Aus Update 38 - Townsville to Cairns, Daintree, Cape Tribulation, Bloomfield Track & Cooktown

<Paula> 26th April 2007 - 28th April.   Our first day in Townsville was mainly spent relaxing under a palm tree on the water front looking out at Magnetic Island.  Townsville has this amazing waterfront space for the public.  It is called The Strand.  At one end is a rock pool for swimming, which they attempt to keep out the jelly fish (or Stingers as they are called up here), but they still warn you about them.  At the other end they have this amazing water playground for kids, it is so cool.  It is just like a regular playground that you would find in a park only water is flowing over it at all times.  The picture below shows the bucket at the top, it fills and then tips water all over everything.  It makes you want to borrow someones child so you can go and try it out.  The parkland between the two has lots of other playgrounds  and picnic tables.  They also have fenced off areas for swimming along the beach which are nets that are designed to keep the stingers out.  They drag a net across every now and then because some do get in.  And there are lifeguards on duty.  It was such an amazing place it was surprising how quiet it was.  We did notice all the signs saying it was stinger season from November to May, which of course is now.  They also have these mailbox looking things that have vinegar in them just in case you get stung, we thought that was very nice of them.

On the afternoon of the 26th we were booked in to have a 20 week scan, some of you may know what that is about.  It is just to see how the baby is developing.  It was very exciting to see the photos although I have to admit some of them had to be interpreted for me to even see what was what.  Everything appears to be progessing as expected, which is good news.  I know some of you want to see the next photo (specifically some of my family members), others of you may want to pass this one by, we will not be offended in the slightest if you give it a miss.  We will also not be offended if you can not make head nor tail of it.

One other specific thing we did while in Townsville, apart from spend some time on the internet and go swimming, was a visit to Castle Hill.  It is a hill just behind the  CBD over looking the area with 360 degrees views.  Here are some photos we took of the town.

After attending the Townsville City Church we headed north stopping at Crystal Creek, which was seriously crystal clear water.  We stopped at both the little creek and the big creek.   The Little Crystal Creek was up in the mountains, the road to get there and the bridge that went over the swimming hole was constructed between 1930 and 1935, using unemployed men during the depression.  Single men where given 7 weeks work and married men were given 10 weeks work at 2 bob a day.  The bridge is no masterpiece but very nice.  They built a wooden structure and then built the masonery around it.  It is a very steep windy road they carved out of the side of the mountain, and it was predominately done by hand labour.  They had very little machinery for the job.   We also stopped at Big Crystal Creek - the swimming hole was a lot bigger, hence the name.

We stayed the night in Ingham.  It was a great caravan park, lots of shade both morning and night, too much friendly wildlife, lots of lush grass and a superb salt water pool to cool off in.   Chris used to opportunity of the shade to wash the dust off the car with a bucket of water, which is allowed up here. One thing that has really stood out here is how green everything is, they call this area 'The Green Way'.  The other main thing is the plethora of sugar cane.  The following is a photo of some of the wildlife that visited us, this is the cutest and the first tree frogs we have seen.  Oh and we have never seen so many cane toads, ever.

29th April 2007.  We visited the highest single drop waterfall in Australia,  Wallaman Falls.  It was really worth the drive.  The rainbow at the bottom really made the whole thing look amazing, although it didn't come out that great in the photo.  The height of the falls is 268m and the pool depth below the falls is 20m.

In Cardwell we stopped to take a look at the bush telegraph and post office.  You will notice in the photo it has been surpassed by the cell phone tower behind the building.  The telegraph came through here in 1893, and this town was the center for Northern Queensland.  Any information that left the area or came into the area came through this little building.  What an interesting life the people would have lead that ran the office, hope they weren't gossips.

We had to take a picture of the gumboot at Tully.  This town boasts of having the most annual rainfall of any town in Australia.  The gumboot commemorates the record rainfall they recieved in 1950 which was 7.9m

We stopped at a caravan park just outside of Innisfall where the owner (a kiwi) showed us photos of last years cyclone Larry.  The photo that got me was the one of the caravan that was completely smashed and  upside down, the family in it (who didn't heed the warning to leave the area) only suvived because the fridge didn't collapse.  They crawled out during the eye of the storm and ran to the amenities block.  They amazingly survived.

These are really old trees that lost most of their branches in Cyclone Larry. All of the new growth on them is coming off the old stump.

Remember the banana price hikes last year after the cyclone. Well you can see here the plantations have recovered and are just about ready to supply again.

