Cape Tribulation - Where the rainforest meets the reef

Published: February 25th 2009
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Day 228: Thursday 12th February - I’m an ant licker, and I don’t care!

It is yet another early start in Cairns as I’m getting picked up at 7:30am for a tour going north to Cape Tribulation. Almost everyone on the tour with the exception of a Swiss couple and an Irish guy are English. Our first stop of the day is to a wildlife sanctuary. I question our driver, Scotty when we get off the bus as already he has sent around a sheet for people to choose their lunch option and now he is about to buy entrance tickets for everyone on the bus. The tour I paid for didn’t include either lunch or entrance to the wildlife sanctuary as I’ve done enough wildlife sanctuary’s/zoo’s over the last few weeks and I’m sure I can get lunch for less than the extra $55 I would have to pay quite easily. However, for the second time in as many weeks, I’ve been given a free upgrade so now my tour includes both the wildlife sanctuary and lunch. The wildlife sanctuary is okay but I’ve seen most of the animals before, with the exception of the tree kangaroos, the flying foxes and the swamp wallabies which stink. While the rest of the group get pictures with the Koala’s, I spend the time looking at the hats in the shop. I want one as my souvenir from Australia but they don’t come with a carry bag so I postpone the purchase.

Back on the bus, Scotty has made up a rule that the last person on the bus has to either have some vegemite or sing the bus a song! I make a mental note to make sure that I’m not going to be that person as we make our stops along the way north to Cape Tribulation. Our second stop of the day is to Mossman Gorge, situated in the world’s oldest continuous rainforest, the Daintree. The Daintree rainforest is part of the world heritage listed North Queensland wet tropics area which stretches from Townsville up to Cooktown. It may only cover 0.1% of Australia, but it has 35% of its mammal species, 50% of its bird species, 60% of its butterfly species and 65% of its fern species. It sounds fantastic and yep it is! Scotty gives a guided walk through the rainforest which touches on many of the things I’ve already learnt through similar walks at Kuranda and Atherton Tablelands around Cairns. This doesn’t matter as I could never tire about seeing and learning more about such a diverse biosphere. You always see something new as well, and on this walk it happens to be a skink. After the walk we have the opportunity to jump into the creek for a swim in the crystal clear waters. With the heavy rains, the current is too strong to swim around too much but we have plenty of fun observing all the jungle perch which are swimming about our midst. After Mossman Gorge we drive past many sugarcane fields which typify North Queensland’s landscape and up to a tropical fruit shop for a brief look around and then it’s on to lunch at a roadhouse just before Daintree village.

As we’re still digesting lunch we jump on to a boat to do a river cruise along the Daintree River. Saltwater crocodiles are the star attraction of the Daintree River, however the large crocs are hiding and we spot two baby crocs on the riverbank sheltering from the sun, which must be no more than 3 feet in length. This is a bit of a disappointment, but I can’t complain as otherwise I’ve been spoilt with the wildlife I’ve seen in the wild in Australia. The cruise is really relaxing, the scenery stunning and in such surroundings in the humidity and straight after lunch it is hard not to dose off. This isn’t before we manage to see the beautiful Ulysses butterfly. Can there be a more beautiful butterfly? Bright blue wings, outlined in black they float through the canopy of the rainforest just out of reach to get a photo. Every time you think you’ve got them for a photo, they fly off or settle on a branch and close their wings. Once the river cruise is back over we get back on the bus and cross the Daintree River via the cable ferry, the only way to get north of the river. Once across safely, we drive up to the Alexandra range lookout which has marvelous views across the Daintree rainforest, the Alexandra ranges and Cape Kimberley where the Daintree River meets the Coral Sea. We engage in a bushtucker challenge at the lookout: the challenge to lick an Ant’s bum!! I meet the challenge head on and enjoy the taste of lemon and lime and a slight numbing sensation as I lick away! This is only my second bushtucker experience is Australia after having a witchety grub in Heron Island. A witchety grub is like a grasshopper and the fleshy part resembles a prawn, and surprisingly they’re quite tasty. The final stop before we reach Cape Tribulation is to get an ice cream at a tropical fruit farm. Everyone gets the same, a tub of four flavours, wattle (similar to coffee), blueberry, apricot and coconut - all yummy!

We arrive up at Cape Tribulation at 4pm. I’m staying at Cape Trib beach house which is a series of huts in the middle of the rainforest and right next to Cape Tribulation beach. It’s a quite wonderful location, add in a swimming pool, a good restaurant and bar decking area and it adds up to probably the best location I’ve stayed at in Australia. Four of us on the bus are staying at the beach house, the Swiss couple, myself and Sarah, a girl from South Shields. I’m sharing a dorm with Sarah and we end up hanging out together for the next 24 hours. There are still a couple of hours of daylight and with the weather good, me and Sarah walk down Cape Tribulation beach to the lookout at Cape Tribulation. What a stunning location, the only place in the world where two UNESCO world heritage sights sit side by side….the Daintree rainforest meeting the Great Barrier Reef. The beach is great as well and is absolutely deserted. We walk through the rainforest to Myall Beach which lies south of the Cape, where we bump into two other people who were on our bus, who are staying at the other hostel in Cape Tribulation. We’d all like to meet up tonight but it’s not practical as the hostels are a good 45 minute walk apart. Myself and Sarah walk back along Myall and Cape Tribulation beaches to the hostel as the sun sets on a great day.

