For all you movie goers out there, no need to wait until the release of Jurassic Park IV. I can give you a taster right now. For, in Tropical North Queensland there are real living dinosaurs!!
Well almost. The Daintree river is is final barrier to northward coastal travel in Queensland and boat trips along its lazy course are a popular local excursion to see its varied wildlife. We chose Solar Whisper Tours and my review is here. We were fed with biscuits and local tea from the rainforest before we to jumped on board.
It’s a stunning place. Mangroves and rainforest overhanging a broad and muddy river, backed by towering mountains. The guide was hugely knowledgeable and his solar-powered boat pretty much silent, allowing you to really get the feel of the place without it feeling like a brash and noisy tour. Almost immediately we were up close to a local Egret (Large or Intermediate, I’m not sure) fishing on the muddy banks.
And then we saw our first dinosaur. Lazing on the mud bank, a few hundred yards and a few minutes walk from where I left the car was a 3.5m Saltwater Crocodile
Now clearly they are not dinosaurs in the true sense of the word but I’m not quibbling. Crocs have been around, and are little changed, since the age of the dinosaurs. It really is rather hard to explain what it’s like being this close to a top predator and carnivore in its natural habitat. We were no more than 10 feet away in the boat and it’s quite a sensation looking into the cold eyes of a killer.
They are very territorial and easily recognisable to locals. This one is called Dusty, a female who lives in this lower stretch of the river. By local standards she’s just a mid-size one but all the same she’s magnificent
We moved on up the river, spotting the birdlife which while plentiful is extremely hard to capture in a photo
We also spotted a couple of young juvenile Crocs hiding in amongst the vegetation. This one is about a metre long, capable of giving you a nasty nip if you give him a chance.
We took a side branch where the water shallowed and the banks closed in. Dense vegetation and orchids clinging to the branches. Everything you expect from a jungle river.
Then ahead I caught sight of a mud bank with a jagged edge. The tail of another of the rivers Crocs. This one is Elizabeth. Much larger than Dusty she’d been engaged in a territorial battle with another female called Margaret and had won. This was now her patch of river
She looks rather smug and self-satisfied with that grin don’t you think.
If you look at the mud you can see the claw marks where she hauled herself out. Must be something to see them in action rather than at rest. Everyone on the boat was silent, speechless and transfixed. Elizabeth just has that look that says “I know you are there, and this is my domain. Step out of that boat at your peril”. An extraordinary experience.
One of the smaller and less deadly creatures of the forest is the Azure Kingfisher. We had one for company most of the trip but as it flits about the branches it’s hard to get a clear shot. These is my best effort.
As we emerged from the far end of the creek the views opened and were truly spectacular. The silent river, the mountains, forest and its residents all there for us to enjoy.
We drifted down the river heading for home again. Dusty had moved down to waters edge and had decided to give us a much more fearsome look. I can’t recall now whether she had opened her jaws to cool down or warm up but whatever she looked terrifying. Being able to see right into that gaping mouth was a jaw dropper – or jaw opener as it were. The light wasn’t great so the photos aren’t the best but I think they give you the impression. She wasn’t doing anything terribly ferocious, just laying there, motionless with her mouth open but it was enough to make me shudder
The big resident of the area is called Scarface. Apparently he was out and about earlier in the day but he was now somewhere under the water. Quite a sobering thought as he’s a 4.5 specimen. Crocs can sink to the river bottom and pretty much shut down their main body systems and lay dormant down there for hours. Hopefully
Our boat was 15m long and 3m wide so far too big for any Croc to take on. However our guide pointed out a couple of fishermen on the banks in a tiny, tinny boat and said that Scarface could have that one over in a flash. Most croc attacks and fatalities are a result of the victim doing something dim. Swimming in a river where Crocs are resident, fishing with feet dangling in the water, fishing from tiny little boats, that sort of thing (another Croc story coming in a later post).
