Holiday - Christmas 2002
That long awaited holiday period had arrived and we intend to make the most of it this year. Our last holiday was a bit of a disappointment. We went to New Caledonia, a small Island about 3 hours flying time from Australia's east coast. The Island was French for a long time so it has a different feel, our visit last year found an island that is now very expensive and offers very poor service and value for money, we were so unimpressed that we cut our holiday short.
This year we are to holiday at home and see some of Australia. Our trip started out 11.00am Friday 27th Dec 2002. We packed my little 2 seater car and headed north on the coast road via Brisbane & Sunshine Coast. The plan was to get as far up the coast in the first day & half then slow down and start to enjoy our driving holiday. The traffic was heavy around Brisbane and the Sunshine coast so we didn't get as far as we hade hoped & over nighted at Childers, stayed in a motel on the outskirts of town and had tea at a pub in the main street.
We set out early Saturday the next morning via Gin Gin, Rockhampton, Mackay and over nighted at Proserpine. Tea at a pub in town, was a good meal the best we had whilst on the road. Not so early start this morning Sunday as we don't have so far to go, we are heading for Port Douglas and are due there on Monday.
Today Sunday we go Via Ayr, Townsville, Ingham, over night at Innisfail. We stayed in the Black Marlin Motel in the centre of town. This was probably the worst motel but at least the staff were friendly and we seemed to have the place to ourselves.
Today is Monday and we only have 200 kms to go so it will be an easy day. Breakfast on the outskirts of Cairns before a short stopover in Cairns to revisit the city. The place is looking better even if they have all the water front dugup.
The trip from Cairns to Port Douglas must be one of the most beautiful drives in Australia. The road is lined with large mango trees that offer a feast to any passing motorist. The road winds its way up the coast, one minute you are right next to the sea the next looking down on it as the road climbs around the coast. The water has that crystal clear deep blue that you only find in the tropics, the changing intensity of the blue tells you how deep the water is. A quick stop for photos then grab an ice cream at Ellis Beach before the final run through the sugar cane fields to Port Douglas "Port" to the locals.
We arrived at our apartment in Villa San Michele about 1.30pm. As this is our 4th stay with them, its begining to feel like home, we even got the same apartment this time & to say thanks for visiting there was a bottle of Champagne waiting for us. Just time to drop our things then go and see how much the place has changed since our last visit. The first thing we notice is that our favourite bar has changed its name we hope that's not a bad sign.
As tomorrow is New Years Eve will need to make a dinner reservation. We started at our favourite seafood restaurant "On the Inlet", no luck they are fully booked, next we try "Salsa" same story thing are looking grim. A check with "Michelangelo's Place" and they won't take a booking but we can roll up and try our luck. We could end up with no dinner if we try that. We check with "Mango Jam" they have space so we book for 8.00pm, now we can relax. We spend the day driving around town checking out all the changes. Port Douglas is developing fast we hope it doesn't loose that village feel.
One of our big regrets is that we will not be here on a Sunday when the market is held under the big mango trees down by the harbour. Its a not to be missed event. Lots of stalls selling all types of tropical fruit and vegetables, local produce and crafts. there is something for everyone.
Its New Years Eve today and we are off to Cape Tribulation. The trip is only about 60km but you have to cross the Daintree river by ferry then the road takes you through the pristine Daintree Rainforest. The road north passes through Mossman an old sugar cane town that has some wonderful old pubs built in the Australian style, we will be back to Mossman later to visit the Mossman Gorge.

We take the turn to the ferry and arrive just in time to drive straight on. The ferry only takes about 20 cars for the 5 minute crossing The weather is overcast and gives an eiry effect to the forest as low cloud obscures the tops of the trees. As we drive into the forest the trees reach over us making it quite dark water is dripping from the trees and the smell in the air is a wonderful mixture of tropical flowers and damp earth.

The road is narrow and winding and as we were last off the ferry we have let everyone go so we can take our time and enjoy the sights and smells. Many of the bridges are wooden and single lane, we stop at a few to take pictures of the forest streams rippling over the stones as they make there way to the ocean. At every crossing one notice's the signs warning you not to enter the water or stand to close to the edge, this is salt water crocodile country and people have been taken when they ignore the signs.

