A Travellerspoint blog

December 2017

Cooktown to Cairns

...from rainforest reef

sunny 37 °C
View Sam Smart in World War II & Back to Oz on SteveJD's travel map.

Gladys told us we should travel by the inland route but we chose to go via the (coastal) Bloomfield Track to Cape Tribulation. A short way down the road we came across a pub, the Lion's Den Hotel - no other buildings, just the pub. As it was early in the day we had coffee while finding more about this quirky place. Inside there were many artefacts from days gone by and the walls were covered with writing. The latter was started by miners from the surrounding area who would leave their pay packets at the pub and write on the wall how much they had left! Today, most of these signatures have faded away but travellers over the years have filled the gaps. Outside the pub, we were surprised to find a cannonball tree. Many years ago we had seen one in Singapore but had not expected one here. The tree has magnificent large blooms, mostly close to the trunk and the fruit are about cannonball size but not quite as heavy! We had hoped to see an Aboriginal Art Gallery at Wujal Wujal but when we got there, the gallery was closed and the whole settlement seemed deserted so we started on the unsealed road. At some point on the track Gladys finally conceded that we had only 32km to go, not about 100km! The track was interesting with many ascents and descents on a narrow, winding track with several creek crossings (not much water at this time of year).

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On the way down the Bloomfield Track we stopped to admire some of the scenery and Jet Set joined us - and was very nearly left behind! We finally arrived at Cape Tribulation (so named by Captain Cook as he recorded that "...here begun all our troubles." - Miss Drury would have corrected his English no doubt!) and our accommodation in a Jungle Treehouse! We had to cart our bags and baggage about 150 yards through a jungle track to our abode - a wonderful creation with shower (open to the forest) and lounge on the ground floor and bedroom, living area and loo (with forest views, of course) on the first floor. We had really hoped to see a cassowary on this trip but here we had day old poo on the path and, the day before we left, there was very fresh poo when we came back from a lunch down the road! Once settled in, we visited the nearest beach (complete with coconut palms), quite beautiful. While in Cape Trib, we had no 'phone or internet access but strangely the world did not come to and end!

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The following morning, after a cold shower (gas bottle needed changing!), we enjoyed a private walk through the forest before heading down to the Daintree Rainforest Discovery Centre (the name Daintree honours a 19th century Australian geologist and photographer). I should note here that our host is an enthusiastic concrete sculptor and his works are scattered through the forest - slightly eccentric! On the way to the Discovery Centre, we stopped at Thornton Beach where, like all the beaches along this stretch of coast, there was a notice warning of stingers. Beautiful though the sea may look, at this time of year, it is not worth the risk to swim in, however hot it may be. We carried on to the Daintree Ice Cream Company where we had coconut, mango, wattle seed and soursop ice creams (the latter tasting like lemonade!) - some of the nicest flavours I have tasted. We had a pleasant walk around part of their orchard seeing the various exotic fruit trees that they grow. At the Discovery Centre, we walked on the boardwalk, above the forest floor at varying heights, then climbed the observation tower for a better view of the forest and some of the birds that inhabit the canopy. Our time there was greatly enhanced by an excellent audio guide. We found that, in the rainforest, we tended to hear many birds in the canopy but rarely saw any, so the chance to see some from the tower was very welcome. During our stay, we definitely heard catbirds and wompoo pigeons but didn't see them anywhere. We once saw a catbird on the Lamington Plateau when we were living in Brisbane but they are very elusive.

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On our last full day at Cape Trib we visited a number of beaches and outlook points, all of which gave beautiful views and very interesting vegetation, including some wonderful ferns which grow on trees (epiphytic).

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Our drive down the coast, after taking the ferry across the Daintree River, included some of the most stunning coastal scenery we have ever seen, absolutely magnificent. We detoured to see Mossman Gorge - there were signs saying it was not safe to swim so we left our cossies behind only to find all and sundry were cooling off very nicely - so much for obedience! Mossman, the town and the gorge, were named by an early explorer after Hugh Mosman who discovered gold in Charters Towers. We then carried on to Cairns (named after a 19th century governor of Queensland).

