A Travellerspoint blog

25th - 26th June - Final Days Of Sunshine

31 °C
View Fred & Ginger Go To The Land of Kangaroos... on fredginger's travel map.

Our last day in Port Douglas proves to be a very beautiful one so the executive decision is taken to spend it on the beach. It's very hot and four mile beach is occasionally drenched in a light, warm breeze - perfect sunbathing weather. As it's not quite school holiday season it's not too crowded so I set myself up with a couple of trashy romance novels borrowed from the apartment reception and iPod on shuffle. It may be a cliche, but even for a ginger, burn-easy girl like me it's a gorgeous way to spend a day. For an hour we hire a plastic cricket set and smack a tennis ball around the beach, watched and jeered on by Aussies and even some Germans, who don't quite understand what's going on but it all looks like good fun to them.

The first part of our evening is spent at a bar named The Inlet to watch a man with a massive dead fish feed a massive live fish. And when I say 'massive' I mean it - the thing is about five feet long and munches happily on a three-foot dead fish for about five minutes, until it's been eaten down to the bone. The place is ridiculously crowded so we only see part of it but manage to duck out close to the end - it's getting near sunset. We find a near-deserted wharf right on the waterfront and watch the sun go down, albeit behind clouds. Across the water first delicate curls then billows of smoke rise from behind hillsides as the sugar cane farmers burn their crop. Fred and I both agree that we want to stay - going back to Manchester weather and my terrible cooking will be a horrible thing after this. Happily sun-doused, we return to prepare for dinner.

Tonight, we dine in style - in the Nautilus rainforest restaurant. To get to it you walk up a sandy track for a hundred metres or so, away from the main road, and emerge into a sort of board-walked forest shelter. It is lit by oil lamps and very quiet. We are taken to the lounge and seated in comfortable, cushioned wicker chairs to order cocktails by the light of the low oil lamps and the moon. Palm fronds lean majestically over our little area and deaden the sound, even from the other tables, so all you can hear is birdsong and soft music. After one round we are shown down to the dining tables which are just as quiet and well-spaced, very peaceful, very atmospheric. Our food is jointly prepared by two Michelin stars and rightly delicious - I attack the loveliest lamb fillets I've ever had and then a whole ocean coral trout and it is amazing. We are served excellently by a gentleman from Chicago who worked his tables very well - the place had gotten busy and we hadn't even noticed, such is the exclusive surrounds and spacious layout. We sit and chat and eat for nigh on three hours.

Saturday morning arrives, sunny and hot again. We have to be out of our room by 10am so the car is loaded, breakfast is consumed and we set off for a drive up the Discovery Road back to Cairns. Our first stop is a 3km walk through the Daintree rainforest and across Mossman Gorge. The rainforest is denser here than on our horse ride and you can't see for more than a few feet in any direction. It's also bloody noisy - bird and animal calls, insects, dropping water from the canopy, little streams and creeks.The heat and humidity under the canopy are incredible. We spot lizards, snakes, cassowaries and all sorts of exotic-looking plants, trees with roots some seven, maybe eight inches in diameter stretching for tens of metres across the forest floor. The walk takes us about an hour.

Back in the car for the remainder of the drive - I almost come to regret the speed of modern vehicles. All of my older relatives tend to say, "Look at that", now it's "did you see that?" We pass through the rainforest on winding, narrow roads then emerge onto a bushland highway with open cattle grazing (plus the signs warning motorists that there may be animals stood in the middle of the road), circling birds of prey and huge termite mounds. Everything is mottled yellow, the ground, the rocks, the trees, even the cows. Further on we pass the farming of the Hinterland - coffee and sugar plantations, rusty tractors. Fred has drifted serenely off to sleep on my shoulder, and is also drooling serenely on it - I kick him awake as we approach Cairns airport. He mumbles something like, "I've got another hour before Beverly Hills".

