The diving adventure marked the end of our east-coast Australian road trip, at least as far as we had planned it. After 12 days on the road, followed by the intensity of the 3-day live-aboard and then Faye’s departure we decided to stay put in Cairns for a couple of days to regroup and decide what to do with our remaining 12 days in Australia . Our first decision was to fly back south to Sydney on the 27th (of January), the day after Australia Day, where we’d spend some days back at Kiama with Ian’s Aunt and Uncle, Agnes and Jimmy. Among other things we needed to re-pack in order to lighten our load for Costa Rica – where we’d be virtually back-packing – so that meant organising the shipment of some of our stuff home from Australia. Flying back on the 27th would leave us about 7 days to explore Cairns, Port Douglas, the Daintree and Cape Tribulation.
Whilst we were in Cairns we decided to take the famous tour by scenic mountain
railway up to Kuranda, returning by the modern (Skyrail) cable-car. The railway was commissioned in 1882 to secure the supply route up to the mining towns on the plateau, following near famine conditions during the wet-season of that year. Construction began in 1886 and it took 5 years to complete, with 15 tunnels and 37 bridges being built by hand, (pick and shovel), to enable the railway to climb the 328 metres from sea level up to Kuranda. Three million cubic metres of earth had to be excavated during construction and many lives were lost along the way – many of the dead being buried in the old cemetery behind Cairns. You need to travel on it to appreciate just what a feat of engineering it was, (and still is), but
choose your season well; it takes 2 hours in old-style carriages without a/c! We found Kuranda quite disappointing but it’s probably not fair to pass judgement on the basis of a 2 – 3 hour visit. It’s famous for its “indigenous galleries” and “hippy markets”, zoo, butterfly farm, etc – we found lots of stalls selling stuff that you don’t need, and lots of indigenous art-work that we couldn’t afford! One exception was the gallery devoted to the work Peter Jarver a landscape photographer, (unfortunately now dead), whose work captured the essence of this great country. Our return was via the Skyrail cable-car taking 30 minutes or so and skimming the rain-forest canopy on its way back down to sea-level. You can get off twice on the way down to admire the views from purpose-built walkways and look-outs. We stopped at the first one but got a bit frustrated by the crowds and the inability to “get in about it all”, plus we then had to queue for some time to get back on the cable car. So we skipped the next stop!
The day was rounded off by a very fine dinner in a local Balinese restaurant, (making a pleasant change from the places downtown on “the strip”), with Chris and Betty-Ann, our hosts on their farm down in New South Wales, from way back before Christmas. It was good to catch up with them and learn a bit more about life and business in Tropical Queensland from the point of view of residents, (as opposed to itinerant workers!). We’ve been very grateful to Chris and Betty-Ann for their hospitality during our travels here in Australia and hope that one day we’ll have the opportunity to repay them.
The next day we collected another, smaller, hire car and set out on the 60-odd km drive up to Port Douglas where we’d booked, (via AirBnB), a small condo in the town centre and just a few minutes-walk from the famous 4 mile beach.
We found Port Douglas to be a bit upmarket after Cairns, somewhat less energetic and more akin to Noosa with the designer shops and boutiques – and their prices! Although it has to be said that Port Douglas does have some good old-down to earth bars in among the luxury resorts, including the Iron Bar with its nightly cane toad races. (We didn’t actually watch any so therefore can’t say whether or not we agree with the practice; cane toads may be nasty creatures but it’s not their fault that some mis-guided scientists introduced them to Australia!). We were also slightly bemused by the Crocodile and stinger warning signs on 4 mile beach and the total absence of people in the water, (except for the stinger net at the town-end of the beach). Having spent the remainder of our arrival day strolling around Port Douglas we then got busy arranging activities for the rest of our stay which went as follows:
On Friday we drove the short distance to Mossman gorge for a hot and steamy walk
through the rainforest followed by a refreshing dip in the creek – once we’d satisfied ourselves that there was no danger from crocs or anything else that might fancy a taste of us. (We were confident that the large lizard on the river-bank meant us no harm!)
