October 27, 2013
We were up early at 5:50 am to travel to Cairns. We finished off most of our breakfast food and then headed down to the Circular Quay station to catch the 6:45 am train to the airport. Checking in for the flight proved to be quite easy, although Rosemary’s pack got stuck on the conveyor belt and we had to get a staff member to come over and help it along. We noticed that most people didn’t arrive two hours before flight time, though. Most of them arrived with less than an hour to go.
Qantas had an interesting way of boarding the flight: twenty minutes before flight time they just gave a general boarding call and everybody lined up and got on. No priority for frequent fliers or people with children, no boarding by row numbers, just everybody gets on board. The whole plane was boarded in fifteen minutes with no problems as far as we could see.
The flight to Cairns took three hours and they served us a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs, corn bread, and chorizo and beans. The plane had iPads as entertainment consoles instead of screens built into the seat backs, which seems to be the new direction for the airline industry. We watched Charley Boorman travelling around South Africa, and it was fun to see him visiting places where we had been. The flight landed on time and after collecting our packs we went over to collect our rental car. Even though it was a Toyota it took us a while to figure out how to open the trunk.
The weather was warmer than Sydney, of course, but it was only about 30 C and there wasn’t much humidity. So it was quite pleasant as we headed out of the airport and north on the coast road, the Captain Cook Highway. We stopped en route at a Coles supermarket to pick up some food for the next couple of days and then carried on. At first there were a lot of roundabouts to negotiate, but after a while the road settled down to be a regular two-lane road passing through a monoculture of sugar cane fields. Then after about an hour and a half we turned off onto a smaller two-lane road leading to Cape Tribulation.
Soon we crossed the Daintree River on the cable ferry, and then the road became narrower and twistier. We stopped at a couple of viewpoints along the way which gave us the chance to stretch our legs. Here there were frequent signs warning us that cassowaries might be on the road, and there were even speed bumps to make us slow down. But unfortunately we didn’t see any cassowaries.
Finally we came to Cape Tribulation and started looking for the youth hostel. After a while we started along an unsealed road through the national park. It seemed to be going nowhere forever, so we turned around and went back to the village to ask for directions. But that was really the right road, we just had to go a short distance farther. After checking in we walked down to the little house where our room was, one of three rooms. Surprisingly the little house came equipped with a small kitchen, so rather than walk up the communal kitchen we could cook closer to home.
We had some tea on the table outside and then walked down to the beach for a look around. What a lovely beach it was, with very fine-grained sand so that walking along it was easy going. We spent some time on the beach looking for birds and generally enjoying the cool breeze, after which we headed back to our little house to make dinner.
October 28, 2013
The birds were up early this morning, with a lot of squawking and gobbling at 4:30 am. But we didn’t get up until we were woken up by talking from the cabin next to us. When we did get up we found an Orange-footed Scrubfowl scratching in the leaves outside our hut, but by the time Rosemary got the camera it was disappearing into the undergrowth.
After breakfast we chatted to the young British couple who were in one of the other rooms in our little house. They were travelling the world for a year, having sold their house in Britain. Then we headed down to the beach to walk along to the lookout. The tide was a fair distance out, so there wasn’t any chance we would get cut off, and the streams were far too small to harbour any saltwater crocodiles. We could see some small rocky islands which had been underwater yesterday, and on one of them we saw a grey heron fishing which turned out to be an Eastern Reef Egret. The walk along the beach was really nice; firm sand and cooler temperatures were an added bonus.
When we got to the headland we walked up and had a look at the campground. It looked like a pretty good place to park your camper van for a couple of days. Here we found the pathway to the lookout. We had originally thought we would be climbing to the top of the hill, but the viewpoint was only about a quarter of the way up. We sat there for a while and then retraced our route back to the hostel.
