Troopy goes to Queensland 1999. Part 2

Monday, Aug 16, 1999 at 17:42

Member - John and Val

From Mission Beach the road north was through very lush country with lots of cane and rainforest and with fairly high mountains close to the coast. However cloud hangs on the peaks preventing a good view. We bought groceries in Cairns then headed up to the Daintree ferry, across a muddy river but with no crocodiles in sight. From there the road up to Cape Tribulation is quite good - mostly sealed but narrow and winding and fairly steep in places. It passes through very thick rainforest so can be quite dark.

The CV park which had been recommended to us only had a site for that night, and the NP camping area was completely full, not that it looked very inviting. So we were lucky to get in at PKs Jungle Village, which caters mainly for backpackers plus a few campers. There were lots of young people, with only a few “oldies”. Since we were staying for a few days we put the tent up - it also helps to retain our site when we are out in Troopy. A walk of about 100m from the CV park took us to the beach, with a boardwalk across a stretch of mangroves which had many amazing shapes of aerial roots, some originating about 10m above the water. The beach is immediately south of Cape Tribulation and looks interesting with sand, coconut palms, jungle coming to the sand and all backed by high mountains covered with clouds. This is a very different landscape.

Just south of PKs there is a 2 km long boardwalk which passes through mangroves and low altitude rain/palm forest. Here there is a great variety of both palms and mangroves, but there are very few birds to be seen. There was evidence of damage from a cyclone which looked quite recent, but locals say it is a few years old. After lunch there was a very low tide that exposed the fringing reefs along the beach - we had not guessed at their presence when walking on the beach earlier. We spent some time exploring them. They don’t look very pretty as they are covered on top with algae and mud but we did find a few interesting things. There was a sea anemone about a foot long and a couple of clams of similar size, also a small patch of small bright red and blue feathery animals. John was having trouble with sore feet so we did not explore very far.

At night there was a disco held at the backpackers. We didn’t join the happy throng but were amused by the throng in the bathrooms as all the girls made themselves beautiful. A similar but smaller event took place in the mornings as some of the girls apparently couldn’t start the day without layers of make-up. It is so humid that most of it must sweat off in a very short time!

Some rain overnight had campers airing their sleeping bags as best they could in very humid atmosphere. We visited the Bat House just across the road from PKs. It is run by volunteers to raise awareness about rainforests and especially bats. There were good displays about rainforests and bats, and a pet fruit bat. They had some very attractive T shirts, so indulged in one. (Though the best one wasn’t available in the right size.)

After lunch we drove for a few kms north up the road to Cooktown to Emmagen Creek. This is quite a large creek, which is used as a stop-off point by a lot of the tourist coaches. Although there are no facilities there it is seems to be a well known spot as there were a few other vehicles and people there. The creek was quite beautiful with large deep pools, small fish and a gravel bed. No crocodiles apparently, as we were advised that we could swim there and some people did have a swim. The road crossing meant that the water in the downstream section of the creek was very muddy, but upstream the water was very clear, with a bluish tinge in the deep pools. We found a giant liana on one bank with a massive stem about 20cm in diameter and very long. We used it as steps to climb further into the forest but the absence of any defined paths meant that we didn’t get very far. There are no large trees in this forest - or in any of the forests we have seen so far. It’s hard to know whether they have all been logged out or just were not present in these lowland forests in the first place. However there are prolific vines and palms, so the overall effect is of very lush forest especially in the valleys. We have been surprised that we have not been attacked by leeches but apparently they aren’t found below an altitude of about 100m - presumably the salt discourages them.

We continued north for a few more km on a road the coach drivers said was in good condition - it had quite a few muddy sections and some smaller creek crossings. The road sits high above the beach in places but as the road is narrow, stopping to enjoy the view is not easy, especially as there was a bit of traffic.

