To the end of the road (in our van anyway)


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Oceania » Australia » Queensland » Cooktown
June 7th 2013
Published: December 25th 2017
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Geo: -15.4675, 145.249

Paronella Park to Cooktown 27th May

The time is passing so quickly now, I can't believe we have to leave the van in Cairns in 2 ½ weeks.

At the end of the last blog we were leaving the coast for Paronella Park near Mena Creek. In the early 1900s a poor Catalan immigrant left his home land and his betrothed and became a cane cutter in the area of Mena Creek. He had promised to return to marry the young lady when he had made some money. He worked hard, made his fortune and went to find her. Unfortunately it had taken him 11 years and after 8 years (which seems more than reasonable) she had given up waiting and married someone else. Her mother was loathe to wave him and his fortune farewell so married off her younger daughter to him and Jose and Margarita returned to Mena Creek.

Jose had always dreamed of building castles in Australia, as he had seen in Spain, and he also wanted to provide entertainment for the people of the area so he spent much of his fortune building Paronella Park, fantasy castles (very small in comparison to real castles) in the Queensland forest. His idea was to create a leisure centre in a beautiful environment by the Mena Falls where the public could come and relax, swim, have parties etc. Much of the building work was carried out during the Depression so labour was cheap but it did provide jobs in the area. I am not sure when Walt Disney first planned Disneyland but Jose's idea was similar but on a totally different scale and using nature as his backcloth.

He and Margarita worked hard to achieve the dream. Margarita organised the catering in the cafe, a grand ballroom was added to host weddings and other events. Unfortunately the Park suffered from a couple of floods, the severest one being man-made when a logging accident resulted in the river being blocked and a huge cascade of water poured down the valley and caused tremendous damage. Another problem occurred because Jose had used sand from the river for the cement but it was not suitable chemically for building and deteriorated quite quickly. On top of all that the main road was then re-routed away from the Park. So for 20 years everything went downhill and culminated in the property being left derelict for the following 20 years, suffering a couple of cyclones in between times. It was only in the 90s that the present owners fell in love with the Park, bought it and started to repair the damage. There is still much work to be done but at least it is now stable.

Although not a huge area, there is enough to see in the Park to make for an interesting visit with the bonus of wildlife, eels, turtles, fish and even a crocodile in the water as well as microbats in the "Tunnel of Love"! The evening walk was peaceful and atmospheric as they light up the ruins. Even better is that included in the price is one night's stay on their pristine campsite so no need to rush away the same day.

After Paronella we returned to the coast at Mission Beach. It has been devastated by the last Cyclone and people are struggling to keep business's going as in Cardwell. We spent 2 ½ days walking the paths around Lacey Creek and Licuala rest area looking for Cassowaries. Despite the numerous signs saying they were about we began to feel that we were as likely to see one as we would be to see the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland. Although we did see their droppings (mainly fruit stones) but began to think the rangers put them there especially as there seemed to be more on the Children's Walk than elsewhere. Then we were driving into Mission Beach and rounded the bend and on the road in front of us was a Cassowary, all 6 feet of him. We were so stunned, Jim braked and luckily the car behind stopped and we sat and watched him. Neither of us reached for the camera, a result of shock, disbelief, and not wanting to miss a second of the spectacle. He walked across the road then changed his mind, turned back and nonchalantly walked in front of the van and then disappeared into the forest. We were so lucky to have a viewing.

As the weather improved a little we went out on a yacht, Big Mamma, for the day. The snorkelling was great on one of the most colourful reefs I have ever seen (Adelaide Reef) with giant clams of all colours much bigger than me. The hard coral was pink, blue and purple and I saw a bed of anemones complete with clown fish which was the size of a netball court – very unusual. The yacht is home to the owners, Stu, Lisa, son Fletcher and dog Coco. It was Coco's first birthday so he had a candle on a cake and we all sang 'Happy Birthday' to Coco. Lisa's catering was excellent so we had a very good lunch.

On the sail home it started to rain. Of course all our swimming things (including snorkelling suits) were soaked. It did not stop raining for 36 hours so took a while to dry everything. We spent half a day at a picnic spot called the Babinda Boulders to let the clothes dry. It has a lovely swimming hole (safe place in a river, hopefully free of crocs) but as everything was still damp we could not persuade ourselves to get wet again.

Once dry we were on the road again and moved inland up on to the Tablelands south of Atherton. There is a lot to see in this area, wildlife, waterfalls, scenic routes etc. We detoured down a single lane track and in front of us a wild black piglet suddenly appeared and raced down the path. It is unexpected sightings like that that the most entertaining. We drove the 'Waterfall Way' Scenic route stopping to view 3 waterfalls. This is the area where the Tablelands pour their rivers down onto the coastal plain. Malanda proved to be a good stopping place as we managed to spot 3 playpuses in the creek nearby. There are tree kangaroos in the area but they are difficult to spot. We saw one briefly on the ground but don't think we should count that really. I did not know there was such a thing as a tree kangaroo until coming here. These particular ones are Lumholtz's Tree Kangaroos which inhabit a very small area. They are smaller than other Kangaroos with a dark face and long tail which is used for balance in the trees.

Then we visited the Mareeba Wetlands famous for its birdwatching. Some of the serious birders we meet are a little intimidating as they are so knowledgeable and have seen so much and without fail record what they have seen, where, time, conditions etc. We are very lazy and just like to see the birds and if we are very lucky take a photograph! Mareeba should have flocks of Sarus Cranes
Orange footed bush fowl - very shyOrange footed bush fowl - very shyOrange footed bush fowl - very shy

Must be hen as she was heading into the ladies
on the lakes but they have not arrived yet.