We spend the evening in the restaurant/bar area, also set right in the middle of the rainforest, only protected from the elements by a canopy. With the nearest food store a 45 minute walk away, eating in the restaurant is the sensible option. The food is reasonably priced and the trout I have is well worth the money. We finish by sharing a sticky date pudding which is just like a sticky toffee pudding….. us two Geordies agree that its lush! Sarah is a lovely girl and with us travelling in opposite directions we share our experiences, pass on tips, look through each other’s photos. Sarah has only been travelling a month and is feeling homesick which I can relate to as I felt unsettled in my first month. I try to put her mind at rest by telling her it’s only natural as she tells me all about Bali, Singapore, Darwin and the Red centre. We talk about football, our travel plans, plans after travelling and of course the north-east. I’ve had a really good evening getting to know Sarah after a great day up in North Queensland.

Day 229: Friday 13th February - Horse riding at Cape Tribulation

After enjoying a free breakfast, me and Sarah get picked up to go horse riding at 8am. My only complaint is that I would have loved a lie-in. After a morning’s horse riding in a quite stunning location I couldn’t care less. I may have been here less than 24 hours but I’m hooked on Cape Tribulation. There are only 5 of us on the ride; apart from me and Sarah, there is an American and two British guides, Ems and Cat who I’ve now nicknamed as Miss Cape Trib as wherever I turn she’s there! She works behind the bar at the beach house and she also works guiding horse rides. I find out that it isn’t uncommon for people living in Cape Trib to have more than one job to make a living. Cat has three, working in the pharmacy as well! The three hour horse ride is simply amazing, riding through the Daintree rainforest, in view of Mount Sorrow and also out on to Myall beach, which we canter along. Only the riding I’ve done in South America can compare, it’s better than Pakiri Beach in New Zealand and that was pretty special.

In the afternoon, when we get back to the hostel, I chill out by the pool with Sarah. In the late afternoon, she has to leave to go back to Cairns whilst I have another night left. Already, I’m wishing I had another week, not another day. There are not many places on my travels I’ve felt like this about, but Cape Tribulation has certainly got under my skin. It’s a shame Sarah has to go back to Cairns. Meeting lovely people helps to shape your opinion of a place, and I’ve had a good time hanging out with Sarah for the last 24 hours. We agree to meet up tomorrow night if we can when I return to Cairns.

I had hoped to have the room to myself but a couple from Catterick have turned up. Not to worry, they seem nice and Sarah also introduces me to a couple of Irish girls who she was rooming with in Cairns who have just arrived. I also bump into Matt and Pete, who I met on my cruise on the Great Barrier Reef a couple of days ago. Definitely one of the good things about Cape Trib Beach house is the people, everyone is so friendly, guests and staff alike. I find out at 6pm that the jungle night walk that I’ve booked is going ahead as there had been doubt earlier in the day due to a lack of numbers. To be honest, I wasn’t bothered either way as I would have enjoyed chilling out in the restaurant and talking to whoever was around. As it is I’ve got just about enough time to get dinner and talk with the Irish girls before I get picked up for the walk.

The jungle walk is two and a half hours and whilst we don’t see any of the so called first rate wildlife like crocodiles or snakes we do see plenty of cool creatures from the outrageously colourful white lipped frog, to huge grasshoppers, a huntsman spider, a carnivorous centipede (only in Australia!), a tree dragon, stick insects, glow in the dark funghi and the poisonous cane toad. We also see the golden orb spider, which I’ve now seen plenty of whether it be in the Atherton Tablelands or just hanging around in the Cape Trib Beach resort. They’re everywhere, in the shower block, by the pool….thankfully the Australian’s rate them as being only mildly poisonous. To a Brit that means they’re one of the most deadly creatures they’ve ever come into contact with!!! Still, they have beautiful markings and spin golden coloured webs so it’s not all bad. It is 10:30pm by the time we’ve finished the walk and had no luck croc spotting. The guide is really enthusiastic and passionate about the wildlife but I can’t help thinking that $42 (£20) was overpriced for a walk. The fact that I’ve done so much in the last week meant that I think in hindsight I should have had a quiet night to allow my body and mind the chance to catch up. The walk did however bring the Daintree rainforest to life and confirm what a special place it is. Perhaps after all I’m pleased I did the walk…..