We then headed back south, stopping off at Cape Tribulation where we walked along a path leading up towards the cape but not going all the way out. Good views back north over the sea and mountains. Then down to Murranji boardwalk south of the NP campground (which was still full up). This area contained possibly the best rainforest we had seen so far, although there were still no particularly large trees. However there were lots of epiphytes and palms. Again not many birds, but we did see signs of some ground feeding birds. The boardwalk continued into a large mangrove area and ended overlooking an estuary surrounded with mangroves. A lot of the mangroves had epiphytic ferns in them. There were crocodile warning signs through the mangrove section of the walk but fortunately no signs of crocs.

Today we go snorkelling. A beautiful clear day, and the first time we have seen the mountain tops free of cloud. We were up early with our bags packed, ready to be picked up by the “Rum Runner” bus for the short trip to the boat. “Rum Runner” is moored on the northern side of Cape Tribulation and to get on board we first go on a punt built like an inflatable. Before boarding all footwear was deposited in a crate - we got them back at the end of the day. “Rum Runner” is a catamaran with sails and engines and a crew of about 5 young people, equipped for snorkelling and scuba diving.. She takes a maximum of 45 passengers, although today there are only 17 of us. Most passengers are young but there is one couple from Orange closer to our age and with about the same amount of suntan. It took about an hour to travel out to the first reef - Endine Reef (just north of Rudder Reef) - using sail and engines, but the time passed quickly as we enjoyed sitting up the front of the boat with waves spraying over us, and admiring the view of mountains and changing sea colours.

There was quite a bit of paperwork to be completed re health and waivers for insurance etc, and lifejacket instruction. Then the crew distributed fins, goggles and snorkels, and explained the option of trying out diving. We decided to stick with snorkelling for our first go. Wet suits were available for $5, and they seemed like a good option offering some protection from sunburn and additional buoyancy. John’s was so tight he had trouble breathing. We were also able to get special magnifying masks as glasses can’t be worn under a mask as the water would leak in. The crew gave us some entertaining instruction on safety procedures, how to clear masks, how to signal for help and where to swim in relation to the boat. Then we were into the water. It was recommended that beginners hold onto a life ring until they felt confident of swimming alone. This however proved difficult, trying to co-ordinate swimming, steering and holding on. Easier alone. Our first session gave us about 2 hours in the water which was quite shallow especially as the tide was going out. We saw a lot of small brightly coloured fish and just a few bigger fish. Coral was in all shapes - branches, heads and plates, as well as anemones and clams. Also some patches of dead coral. The reefs have trenches of deeper water with sandy bottoms between them. There were a lot of small jellyfish near the surface of the water. Judging depth was tricky, especially when swimming over the top of a reef, but generally the water was deeper than it looked.

The two hours passed quickly but we were ready for a spell having used a few unfamiliar muscles. A salad lunch was served on board, followed by some discussion about reefs and what to do next. The tide was very low exposing the top of Endine Reef so it was decided to move on to St. Crispin Reef, about half an hour away. There we went into the water for another hour or so. There were many more fish there, some about a foot in length, bright yellow with zebra stripes. Also a couple of large clams possibly about 2 feet long. The water was deeper with coral rising up to within about 5 feet of the surface. These reefs were really spectacular with an enormous variety of colours and shapes in the coral. There was quite a lot of bright blue coral but yellows pinks, greens and browns were also common. The divers saw sharks that were asleep but we didn’t see them - perhaps just as well. We bought an underwater disposable camera to try to do justice to this wonderful world. The colours above water were also amazing; turquoise over the shallow areas with dark blue water between the reefs and white coral cays, and patches of brown coral scum, a kind of sunscreen the corals produce. Snorkelling seemed pretty easy in these warm waters, and the wet suits certainly improved buoyancy, even if it impaired breathing. We had a few leaks into our masks but generally coped pretty well. It is something we must do again.

All too soon it was time to go back on board for a final roll call (we had to make an animal sound as a response). Then there was some passenger participation in raising sails, deck games and time to chat with other passengers. We arrived back at the beach by about 4.30 after a very satisfying day – another trip highlight.

We had seafood takeaway for dinner, and turned in for an early night. We were woken about 1am by many bright lights, shouting and the very loud sound of a helicopter landing close by. Then an ambulance arrived at one of the backpacker units to take someone to the helicopter. It seems that someone had been bitten by a snake. An eventful day!

