We started out with an early morning bus ride to the rainforest village of Kuranda where we visited a butterfly sanctuary. We learned about the lifecycle of butterflies and were able to see examples of the different stages in their lab. We also managed to spot a couple of pairs mating which we learned could take up to 14 hours. The female essentially sedates the male during the process.
We saw many of the beautiful species that exist in AustralIa although it was hard to get photographs because they are almost never still. We also learned that the largest moth in the world - the Hercules moth - was recorded in Australia with a wingspan of 14 inches.
We then had some time to wander around the market place and grab a bite to eat. Vendors were selling a variety of handmade crafts and cheap souvenirs so it was hard to sift through the choices and find something that was more authentic.
Next came one of the highlights of the day where we traveled over the rainforest canopy in a gondola (the Skyrail). Apart from the incredible views, we saw the rainforest from a perspective that very few get to experience. We could identify many of the different types of trees and ferns, especially the basket fern which establishes itself high up in a tree. We had our eyes peeled to spot fauna and some of us caught a fleeting glimpse of the electric blue Ulysses butterfly and even a wild kangaroo!
There were two stops along the way and we got to get out and walk around the boardwalk that was built into the rainforest. At one point we were lucky enough to catch up with a ranger giving a talk and we learned about many of the plants and trees that inhabit the area.
Our last stop for the day was the Tjapukai Cultural Center. The Tjapukai are an aboriginal tribe from the Daintree rainforest and the cultural center gives visitors a chance to learn about the original inhabitants of the region. As with all such experiences there is a fine line between watching and participating in performances that are clearly marketed towards tourists and wondering at the authenticity of the experience. On the other hand, given that the 'authentic' lives of the aboriginal people exist in only the remotest parts of Australia, if at all, this is a way of passing on traditions so they they don't die out and allowing others a glimpse into a rich and vibrant culture.
We learned how complex and difficult it is to play the digeridoo, a traditional musical instrument made from a hollowed out tree trunk. We watched traditional aboriginal dances and some of our students even participated in them. We learned about bush medicine and the variety of plants used for many purposes. The students had fun leaning about weapons and hunting and trying out spear throwing and boomerangs. Lastly we saw a multimedia performance of the creation story of the Tjapukai. Each tribe has its own version of this known as the Dreaming and it explains the story of their ancestors and how the world began.
So many experiences, so much to process. Students should have a busy night writing their journals this evening!