Our first port of call after Townsville was Mission Beach on the coast, which is a cassowary conservation habitat. Cassowaries are an endangered species in Australia now and it's believed there are only 1200-1500 of them left in the rainforests of north Queensland. Unfortunately for us though, we saw neither cassowary nor beach in Mission Beach as we were drenched in over 12 hours non-stop tropical rain! It got so bad even the road was sinking and the emergency services were called!! So, we decided to cut our losses and head straight to Cairns for a few days instead.
On the way, we made a quick stop at Murray Falls between Cardwell and Tully which is one of north Queensland's prettiest waterfalls. A rainforest boardwalk leads to the top of the falls where there are great views out across the Murray Valley.
Cairns is a beautiful city on the edge of the Coral Sea surrounded by mountains and rainforest. It has a tropical climate and year-round sunshine. When we were there, the weather was beautiful with a temperature of 31C and a nice cooling breeze. Along the seafront, the Esplanade boardwalk stretches for 2.5km and there are bbq
areas, excercise stations, children's playgrounds, a skateboard and bmx park, a dedicated bike track and even a swimming lagoon. There are also free outdoor fitness classes in the mornings and evenings and free live music on the weekends. It really is a different lifestyle and they definitely know how to make the most of the tropical climate!
Cairns is also home to some of the world's most amazing natural attractions; the Great Barrier Reef, the Wet Tropics rainforest and the Australian Outback. One of the days we were there, we took the scenic railway to Kuranda, a village in the rainforest 25km northwest of Cairns. Along the journey, the train passes through 15 tunnels, over 37 bridges and alongside 2 waterfalls as it winds its way up the mountain range into the rainforest. There are some stunning views as the train passes within a few metres of Stoney Creek Falls right on the edge of a steep gorge. It also makes a stop at Barron Falls, a 260 metre granite-faced waterfall. The railway was built at the end of the 19th century using only hand tools and its construction is considered a huge engineering feat involving hundreds of men
(most of whom were Irish or Italian). The Irish foreman who organised the labour during construction of the railway was known as 'Red' Lynch and his cottage still stands at the railway station today. The village down the road is now known as Redlynch and this area was our base for our stay in Cairns.
The picturesque mountain village of Kuranda is situated in the heart of the rainforest. It has a lovely chilled out atmosphere and lots of Aboriginal art galleries and local village markets. We spent a couple of hours browsing through the shops and admiring the local photography and artwork. The Australian Butterfly sanctuary is also located in Kuranda and we managed to spot one of the giant blue Ulysses butterflies while there. On our return journey back to Cairns, we took the Skyrail rainforest cableway gliding just metres above the rainforest canopy and enjoyed some panoramic views out over the rainforest and Barron Gorge national park.
While in Cairns, we also visited the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural park where we learned about the traditional way of life for the region's indigenous inhabitants. The Tjapukai people have lived on this land for over 40,000 years and
the village in the rainforest
they gave us an insight into their culture by demonstrating some of their ceremonial dances and didgeridoo playing. They also shared some of their knowledge of traditional bush foods and medicines and re-enacted some of their local Dreamtime legends.
A short drive from our base at Redlynch was a scenic walking trail at Crystal Cascades, a national park containing a series of freshwater swimming holes. We saw some colourful birds while there and also a praying mantis which was nearly stood on! The area around Crystal Cascades was beautiful, with stunning scenery, and was definitely our little slice of paradise Down Under.
After leaving Cairns, we followed the Captain Cook highway up to Port Douglas. The drive from Cairns to Port Douglas is one of Australia's most scenic coastal drives and passes through Cairns' beautiful northern beaches. We stopped briefly at Palm Cove, Ellis Beach and Rex Lookout to admire the views before heading to a resort named Turtle Cove for lunch. Lorna's former boss Kirsty worked at Turtle Cove while she was in Oz and it's still going 50 years on ;-)
After leaving Turtle Cove, we headed to Port Douglas where we spent
a couple of days enjoying the sunshine. Port Douglas is the closest town to the Great Barrier Reef and lies just 16 degrees below the equator. It's a former fishing village but is now more of a holiday destination with an abundance of cafes, restaurants and bars. A somewhat less glamorous aspect is the fact that Port Douglas is also rampant with cane toads! Cane toads were originally introduced to North Queensland from South America in order to eradicate a bug that was destroying the sugar cane plantations. However, they have now evolved into a superbreed whose venom can even kill cats or dogs and are a serious problem as they are running loose all over the region. One of the local bar owners has come up with a novel idea to get punters to spend a few dollars by introducing nightly cane toad racing!
