Archive for December 2014
I can hear the bugle in the background. 22 posts done and one more to complete. I promised more stunning images of the beaches in the Cape Tribulation region so here we go.
Cape Tribulation beach itself stands at the very end of the tarmac roads in the region.
Beyond is 100km of rough 4WD tracks to Cooktown (although you can reach it by an inland route). Beyond Cooktown is wilderness without a paved road in sight all the way to Cape York, Australia’s northernmost point.
The beach is again a stunner. We spent a couple of afternoons just strolling on its firm sands
At the southern end is an area of Mangroves. I was fascinated by this with the exposed root systems, everything you expect Mangroves to look like.
We spent ages poking around under the rocks finding crabs and the like. The most numerous creatures however are mudskippers, a kind of fish that lives out of the water at low tide and skips/bounces across the sand. I couldn’t get close enough to one to get a photo alas.
I then started to notice that many of the shells under the rocks were cone-shaped. We’d seen many on the beach at Lady Elliot Island but all we just empty shells. These looked like they were something more. To the uninitiated cone shells contain a rather testy little snail. It kills its prey by first releasing a paralysing agent and then while its prey is immobilised, slowly envelops it. To finish off it then injects its prey with venom. And here’s the interesting thing, the venom packs enough wallop to kill – yes you’ve guessed correctly – a fully grown person. Another of Australia’s deadly delights. Yes, there are even deadly shells. Science is at a loss to explain why many of Australia’s smaller critters pack venom which such extravagant toxicity or why the country has such a profusion of venomous creatures. One thing is for sure, it makes life a little more interesting and we decided not to turn over any more stones on the beach 🙂
We decided that sitting on the sand and enjoying the warm sun and the tropical ambiance was much safer. As I sat on the sand I reflected at the name. Captain Cook ran aground on reefs just off the shore here, hence the name he gave to the cape to reflect his troubles. Hard to imagine a more inappropriate name as you enjoy these surroundings
Saving the best till last.
Thornton Beach lies a few miles south of Cape Tribulation. We only spent a little over an hour or so here but it remains my favourite spot from our trip.
We strolled along it’s length down to the creek at the far end. The creek in question is Cooper Creek and a mile or so up the road they run boat trips to go croc spotting. As I wandered along I realised the rest of the family had abandoned me having noted the same. Not to be scared off by dinosaurs I continued on. The views were fine with Thornton Peak (second highest in Queensland) dominating the view
I spotted a dark shape on the sand upstream. I stopped! Now I’m sure you’d like a story of a close encounter with a croc, perhaps me wrestling one a la Crocodile Dundee. Sorry, it was a log. I decided that the views were not going to get any better so I thought it would be more sociable to return to the family 🙂
We spent a splendid time back at the other end of the beach just sitting on a very photogenic dead tree in the sand. The views and the moment were just sublime.
By way of celebration there is even a photo with me in it. Sorry about the lack of corks on the hat. I’ll only do so much for comedy value
We were lucky to see some extraordinary places on our trip but for me the hour we spent here was the best from a “place” perspective. I’m not sure if it was the weather (one of the best of the trip), the contrast between the sea, sand and forested mountains, the fact that we had the entire beach to ourselves (save one old couple) or just the simple pleasure of spending some quality time with my family enjoying this wonderful place together. Whatever it was Thornton Beach will always have a place in my soul
And, well, that’s about it. We left Cape Tribulation and as a final gesture we saw another Cassowary on our drive out.
The start of a very long and uneventful journey via lunch in the park at Port Douglas, Cairns, Brisbane, Singapore and London Heathrow. We had the usual airport frustrations (Brisbane, welcome the club of badly organised and unhelpful establishments) but lets not sour the memories with a rant about that.
Let’s instead close things out with a few reflections:
Getting to Australia is time-consuming but not as difficult as it once was. The joys of technology make long haul flights a good deal more pleasant than they used to be. I even did some calculations and the cost of the flights on a distance basis are pretty comparable with the flights around Europe. I’d also say that with a bit of planning and thought and Internet savvy it’s easy to arrange the whole trip independently. It’s as easy to book a hotel or a trip in Australia as it is in the UK. All the resources you need are online and you get the freedom to go where you want when you want. I would say that it does help to be a Project Manager and a serial planner.
Getting around Australia is also a breeze. It’s a big place, largely empty and long way from the rest of the world. This means roads are empty and beaches largely deserted. Driving around was simple and hassle free (not a traffic jam worthy of the name in 4 weeks) and almost everywhere quiet and unspoiled. Of the places we stayed only Airlie Beach seemed impacted by commercialism (we didn’t stay in Cairns). It feels very much like a stretch of coast that the rest of the world just hasn’t really found yet. To stand on a beach as stunning as Thornton on a cloudless sunny day and not see a soul is still hard to believe. It will be hard to walk on a beach in the UK or Europe now and not miss that sense of solitude
Without a shadow of a doubt the people in Queensland are the friendliest I’ve ever met while travelling. Very much the same feeling you get in the US but with a more down to earth feel and matey humour. I particularly liked their unique turns of phrase. My favourite was the car rental clerk in Brisbane when we arrived bleary eyed and jet-lagged. He asked me how we were doing and I said fine in the circumstances and returned the question. He replied “every day above ground is a good one” – I love that. Everyone we met, hotel check ins, bus drivers, waitresses shop owners was charming, friendly and funny. Everyone seemed to keen to show off the state/country and make sure that we enjoyed our stay. We did!
