Monthly Archives: June 2014

Far North Queensland

Is anyone actually living in Victoria this winter?! Judging by the car licence plates in all the caravan parks, most Victorians  are here in Far North Queensland enjoying the warm weather with us!
Port Douglas has changed little since our last visit in May 2012 when we attended the wedding of Ginny’s niece, Stephanie and her partner Jose. It’s still a touristy town, bustling on the main street but many vacant shops on the side streets and in the marina resorts.
Port Douglas from lookout 1
Us Port Douglas
We stayed 7 kms out at the Big 4 Glengarry park; a lovely tropical setting, and a good walk down across the Mowbray River where we also found several McMansions like this…
Huge Qlder 4
Ride-on mowers are a necessity for gardeners in this climate as the grass is just so lush and there is SO much of it!
After crossing the Daintree River on the ferry with Jan & Jamie, we stopped at Cape Tribulation – named by Captain Cook when things turned awfully pear-shaped on the HMB Endeavour. Loved the gnarled trees and plants, the Australian brush turkeys and curlews.
Australian Brush turkey
Curlew 2
The curlews take you by surprise as they stand very still and look like a garden sculpture. They will be forever known as the screaming boy birds to us now – a friend had a 3 year old staying, and in the morning he asked his mum what those boys were screaming about all night! Very accurate as that is exactly what they sound like.
The Marrdja boardwalk through mangroves and rain forest was somewhat sinister for us Westies who are used to wide open beaches with no vegetation!
Creeper Crew in rainforest Daintree road 1
Lunch at the Lync-Haven Retreat was great. In fact we have found that the quality of meals in Qld is very high quality and VERY reasonably priced. Maybe we are just have to pay way too much in WA, but even very small, remote places provide beautiful meals, and an accompanying glass of wine is always a good brand at a reasonable cost.
Ginny & Liz Port Douglas beach 2
A highlight has been catching up with Liz, a friend for 30 years. Ginny and Liz worked together at the child care centre in Kununurra in the mid 80’s, then we all got married in 1987 and had children in 1988. We’ve touched base a few times since, but it was good to get together and fill in some gaps! Liz has built a lovely home at Jullaten, high up above Mossman.
Wonga donga 1
We are now at Pinnacle Village north of Wonga Beach; great park, lots of room and beautiful trees and birds. Unfortunately tho’ they have a bluddy peacock family that wants to roost in the tree immediately over our caravan… Did you know they honk LOUDLY on awakening?!
Last night we had messy fruit bats knocking the nuts off the tree and crapping all over the ‘van! Hmmm. Ian is missing his shanghai, but our neighbour has a high pressure hose on standby so will keep you posted.

Cooktown

We took off from Atherton for Cooktown where we hoped to have warmer, drier weather and return to the the coast. That was a mistake! The drive up was very pleasant as the scenery is lovely tropical green and the road was excellent (for Queensland, as we have experienced some shockers) and the burgers at Lakeland Roadhouse were A1.

Evidence of the ferocity of Cyclone Ita which came ashore on Friday 11 April this year is evident from about 45km south of Cooktown. Huge trees uprooted and snapped off, but the vegetation is regenerating quickly – typical of the tropics and fertile soil.

We pulled up at park number 12 in the Big4 ‘van park beside a creek with lovely foliage right at the rear of our caravan. Bliss. As we set up camp it was blowing a gale, 30-40kts and started to drizzle. And overcast. Got the picture? Well, hold that vision for a week with some intermittent heavy rain and you have our experience… Even the locals were whinging! Today is Saturday the 14th and we have been here exactly two weeks – 3 days of that time have been reasonably fine including today, which dawned in glorious sunshine. Camp Cooktown 2 OK, now we have had our whinge about the weather, the positive things here are many. Once again we have friends Jan & Jamie in town, though they have set up their caravan at their friend Nicko’s place on the outskirts of town – a beautiful home with views to the coast. True tropical surroundings with all it entails including very beautiful butterflies, Australian Brush turkeys (haven’t managed to get a photo yet) and the odd ‘roo. Nickos place 3 Nickos place We immersed ourselves in the history of Cooktown. Lieutenant Cook and his crew beached HMB Endeavour in the river mouth in 1770 to repair its hull after running on to the Great Barrier Reef. Guns and anchors have been recovered from the site and are on display at the James Cook Museum, a lovely former RC Convent school dating from the 19th century. As well there are displays of equipment and artifacts from the days when gold was discovered inland at the Palmer River. There is a further museum in the main street (Charlotte St) about the town and its later history which is also interesting. Cook 1 Cooks cannon Cooks anchor We were here for the reenactment of Cook’s landing, but unfortunately it was pretty well rained out. An abreviated version was run at the ‘boat house’, but everyone got soaked to the skin and the wind was very strong and quite cold. The wet shirt and jocks at the ‘Top Pub’ was also subject to the same or worse conditions so after getting thoroughly wet and cold we pulled the pin before the 10:30pm kick off… The fireworks were also called off. Very sad for the locals who work so hard to pull together this festival each year.

