Days 252 – 265 (Feb 8th – 21st) Cooktown, Port Douglas, Daintree, Cape Tribulation, Palm Cove, Cairns and Kuranda

On our trip across the Pacific, James Cook was a frequent feature of the places we visited, and the same was true of the east coast of Australia so it seemed fitting to end our northerly progression at the point where he too stopped and eventually returned to England. This was Cooktown, where Cook had to stop in order to fix the gaping hole in the hull of his ship, the Endeavour, caused by colliding with the Great Barrier Reef. On our way to Cooktown we passed a few high points giving views over the iconic Daintree National Park…

..and as we approached Cooktown, we drove through the mysterious Black Mountain National Park, a bizarre mountain composed of granite boulders, which had significance to the local tribes and which has also been associated with plane crashes, people getting lost and never being found and even the presence of the extinct Tasmanian tiger

The account of Cook’s stay here is well documented at the Cooktown museum which is probably the most expensive museum we’ve ever visited (run by National Trust) at AUS$50, but one of the best. As Cook struggled to reach what was to be named Cooktown, his crew had to jettison several cannons and anchors in order to stay afloat. These were recovered in 1969 and now have pride of place in the museum. The exhibits describe the various interactions the crew had with the indigenous population and due to poor communication they were often at odds with each other. An example was when the crew of the Endeavour had caught turtles and the aborigines tried to throw them back in the sea. There was a great misunderstanding as the local people were trying to show them they had caught too many and needed to help sustain them by quotas, instead a stand off ensued but somehow it ended correctly for both sides.

The museum also described Cape York, the huge peninsula north of Cooktown and the cultural and natural history that can still be found in this unspoilt wilderness.

One especially interesting exhibit concerned WWII and the forced expatriation of the indigenous peoples from Cape York, (primarily because they’d been setting up trade links with the Japanese), to Woorabinda, where Tali was working. This was not Australia’s finest hour as this transport was not done in the kindest way, the second leg being transport in cattle trucks to the station at Woorabinda. For a lot of them, this was the first time they had left their country ( a term used by each aboriginal group to describe their territory) and were terrified of all the new things they were forced to see or use e.g. trains. After the war, people could return up north. But they had to walk! Even now there are strong links between the indigenous people of Cooktown and Woorabinda as many have relatives who chose to stay further south, despite the “cold”…

The weather was fiercely hot, humid and we had a lot of rain and lightning but it was a lovely place to visit, despite being verbally abused by some indigenous folk in the park who appeared to have over-indulged on their purchases from the local bottleshop.

The views from the town are impressive with thick mangrove forests coating the shoreline and providing shelter for salties..

Further out of town is access to a river and beaches, all beautiful but brimming with danger..

The best viewpoint from Cooktown is known as Grassy Hill, used by Cook to plan his escape route and so avoid yet another issue with the reef. The views were stunning

As were the large numbers of Pacific swifts feeding low over the viewpoint..

Low-level feeding like this indicates an approaching storm

The mirror on our car proved irresistible to an Olive-backed sunbird. When not perched on top he was looking at himself, probably thinking he had a rival!

The weather forecast wasn’t looking too good so we decided to move on, back south to Port Douglas which, theoretically at least, could be a good base to explore the Great Barrier Reef, Daintree National Park, Cape Tribulation and Mossman Gorge. That morning the invaluable RACQ road app showed the only access road to Port Douglas from the north was closed due to flooding so we left knowing a change of plan might be called for. In the end the road had been opened by the time we arrived so, apart from 2 places where the road was inundated, it was straightforward. We stayed at cheap accommodation in the centre of town and on our first day drove out to Mossman Gorge, situated in the southernmost part of the Daintree rainforest. The gorge itself is very popular with coach tours and organised trips out from Cairns and has a sophisticated system for managing large numbers of tourists. A large information centre also provides food and shopping and a shuttle bus takes people out to the start of the 4 walks that can be done. In addition a “dreamtime” walk, guided by the indigenous people, is also on offer. We took the latter, to start and were met by Tony who performed a smoke ceremony to ward off all the evil spirits of the forest as we walking through it…

Tony was entertaining and informative, explaining how the indigenous people explain the mysteries of the forest and used the resources it provided. One example was Boyd’s forest dragon, a rare lizard found only in the rainforest

The aborigines explain the origin of this animal in terms of a story. A young aborigine was transformed and each individual characteristic of the forest dragon is explained by linking it to the story. Too complicated to remember all the details, it made a good story!

Another was the use of plant leaves to produce soap, tried and tested and worked!

and shelter

As part of the walk we passed by some large boulders upon which he claimed there were paintings / carvings, again a degree of imagination was required! After which he demonstrated hand painting and how different colours were used from rocks, charcoal etc.

As we completed the walk he showed us the nest site of the Buff-breasted paradise kingfisher, a tunnel bored into a termite nest

Later we did a few of the walks along the gorge

Finally seeing one of those special kingfishers

On day 2 we took a catamaran trip out to a cay on the Great Barrier Reef where we could go snorkelling at a couple of locations known for the giant clams, turtles, rays, variety of coral and fish. First we had to put on our stinger suits…

The snorkelling was fantastic, the sea was like a millpond and the gear they provided was excellent. The variety and colours of the corals and fish was second to none. Floating and watching was so therapeutic….