30th April 2007  We back tracked in the morning a little to visit the Cane Sugar Museum.  We found it interesting  because we have seen so many cane fields and really didn't lnow anything about how it was harvested and processed.  It showed us the history of the cane fields in Australia.  We also visited Josephine Falls on our way into Cairns.  These falls and swimming hole were really beautiful and peaceful, I guessed it helped that we were there before the crowds arrived.  They were on their way in as we were walking out.  

Some of the equipment shown in the Cane Sugar Museum.

Josephine Falls

Cairns is bigger than we thought.  We went straight to the visitor information center to book a trip to the reef.

1st April 2007  We even had to set the alarm to head out the reef, something we  haven't done in awhile.  We were picked up from the park we were staying at and taken to the boat.  There were only about 30 people aboard, most of whom were Japanese.  Half the crew were Japanese too to communicate with them.  There was an hour and half trip to the reef where they gave us a safety briefing and a talk on snorkeling or diving whichever you were doing.  This was a good opportunity for me to do an introductory scuba dive, unfortunately it is not something you can do if you are pregnant, so it will have to wait for another time.  They served us morning tea on the way out.  They kitted us out with snorkeling gear including stinger suits.  Mine was a full body lycra suit, you put it on over your togs.  I can't say I was too impressed, but I also didn't want to get stung.  The snorkeling was really good, the water was calm, but still gave me motion sickness.  After our first snorkel they fed us a fabulous lunch and headed towards a second site.  The second site was better than the first.  We saw a giant clam, it seriously was giant!  Also a reef shark, a turtle, and at both sites we saw heaps of exotic looking fish.  We also saw a clown fish family, you could almost picture the movie Nemo.  They had fresh water showers on board so we could freshen up and change on the way back to shore. They also fed us a great afternoon tea and that was our exhausting day.  Oh not that you really want to know but I missed out the part of the motion sickness, I am not sure if it was just motion sickness or an combination of that and being really hungry before lunch, but they provide these nice little plastic lined brown bags with a napkin  for your convience, they don't hold much though:) I wont say any more.

2nd May 2007   Every now and then you need a day to  catch up on those things you don't get time to do while travelling and this day was one of those days. Washing, car maintenance, grocery shopping etc.

3rd May 2007.  Today we headed out of Cairns towards the Daintree Rainforest.  The Daintree is a wet tropic area.  What that actually means I am not sure but what I do know is there is a lot of water just sitting around.  The forest floor for the most part was sitting in water.   Which explains the funny smell the place has, sort of like rotting leaves.  The  vegetation was very lush and green, it was a very beautiful place.  I was rather reluctant to  be outside much due to the excess of stagnant water and potential for the abundance of breeding, blood sucking insects that I tend to be allergic to.  We stopped at a few places along the way though.  The Daintree National Park area is divided into different areas, there are a lot of residents and resorts throughout the area and the park bypasses these areas.  We decided that we were going to head to Cape Tribulation and the Bloomfield Track to get to Cairns so we headed over on the ferry to the eastern part of the Daintree.   We stayed the night at Cape Tribulation, which was named so by Captain James Cook in 1770 because, as he wrote in his diary, "it is where all our troubles began."  Thankfully that wasn't our case, although the partying in the camp site next to us till 5am was a little trying, nothing to Capt. Cooks troubles with the reef (more about that when we get to Cooktown).

It was hard to capture in the photo, but the low clouds, lush vegetation and hills reminded me of pictures I have seen of places like Vietnam.

The ferry we took into the Daintree area

View from the road leading to Cape Tribulation

The beach behind the caravan park we stayed at in Cape Tribulation.

As we were driving along we were very lucky to see a Cassowary.  There are only 1500 of these birds remaining in the wild and it is very unusual to see them.

4th May 2007.  We continued north after finding out if the Bloomfield Track was open.  This road was built to open up the rainforest area to the public, although it was met with much protesting from the Greenies, they didn't want anyone to have access to the area.  The road is just a track and only acccessible by 4WD, parts of the road are very steep and some of the river crossings are impassable after rainfall.  So I guess that was the compromise they came to, they put the road through but it is not very accessible to limit the number of people that go into the area.

We saw many changes in the vegetation as we headed further north and out of the rainforest.  The coastline was stunning and the creeks we crossed were crystal clear water, apparently no crocodiles except for one.  The track turns into a more regular dirt road as you get further north and pass through a few aboriginal communities.  Chris seems to think that we missed one of the best parts of the track (Bloomfield Falls) and that we were supposed to turn off somewhere along the way.  I guess we will never know.  It was a nice drive with beautiful views.

Really steep descent - 1st gear low range!

