Cooktown

Cooktown is a pretty town, set on the banks of both the Coral Sea and the Endeavour River. It is in Far North Queensland and seen as one of those ‘last frontier’ places, from where adventurous people head into the wilderness to the north, hoping to make it to ‘The Top of the Cape’ (Cape York Peninsula). We left Port Douglas fairly early, for Cooktown, and so drove on roads that were new to us. We had expected lush rainforest, but instead got dry terrain, much like the Northern Territory. Then, a mountain would loom ahead and we’d have green foliage again, but gum trees for the most part. We met some people at the lookout, who had driven from Cape Tribulation and taken about 2 hours. They said it could be achieved, at that moment, with a 2WD. It pays to ask other travellers as you go, for the opportunity to increase your experiences.

gumtrees, anthills and distant hills

As we got closer to Cooktown, cows appeared on the road more frequently and about 30km out is Black Mountain. If you didn’t know its name, you’d have no trouble remembering it, as there are about 3 moderate-sized hills that are made up of boulders, or rocks, that are jet black. It is a bit like hitting coal mountain. Apparently it is lichen.

Black Mountain

There are few places to stop on this stretch, but Lakeside is worth the stop (not sure where the lake is, though). When we arrived at the campground, our site was backing on to a rainforest and things scuttled in there. There’s a note in the toilets, to turn off lights as lights attract bugs, bugs attract frogs and frogs attract snakes. Yippee.

We made our way in to town where there was a water park, as it isn’t safe to swim in the sea here. First stop the Botanic Gardens, which has examples of the type of plant samples collected by Banks and Cook but is quite small.

pond at Botanic Gardens
the famous Cooktown orchid, in its natural habitat

On to Cook’s Lookout at Grassy Hill, one of the best lookouts we both thought we’d ever seen. It’s probably a good time to mention that the area got it’s name from when Captain Cook beached his ship here for repairs in 1770. The lookout takes in a 360 degree view of the area, which I tried to recreate, taking a small turn each time.

Having awoken early the next day, we set off to find Trevethan Falls, that were supposedly 13.5 km out of town. We drove about 30km to the turnoff and then had a 4WD adventure, trying to get there. When the road/track became very rough and demanding, with no end in sight, we decided to turn around and head to the beach at Mt Amos. We didn’t find that, either, and hit private property, so turned back once more. Locals we asked had never heard of the falls, so…

rough track leading nowhere

Now was the time to hit the markets, which were collections of produce and trash, or fundraising efforts with a strong local feel, and we walked the foreshore, seeing the monuments and Milbi Wall, a mosaic retelling of the history of the area, by the first nations people.

There were also people fishing and everyone keeping well back from the water – crocodile warnings everywhere. Cooktown really established itself on the map when, in 1873, tens of thousands of people from around the world landed here in search of gold and the port became the State’s busiest.

One of those last minute decisions saw us heading for Mount Cook, late in the day to do the 6km return walk up to the lookout. In fact, there are two lookouts, and the first is quite easy to reach, with gently raising paths, lined with trees and shrubs. It is also lined with spider webs, I discovered, or it was until I decided to wear all of them. We made the first section quite easily but the path was littered with leaves and even though we had good trekking sandals, I was anticipating a slippery walk home, when the increased slope would be downward.

The second section was definitely more difficult, with a constant upward climb, although not the steepest I have done. When we finally made it to the main lookout, it was quite a relief and the strong breeze was refreshing. Another traveller at the campground said that he found the really strong winds at the top made him feel like superman. So, either he’s been on the kryptonite or it is windier in the morning (when he went). Definitely do the walk if you visit here, as it is pretty and the view at the end is stunning. But don’t leave it until late in the day. The advice when you get there is to allow 2 hours and that you should be of reasonable fitness. It took us about 1 ¼ hours, but we were moving pretty fast, as walks go.

Isabella Falls was first on our list for the day. It is a short drive from town and very close to the road.

From here the plan was to go to Hope Vale to see some Indigenous art and on the Elim Beach, where there are coloured sands. Hope Vale was poorly sign-posted and the road just ended, leaving us to drive uncertainly around the community. Feeling that this was intrusive, we headed back but saw a sign for Endevour Falls and pulled in to the Tourist park , behind which, after a 2 minute walk we made our way to the small but pretty falls behind the park. It is a very attractive park, 20 minutes out of Cooktown, with shady sites and well-maintained.

the small Endeavour Falls

Why not visit Keating’s Lagoon? Only a short way out of Cooktown, we went to the birdwatchers paradise and spied keenly for the object of our visit.

