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Cruising the Great Barrier Reef with the Kangaroo Explorer

Photo:  Nick Anis

By

Nick Anis and Patricia A. Perratore-Anis

Patricia A. Perratore-Anis
Have you ever waited on a three hour line (or "cue" as the Ausies might say) for a three minute ride at a theme park? Or traveled to an overcrowded, overpriced tourist trap where you were suffocated by hordes of people, and bombarded with artificial decorations and "points of interest" prefabricated by resort consortiums with an ill-advised parchment for plastic palm trees, painted plaster rocks, and chlorinated waterfalls with poorly camouflaged PVC pipes? You are not alone. World travelers are forever in search of special "lasting" experiences and memories, and their expectations all too often go unsatisfied.
Photo:  Kangaroo Explorer

Kangaroo Explorer at Cairns

The Australian Kangaroo Explorer [Link to 1997 - 1998 Itinerary], a cruise on a magnificent 40-passenger catamaran (essentially a luxury yacht) that travels along the largest living thing in the world, The Great Barrier Reef, is just what you need.
URL: http://www.tropic.com.au/reefcruise
Email: kevin@internetnorth.com.au (Kangaroo Explorer)
This cruise offers unsurpassed snorkeling, fishing, exploring, and adventure in a pristine wilderness and a glimpse of early Australian history. You can take Kangaroo Explorer’s 7-day cruise north or south bound; or a 4-day cruise, which includes air transfer from Cairns to Thursday Island. Prices start from around $900 (Australian) per person [area map and currency converter] for lower deck 4-berth cabins and includes all meals. Departures, depending on itinerary, are north bound from Cairns on Saturday or Sunday and south bound from Thursday Island on Saturdays.

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Sailing mostly at night while the passengers are sleeping, the Kangaroo Explorer is a 25-meter catamaran cruiser designed specifically for cruising the The Great Barrier Reef and vicinity. Family operated, this ship makes three marvelous unforgettable journeys. It visits isolated, off-the-beaten-track areas such as Lizard Island, Cooktown, the Cod Hole [link to page with photos], Pixie Pinnacle [link to page with photos], Cape York, and Thursday Island that will forever etch themselves in your memories.

qld104.jpg (11026 bytes) For example, take Lizard Island, which is also an Australian national park. Hours away from civilization by plane and days away by boat, it is actually an exclusive world class resort. Visitors to the island are
limited to 40 people at any one time. Occasional authorized visits by yachts and small cruse ships and planes are the only visitors the island gets. Kangaroo Explorer has special permission to stop at this surreal place.

The the 1000 hectare island has some barely visible hiking trails including one that takes you to Cook's Look, the highest peak, which rises to 359 meters, affording a 360 degree view of the The Northern Great Barrier Reef and surrounding islands.

The crown jewel of the 24 isolated, sandy beaches (consisting of a mixture of powdery decomposed granite sand with shell and coral fragments), is the island's famous Blue Lagoon. The island has fresh water streams, lots of palm trees and ferns, mangroves, and a variety of tropical flora.

The Clam Gardens site is home to giant, 150 year old clams. There are coral formations off the main beach. A marine research station was established in the area in 1975.

 

 

Photo:  Secluded beach on Lizard Island

Joey Anis releasing star fish on a secluded beach on Lizard Island.

( Photo by Patricia Perratore-Anis)

Beach

David Anis discovers some exposed coral.

( Photo by Patricia Perratore-Anis)

Giant Clam

Giant Clam at Pixie Pinnacle.

(Underwater Photo by Nick Anis)

There are 40 species of birds and 11 species of lizards, including the large Gould's goanna, the lizard after which island was named. Lizard Island has five recorded species of snakes which are rarely seen. A small colony of bats are the only known mammals on the island, besides humans.