In-between snorkels we went out on a glass-bottomed boat….

A rare view of the reef from above

….landed on the cay

…after dislodging the locals

Brown noddys and Bridled terns

In-between activities we were well looked after, the food was good and the staff very friendly and accommodating. It was now time to move, up to Daintree village and possibly the only available accommodation, right on the river.

The rooms were tiny, with little storage but outside each door was a huge shared balcony with kettle, hob, microwave and toaster. That night was very special, being Valentine’s Day and we did each other proud, eating microwaved soup on the insect-infested deck outside our room, as the pub was closed

We had to cross the river to get to Cape Tribulation, so named by Captain Cook as this was the area in which the Endeavour was holed by colliding with the Great Barrier Reef. He was clearly too distracted by the possible loss of his ship to notice the beauty of the place. En-route there was a lockout over the estuary of the Daintree.

A quick bite at the Cape Trib Beach House, located at the end of the sealed road north and right on the beach adjacent to Cape Trib itself….

A quick stroll onto the beach and Helen was 35 years younger, reminded of the day her and Debs arrived at this magical spot. It hadn’t changed a bit, although rough cabins have been updated to a smart villa complex

And finally onto the viewpoint on Cape Trib itself. But why was Cape Tribulation so-named?

The following day we’d booked a 2 hour bird & wildlife river tour leaving at 0630am from the dock below our cabin but overnight the weather changed and we were woken at various times by the furious hammering of rain on our tin roof. Finally the camp owner came down and told us the tour was off as no boats were leaving from that dock that day although the following morning might be possible. Given the sparse nature of our digs, that boat tours were the only thing that could realistically be done in the pouring rain and that Barratts Creek, on our escape route south, was rising fast, we decided to run for it and left early for Palm Cove and civilisation.

Escape from Daintree

The next morning we checked the webcam which shows the status of the bridge over Barratt Creek (i.e. the only way out going southwards)

And the webcam by the ferry terminal (i.e. the only way out of Daintree, going north)

So vindicating our decision to scarper! Being stuck in Daintree with 1 pub (open 5 evenings a week), no shop (shut all of Feb) and no tours to enjoy might have been challenging.

Heading down the Captain Cook Highway we stopped off at The Rex Lookout which overlooks Trinity Bay

Before arriving at Palm Cove, our home for an unprecedented 4 days

Welcome to Palm Cove!

Once the weather calmed down we indulged in a trip to Harvey’s Crocodile Adventures, a crocodile farm…

..with a multitude of entertaining and educational activities on the side. Firstly was the snake handler, with an inland taipan, only the most venomous snake on the planet. Quite how he simultaneously spoke so well and safely handled this snake was very impressive.

Is it wrong to secretly hope the snake bites the handler?

Then the croc handler, using a new crocodile with all the potential risks that could entail…

Don’t do this at home

Followed by a wander round the freshie enclosure

An aviary

Blue-winged kookaburra
Papuan frogmouth

And the camouflaged lizard section

A good day all round.

The next day was planned for something we’d wanted to do since Tali went there in 2022..the Skyrail, a cable car that runs from just north of Cairns over the rainforest to Kuranda stopping a couple of times on the way. Firstly so passengers can disembark and walk through the forest and secondly, a stop to see the impressive waterfall on the Barron river. It was the first time Helen had smiled since we reached the rainforest, safe in the knowledge that only mechanical failure or a rapid onset and violent thunderstorm could hurt her..

Looking back over the Coral Sea

Walking in the rainforest is fascinating, it’s a hugely rich environment but it’s unusual to see birds or animals as the majority of the action takes place way up in the canopy, well beyond our ability to see. So would passing over the canopy help at all?

The answer is no. The bird song and the cicadas were loud and certainly indicated there was life below but seeing anything proved just as difficult. We were also told that young snakes concealed themselves in the fern baskets that grow up on some of the trees. These too were impossible to see. As we reached the second stop we crossed the Barron river

And passed adjacent to the falls themselves

The falls are a little misleading as just upstream is a massive dam, built in the 1930s to provide irrigation water to the farms on the Atherton Tablelands, so the falls are only there in times of heavy rainfall. In the winter there are no falls.

Who can resist a rainbow?

Arriving in Kuranda, situated just upstream from the dam, we disembarked and walked into the village and returned to the railway station via a riverside walk. The Kuranda Scenic Railway was originally built to serve the goldmines and proved to be a challenging engineering project. What is in no doubt is that Kuranda station must be one of the most attractive stations anywhere

The train stopped at one location on the way down to Cairns, on the opposite side of the falls

A great day out, and certainly to be recommended to any tourists visiting this area.

It was time to move on, this time to Magnetic Island, situated just off the coast some 250 miles south, and accessed via a barge..or, in English, a ferry.