Much as I hate to do this I thought I’d share my personal highlights. It seems unfair as the whole 4 weeks was a highlight but as my blog is my own personal area of reflection I’m allowed to do it 🙂
Favourite Place – Thornton Beach, Cape Tribulation
Favourite Activity – Whale Watching
Favourite Hotel – Ecovillage Resort, Mission Beach
Favourite Bar/Restaurant – Marlin Bar, Magnetic Island (no photo I’m afraid) 😦
Favourite Meal – Lunch on the Beach, Dunk Island
Favourite Animal – Saltwater Crocodile
Favourite Swim – Lake Mackenzie, Fraser Island
Favourite Sunrise – Myall Beach
Favourite Sunset – Lady Elliot Island
Reading through these it struck me that the Great Barrier Reef isn’t up there.
This isn’t a reflection on it, it’s a truly extraordinary experience, worth the journey on its own and was the prime initial reason for choosing Queensland. I think it’s more a reflection on how much more there is to Queensland than just the GBR. I had an idea once I started to do the planning but once we were there it’s hard to put across just what an amazing place it was and how much there was to see and to do. I could list probably another months worth of trips, places and sights we didn’t visit on the same basic itinerary. Which of course leads to the inevitable conclusion that we will have to go back 🙂
So that finishes off my write ups of the trip. I think it’s appropriate that its 31st December so it just leaves me to say:
HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL MY READERS AND THEIR OWN BLOGS- THANKS FOR ALL YOUR COMMENTS AND HOPE THAT 2015 BRINGS MORE ADVENTURES AND MORE BLOG POSTS TO ENTERTAIN AND INSPIRE ME
Seeing as the GBR is one of the wonders of the world then it makes sense to make the most of it having travelled halfway around the world. So having been out and stayed on the reef at Lady Elliot Island and taken a full day trip from Port Douglas, it seemed only prudent to go and see it a third time. The reef is much closer to shore at Cape Tribulation than most other places. Ocean Safari (sister company to Ocean Rafting we saw the Whitsundays with) take visitors out on a half day trip in one of their bouncy boats giving another couple of hours snorkelling.
Alas they don’t take photos with a nice underwater DSLR so all the photos this time are mine and therefore not as good.
Just as good as the previous visit and we all had a cracking time enjoying both the boat ride and the snorkelling
In fact I enjoyed it so much I’d forgotten the sign (pool noodle on the roof!) that tells everyone its time to go home. I was the last person back to the boat by some margin.
Another bouncy ride home to sunny Cape Tribulation beach and our last lingering look at the underwater paradise that is the Great Barrier Reef.
Off for a burger – I have to say that the Australians really know how make a great burger. We had loads while we were there and they were all excellent. I’d never have thought that beetroot in a burger would work but it does rather splendidly
A post dedicated to our “local” beach at Cape Tribulation, Myall Beach. Mainly because I took so many photos of it but also because it’s a very fine beach indeed. Backed by the towering presence of Mount Sorrow and palm trees waving in the breeze it’s picture perfect and practically deserted, save a few students and hippies playing guitars. No sun loungers, no concession stalls, just natural wonder
It was only a short 10 minute stroll through the forest and mangroves to reach it, so every spare minute we took our leave and wandered along its length.
Like the rest of the holiday I was always up early to see it at sunrise. Sometimes on my own
Sometimes with TBF
We strolled on it during the day with the junior sherpas and funsters
And we strolled on it at the end of the day
We strolled while watching the Ocean Rafting snorkelling boat trip come in
I promised you another croc story so here it is. At the far northern end of Myall beach is a creek which you have to cross to get to the headland.
Like most creeks in north Queensland it’s home to a resident croc and until recently it was a decent sized one
In winter it’s barely a trickle and you can pretty much step over it. However in summer it’s more substantial. The general guidance is to stay near the sea and stay well away from the creek. Sound advice when large dinosaurs that can eat you live up there. One Belgian tourist decided that he wanted to go looking for a close encounter and find the croc he did, lazing on a bank. This wasn’t quite exciting enough so the fellow started making some noise in an effort to stir the croc into a more animated display. Still nothing. Undeterred, he moved in closer and started slapping the water with a large stick (can you feel the hairs rising on the back of your neck). He moved closer and closer, until, you guessed it, the croc decided to take a bite out of him. Luckily the croc had probably already eaten (hence its languid posing earlier) and the guy survived (sorry, did I say “guy”, what I meant to call him was, well, you can fill in your own word for someone who willfully provokes a crocodile with a stick!). The croc now with a taste for human flesh was moved on to somewhere more remote and replaced (yes “replaced”) with a smaller one that still lives in this creek. It is their natural home and not ours lets remember
An interesting story to reflect on as you stroll along this beach and paddle through the end of the creek.
