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Published: December 14th 2020
Next stop was the coastal village of Palm Cove, just north of Cairns. We stayed at the massive Novotel Palm Cove Resort, which was about as far removed in style and ambience from the laid back peace and quiet of Great Keppel Island as it was possible to get. The tennis courts, large gym, and golf course with its attached pro shop were a bit wasted on us - the parents of three youngsters under eight. Our only prerequisites were a Kids Club and a pool. We didn't think it was compulsory to get around the resort's jogging track at a satisfactory pace every morning and then follow it up with a brisk 18 holes, but given the numbers of our fellow guests who seemed to be doing exactly that it was hard to be sure. We spent a lot of time lazing by the pool and wandering the very pleasant foreshore of Palm Cove village.
We thought we should at least attempt to drag our offspring away from the Kids Club for a day and show them some of the local sights. We thought we'd chosen wisely with a round trip to Kuranda up on the Atherton Tableland inland
from Cairns. Everyone did indeed seem to enjoy our ride up there via the eight kilometres of Skyrail Rainforest Cableway over the spectacular ancient tropical rainforest. It's supposedly the world's oldest such habitat at 180 million years, and is apparently tens of millions of years older than its famous Amazonian cousin. Perhaps unsurprisingly our offspring's enthusiasm seemed to wane a bit as we wandered through Kuranda's apparently well known markets, and by the time we climbed aboard the Kuranda Scenic Railway for the return trip, sleep seemed to be about the only thing on their minds. The railway was built in the late 1800s, and its fifteen tunnels were dug using picks and shovels. If that wasn't enough to impress the masses, what about the 37 kilometres of track through thick rainforest and the 37 bridges across cavernous ravines. But no, the snoring continued, interrupted only by the very occasional sleepy "are we there yet dad?" I'd clearly failed in my duties as an engineer father. Well at least Issy and I enjoyed the day.
We decided against subjecting our youngsters to more sightseeing, so they stayed at the Kids Club while we spent a day heading north. Now
I've been on some spectacular coastal drives in my time - the Great Ocean Road from Apollo Bay to Port Campbell, and the Amalfi Drive immediately spring to mind. I reckon however that the road from Cairns to Port Douglas has got to be right up there with the best of them - steep jungle clad mountains dipping into turquoise sand-fringed waters - it takes a bit of beating. We left our hire car in Port Douglas and joined a tour group to take us into the depths of the rainforest. First cab off the rank was a boat cruise along the massive Daintree River in search of crocodiles. If what we'd been told was anything to go by we wouldn't have needed to look too hard. It seems that this is crocodile central. We were warned to keep our hands and feet well inside the boat, as these creatures can apparently smell tourists from a mile away. We were told that the local fishermen always needed to be sure to moor their boats high up on the bank as the crocs were well known for lying in wait for them to return. And if you were unlucky enough to
fall off a boat or the ferry, well "goodnight nurse". We crossed the river on the ferry and then continued on through the rainforest to the legendary Cape Tribulation "where the rainforest meets the reef". It's apparently seriously wet there. We were told that some parts of the forest have sometimes received more than nine metres of rainfall in a year. Nine metres! Clearly no need to turn the sprinklers on too often.
We wandered nervously onto the Cape's spectacular beach past signs warning about crocodiles, sharks and deadly marine stringers. The beach looked peaceful enough, but there was clearly no shortage of dangerous critters lying in wait to make a mess of our day. In subsequent years of travelling I've often heard people from overseas express great reluctance about coming to our shores. Snakes and spiders seem to get the most mentions, followed by sharks, with crocs and marine stingers seemingly almost an afterthought. I think any Nervous Nellie foreigners contemplating a trip to the Daintree might want to think again. We stopped at a luxurious looking lodge in the middle of the rainforest for lunch. I was satisfied we'd be safe from the sharks and stingers, but
measures to keep the crocs out weren't immediately evident. I'm glad we weren't staying there. I don't think I would have slept too well. Final stop was the also spectacular Mossman Gorge. If we needed any more convincing that this is a wet place, there it was in the form of massive two and more metre high boulders that had been tossed down by the torrent as if they were tennis balls.
Issy and I decided that we couldn't leave Palm Cove without taking an obligatory snorkeling trip out to the Great Barrier Reef. We discovered that one of the key local sports at the resort was monitoring the forecast wind strength and wave height. These were flashed up on every TV screen and updated on an hourly basis. It seems that if the waves were too high, the tours wouldn't go. Fortunately for us the day of our tour was calm, so off we set. They had mass tourism down to a fine art then, and I suspect even more so now. Our large craft was packed with enthusiastic snorkelers, and the crew spent most of trip out to the reef showing videos about how to snorkel safely, whilst avoiding damaging the reef. We arrived at a series of large permanently moored pontoons, and were directed to a extensive roped off area where snorkeling was permitted. There was clearly a very strong focus on preserving this fragile environment even then, which can only be applauded. The snorkeling was excellent. The uber-wealthy amongst the crowd took up the option of a short helicopter flight over the surrounding reefs, the highlight of which was said to be the apparently famous Heart Reef. I've seen pictures of this. Now I know I'm renowned for not having any imagination whatsoever, but apparently if you half close your eyes or you've ingested some mind altering substances, you might be tempted to think that it's shaped a bit like a heart.
Our time in FNQ (Far North Queensland for the uninitiated - I get the impression a lot of the locals would like to secede from the rest of the State, or indeed from the whole country) ended and it was off to the airport for the flight home. As I approached the counter to check in I couldn't help but notice the rather large gent doing likewise at the counter next to ours. It seems that to cater for his girth he'd decided to buy himself two seats. The man behind the counter was very apologetic - "yes sir, I understand you've bough two seats, but unfortunately we're not able to give you two seats together"..... I've often wondered how that eventually worked out....
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