Return to Green Island – via Cairns, Far North Queensland
We Arrive on Green Island
Although it was 20 LOOOONG years since our last Green Island National Park visit, Pilchard’s first action on our return just MAY have been a little bit extreme.
I mean, propelling a perfectly good hat into the sea wasn’t some kind of superstitious ritual, was it? Did he perhaps think it meant we wouldn’t have to wait another 20 years before our next visit??
But the capricious gust of wind that had plucked the hat from Pilchard’s head and flung it into the depths where it sank like a stone was pure accident.
From the frenzied clicking and suppressed giggles behind us, I strongly suspected the whole episode had been captured on film …
Our return to Green Island wasn’t going well …
Green Island – the Facts!
The 12 hectare rainforest-covered coral cay – known as the Green Island Recreation Area – is one of the most popular and accessible tourist destinations in the Great Barrier Reef, a short 27 km (~17 miles) boat trip from Far North Queensland’s Cairns.
Green Island’s Fascinating Past
Estimated to be several thousand years old, post-colonial plunder and exploitation have threatened the island’s continued existence since its charting and naming by Captain James Cook in 1770. But luckily, the multi-layered protection that several regulatory authorities jointly brings will prevent further structural, environmental and biological damage, given the accountability and harmony so often seen in competing bureaucracies. Right???
But changes to the island landscape since 1770 are far greater than those observed by Pilchard and I after our 20-year hiatus! Green Island’s new (to us!) interpretive boardwalk charts the effects of human interaction – and the changing demands for its resources.
From Guru-Gulu Gungandji Indigenous people’s hunting and initiation ceremony site to present day recreation area of reef, resort and National Park has been a long and bumpy road for this beautiful spot.
‘Plunder’ and ‘pillage’ the 1800’s themes, the island was exploited trashed cleared by bêche de mer fishermen who had no use for pristine rainforest and reef while involved in this labour-intensive industry. But in the 100+ years since the processing plant, living quarters and gardens replaced the forest, it’s grown back completely – with 134 charted plant species today.
During this time drunken ‘picnic’ parties, like those described in this postcard facsimile above, decimated island resources with activities including, but not exclusive to dynamiting fish, shooting birds and souveniring coral!
In what the unkind may describe as ‘poetic justice’, one local character’s arm was amputated after a nasty accident with the dynamite while ‘fishing’! Could this have been the rise of the notorious Aussie ‘yobbo’**??
In an almost complete turnaround, the island’s potential for tourism was exploited developed in the 1900’s complete with world firsts – including glass bottomed boats for underwater viewing, films of life on the Barrier Reef and Cassius, the largest crocodile (5.5m or 18′) in captivity in the only crocodile farm – Marineland Melanesia – on a coral cay. If that’s important.
Green Island – Now What?
now, around 300,000 tourists visit Green Island each year, continuing to exploit its resources, albeit more sustainably. In theory, anyway – imagine the impact of so many on the beaches, coral reefs, walks and wildlife.
But the multi-layered management model would have changed all this for the better, right? Well … look at what’s changed in the last 20 years – do the changes contribute to island sustainability? Or are they just cosmetic? You decide!!
20 years ago, you got a Green Island cruise or day-trip – now it’s a Green Island ‘Eco-Adventure’, although weirdly, most activities haven’t changed … and neither has the snorkelling equipment!!! How jealous would my friends have been in the early 90’s to hear about my Eco-Adventure!!
20 years ago, visitors could cross the island on a dirt track through the centre, and the only restricted areas were the resort grounds, and crocodile farm (as if you needed to be told that!!). Now, a boardwalk follows the beach, leaving the centre free from human activity. Oddly, the ‘walk’ from one side to the other is now marketed as a ‘self-guided tour’!
20 years ago, Emerald doves wandered the forest floor – but now, after a successful rat eradication program, large numbers of Buff-banded Rail aggressively hunt and gather from the main food court – and appear to be the only ground-based fauna. Like house-guests from hell, they bathe (and defecate) in the pool, snatch food from unwitting tourists, and hog the best sunbathing spots. In a strange zoological reversal, tourists unable to fend them off are invited to eat in a wire mesh enclosure (aka ‘cage’) the birds can’t enter … The attractively marked Buff-banded Rail normally shuns human contact, so getting a close look at one isn’t that easy. But now? I don’t care if I never see another one …
20 years ago you were left to your own devices upon arrival on the island – now, there are warnings for the aged. Apparently a high risk group, tourists aged 50+ (aka ‘old’) are encouraged to alert the lifeguard when entering the water in case the exertion is too much. Although the only danger I faced was from Pilchard himself when I offered to tell the lifeguard that he was about to go snorkelling.
Green Island’s Natural Attractions
But these are minor points in the context of the magnificent beauty of the natural attractions. Broad white beaches. Water so clear and blue you could spot a hat through it. Superb corals, giant clams and fish. Lush, green rainforest. Ample birdwatching opportunities. Turtle spotting. And the ultimate? Whale watching!!
Sitting on a shady beach after the trauma of keeping our reef fish wraps and chips** from the hovering anxiety of a brace of Buff-banded Rail, we watched a pod of whates frolicking for a good 30 minutes before they moved out of sight. Then, another pod was spotted from the return ferry. Happily not required for scientific testing that day, the whales were free to cavort for the Aussie, American, French and Japanese photographers lucky enough – and thrilled – to capture them on film.
A stunning end to a fabulous day, our return to Green Island had certainly picked up from its inauspicious beginning.
SO … will we return? Hell, yes! After all, we’ve got Pilchard’s hat to look for …
* Yobbo = Aussie term of endearment for people (usually blokes) who indulge in ‘exuberant’ behaviour, usually taking the format of alcohol-fuelled best mate bonding sessions involving various combinations of camping, fishing, barbecues, hunting and cruising.
** Chips = fries