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Another stop on the voyage, the Cod Hole [link to page with photos], has the biggest fish you may ever see. I didn't realize the potato cod [link page with photo] or Bregmacerotidae, which are only found in the topical and subtropical regions of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans grew to be that large. When we stopped there, everyone jumped in for a dip and "swam with the fishes."

Almost instantly, we were surrounded by large fish including some as big as whales. [back to top of page] [home]

Pixie Pinnacle [link to page with photos] is a beautiful outcropping of coral that could easily be missed by boaters not familiar with the area. Our ship’s captain, a master seaman licensed to operate giant ocean liners, had no problem finding this magical place. The snorkeling was excellent. It was here that I learned about parrotfish [link to page with photo] and how they pair for life, and how most reef fish have their own special individual hangouts.

I also discovered giant clams as big as easy chairs, that are hundreds of years old, grow to over five feet in length, and weigh more than 500 pounds, actually exist.

 

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Photo:  Ethan with Potato Cod caught near Cod Hole

Potato Cod caught by Joey Anis's trolling line who went to bed moments before it was hooked. Note: This fish was released.

(Photo by Nick Anis)

Nick Anis snorkling at Pixie Pinnacle

Nick Anis snorkeling at edge of Pixie Pinnacle about 20 feet below the surface.

(Underwater Photo by taken by SCUBA Diver/ Instructor, and First Mate, Kevin Smith.)

Giant Clam

Giant Clam at Pixie Pinnacle.

(Underwater Photo by Nick Anis)

The fishing, diving, and snorkeling is arguably the best in the world. Even though I live in Southern California, now that I’m in my 40’s I seldom do much swimming. But during this trip my wife had to practically drag me out of the water.

I didn’t mean to, but I kept laughing as she said to me that I was becoming "obsessed" with snorkeling. True, I was practically hypnotized by the endless cornucopia of coral and sea life, but what the heck, this is the trip of a lifetime, why not savor every minute of it. It’s an exhilarating experience that builds with each passing moment as you experience geological wonders and marine life in unspoiled splendor.

I’m talking about creatures such as endangered giant green sea turtles [link to photo] and lizards, whales, dolphins, porpoises, sharks, and thousands of varieties of colorful and exotic reef fish in their natural environment as they have been for thousands of years. The area is dotted with continental islands formed by geological struggles that have been occurring between the earth’s plates over a thousand millennium. Sand clays (islands) abound that have been formed by billions and billions of particles of coral transformed over the ages into sand and populated by migrating birds and by flora carried by trade winds and ocean currents.

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There are literally thousands of islands along the Great Barrier Reef. The Kangaroo Explorer takes you to historical landings like Cooktown and Cape York, and some of the most unsullied and isolated islands in the world. From one of these beautiful islands you can watch a coconut shell dislodged from the mainland or another island wash ashore (to eventually take root) – it’s an ecosystem that’s been occurring for millions of years. All your senses will be stimulated as you hear, see, smell, and feel "only" what God and nature has created. This is one of the few places in the world where you can go for days without seeing a pay phone, newspaper, television, car, and oh yea, people. It’s amazing that day after day all your photos come out like picture postcards!

Passengers on the ship can simply relax and savor the scenery, or seek adventure. Activities such as fishing, diving, snorkeling, visits to beautiful reefs, islands, and coastal villages were all wonderful. Everyone had a fantastic time. The entire itinerary is very carefully planned and perfectly executed by a crew that clearly knows what they are doing: the first mate, Kevin; the cruise director, Claire, and the ship’s aquatic diver, lifeguard, fishing instructor, and superman, Ethan.

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Photo:  Claire and Charles

Cruise Director, Claire, and Chef, Charlie beside the magnificent Seafood Feast, on the last night of the cruise, aboard the Kangaroo Explorer.

(Photo by Nick Anis)

Delicious food served onboard ranges from the greatest seafood feast you are likely to ever have in your lifetime, to tempting lamb, veal, beef, and chicken.

