It’s difficult to sleep in when the sun comes up at 5:00am, especially when you know that you’re in tropical North Queensland and your five weeks’ holiday are ticking by as you sleep. And especially when you know that you’re bound for somewhere special that day; somewhere where the World Heritage listed rainforest comes down to meet the Great Barrier Reef. Greetings from Cape Tribulation.
Maria and I checked out of Calypso Backpackers Hostel early, and headed north. I was feeling a bit fragile, the result of a short night’s sleep after an extended chat at Zanzibar- Calypso’s own licensed venue- the night before with a large Englishman who had the dangerous habit of topping up my beer from his jug every time the glass dropped below half full. So a stop at MacDonalds drive thru was in order for a magic hangover cure a.k.a a large vanilla shake.We had barely got our cruising car up to cruising speed before we were turning off to Port Douglas, a delightful little seaside resort town. Port Douglas is special in that although it is extremely popular, and a favoured destination of the rich and famous, the local council has worked hard to maintain the town’s original character. For years, the town fought a bitter battle to keep MacDonalds out, but in the end the courts ruled that it was unfair to prevent MacDonalds from setting up. However, the court did agree to impose on MacDonalds a number of the council’s restrictions; no red and yellow colours visible from the street, no large ‘M’, and so on. To this date, MacDonalds has not found it viable to open a restaurant in Port Douglas, and the townsfolk (and myself) hope they never do. Maria and I sat down at a local cafe and shared a serve of poached eggs on muffins with spinach, pesto and bacon, washed down with freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices. MacDonalds can stay away. Port Douglas doesn’t need it.
Wary of how easy it would be for Port Douglas to lose its unique identity, development in the town is restricted to the height of the tallest palm tree. That comes to about three stories. We learnt much of this from a very personable and helpful guy named Tor who runs a bicycle hire shop in the main street of Port Douglas. He’s a mine of information about the local region, and if you’re in Port Douglas, you’d be doing yourself a favour to drop in for a visit and a chat.
One of the places that Tor recommended to us was Mossman Gorge. The ocean temperatures at the moment were about twenty-eight degrees, he told us, and swimming pools were equally tepid, sometimes almost like swimming in soup. But the water in Mossman Gorge flowed through under the rainforest canopy and collected in pools in the gorge at about eighteen degrees. In the wicked heat of the tropical north, a refreshing dip in a cold river would have been worth a hundred kilometre drive. Mossman Gorge, luckily, was only a few kilometres out of our way on the drive to Cape Tribulation.
As promised, the water was chilling. The shady banks and the cool, clear water made it a popular spot, and we had to manouevre around to get the photos above without a dozen people on the background. If you listened, you’d hear new arrivals assuring each other that the water was ‘lovely once you’re in’. I would have stayed in the water for ever, but I’d picked up a little sunburn on my belly the day before. Maria and I had been meticulous covering our backs with maximum protection sunscreen for our snorkelling, but there’s no need for sunscreen on your stomach, is there? Well no, not unless you fall asleep lying on the deck on the way back to port!
And anyway, we had a river cruise booked for half past three on the crocodile infested Daintree River. Our boat, Solar Whisper, embarked from just near the ferry crossing, but we were ahead of time and had enough time to overshoot the turnoff to the ferry crossing and drive into Daintree Village for a cold beer before our cruise. Maria chose a Beez Kneez, a slightly honey flavoured wheat beer, and I treated myself to a crisp Hahn Premium.
David was our skipper on Solar Whisper, a smooth, quiet vessel that runs off electricty generated by solar panels on the roof.
This gives the boat two advantages; firstly we don’t scare off the wildlife before we reach them, and secondly the operation has little or no negative impact on the environment. David seems to know pretty much everything there is to know about the Daintree River, about the region, and especially about crocodiles. As we glided noiselessly along the surface, David introduced us to much of the fauna that we were passing.
Every now and then, David would spot one critter or another in the mangroves. I guess after a few years, he’s tuned his eyesight to find anything of the animal variety amongst the tangle of mangrove roots and branches. First it was a tawny frogmouth, a nocturnal bird of prey that- with its large eyes and soft thick fluffy neck- most of us would confuse for an owl. The frogmouth had a baby in its nest, and David was quick to zoom in with his inbuilt state-of-the-art ‘croc cam’, giving us a clearer, closer view of the bird. Next, David brought the craft to a pause close to a low hanging branch and we were surprised to find a green tree snake making its way up the branch, just a metre from the edge of the boat.
But you and I (and David) know that we were there to see one thing. Crocodiles! The first one we found was just a hatchling, this year’s model David told us. It was just basking on the muddy bank, and didn’t seem too perturbed by our presence. But a little further on, he spotted a bigger one, two metres, maybe two and a half. All that was visible was the top of the prehistoric beast’s head, protruding above the dark, still water. The passengers were all excited, and we madly snapped away with our cameras, but in the dull light of the mangrove shadows it was difficult to replicate with a photo the thrill of standing just a couple of metres from a wild saltwater crocodile! All the way along, David’s commentary was interesting and humourous and very educational. The tour ran for an hour and a half or so, which was great value for money, even though on that day we didn’t see any of the massive crocs that can sometimes be seen in this area. They’re more visible in the cooler months, David told us, when they have to leave the cold water and warm themselves in the sunshine.
Our destination for the evening was Cape Tribulation, and something of a stroll down memory lane for me, since I celebrated my birthday up here about nine years ago with my brother Phil in a very cool backpackers hostel called PK’s Jungle Village. I remember Phil and I sat on the deck by the pool with two Austrian girls, drinking bottle after bottle of champagne, and at midnight challenged each other to a wrestling contest on the slippery log that spanned the swimming pool. Where would Maria and I be staying on this trip? No alternative… PK’s here we come!
We reached PK’s just a little too late to head down to the beautiful beach. Well, there was still some daylight left, but if we set off for the beach, we would have missed dinner at the hostel, and after the appetites we had built up throughout our busy day, there was no way that was going to happen.
PK’s, just as I had remembered, is a very sociable place. It has a huge recreation area, with licensed bar and restaurant, dining deck overlooking the pool and landscaped gardens, in addition to its own communal self-catering kitchen further down in the gardens. For about eight bucks, I demolished a virtual mountain of sausage patties and mashed potato and onion. Maria was a little more refined in her choice of garlic and chilli prawn stir fry, which set her back fourteen bucks or so, but was by all reports worth every penny.
Our room was generously sized, with a queen sized bed and a double bunk. *I got to be on top!* Air conditioning and a fan meant that we would be comfortable in any conditions, and although the bar and restaurant were busy until midnight or so, the noise didn’t permeate as far as the huts, and I for one slept like a log.
By 6:30 in the morning, we were on the beach. By 6:45, it was too hot to be enjoyable. There was only one place to be, and that was back in PK’s crystal clear swimming pool.
What funny names some places have over here. I guess they may be normal for the locals, but to me names like Cape Tribulation, Repentance Creek, and Deception Bay sound veeeeeeeeeeeeeeeery weird. And not very inviting, though most of them are proving to be all the contrary. And I’m also coming across Aboriginal names such as Boggabilla, Cunnamulla, Augathella, Wagga Wagga, Wallangarra, Beerburrum that I don’t have a clue how to pronunce. If I was on my own I would have to carry a note pad wih all these names written down so I could ask for help.
A really funny thing happened today at Port Douglas. While we were talking to Tor, we heard a big noise coming from the ceiling. When we looked at him in amazement, he looked back to us very calmy and said “Don’t worry, mates, it is only a mango falling off the trees”. Isn’t it amazing how laid back people are around here?????????