Mulbabidgee, or Keatings Landing

Cooktown is known as a windy city, so when you hear the ‘waves’ of wind tearing through the park at night, fear not. There is quite a bit to do, so that while you reach for the furthest point you can attempt in Queensland, there are a few spots before you turn around or press on. Usually there are plenty of international tourists, but we met only three while there and a handful of Australians who weren’t in lockdown.

Safe travels. Water, hat and sunscreen (and a jacket for the evenings).

Upper Daintree

From our base in Port Douglas, we drove to the upper Daintree Rainforest, which began with a short ferry ride over the Daintree River, at a cost of $31 a car (return). Despite having decided to drive all the way through to Cape Tribulation before going to any of the attractions on side roads, we did stop at the first lookout and try to get a clear shot of the vista.

At the Cape we did a walk to Kulki (gool-gee), the name given by the traditional owners, the Eastern Kuku Yalanji. It is a short walk to the beach, although you can’t swim here, due to crocodiles. We weren’t going to walk on the beach, but saw about 12 people walking back from the other end, so thought we might as well. Silly, really, considering that crocodiles will sit and watch people patiently, waiting for the time to be right. The appearance, shortly after entering the sand, of not one but three park rangers, eased my mind, although they said it was fine to walk on the beach, but definitely don’t swim there, as there is a resident croc who inhabits the waters, usually swimming to find food.

Cape Tribulation

It was quite a lovely spot, and seeing huge, old mango trees at the water’s edge was extraordinary. We next stopped at Dubuji Boardwalk, which means place of spirits in Kuku Yalanji. It is a mangrove walk and the name fits, as it is quite eerie.

Dubuji

The information taught us a lot about the foods in the forest, for animals and birds, and we saw a lot of colorful fungi. A big feature are the fan palms and it was an easy ring route.

An unexpected sign after leaving here had us stop at Madja Boardwalk. Madja means jungle or rainforest, and the place holds spiritual significance for the traditional owners. At this spot, the walk is quite dark and the environment, once again, is mangrove. Although short, there are information boards along the walk, plenty of added examples of colourful  fungi, and it ends at a vast expanse that I think is the end of either Noah or Oliver Creek, or both.

The last walk was Jindalba and we chose the shorter, 700m track. This had a lot of classic rainforest, with ferns, streams and very unusual birds hooting and whistling overhead. As we hot into our car, a bright flash of wings had us look up to see a wompoo fruit dove, or two in fact, sitting in their nest above our car. Hard camera shots, I have to say.

The Daintree is said to be the oldest tropical rainforest in the world (https://australia.com) and if I had to choose upper or lower, I think I’d say lower, just because it’s more accessible from major towns. The large areas of swamp in the upper Daintree are bleak but incredibly important to the rest of the world’s ecological health.

Why not see them both? If you have a 4WD you could take the infamous Bloomfield track to Cooktown. Try to get information from other travellers who have done it very recently, before attempting this, especially if you have little or no 4WD experience. We were told, once in Cooktown, that there was so little water we could have crossd but not without an offroad van.

Safe travels. Take water, hat and sunscreen. Ask around if you are unsure and don’t pat the crocodiles.

Water, water everywhere

And what else would you expect to find on one of Australia’s iconic drives – The Great Ocean Road?

Popular with surfers and the location of International Surf Carnivals, the region also boasts The Twelve Apostles and other limestone features that are accessible by safe walkways and carparks.

Ridgeback
Arches
Bays

For Jez’s Water Water Everywhere challenge. this 243 km stretch includes World Heritage areas.

Mossman Gorge

The road to Mossman Gorge from the BIG4 Glangarry caravan park is very good and it took about 20 minutes. We arrived at the visitor center and had to perform some COVID-19 tasks before heading in to the souvenir and information centre, procuring some souvenirs after hard decisions. Many of the items are designed or made by local first nations people and the money raised is ethically distributed.

We took the shuttle into the Gorge, happy to support the Indigenous enterprise of running the Centre and maintain the National Park. They run every 15 minutes and cost $10.50 pp.