We stopped at 2 spots to walk on the boardwalks that take you deep into the forest. They start in the rainforest then take you out in to the mangrove swamps. The sounds and smells are not to be missed. we saw several large Goannas (lizards) on our board walk but the most interesting was the mangrove swamp with its sulphurous smell and diversity of plants all with the most interesting root shapes. We didn't see any crocodiles but one could just imaging these pre-historic creatures in this environment.
By the time we reached Cape Tribulation the sun had appeared and the weather was beautiful. The road past Cape tribulation is 4wheel drive onlyso this is as far as we can go. A walk on the beach followed by a very nice lunch before we started to head back, this time stopping at the tea plantation. The ride back through the forest was completely different this time as the sun filtered it's way through the forest canopy and the forest took on shades of green we did not see before. Steam was rising from the forest floor and the sounds of birds were everywhere.
It was at this moment that we rounded a corner to see a sight that everyone told us we were unlike to see. Crossing the road just 50 metres ahead of us was a full grown Cassowary with 2 chicks. For those who don't know the Cassowary is a flightless bird that stands about 1.2 meters tall (4ft) and has a very distinctive blue plumage about it's head and neck. There is estimated to be only 50 breeding pairs in the Daintree forest. They are most at risk from being killed on the road so there is a 40 km speed limit and speed bumps to keep them safe. They are quite a sight but should not be approached as they can be aggressive.
We made it back across the ferry and headed to the Daintree village for afternoon tea. The run back into Port Douglas through the sugar cane fields takes about 20 minutes.
I hate to say it but we are not New Year Eve fans we had our meal at "Mango Jam" which was very nice then went for a walk around town ending up at the jetty were we watched the fish swimming in and out of a pool of light on the water. We got back to our apartment about 10.30 and decided to turn in, it would be 2003 in the morning even if we weren't awake to see it in. Up early this morning the streets are deserted everyone recovering from last nights festivities.
Port Douglas is one of the best place to visit the "Great Barrier Reef " from. We are not going out this time but on our last visit we had a wonderful day at the reef. We are not good sailors, even the swell on a lake is enough to send us green, we have been out by boat before but have not enjoyed it. Last time we went in style by helicoptor. The flight is about 40 minutes and it is the best way to see the reef system, first the flight took us out over Port Douglas before turning east and heading out to sea. We landed on a pontoon and were picked up by boat and taken to the reef platform. From here we could snorkel , scuda dive or take the semi submersable boat.
We spent our time doing all 3 and had a great lunch before the Helicopter returned to take us back. This time we went back over the Daintree Rainforest. Getting to the Great Barrier reef is not cheap but to go to North Queensland and not go is to miss the oppertunity of a life time.
We have a boat booked down at the marina to go crocodile spotting, not an organised tour just a little dingy with an outboard motor. We head off up the main channel of the "Douglas' river past all the yachts, they are a mixed bag from very large expensive looking too I wonder how long before that one sinks type. Today is one of the highest tides of the year and we have timed our trip to make the most of it. When the tide is high you can get deeper into the mangroves, however you need to watch the tide in case it turns and leaves you stuck, the though of 12 hour stranded in crocodile and mosquito infested country is not our idea of fun
We turned into the first side channel and managed to penetrate about 2 kms into the mangroves before the trees got so close together that we couldn't go any further. We cut the engine and just listened to the sounds, you don't have any idea what most of them are but they are there lots of them. Fish rising to the surface, seed pods dropping off the mangrove trees constant clicking and movement in the mangroves. Eyes and ears strained for that elusive crocodile, wanting to see one but not sure what you will do if pops up right next to the boat.
We have done this trip before and last time we saw two croc's the biggest of which was laying right under a sign which said "Beware of Estuarine Crocodiles", may be he had a sense of humour. The tide was starting to turn we could feel the direction of the water had changed it was now returning to the sea. Time for us to head back to the main channel and try another spot. The engine was giving us a few concerns, it starts easily enough but as soon as we try to accelerate it cuts out. We seem to have only 2 speed very slow or full speed, it won't run at any other setting.
As we approach the junction of our creek and the main channel it is obvious just how much water is flowing out there is much turbulence at the junction with large whirlpools in the water, as we cross a vision of our boat being swamped and us ending up in the Crocodile infested water flashes across my mined, Derek assure mey everything is fine. We head up stream, its slow going now as the tide is in full retreat, we are heading for spot where we have seen a crocodile before. The boat goes well we turn into the creek travel in about 400 meters then as soon as the boat slows down the engine cuts out, no problem Derek will soon have it going again.