Time to leave Cape Tribulation and head south, back across the Daintree River. We detoured up to Daintree Village where we bought some local fruit and had a look at a small woodwork gallery and even smaller museum. Heading south we came across a cane harvester operating beside the road so stopped to take some photos. The friendly driver ended up giving us both a ride in the harvester. He produced 30,000 tons of cane each year, about 400 tons per acre. It takes ten tones of cane to give a ton of sugar. Each field is harvested 7 or 8 times before it is replanted although some fields can go twice as long. The worst weeds they contend with are vines and giant canary grass. There is no need for irrigation here as rainfall is high enough. Urea is applied after harvest. Cane needs hot days to grow well and cool nights to make sugar. Pigs get into the cane (our driver carried a shotgun) and rats also live in it. We saw about 10 hawks hovering over the harvester to get the rats as they ran out in front of it.

Then on to Mossman where we admired the huge trees lining the road along the northern approaches to the town. After picking up some ice and lunch we drove out to Mossman Gorge. This was a busy spot and parking was hard to find. We walked through rainforest up to the swing bridge across the river. The river there is cold and fast flowing, with huge water worn rocks.

Then on to Port Douglas for a quick look. The town seemed to be very manicured with lots of resorts, and quaint old shops in the original part of town. There is a lookout up a very steep road, but the view is worth the climb. With the sun out the sea was a beautiful colour.

Further down the road, after buying prawns for dinner we stopped at Hartleys Crocodile farm where crocodiles are bred for both meat and skins. We arrived just in time to see a 45 minute demonstration of crocodile feeding, including their rolling and head shaking behaviour. This was put on by a fellow who obviously knew what he was doing but nevertheless had to be slightly mad to be in a pen with a couple of crocs - but he did have a gun, and someone at the gate. He was also an entertaining and informative presenter. The farm has quite a lot of breeding pairs of crocs, plus younger ones as well as freshies, snakes, dingoes, and birds including cassowaries. At the front of the farm was a fibreglass model of a crocodile about 25 feet long - very realistic. The largest recorded croc was shot by a woman in the 1950s and was 2 feet longer than the model!

By then it was time to find a place for the night. There were no camping signs everywhere so a caravan park was the only option. The first park we tried could not let us in unless we put up a tent, which we didn’t need to do. The next park we tried had the same condition - a requirement of the Cairns City Council, which seemed to be aimed at preventing people from sleeping in vehicles. Anyway the second park was cheaper so we gave in and put up the tent. Prawns for dinner!

Up early as we decided to catch the train which goes up the Barron Gorge from Cairns to Kuranda. The first trick was to find the train station, which was at Freshwater, a few kms from the Skyrail terminus on the highway. The train cost $40 return, about the same as the Skyrail. The train, or at least some of the carriages date from 1914 and although in good condition seems to creak a lot. The track is very winding with 15 tunnels and 1.5 miles of bridges, all built manually. The scenery is spectacular, although at this time of the year there is not much water over the Barron Falls. The train was quite crowded with competition for windows and space on the viewing platforms. Kuranda Station was very busy. It is a short walk from the village, although there are free buses to direct tourists to the markets. There seem to be 2 markets in competition with each other, although they both seemed to have very similar stalls, which also replicated what is for sale in the main street : t shirts, opals and gems, food, tropical ice cream/smoothies, aboriginal artefacts, Aussie clothes and souvenirs. After checking out the markets we spent an hour in the butterfly house where butterflies are bred. There was an informative guided walk through the butterfly house explaining how the eggs are gathered and reared, and the role of the feeding stations. While there were quite a lot of butterflies it was difficult to take photos of them as they tended to fly off too quickly. The walk ended in a display of butterflies from different countries.

By then it was time to head back to the train for the trip back down the gorge. In the afternoon light there were spectacular views over Cairns and the coastal plain. We spent a second night at the CV park, taking the opportunity to catch up on shopping and washing.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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