We give the car back and head to security and check-in - this takes us a grand total of three minutes. Three whole minutes - disgraceful. We settle into the Qantas Club Lounge to stock up on free food and wifi before our flight is called. As we board I have to poke Fred to make sure I'm not seeing things - the cockpit door is wide open. The pilot grins toothily at me as we pass - only in Australia. As we take off, my last view of Queensland is under the moonlight peeking from behind a partial eclipse and falling on the Pacific Ocean in smattering patterns.

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Posted by fredginger 00:17 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Thursday 24th June, Part II - White water rafting

Barron Gorge

30 °C
View Fred & Ginger Go To The Land of Kangaroos... on fredginger's travel map.

After a brief lunch and change of clothes we are outside the Beach Terraces again waiting for another bus, this time up to Barron Gorge for white water rafting. Right on time once again, a larger bus homes into view and we are waved on by a tanned-looking young man wearing a polo shirt and shorts. He introduces himself as Joe, and his accent gives me a start - he is a Yorkshireman, originally from Harrogate, ending up in Port Douglas after becoming disillusioned with working as a plumber in Leeds (and who can blame him) and meeting his Australian girlfriend while backpacking. He talks to us about the rapids and the people who will be taking us down, and drives the huge bus like a maniac. He is also pleased to have someone else the guides can take the mickey out of for being Poms - he is hailed on the bus radio as "Puddy", from Yorkshire pudding.

By the time we get to the Barron River we have picked up a full boat-load of people - Tanya and Stephan, a couple from Cooktown, and Chrissie and Kathryn, two sisters from Melbourne. We all meet our two guides, Jess (an Aussie) and Steve (Welsh) and Pudding dubs our boat "Team Britain". More kitting out ensues - water shoes, lifejackets, paddles, helmets and marvelling at the size of Fred's head, followed by an introduction to the commands Jess will yell at us one the river. We also meet one of the other guides, Roddy. Roddy is not very tall but quite broad and bawdy, with a husky voice and sleeve tattoos. He tells us a bit about the rapids. "There are grade threes down here - sort of middle grade. If one is any moving body of water, six is like... Niagara Falls," he says, then stops in shock as he looks down at me. "Good God! Has she been in the river yet? Hullo, shade-lover," he says, whacking me on the helmet and grinning. "Where are you from?" I tell him Manchester. "Ah, you'll be used to Yorkshire perverts then," he says, gesturing at Joe. "He'll be hiding in the bushes taking pictures today."

Another bus, this time to the top of the gorge, and we unload our rafts. Jess and Steve supervise the boys carrying it to the river and throwing it unceremoniously over some boulders for us to clamber into. The river starts off very gentle and the sun is out so we're all nice and warm in the boat, floating serenely down and admiring the natural wonders of the gorge. The sides must be close to a hundred metres high, with just the one road running along the left side. The river itself is at it's lowest, the rainy season is from December to March. We can see the waterline of it when it's swollen about seven feet up a boulder to the right. "FORWARD PADDLE!" Jess yells, nearly scaring everyone out of the boat. We paddle frantically towards some white water and a gap in the rocks. "HOLD ON!" We go over our first rapid of the day, grabbing hold of the rope along the outside of the raft and trying not to lose our paddles. "Well done, guys," Jess says with a big grin, "Now the good stuff starts."

We spend a very happy hour going over rapids - the grade threes nearly capsize us a few times and there is much forward and back paddling, and occasionally a "BIG HOLD ON GET DOOOWN!" from Jess when we are all required to wedge ourselves at the bottom of the raft for a big drop. It's fantastic fun and we all get quite wet but nothing major until about halfway down when we got over a rapid and pull up to the side. We are going to do something called surfing - riding the eddy at the bottom of the drop and staying in one place. Paddles into the boat, I am ordered to the front by Roddy and sit facing backwards, nervous of what is about to befall me. My suspicions are founded - I am suddenly dipped down into the eddy and doused smartly with very cold water from the river. We surf for a few minutes and the raft turns to everyone gets doused - it's a violent operation but great fun. Fully soaked now we continue down the last few rapids, smiling and throwing up a few gang signs for Joe's camera, then reaching Lake Placid.

