Thursday, July 12, 2018

Back to Cairns

Question.  How do I get rid of that white bit with the name of the place from my map?   Not much point posting a map if one third of it is covered.  I know so many clever people I'm sure one of you will have the answer.

We reluctantly left Cooktown and started our journey back down along the coast, with our accommodation for that night at Speewah, just outside Kuranda.  Kuranda is, to quote their own propaganda,  a  picturesque mountain retreat, 1,000 feet above and 25km northwest of Cairns. And crowded with tourists.  When we reached there we joined the throngs in the market place and found somewhere for a late lunch.  Probably the least impressive meal I ate in all the miles travelled.  In case I don't remember to mention it again, I was more than a little impressed with the quality of meals everywhere we ate all along the coast. 

We'd stopped briefly in Mareeba along the way and had a pleasant stroll around the museum to stretch our legs.

I found the statue of the bull outside the museum much more impressive than anything I'd seen inside.

The weather that day was a little changeable.  Between low cloud and actual rain we couldn't see a thing from one lookout but at another the cloud lifted enough for us to get this view looking down towards Cairns.

The view from Wright's lookout at Kuranda was also a little murky.

But we stayed dry when we went for a walk to the Barron Falls Lookout.

The Barron Falls are probably the most famous waterfalls  in North Queensland, are visited by thousands of people each year but weren't all that impressive when we were there.  I guess you can't enjoy good weather and have waterfalls in full flow at the same time, can you?

We visited a supermarket to gather a few supplies so we wouldn't have to eat out that night and stock up on wine so we could watch the royal wedding in fine style.  We did stay awake long enough to see the nuptuals but were tucked up in bed long before the royal couple left the church.  So many hours on the road were starting to take its toll.

 Tricia, wine glass in hand, taking a stroll around Honeybee House grounds

 Honeybee House

But we did enjoy our little home for the night - the delightful Honeybee House, tucked under mighty rainforest trees, surrounded by lovely grounds.  

The next morning, a week after we'd first landed there, we continued on to Cairns, traffic and (for me) driving challenges.  We contacted our niece, Catherine and, after driving in circles a while, managed to meet up with her and, at my request, she took us to Yorkeys Knob. She chose the lunch venue, the Yacht Club.  Yes, Lee, I went to your old stomping ground, and very glad I am that I did.  Those who know her know that Lee is a foodie and I know she will forgive me for not noticing my surroundings all that much once I saw the "Bucket of Prawns" I had ordered.  Golly gosh, Lee.  They were the best prawns I've had in ... as far back as my memory goes. 

Yorkeys Knob Yacht Club

I'm a pretty hopeless tourist when it comes to cities.  I'm happiest away from crowds.  Although it was windy and overcast I enjoyed the stroll along the waterfront.  It was far too cold for the locals to be in the water, the temperature was probably in the low 20C, which, for them, is quite low when compared to the heat they get in summer.  The Esplanade Lagoon must be a very popular spot in warmer weather.  There's a 4,800 sq meter saltwater swimming lagoon, complete with sandy edges, lots of shady trees and landscaped gardens.

Across the road, towards the city, the cranes are competing with the palm trees for sky space.  There looks to be a lot of development going on.

I was delighted to see a Jabiru, Australia's largest wading bird and their only stork.  I don't think this one was fully grown and, to be honest, it did not look all that healthy.  Maybe it's just used to lots of people being nearby.   An adult stands 1.3m - 1.5 m with a 2.3m wingspan. 

The highlight of our Cairns stay for me was our trip over the Gillies Range to the Atherton Tableland.  It's described as "a chain of summits" and that sums it up nicely. There are 263 corners and 800m elevation change in only 19 km.

Most of my photos are a bit like this one below.  If I got a peek of a view I'd try to find somewhere to safely pull off the road and invariably, couldn't creep close enough to the edge of the mountain to get a decent shot.

My grandson will be arriving on Saturday to have some "Granny" time so I probably won't be back with more from our journey south for a week or so.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


Off the beaten track, away from the mainstream tourist hustle and bustle, a place that captures the essence of tropical Australia, a place that retains something of a frontier town atmosphere and combines rich history and rugged scenery.  There are many ways to describe Cooktown but I can't think of any that really captures the spirit of the place.  

Thanks to a tip from Graham, I've remembered how to embed a map so you can see where it is. 

It's situated on the Great Barrier Reef between the Endeavour River and the Coral Sea and, thanks to its isolation, has remained untouched by the development and commercialisation that many other idyllic spots have been subjected to. 