The gorge is in the Daintree Rainforest, which is 120 million years old. Unbelievable. So beautiful, and even though its another rainforest, its quite different from those of the Atherton tablelands. This is the third time we have been to the Gorge, and each of the other times we went in the water at the swimming hole. However, today there was a warning and the water was churned and dark, running swiftly over rocks. We also had a close call with wildlife, as a wild boar was ferreting close to the path and we rushed past, hoping it wouldn’t pursue us.

the calm water is decieving – strong undercurrents can sweep you away

There are two walks you can do and we did the longer, 2.4km one, that had small offshoots to it and were there a total of 3.5 hours, including the coffee we had at the end, once the shuttle had returned us.

This is unmissable, with beauty and wonder at every turn.

Take a hat, water and sunscreen. Maybe your camera, too. Only leave footprints!

Port Douglas

There is something about the stretch of water ribboning your drive that is uplifting. We had taken this road a number of times before, but with development it had altered. The day was overcast, and a soft rain would set in from time to time, as ahead a tall mountain was topped with clouds and the water to our right reflected the dull hue of the sky. Somehow it maintained a degree of turquoise, which lessened the threat of the waves rolling right in, to the edge of the road. At some stages, as far as we could see, the water was at our side, round tight bends and narrow, rocky ways.

At last our speed increased and the road straightened, revealing sugar cane on either side and greater rainforest vegetation. We were early, so headed in to Port Douglas and were thrilled to find the same casual ambience, the mix of one-off and practical shops and, there must be a heaven – the markets.

So many wonderful wares that are made by the seller and fresh fruit, balms and one proprietor assuring a customer that his black garlic product would cure her hearing loss. We bought wisely for the most part, then headed to a bruncheon spot and walked the town, with its heritage buildings, sought-after wedding venues and foliage bright enough to doubt it was real.

Big4 Glengarry Park is a 10 minute drive from Port Douglas and beautifully maintained. The sites are large and there were plenty of amenities, except working washing machines, but everyone seemed to manage this. The water activities on offer were perfect for the weather and despite the park being almost full, we didn’t ever feel crowded. This branch of parks are really suited to families and we like that atmosphere.

Once again, stone curlews wailed in the evening, through the night and in the early morning. A nearby camper was visited each day by a family of 3 and they said they had seen the offspring from birth until this, 4 weeks later.

Exploring the town, we walked Four Mile Beach and felt as if we walked the entirety, up and back. Oddly enough, after a refreshing dip, we saw a lookout up the side of the headland and decided to not only do that, but continue what was, in fact, O’Halloran Hill walk and continue along the coast until we reached the park near where the markets were on Saturday.

Excellent views from this walk, back down the beach,

out across the ocean and then to the bay.

The whole place is pretty accessible on foot and on the last trip I walked past the old train station and inlet, only to leanr later that crocs often venture on the road, too. I’m not sure if it’s true, but enough visitors to the region have been gobbled up, for me to have a healthy caution.

We found a funky lunch bar and had vegan icecream at the icecreamery (3 choices!!!!).

cof

Visit here before it loses it’s charm and beauty. So many things are close by if the town isn’t enough for you. We overheard our neighbours saying they come here every year since retiring 11 years ago and always find something new to see. You might, too.

Safe travels. Carry water, your hat and sunscreen and wear your bathers/togs/swimsuit everywhere.

Cairns and surrounds

For years, Cairns has been a Mecca for those seeking the tropical pleasures of Australia. Set on the ocean, with good access to the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest, this large city has the capacity to lodge many visitors.

On our recent visit, we travelled via Kuranda, which is a scenic but winding way to go, and headed to the foreshore.

Stopping in at Muddy’s café, they provided coffee and vegan brownie slice before we walked the entire foreshore and saw the lagoon, various playgrounds (some with water parks) and the birdlife on the mudflats.

Many people don’t realise that Cairns is a mudflat and when the tide goes out it is less attractive. Beware of crocodiles along the foreshore and look for boats heading out to the reef along the channel.

Cairns Botanic Gardens was next on the list and it’s incredible, with tiered walks and historical information. We had a map, but spent so long trying to photograph butterflies in the conservatory, that the day proceeded quicker than we did and we only saw about a third of the Gardens.

On leaving, we saw a very unusual tree, with a heavily spiked trunk and blossoms like a cotton field. It explained the tufts of white gossamer that lined the path on our entry to the park and the culprit is Malvaceae, or the silk floss tree, of South America.

