We have arrived in Cooktown for 4 nights to make final preparations for the journey up the Cape. Need to acquire some more supplies to restock the pantry and freezer. On the way into Cooktown it was necessary to stop at the famous Lions Den Hotel, it is down a side road off the highway near Black Mountain, built in 1875 and considered the oldest operating hotel in Queensland. There is a large area out the back to camp in as well. We were a little late getting there and the kitchen had closed apart from pizzas. We were a tad hungry and fortunately so because the pizzas were significantly larger than ‘normal’. We had a light snack for dinner that night.
Cooktown was initially established in the late 1800s as a service centre for the inland goldfields and the point at which people arrived by ship to commence the trek inland, many Chinese immigrants headed for the Palmer River goldfields from here after arriving on boats from southern China. As well as being a gateway to the Cape it is now mostly a tourist town for the outer Great Barrier Reef and fishing fanatics. Captain Cook looms large over the township, but more on him later. In the caravan park we had a large shady site to set up the van in. It was quite cool at nights and Allthego was again molested by bugs in the early evening, wounds everywhere. But will recover. Had just got past the last attack.
Next morning we went off on the historical walk around the town (up and down the main street) highlighting most of it’s memorable past. Captain Cook features extensively as well as the Chinese immigrants and those off to the goldfields. The indigenous take on ‘first contact’ and all these other things is documented with a large mural tableau of painted tiles. It is called a Milbi Wall, a piece of reconcilation art work. There is an annual combined Cook landing re-enactment, music and reconciliation festival and business development forum. Similar to the one at Town of 1770 where Cook also landed.
It was on this walk that we passed the town dock and there all tied up was a prawn boat. Selling prawns. Just like they do down on the spit on the Gold Coast. Couldn’t resist a lunch of prawns on bread rolls, rather a can of tuna on cruskits and vita wheat biscuits as was planned. Keep them for another day! It was time to go looking for Cook …………….
We have had three days here on the Cape. After the Bloomfield Track drive we have largely lounged around the coastline, up and down from our campsite catching the sights and sounds of this very attractive location. It never ceases to amaze us on our travels of the immense natural beauty this country has and which we can enjoy and experience. This little stretch of coastline has it in spades. No wonder some people come here to visit and stay!
The beaches and fringing rainforest are simply beautiful, hard not to keep clicking the camera button. Allthego’s favourite were Thornton and Cape Trib Beach itself. The Thornton Beach cafe had a magic location just back from the sand. One could stay there all day gazing out across the ocean having the odd snack or two.
The wildlife was on show as well. A Cassowary sighting in the ‘wild’ is one of the things you hope for here. And we had three! Enough said, a very strange looking bird indeed. A throw back in time. It is the third largest flightless bird after the ostrich and emu. The male looks after the young until they mature whilst the female wanders off seeking other males. She may have 4 or 5 litters a year. Unfortunately, not all survive.
A lace monitor also showed its face on the track out to the lookout over Cape Tribulation Beach. We originally saw it beside the track camouflaged among the leaves and sticks, it took off when it realised we had spotted it. Another insect to leave a mark has been the humble mozzie and midges. These have ravaged Allthego in one all out attack. Wounds everywhere. Will recover.
We have moved on to Cooktown and after four nights will be leaving tomorrow for Laura, our next stop on the way orth. Some blogging on our time in Cooktown will have to wait a while as the old internet is a little unreliable (in some places non existent) as we move further up the Cape. We will be off the air now for about ten days. A big catchup looms!
We are now heading on a short detour from the main game of travelling to the top of Cape York. We have backtracked from Daintree Village and crossed over the Daintree River for a few days on the Cape Tribulation Peninsular, staying at the Rainforest Village Camping ground which is about half way up the Peninsular. It is 15km from the ferry crossing with a further 25 km or so to get to Cape Trib (as the locals seem to call it). It was called Cape Tribulation by Captain Cook, because it was the prominent land feature he saw when the Endeavour ran onto a reef off of present day Cooktown……it was the start of all his ‘tribulations’. After leaving the ferry we stopped in at a lookout over the mouth of the Daintree River. You could see all the way down the coast to Cairns, albeit the mountains shrouded in cloud and haze. The mouth of the Daintree shallows out and is quite clogged these days due to sediment washing down from the farmlands. Back in the old days the river ran clear and the rainforest was down to the coastline. Great view, we had some morning tea here before heading for the campground.
