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If a tree fell in the forest and nearly hit your research boat, would you hear it?
It is clear and sunny as I step off the plane in Sydney. It is also cold, 41˚ F. Ahh, winter Down Under. Since we are six months out-of-phase with the Northern Hemisphere it is the equivalent of February here.
It is good to be back. Two flights, one to Brisbane and a final to Cairns, and I arrive the Far Tropical North – Where the Rainforest meets the Reef (that is where the World Heritage Daintree National Park (& Rainforest) tumbles down into the sea within some 15 km of the World Heritage site, and 8th Wonder of the World, the Great Barrier Reef).
Our Virgin Blue flight descends the din of clouds and at about 2,000 feet we break through giving me my first glimpse of the Reef. Hiding silently beneath the surface, beckoning me back, and challenging me to long hours of discovery and unpredictable seas, in our quest to discover humpbacks whales who winter in this remote region.
We circle over Green Island on approach. Where Migaloo was seen just two days before, and I wonder if my old friend will still be cruising and cavorting among the swell. A quick left hand turn, and Cairn International Airport is in front of us now. We swoop over the mangroves and touch lightly down.
Ten minutes later, Annie collects me and says “Your turn to drive!” She has done her duty as long-haul driver, covering over 2,200 km in the last three days. As we wind north along the beautiful coastal road, with all its twists and turns (think of the road to Hana on Maui), Annie sighs and says, “Wow, its like we never left.” She’s right, even though a year has passed; returning to the Port Douglas area (some 50 km north of Cairns) feels like coming home to Maui.
It is warm, green and lush. The sun is starting to set but it is a perfect 81˚. Better yet, as I look at the calm, flat ocean, there is no wind. Very unusual for winter in the tropics, where ‘trade winds’ blow from the SE daily, and normally in the 20-25 knot range. The forecast for tomorrow looks good, and we can’t wait to get out on the water.
“What do you think we’ll find?” asks Annie. She’s referring to the fact that last year we saw whales on our first day out and then not again for four days, with that pattern repeating itself for nearly two weeks. “Whales, and plenty of them. I have a feeling things will be different this year.” “I hope so,” she said.
Then the phone rang.
It was our landlord, Lorraine. A tree had fallen and perhaps hit the research boat. (Annie left it outside our unit because we were going to launch and put in the marina in the morning). Annie is nervous. “It’ll be alright. The Naiad has been lovingly bumped by whales -- a few tree limbs aren’t going to hurt it,” I said.
Thirty minutes later we arrived to find our boat surrounded by neatly sawed-off limbs. “I hope it is alright,” Lorraine shouted. A neighbor emerged and said, “I called the Shire and they sent a crew out immediately to trim away all the branches. They left the big one (leaning precipitously away from the boat) for the morning.”
As luck would have it, the branches barely missed the Naiad and all is well. I took a few photos of the aftermath, thanked Lorraine and the neighbor and headed to the store to provision for the season. En route to the store Annie says “You know you are in Australia when you are speaking to an Australian pensioner in a Speedo. Hope you got a photo of that.” Never a doubt (see below).
To celebrate our return to Oz (Australia) and the fact we were both too tired to make dinner, we walked around the corner to Otz Deli and enjoyed a home-cooked, true-blue, fair-dinkum Aussie meal – a meat pie, well a chicken one, complete with peas and mash (gourmet style).
So, if a tree fell in the forest and nearly hit your research boat would your hear it?
Only if Lorraine calls to tell you about it.