As we relax, Jess talks us through our 700m paddle to the end. We are drifting quite close to Roddy's boat - he stands up and asks which ones of us have put themselves down on the waiver forms as excellent swimmers. Chrissie and I raise our hands and Roddy grins evilly and takes a running dive, grabbing us both and dunking us both into the lake. Soon, everyone has abandoned their boats and gone for a swim. Roddy is talking about his solo trip down the river a few days ago in a four-year-old's rubber ring he and Steve had found blown into a tree. He was reportedly seen sat in the ring, being thrown over the rapids and shouting "That's not living, Barry!" as he was hurled up in the air. After a ten minute dip we all clamber back into our boats and paddle furiously to the finish point - Team Britain's raft win the race but we're all knackered afterwards and we change quickly to board the bus home.

After dropping off our Australian contingent Fred, Joe and I are the only ones on the bus. We use the Alpine sound system to blare out some Kaiser Chiefs, much to the bemusement of the Aussies we pass, and chat about life in Queensland compared with the UK. Joe says he'd never go back, "I tried it for a year, even took Aleesha, but she hated it and I hated it too." Watching the sunset as we career along the Captain Cook highway on two wheels, I believe him. We bid him farewell at our apartments and he wishes us happy holidays. "If you ever decide to move, let me know and I'll show you around."

Dinner tonight is down at the Marina, at a charming place called Billy's By The Sea. Billy turns out to be the chef, and during both the delectable starters and main courses he does the rounds of each table asking about the food. It's not as upmarket as some other places we've been this week, more like a cafe, but the food is excellent and the service is too. Fred and I are thoroughly aching from our day of exercise and I am falling asleep at the table by the time ten o'clock rolls around, yet again, what a party animal I am. I have also bruised my butt on a rock during the rafting, making sleep uncomfortable, but I do it anyway.

Posted by fredginger 17:14 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Thursday 24th June, Part I - Horse riding, sand and forest

sunny 29 °C
View Fred & Ginger Go To The Land of Kangaroos... on fredginger's travel map.

Morning breaks early, so very early for Fred and I - we are spending the morning horse riding along Wonga Beach and in Daintree rainforest and are due to be picked up at 7:45am. Right on time our bus comes lumbering around the corner, driven by a jolly, slightly rotund gentleman named Tom. He is very awake and chatty and we ask him where his extremely broad Australian accent comes from. He tells us his life story, which is actually quite interesting - originally from Adelaide Tom used to shear sheep until work became scarce due to the water shortage, so he moved up to Port Douglas and fell in love. He attests his staying in this part of the world to his children, "Two sons grown up and left, one buried in the cemetery just down the road", and worked catching crayfish until he had a motorcycling accident. After a huge operation on his spine, Tom was told he could never work again and as Australian aftercare was excellent ten years ago, he spent 8 years teaching himself to walk again. He tell us how he came to be driving the bus:

"One day I'm out on the reef catching crayfish and there's a Japanese girl, lovely kid, lovely girl she was. Can't remember how I met her. And she asks me, 'Why do you walk all crooked, Tom?' and I tell her, see. Anyway, she says to me, 'I bet I can get you working again in two weeks'. I says how? Well, she turns out to be one of those does this Shiatsu massage, and she says she'll work on my back if I catch her a couple of crayfish. I says fair deal and so I did and she worked on my back and now" (he gestures to himself) "here I am working again. Two sessions, two hours it took her. She was magical."

We pick up a few more punters and arrive at a ranch about half past eight. After signing a few waivers and giving details of everyone's riding ability we have the palaver of trying to find a helmet that fits dear Fred. We try on every one in the reception then one of the guides goes to get another. "Size XXL, it really is bloody big, isn't it?" he says as he returns with what looks like a fruit bowl with a strap. All kitted up, we meet our horses - Fred is riding a very gentle stock horse named Prince, I have a fluffy but less gentle thoroughbred named Jimmy with a beautiful chestnut coat and rippling muscles. As I mount (with difficulty, as he's 17 hands high*) one of the guides tells me a little about him - he is only four years old, still a gelding, and reputedly a mischief-maker - he's got a fluffy neck and eyes me suspiciously until I stroke his nose and present him with a handful of oats. Prince, to Fred's chagrin, is a hand or two shorter than Jimmy and lighter in colour but he takes Fred's weight with no complaints. All set, we head off into the rainforest out of the back gate.