The blog is a little out of sequence now as we have been having some internet issues, there is little Telstra coverage on the Peninsular, particularly at our campground where Optus seems to be ok. Telstra is patchy elsewhere as well. Apparently, there is a spot at low tide when you can go out a way and get connected. Allthego was thinking of the Peter Pan movie and the clock in the crocodile going ‘tick tok’ when thinking of going out at low tide to log on. Maybe, today you would throw your mobile to the crocodile and have Spotify play some catchy tune rather than just ‘tick tok’.
Anyway, we have given this a miss and just try to connect where possible. The weather has been forecast to be great for the next few days, clear blue skies, sunny no cloud etc. Tough stuff. So, the challenge of the Bloomfield Track has been accepted and we decided to do this as a first day exercise. This track is written up extensively and is pictured as some horror experience. The track links Cape Tribulation to Cooktown in the north via a coastal traverse through the rainforest, up and over a couple of ranges and across the Bloomfield River. It is not far to Bloomfield from Cape Trib, about 37 km of gravel and from Wujal Wujal it is all bitumen to Cooktown.
We are doing the Track well into the dry season and were not expecting any great issues. Signs at the start gave the necessary warnings particularly emphasizing vans and trailers were not allowed. Notwithstanding this we passed a number of vans coming the other way. Must say it didn’t look that much of an issue. The only real drama was getting through the 20cm of water across the road at Emmagen Creek, earlier in the season this can be at bonnet height. Climbing the Donovan Range involved a 1 in 5 grade and the Cowie Range a bit steeper at 1 in 3 grade. The Cowie descent was a little unnerving, seemed to be straight down! Both of these climbs had concrete caps on the high points making it quite an easy climb in low gears. If it was wet it would no doubt have been a bit more dramatic.
We arrived in Wujal Wujal unscathed and had a quick stopover at he Bloomfield Falls before heading off up the road towards Cooktown. Wujal Wujal is an indigenous community on the banks of the Bloomfield River. We could have returned back down the Track but decide to head back the long way along the Mulligan Highway via Lakefield and across the range to Mossman and then back across the Daintree River on the Ferry to Cape Trib.
Briefly stopped at Black Mountain. This is a great big pile of black boulders, formed by a quite involved geological process. It is a revered indigenous place and there are many stories of people going missing among the boulders. hissing noises etc etc.
Sounds like a long way back to Cape Trib, well it was.
We have been here at Daintree Village for three days overlooking the River in a very pleasant camping ground. An unpowered site so we have had to be a little frugal with power and water. Where we are located was underwater in the last big flood, the water some 8 metres above normal. The weather continues to be a bit unsettled, humid, cloudy mornings with sun appearing late morning to shine on the solar panels and get the batteries charged up. Lots of people coming and going in all styles of transport, beaten up combi wagons and trucks through to a 5th wheeler set up. Mostly Queenslanders, a few NSW and the odd Victorian number plate.
Countryside very green, surrounded by lush rainforest. Paddocks full of Brahman cattle, lots of newborns all surrounded by flocks of white birds, scavenging for insects and other stuff that the cattle dig up whilst browsing around the grass.
Have taken the almost compulsory hour long croc spotting river cruise. The river really shallows out not far upstream from the campground and so our croc tour boat heads back downstream. We have seen 4 or 5 crocodiles from the boat, one rather large female sunning herself on a sandbank and a big four and half metre male just ‘floating’ with it’s head and back just out of the water.
He is the so called dominant male in this section of the river. We have seen crocodiles before but they do have a certain captivating aura, very cold and menacing! Some river birds were also out looking around for food.
Coming up from Port Douglas we again passed through Mossman. The Bakery was open, and, they had a vanilla slice! It was a traditional style but the filling was a little bland and the icing sweet, held together well and didn’t ooze out the sides too much. Still a little disappointing. Hope to get another one when we are in Cooktown in a few days time.
