Although I wasn’t too thrilled about being woken at 1.30am to be ready to leave by 2.00am on eclipse morning, the decision to leave Cairns and travel inland to a higher spot, west of the coastal mountain range proved to be a good one. We, the Astro Trails eclipse group, boarded 2 large buses, each with 50 people, 50 breakfast boxes and at least 50 tons of cameras, tripods, filters and other gadgetry, and off we went!
Although it took the astro-nerds ages to organise all their stuff and we were late leaving (I could have had another half hour in bed, but it seems that they were all too excited to sleep), by 6.00am we were out in the bush at Campbell Creek (aka middle of nowhere) watching the sun through our fancy mylar glasses as it made its appearance above the treetops. We are, apparently, very fortunate to be allowed up here, the only tour group to have the privilege, but then, we are with Kate Humble and the BBC film crew (it’s not what you know, but who....). As the sun, with its little bite of moon rose, it became noticeably warmer and fleeces were shed, but as the moon moved further across the sun it went cooler again, darker and the birds stopped singing their morning chorus. At 6.38pm, exactly on schedule, the moon positioned itself perfectly across the face of the sun and we could remove our glasses and view the glorious, blazing corona with the naked eye and even safely through binoculars. Those two magical minutes of totality were what everybody had come for.
As we travelled back to the hotel, the bus driver pointed out the sights - the rivers and creeks of the Tablelands, the gold rush trail, the Flying Doctor airport base and a ‘primary’ school, not for 5 year olds, but for children who had previously been educated at home in the outback, by means of radio and internet. The school is designed to help them all reach the same standard and to prepare them to move on to further education and employment.
Once back in Cairns we discovered that had we stayed at the hotel, which was an option, we wouldn’t have seen the eclipse as the sun was obscured by clouds at the critical moment. Good call!
The sun stayed out for the rest of the day and so, instead of going to bed as many of the party did (the ‘Do not disturb’ signs came out thick and fast) we went out to the pool to bathe in both the sun and the water. The one was very cold and the other very hot, so I now have a bright red tummy for my pains.
After looking up at the sky on Wednesday, we gazed down into the deep on Thursday’s Great Barrier Reef trip. You have to do it, you have to go out to the reef, but, frankly, when you get there it’s not really worth the effort nor the not inconsiderable cost. We chose a ‘small’ boat with ‘not many people’ to find ourselves jostling for outside seating with about 60 others. The tide was high and the sky was cloudy, the sea was rough and choppy. I should have been warned when people started passing seasickness pills around....... Needles to say, snorkelling was very difficult in the rolling waves, with the sea washing over the end of the snorkel. Without sunshine, the coral, such that there was, was lacking colour, and although we did see a metre long reef shark, there wasn’t an awful lot more marine life. To sum it up, too deep; too cloudy; too rough; too cold.
A change of location and some sunshine improved the situation somewhat in the afternoon but the swimming was still very hard work in the rough sea. We decided that we are not pack-snorkellers and retired to the boat. We’ve been spoiled by the crystal clear water and sheer abundance of colourful sea life we’ve seen in Thailand and the Maldives, and by having a whole longtail boat to ourselves!
By way of consolation, the sun did put on another spectacular display for us, at sunset. It looked like an erupting volcano, or possibly a wildfire in the hills above Cairns!
As a last night celebration we went for the ‘ice and fire’ buffet in the hotel. Unlimited chilled seafood, and also barbecued meats and fish with all the trimmings. I did wish that I’d starved myself for a couple of days beforehand but I still managed oysters, crab, prawns, barramundi and chicken, chargrilled steak, squid, and caramel banana pudding with ice cream ...... did I mention the puddings?