The site of modern Cooktown was where Captain Cook, limping up the coast after his ship was seriously damaged on Endeavour Reef, found a safe place to  carry out repairs (in 1770).   The British crew spent seven weeks on the site repairing their ship, replenishing food and water supplies, and caring for their sick.  After a while Joseph Banks, the scientist with the expedition, met and spoke with the local aboriginal people and recorded about 50 native words, including the name of the animal that intrigued the visitors called gangurru.  He transcribed this as "Kangaru".  I had never heard that story before!

The first recorded sighting of kangaroos by Europeans was on Grassy Hill, which rises above the place where the ship was beached. Cook climbed this hill to work out a safe passage for the Endeavour to sail through the surrounding reefs, after it was repaired.   My sister, Tricia and I went up to the lookout twice to take in the 360 degree unobstructed views.  On both occasions Cooktown was earning its reputation as one of the windiest places in Australia and visibility was limited. 

Looking down over the town

The lighthouse on Grassy Hill

Cooktown itself was founded just over 100 years after Cook's visit when gold was discovered nearby in 1873 as a supply port for the goldfields at Palmer River.  Within a month 400 people had arrived; in six months, at the height of the gold rush, some accounts say there were 15,000, with 12,000 of those being Chinese. Others say 30,000 with 18,000 Chinese. Either way there were so many inhabitant that everyone thought that Cooktown was going to be the next capital of northern Australia.  Then it was virtually wiped out by two large cyclones and the economic depression. Now, the population in the 2016 census was 2,631 and that, would you believe, makes it one of the few large towns in the Cape York Peninsula.  

It's  coming back to life now boasting  world class game fishing, its stunning coral reef, picturesque scenery and rich Aboriginal culture.  

Oh, and while I think of it, I learned why Cape York Peninsula was so named.  Cook had named the river "Endeavour" after his ship, and the reef which crippled his ship was given the same name.  Then, as he sailed away north, he hoisted the flag and claimed possession of the whole eastern coast of Australia for Britain.  I doubt if he told the locals of his intention.  He named Cape York Peninsula after the then Duke of York and Albany.  Yes, The Grand Old Duke of York himself.  Love those stories!  

When all the gold started coming into town, the bankers followed soon after and by 1874 had built the first bank adjacent to the current site of the Westpac Bank. 

Cooktown was to become the second busiest port in Australia. It had a two and a half mile main street with more than 60 pub licences and almost as many brothels.

And then, of course, religion arrived.  Many souls to be saved.  The Catholic church built a magnificent three storey brick and iron lace girls school which now functions as the James Cook Muiseum. In World War II, the building was used as a U.S. command post and the Sisters of Mercy were evacuated, never to return. The building fell into disrepair until 1970, when it was restored to its former glory and reopened by the Queen as the James Cook Museum and is regarded as the best regional museum outside any capital city in Australia. 

It's a wonderful museum.  There's a fascinating collection of Captain Cook's memorabilia, documents and records and it also showcases collections featuring  the regions maritime, mining, indigenous and Chinese history.

View from the verandah of the museum
The streets of Cooktown are wide and, while we were there, mostly free of traffic. 

On one side are impressive historic buildings - a reminder of days gone by - and on the other side is parkland with a variety of memorials.  In total there are six Cook Memorials but this one, the most impressive, built in 1887, is the only one I photographed. 

It stands near a cannon which was brought to Cooktown in 1885 to repulse a possible Russian invasion.   So convinced was everyone that the invasion was imminent that the Cooktown Council sent a telegram to the State Premier requesting a supply of arms, ammunition and a competent officer to take charge and lead the locals against the invasion.  The cannon, which had been cast in Scotland in 1803, was duly sent with 3 cannonballs, 2 rifles and an officer.   It is still fired once a year during the Cooktown Discovery Festival.  Love those stories!  Sorry, I've already said that!

Trish giving the cannon the once over.

We spent one morning strolling around the Botanical Gardens.   The tropical setting is tranquil with huge trees, many varieties I was not familiar with. The hugest mango tree I've seen is towering above one of the pathways. A few orchids were sighted but for me it was mainly about the trees - and the tranquility.  The cafe was a popular spot and provided an excellent lunch.

In the afternoon we discovered the cemetery and headed to the oldest section.

In the back corner was this sad little grave.  Who was Rob I wonder?  Did no-one really know his full name?  Obviously someone cared enough to put a marker there for him.  I threw on a couple of extra sticks.  I got the feeling Rob wouldn't have wanted flowers.

In the newer section was this classic.  Obviously the last resting place of a "bit of a character".