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On my birthday we took the Skyrail up to Kuranda (Wikipedia has let me down on the derivation of this name but I suspect it is Aboriginal). This gave superb views of the rainforest, with a couple of stops on the way. However, we had opted for the Diamond package which gave a glass floor to the capsule and 4 instead of 5 passengers. This would have been fine if it weren't for the fact that only every tenth capsule is a Diamond type, so we often waited while others charged ahead and reached Kuranda probably 15 minutes earlier. In other words, the Diamond package is not really worth the extra - unlike the Gold option for the train back! On arrival, we opted for a very pleasant river cruise where one of our fellow passengers was a Welcome Swallow busy making a nest under the sunroof! I wouldn't have missed going to Kuranda but it is very commercial which, for me, takes the edge off slightly even if I understand that this is how it must be these days (says the old codger!). As I mentioned, the train journey back was most enjoyable in air-conditioned comfort and plenty of, much needed, free drink.

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On our 'spare' day, we visited the Cairns Botanical Gardens - at least one corner of them! The gardens include some incredible plants and a greater variety of some plants than I had thought existed. There was even another cannonball tree with both flower and fruit. Not surprisingly, there were plenty of birds and butterflies to keep us happy.

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Our last full day in Cairns was rather disappointing, to say the least. We had booked a trip to part of the Great Barrier Reef but on the day the weather was grey, windy and, to start with, showery. On boarding, we were told that all the crew had taken sea sickness tablets and they recommended that we follow suit, at $3 per tablet. We had already taken some travel sickness tablets that we had with us as it had looked a bit iffy, so didn't feel that it would we sensible to take another. With the benefit of hindsight, the trip should not have taken place. However, we travelled out in decidedly rough conditions and very shortly some of the crew and passengers were being sick (Judith included). We finally reached the first dive spot and probably the scuba divers enjoyed it but we opted to snorkel and joined a beginners' group as we are not strong swimmers and have done little snorkelling. A crew member took us and another passenger out, clinging on to a life belt, but trying to see anything underwater was mostly futile as the swell was so great that snorkels immediately filled with seawater. Nonetheless, we saw a little coral and some fishes but all three of us indicated that we were not comfortable and the crew member tried to get back to the boat but we had drifted too far and even with us kicking along, she could not get us back so had to signal for help. The crew on the boat were slow to react but finally sent a Zodiac-type craft to get us back. The rest of the day was simply an uncomfortable waste of time as we did not feel like trying the next site where the swell was even greater and we then had a long, very rough, trip back to port. Sadly, what was to have been one of the highlights of our trip was one of the lowest points, if not the lowest. We had booked to sail to the Whitsundays a few days later but neither of us felt like risking another long sea trip, so cancelled that booking and booked a floatplane flight instead - more of that later.

20171110_P1000006.jpg -
our boat
20171110_P1000020.jpg - the bumpy but welcome ride back to port!

Posted by SteveJD 17:00 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Undara to Cooktown

...heading towards our most northern point thus far

sunny 40 °C
View Sam Smart in World War II & Back to Oz on SteveJD's travel map.

From Undara, we followed the Savannah Way, roughly north, towards Yungaburra (the name comes from the Aboriginal name for the Queensland silver ash, janggaburru). This journey proved to be quite slow as we had not gone far before we found 40 Mile Scrub National Park where there was a fascinating short walk through some dry rainforest. Although we saw a few birds, none of them would co-operate for photographic purposes so we had to be satisfied with butterflies and red termite mounds!

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As we travelled on, we came across more termite mounds (greyish this time) and then, following the advice of volunteer tourist guides in Mount Garnet (I suppose that is better than Mount Tin, tin being the other main mineral found in the area), we headed for Millstream Falls which proved well worth the hot walk down (and back up!).

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We had gradually been leaving behind the harsher countryside and moving into gentler, greener areas. Gladys (our satnav) lead us astray for a while before condescending to direct us to the Nerada tea plantation where we had an excellent lunch but didn't manage to find their resident tree kangaroo. Strangely, I can not find the origin of the name Nerada, other than that the plantation was started in the Nerada Valley. I presume it has its origins in an Aboriginal word. When looking for this, I came across the Nerada story and this is so typical of many Australian enterprises and makes quite interesting reading. While having our lunch, we had the company of our first brush turkeys, swamp hens on top of the tea bushes (adding flavour?) and, nearby, some beautiful little mannikins as well as egrets and herons. Near Yungaburra, we detoured to Lake Eacham, one of several crater lakes in the area, and were able to have a quick look around, spotting a turtle en route, before a downpour hurried us on to our motel. Yungaburra is a very pretty little town and, we felt, a very 'liveable' place. We waited for the rain to clear then took a walk down to a nearby creek where we were lucky enough to see two platypuses (platypi?!) before getting lost and having a rather long walk through the suburbs.