Most Aussies are very dismissive of the stated dangers of their native wildlife, spiders, snakes, sharks and the like. The normal reaction is that dangers are way over-stated. We were lucky enough to go on several nature walks with well-informed guides who repeated this view. When it comes to Crocs however their mood changes. Even Australians are scared of Crocs and that’s saying something. They are intelligent, patient and perfectly engineered hunters within their own domain. The fact they are little changed over millions of years tells you that. Our guide told us that if you go fishing in a Crocs territory at the same day and time regularly he’ll work you out and one day he’ll be waiting for you. Now that’s scary. They deserve and get ultimate respect. I was and still am completely overwhelmed having seen these predators in their natural environment, a few hundred yards from the car
We finished off with another display by the local Egret and a last lingering view across the water to the Daintree Rainforest.
We were only out for just over an hour but it was an hour I don’t think I’ll forget in a hurry. Much better than the film :)
A short post to highlight the rather splendid Port Douglas Wildlife Habitat. We saw a huge amount of wildlife in the – wild – but the family are always partial to a well presented zoo and this one is a fine example of how to do it. Review on Trip Advisor is here
It kicks off with “Breakfast with the Birds”. Most of the zoo is semi-open such that the birds and most of wildlife roam free – it’s kind of like a safari park you walk around.
The restaurant is in the bird area and you eat from a fine buffet with the birds flying around you
One of the rangers pays everyone a visit for a close up encounter with one of the lesser known creatures in this case a Frog-Mouth and very gorgeous she was too
Outside is a whole collection of kangaroos, birds, wallabies all of who are eager to fed. This is a real treat for the kids and they loved it.
Fortunately some of the larger and more dangerous animals are contained behind fences. This 5m Saltwater Croc for example
They also have Freshwater Crocs – note the longer, more slender snout but the same sly grin – never smile at a crocodile!
The tropical and freshwater bird enclosures have a huge variety of exotic natives. I never had any idea of the sheer range of bird life that Australia and Queensland possesses and their song was one of the enduring memories of our trip
The real highlight though were the close encounters and both the kids got to cuddle Snakes, Koalas and Crocs
TJF is clearly enraptured but TJS looks less certain. Perhaps the fact the Koalas are a bit smelly and wipe poop on their temporary handlers had something to do with it.
This one is called Samson and both kids were surprised how heavy he was and how strong his grip was. A little cheesy but as I said in a previous post, Koalas may not be around forever so why not get up close and personal with them while you can.
Sadly the kids weren’t allowed to cuddle the 5m Croc and had to make do with this tiddler. Perhaps that’s why TJS looks a little happier.
One more wander through the reserves and bit more hand feeding of the cute wallabies and to watch the kangaroos boxing (they are surprisingly big and very aggressive) and it was time to head off for some real wildlife close-ups.
The Port Douglas Wildlife Habitat was really well done with sympathetic and knowledgeable staff and a certain charm. I know that there will always be concerns about the rights and wrongs of these sorts of parks but for me the animals were free to roam within reason and education and close contact is an important way to reinforce the message of how precious and delicate our wildlife is. They achieve that here brilliantly in my opinion
I forgot to add in my previous post the second major attraction at Port Douglas – the Great Barrier Reef. Along with Cairns, PD is the gateway to the GBR. There are literally hundreds of tours leaving throughout the day to snorkel and dive. Most are huge fast catamarans that speed out to large pontoons on the reef with restaurants, underwater subs and waterslides. We went for something a little more low-key and chose Wavelength Tours who were focused on snorkelling and only carried about twenty people. You can read my review here but safe to say they delivered a superb day out.
It’s a long way out to the reef edge from PD so it’s a long 1.5 hour ride. The SE Trade Winds whip up the sea at this time of year so it’s a very bouncy and quite wet ride out. The journey passes with fitting of equipment and talks about reef ecology and diversity.
I should at this point say that the majority of photos are from the crew. They possess a full underwater equipped DSLR camera and I don’t. Taking photos in bouncy waves, underwater, of moving objects is pretty hard and they clearly know what they are doing. Thanks to Johanna who took the photos. I’m sure you’ll agree they are pretty amazing
We arrived at Opal Reef and got kitted up
Even though the waves were rough the water quality is quite astonishing. As soon as you dip your head under the water the clarity takes your breath away.
Where Lady Elliot Island was primarily shallow here the water was much deeper and the reef edges much higher.
The diversity of life was simply astonishing. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
The kids were struggling with the fins (you really need them as currents are very strong) so after an initial struggle we quickly worked out to “buddy up” such that I towed TJF around – holding her hand as I did all the swimming and TBF likewise paired up with TJS. It was actually quite a nive father and daughter moment as we explored the GBR together, hand in hand
We saw fish of all shapes and sizes (including “Nemo”!)