On Sunday we were up at the crack of dawn to drive to Daintree village for an early morning river tour with the
very knowledgeable Murray Hunt. Departing at 06:30 in the dawn mist over the Daintree river and with only two other people on his boat with us, we were treated to two hours in Murray’s company us he unveiled some of the river life to us. Although, on arrival at the village we’d again been confronted by the ubiquitous crocodile warning signs, Murray explained that we’d be unlikely to see any at this time of year. Which wasn’t to say that they weren’t there, just that due to the warm water temperature they were staying submerged. In fact during the trip we took a detour off the main river into Barratt Creek and, whilst passing a house on the river bank, Murray recounted the
story of Beryl Wruck, who was taken by a crocodile in December 1985. There had been a pre-Christmas party at the house and, after a few stubbies, a group of guests decided to take a dip in the creek, (why would you DO that?). Beryl lowered herself off the jetty into 45cm of water at which point, according to an eye –witness, there was an “explosion” in the water and Beryl disappeared without a sound – or a trace. After the attack the locals went on a crocodile-shooting spree and 3 weeks later
female fore-arm bones and finger nails were found in the belly of a slain crocodile. So no Crocodiles or other reptiles but the bird-life was abundant and we never ceased to be amazed by Murray’s eyesight, pointing out birds that we’d have passed by in blissful ignorance – including a Frogmouth nestled on an old tree and looking for all the world like part of the branch.
After the river tour and following a hearty breakfast at Rob’s Pie Shop back in the
village, it was off to the Daintree ferry and across the river and up to Cape Tribulation. On the way we passed the most beautiful, deserted and prisitine beaches that we’ve ever seen – these crocs do serve a purpose after all! Whilst at Cape Tribulation beach Jan was lucky enough to spot a Cassowary with two young crossing the trail, a fleeting glimpse and too short for a photograph. We went off in pursuit of it down the same trail but weren’t lucky enough to get another sighting.
From Cape Tribulation beach we carried on a bit further north on the dirt track which leads ultimately to Cooktown. Our drive came to an end at Emmagen Creek which can only be crossed in a 4WD vehicle and thus marks the end of the great north road for everybody else. The weird thing here was the busy swimming hole upstream from the river crossing and then, a few metres downstream on the other side, the still waters with the croc warnings. Presumably the crocs couldn’t swim up into the running waters over the ford but this was still too close for comfort as far as we were concerned!
Monday saw us back in Port Douglas and up early for our final Great Barrier Reef adventure, (at least of this trip), this time out to Agincourt Reef on Poseiden, another purpose built dive boat, loaded with day-tripping non divers and snorkelers as well as a small group of certified divers. The trip is described in another posting so not much more to say here – except to comment on the high price of diving out of Port Douglas – the trips are definitely aimed at a different segment of the market from those in Cairns.
Then it was the much anticipated Aussie Day which turned out to be a bit low key in
Port Douglas. During the day there were some low-key activities in the park by the waterside – children’s rides and games, tug-of-war contests a couple of bands and a beer tent. Owing to the torrential rain that we’d had during the night the humidity level had ratcheted up a few notches and every movement caused us to break out in sweat – and the locals were obviously having the same problem. Right next to the park lay the most beautiful waterfront with a flat-calm, inviting sea but, despite the heat and humidity, there was absolutely nobody in it – these crocs again! We stayed a while then enough was enough and we walked to
the shark/stinger/croc net on 4 mile beach with its lifeguard and sat there in the 29 degree water for a while. That evening we sauntered into town for dinner, expecting fireworks and revelry but, except for the Irish bar, the pubs were deserted by 9:30 pm. So that was Australia Day in Port Douglas. The enforced early night was probably just as well as we had another early start the following day for the start of journey back to Cairns and then our 2 ½ hour flight back to Sydney.