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It would have been good to have at least one more day in Yungaburra but we had to travel on but first stopped on the outskirts of the town to look at the Curtain Fig - a massive array of aerial roots tumbling down from what had been a large tree before the fig effectively strangled it and it partly fell, allowing the fig to send down many aerial roots, creating the curtain effect. Many birds made their homes in the curtain, we caught a glimpse of a small marsupial in the forest and heard some very strange sounds from the upper storey. We were very curious but eventually the mossies hastened our departure! We aimed towards Atherton (named after a pastoralist who settled in the area in 1875) but stopped at Hasties Swamp which proved to be very good for a number of first-seen birds - brown pigeon and pheasant coucal being highlights for us.

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As we travelled on we came across our first banana plantations.

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One thing that I have not mentioned is that our taste in liquor has swung very much towards gin - a long gin and tonic on a hot day is nectar! This all started at Perth Airport where we found some Margaret River gin which we thought would be a novel addition to out travelling booze cupboard. It is one of the nicest gins either of us has ever tasted but very hard to find. We enquired in Margaret River only to find that it is not distilled there but that Margaret River water is used! We have tried one or two other brands but then, just after leaving Atherton, we found the Mount Uncle Distillery. We tasted the gin they produce and although it is raw in neat form, we liked the flavour and rate this as up there with the Margaret River gin (the name escapes me). We still have some left but will soon need to find a new supply - or try another local brew - I wonder if the Hunter Valley would sully themselves with the production of spirits?!

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We would like to have stopped at Mareeba but did not have time so continued on to Mount Carbine. There was some quite striking scenery as we drove along, with changes in vegetation types and geology being very evident. Around this time, I had taken over the driving and had my legs tested when two cattle decided to cross the road - it was a close thing but my reactions were good enough to avoid damaging us or the cattle. Just short of Cooktown, we stopped at Black Mountain which is a fascinating geological mass. Rather than try to copy all of the description of its origins into this blog, I have included a photograph of an information board which I hope will be legible! The bird life was good there but the mountain really was the centrepiece. We had been told (and one of the noticeboards mentioned) that sometimes people standing there hear cracking sounds as the rock mass moves! On arrival at our caravan park cabin, we saw our first ever, very striking, pied imperial pigeon.

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In Cooktown (named after Captain James Cook, of course), we stayed at our first Big 4 park and were very pleased with the accommodation and environment. We only had one full day here and drove up to Grassy Hiil from which we had magnificent 360 degree views over the Coral Sea, the town, coastline, and the Endeavour River. We nearly came away with a little dog but a bloke came along and recognised it and called its owner to let him know that 'two Pommie Sandgropers' had found his dog! We had a brief look in the Botanic Gardens but were driven out by hordes of ravenous mossies! We had a quick visit to Finch Bay where people were swimming in spite of warnings of saltwater crocs in the area!

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We then went back into the town and had lunch - I wanted coral trout but grilled and this came with rice and salad, a very nice combination. However, I did help Judith with some of the chips that she had with her barra - both fishes were delicious. We were struck here and elsewhere in north Queensland by how many mango trees had fruit dropping with nobody bothering to pick them up or even take them from the tree. This isn't new as we recalled this from our time living in Brisbane. After refuelling ourselves we continued to cover the Heritage Trail which included the spot where Cook careened the Endeavour for repairs, a monument to those involved in the Palmer River gold rush (Mick the Miner), a statue of Cook and several beautifully preserved (and well-used) buildings. It had been a very hot day so a dip in the saltwater pool in the caravan park was a great relief. It was under shade sails and for about 10 minutes we had it to ourselves before a couple of other folk joined in. Yet again, at least one more day would have been good to be able to explore Cooktown and visit some other places of interest nearby.

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Posted by SteveJD 02:45 Archived in Australia Comments (2)

Karumba to Undara

...definitely tropical

sunny 40 °C
View Sam Smart in World War II & Back to Oz on SteveJD's travel map.