All meals, coffee, tea, and milk, and snacks are included, but there is an modest additional charge for liquor, beer, wine, and soft drinks.

There are dishes for everyone’s tastes including children and vegetarians. We were particularly impressed with the delicious traditional Australian specialty dishes such as Chicken Puff Kiev, Balmain Bugs (Green Lobster) with Mango Sauce, Crown Roast of Lamb with Tipsy Sweet Potato Stuffing, and the popular desert Pavlova. The freshly prepared food served at the delightful island picnics and barbecues was also superb. For avid fisherman and seafood lovers, the onboard chef can cook up your catch while you freshen up in your private cabin for dinner.

The ship is large enough for everyone to be conformable but small enough for everyone to get to know one another.

There are 16 twin or double air-conditioned passenger cabins, and four decks. The Smith family and their crew take great care and pride in running the ship and seeing to their passenger’s every need. Passengers are treated like family. Lifetime friendships between people who were previously strangers are often established. We have kept in touch with the group who traveled with us, who were mostly Australian. We took the 7-day Northbound trip from Cairns to Cape York. Besides wonderful experiences with nature’s marvels, good food, and pleasant company, we also got to learn all about Australia’s culture and history from our new friends on board.

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One of the attractions of the Kangaroo Explorer is their affiliation with exceptional and unique resorts such as the Daintree Eco Lodge near Cairns, and the Pajinka Wilderness Lodge at Cape York [photo of bay and coastline]. Before flying back in a commuter plane from Bamaga Airport we stayed for five wondrous days at this four star resort lodge which is operated by the Injinoo Aboriginal people. [back to top of page] [home]

This is one of the most remote parts of the world that few people ever get to see. For the most part, the coastal resort enjoys good weather and conditions, but only a short distance inland during the peak dry season there are dust storms and wildfires, and during the peak wet-season there can be flooding. When you come from Southern California which "occasionally" experiences earthquakes, wildfires, floods, and mud slides, those things aren’t that intimidating, especially since they can be seasonally avoided.

The Pajinka Wilderness Lodge offers a family atmosphere, comfortable accommodations, unparalleled beauty. The area's varied topography includes rainforest, outback, Savannah land, mangroves, wetlands, grasslands and long sandy beaches overlooking the point where the Indian and Pacific Ocean meet.

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The resort was originally built by Quantas. It is now owned and operated by the original land owners, the Injinoo Aboriginal people.

The area has a large population of wild pigs which explains the popularity of pig hunting. We watched in amazement as a herd crossed in front of us during a trip through the rainforest.

Rusty, Injinoo Aboriginal elder and chief taking his dingy into the mouth of Crocodile Creek during High Tide.

(Photo by Nick Anis)

A variety of walking, 4-wheel drive, and motorboat tours are offered by trained naturalist guides.

Special boardwalks are setup so guests can view birds and other wildlife in the mangroves without having to worry too much about crocks.

There are native guides like Rusty, Injinoo Aboriginal elder and chief (see photo at left) who can show you the ways of local fishing and customs.

And there are quite a lot of exotic birds, lizards, amphibians, and mammals to see, merely by walking from your cottage to the swimming pool or dining area.

My sons Joey, 10, and David, 8, were particularly impressed with the area’s abundant giant green tree frogs with their cute little suction cup feet, the legless lizards [link to page with photo] with their absent feet (and legs). They were amazed to see thousands of giant cane toads (Bufo marinus). Some of these toads are as large as dinner plates, but I don't think you'll want to eat any. As a final survival tactic when attacked their parotid glands secrete a poison highly toxic to small animals.

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Photo:  Giant Green Tree Frog

Giant Green Tree Frog at Pajinka just outside one of the guest cottages.

(Photo by Nick Anis)

Legless Lizard caught at Pajinka just outside one of the guest cottages.

(Photo by Nick Anis)

Photo:  Giant Cane Toad

Giant Toad (Cane Toad) at Pajinka on the floor of a Eucalyptus Grove.