Our first rainforest excursion is only a short one to get down to the beach but is nonetheless beautiful, and very peaceful. Fred is gradually getting used to the feeling of being on a horse and by the time we reach the beach half an hour later he looks like a dab hand. Jimmy is indeed mischievous - snaffling bits of the shrubbery and leaves we pass by every now and again. We splash through a shallow creek and emerge onto the long, sheltered and wide Wonga Beach and our guides split us up further to go for a bit of a canter. Fred elects to stay walking and I am gutted as I'd put down my ability in order to stay with him. Dallas, one of the guides, sidles up to me. "If you're comfortable coming for a trot with us, you can. And you know, Jimmy will want to go faster... If you can't control him, just let him run," he says with a wink. I do as Dallas suggests and let Jimmy break into a canter after a while. Beside me is a lady called Jan who works as a mounted Police officer in Perth and is riding another thoroughbred - neither horse wanted to lose so they end up racing along the beach. I firmly believe that a good run along a beautiful sandy beach on a thoroughbred is something everyone should do in their lifetime, for the scenery and the feeling alone it's worth the money. Eventually we slow down and turn around to canter (gently) back, expecting admonishment from Dallas. "I think Clancy won," he says, nodding to Jan's horse.

We rejoin the other groups and line up again for our tour of the rainforest proper. Our trip is nearly cut short by a creek behind the beach swollen by rain - Dallas takes his pony through and the mare is up to her thighs in the water. Nathan, another guide, steers the smaller ponies and kids around the creek while those of us with bigger horses splash right through it. Jimmy seems to dislike the water and prances and snorts around the edge. "He's seen a croc in these creeks, once," Dallas tells me nonchalantly. Inwardly cursing the Australian indifference to such animals and nearly as nervy as Jimmy, we both make it through the creek and our little conglomerate proceeds into the rainforest.

It starts off quiet as the trees deaden all sound - we could be thousands of miles from civilisation. All you can hear are the horses hooves on the dirt, avoiding the occasional tree root or, in Jimmy's case, doing his very best to eat everything we pass. We spot many tiny little birds making nests in tree trunks, a few scurrying lizards and even a yellow-bellied black snake, a fairly venomous reptile, up in a tree. It's an amazingly peaceful walk and I am absorbed looking around the trees until something large and wet slaps me in the face - Jimmy has walked right into a low-lying, huge, wet leaf and barks out what I swear was a horse laugh. Dallas barks out a human laugh - "he does that!" as I dry my damp face. As we walk I have to pay attention - the forest is much deeper, the leaves lower and tree roots sticking up through the dirt plentiful. Another creek, not deep but with a big drop but all the horses get down successfully and we are all so absorbed we don't realise where we are until we emerge blinking into sunlight, onto a tarmac road.

I take care to give Jimmy a sugar lump before I leave for my own refreshments - he's a beautiful animal, if quite fluffy. Fred is enduring a little discomfort from the ride - "I know why cowboys walk like this now" - and after returning our boots and hats we have some homemade lemonade and wait for Tom to return with the bus.

  • 17 hands is about 1.7m.

Posted by fredginger 16:36 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Wednesday 23rd June - The Great Barrier Reef

And the Low Isles

sunny 30 °C
View Fred & Ginger Go To The Land of Kangaroos... on fredginger's travel map.

Today, we hit one of the most exciting natural wonders in the world - the Great Barrier Reef. Down at the marina our boat is the Sailaway II, a sailing catamaran, and she's not very big but quite pretty. We wait for the crew on the marina, chatting to some of the other people on our trip - there are only eleven of us, which we all agree is good as we've seen boats leaving with 300 people on. Our travelling companions are a family of three from Wogga, a mother and daughter from Cairns and a couple from Herefordshire, of all places. We are welcomed warmly onto the boat with tea and biscuits and a briefing of what to expect. It's a windy day out so our guide, Brooke, warns there could be big waves. "Alex is our captain today, he's very good."