Coral of all shades
A turtle, snoozing on the bottom
We even saw our first reef shark, spotted by TJF but not in time to grab a photo
My favourites however were the giant clams, just like the one’s you saw in 1950’s B movies, grabbing divers by the ankles!
They are everywhere and a multitude of colours. They are of course harmless and no-one got trapped or eaten :)
You simply snorkel around in circles around the edges and see something new every time. You often hear people say that it’s like snorkelling in an aquarium and it’s true. You just don’t want to get out. However cold and tiredness and the need to get back to shore before dark mean you have to get out eventually. The reef delivered one final treat. As we approached the boat we got up close and personal with Angus, a Maori Wrasse who frequents the reef and comes over whenever boats visit for a quick feed
In case you can’t get the scale he’s about 5 feet long from tail to teeth and a little intimidating!
Reluctantly we climbed out and headed back to shore. The GBR is everything you imagine it to be and more. A true wonder of the world and I feel lucky and privileged to have seen it.
Even luckier, we got one more chance to see it later in the trip. :)
The journey continued – “North Mrs TBF, North”
Port Douglas is a couple of hours drive north from Mission Beach so we needed something to fill the day. We chose the Mamu Rainforest walkway. It’s something of surprise to find the Rainforest after the approach drive. It looks like normal farming country, albeit with a lot more sugar cane. You park and begin the walk along the forest tracks and then you come to the Cantilever a metal gangway overhanging the slopes.
You look down and out over the massive and deep gorge of the Johnstone river with rainforest clad mountains towering above. Not at all what I expected to find but stunning nonetheless.
The walkway was created as a result of Cyclone Yasi in 2011. It tore huge holes in the forest so the landowners decided to use the space to create a way of walking amongst the rainforest canopy rather than at ground level. It really gives a different perspective of the forest and of course being perched above the gorge adds to the effect.
As I’d been discovering taking decent images inside a dark forest is tricky so again I have to say that it’s one of those places that’s better experienced in the flesh as it were.
At the end of walkway is an observation tower. Made of open mesh it moves quite significantly in the breeze and is very airy and exposed. The kids of course loved it and it completes the walkway in a dramatic crescendo. It was a Saturday but still extremely quiet so I’m not sure how well-known it is but enjoyed the peace and solitude and the unique experience of walking in the trees rather than under them.
For lunch we paid a visit to the Babinda Boulders for a picnic. A dramatic spot but alas you can’t swim in these rather inviting pools as the currents are far too strong and dangerous and anyway it was rather too shady and cool for a dip
As we headed north the weather cleared into a gloriously sunny day – we breezed through the commercial sprawl of Cairns and on to it’s rather more sophisticated neighbour, Port Douglas. Our home for a few nights was the Cayman Villas (review here) and we arrived in time for a swim in their rather nice (and heated!) pool and a swift sunset stroll on the beach.
PD has two major attractions. The first is 4 Mile beach/ A glorious 4 mile-stretch of golden sand backed by palm trees and rainforest clad mountains. I settled into a rhythm of long sunrise and sunset walks on the beach and the views were always amazing. Even at 6:30 am the beach is busy with walkers, joggers and cyclists and at times PD feels like an outdoor health club
You can walk or drive to the top of the headland where the views down and across the beach are even better
I didn’t warm to PD at first. It’s very upmarket and VERY expensive to stay and eat. On our first night we ate outside a rather fine chip shop (Australia does chippies really well) and ate on a table outside next to very quiet and pleasant couple. A group of drunken louts wobbled past and decided it was appropriate to insult the guy next to me purely for their own amusement. It really put me off the place and was nothing like the friendly and relaxed atmosphere we’d seen everywhere else.
I liked PD much better after an explore the next day. The harbour is really well done in an upmarket sort of way but it also has a wonderful park with picnic tables and grassy expanses with wonderful views across to the Daintree rainforest to the north. We even saw turtles a couple of feet from the edge grazing on the algae covered rocks.
On one our days out we took a visit to Mossman Gorge.
