I found the wander.essence.com site by following a link on a recent post by restlessjo and this has prompted me to enter Cathy’s prose challenge. Intention? Just to try to convey some of the fun of that particular day.
My Australian images are not in the computer, nor can I find them on my external hard drive so I shall have to search for my photos of the group clad in royal blue ponchos eating damper in the rain – and all smiling. I will find them eventually and upload them. Meantime, these images are all from Flickr.
Ray had a string of Pom jokes with which he tried to wind us up. “I reckon Captain Cook was the first whingeing Pom to reach Australia,” he said. “Think of the names he gave to places around here, Mount Sorrow, Mount Misery, Cape Tribulation, Weary Hill”. As I stood there in my rain-soaked oilskins and bush whacker’s hat I muttered that maybe Cook had a point.
This wasn’t what we’d planned for our week at the Great Barrier Reef when we’d flown up from Sydney to Cairns ready to dive into the warm, underwater world of the coral paradise, but ‘unseasonal weather’ had turned the normally turquoise waters of Cairns into a steely grey. This did, however, provide the perfect time to visit the Daintree National Park – the Aborigine’s Dreamtime that Never Wakes – travelling up from Cairns along Cook’s Highway on roads lined with pink trumpet trees and Cookstown orchids.
Which was why we were standing on the sands at Cape Tribulation where, on June 12th, 1770, Captain James Cook’s circumnavigation of Australia ran into trouble. The Captain wasn’t to know that the dense wall of green jungle he spied from the deck of the Endeavour would one day be recognised as the oldest rainforest in the world, nor that where we stood would be the only area in the universe where the world’s two most complete eco-systems – the Great Barrier Reef and tropical rainforest – would meet.
Like any red-blooded Australian, Ray, our guide/driver/lecturer/cook, took great delight in telling us about the deadly flora and fauna that inhabit the forest, like the taipans whose bite is 200 times deadlier than that of a cobra, the terrifying saltwater crocodiles that can break a cow’s neck, and the vines that inject poison into your skin if they touch you and for which the only remedy is to burn off the top layer of flesh! Then there is the protected cassowary, a huge flightless bird that will attack and tear you apart if you appear in the least bit threatening, poisonous spiders, leeches, mozzies and sundry other bizarre insects. Oh, and if you meet a wombat don’t pat it, he warned. Wombats, despite their cuddly appearance, can be very aggressive.
I thought we might have to hack our way through snarling creepers and dense, thick undergrowth, but thankfully, the Daintree is very civilised, and we walked on wooden pathways surrounded by trees, lush palms and huge ferns, all labelled and sign-posted. The magical, cool, dark rainforest, home to many rare and threatened animal species, is laced with waterfalls and fast-flowing streams dotted with boulders that shine like polished agate and contains plant species over millions of years old.
We sauntered through this cathedral-like space, humidity being too high for anything faster, keeping our eyes peeled for tree-climbing kangaroos, green tree frogs, rainbow lorikeets and Boyd’s forest dragons. When the forest canopy parted occasionally we glimpsed elegant white cockatoos flying high above, darting in and out between the trees. Accompanying us all the time was the demented cackle of the Kookaburra.
Ray rewarded us for not complaining about the humidity by brewing up a billy-can of tea and handing out ‘damper’, a doughy mix of flour and water which fed generations of bush travellers but is inclined to lie heavy in the stomachs of pampered ‘poms’ such as we. Then it was on to the little town of Daintree through Mossman, where the boulder-strewn icy waters of the gorge tempted one or two to risk a paddle.
Somewhere before Daintree, Ray produced a lunch of fried fish and salad, washed down with a light Australian wine, only slightly diluted by the steady drizzle that had been falling for some time. It was surprisingly good, and the ordeal by damper that pride had made us eat (in the surety that Ray was testing us in some way) was quickly forgotten.
Once a thriving timber town, Daintree is now the centre of the eco-tourist trade. An Aboriginal walking trail departs from here, focusing on the flora and fauna of the gorge, but to fit it in requires an extra day in the forest. Ray convinced us we’d made a mistake by only opting for the one-day trip, but we all promised to come back again and do the walk.
We boarded the cable-driven ferry for a trip down the crocodile infested Daintree River in the charge of Bill Brewster, the acknowledged authority on the Daintree and a man who knows the favourite spot of every crocodile in the chocolatey brown river. We were warned not to dabble our hands in the current as the crocodiles lurked just under the water when they weren’t resting on the creeper-swathed river banks and we weren’t actually over-the-moon when Bill steered our flat-bottomed vessel towards a patch of jungley green and pointed out what looked like a log. Then it moved, a split second before we hurled ourselves to the far side of the boat.
Our 4WD was awaiting us at the end of the river trip to take us back to Cape Tribulation through a wilderness region of undeveloped coastal scenery and rainforest, making frequent stops along the way to examine some particular species of tree and to check out more dinosaur-like lizards. Fortunately, Ray was well supplied with a bad-weather collection of umbrellas, rain-hats and waterproof ponchos to counteract the steady drizzle that preserves the eco-system of this ancient rainforest.
And then we were back on the sands. Less than ten metres from the edge of the dense greenery and we were walking on the reef again.
Captain Cook didn’t have our luck. He didn’t know that just beyond the dense jungle, shrouded in mist and rain, lay a stunning, beautiful world, nor did he have the benefits of a guide with a quirky sense of humour and a vanload of blue plastic ponchos.
The pinkish tinge in the sky promised better weather tomorrow for swimming with the multi-coloured fish. But none of that mattered now. In The Dreamtime that Never Wakes we had all found something special. A pity Captain Cook didn’t find it too, he might have renamed those mountain tops.