(Photo by Nick Anis)

My sons particularly liked the resort’s "library" with all the books and magazines on the indigenous wildlife.

There are a variety of exotic birds including night prowlers such as owls, and frogmouths. And for a little more excitement there are also the 12 foot-high termite mounds, exotic spiders, and, of course, the giant salt water or estuarine crocodiles.

Nature Library at Pajinka Wilderness Lodge at Cape York [link to photo of bay and coastline]

(Photo by Nick Anis)

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All this exotic wildlife made quite an adventure for everyone.

One morning, two male nurses from Bamaga Hospital on holiday told us of how they escaped the jaws of Gary, a large aggressive male salt water crocodile. It seems the croc was protecting his territory when they inadvertently invaded in a flimsy dinghy while fishing on mangrove tree- lined Crocodile Creek. They had to drag their dinghy a couple of hundred feet in the shallows while being chased by Gary.

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Photo:  One of the male nurses with showing off part of his catch

Bamaga Hospital male nurse, with outback truck driver, Walter and his dinner-catch.

(Photo by Nick Anis)

These "locals" should pay more attention to the tide charts and avoid waterways with names like "Crocodile Creek." Actually, they made out okay. They got away, and some huge soft-shell crabs were scooped up by chance as they frantically dragged their little boat over the creek bed to the open water to make their escape. They were kind enough to tell me about their adventure and invite me and an outback truck driver to sample their catch, which the resort’s chef, Steve, eagerly cooked for them.

The area’s overall climate, even in winter, is about like Florida or California. Dress onboard is always casual. The uniform of the day for passengers is typically a bathing suit. The last night of our cruise, however, was "dress up" night – sort of anyway. The crew supplied everyone with funny costumes to wear. I donned a Groucho Marx mustache, nose and glasses. My wife wore a Wilma Flintstone outfit. Our two little boys wore modest little cartoon character masks. The most distinguished and senior members of our group provided a shocker for us: Frank, in a grass skirt (with nothing underneath) and provocative coconut top, lipstick, rouge, and Eric in an alien outfit with huge ears and bulging eyeballs. Photo:  Eric the alien and Peter in drag

Eric the alien, Frank in Drag

(Photo by Nick Anis)

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All in all, the evening was a complete success; we all had a great time and thought, "what a great way to cap off the cruise!" The next morning was our departure for our final destination, Cape York. Getting up before sunrise was the call to order. We took the ship’s dinghy, a glass bottom boat named the Joey Explorer, to the beach a short distance away. Our guide, Ethan, (whose incredible diving skills made us suspect he had a secret set of gills) took us over several huge rock formations on the towering cliffs in the darkness. First Mate Kevin Smith and passenger Joey Anis on Joey Explorer
First Mate Kevin Smith, Passenger Joey Anis
(Photo by Nick Anis)

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To our surprise, when we finally arrived at a pivotal spot where the Coral Sea and the Indian Ocean meet, Ethan parked his gear and brought out bottles of Champagne and glasses. The sun was just beginning to rise, and we found we were at the most perfect spot for photos, the Cape York Peninsula! The sun was rising, the waves were crashing against the rocks, and the wind was blowing through our hair while we sipped champagne and stood in awe at the Northwest tip of the Australian Continent on the other side of the world.

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Photo:  Nick, Patty, Joey, and David Anis

Sunrise at Cape York, the Northwest Tip of the Australian Continent.

Photo by Peter Bird

About the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is located in the Coral Sea 15-160 km (10-100 mi) off the eastern coast of Queensland, Australia. Although the Great Barrier Reef is often called the longest coral reef in the world, it is actually a series of coral islands, reefs, and shoals that extend north to southeast for over 2,000 km (1,250 mi).

The are more than 350 species of coral. Coral formations are on the outer, eastern edge of the continental shelf, which is believed by scientist to have one been part of the Queensland coast. These formations consist mainly of the calcified remains of coral polyp which forged strange and beautiful formations over millions of years.