We leave Daintree Village tomorrow and cross over the river and head for Cape Tribulation and the Bloomfield Track for a few days before returning here and heading to Cooktown on the inland road.
Have had a short day trip of about 20km up the coast to Mossman Gorge. This is a low level rainforest environment (as opposed to those in the Gold Coast hinterland which are highland ones) through which the Mossman River tumbles down from the highlands to the sea. When not in flood it is a tranquil flowing stream but can turn into a torrent after rain. An easy stroll along the boardwalk takes you to a couple of swimming holes among the river boulders. A few people enjoying a splash around in the shallow waters, jungle perch swimming around among them. Very green with numerous species of trees and creepers.
We were thankful for a number of rest spots along the way, Allthego found it not nearly as demanding as the Mt Bartle Frere expedition. Homealone had her usual experience of crossing a swinging bridge over a short gorge section. It was a pleasant couple of hours among the trees and beside the River. Later back in the Mossman township the River flowed beside the road along sandy banks and overhanging trees.
It is, however, time for an update on the vanilla slices we have encountered since the last commentary. It is often said that when one passes into North Queensland there can be a bit of a cultural shift. In the case of vanilla slices we have certainly found this to be the case. There is a lot of sugar cane in North Queensland and the industry has a murky past when it comes to labour practices. First, it was the ‘black birding’ of South Pacific Islanders to work on the farms as arguably slave labour and after this the ‘Italian invasion’ of workers in the industry, many of who later became landowners in their own right. There is a lot of South Sea Islander and Italian cultural influence in the North that has permeated and filtered into Australian life today. All good.
Except, it seems to have influenced vanilla slices. We came across a vanilla slice at the bakery in Home Hill with pink icing (the Italian input) dusted with desiccated coconut (the South Sea Islander influence). There was another one with a layer of cream on a milky white filling at South Mourilyan. The icing in both cases was quite sweet. To top it off in Port Douglas we got one with passionfruit icing, with a couple of seeds for good measure. None of these really measured up to expectations. But, interesting culinary variations to say the least. In Port Douglas we also came across a baker who had the ‘Best Ever French Vanilla Slice’, but the shop was shut and wouldn’t reopen till we left town a couple of days later. Knew we were coming obviously! Try them another time!
So, we are now moving to Daintree Village a short 56 km hop north and the gateway to Cape Tribulation. It is now feeling like we are starting the Cape journey. We may not see a vanilla slice for 2 or 3 weeks.
Port Douglas is a short 70km drive north of Cairns along the picturesque Captain Cook Highway (hasn’t been renamed yet?) and we got there in good time to scout around the caravan parks before booking in. There are a couple of parks on the road into the Port township but they resembled sardine tins with every one packed in tightly, so we retraced our steps and stayed at the Big 4 out on the highway. Nice spot, plenty of room on our site among green surrounds, and about a 10km drive into town.
Port Douglas is an interesting place, of itself there is not a lot to in the town except sit around and eat. A couple of wildlife places nearby to see if you are into crocodiles or perhaps an international tourist stopping in for a quick rainforest experience. It is though a big base for trips out to the reef for fishing, diving etc as well as day tours north for those who are without the right transport. We are only doing land things on this trip so the reef is not on our agenda, could be different next time if we get up here again in the future. So we sat around a bit and ate. The Sunday markets were an interesting collection of stalls, a lot of local stuff rather than China imports being recycled. Nice photography and art work, plenty of fruit and veg, soap and candles, woodwork etc. A couple of Taro card readers were not seeming to do much business, nor was a ‘spiritual’ advisor. What was missing were second books and CDs! No old junk either! Plenty of social distancing (sic).
Did though have a look around at the scenery and views from Flagstaff Hill which looks south down 4 Mile Beach, most of the high end resorts front this beach where there is a netted swimming enclosure to hopefully protect from Box jellyfish, which are most unpleasant and lethal. The much feared Irukandji jelly fish can get through the netting but, apparently, there have only been 3 deaths worldwide from this creature in the last 100 years. November to May is peak season. I don’t know if crocs can get in but they have been seen on 4 Mile, they are around all the time.