A highlight was going for a joy flight in a Robinson R44 helicopter on one of the clear days and it is to be recommended – you get to see the area the town is located in and the rivers draining the hinterland. Spotted a croc trying to warm up on a sandbar. A low level zip round the coast and we approached Cooktown from the sea. Great views. Jan & Jamie Helicopter 1 Scenic flt 2 Low level coastal 1 Croc from chopper Nicko took us for a run in his boat up the Endeavour River for some kilometres. Amazing country – very tropical and lush and spotted some more crocs and wildlife. A great experience. Thank you Nicko! Cooktown waterfront 1 Endeavour River 1 Croc 2 Another fun day was a trip out to the Trevathan waterfall – Jamie even went swimming – and then on to the Lion’s Den Hotel. This old pub has at Helenvale has an entertaining history, and the lunch was yummy as well. Button orchid Waterfall In fact we have had some excellent food here. Nicko is the local seafood purveyor and we have had some very nice Coral Trout and Red Emperor – we also have some prawns packed in the freezer for further down the track. We seem to be spending a lot of time at the Sovereign hotel – great beer, scotch, Sauv Blanc and meals. We are off tonight for a final posh noshup in their a la carte restaurant…  Had a damned fine meal at the River of Gold restaurant as well.

Our little caravan was our water and wind proof home and it did a great job of keeping us comfortable, even on the two days it did not stop raining… In spite of the inclement weather experience we have found Cooktown to be a fun and interesting spot to spend time. Friendly people and beautiful surrounding country. We will be back!

The Atherton Tableland

Getting to this region inevitably involved climbing as we travelled from the drier ‘flat-lands’ up to the Atherton Tableland. The contrast between the dry country and the wet tropics is amazing over such a short distance (around 300km). There are so many interesting places and small towns to visit that we stayed for a week at the Big4 in Atherton, using this as a central base to explore from. It is a beautiful park filled with lush tropical gardens and the brush turkeys, wallabies and many bird species like this red-browed finch also wander freely among the caravans.
Finch 1
The higher altitude meant a big change in climate – as one of the locals stated it is ‘always overcast’ and light rain occurs almost every day. Combined with the fertile volcanic soils, almost anything grows here.
It was great to meet up again with our friends Jan and Jamie. We all feasted on the fantastic local produce, especially the fresh fruit and vegetables. Ginny ate the best papaya she’s ever tasted, combined with local yoghurt …
Ginny enjoying a paw-paw & yoghurt
Two other foodie highlights:
1. Gallo Dairyland successfully combined two favourite foods – cheese and chocolate – OMG!
2. We were a bit ho hum about the coffee at the Coffee Works at Mareeba – that happens with a group of tea drinkers – but we LOVED the chocolates and liqueurs, and the museum’s collection of coffee paraphernalia
The restored heritage village of Herberton is outstanding – in fact it has spoilt us for all future museums etc as we often say ‘it’s not as good as Herberton’! Initially built to service a tin mining boom, the village is now home to many local buildings that have been relocated to this site rather than being demolished. For example, an old school.
Herberton3
Clearly some women migrants brought totally unsuitable clothes – think fox furs, and posh hats and gloves.
Herberton4
The pharmacy made you glad to be living today – some of the equipment and proposed ‘cures’ were enough to shock you into good health or kill you!
Herberton1
Several printing presses have been restored….
Herberton2
The Hou Wang Temple and museum tells the history of Atherton’s Chinese community, and clearly these migrants copped a hard time from the locals. They ended up with their own Chinatown area segregated from the rest of the town – except for gambling nights maybe!
Chinese temple
Some were able to buy farm land only to have it confiscated in the 1920s for the Soldier Resettlement Scheme. They had to move away to find work so Chinatown was deserted, looted and in a really bad state. The National Trust has now restored the temple, many local people have returned the historic art pieces and the volunteers do a great job in keeping this history alive.
The Avenue of Honour is a community project to pay tribute to our soldiers who have died in Afghanistan. It is located beside beautiful Lake Tinaroo with a backdrop of water and mountains, and the avenue is lined by native flame trees which flower in November around Remembrance Day. Total tear jerker for us both.
Ave of Honour 3
Ave of Honour 1
A question for you:
The last tobacco crop to be grown in Australia was here in the Atherton Tablelands – but what year was that? (Hint – it was in this century…)