On our final afternoon we walked over from Cape Tribulation beach, across the headland and all the way to its far southern end. A majestic stroll under a setting sun with dark stormy clouds hugging the mountains behind. Having to return to get the car gave me the chance to cross our croc creek twice more 🙂
As the UK enters a cold snap, here’s hoping some shots of a tropical beach in the sun shines a little warmth into your life
The final leg of our long journey. Across the broad Daintree River by ferry to the heart of the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation.
The Daintree is the oldest Rainforest on Earth and when you step – well – drive, off the ferry, you certainly get that impression. It’s often said that this is the end of the civilised world heading north in Queensland and whilst not strictly true (you can drive inland around to Cooktown further north) it certainly feels remote. The road is narrow and twisting, signs of civilisation sparse and the forest dark and dense. The whole area is off-grid as it were. No mains power, no reliable mobile signal, no luxury hotels. A whole world apart from the cosmopolitan Port Douglas where we’d come from. As if to welcome us to this ancient land we saw our first Cassowary. After all the effort we made in Mission Beach, here was one just wandering about in the road, completely oblivious.
Not great photos as it had pithered into the forest by the time I’d got my camera out but we were chuffed to bits to see one at last
We were staying at the Ferntree Rainforest Lodge (review here) in a little timber clad house in the forest.
After a brief explore we were straight down to the beach for a sunset stroll.
Off the grid it may be but this whole coast and it’s beaches are magnificent. We’d been lucky to stroll on some pretty amazing beaches right throughout our trip but the one’s here were a class apart. A few little tasters here but I took hundreds of beach photos so I’ll dedicate a couple of posts to them later – they deserve special attention.
This post will focus on some of the other delights the region has to offer and there are plenty. Insect life for a start. This little fella was waiting for us when we got back from our evening meal.
When we woke the next morning there was the most terrible noise in the trees above us. At first I thought it was birds but on closer inspection it was bats – hundreds of them. Spectacled Flying Foxes to be precise and they hung there, squabbling and bitching for the whole of our stay.
If you look at the top middle of the next photo you can see them roosting (or whatever bats do) in the trees
Most jungles have Monkeys but there are none in Australia so the bats make up for that. They really are rather splendid and cute if you don’t mind the leathery wings. It was great having their company for the stay
There are numerous boardwalks through the rainforest and Mangroves and the local one is the Dubuji. The rainforest and Mangroves are magnificent. Towering trees and palms and an extraordinary variety of plant life.
My one regret is that we didn’t see the forest at its best. In winter it’s pretty dry and relatively cool so the animal and birdlife isn’t quite as prolific as it is in the “wet”. Everyone kept telling us about how oppressive, humid and unbearable Tropical North Queensland is in the summer but it must be worth seeing the forest in all its splendour.
The weather was stunning while we were here and we took time out to enjoy the splendid free-form pool
We took an afternoon visit to the local Tropical Fruit Farm for a tasting session (review here). These were the fruits we tried
It’s been a while but my memory of each one is:
Tahitian Lime – well just like limes but made a very nice cold drink
Pommelo – like a large very sweet grapefruit
Yellow Sapote – a bit too mushy and banana-like for me
Carambola – Don’t remember! 🙂
Solo Papaya – very sweet and tasty
Sapodilla – dark brown with a texture like a plum and a taste like Muscovado sugar
Yellow Mangosteen – my favourite, very juicy like a Mango but very sour
Longan – like a Lychee and resembling an eyeball when peeled
Jaboticaloa – another favourite, very sweet and juicy, not unlike a grape
Alemoya – one of the custard apple family, very mushy and sweet, almost sickly
A really fascinating afternoon finished off with a trip round the orchards to see some of the other fruits
And and ants nest stitched together from the leaves
Regular readers know of the family passion for swinging about in the trees and there’s a chance to to do it here in the rainforest with Jungle Surfing.
The instructors are a pretty zany bunch and while there are no tree climbing obstacles there are several zip wires through the canopy with stupendous views.
Everything kicks off with the “Hamster Wheel”. the first two people run around like household pets to winch the next group up to the first tree. Great fun and embarrassing all at the same time.
Needless to say it’s a total blast whizzing through the trees including being “encouraged” to hang upside down on the last run and behave like a salmon – the things we do for fun!
The same people also organise a night walk through the rainforest. Very spooky and surreal it was too. You can hear the various animals moving about. Tree Kangaroos, Bandicoots and we caught a few eyes reflecting in torchlight but again not as much we’d hoped. The guide said that after 20 minutes in summer he’d have been able to show us at least 30 different types of insects. It must be amazing to see a rainforest in the rain. We did at least get sight of a huntsman spider, cockroaches, frogs and a beautiful juvenile lizard.
Once we got back we opened the door to the lodge and saw something large scurrying about on the floor. For a fearsome moment I though it was a spider but in fact it was a very large cockroach. A few minutes were spent chasing it round with the old glass/card trick before we cornered it under the fridge and put it back outside.
We we were here for nearly 4 days and loved the place. It has a very hippyish, bohemian vibe, guitars on the beach that sort of thing. There was so much more we could have done and in fact did do. It was the beaches that are the real star though so more of that to come
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. 🙂