Did a short trip back down the coast to Wangetti Beach. This place a little news worthy last Saturday night. Police disrupted 300 or so revelers enjoying a music concert here on the beach. They were offending COVID restrictions. Things got a little nasty with some arrests. Not much evidence of the frivolity, apart from some empty coconut shells scattered around the foreshore.
The weather has been a bit unsettled for us , cool and cloudy in the morning, fines up in the afternoon with a warm sun. Seems as though it wants to rain at times but doesn’t, maybe it is getting ready early for the wet? Hope it holds off for a month.
Off to get a vanilla slice!
Day 2 has seen us in the city again for lunch aboard the Prawn Star, very pleasant setting and the prawns and bugs were very fresh and tasty. Slight downside was the waitress kept calling Allthego “darlin,” (he knows he is one and doesn’t need to be told) which makes the hair on the back of his neck curl. She was OK though despite having peeled a few prawns in her time. Then, so has Allthego. It was then off on a drive along the northern Cairns beaches and a short stop at Palm Cove. Nice spot.
Our last day in the city was devoted to a visit to the Cairns Aquarium. Very impressive presentation. Not just a lot of tanks filled with fish. It was set up as a story. The layout followed water from where it falls in the highlands of the Great Dividing Range down to the sea, through the creeks, streams and mangroves out to the Reef. Along the way the fish and land creatures in each of the environments were on display. The first fresh water fish we saw at the Aquarium was the Jungle Perch. At our Big Crystal Creek stopover we had seen a number of these in the creek, a couple of ‘experts’ had told us then they were Jungle Perch. Plenty of snakes, frogs and some juvenile salt water crocs also on display. Not a lot of writing to read and get lost in, visually informing!
Back to the van for a late lunch of ham and cheese bagels. Allthego had got these from the local Artisan Bakery near the Big 4. But they did not bake humble vanilla slices! Just some fancy lemon and ginger slices. Allthego has two vanilla slices in review and is awaiting a third to report on. Hopefully, it will be found in Port Douglas, our next stop north.
After lunch and feet up it was back into town for a cruise and dinner out on the harbour aboard the Spirit of Darwin, a big catamaran. This was an interesting experience in the COVID world. About 40% capacity and 60% of the usual price, only for Queenslanders though! The standard seafood buffet gone, allocated seating, social distancing. The three course meal was pre selected when you booked, choice of 2 entrees and 2 mains. Very tasty meal, prepared and served with style and a smile.
Captain told us things were pretty tough, many boats had just been tied up until it was all over. Smaller boats couldn’t take enough customers to make it economic.
So, we are now off north to Port Douglas for a few days.
Now in Cairns staying at the Big 4 for four nights a few km from the city centre. We are staying an extra night here, so now a day behind the schedule but who cares! Getting a bit slow as the years go by and not wanting to rush around. The worrying thing though about this Big 4 is that there is clear evidence of the existence of Big Foot in these parts. Tracks everywhere and I have seen quite a few big feet wandering around this place. So we are a bit wary at night. It seems though that if you follow the Big Feet they all lead to the same place! Yes, the ablutions block! Quite tricky.
Have had a wander around the city waterfront and boat harbour, not a lot of people around and many of the boats are in dock rather than out somewhere which would be the normal. Allthego was rather keen to go on a jet ski croc spotting tour, but Homealone was not keen on doing a double with him. This was despite the fact that the jet skis go faster than the crocs! So, we agreed to have some prawns the next day aboard the Prawn Star which consists of three boats moored up beside the wharf. Settled for lunch at the Pier Hotel, plenty of social distancing going on for sure.
But guess who is in town? NED KELLY. Or more correctly the National Gallery has a tour of Sidney Nolan’s series of Ned Kelly paintings on the road. All 26 of them and they are here in Cairns!
Now, my readers will know that our last trip before this COVID 19 thing was down to north east Victoria for a trip around Kelly country. During that journey we dropped into the National Gallery, where the paintings normally are, to see the series. BUT they had gone off on this national tour. So we missed them and thought we would need to return to Canberra in the future to see them. No, they came to us in Cairns! So, we will need some other reason to return to Canberra and north east Victoria in the future. Not hard to find one.