This is reputed to be one of the town's two swimming beaches. Pretty sure this one is Finch Bay, close to town with vehicle access and a small car park.  It is partly protected from the winds by high, densely vegetated headlands. Alligator Creek crosses the centre of the beach.  (How many Alligator Creeks are there in Queensland I wonder.  I can name three.  Weird, when there are no alligators and so many crocodiles!)  The car park is beside the creek, with a short walk to the beach. Maybe it was one of the swimming beaches because there was definitely a crocodile warning sign at the entrance to the beach.  I made sure Trish was armed with a brolly before we ventured down to the beach!

We dined each night at the Bowls Club which provided a courtesy bus to and from their establishment, giving me a break from driving.  I believe there are quite a few excellent restaurants in Cooktown but the Bowls Club had been recommended to us by a man in Port Douglas and I'd definitely recommend it to anyone visiting the area.  The beer was cheap and the food first class. 

The sun cover over the bowling green

down by Fisherman's Wharf 

Cooktown, you didn't disappoint.  I'm so glad I got to see you.

Monday, July 9, 2018

North to Cooktown

I try not to indulge in "if only"s.  But sometimes I just have to.  So here it is.  If only I were many years younger, had a 4 wheel drive and an adventurous partner.  Oh, and it would probably help if I were a male.  Never thought I'd say that!  I just have to accept my limitations and resources.  So it wasn't possible to do the Bloomfield Track from Cape Tribulation to Cooktown and then on up to the northern most point of Queensland.  Instead we went around the long way, along the Mulligan Highway, following the sealed road all the way to Cooktown where the sealed road ends.  Roads past there are for 4 wheel drive vehicles only.

It's a longish drive, took us about 4 hours and there weren't many stops along the way.   We travelled through dry savannah countryside, a total contrast to the lush rainforest of the Daintree.  The road was mainly flat and easy to drive, through cattle country with no fences so we had to be on the lookout for cattle and kangaroos.  However, we found the cattle were easy to spot from quite a distance so posed no danger.  We didn't spot a single live kangaroo, just a few which had become roadkill.  There weren't really any views until we reached Bob's Lookout, a steep incline over the Great Dividing Range. 

Looking down from the lookout the view is typical of the countryside, sparse vegetation and shorter stunted trees, testament to dry country.

But the most lasting impression of the lookout was the disgusting rubbish that had been left there.  Rubbish bins were overflowing, there were full sacks of what looked like household trash.  I'd guess it had been left by campers.  The last thing you expect to see when you are so far from the civilisation is evidence of what we are doing to our land.  I could go off on a rant!  The ignorance!

About 50 kms later we came upon The Mighty Palmer River Roadhouse, in time for a late lunch.  

This area is rich in local history, with the 1872 discovery of gold leading to Qld’s largest gold rush. By 1875 there were an estimated 15,000 miners on the Palmer, with the population peaking at 17,000 in 1877. Gold is still found here today. We found a little statue of a gold miner around the side of the building as we stretched out legs while waiting for our meals.  (I had a delicious steakburger!) 

There were also a few relics from the past to look at.

 A couple of locals were parked outside.

We ate outside under the shady trees, enjoying the green grass - and the swish of sprinklers keeping it green.

I hope I'm remembering the order in which we made our stops.  Pretty sure the next time we stopped was at the unreal looking Black Mountain Lookout, in the Black Trevethan Range. The Mountain itself consists of large black granite rocks that make up the Mountain and there are countless stories over the years of people and stock wandering into the vicinity of Black Mountain, never to been seen again, including Police and Black Trackers sent to look for the missing people, only to disappear themselves.  Pilots report disturbance above the mountain and others have reported hearing weird sounds.  

The Kuku Nyungkal people of the region have long shunned the mountain, calling it Kalkajaka, meaning “the place of the spear” and sometimes translated simply as “The Mountain of Death.”   It has a long history of dark legends and myths.  I must be lacking imagination.  All I wondered was where had all those rocks come from?  It just looks so weird!  It is composed of gigantic, granite boulders, many of which measure up to 20 feet long, and soars up 900 feet over the surrounding landscape. These boulders were formed from solidifying magma around 250 million years ago, lack any trace of surface soil and have a distinct black coloration caused by a thin coating of iron and manganese oxides. 

On our way back, heading south, not far from Cooktown, I couldn't resist stopping at a couple of the rocky streams over which the road crossed. 

