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Blog 31: Queensland - Cape Tribulation to Atherton

The trees have trees, that's how you know you are in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. We have seen some beautiful sights, connected with some great people and had some fun adventures over this past week. Here is the story:

We bid a fond farewell to our new friend Jazzy and turned southwards. Next trip we will have to go further up Cape York for sure.

We pulled in at the Marrdja Botanical Boardwalk, just past Noah Beach and wandered above the muddy intertidal waters full of mangroves and other plants. Just as we came to the end of the wooden boardwalk and were about to ascend back up to the car park, something magical appeared...


In a morning ray of sunshine, the dew steaming away from his jet black hair-like feathers, this majestic bird let us have a good look at him preening from just a few metres away. The most absurd combination of head crest casque, throat dangling wattles and iridescent blue neck and head. If you didn't know it was a real creature, you would think someone had photo-shopped the image as a joke. What a lucky experience.

On the road again, next we pulled up at a tea plantation. We got to see the hedgerows of tea plants tangling into the air, a farmer in the distance grooming the shrubs with some machinery and scored ourself some (verified super delicious) grower direct black tea.

We side tracked a little to wander the beach of Cow Bay. The rainforested mountains touching the sandy seashore is a powerful landscape. We enjoyed the sun, wind and natural driftwood sculptures for a little while before climbing back over Mount Alexandra. We stopped briefly at the highly regarded Daintree Discovery Centre, but balked at the price of admission as we had already done a lot of rainforest exploration (also, didn't have tax returns yet). Instead we crested Mount Alexandria and ate lunch at the lookout with sweeping views of the islands and mountains towards Port Douglas, our goal destination for the day.

We wound our way back down the south side of Mount Alexandra and this time were first in line for the next ferry crossing. No queue.

We managed to eke out a spot in one of the crowded (school holiday time) Port Douglas caravan parks and wandered into the Uber-designer Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina for a couple of (very delicious) beverages at the Hemingways Brewery. It actually wasn't as posh and plastic as the name sounds. We watched the sun disappear behind the mountains over the marina and enjoyed the beers very much.

That night something... interesting happened.

At around half past midnight, a... gentleman camper just over the way from us decided that cranking his car stereo up was the polite and neighbourly thing to do. After a couple of tracks, the gentlemen camper continued with his one-man-high-volume-dance-party (although his song choice wasn't actually that bad) so dutiful husband number one (Adam), descended from roof tent and wandered over to have a conversation with gentleman camper.

A few loud raps on the passenger window where gentleman camper was reclining and out of his vehicle he exploded. He staggered a little. Reeking of stale booze and cigarettes, gentleman camper revealed himself to be, in fact, a Drunk English Twenty-something Dickhead. Aggressive in posture, language and locomotion, DETD felt his inviolable right to be a DETD should allow him to play his music at a volume appropriate for his already damaged ears. Adam gracefully and peacefully de-escalated the situation using the age old art of bartender-fu and eventually DETD returned to his vehicle. The music continued.

It's funny. People we meet on the road tell bullshit stories about how dangerous and violent remote mostly-indigenous communities like Fitzroy Crossing, Katherine, Hermannsberg, Alice Springs, wherever are. We have been to these places and many more and never felt unsafe. Privileged white folks talk shit about culture and communities they know nothing about. Then the only time I (Adam) have ever felt the threat of violence in all our thousands of kilometres on the road is from some drunk idiot English backpacker in arguably one of the most affluent and exclusive postcodes in the nation. Food for thought.

DETD departed the park the next morning. The staff at the park were apologetic and commiserative, but glad that DETD's scheduled departure meant they wouldn't need to actually evict him.

The next morning (Tuesday) we wandered around Port Douglas. The beach and lookout on the south side of town offered stunning views of the coastline and mountains to the south. We replaced Adam's already worn out $1.50 Darwin Big W thongs (flip-flops for our North American Readers) with a better, more comfortable and durable model. We sat on the grass under palm trees on the north side of town and watched mountains, sail boats and even an antique paddle steamer (but probably converted to diesel) float around. A cheeky second beer set at Hemingways and we hung out at camp after lunch, writing the last (belated) blog post and doing Ruth's tax return.

Wednesday it was time for a scheduled event that felt so incredibly far away at Bluesfest, and even when we made it to Geraldton, or Kununurra. Ruth's parents flew into Cairns to meet up with us for Ruth's 30th Birthday. We drove the winding Captain Cook Highway, perched between mountainside and ocean south. A stop for coffee at Palm Cove, a meandering wander along the promenade and around lunch time we made it to the home of Julie and David. Julie went to High School with Ruth's Mum in 1971. Julie and David were kind enough to put us all up for a few nights.

We made friends with corgi and cat, enjoyed delicious fresh mandarins from their backyard and generally felt at ease. We wandered around barefoot indoors, showered without thongs (flip-flops) on and generally enjoyed the luxuries of a house. Delightful hospitality in the shadow of Mount Whitfield.