I’ve since learnt that the Gardens are divided into three sections, so look into that before you go so that you can prioritise what you see. We headed out early for Kuranda and stopped first at Lake Placid Recreation Reserve.

A popular, picturesque destination, with BBQs, toilets and a playground, we were surprised to see several ‘beware of the crocodiles’ signs, given that many people hold weddings here. My imagination runs away with me.

It was a short drive from here to Kuranda and we stopped at the Barron Falls Railway Station and lookout, having taken the train from Cairns to Kuranda some years ago. The view is pretty impressive and optimised in the wet season, but we don’t usually go then, as it curtails many activities and is very humid. We arrived when the train was in the station, so in time to see it snake away through the forest.

Barron Falls

The train is a wonderful experience, as it is an old train that enables you to have the doors open as you travel, and passes through stunning scenery. Many people return via the chairlift, but there’s also the community bus.

Kuranda scenic railway

The Barron Gorge scenic drive was very pretty and most people, unlike us, were walking or jogging it. At the end is the Barron Gorge Hydroelectric Power Station, complete with bridge. As with the Falls, at the end of Winter there was merely a trickle, but the bridge is quite high and beware, as it is windy and not for the faint hearted.

Wrights Lookout afforded sweeping views of the valley before we headed for the town.

Our plan was to go to Kuranda, fondly remembered as a place where the train dropped us off and we drifted among craft stores and local goods. Like many places, 20 years does a lot of damage and we found a quiet commercial centre selling goods from India and Bali, with a few very special shops selling local artwork. The ArtCo-op had glass beadwork, pottery and silk, along with painting and other craft. It was really good and the prices are as you’d expect, with a few bargains amongst the treasure. There are Indigenous goods for sale, but not all are from the area, as commercial products are sold through a kind of co-op, which is Australi-wide, so if you want local goods, just ask.

There are coffee shops (buy local), a supermarket and plenty of eateries, although with Covid so recent the busy multicultural vibe was missing.

Cairns is the best place from which to board a boat and travel to the Great Barrier Reef, but you can see our last trip there, here.

Cairns won’t disappoint. Take hats, sunscreen and water.

Atherton Tabelelands

The Atherton Tablelands, about 90km south west of Cairns, were probably our best-loved destination in 2020. Lush and green and, as they are at a high altitude, they provide Queenslanders in the tropics with a cool destination for steamy summers.

On our way inland from Ingham, we stopped at the Hinchinbrook Lookout which was pretty impressive. Hinchinbrook Island is huge and the waterways snake through the outlets and past the mainland prettily.

Hinchinbrook Island, part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park

Hinchinbrook is the largest island national park in Australia and we noticed some unusual conservation practices in the area, like this over bridge, below, designed to give creatues like koalas a way over the highway and there was an underpass for those unable or unwilling to use the bridge.

overpass/underpass for animals

Our lunch stop was the Tully train station, developed in about 1926 and with all the charm of an old Queenslander.

pineapples, sugar cane, avocados, mangoes and the sugar cane burners

The way from here was winding but so varied that it was very interesting. Banana plantations joined sugar cane and avocadoes are appearing now, with the occasional mango. The Bonadio RV and Nature park (situated on a farm) was well-signed and the hardest part was finding and fitting in to a powered site. It was packed. They’ve set up an area where they feed the wildlife and we saw paddy melon kangaroos (see video below), brush turkeys, birdlife and possums. We went for a walk beside the creek, which is well worn, and enjoyed the cool breeze and platypus sightings. The stone curlews let out their baby-like wails at night.

stone curlews
pademelon

There are so many things to see in Atherton and we packed it in so that we were out each day by 8 and returned about 4. I’ll give a quick photo summary of what we did/saw. Feel free to post any questions.

cathederal fig tree
Mobo Creek Crater Walk
Josephine Falls
roadside cassowary – you have to be on the lookout
curtain fig tree in a mabi forest
Yungaburra
Lake Barrine and bull kauris
Malanda Falls – a good waterhole if it’s hot
Ellinjaa Falls
Zillie Falls
Windy Hill, first wind farm constructed in Queensland
Millstream Falls
Mount Hypipamee Crater
Dinner Falls

The Nerada Tea Company, making Australia’s only tea, has excellent devonshire tea, views of Mt. Bartle Frere (Queensland’s highest mountain) and well-known for easy sightings of tree kangaroos (they’re not everywhere, you know).

