Saturday, January 16, 2010

Taking a break in Cairns.

In December, I traveled to Cairns, in the northeastern corner of Australia, with my family. It was certainly a nice and long-needed break from the daily rigorous studying. My October was full of exams, and the beginning of December saw the last, yet the biggest exam of the six years: the graduation exam. Not until we pass that do we become eligible to take the national license board. In Japan, graduation from a faculty of medicine requires you to pass this graduation exam, instead of submitting a thesis. So, we do go through a period of 'torturous studying', however, we are never required to learn how to write a paper.

Named after William Wellington Cairns, then Governor of Queensland, this city was originally founded in 1876 to serve miners heading for the Hodgkinson River goldfield. However, the region has been inhabited by the aboriginal Walubarra Yidinji people, who called and still calls the area Gimuy, since long before the Europeans came. Later on, the city developed into a railroad hub and a major port for exporting sugar cane, which still remains the biggest local industry after tourism, and metals, minerals, and other agricultural products from the surrounding coastal areas.

Cairns gives you the impression of a peaceful countryside city. It doesn't have skyscrapers, nor does it have multi-story shopping complexes. It's not about the hustling and bustling one has to endure in Sydney or Melbourne. The seaside boardwalk gives you a pleasant view of the port and the peninsula across the cove, which is sacred aboriginal territory, and especially picturesque at sunset. However, the nearby beaches are not a place for swimming, as it is infested with crocodiles and some stinging jellyfish, a reminder that the seashore is predominantly mangrove swamp, and that the port was built after clearing part of it.

The best and most beautiful waters for swimming nearby is certainly out at the Great Barrier Reef, which is a UNESCO-registered world heritage site, and stretches over a distance of 2,600 kilometers. It is composed of over 900 islands and 2,900 individual reefs. Cairns is naturally the hub for those who come to see what is the largest single structure made by living organisms. However, we must keep in mind that the booming tourism (generates AU$1 billion every year) together with climate change are the biggest 'enemies' for this great natural wonder.

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