Mossman Gorge & Daintree River
A short drive from Port Douglas is Mossman Gorge which lies within the world heritage-listed Daintree national park. The Mossman river flows over huge granite rocks that line the gorge creating a crystal clear freshwater swimming hole and along both sides of the gorge the rainforest rises up to
the mountain tops. The gorge has been home to the Kuku Yalanji people for many thousands of years and their Dreamtime stories are closely connected to the landscape.
North of Mossman, the Daintree River is one of the longest rivers on the Australian East Coast and is considered to be one of the best birdwatching sites in Oz. It's also home to the world's largest reptile, the saltwater crocodile. We took a cruise along the river to spot some crocs and were lucky enough to see two big male crocodiles, known locally as "Scarface" and "Albert". We also saw a female crocodile and some hatchlings. Along the banks of the river, blue kingfishers were diving for fish and up above, a Brahminy kite was flying high up into the trees. From the river, we also had some nice views of Thorton's Peak, Queensland's third highest mountain with its cloud covered summit. Off the main river, the scenery on some of the smaller creeks was also stunning with rainforest and mangroves lining either side of the banks and bright orange fiddler crabs burrowing into the sand.
After our river cruise, we loaded the Barney van onto the
Kuranda Scenic Railway
Passing alongside Stoney Creek Falls on its way to the village of Kuranda in the rainforest
car ferry, as the only way to get to Cape Tribulation is to cross the Daintree river. There is no mains electricity or mobile phone coverage north of the Daintree river and most of the area is uninhabited wilderness. Once on the other side, we drove up the narrow winding roads to top of the Alexandra range where we got some fabulous views out over the coast towards Snapper island and the Daintree river mouth.
A few kms up the road, we visited the Daintree Discovery Centre, an interpretive centre with elevated boardwalks through the rainforest. The Daintree Rainforest
is the oldest tropical rainforest on earth and is believed to date back 150-200 million years, making it considerably older than the Amazon which is thought to be around 7 million years old. One of the factors which helped to increase scientists' awareness of the age of the rainforest was the discovery of Ribbonwood or Idiot Fruit, a plant which is over 110 million years old. This primitive plant is known as a "green dinosaur" as it is a remnant of the forests of the supercontinent Gondwanaland. Mind blowing stuff!
Aswell as the flora and fauna, there is also an
Saltwater crocodile on the Daintree river
abundance of wildlife in the rainforest - reptiles, birds, bats and butterflies - and many species of possum and tree kangaroos are endemic to the Daintree rainforest. We saw some big spiders too while we were there - Golden Orb Weavers - which are one of the largest spiders found in Australia. They are supposedly totally harmless to humans but are pretty scary looking!
From the Discovery Centre, we drove through Cooper Creek (another cassowary convservation area) and then on to Thornton beach where we had lunch by the sea. After leaving Thornton beach, we ascended the Noah mountain range and stopped at Myall beach to do the Dubuji boardwalk. The Dubuji boardwalk runs through tropical lowland rainforest along mangroves and fan palms. It was a great place to experience the sounds of the rainforest! After leaving Myall beach, we reached Cape Tribulation where we decided to spend the night and camped in the heart of the rainforest.
The following morning, we drove up to Cape Tribulation Beach and walked along the Kulki boardwalk to a lookout overlooking mountains, beach and ocean. Cape Tribulation is the only place in the world where two world heritage areas
collide; the Wet Tropics Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. Along the shoreline, the rainforest comes right down to the white sandy beach and meets the Reef. It's spectacular scenery! There are no sealed roads north of Cape Trib so after 6 weeks of driving north, we finally had to turn around and start driving back down south to Cairns.
Great Barrier Reef
There was one last thing on our To-Do list before we left Cairns - the Great Barrier Reef - and we decided to take a cruise out to explore it from Cairns. We boarded our boat in the marina and sailed out to Saxon Reef, where we both went snorkelling for the first time. Snorkelling the Barrier Reef was the most incredible experience! Words just can't express the beauty of the Reef when you experience it first hand. All shapes & sizes of colourful fish were swimming around us and the coral came right up to the surface in places. Luckily for us, the water temperature was a warm 28C making it even more enjoyable. Our boat then cruised out to Hastings Reef, where we took a semi-submersible coral viewing tour. This turned out to be
on Captain Cook highway between Cairns and Port Douglas
a great way to explore a little deeper below the surface since neither of us was scuba diving. Finally, to top off our day, we flew back to Cairns on a helicopter scenic flight! We passed over five reef locations on our return, including Michaelmas Reef, Vlassof Cay and Green Island. Seeing the Barrier Reef from the air was amazing and completely blew us both away. It really was the experience of a lifetime!
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