The term 'big waves' turns out to mean waves between three and four metres high. We are all sat at the front of the boat to watch it roll and cruise over the rough sea, getting soaked through but loving every minute of it. Well, some of us were - Mairi had dosed up on seasickness pills in the cabin earlier. It takes us about an hour of stunning views and expansive seas to reach the Low Isles, our snorkelling destination for the day. After another quick briefing we set off for the first order - a tour of the reef in the glass bottom boat.

Our driver, Alex, takes us right over the reef in only two feet of free water, introducing us to all the corals and some of the wildlife. We spot the lumpy brain corals, little ghost fish and what Alex terms "humbugs" - five-striped Damsel fish. Even Fred can't wait to get in the water. We are also told about how the Island came to be, warning ships off the fragile but vicious corals. As we reach the shore we get into our snorkelling briefing - always swim into the wind, don't stand up on the coral, don't break bits off and if it scratches you, get it treated. Fairly straightforward, so we all get in the water, which is 26 degrees and as warm as a bath. Flippers and masks on - off we go.

Our first route takes us about 100 metres out from the island and over some awesome sights. The corals aren't lit so our feeble human eyes can't see all the colours of the waving tendrils and tight rocks but the fish are more easily visible and flit past our masks and outstretched hands, flecked with light and all colours of the known world. The water is clear and only about five metres deep and you can see almost everything. We spot a male green turtle gliding majestically about three metres down, only a small one with a shell about a metre long. We head back over the shallowest part of the water, taking care not to bash the coral, watching school of tiny fish, giant clams and sea urchins.

We are left to our own devices for a few hours after this and Fred and I take the chance to explore the tiny Low Isles. You can walk the circumference of the whole island in less than ten minutes and the only things on it are the research building, the caretaker's house and the lighthouse in the centre, poking up out of the trees. It has been there since the 1880's and is an interesting little place - it's effect on lighthouse keepers (who have one month per year's holiday on the mainland) is also interesting. The sheer solitude, a Godsend for some, was intolerable to others.

The beach surrounding the island in a ring is littered with beautiful shells and white coral stalks. We wander happily in the sun, picking up things that look interesting - I find a clay pipe, bleached in the sun, and a porous bone about seven inches long. I take it over to the caretaker to see what it is - he has a good look, putting his glasses on the end of his nose.
"Dugong, I think," he tells me, handing it back. "It's porous, too big for a turtle."
Since the Low Isles are part of a Green Zone, we're not allowed to remove anything so I replace the bone on the beach, taking a picture.

I decide to have another snorkel and am joined by my father and Fred. We stick to the outside of the reef now as the tide has gone out and some parts of it we sailed over earlier with plenty of space are now poking up out of the waves. Apparently they have evolved to stay that way for three hours - tidal time in the Pacific. Around the reef walls there is even more life than over the top - millions of little fish, some big fish and I even spot a black finned reef shark, about three feet long. It scares Fred quite smartly out of the water, but I stay to follow it along the bottoms of the corals. I also spot a blue-lined surgeon fish (Dori from Finding Nemo) and numerous little puffs of sand that I don't understand until I get out and speak once more to the caretaker.

"Rays," he says, flicking his cigarette away. "Sting rays, and Manta rays. That fella you was with is over there-" he points around the corner. "Says he saw a shark. Really put the shits up him," he added as I leave to gather my things - it's time to get back on the boat for lunch. Brooke and Alex lay on a seafood buffet which is varied and lovely. We while away the time we would have spent snorkelling off the back of the boat (it's too windy) by throwing our prawn heads into the sea, attracting some batfish, angelfish and more majestic green turtles. The largest one we see is about two metres from head to tail and sticks his head above the waves curiously to see what's what.