Day 230: Saturday 14th February - Swimming warily in Emmagen Creek

The couple I’m rooming with have closed all the shutters to the outside world, so even though its 8am when I awake, it still feels like it’s the middle of the night. When I walk out of the cabin I almost walk into a tree with my eyes taking time to adjust to the glare from the sun. Part of me wants to just chill out by the pool today, but I can’t help but feel this would be wasting the opportunity to see more of the wonderful scenery around Cape Tribulation. This is the place in Australia which I feel the most that I could spend more time in. I would as well if it were not for having a flight booked tomorrow and the cost and hassle of changing that at such short notice. In the end after much dallying I decide to walk up to Emmagen Creek, a swimming hole which is just over an hour’s walk from the beach house. It’s a 10km return walk which feels more like double that in the heat and humidity. On the upside the walk up the Bloomfield Track which pierces through the Daintree rainforest is a beautiful walk. But I do wish those beautiful Ulysses butterflies would stay still long enough to get a photo!

As I reach the point where Emmagen creek runs across the Bloomfield Track I am a bit perturbed by the warning sign about not swimming due to the presence of crocs in the water. A few minutes later as I’m walking up the track through the forest to the swimming hole I bump into the couple from Catterick who’ve just been swimming and who tell me you only have to be worried about crocs between the sea and the road (we’re on the other side of the road) and that they had no problems and had the place to themselves. Walking up to through the forest I also manage to get stuck on some wait-a-while, and despite all the warnings on the jungle walks I’ve taken over the past few days, I’ve cut my ankle in several places. The swimming hole is a stunning spot, clear almost emerald like waters teeming with Jungle Perch. Nevertheless, I can’t quite relax and enjoy my surroundings as I’m always looking over my shoulder for a croc. I spend about half an hour at the creek before walking back along the road to the beach house.

By the time I get back to the beach house I’m in bits. I need fluids and can’t stop myself from keep ducking into the air-conditioned reception to escape the suffocating humidity. It feels like it’s about to rain, and on cue it does just as the bus is leaving Cape Tribulation. I’ve been really lucky as although we’re bang in the middle of the wet season there has been no rain in the daytime in the 2 days I’ve been at Cape Tribulation to this point. Quite the opposite it’s been great weather. On the two hour journey back to Cairns I reflect on a great few days spent up at Cape Tribulation. It’s been my highlight of the East Coast without doubt, amazing rainforest, beautiful clear water creeks crossing through the forest, stunning beaches and a really relaxing resort to spend the last few days….just perfect.

Back in Cairns, I get dropped off at Calypso backpackers which is where the Irish girls, Siobahn and Clonagh??, (I’m crap at remembering names) who joined me up at the beach house yesterday, are staying. I also see Sarah again as she’s staying here also. She’s soon off out into Cairns with a group of guys and as I only have a couple of hours before my transfer to the airport I decline the offer of joining her and hang out having a few beers with the two Irish girls who are excellent company. Sitting talking, I miss the opportunity to get a meal at the hostel, meaning I haven’t eaten anything substantial since breakfast. Oh well, guess it will be a liquid tea!!

I get dropped off at the deserted international airport terminal at 9:30pm. I can’t go to sleep this early so I opt to Skype Patters back home. I’d had several requests to contact him despite only having spoken to him a couple of weeks ago leading me to think (mistakenly) that something major had happened back home like he was getting married or something like that! We have a good chat for a couple of hours. I give him a guided tour of the airport which I’ve now turned into the biggest dorm room in Australia - and it’s free and I’ve got it all to myself. The only downside I can’t work out how to switch the damn lights off!! Mr Patrick also tells me how the lads have reworked the lyrics to a song which is in the charts at the moment as a reference to my lack of rhythm (and I still haven’t for the record). He also tells me that my prediction 4-5 years ago that a member of S Club Juniors would make it big has come true as she’s now in a girl band who’ve made it big…The Saturday’s. I’ve always got an eye for talent, boys ; ) .We have some good banter, I miss this as you don’t really get the same travelling as you never develop friendships to the same level as you have back home. I finally get to sleep at 1pm only to be woken up two hours later by two strange dudes asking if I know how the car parking system works. Do I look officious guys? Or do I look like a scruffy backpacker who is too much of a cheapskate to pay for a room for the night? Thanks for waking me you idiots, or were you up to no good and that was your cover when I awoke?

My alarm wakes me at 4:15am and I groggily make my way to the domestic terminal. On the way, I bump into an American lady who can’t find her way to the Qantas departures despite all the signs which are every 50 metres or so. She’s struggling with her luggage and asks me to help her with it. I can’t understand why people travel with more luggage than they can carry?? Surely if you can’t carry it all then that’s telling you you’ve overpacked?? She’s cursing and whinging all the way to check-in, but I can’t be bothered to listen. When we get to the queue she offers me $5 for helping her which I decline. ‘Oooh you saved my life’ she says over dramatically. No love I carried your bag about 150 metres! Its people like her that give the American race such a bad name. Hopefully I can catch up on some sleep on the 6 hour journey to Alice Springs via Brisbane.

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