Cobbold Gorge

After leaving Undara, a tyre repair was required so we stopped in Georgetown – not the fab suburb of Washington DC that we also love, but a truly great little outback town. While the local tyre fix-it man a.k.a. ‘the Chinaman’ toiled away, we managed to eat icecreams, find op shop bargains and buy award-winning sausages from the local butcher (yummy) and even found … joy of joys – a clean toilet with toilet paper, soap, water AND papertowels! What an amazing start to the day. The fuel outlet put together the BEST corned beef and pickle sandwiches as well…
Then off on the 42 km trip out to Cobbold Gorge. The owners had warned us that there was a section of gravel road with some ‘hairy bits’ s ( two parts, totaling about 70km of dirt ). It was a slow trip with our caravan, but no problems. We lowered tyre pressures all round, car and caravan, and had a much more enjoyable gravel road experience…
The Terry family own Robin Hood station and provide access to tours on and around the gorge. Funnily enough, they had always swum in a local waterhole but hadn’t realised it was fed by this beautiful gorge. It wasn’t discovered until 1994 when one of the sons went exploring in a dinghy!
The rest as they say is history, and the whole experience was very pleasant – think real outback, dusty roads, hot temperatures … and contrast this with an infinity pool overlooking tall gum trees, a great bar and really skilled staff and guides. As well the caravan park was very quiet with a lot of bird life and trees.
Bar Cobbold 4
Cobbold 2
The 3 hour tour started with a bush walk and our tour guide Alex spoke about the local plants and their various uses by local Aboriginal people – fascinating, and subtly different to what we know from living in the Kimberley region.
Cobbold gorge 1
Cobbold gorge 7
Gidji-gidji berries
Cobbold gorge 5
The grave of John Corbett was near the banks of the Robertson River. His gravestone reads that he had been “murdered by blacks” but in retrospect it is far more likely that he was set up and murdered by one or more Europeans after his gold. However the blame was laid on the local Aboriginal people and the authorities killed many men, women and children in what was described as a  ‘meritous retribution’. A chilling story.
Grave Cobbold 1
Grave Cobbold 2
A visit to the butterfly caves was a great chance to see a multitude of the Common Crow or oleander butterflies hovering all around us – such beautiful creatures.
Next was our trip up the very narrow gorge in an electric pontoon about 6 foot wide. As it was so quiet we were able to sneak up on Clyde the Freshwater Crocodile, sunning himself!
Cobbold gorge 6
And the very pretty green tree snake making himself scarce…
Green tree snake 1 Green tree snake 2
The good news is that both Undara and Cobbold Gorge can be visited without 4WD access or even a vehicle! We met several people who had travelled from Cairns on the Savannah Lander, an amazing outback train tour coordinating tours with all these interesting places. Great for overseas visitors, or anyone who is a bit over being on the road….
The turn off to both Cobbold Gorge and the Undara Lava Tubes are from the Savannah Way, the highway that crosses northern Australia from Cairns to Broome. This is on our soon ‘to do’ list of trips… Maybe next year or 2016. Watch this space.
We would love to hear from anyone who has done this trip…

The Undara Experience!

We deviated from the Great Inland Way west to the Savannah Way to visit the Undara Lava Tubes as this trip had been highly recommended by the locals.
Back in 2008, we saw the ongoing lava flows on Big Island in Hawaii that ooze out to the sea creating huge steam plumes – very spectacular and basically what happened to form the lava tubes at Undara. The tubes are formed when a lava flow melts (1200C or more) the surrounding rock and then a crust forms of cooling lava over the liquid river… In Undara this happened thousands of years ago.
Lava tube 7
Our guided tour through these lava ‘tubes’ which were formed by one of the Earth’s longest lava flows was fascinating as we explored the beautiful underground caves and their very colourful rock formations. The entrance to these is where the tube roof has collapsed in places. These collapses are plainly visible from above as they have vegetation growing in them which has been spared the periodic fire that the plain above has experienced.
Lava tube 1
Lava tube 3
Lava tube 8
These ancient volcanic rocks cooled under different pressures – the scoria was full of gas and frothed like the head on a good Guinness whereas the granite was formed under intense pressure and now is as hard as a …rock really!
Undara 5
The nearby Kalkani Crater was a more traditional ‘fountain’ volcano and we walked up to the top and around the rim. This huge hollow is home to many birds and several species of wallabies that were new to us.
Undara 3 Rock walaby 2
Undara has many types of accommodation and tours and is the venue for the two annual music events; Opera in the Outback’ and the Outback Rock and Blues concert – what a magical place to visit!