It was a free day on our tour of Australia – Day 14 (Monday) for Roger & Vee – but, on this type of holiday, there are no truly free days, only days with no group activities but all sorts of optional activities for individuals. Today some of our group took an excursion to Kuranda, returning on the skyway. Roger & Vee – together with Americans Melissa, her daughter Mia (8), and Kate – took the trip to the Daintree National Park which has World Heritage listing to protect its exceptional rain forest biodiversity.
It was an early start: we set the alarm for 5.30 am and we were collected before 7 am for a trip of over 11 hours. Our vehicle was a special four-wheel drive Isuzu Warrior and our driver and guide was a young man called Greg who spoke in the traditional fashion of young Ozzies in which every sentence ended with an upward lilt which made it sound like a question.
Greg collected tourists from several Cairns hotels and then drove north to collect more tourists from hotels in Fort Douglas. Once we had everybody, we proceeded further north up the Captain Cook Highway which is winding road hugging the beautiful coastline with glorious beaches, so it is a good idea to sit on the right as Vee & Roger did.
It was humid (tropical) and hot (33C/91F) and here in Far North Queensland (FNQ) it was still the so-called wet season. We passed areas which grew sugar cane and tea and saw fields with lots of wallabies and signs warning of electric ants (apparently they can give a shock to workmen).
At 9.30 am, we reached “the Daintree” (named after a colonial official) and we were taken on a one-hour cruise on the River Daintree in the hope of seeing the crocodiles which inhabit these waters. The thing with viewing animals is that the situation is always unpredictable. Our river guide had been doing the job for 13 years and had names for all the adult crocodiles in his patch of the river.
Currently the dominant male (“the big fella”) is a croc called Scarface; the guide’s favourite is Elizabeth or Lizzie; and others include Fang, Scooter, Lucky, Lumpy, Gummy and even Eugene. But we did not see a single adult crocodile – it was too hot and they were resting below water. However, we did manage to spot two baby crocodiles sunbathing on logs (and, with some assistance from Photoshop, perhaps we can make these tiddlers look like giants). Apparently the best time to see crocs is in the Ozzie winter. Our river guide explained that “The food chain is brutal” and, even in the case of crocodiles which are at the top of the local food chain, only about 1% survive to adulthood.
Our next visit was to the Daintree Discovery Centre where cleverly constructed boardwalks enable the visitor to view the rain forest from different heights without posing a threat to the delicate ecology. Huge trees – often entwined by extensive creepers – and the buzz of insects made for an atmospheric experience. At this point, we were driven to a spot in the national park where we took a steep, winding set of rough steps down to an open-air eating area where we were served with a delicious lunch of steak, sausage, fish and salad. Vee managed to spot a Ulysses butterfly which has brilliant blue markings.
From here, we drove to Cape Tribulation, named by James Cook when his ship the “Endeavour” struck a local reef in 1770. The cape is billed as “where the rain forest meets the reef” and beyond this point the road north stops and only four-wheel drives and brave hearts will suffice. We walked on the local beach which sparkled with its shiny mica sand reaching down to the turquoise sea.
Turning south for the journey back, we stopped at the Daintree Ice Cream Company where for AU$ 6 we purchased scoops of ice cream in each of the four flavours of the day which happened to be coconut, mango, blueberry and wattle seed. Sitting in the hot sunshine outside by palm trees eating four flavours of ice cream is one definition of Heaven. Next we were driven to the Alexandra Range Lookout for more spectacular views and photo opportunities.
At this point, we took a vehicle ferry which our driver Greg had used earlier in the day while we were on the river. The return ferry trip cost him (or at least his company) AU$ 78. The absence of any bridge into the Daintree and the high cost of the ferry are intended to limit access and development of this special ecology. We had throughly enjoyed our day in the rain forest (we don’t have a lot of it at home in London).
Tomorrow we fly to Sydney …