There are so many things to see and do and plenty of caravan parks, towns and free/cheap camping, but remember to check if there are conditions such as having your own ensuite, to qualify. The actual town of Atherton is quite large and we were able to get groceries, carparts, camping things, etc., there. We were near Yungaburra, which is a charming town with a supermarket, butcher, cafes, knick-knacks, etc. and many farms sell their goods at the roadside, with an honesty system (you put the money in a tin and they’ll collect it sometime in the day).

It wasn’t until our way out that we stopped at the Mareeba Information Centre and it had good historical displays, cafe and information.

The Mareeba Coffee Works, visited on our return loop, is a must-see and they deliver coffee anywhere in Australia for free. I can’t believe I didn’t take any photos as the place is quirky and delicious.

Undara Lava Tubes are not too far, but we saw them later, too, so you’ll have to wait for my post on that.

We would go to Atherton again, for sure. There were plenty of places we didn’t see or would see again. During late August the days were warm (not quite suitable for shorts) and the nights cold (had the quilt out).

Safe travels! Take hats, water and sunscreen.

Ingham – art, waterfalls and more.

Proud enough of its history to paint the walls with it, this quaint country town has a great feeling. Artistic, cultural and well-maintained, Ingham is a farming area, with sugar and dairy thriving in this tropical area.

JK’s delicatessan mural

Let’s start with a coffee, and there were a few choices, but we chose JK’s delicatessen. In Adelaide, that wouldn’t be an unusual name, but way out east it’s very unusal, as the first white settlers were predominantly from the UK and they have ‘milk bars’ and now cafes. A good selection of coffees, teas and vegan sweets and it was very large.

As we travelled, many people told us we had to stop in Ingham, as it had a strong Italian ‘flavour’ and this wasn’t a big draw card, but then we found the Mercer Lane Mosaic.

The Rainbow Serpent, acknowldging the traditional owners’ dreamtime story about the area’s history.

A project that was co-ordinated by Karen Venables, it involved about 2000 locals and visitors who created mosaics to represent the history and diversity of the Hinchinbrook Shire.

Local artist, Kate Carr, did most of them and they are mosaics because it’s quick to learn and represented a popular artform of Italy, from where the greater percentage of the population come (https://www.hinchinbrookway.com.au/do/mercer-lane). Merceer Lane is 50m of cultural celebration and commemoration. There are even columns with family history, which fascinated me and I thought every town should do it.

We made our way to an economical campsite, on a farm, set up and left the van so that we could explore Wallaman Falls.

It was a beautiful 50km drive through sugar cane and cattle farms to Girringun National Park.

The falls, Australia’s highest single drop waterfall, are impressive and after viewing from the top, we decided to do the walk to the bottom which was steep, but easy on the way down.

Alan clambered over rocks to get as close as possible to the Falls , but I stayed back, unsure of the path he had taken and cautious after seeing a black snake.

the view as you near the bottom

The walk back was pretty demanding, nearly all uphill and steep. The falls are about 250km high and all in all we were there about 2 hours, including lunch.

We made it back to our campsite, only to be told that we couldn’t stay because we didn’t have a shower in our van. We had thought self-contained meant having our own toilet, but we were told we had to have a shower, by council regs. and would have to leave. This may be a Queensland thing, but other travellers we spoke to had not heard of it. In fast-approaching dark we were eaten by mozzies as we packed and, in the dark, we headed for the town caravan park, which was very welcoming and had drive-through sites.

The next morning we went to the TYTO wetlands, named after an endangered owl of the area. The wetlands are home to over 200 birds, and we thought we’d get a peaceful walk in before travelling on.

It is a very picturesque park and the paths are lovely and level. However, from the birdwatching gazebo, top right, above, I took a shot of what I thought was a log. As we continued, we saw a sign that said there’d been recent crocodile sightings, and we joked about whether my log was actually a croc, as you do.

Well, every rustle in the grass, interspersed by long tunnels of flattened reeds, had us jumping nervously. We decided to head back to the car and, as we travelled along, I put on my glasses and went through the photos. You’ve probably guessed by now…

Across the river had been no log.

Travel safe, take water, hat and your glasses. Ingham is well worth a visit.