Quite an impressive exhibition. The paintings were laid out in a semi historical time sequence and illustrated the Kelly story, overlaid with Nolan’s own interpretations of environment and violence taking place in apparently peaceful and calm settings. Can recommend seeing them.
More to do tomorrow, back to the van for happy hour!
We are now away from Bowen on Highway 1 headed for Cairns. Planning to stop overnight at Big Crystal Creek NP about 45k north of Townsville. There was a fair bit of roadworks along this stretch, indeed the trip from north of Bundaberg has numerous stretches being widened and overtaking lanes built, a few bridges as well. Red lights pull you up and after a 5 minute wait off you go. The stop go people no longer have to stand beside the road and twist their poles, walkie talkies are in use and buttons are pushed that seem to change the red to green. Ladies seem to do a lot of this work, diversity and gender balance in action I suppose!
Big Crystal Creek a great layover. No squeezy sites here plenty of air in the great outdoors. We had our first camp fire and had some pork sausages over the flames. A number of bush turkeys roamed around looking for leftovers. The creek very picturesque and only a short stroll from the campground. A little highlight was seeing some quite large jungle perch lurking around the edges of the rocks. Could have spent another night here relaxing but had to move on.
Listening to the radio, ABC only thing we could get, there was a segment on the 100th anniversary on 2 August of a small town called El Arish, named after a battle in Egypt. Lo and behold we were a few short kilometres from the town. So pulled in to have a look. The town originated as a soldier settlement after WW1, cane farms cut by hand from the tropical jungle. Tough life. The town’s war memorial had undergone a revamp and a 2 metre wide ‘replica’ of the Australian ‘Rising Sun’ Army Badge installed. The State Governor had been up for the celebrations. Must have been an occasion, one of the town’s residents said there was quite a lot of bureaucracy involved in getting it done! What’s new! We devoured our crab roll obtained on the waterfront at Cardwell in the nearby park.
The stopover at El Arish had held us up a bit and Allthego was stretched time wise now to complete the climb of Mt Bartle Freere, Queensland tallest mountain at around 1600m or so. Apparently, you need something like 15 hrs to go up and down and camp overnight so it was going to be a bit of a challenge in the 2 hrs we had available. But he was going to give it a go! Came down smiling. Apparently, the mountain is generally shrouded in cloud and mist. Allthego wondered how did anyone know how high the mountain really was! It would remain a mystery.
After the walk we charged off into Cairns to the Big 4 just out of town for a few days.
We stopped over in Bowen for a couple of nights at a van park overlooking Queens Bay. It seems the van park mounted a campaign some time ago to hold back the ocean and has a 3m wall that drops straight onto the beach and into a metre or so of water at high tide. Either side of this wall the sea has moved inland and there is a much more sedate stroll onto the beach from the parkland. The van park is winning at the moment but it’s time will come. There is a big yellow line along the edge of the wall that stops people falling in. Park a bit squeezy space wise but clean and tidy. The owner, the NRMA, has introduced ‘surge pricing’, like Uber, and catches you out in popular times. The manager did some on the spot averaging to not make it quite so price aggressive. Allthego asked him whether that meant staying overnight would be free in slack times, a sly smile from the manager. No! Still a nasty pricing development for Nomads on the road.
Had a pleasant day driving around town looking at the murals. Bowen is another one of those places that has them all over town on the sides of buildings, illustrating the town’s history. The two big water towers are adorned with murals also. Had some tasty Fish n Chips for lunch at the Nth Queensland Cruising Yacht Club overlooking Boat Harbour, very laid back place. Very conscious of Covid here, social distancing etc.
Later in the afternoon it was back to Queens Bay and a climb up to the lookout over Horseshoe Bay. Weather was a bit cloudy and hazy, Bowen was also living up to its windy reputation. So the sea surface was ruffled and the water was not showing off the translucent bluey green that Horseshoe Bay is famous for. Still a great view down from the lookout.
Now heading for Cairns with a stopover at Big Crystal Creek NP, north of Townsville, for the night.