I'm in the city of Cairns, state of Queensland, my first time in this part of Australia. Here are five cool things about the region I've discovered over the past few days:
1. Crocodile sausage. This can be seriously good. I had some for lunch the other day, just after reading about a giant croc that bit off a fisherman's finger and grabbed his legs to try to pull him underwater. Happily, one of the angler's friends rescued him in the nick of time. So, I don't feel that bad about crocs transformed as finger food. Serves 'em right.
2. The Esplanade, a verdant walkway through parkland along the water's edge in downtown Cairns, a prime seaside jumping-off place for the Great Barrier Reef. It reminds me of the seaside parks in Hawaii, but tidier - a great place for a run, a stroll or a picnic.
3. The Shangri-la Hotel, the Marina, Cairns (www.shangri-la.com). Nearly 300 rooms, a good restaurant and bar, spacious guest rooms with individual terraces, a very good Horizon Club executive floor and a great location at the edge of the city marina.
4. The Great Barrier Reef. I was there today, my first visit. Sadly, chunks were broken off here and there during the January cyclone that devastated central Queenland (although things are undamaged from Cairns north). But it is still important, still beautiful, still a popular destination for cruises and touring ships like the one I took with Ocean Spirit. Lovely sand cays, brilliant tropical fish, water that ranges from green to aquamarine to deep blue.
5. Platypuses. They're hard to spot, but these incredibly strange, duck-billed, egg-laying mammals are a delight. I saw one yesterday, at a distance. It was zipping along the surface of a pond, a rare treat available in very few other places on Earth.