Cairns, Port Douglas, Mossman, Daintree River, Bloomfield Track, Cape Tribulation
Another work trip has found me in gorgeous tropical Cairns in Far North Queensland, roughly a two and a half hour flight from Brisbane. Cairns is the major city for accessing the Great Barrier Reef (one of the Seven Wonders of the World), the World Heritage listed Daintree Rainforest area, and the remote and rugged Cape York Peninsular.
To see everything in one day in and around Cairns is next to impossible. Luckily, in previous trips, I have been on the Kuranda rail trip, spent a day sailing and snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, and also exploring the verdant rolling farms of the Atherton Tableland.
This time, I have booked myself on a one day 4 Wheel Drive Eco Accredited safari that will take me north from Cairns up the Cook Highway to idyllic Port Douglas, then to the crocodile infested Daintree River, then an exciting 4WD drive up the Bloomfield Track. Our final destination will be Cape Tribulation, the spot where the World Heritage listed ancient rainforests meet with the Coral Sea and the equally important Great Barrier Reef.
The day starts early and I am picked up at the Pacific International Hotel in Cairns where I have a lovely room overlooking Trinity Bay and the Reef Casino. The 4WD safari bus is a strange looking vehicle but is ideal for both bitumen and sandy 4WD tracks in the jungle. We pick up several other tourists at various hotels along the way and drive the spectacularly beautiful Cook Highway, a road which clings to the coast and offers jaw dropping views of white, sandy beaches caressing aqua blue ocean on one side, and thick, tropical rainforest on the other. I am reminded of the amazing coastal drive along the Amalfi Coast in Italy, between Sorrento and Positano. When driving on these coast-hugging, windy roads it is so much better to be a passenger rather than a driver who needs to keep his or her wits about them, as the scenery is a magnet for the eyes.
The last time I visited Port Douglas, the trendy, exclusive and expensive haven for the rich and famous, was in 1978 and I was a bride of just a few days. My, how it has changed. Back then it was a sleepy little tropical village with coconut trees lining the snow white beach, a corner store which sold everything, and a scattering of a few beach houses. Now it has many large resorts and hotels and many restaurants and shops. I notice, however, that the beach is still lined by slender and elegant coconut palms and there is a definite low key feel about the place.
Back on the road and our first stop is for morning tea at a café in the picturesque little village of Mossman. This little town services the sugar cane industry and has a network of narrow gauge cane train tracks through the main street and allows raw cane to be transported to the mill. The main street (which is also the highway) is lined with massive old trees with peculiar mossy growths along the limbs. No one can tell me exactly what it is, but the unusual trees certainly make for a beautiful photograph or two.
Our next stop is at the Daintree River. We climb out of the 4WD and board a punt-like boat for a one hour cruise. The river, along with the Daintree Rainforest encircling it, was given Wet Tropics World Heritage Listing in 1988, an indication of the fragile nature of this pristine ancient rainforest area. There is no bridge across the Daintree, so all vehicles must pass across the cable ferry downstream.
Our cruise is idyllic, peaceful and spectacular, the only noise above the soft purr of the motor is the sound of the water gently lapping the prow of the boat, the screech of multi coloured parrots and numerous other birds that are unfamilar to me. The boat skipper points out some rare ancient and endangered species of vegetation. We see delicate orchids and ferns. We also see some some spectacular wildlife, mostly birds, but also some large snakes sunning themselves along branches which hang out into the river. As we pass silently down the dark green waters of the Daintree River, everyone is keeping ‘croc-guard’ – we all want to see one of the saltwater crocodiles which sleep in the muddy banks and float silently in the shallow mangrove waters at the edge of the river. Sure enough, there it is – our first croc! Cameras snap and everyone crowds the fore of the punt to get a better view. The numbers of crocodiles has risen over the years due to them now being protected, and also due to the isolation and strict policing of the area. Swimming in the river is forbidden and signs everywhere warn visitors not to enter the river or suffer the consequences. A hungry croc will be waiting.
The cruise ends all too soon and we meet up with our 4WD vehicle on the northern bank of the river where it has crossed at the cable ferry. We then drive up the Alexandra Range and stop to take photos of the spectacular coastline where ancient tropical rainforest meets the azure Coral Sea. The driver points out to us Lowe Isles, the site where Steve Irwin died.
Next stop is at the Jindalba National Park where the rangers have constructed an Eco friendly boardwalk through the rainforest. It is a gorgeous walk. Dark, cool and intensely quiet apart from the distinctive crack of the whip bird. The rainforest is full of amazing things to look at. Giant tree trunks reach up to the canopy, sheltering the floor of the rainforest which is alive with birds, lizards, and the most amazing and unusual ferns and fungi I have ever seen. Unfortunately we don’t get to see the unique Southern Cassowary, an elusive and rare bird, although we do find nests.
Back on the road and then we stop at an out of the way café and wildlife sanctuary. Lunch consists of a barbecue of local prime beef steak and salad, cooked by our driver/tour guide. After lunch, we stroll through a wildlife sanctuary where we can see wallabies, kangaroos, peacocks, scrub turkeys and other local wildlife close up.
After taking a gazillion photos, we once again board the 4WD and drive along the Bloomfield Track, a 4WD vehicle only road through the thick rainforest.
The final stop on this wonderful day is at the pristine beach of Cape Tribulation. This is literally where the rainforest meets the reef. Quiet, unspoilt paradise.
The drive back to Cairns finds most of us sleepy and very satisfied with the trip. Cairns is such a wonderful stepping off point for rainforest, reef, and the Atherton Tableland. A bustling tourist city with a beautiful esplanade along the foreshore of the Central Business District. A great place to spend a day, or longer.