We went for an afternoon drive with Pauline and Barry (Ruth's Folks) to see the house in Machans Beach that Pauline lived in, the banks of the Baron River where Pauline was once dropped home from school in a boat as the flood-waters rose. And the inlet to the north where Pauline's Mum used to go yabbie-ing when the tides were right. There was actually a man there doing the sand-plungering yabby collecting thing and Pauline got to have a go. We enjoyed bonus foot-mud treatments, an apple from the old local corner store and swung by Pauline's High School before returning to our host's house.

On Thursday Gary got a day of TLC. He got an oil and filters change, new turbo oil drain gasket, new automatic transmission filter and fluid change (ATF smells like delicious raspberry cordial. Pro tip: Don't drop the filler plug in your drain pan), differential oil top up, wheel rotation, brake clean and other service sundries. I don't know how professional mechanics do all the service things properly on multiple vehicles a day.

Ruth went for a wander on the slopes of Mount Whitfield with her folks and did a couple of job applications while Adam was pampering Gary.

Friday was family field trip day. We loaded up into Barry and Pauline's hire car and had the curious experience of watching the landscape roll by from the rear passenger seats. South we journeyed, through Babinda, first stop: Josephine Falls. After a short but delightful rainforest walk we arrived at the falls. Adam had some vague recollections of maybe perhaps being here at nine years old with his grandparents. Maybe. We watched some backpackers using the slippery rock face as a natural water slide and inhaled the life-full air.

Further south, through Innisfail to the town of Tully. After a park picnic lunch we got to go on a tour of a Sugar Mill. Left ear headset, right ear earplug. We saw the baby brother of the Port Hedland Ore Car Tipper, upending dainty five or ten tonne sugar cane baskets. The cane gets milled (squeezed) to remove the juice, washed to remove the dirt and spun to remove the molasses to make golden brown crystals of raw sugar. From there it goes on a ship to Asia or elsewhere. This happens 24/7 during the harvest season from July-ish to November-ish.

It is interesting to explore a town where a single industry is the lifeblood of the place - especially when that industry is so strictly seasonal. We had a beer in a pub and a couple of coffees and got a feel for Tully.

We turned back north and stopped at a roadside stall near Innisfail for some local fresh produce. A delightful dinner from our Hostess and some special cake (sort of) preparations and it was time for bed after a long day of adventure.

On Saturday, Ruth turned 30 years old. Also the anniversary of some minor event in France.

After breakfast hugs and gluttony the plan was to head up to Kuranda together on the historic scenic railway. Unfortunately Ruth's mum had a very sore back and wasn't up to a full day outing. The Kuranda adventure was one of our wedding gifts, so we had to go with just the two of us. On the bright side Ruth got to spend the whole day in the company of her super wonderful, talented, stylish, handsome and intelligent (and modest) husband.

On board the Kuranda Scenic Railway we promptly departed the Cairns station at 9:30 am. We sat opposite an Argentine PhD Student who was in town for a symposium on fish genetics. He was a super friendly guy and we muddled out some English conversation, with the odd Spanish word thrown in.

Rightfully called an engineering marvel, this railway is a very impressive construction for the 1880's. We wound and twisted and curved and switchbacked up the sides of mountains, through tunnels and cuttings and over bridges. The views ocean-ward becoming ever more panoramic. We even crossed a bridge in front of a waterfall.

A brief stop at the Baron Falls station for a gander at the dry season trickle across the broad tree-denuded rocky swathe of the Baron Falls Gorge, then we made it to Kuranda.

sugar cane


waterfallview from in the train carriage as we went along the bridge

The train went along the bridge by the waterfall

Kuranda is a great place. Super touristy, but not quite offensively so. We started out with a much needed coffee (and a first round of vegan birthday cake in the form of a couple of raw cashew cheesecake slices) at a small cafe, where we met a friendly Californian couple who were road tripping up the east coast.

After a great conversation and with our caffeine cravings satisfied, we were off to a very awesome wedding registry experience - The Australian Butterfly Sanctuary (Thanks Sally!). Adam has some vividly awesome memories of this place from when he was 9, including a white t-shirt with a Ulysses Butterfly on the front that was a favourite for a year or two. Alas, a lepidopterist he was not made.

A big glasshouse full of plants and butterflies. Blues, oranges, reds and greens. The disruptively camouflaged and the iridescently brilliant. We tagged along with a free guided tour from a young woman who could not have been more enthusiastic about these incredible insects. The squirming plant chewing crawler that becomes a hard shell full of soupy formless goo (and scientists still don't understand just how exactly) then rebuilds itself into an airborne nectar drinking flutterer. Literally a completely different animal. We saw the breeding laboratory and learned about a variety of butterflies and moths. And grinned in wonderment like children as the flashes of colour wove around us. Magic.

We heard of a vegan friendly falafel place in the markets that was supposed to be awesome. The markets themselves are a delightful tangle of colourful alleyways and staircases, some small shops decades old institutions, some repainted to the logo for latest knick-knack, street food or psychic reading tenant month to month. Unfortunately the falafel place was closed for the day. We ended up at a cafe in the other block of markets and enjoyed a couple of nice vegan curries.

