Moving to the tropics, gonna eat me a lot of mangoes
September 22, 2014 4:50 PM   Subscribe

We are moving to the tropics (specifically, Cairns, Australia) in January. I have never lived in a climate like this before. We are also going to be first time homeowners. Talk to me like I'm five and explain to me all the things I should know about this situation before I screw up my house, electronics, etc.

I grew up in the American Midwest, lived most of my adult life in Boston, and we both just spent the last two years in the UK. My husband has lived in Cairns before, but only temporarily for work, in an apartment. We're both well aware of the weather patterns there (wet season and dry season, temperatures, cyclones, etc) and I have visited in both the wet and the dry seasons so I know on some level what I'm getting into. My specific concerns have to do with what every day domestic decisions I normally make may be different from what I'm used to.

For background, part of why I got the hell out of Ohio when I turned 18 was because I hated the hot, sticky summers there (yeah I'm gonna looooove Cairns). My parents dealt with all that by living the "move from air conditioned box to air conditioned box" lifestyle and that's what I'm used to. In our Cairns place, we do not intend to have our A/Cs on non-stop (our house is in fact well stocked with ceiling fans, which will be helpful), but suffice to say what little I do know about dealing with wet and humidity is very skewed by that particular coping method.

Some specific things I worry about:
- Materials for furniture? I know things like "leather couches can be uncomfortable in hot sticky weather" but are there considerations for how leather holds up in this climate as opposed to, say, microfiber?
- Same question goes for outdoor furniture, both the frames and cushions. And is wood always bad for wet climates? Is painting or sealing helpful, or will it just cause more rot?
- We plan to paint a few interior rooms in our new house, but we'll be moving in January, in the middle of the wet. How does this affect the chemistry of paint drying? What if we plan on making any interior improvements that may involve adhesives?
- We have quite a few computers, a combination of various laptops and a Mac Mini that runs our TV. Do I need to treat them any differently than normal?
- When it comes to things like gardening, or yard improvements like replacing retaining walls or putting down flagstones, are there better or worse weather conditions to plan those activities around? Or does it not matter?
- This is less about yardwork and such, but: other considerations include ownership of a dog and, shortly, a baby. Anything special I should know for them?
- Any other advice for a temperate-climate transplant?
posted by olinerd to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
We just moved to Cairns last January (welcome! meetup in 2015...?) from Melbourne. I haven't experienced a full wet season yet but here are a couple of random comments...
- Arriving in mid January wasn't as wet or hot as we had feared (although the day we left Melbourne was 43C, so there's that), and dry season is surprisingly dry! The grass is brown and we have to water the garden daily. People tell me last wet season was a mild one, and the forecast is for a relatively dry one this year, so you might find that helps you acclimatise.
- We acclimatised fast! Now when it gets to under 20C overnight my wife worries about the poor cat "sleeping outside in the cold" :) Ceiling fans are great, we mainly only used the a/c at night to cool down the bedrooms before going to bed. And totally unnecessary in dry season.
- I grew up in damp muggy Auckland, and even after nearly 10 years in Melbourne could never get used to the dry, so I absolutely love the tropical climate here. YMMV.
- Locals tell me clove oil is the bomb for getting rid of and preventing mould on leather and walls. I haven't needed to test that yet.
- Gardening is great, you don't need to mow the lawn in dry season, but you do need to water it. I've been growing tomatoes and herbs and stuff and it's all very happy for now, but will certainly die off in wet season - our lawn was underwater when we moved in in February.
posted by nomis at 5:07 PM on September 22, 2014


I have not lived in Cairns but spent a year living in the Northern Territory, I have lived in super hot desert climates. Do not fight the heat. Let yourself get used to it. It will suck at first but running from airconditioner to airconditioner will not help, save that for when things really get bad or at night. By do not fight the heat, learn to do strenuous things in the morning or evening hours at least until you are used to it and drink more than you think.

Avoid leather, you want as breathable materials as possible to sit on, I preferred natural materials.

In regards to the dog, you won't need rabies shots in Australia. You will also need to watch out for Cane Toads as they can poison dogs. Also they are a LOT stricter on dog licensing.

If you are scared of bugs, bats, lizards or snakes you are info for a rude shock, I like them so loved living up North.

Dry season you will most likely be fine, it is as nomis said very dry, wet season will make you consider building a second ark. Having come from a desert environment to the tropics I was just gobsmacked at the sheer amount of water that just fell from the sky, and kept falling and falling.
posted by wwax at 5:18 PM on September 22, 2014


(Just as a clarification, we currently live in Sydney so we have Australia-specific things sorted. It's just the tropical part that is intimidating me!)
posted by olinerd at 5:21 PM on September 22, 2014


Be careful eating those mangoes. The sap contains the same chemical as poison ivy, and comes out pretty aggressively. I feasted on mangoes for a few days without carefully washing my hands after peeling them, and turned into a bloated puffmonster.

With regard to many of your practical questions, ask your future neighbors! People in Cairns are friendly and there are no better experts when it comes to maintaining a crazy, suburban-style standard of living in tropical jungle.
posted by idlewords at 6:08 PM on September 22, 2014


I'm from Townsville, which is just south of Cairns and pretty much identical climate-wise.