Bloomfield River

We arrived in Cooktown early afternoon and had a look through the information centre and a small portion of the botanical gardens before checking into a caravan park.  We also visited the local supermarket to stock up on food supplies for our trip up to the tip of Cape York, which we plan to start in a couple of days.

5th May 2007.  Cooktown was settled in the 1800's due to gold being found.  It was the most prosperous alluvial gold field in Australia, although a lot of the miners couldn't handle the heat and conditions and left soon after arriving. The town was first connected to the rest of the country by road in 1937, and only in the last couple of years has that road been sealed.   But the town is most famous for being a refuge for Captain James Cook and the crew of the Endevour in the June of 1770.  They had ripped a hole in the bottom of their ship on the reef and they needed to make repairs.  I had always thought of it as a casual thing, stop in a sheltered harbour, gather supplies, make repairs and be on your way.  But I have discovered that it was far from.  They had thrown 6 cannons overboard to attempt to keep the ship afloat, and the anchor too.  They really didn't know the extent of the damage except that they needed to find a sheltered harbour immediately.  They had to run the ship aground to be able to assess the damage and attempt fixing it.  It was a big ship, were they going to be able to get it afloat again?  They didn't know.  They set up camp and took all the cargo off the ship while they were here.  They had trouble finding food to eat.  They could see the fish jumping in the river but struggled to catch them. In the beginning of their stay they could only catch enough fish and shoot enough birds to feed  the sick.  Thankfully for them they got better at it.

The local aborigines were polite and cautious, for the most part they kept their distance.  A small party came to have a look at the ship. Cook shared fish with them, and they returned with more fish themselves the next day, however they were very angry when they saw that Cook had turtles and he wouldn't share them.  This created problems but the local aborigines decided to just keep their distance and watch the visitors.

So not only did they have problems with food, they were unsure if the local wood and the nails that they had to make were going to fix the ship and if it would ever float again.  To add Captain Cook walked to the top of Grassy Hill at low tide to see if he was able to see a way clear out of the reef.  They were unable to go south, the way they had come because of the scattered reef and the winds were SE, and to the north all he could see were more reefs and sand bars for as far as he could see with his looking glass, although there was one possiblity he thought might work.  The entry in his diary sounded like he was very worried.    

It was here in Cooktown that Euopeans saw their first Kangaroo.  At first they thought it looked like a grey hound ?? We figured they hadn't seen a greyhound in a while.  They were quite a facination for the crew and a huge talking point for everyone.  The caption on the monument below reads, "Endeavour River June 1770  Lt James Cook and the crew of the HMS Endeavour were the first Europeans ever to sight the kangaroos.   Observed, amazed, described, shot, eaten and named kangaroo."

So it was really a triumph for both Captain Cook and his crew to fix the hole in the Endeavour, refloat it, restock supplies and sail back to England.  Chris and I were discussing whether we thought James Cook was smart or just lucky to achieve what he did in his lifetime.  He definitely had guts.

Here are some pictures of Cooktown and the surrounding area taken from Grassy Hill, where Captain Cook came to find a way out of Endeavour River and through the reef.

We visited the Captain James Cook Museum which is housed in an old Convent that was built in 1889.  It was both a convent and school.  I was very impressed with the school work that these kids did.  The building was quite amazing and the building at the time was very modern, and built for the tropical environment.  When they were starting it they brought nuns from Ireland out to run the school.  They had some huge adjustments to make moving to the tropics from Ireland, to start with their wool clothing was far too hot for the environment.  The school that was run here was a excellent school offering a well rounded education, they had both boarding students and day students.

Captain James Cook Museum

In 1968 some scientists discovered the canons that Captain Cook ordered overboard to save his ship, one of which is housed here at the museum.  In 1971 they discovered the anchor from the Endeavour, which is also housed here.  It is all preserved in an atmosphere controled room to keep it in reasonable condition, so it was hard to get a photo of.  The second photo is part of a tree, the plaque says, "This tree was used to moor the Endeavour by Capt. Cook, June 1770."  How they know the actual tree I am not sure.  I'm a little skeptical on this one.

<Chris> Cooktown certainly makes an effort to keep in touch with it's historical past, and in the afternoon we walked along the waterfront. Here began one of there many historic walks. Most go only around the town area, but one runs from Cooktown to Healesville (Victoria)!!! They certainly had more than the usual share of monuments and plaques - I didn't take pictures of all of them, but here are a selection...

Statue of Cook

Cannon the council requested in 1885 to protect them from Russian invasion

Monument to Endeavours visit

Next, up to "the tip" - Cape York here we come.