of his magnum opus that he neglected to write to the lady in question, who after waiting patiently in Spain for seventeen years for word from him, understandably assumed he had lost interest in her and married someone else. The building he lovingly designed and constructed entirely from iron and concrete more or less single-handed contained the seeds of its own demise, as the local sand he used contained a corrosive element that began eating away at the internal iron structure as soon as it was completed, the tropical rainforest climate hastening its downfall. The story of Paronella Park is tragi-comic, and the ruin itself is a little kitsch, but the planting is spectacular - huge idiosyncractic native rainforest species are planted in formal European style designs, with plenty of wild jungle growth for contrast. An altogether magical place.
A visit to the Cathedral Fig and the Curtain Fig, two giant trees colonised by strangler figs whose aerial roots have formed bizarre and sinister structures around the engulfed host trees. I became fascinated by these plants while we were here - in fact I would say one of the best things about Australia is its trees.
Through the rolling verdant countryside of the Atherton Tablelands to Cape Tribulation and another rainforest stay. The Daintree forest is the oldest existing rainforest, and is advertised as 'Where the rainforest meets the reef' - which it does quite literally as the jungle extends right to the seashore. Mangroves are colonising the beach, creating a truly surreal seaside landscape. Clear skies meant wonderfully dizzying stargazing on the beach, the first time we've seen the southern sky properly - Venus on the horizon so bright it reflected on the water.
On to Cairns, with a planned stop at Mossman Gorge. This natural beauty spot now boasts a vast car park, a monstrous visitor centre and an expensive restaurant, while claiming to be an 'Aboriginal cultural experience'. It's true in a way - it illustrates the theft of their land and exploitation of their shattered culture very well indeed. We didn't stay, and this spectacle left a bad taste. We also drove past Cape Tribulation's own nasty little human zoo, where tourists can pay to watch Aboriginal people do dances. Everything I saw and learned about Australia's treatment of the indigenous people past and present appalled me, to be blunt.
On to the final destination of our road trip, Cairns was the chosen spot for viewing the total solar eclipse on November 14th. After extensive research of local beaches (a terrible hardship) we found a good one with a clear view of the horizon, as the eclipse would occur just after sunrise. We booked into a lovely hostel and everything was set up nicely - except the weather. Torrential rain the night before, and thick cloud on the morning of the big day did not bode at all well. We staked our place before daybreak on the seafront, with all the other eclipse geeks (mostly middle aged men for whom open-toe sandals with socks, long fingernails and wispy ponytails were de rigeur). The sun rose - shrouded in cloud, and still bigger clouds were drifting in its direction. The beginning of the eclipse is dusk-like, and so the light of the darkening sun from behind the clouds was very eerie indeed. And just at the moment of totality, when the moon fully covers the sun and the perfect ring of light is formed - the clouds parted. Only a choir of angels was missing. /Lesley