Queensland – 22 to 26 Oct 2013

Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef

It felt pretty hot and humid in Cairns even at about 9am. (Queenslanders don’t hold with daylight saving, so our watches went back an hour.) Having collected the hire car we set off up Captain Cook Highway (known south of Cairns as Bruce Highway) towards Kewarra Beach where we found and were shown round 12 Heron, aka Mango Haven, the lovely house we were so kindly lent.

Mango Haven

Mango Haven

The bedrooms are round the spacious living area, which in turn opens into a veranda and then onto a shaded patio area. There is a garden with tropical trees and plants, backing onto the reserve, unspoilt tropical woodland with a little creek, so home to mozzies. There is a lovely little salt water pool which we made good use of. Once we had settled in we drove up the coast to Palm Cove, the next resort but one, where we found a very pleasant Italian restaurant for lunch. We also wandered along the beach, noting the warnings about stingers and crocs in the ocean, the latter sometimes coming up onto the beach.

By now some of the bird calls were becoming familiar, though the birds themselves were not always easy to spot. Sightings today included silver gulls, Australian pied oystercatchers, Australian magpies, magpie larks, ibis (straw-necked?) and then a good view of two helmeted friar birds in a tree in the front garden. There were lovely butterflies flitting around too: most of which will have to be identified later, though the big electric-blue Ulysses is unmistakable. There were also smaller bright blue ones, with a brown underside, a big orange one with a dark brown border, whites, smaller white ones with black markings, and a big black one with white markings. Our day ended with an evening stroll by the beach under the nearly full moon.

A weather forecast check revealed that Tuesday was likely to be showery with the weather improving as the week went on, so we decided to leave our Reef visit till Thursday, and set off into Cairns. We started off in Caffiend, a coffee shop which had been recommended, and then split up to explore till lunchtime. Jane and Chris found their way down to the promenade, which Richard and Katharine had a little shopping spree, during which K acquired a green-and-white beach resort outfit, a floppy blue sunhat and some smartwool socks in a sale – thinking ahead to trekking in New Zealand. We then met the others for a very pleasant fish/salad lunch, in another recommended restaurant, before exploring the waterfront area and finding where our boat would leave from on Thursday. In the carpark there were some little doves with blue eyes, as yet to be identified. In the cane fields there were lots of (intermediate?) egrets, but the big thrill was to see lots of wallabies grazing in a field as we drove back home for an evening swim, shower and supper. It had indeed been a bit showery in Cairns, but around 8pm the heavy rain set in, and didn’t stop much before 2am, though we were told this was nothing compared with the true rainy season.

As on Tuesday the dawn chorus was loud, verging on the raucous, and the kookaburras were in good voice. It was much fresher and sunnier on Wednesday morning (23 October) so Chris had his before-breakfast swim, before making coffee for us all, which we had with lovely tropical fruit salad. Then we set out northwards up the Captain Cook Highway. Chris and Jane spent the day exploring Port Douglas, trying out yet another recommended restaurant, but Richard had persuaded Katharine that they should trek a trail in the Daintree National Park, which nobody seemed to know anything about. We applied anti-insect lotion and sunscreen and then shouldering our packs and bidding farewell to Chris and Jane we set off along a marked path, noticing big palms and trees with lots of epiphytes, trailing creepers, some with nasty little, or not so little, thorns and spines, all sorts and shapes of ferns, and trailing bamboos. There were also colourful flowers and at the start several butterflies, including a big black-and-white one with red lower wing tips, a brown and orange one almost like a big bee, and a smaller blueish-white one.

After walking for about half an hour we came to a fast-flowing stream which we walked along till the trail markers (pink, orange, yellow or blue tapes hanging from branches, so easily visible on the not very visible path) showed that we had to cross. The heavy rain of the previous night meant that we had to wade, up to our knees. We found a stout stick and got across without falling in. Then we took off our boots, emptied them out, removing leeches (YUK!) and wringing out our socks. We moved off before too many more leeches dropped onto us from the trees … At that stage we found a sign board welcoming us to the trail, informing us that the round trip was about 10km, strenuous, and that we should allow about 8 1/2 hours to complete it. By now it was about midday. But we had never intended to attempt the whole trail, just the first 3 1/2 km to a patch of coral ferns. It wasn’t too steep at first, though it was slow going as it was hot and humid. We heard birds all the time, and cicadas in big loud bursts, shutting off as suddenly as they had started, but most of the life and movement was happening up in the canopy. There were blossoms and fruit on the ground, including some bright blue fruit. We plodded upwards and onwards, and finally came to a signboard announcing that we had, after about an hour, reached the 1km mark! The second km mark took us another 1 hour 40 and a few slips and tumbles to reach, so we found a big split rock and stopped for our lunch, at about 1.45. The other side of the rock looked steep and scrambly, so, not knowing how long the descent would take, we decided that discretion was the better part of valour dressing up our failure in posh words?) and set off back down the track, as we knew it would be dark around 6pm, and that Jane and Chris would expect us at 5pm.

The 2km mark about 2000ft up the mountain

The 2km mark about 2000ft up the mountain

With the benefit of hindsight we would have started much earlier and taken proper walking poles. But it was still a great experience, and Katharine’s new socks did a great job, in spite of two immersions. They certainly kept the leeches out.

Then there was our day out on the Great Barrier Reef on the old pearl lugger the ‘Falla’ skippered by an eccentric American called Doug who, with his young crew, turned it all into one long party.  About 20km from shore we anchored and snorkelled (Richard went diving as well). The water is very clear, warm and only about 3m deep on the reef.

Doug, the skipper of the 'Falla'

IMG_3789 Doug, the skipper of the ‘Falla’ and a fish

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