Our next stop was at Kingfisher Park in Julatten, just inland and uphill from Port Douglas. This is a serious birding lodge (also providing a few camp sites) run by Lindsay and Keith Fisher, who are very knowledgeable about birds and wildlife. We did a guided night walk and saw amongst other things a Barn Owl wake up and pop it's head out of it's nest, a Barking Owl, a large white tailed bush rat (not like a rat at all), a Leaf Tailed Gecko, a fruit eating moth in action and (in the ladies shower) a White lipped Tree frog. It was an interesting evening.

Keith has prepared maps of the local areas showing where birds might be seen. On one it says bustards sometimes visible by the road. We drove along and there were 3 bustards. That is the sort of local knowledge I love!

Then we headed north to Cooktown, which feels like a real frontier town and is at the end of the tarmacked road. The road has only recently been surfaced, the alternative coast road is open for 4 wheel drive vehicles only. There is hardly anything on the road between Atherton and Cooktown, just a couple of roadhouses. We had run short of food staples so we stopped at the only shop en route and managed to buy a white loaf and full cream milk – there was no other choice so I took them. We had been told that there was very little in Cooktown and that it is very windy. We arrived and it is true – it is VERY windy. The Trade Winds blow at this time of the year, which is partly why Captain Cook was blown onto the reef here and damaged the Endeavour. Actually being here seeing the reef and experiencing the wind explains why it was so difficult and I am amazed he managed to get in and out of the bay. Above the town is Grassy Hill where he stood to try and work out the exit through the reef and he really wasn't sure that there was one. It must have looked daunting.

The James Cook Museum contains information about his landing as you would expect but for me the most interesting items were stories from members of the Aboriginal community, the Traditional Owners of the land as they are called here, (often abbreviated to T.O.s), especially stories taken from older people in the 60s and 70s. For instance, most Aboriginal people were moved south from this area during the war as it was believed that they would help the Japanese with guerilla warfare if they were allowed to stay. They were moved to much colder areas without any assistance with warm clothing etc and many died. Details were given about their society, such as the specialised roles that individuals held such a negotiator (with other groups for exchange of goods, resolution of disputes creating teams to hunt together at certain times of the year), medical advisor, trainer, warrior etc but all the men also had to hunt, and fish. The woman gathered up to 80% of the food and prepared it. Estimates suggest the Aboriginal people were living here as long ago as 50,000 years and they might have arrived in Australia more than 100,000 years ago.

In the Botanical Gardens we heard and saw a Wompoo Dove which we had been wanting to spot. Despite the town (only village sized really) being pleasant with some lovely houses, we didn't stay long because of the wind.

En route to Port Douglas we decided to detour inland to Laura, which again has only recently had the road tarmacked and is very remote and largely Aboriginal. Just outside the township we pulled in at a Rock Art site, Split Rock and were horrified to find between 30 and 40 4 wheel drive vehicles jamming up the whole car park. It was a couple of 'Tag Along' expeditions where people drive their own vehicle but the group move on together like the old wagon trains in the Westerns. We circled the car park and left, returning later when the 'train' pulled into Laura. The site comprised 3 'galleries' or shelters, overhangs of rock which had paintings on them. The art was done as a means of communication and often has images overlaid on top of previous work. Animals are represented as well as good and bad spirits and the arrival of Europeans. During the wet season when the Aboriginal groups moved up into the drier hills they had time then to do the paintings.

Laura itself has a shop, hotel, Town Hall and Library (see picture) and old prison, which has been relocated here from a more isolated township. Without the 4x4s it was a very quiet place.

We then did a long drive down to Mount Malloy to find a campsite for the night. Next day we went to Mossman and visited the gorge. There is a good board walk around the area but we saw nothing specific of interest, partly because there were more people around. The next day we went into Port Douglas and eventually drove up to Cape Tribulation for a couple of nights. It was not the easiest couple of days.

As we are in the wet tropics we expect rain but it has an aggravating pattern especially when trying to dry the washing. We hung the washing on the line , checked it after an hour or so and decided it was almost dry but needed another half hour. Then it poured down for 5 minutes and soaked the clothes. We waited another hour, almost dry, gave it another half hour and yes it poured again for another 5 minutes. By six o'clock we gave in and put the bedding in the dryer for a few minutes to make sure it was dry for bed time.

The next morning at breakfast the cupboard door that folds down to create a surface between cupboard and sink fell off. The hinge had corroded completely. After trying to re-screw, the hinge unsuccessfully (holes corroded away) I duct taped the front to hold things in place, hopefully. Jim then did his daily check of oil and water and found ants in the engine. As my seat is above the engine I made sure he sprayed them. Not the most auspicious start to the day.

Driving back to the Daintree River ferry later that morning a Cassowary again walked across the road in front of us. I did a little better and grabbed the camera but could not get it to work, I could only see the menu. In a panic, I shouted to Jim and he said, “Try taking off the lens cover”! My only defence was over-excitement. Anyway, I did get a couple of pictures but not good ones as she (we think) moved back into the forest. Having now viewed 2 Cassowaries we were very happy and then a couple of minutes later we turned a bend to see a male with 2 young (the males take care of the chicks) and this time we both managed to take photographs. Our Cassowary encounters more than made up for our problematic start to the day.


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7th June 2013

Did you use your night vision binoculars to find it?
7th June 2013

Bulls rule the road?
7th June 2013

Enough warnings!
8th June 2013

really lovely colours that has.

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