Exhausted but elated we journey back on the boat, the wind now up to 30 knots, nearly gale-force. Fred and Kimberly, one of our snorkelling companions from Wogga, sit up top, both feeling "pretty crook," as Kimberly puts it, but I enjoy the waves and the water. We arrive back to the Marina about half four and grab some fish and chips on the way home - freshly cooked, even that is delicious. The evening is spent once more on competitive cards, and then bed.

Posted by fredginger 23:48 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Tuesday 22nd June - Port Douglas Exploration II

rain 26 °C
View Fred & Ginger Go To The Land of Kangaroos... on fredginger's travel map.

The weather today is cloudy and windy in the morning so Fred and I go to the beach, then promptly give up and go for a long walk instead. Not getting distracted by coconuts is a bonus (we've not yet actually go into the one we picked up) and we manage to get all the way along four mile beach. Up at the point there are some more kite surfers, whom we watch for a little while. Despite the clouds it the place still feels very soothing, like a holiday. We get all the way past the point and all the way back again before lunch, which we spend very pleasantly with beer and bar snacks at the Port Douglas Surf Lifesaving Club, just behind the beach.

In the afternoon however it rains, not hard, just hard enough to keep us inside playing cards. The highlight of the day was dinner, without a doubt. Mairi has us booked in at the Salsa Bar & Grill for dinner - sounds nice and simple, eh? Well, it is, but only on the outside. White and blue decor, and as we sit down at our table I notice something that must be worth a packet - a plate and menu, signed by former US President Bill Clinton, on 9th September 2001. I would imagine they whisked him out of Port Douglas pretty quickly that evening… but at least all the conspiracy theorists reading this blog now know without doubt where he was - I have proof. The menu is not so simple. The waitress is clearly prepared for our inability to understand some of the presentations and most of the ingredients as she gives us five minutes to figure it out then asks if we would like help. Eventually we all get our orders in and wait apprehensively for the stuff to arrive, quaffing wine and water and chatting about how my father doesn't get mythology, or New York.

Ah, food - or it is? Looks more like modern art to me - I ordered a mosaic of yellow kingpin & salmon with lime vinaigrette & goat's curd and sun dried tomato ice cream and it is a mosaic, perfectly cut and very well arrayed. Everything, in fact, is beautifully presented, even Fred's, the safe one - he ordered a caesar salad. My sashimi is arranged around drizzles of vinaigrette and small scoops of something that actually looks like ice cream. I thought it was a figure of chef-speak on the menu but as it turns out, I was wrong. So I am sat in a restaurant in Australia, looking at a plate signed by Bill Clinton on 9/11 and eating small scoops of goat's curd and sun dried tomato ice cream with a pair of chopsticks. (That sentence was not far up the list of what I thought I'd have to write in my life).

The next course is a little more normal but just as beautiful. I have opted for the paprika-rubbed sirloin, slow roasted, with garlic and truffle oil mash and mushroom sauce. One bite melts in your mouth like butter on a hot spoon and the taste! Unbelievable, why has nobody thought of this before? Fred is staring at his dinner in fear - one of the yabbies (prawn-like crustaceans) has a head. A waitress comes over very concerned, she thinks something is wrong.
"Is this wrong?"
"No, I just really don't like eating things with heads on…"
She guffaws with laughter. "Oh my… No hunting or gathering for you!"

The food is weird, make no mistake, but it's also very, VERY good and very well presented. We are all very richly fed by the time Fred get dessert - sorbet, how can sorbet be gorgeous? Well, it is. I have attached a picture, just an iPhone photograph, but it illustrated the point. I wish we'd taken pictures of the rest of the food - it was very fine, no wonder Bill liked it. At least he'd been well fed when he found out about the worst terrorist attack in American history. As we leave (probably slower than Bill Clinton did) I stare into the kitchen and see just two blokes cooking - one is arranging the plates. Two?! The waitress nods - just the two of them. I don't how these guys aren't Michelin starred yet, but I'm glad we got in early.

Posted by fredginger 23:12 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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