I flew up to Cairns, Far Northern Queensland, in winter, and was accosted by the heat to such an extent that I had to shed off layers of clothing at the closest public bathrooms— it was overwhelming. When I had left rural NSW, it was 3 degrees celsius with a windchill that felt like minus ten. In Cairns it felt like I was in a kiln.
The rich and famous spend their days at Port Douglas, about fifty minutes north of the airport. I on the other hand, am neither rich, nor famous, so I hired a tiny little three cylinder car that threatened to black out everytime the air conditioning went on, and I stayed at Palm Cove. Palm Cove is beautiful, and it’s also pricey, but I think it has more character than Port Douglas, without the price tag. My accommodation was budgetish, so a few streets away from the beachfront, and only a short walk in the stifling humidity. I was not there to swim; there are crocodiles and stingers in the water in Far Northern Queensland, and while the winter keeps the stingers at bay, it does nothing to deter the crocs. The beach at Palm Cove has a small area netted off for swimming which is designed to keep the crocs out, but last time I checked, crocodiles have legs and are more than capable of walking along the beach (which they do at night), and entering the netted area. In fact it’s the perfect way for them to be guaranteed a quick and easy meal— wait until the tourists trustingly enter the netted area and wham! Breakfast, lunch and dinner all in one. As is my way, I became fascinated with the crocs.
The reason for my trip was to see the Daintree Rainforest— the oldest subtropical rainforest in the world, reputed to be older than the Amazon. Despite the heat and the small motor, that tiny little car faithfully puttered along for many hundreds of kilometres. From Cairns, it is almost a 300 kilometre round trip through the Daintree, to Cape Tribulation. Cape Tribulation is within the Daintree National Park, and is where the sealed road ends, with further travel requiring a 4WD. I left early in the morning and made my way up through some of the most incredible coastline I have ever seen. White sandy beaches, mesmerising blue waters, all empty of course, because crocs and stingers. I should explain stingers to you, just in case you’re not Australian and are not familiar with them. The correct name for them is Irukandji Jellyfish, and they are one of the deadliest creatures in the world. You can survive a sting if you are treated correctly and quickly, but they are usually fatal. It is reported that after being stung the symptoms can include cramping, nausea and a feeling of impending doom. Um, probably because there is impending doom is my guess? You are advised to NOT enter the water from November through to March without a stinger suit, but my advice is better, just stay out of the water full stop! Crocs AND stingers? How about, NO!
As I drove up the coast I would occasionally pull over to some of the empty beaches, and there were always signs warning you to stay out of the water. Even small waterways and canals have the warning— if there’s water, there may be crocs. As is human nature, people don’t always listen and they have been killed by the crocs. I must admit, it’s such a temptation. It is so stifling hot, and the water so blue and beautiful; what could it hurt to take just a quick dip? I didn’t want to find out so I stayed on shore.
There was so much to see and do on the way up the coast. Hartley’s Crocodile Farm was so wonderful I also went back the following day, and then a quick stop at the Mossman Gorge. My plan was to drive up to Cape Tribulation, through the Daintree Rainforest, and then return to Palm Cove for the night. It was a huge undertaking, but achievable.
Once you reach the Daintree River there is a ferry you drive your car onto, to cross to the other side and drive up to Cape Tribulation. While waiting for the ferry there are signs warning you to stay in your car because of the crocodiles, and I sat eagerly, hoping to catch a glimpse or two of killers. Nothing.
Words cannot express the magnificence of the Daintree. It was like being in a different world. I drove through the canopy and it was gloomy and overcast, with ancient ferns and palms hanging over the road. I unwound my window so I could hear the sounds of the frogs and birds, most of them native to this part of the world. I felt so alone and vulnerable there; nothing around but pure rainforest wilderness, and the foliage was thick and green like a jungle. As I slowly turned a corner I was forced to break hard, an elusive, and rare creature slowly crossed the road in front of me— it was a cassowary! Cassowaries are incredibly beautiful, prehistoric looking birds that can be quite deadly when disturbed. They are the third tallest, second heaviest, and most dangerous birds in the world, and are rarely seen in the wild. I was mesmerised by the sight, but also desperately trying to find my camera. I managed to get a few photos of the blue-headed, long eye-lashed creature heading back to the bush, and incredibly, saw another smaller one not far from it. It was a moment I’ll never forget.
I made a number of stops along the way, and then finally reached Cape Tribulation, and despite all of the crocodile and cassowary warnings, I just had to take a walk along the beach. It was so utterly remote, it was unnerving. An older couple sat on beach chairs near the entrance to the beach, feeding the greedy bush turkeys, and once I turned the corner, stood on the sand and looked at the endless stretch of coastline in front of me, I felt such a pang of aloneness, it scared me. There I was, looking out to the Great Barrier Reef in one of the most beautiful places on earth, and so far from anywhere familiar. I took photos, walked for a while, watched out cautiously for crocodiles, and then quietly made my way back to the car. It was a haunting experience.
The humidity was in the eighties so when I saw a sign for The Daintree Icecream Company, I couldn’t get my car down the long driveway quickly enough. The driveway was tree-lined, but not any old trees— each one was a different, exotic, tropical fruit tree. Many I had never heard of. Soon enough I sat in the shade eating two tropical fruit flavoured scoops of icecream, and admiring the tea bushes.
By the time I reached Port Douglas I was ravenous, so Mocka’s Pies was a sight for sore eyes. They had row upon row of pies to choose from, but for me it was a no-brainer— I had the crocodile pie! It seemed so fitting; they eat us and we eat them— the perfect life cycle! I know this sounds cliched, but it’s true— the delicious crocodile pie tasted like slightly fishy chicken in a light mornay style gravy. It was a real treat and the only way my day could have improved any more would have been if I could have bought a pair of crocodile skin shoes.
I have done a lot of travelling in my life, but my trip through the Daintree is up there as one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. The sheer remoteness, the beauty, and the incredible landscapes have stayed alive in my memory. Whenever I even think about Far North Queensland I picture myself on the beach at Cape Tribulation, feeling so alone and so small, yet so incredibly joyful to have experienced such an incredible part of the world.