- Never encountered much in the way of leather furniture. I would recommend steering clear.
- Cane furniture seemed to be the preferred option for outdoors, provided it is in a covered (that is, rain-covered) area.
- Save the painting until the rainy season is over
- Your computers will be fine, just make sure they are in well-ventilated areas
- Do your gardening whenever, we always did
- Make sure your dog has a cool and well-shaded spot, with a couple of buckets of regularly-freshened water placed strategically around the yard (under the taps)
- Buy yourself loads of breathable clothes with natural fibers

Bonus:
ALWAYS WEAR A HAT
ALWAYS WEAR SUNSCREEN
WATCH OUT FOR CYCLONES
WATCH OUT FOR DENGUE FEVER
DON'T HURT THE GREEN FROGS
GATHER THE CANE TOADS AND FREEZE THEM THEN BURY THEM FOREVER
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:26 PM on September 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


turbid dahlia, please explain the gathering and freezing of cane toads. I get it; they are giant, bad, poisonous toads. But why freezing?
posted by Gotanda at 7:55 PM on September 22, 2014


Cane toads are hard to kill, and people have found all sorts of cruel and slow ways for them to die. Freezing is believed to be the most humane method.
posted by nomis at 8:01 PM on September 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


Not Australia, but in the tropics.

Agree with turbid dahlia: ALWAYS wear sunscreen. Get lots of bug spray and use it--the mosquitos are maddening! And they can make you really sick. If you can, avoid being out of doors during the evening as the sun is going down. That's when they come out to hunt.

Get used to bugs, lots of bugs. There's no way to keep them all out short of pressure-sealing your house (and if you manage to pull that off I'd like to hear more). I'm not sure if they have geckos in Cairns. If they do, they will take some getting used to, particularly at night. Also, they poop EVERYWHERE so be prepared for that.

Wear loose clothes. Abandon anything made of leather: it will rot. Shower often in the summer.
posted by orrnyereg at 11:17 PM on September 22, 2014


If you are scared of bugs, bats, lizards or snakes you are info for a rude shock, ...
You forgot crocodiles. Also geckos.

Pretty much just stick to what turbid dahlia said, but add drinking plenty of water and you'll be fine. You can substitute your favourite #5 iron for freezing the toads if you don't like the idea of putting them in with your food and don't mind being hands-on with your pest control.
posted by dg at 1:59 AM on September 23, 2014


Yeah, mosquito coils and some kind of eucalyptus insect repellent should be in your arsenal. As orrneyereg points out above, the only way to keep the bugs out is by pressure sealing your house. But, while the geckos poop a lot (Cairns does have plenty of geckos, though mostly non-native), they are keeping the bugs within manageable proportions, so you learn to deal.

I don't have anything personally against toads, because they are just doing their thing and are living creatures just like us, and it isn't their fault they are here, but they are fucking up the ecosystem real bad, and every toad you put to sleep is possibly one native skink that it doesn't eat, or one native snake that doesn't die by trying to eat it. They kill a lot of pets, too. Or, rather, a lot of pets die by trying to chew them.

So kill them, but do it with kindness and don't do any stupid shit to make them suffer. I'm ashamed to admit that we used to be really evil towards the cane toads as kids, and I honestly feel shitty about it every day of my life.

Also, please don't get squirted in the eye by their juice though as it may blind you. Look on YouTube for howtos on the safe gathering of toads.

All in all, they're pretty remarkable. Check out An Unnatural History and The Conquest for a couple of really great docos.

Oh! And stay out of the ocean, because a box jellyfish, of which there are a billion trillion in NQ coastal waters, will kill you dead a thousand times over. And even if they don't, it's gonna hurt real bad. I got touched on the back by a teeny tiny baby one once (it got in through the filters at the Rock Pool) and the pain was excruciating. Don't let your dog in the water. Pretty much everything in the water up there will murder you, so just forget about it.

Not much else I can think of really, it's been a while since I was back there. If you can, trek inland during storm season and find a flat plain to look out over: you'll see a light show you'll never forget.

Oh, and in NQ, at the bottle-o, you don't get a "slab" or a "case" of "stubbies" or "tinnies". You get a "box of cannies" or a "box of bottlies". Don't drink XXXX as it's rubbish. Actually don't drink any Queensland beer. Stay out of the water and don't drink the beer. And don't let water stagnate around your house, as you'll get dengue fever immediately. And don't walk anywhere barefoot or goatsheads will puncture pretty much all the way up into your liver.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:36 AM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


I lived in Darwin for three years after moving to Australia from New Zealand, I left earlier this year. I never got used to the heat or the humidity. I tried.

There are a few things you can do to help go aircon free. Have a cool shower or swim before bed and don't dry off. You can also drape a damp towel over you with a fan going. Keep the house closed up during the hottest part of the day but open the windows when it cools down to get a breeze through.

Don't buy a fake leather couch. Ours started flaking after a year. It is now unusable.

Watch out that your clothes aren't going moldy, a friend had to throw all hers out after being away for a few months.

Get used to cockroaches and geckos. There will be ants. Some of them bite. Watch out for midgys if you live near water - they can fit through the insect netting. Expect snakes even if you live in first floor CBD apartment building (it climbed a tree).

Try and drink 2 litres of water a day even if you don't feel thirsty.

If you want to swim buy a stinger suit and watch out for crocs.

All your fruit lives in the fridge as does your bread. Your milk will go off before the expiry date.

The supermarkets may shut a lot earlier than you're used to on weekends.

You will probably get fungal infections. Have fun getting rid of them.

You may get power cuts during the wet season.

Enjoy Cairns. We visited in April and it was such a pleasant temperature compared to Darwin and even cooled down at night. Enjoy the storms, they're the one thing I will miss about Darwin.
posted by poxandplague at 5:24 AM on September 23, 2014


Gardening wise - cover things so the possums don't eat them. They love capsicum plants but not basil. I'm not sure about Cairns but in Darwin we were warned not to plant tomatoes in the ground due to a common disease.
posted by poxandplague at 5:28 AM on September 23, 2014


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