I think this one is the Little Annan River

On our way south we appreciated that we were now headed in the opposite direction to most of the traffic.   Not that there was a lot of it but definitely more heading north than south.  It was early in the year for the tourist season but there were definitely more campervans and caravans than regular vehicles.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

The Daintree and Cape Tribulation

The Daintree has been on my Bucket List for so long, I'd started to think that perhaps I would be disappointed.  I kept reminding myself that Sir David Attenborough had called it “the most extraordinary place on earth”.  And who would argue with him?

I was in such a hurry to get there, we'd travelled 75 kms before I could be tempted to stop for a look around. But Mossman did the trick.  It's a picturesque little township nestled at the foot of mountains with wide, tree lined streets and, as luck would have it, a lovely old church - St David's Anglican Church.

My sister and our little rental car, dwarfed by the roadside trees, waiting for me opposite the little church.  That's a childrens' playground on the left.

 Looking back towards the township

Opposite the church. Sugarcane in the foreground. 

I took the next photo on our way to  the Daintree River Ferry. 

 Brahmin bull at rest

North of the Daintree River, electricity is supplied by generators or, increasingly, solar power. Shops and services are limited, and mobile-phone reception is patchy at best.   Here we would be surrounded by rainforest in the Daintree National Park.   The roads are mostly pretty narrow and winding with some great views of the coastline.

After the ferry crossing we turned into the Walu Wugirriga Lookout, the first stopping point you come to after you depart the ferry. It is a short drive from the docking place and up the hill into the rainforest.  With stunning views over the coastal plain and the Daintree River mouth it was a good introduction to the area.  And a good place to wait a while to give the ferry traffic time to get ahead of us. 

I confuse myself sometimes when I think 'the Daintree".  Daintree refers to several different places.  There is the town of Daintree or Daintree Village, a tiny, funky little township with a few cafes and souvenir shops.  Tourist season had not yet kicked in, all was quiet.  When the first of the winter chills hit the southern states of Australia, the place will be hopping.  The population in the 2016 census is given as 129. 

The Daintree River view from the ferry was unimpressive but here in the village it glides peacefully by.  It's appearance gives no clue that it is home to many estuarine crocodiles which are frequently spotted from the safety of one of the wildlife-watching cruise-boats.

Then there is the Daintree Forest National Park.  The forest is thought to be over 165 million years old. It is in a high rainfall zone of Australia, parts of the park receive about 4,000 mm of rain a year.  It is home  to about 30% of Australia’s frogs, reptile and marsupial species, 65% of their bat and butterfly species and over 430 species of bird, including kookaburras, kingfishers, cockatoos, pigeons of various kinds, and scrubfow. Not that we saw many, but boy oh boy, did we hear them!   We saw a fews flashes of blue against the greenery; I think they were the famed Ulysses Butterfly. 

But best of all, it is home to the elusive Cassowary!  We were extremely lucky that Daintree Deep Forest Lodge, where we were staying, had a resident male and three chicks.  They hadn't been seen for a while and we'd been asked to let the owners know if we spotted them.  Females lay the eggs in the nest of a male, then moves on to do the same thing in the nests of several other males.  The male incubates the eggs, then protects the chicks, who stay in the nest for about nine months, defending them fiercely against all potential dangers, including humans.  The female does not care for the egg, her work is finished when she lays the eggs. 

Not very clear photos, I'm afraid.  I'd just turned into our driveway when I caught a glimpse of them. Cassowaries are reputed to be very shy, but when provoked they are capable of inflicting injuries, occasionally fatal, to dogs and people.  So I waited until they had moved away (out on to the road!) before jumping out and trying to get a snap.

Mostly I'm aware of my limitations when it comes to photography.  I knew it would be impossible to capture the beauty of the rain forest jungle, the mighty trees that block out the sun, the vines and creepers, palms and ferns and other small plants.  Our accommodation was deep in the forest, surrounded by it.  Our quarters were well hidden until we got quite close.

It was a little more visible from the hill behind the lodge.

We'd heard water running during the night and the next morning discovered a little pump house in the grounds.

We were just down the road from surely the best eating place in the area, Lync Haven, where the beer was cold, the food good and reasonably priced, the staff friendly and efficient and the outlook second to none. 

And their resident bird was quite the poser:

I didn't write down the name of the cafe where we had breakfast one morning.  It was right on the beach.   Can't remember what the food was like, I guess I was too engrossed in my surroundings.

I wandered across the sand to get a photo of the jungle meeting the sea.

Not too close to the water, though.  We'd been in the north long enough for the many crocodile warning signs to hit home.

Apparantly a large number of German tourists have had nasty experiences with crocodiles, leading to most signs bearing a warning in their language.