The Lagoon, a shallow body of water dotted with hundreds of islands, some of them coral cays, others summits of a drowned coastal mountain range lies between the main reef and the mainland.

On June 11, 1770 Capt. James Cook discovered the Endeavor Reef that now bears the ship's name, after running aground.

Vividly colored fish, shells, and giant clams, all clearly visible in the crystalline waters, are a great tourist attraction. [back to top of page] [home]

The Giant Toad

The giant toad, Bufo marinus, in the family Bufonidae, grows to 23 cm (9 in) in length. Adult males are brown in color; adult females and young are light yellowish, with brown spots. It is found from south Texas to the Amazon Basin of South America, and it ranges from sea level to elevations of about 1,500 m (5,000 ft).

Giant toads were introduced to many tropical islands to help control insects, but the plan backfired because they also devour beneficial native fauna. Remarkably prolific, a single female can produce 35,000 eggs in a single year.

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Legless Lizards

Legless, or blunt-tailed lizards, Anniella pulchra and A. geronimensis, are burrowing, blunt-tailed lizards reaching about 25 cm (10 in) in length. They feed on insects and are ovoviviparous, bearing one to four living young. Legless lizards possess movable eyelids but lack external ear openings, characteristics that distinguish them from the limbless worm lizards (amphisbaenians), which lack movable eyelids, and the limbless glass snakes, Ophisaurus, and some European slowworms, Anguis, which have external ear openings.

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Frogmouths

Frogmouths are short-legged, wide-mouthed, nocturnal birds constituting the family Podargidae. The 12 or 13 species grow to lengths of about 53 cm (21 in) and inhabit savanna, open woodland, or forest, from India and southeastern Asia into Indonesia and the Philippines. Frogmouths feed primarily on ground-dwelling insects. All species have soft, silky plumage in shades of brown, gray, and black. When disturbed by day, the frogmouth assumes a head-raised, vertical position, mimicking a broken branch. Frogmouths lay 1 to 2 eggs at a time.

[back to top of page] [home]

Tree frog

Tree frog, name for any of 550 species of frog in family Hylidae; found around the world, but mostly in Western Hemisphere; usually small and long-legged with sucker-like adhesive disks on feet for climbing; most types hatch in water; South American marsupial type (Gastrotheca) has pouch on back for young; common species include barking tree frog (H. gratiosa), European green tree frog (H. arborea), and Pacific tree frog (H. regilla. They can jump twice their length. Their skin has a delicate coating.

*Glossary sources: Comptons Living, Columbia Concise, and Groiler Multimedia Encyclopedias

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Nick Anis is a computer and technology writer and the author of 24 books who also writes about travel, food & wine, entertainment, skiing and family recreation. He writes for Ziff-Davis, Microtimes, The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Travel Watch, TravelGram, and Restaurant-Row. He is responsible for the Restaurant Row Ethnic Dining Guide, co-published by the Long Beach Press Telegram. Nick is a member of the Computer Press Association, The International Food Wine, and Travel Writers Association (IFW&TWA), and the North American Ski Journalists Assn. (NASJA).

Nick can be reached at NickAnis@travel-watch.com, Phone: 909-860-6914, Fax: 909-396-0014.

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Kangaroo Explorer Cruises
P. Box Box 7110
Cairns QLD Australia 4870
 
Freecall: 1800 079 141 (Australia Only)
International Phone: +61-7-4032-4000
International Fax: +61-7-4032-4050
Email: kevin@kangaroocruises.com.au

Photo credits: Patricia A. Perratore-Anis, Nick Anis, Peter Bird, and Kangaroo Explorer
Photo Captions: Copyright 1995-2002 Travel-Watch – All rights reserved, worldwide
Copyright 1995-2001 Travel-Watch – All rights reserved, worldwide
 

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