Basically, I hate tours. I detest being loaded onto a bus with 49 other people and herded like cattle from one tourist spot to the next. I loathe hearing, ‘We’ll be leaving here for exactly 18 minutes,’ when I’d like to stay for two hours shooting photos or hiking the trail to the overlook point. But in Cairns there is no other choice – there was no way to get to the places I wanted to see unless I rented a pricey car. So with trepidation I booked two tours in Cairns – hoping for the best but expecting the worst. The first, Uncle Brian’s Atherton Tablelands and Waterfalls Tour, was highly recommended by Rob at Cairns City Backpackers. He said it was deliberately designed to be off the beaten track in the highlands west of the city, which he insisted are more beautiful than anything I would see if I did the more famous tours to Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation. I considered the possibility that Rob was pushing this tour because he was getting a cut but then dismissed the idea. He seemed like a pretty sincere guy. So I took a leap of faith and booked it at a cost of $109.
From the moment I boarded “Gus The Bus” at 8AM, I knew this tour was going to be different. Our guide, Bart, was a showman in every sense of the word. Standing about 5′ 10″ with curly long blond hair pulled back in a ponytail, Bart wore his daily uniform of khaki shorts, a T-shirt and sandals (he claims to not own a pair of shoes other than golf shoes), kicking off his sandals at every opportunity to go barefoot. He memorized the names of every person on the bus (15 of us) and engaged each of us in a long conversation via his headset and microphone as we drove down the road. He wanted details: how long had we been traveling, where had we been, where were we going, and oh, by the way, is there a romance going on between the two of you in the back of the bus who are both from Germany but just met at a backpacker’s lodge? By the time we were 20 miles down the road we knew each others life histories.