It’s a very famous local landmark but I have to say I didn’t warm to it as much as I’d hoped. It is without doubt stunningly beautiful and as it sits within a protected Aboriginal reserve it does need a degree of visitor control. I did however feel they overdid it a little with the protection. There is a huge visitor centre where you have to pay a pretty substantial fee for a 3 minute shuttle bus ride to the entrance. The water is gorgeous and clear but they pretty much tell you not to swim. They mention the currents and in certain places you wouldn’t want to swim but there are others where it’s perfectly safe
We managed to find a spot alongside many others where we could swim and have a precarious picnic perched on the rounded granite boulders. The swim was magnificent but I felt all along that I was breaking the rules and it took the edge off the fun
As I said it’s a beautiful spot but like many places the need for protection I feel has gone a little too far. You can overprotect some places and make them far too sacred. I completely understand that many parts of this region are sacred to the local Aboriginal tribes and I would be happy to accept that some areas are deemed off-limits to tourists such that the local culture can thrive and survive. But having decided to allow visitors, then the balance between protection and seeing the place through your own eyes needs careful thought. In this case I just thought they had the balance a little wrong and as I said, I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped to. I also hoped that the money that the visitor centre was making was finding it’s way to the local Aboriginal people that call Mossman Gorge their home
More posts from our Port Douglas stay to come…..
The Mission Beach area has much to see. Rainforest reserves, beaches by the score, the Great Barrier Reef a few miles offshore, inland mountains with tumbling waterfalls and swimming holes. We ignored all this and decided on a day trip to Dunk Island, the very prominant eminence just off the coast where we were staying.
The day didn’t look promising. Sun and blue skies had been replaced by dark stormy clouds and we got an absolute soaking walking the 20 yards from the car to the ferry boat with Dunk Island Water Taxi A wild and bouncy ride deposited us on Dunk Island for the day. At least it had stopped raining although looking across to the mainland it looked like the world was ending. All was dark and stormy
But who cares, it was warm and promisingly bright on Dunk. The island was completely devastated by Cyclone Yasi in 2011 and the once luxury resort now lies pretty much in ruins. Once you look beyond that it’s pretty much the quintessential mountainous tropical island. Steep slopes covered in lush rainforest dropping down to palm fringed beaches
We took the short walk along the coast to Muggy Muggy beach. A shingle strand with rocky outcrops and palm trees it was gorgeous. The sky was bright and cloudy but it was warm and – well – muggy, as you’d expect. The wind had whipped up the silt so the water wasn’t all that clear but snorkelling was still pretty good with lots of fish. I even managed a very close encounter with a Moray Eel and small stingray which gave me something of a start.
Best part was just sitting on the tropical beach looking out at the small Robinson Crusoe island off the shore and enjoying having the beach to ourselves, Castaways. Kind of.
We went back to the jetty for lunch. Just a portakabin but it served up one of the best meals of the trip. Fresh fish wraps, Calamari and for TJF the “Corona Shell”
A huge ceramic shell filled with ice and fresh prawns – TJF loves her fresh prawns – the Corona from the two bottles of Mexican lager that I reluctantly drank. Everything served with a cheerful smile from the proprietor.
As we at there on the beach looking at the stormy rainforest mountains on the mainland I have to say I was feeling pretty damn good. Well, drunk anyway. A real standout moment for the whole trip
Back to Muggy Muggy for another brief stay on the beach and a little more swimming and snorkelling
As we waited for the ferry home the sun came out and temperatures soared – we had to hide under the jetty to escape the heat. The views were tremendous and it was all too short a visit before we were ferried home
The final part of the journey brought some smiles. The Boat couldn’t reach the shore so we had to jump out into thigh deep water for another soaking but at least this was a sunny one
While the kids chilled me and TBF went for another long stroll through the coastal forest and mangroves and watch the turtles from Clump Point pier.
Restless feet and time to move on? Well we had to but we didn’t want to. Mission Beach and the Ecovillage Resort is a wonderfully quiet, charming and breathtakingly beautiful spot. With lots of large creepy crawlies to admire
Everyone said we’d love it and we did but there was still one more week of Queensland adventures still to go
Next stop Mission Beach
I was looking forward to Mission Beach. Everyone asked us our plans while we were in Queensland and when we mentioned it they all said “you’ll love Mission Beach”. Expectations were high and it didn’t disappoint.