Back down the mountain. This time by Sky-rail gondola cable car. We soared above the Baron Gorge National Park, an impenetrable canopy carpet of green below us. We flew over the river, stopped at a couple of intermediate stations for views of Baron Falls and the rainforest and eventually returned to sea level. We also saw a very silly Asian lady sitting on the safety hand rail, with her legs on the far side, dangling over a deadly precipice, while her husband held her hand for balance with one hand and tried to take her photo with the other at the same time. Her dress slipping on the hand-worn-smooth railing would have been horrifyingly Darwinian. Nearly had a heart attack when first seeing her regardless.

A shuttle bus dropped us back in town at the Night markets. Vegan friendly fare was sparse amongst the vendors, but it was amusing to see Chinese vendors selling shitty Australian themed knick-knacks (Made in China) to Chinese Tourists. Arrive in a sea container, return to sender via Carry On. Also Jojoba Oil and Lucas Paw Paw seem to be a big deal in China right now if you are looking to export... Man insightful social observation and commentary, without sounding like a racist is hard. At least we didn't run into any DETDs.

Around the corner we found a vegan friendly Tapas Bar + Art Gallery space that had artwork everywhere, tasty food and excellent musical curation. Vale Nancy Sinatra. We shared a bottle of wine, watched some people, shared conversation, as we do and enjoyed ourselves profusely.

Back to the night markets for churros (vegan - yay!) with some cinnamon sugar and then we took a stroll along the boardwalk by the ocean for a while. We sat and listened to a very talented finger-style guitarist busking for a while, dropped some cash in his guitar case and then ambled along the boardwalk. An Uber back to David and Julies house and we enjoyed a final dessert - home made vegan vanilla slice, prepared by Adam and eaten by everyone. Yum.

Today we had some more adventures! We packed up Gary and then he got temperamental. Unhappy with our travelling and having adventures in a different vehicle, he didn't want to start. A little contact cleaner in his ECU plug to remove the oil from the injector harness solved the problem (pretty common for Td5s). I see a new injector loom in his future!

On the road we wound our way in convoy with Barry and Pauline up the side of the Lamb Range. A couple or brief stops for lookout views and we eventually got to the (Jazzy recommended) Cathedral Fig Tree.

Holy Moley! What a gigantic living organism! It just won't all fit in your field of vision. The tangled roots make a cathedral of church organs. Most of our time was spent just staring up open jawed and trying to accept the reality of the tree. Estimated to be 500 years old, with a perimeter of 72 metres and a literal tonne of leaves covering 2 000 square metres of canopy. Mind = blown.

Next up on our journey towards Atherton we pulled into Lake Barrine. We saw a pair of huge Kauri Pines, ate some lunch and idled by the lake in the tearooms over coffee.

We passed through Yungaburra, unsuccessfully looking for Platypus before visiting another epic fig - the Curtain Fig Tree. Roots dangle like shards of ice on a frozen waterfall. We are just as awestruck as at the Cathedral Fig. These plants are just so COOL!

Finally we rolled into Atherton. We shared a meal at our campground - it is strange cooking for four instead of two! And here, after a golden sunset, we pen these words.

We will spend some time together exploring the Atherton Tableland over the next few days - stay tuned!

All our Love,

Ruth and Adam,


Statistics Update:

Days on the Road = 214

Distance Driven = 31 001 km

Mean Distance per Day = 145 km

Mean Fuel Economy = 13.53 L / 100 km

Best Fuel Economy = 10.12 L / 100 km (Kununurra to Timber Creek)

Nights Free Camping = 39

Nights in Roof Tent = 187/213

Coffees Purchased = 66

Instagram Posts = 450

Instagram Followers = 189

Geocaches Logged = 32

Gary Breakdowns = 0.36

Drone Flights = 2

Videos Made = 0

French Land Rover Drivers Scared = 1

State or Territory Borders Crossed = 16

Bucks Parties Accidentally Crashed = 1

Vegan Vanilla Slices Eaten = 8 (Adam 4.5, Ruth 3.5)

Times Set Up Camp after Dusk = 5

Chairlifts Not Used = 1

Waves Returned by Tasmanian Land Rover Drivers = 2

Cups of Tea Made for Strangers = 1

Rounds of Lost Cities Played = 80

Longest Continuous Sleep in Roof Tent = 11 hours

Gary Oil Changes = 3

Blood Donation Dates = 1

Sick Days = 5 (Adam 4, Ruth 1)

Australian Deserts Visited = (5/10) (Strzelecki, Perdika, Great Sandy, Gibson, Great Victoria)

Cattle Stations Camped On = 4

Iconic South Australian Track Completion = Oodnadatta 100% (617 km), Strzelecki 26% (122/475 km), Birdsville 0% (0/517 km)

Uluru Climbs = 0

Tyre Punctures = 1

Tasmanian Job Applications = 9 (Adam 4, Ruth 5)

Babies Met = 5

Boat Rides = 12

Songs Swap Sessions with Strangers = 1

Most Consecutive Days with No Phone Reception = 6

Northernmost Latitude of Adventure = 12° 22.881' S

Random Breath Tests = 2

Beach Coconuts Eaten = 1

Australian UNESCO World Heritage Sites Visited = 11/19

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