It was now close to 11 am, so we went and sat in the bistro where the free wi-fi was. We uploaded blog entries and checked e-mails for a while. It was really lovely sitting under the canopy there so we stayed until lunch time. After lunch the temperature was rising, so we decided to go back to the bistro, and we ended up spending the better part of the afternoon there. Around 4 pm we went back to the beach, but the tide was back up so we couldn’t walk far.
While making dinner we chatted to one of our roommates, who was here to do environmental research for her PhD. We didn’t have cooking oil, so we poached a shallot and a carrot in milk, which with the addition of some spices turned out to be quite tasty.
After dark we heard something scuffling in the leaves outside. We went out and shone a headlamp at it, and it was an animal with a large rear end and a long pointed snout. Probably a bandicoot, we guessed.
October 29, 2013
We were woken up again by the scrubfowl gobbling away at 4:30 am and then again at 5:30 am. Our neighbours were up at 7 am, so we decided to get up then as well. We were moving on from Cape Tribulation today after a couple of days chilling out, so after breakfast we loaded up the car and headed back towards Cairns.
First stop was the Maardja boardwalk, just after the village of Cape Tribulation. This was an interpretive trail about 1 kilometer long which meandered through the rain forest and mangroves. The signage was very informative, and it had clearly been updated quite recently. It told us about the different types of tree, climbing vine, and fern. There were several different mangrove species which ranged from plants which could live in salty water all the time to others which could tolerate only a small percentage of salt water. We hadn’t realized there were so many kinds of mangrove.
Just down the road was the Daintree Discovery Centre, a section of rain forest where they had built boardwalks and a five-level canopy tower, with interpretive booklets and audio guides to explain things at various numbered locations. At some of the locations you could also listen to a short section about aboriginal uses of the plants. We found the whole thing worth the price. At the top of the tower there was a noisy flock of Metallic Starlings which were busily deconstructing old nests to get material for new nests. They were very reminiscent of the Social Weavers we had seen in Africa. There had been daily cassowary sightings at the centre, so we decided to eat our lunch there, hoping to see a cassowary pass by the lunch spot. But alas, no cassowaries passed by. Before leaving we bought a pot of tea and sat in the cafeteria area to drink it.
After crossing back over the Daintree River we carried on south to Mossman, to visit Mossman Gorge. At the visitor centre we paid $6 each to take the shuttle bus up to the park, where there was a raised walkway leading to the gorge. Under the walkway we saw some Australian Brush-turkeys, busily scratching the ground. Not quite the cassowaries we were hoping for, but still bigger than the scrubfowl. The gorge wasn’t really much of a gorge, but instead a narrow valley where the river bed was full of boulders. It was pretty enough but not spectacular.
Beyond the swimming holes there was a 2.4-kilometer circuit walk through the rain forest. There were no
cassowaries here either. Occasionally there were signs telling us about the various fruits harvested by the aboriginal people, but they were always next to very tall trees which soared up into the canopy. As we were nearing the end of this walk Paul was startled by a Boyd’s Forest Dragon which darted across the path right in front of him and then climbed up a sapling right next to the trail. It posed there for quite a while, and finally we walked quietly past it along the trail. It didn’t take long to reach the shuttle bus stop, where we waited about five minutes for the bus to arrive.
Now it was time to head for Cairns. We arrived at the youth hostel there at about 6:30 pm, just as it was starting to get dark. Our room was very small, consisting of two twin beds and a small desk, but it wasn’t too bad. It did have air conditioning, which would be important. We walked down to Domino’s, about three blocks away, and it turned out that Tuesday was “Value Pizza Day” there. Not a bad deal! $11.90 for two pizzas and two Cokes!
After dinner we went down to the reception desk to book our Great Barrier Reef snorkeling trip. The lady there recommended the Passions of Paradise boat because it offered a YHA discount and also because it went to both the inner and outer reef, which apparently you should definitely do. However the first day they had space was Friday, and that was the night we would be flying to Darwin. So we had to think about that. But since our flight wouldn’t leave until 8:40 pm, we decided that should be fine.