25.06.2010 - 26.06.2010 31 °C
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.