Category Archives: Australia

Dreamtime on the Daintree

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.

5243423032_917e2b099c_z

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.

34192355562_4776a2e349_z

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.

11275073576_af0e599e89_z

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.

8700406445_684d8b6df9_z

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.

9671772918_aa6c4911aa_z

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.

36739105941_b81296b67b_z

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.

14782257_cb2ea56ec0_z

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.

35954092231_7c4eaa79cf_z

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.

 

 

Australia: Destinations Perth and Cairns

Perth offers a gentle welcome to the visitor heading for Australia for the first time.  Its superb location by the Swan River, white sandy beaches on the nearby Indian Ocean, cultural attractions and a cuisine to rival that of Sydney, makes every visit a pleasure.

Apart from beach activities, including great surfing, the city itself  offers many attractions: like King’s Park with it’s superb views over the city, the 42 acres Botanic Garden, and the Aquarium of Western Australia where you walk through a 321-foot tunnel lined with glass, behind which thousands of colourful fish, sharks, and stingrays lurk.  If you want to get up close and personal with the sharks, “no probs.” as they say in Perth, you just trot off to the Discovery Pool where, if you are a qualified diver, you can have a face-to-face shark experience.

The “fun” part of the city is in the district of Northbridge where you will find a range of nightclubs, pubs, cafes and eateries, offering an eclectic mix of cultures and cuisines, but better still is “Freo” (Fremantle), located 20 minutes south of the city but almost an integral part of Perth itself.   European in appearance, Freo is a café-lined port with spectacular beaches and a more sophisticated lifestyle, but still distinctly Australian with verandaed beer-houses and pub barbecues a regular sight.

From Freo, take the 80-minute ferry ride over to RottenestIsland, accompanied (sometimes) by migrating whales, dolphins and sea-lions.   Once an Aboriginal penal colony, Rottenest is now a weekending town thronged with people who gather for karaoke bar singalongs as well as a closer acquaintance with the beer culture.

It would be a shame to spend all your time in the flesh-pots of Freo though, as Perth is an ideal stepping-off point for one and two-day-trips.   My own favourite is the wine producing MargaretRiver region on the Indian Ocean.  Although 155 miles away it is well worth a trip, if only to sample on site the lush, jammy Shirazes for which the area is famous and to revel in the ancient karri forests, beautiful countryside and heavenly beaches famed for their surf.

Second favourite is the journey north from Perth to see the Pinnacles, thousands of eerie limestone pillars up to four metres tall that dot the stark desert of the NamburgNational Park, and Monkey Mia where dolphins come into the shallow waters to feed.  I combined both trips over 3 days which gave me time for sightseeing, swimming and hanging out.

Perth embraces families, adult singles and couples alike and the range of entertainment for children and adults is a fair indication of why so many people come here for a vacation and then find it hard to go back home.

CAIRNS

In sharp contrast to Perth is Cairns, right bang at the point where two world heritage sites meet – the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest – and the closest thing to tropical paradise I’ve found.

Few places can match Cairns’ concentration of activities, indigenous culture and pure natural splendour.  The Esplanade, up and down which the pelicans parade in undisputed ownership, has budget hostels, bars, eateries, boutiques and a great night time atmosphere.  The Pier waterfront complex has five-star hotels, some really super Australian designer shops and an eclectic range of restaurants.

The glitz has been totally absorbed by the town, but no matter how luxurious the suite, how chilled the champagne and how blue the pool, there is always a sense that a salt-water crocodile lurks not far away: Cairns has a primeval feel underneath the luxury, that’s what makes it different.

It’s essentially a stopping-off post for other trips, whether it be a trip to the Great Barrier Reef or any one of many rainforest trips.  The GBR needs no introduction to most people as its coral reefs are one of the most photographed sites in the world.  Snorkelling through the forests of staghorn coral, surrounded by round fish, flat fish, fluted fish, giant sea turtles, crimson squirrelfish, and sea cucumbers is exciting, but sensory overload really sets in when you spot the giant clams, their purple and green mottled lips open to their full 1 metre size.

There is an inner reef suitable for novices and beginners, an outer reef bordering the open sea with canyons and deep water, and the island reefs which are combination of both.  If you are staying on one of the blissful Islands, then your hotel will have a boat to transport you to the reefs, but if you choose a mainland hotel, then there are plenty of snazzy boats with scheduled trips out to the reefs from the waterfront.

For my money though, the rainforest is the most awe-inspiring place outside Cairns.  Having taken the Scenic Railway trip which chugs through 15 tunnels as it climbs 300 metres towards the AthertonHighlands and the village of Kuranda, and a boat ride on the crocodile infested DaintreeRiver, I was keen to spend a few days in a Rainforest Lodge.  Although I wore a rain poncho most of the time, the life of the forest was so absorbing that the constant misty rain was forgotten.  Central to this was the trip on Skyrail (a world first in ecotourism).  Sailing high above the rainforest canopy your gondola passes over eucalypt woodland, waterfalls, and trees in which white cockatoos nest, with panoramic views to Cairns, Trinity Beach and Green and Fitzroy islands.  You can alight at different stations en route to experience the forest floor from the comfort of boardwalks surrounded by trees, lush palms, ferns, animals and birdlife.

Whatever your style, Cairns can offer you an experience you won’t find anywhere else in the world.