Famous last words, after 15 minutes it still refuses to even splutter. We are about 6kms from where we hired the boat up a small creek in the mangroves and the tide is going out. I'm thinking don't panic Derek can get it going after all he was a mechanic once. Who's kidding who we have no tools & Derek can't even work out how the lid comes off the engine, admit it we need help. We have a mobile phone (cell phone) and yes we have a signal, the map they gave us has a phone number. I call, they will send some one straight away, nothing for it but to sit back and wait.
I look around in the bottom of the boat for something to do, these boats are usually taken out by fishermen in the hope of catching the local delicacy Barramundi, a large fish that lives in the part salt part fresh water of our estuaries. The boat bottom yelds a few good finds, fishing line, hooks (a bit rusty), in no time I have tied a few short pieces of line together and added a hook, I'm ready for fishing, well nearly there's no bait, I put a piece of mangrove leaf on the hook you never know there might be a fish that loves it. Just as I throw in my line which I think is my attempt at proving that I could have done well on "Survivor" we heard a boat engine approaching.
It's at this point that you get that feeling, you know, will he try the engine and it starts first time & make us look a complete idiots.. The boat that comes to get us is about 3 times the size of ours the guy quickly ties us along side and heads out in to the main channel. Once we are going he asks Derek to steer the boat saying he might as well have look at the engine on the way back. The problem is soon found, water in the fuel, there was a lot of rain over night and some must have found its way in. They are very apologetic and we don't have to pay.
It's time for lunch and we decide to go up to 4 mile beach have lunch then walk out on the sand flats at low tide. Because It was a very high tide the low tide is not very low so we can't go out very far, usually you can walk for miles and see all sorts of life in the pools left behind. Today is just a short walk up to the entrance of a small creek a few pictures of mangroves at low tide then back to town. Tea is at "On the Inlet" and we both try the local Barramundi followed by a big gooey desert, what diet that is suspended for the holiday season.
Today we are off to the Mossman Gorge famous for its swimming (this is fresh water so no crocodiles here) and forest walks. Although the weather is a very pleasant 28c (80f) everyday the water in the gorge is a little cool to tempt me in so we settle for the forest walk. The forest here has much taller trees so the light on the ground is much softer with patches of deep shade were the temperature drops several degrees. Because this is mountainous terrain the plants have very little top soil in which to grow or secure a grip on the ground. The large trees have very wide root bases with some stretching many meters before touching the ground
The most fascinating of these is the strangler fig which starts its life high up in the canopy then sends its roots down the host tree until they reach the ground. As the years go by the fig totally surrounds the tree strangling it until it dies, then the trees decays leaving a hollow inside the fig. Up in the canopy are many epiphytes (plants that live on other plants) these fern like plants are good at collecting water which drips from them way up above. When we get out of the forest we realise the day has warmed up quite a bit and must be about 31c (85f), we head off the Mossman town for lunch.
The town has beautiful old buildings, perhaps not old in the European sense but for a young country like ours 100 years is old. After lunch we visit a few of the small coastal villages near Mossman. It is still possible to buy a very nice house with beach front access for as little as $150,000 ($80,000US). These little villages may only have a 1 shop but if you like the simple life this is the spot, I would move tomorrow if I could
Today we are off to the Atherton Tablelands situated inland from Port Douglas about 11/2 hour drive. The road to the plateau is winding and has some good vantage points. First stop is Julatten then Mt Molloy before Mareeba then on to Kuranda were we stopped for lunch, we've been here before but last time we came up on the cable way from Cairns
This Sky Train as its called has to be one of the high points of any visit to north Queensland. You skim across the forest canopy looking down on the rain forest. Last time we returned via the Kuranda Railway, an interesting trip but by the time we got to the bottom what with all the twists and turns our stomachs had had enough. We spent a couple of hours in Kuranda visiting the Butterfly farm and taking a trip on the Barron river. We took the road up to the lookout over the Barron falls, Not so good at this time of year as there was very little water flowing.
Today is the day we leave "Port" and head inland. I came on this trip to visit Port again but Derek wanted to see the outback whilst it is in the grip of the worst drought in 100 years.
Cindy & Derek