Caramba Karumba, it's hot! It has gradually been getting hotter and at Karumba it was definitely time to slow down. We didn't record any temperatures but they would have been at least upper 30s into the 40s. Oddly, it was not as humid as other coastal areas that we were to experience but it did get a bit sticky! On our first full day, we decided to explore the town, about 2km from the caravan park in which we were staying, and enjoyed reading information boards dotted along the banks of the Norman River. One told us that "When north Australians talk of a 'good wet season' it means they have had a few storms, been cut off for a few days, the creeks have flooded briefly and there might have been a few more snakes around."! No wonder prawns can be expensive (prawn fishing being the main industry here). Another board gave the history of aviation in the area - Qantas operated Sunderland flying boats before WWII and Karumba was an important refuelling stop. Then, during the war,
43 Squadron took over the base and flew Catalinas on offensive missions over Japanese held territory in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
We also enjoyed some good bird watching, including more of the ubiquitous brolgas and a pair of beautiful rainbow bee-eaters. One evening, we had fish & chips, barramundi and king salmon which we shared. Both were freshly caught and tasted magnificent. While we were in the cafe, we chatted with a fellow from the park whose ambition is to visit every town in Australia, over the course of ten years!

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When we returned to the park, the owner asked if we would like to join a bird watching trip on the river the following day - of course! I got lens envy when I saw the gear a couple from New South Wales had! They and a young Indian couple from the cabin next to us made up the entire passenger list so we had very good viewing. Our guides were a husband and wife team who provided amusing and interesting commentary and knew all the best places to find a good selection of birds, not always easy to photograph unfortunately! We were delighted in particular to have good sightings of an osprey eating a fish, a white-breasted sea eagle and some amusing antics from jabirus (storks). In the river we saw many pop-eyed mullet, which looked more like flying fish at times, some semi-amphibious mud hoppers, barramundi and, just, a saltwater crocodile which slid into the water from a spot where we had been watching birds. The croc had been invisible to us and it wasn't that small! The rest of this day was devoted to 'admin' and relaxing.

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Our last full day was really too hot to do much other than relax, take a dip in the pool and generally prepare for the next day's journey. In the afternoon, the clouds built up a bit so we wandered over to the Gulf of Carpentaria and took more sunset photos.

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We rose earlier than usual to catch the sunrise, which was not spectacular. This disappointment was more than compensated by a short repeat stop at the wetlands near Normanton to see more and different waterbirds. In the town, we took photos of their Big Croc and Big Barra (we have missed some of these Australian peculiarities but are collecting as many as we can, together with a good selection of road signs which are 'unique to Australia'). We then joined the Savannah Way for the rest of this journey and, on our way to Georgetown, we took breaks at an old railway siding (Black Bull Siding) and at the Gibson River where we saw more different butterflies in one place than we have seen for a very long time. Australian butterflies we have found to be generally uncooperative in rarely settling and then only briefly! Georgetown was one of few 'unremarkable' towns that we have come across. It was given its name in 1871 to honour an early gold commissioner, Howard St George.

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Before heading off to Undara (a local Aboriginal word meaning 'long way' - this makes as much sense as naming a town after a gold commissioner!), we backtracked to the site of the old Cumberland mine a few kilometres west of Georgetown. All that remains now is the chimney, built by Cornish miners in 1889, and a lake rich with birdlife. Near the chimney was another field of termite mounds, again showing the variation in soil colours.
Most of the rest of the journey was through flat lands but, about half way along, we came across a range through which the road threaded a path up to a point where we had good views over the countryside and also some close up sightings of the fruit of an Australian Native Kapok tree. We had seen one or two of these as we had driven along but had not previously been able to have a close enough look to identify them. Just before reaching Undara, we spotted a couple of red-tailed black-cockatoos (pretending to be mudlarks!) to add to our list.

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On reaching Undara we carried our kit into our railway carriage accommodation and then had a light lunch in the large, covered but open, dining area (complete with begging magpie and observations by cockatoos and kookaburras, among others). After exploring the area a bit more, we returned to get ready for our twilight tour to the mouth of the lava tubes to see bats emerge and be faced by hanging tree snakes! We duly gathered at the appointed spot and the heavens opened - even the roof of the covered dining area sprung a leak! Within a fairly short time, the storm was over but too late for our tour to proceed. The dining area had been dried off so we enjoyed a meal with a pleasant couple from Mackay. It was disappointing to miss out on the main reason for our visit but it is a very interesting area and the railway carriage was a novelty that we enjoyed.

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Posted by SteveJD 03:33 Archived in Australia Comments (2)

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