We were staying at the Ecovillage Resort (review here) which was a superb base. As soon as we checked in we were off to the beach a few yards through the forest. It’s a cracker.
A classic long strand of golden sand backed by palm trees with the mountainous Dunk Island just off the coast. Like most of the beaches in North Queensland it was deserted
The hotel was tucked into a dense pocket of rainforest growing on Clump Point, an outcrop of dark black volcanic rock. Due to its peculiar mineral content it supports a very localised and very diverse ecosystem and the forest is lush, dark and luxuriant. Now anyone that knows me is aware that I’m not big on spiders and I was a little edgy about how I’d cope with rainforest and it’s plentiful 8-legged beasties. Just outside reception there was a sizeable Golden Orb Spider maybe 6 inches across. They are one of the famous residents of Tropical North Queensland (TNQ) and really rather beautiful
I went to tell the family but TBF, no doubt with a sly grin said “you think that’s big, take a look up”
This one was at a conservative estimate 12 inches across, hard to tell as he was hanging out several feet up in the palm trees. Safe to say he was enormous and I was a little taken aback (for that read I jumped ten feet back and screamed like a girl). They are harmless in terms of venom but their fangs are big so they can give a painful bite. Apparently they are relatively shy and reticent and will climb away from you if you are unfortunate enough to get too close. I didn’t take any comfort from that and made a mental note to close all the windows and tuck my trousers into my socks. After a while you realise they rarely move other than the occasional lazy stretch of a leg and you get used to their presence.
The next day was taken up with much lazy walking and exploring the area. We had a fine walk down the beach to the centre of “town” – just a few shops and restaurants.
Back to our rainforest home for a swim in their rather splendid free form pool and lunch on the patio
In the afternoon we took a stroll along the Kennedy Boardwalk past Lugger Cove.We had our very first sight of the sign that warns you are in the domain of one of the worlds oldest predators. Adds a certain sense of adventure to a walk don’t think
It was one of the highlights of the trip for me. There was just something about the forest and the deserted beach that struck a chord. That and wondering whether I was going to be on the menu at any point
We decided not to see what was on the other side of the headland as that’s where the crocs hang out
The area is called the Cassowary Coast after the large and prehistoric flightless bird, with its razor sharp and lethal claw, that calls the area home. They are under threat and are very protected. They lost a lot of their habitat and food after Cyclone Yasi in 2011 that devastated this piece of coastline. They eat pretty much all the fruit in the forest so by their natural digestive process they are a vital part of the forest growth in the way they spread the seeds around. Unfortunately in the search for food they tend to wander onto the roads and get run over (more Cassowaries were killed in road accidents than by any other means). Consequently there are signs everywhere warning you to watch for them and be “Casso-wary”. By looking at the signs you expect to see them at every turn, taking up car park spaces, pushing in front of you in the queue at the supermarket, that sort of thing. We were even told by the hotel that it was very common to see one in the car park or in the grounds. We were in the area for nearly three days and the nearest we got was some suspicious looking poop.
After a wander around the beautiful (and Cassowary-free) Licuala State Forest we took another evening stroll on the increasingly windy beach.
Mission accomplished! :)
A quick post on our road trip. After a few superb days on Magnetic Island we were back on the mainland and heading north towards our next stop. We needed a lunchtime stop for some R&R and a picnic lunch
The weather was superb so we thought a spot of river swimming was in order. Just north of Townsville are loads of rivers flowing out of the rainforest mountains of Girringum National Park. We chose Little Crystal Creek as the photos of the falls and its stone bridge looked rather appealing
It was. We dived straight in to the clear and startlingly, breathtakingly cold water. When I say “straight” I do of course mean me. The rest of the sherpas and funsters take an age in that typically British style where getting wet over a period of 10 minutes clearly warms the water up
It was great fun. Deep water, slides and jumps abound although even I was forced to call it quits such was the coldness of the water
The heat of the day was nice to sunbathe in, warming ourselves on the rocks
A picnic on the rocks finished off the excursion.
Bush Turkeys scrounging for food as they always do
I was tempted by a substantial leap into the pool under the bridge but I lost my nerve. I figure I’m getting too old for such things now.
A couple of hours of fun set us up for the short drive to our next stop at Mission Beach