Queensland - where the rainforest meets the sea!
Thursday 25th January 2018
We headed to Queensland after a long layover in Alice Springs which gave us a chance to catch up on postcards and emails - even sending Christmas cards to family at home.
We arrived late and couldn't make out much of our surroundings on the drive from Cairns airport to Port Douglas.
We spent our first couple days just relaxing on the world famous Four Mile Beach and even ventured into the water but only where the stinger nets offer some protection during jellyfish season. It's a stunning stretch of beach, running for miles (four probably) but firm sand means they've held horse racing on the beach and even cycle races.
The town of Port Douglas has a lot to offer, from chain shops to independent shops, pop ups and an array of eateries. It has a fancy feel to it, similar to sandbanks in Dorset but on a larger scale.
We found our way to the weekend market and enjoyed a mooch around it, lots of jewellery which the girls liked as well as other local crafts. We also found the most beautiful little church, St Mary's by the Sea - a non denominational church used for wedding and prayers. Truly you couldn't imagine a more picturesque setting. It was saved by two local ladies after it was due to be smashed down and the community rallied behind them and had it moved from its location to the sea front. A lovely story that typifies the community spirit of Port Douglas.
We decided that we ought to head out as tempting as it was to stay in Port Douglas the whole time, and went out on a day trip to the Daintree Rainforest, not far north and with so much to explore.
On the way we stopped at the Mossman Gorge, hopped on the bus to the trail and found our way through the forest. It's so beautiful and we have really realised that we especially enjoy being in a forest, surrounded by trees and nature, it's peaceful and calming.
We found our way to the water and had been advised against swimming by the staff but told that we could decide when we arrived if we felt it was safe.
There were plenty of people in the water and we decided to put our toes in. The water was just astonishingly clear - like swimming in mineral water (which I suppose it is) but you could see every pebble on the bottom and every scale on the fish. It was cold without being numbingly painful and exhilarating to feel the strength of the current. Some ladies close by advised us to stay left of the rocks as the pull of the current got stronger and we heeded the warning as you could feel it trying to take you as you ventured nearer. We swam safely, never venturing too far and it really was worth it as the water felt amazing.
We got out as larger parties started to arrive and realised that a young dad with his toddler had ventured to the right of the rocks and he was now stuck, on tip toes almost out of his depth and unable to move. He couldn't put the boy down nor could he get himself out. Nikki clambered over to help along with another local lady and the Dad managed to pass the boy out to the lady while Nikki stayed to offer encouragement to the father. They both got out but it was scary to see and a real warning that the water can look beautiful and manageable but under the calm surface is a strong and dangerous current. Things could have ended very differently and people have drowned at Mossman gorge so if you do go be sure to adhere to all the safety warnings.
We headed back although we could have stayed much longer, we wanted to explore the Daintree rainforest and try and make it to Cape Tribulation.
We took the little chain ferry - very similar to the one crossing the Nile in Uganda - across to the rainforest and started the drive. You could spend days or even weeks here and still not manage to do everything. It's phenomenal - nature at its purest. We pulled in at Alexandra lookout, seeing where the Daintree river meets the Coral sea.
The girls loved the activity centre and I loved learning about the forest - we saw ylang ylang trees, learnt about the rainforest canopy, climbed the tower and chatted to some parrots!
After a quick late lunch stop we headed up to Cape Tribulation (we can't stop singing it to the tune of "congratulations" - try it, it'll get stuck in your head too!). We spent much of the part of this trip rather fearful of the crocodiles in Cairns, they've been found in the sea as well as in the foresty areas and upon arriving at the car park we saw a sign about the jellyfish and a massive bottle of vinegar (for stings) as well as warning signs about crocs and how you shouldn't even paddle in the water as they've been known to lurk in the shallows.
With very few people around it made it a really nice walk along the beach, but honestly the worry about what's lurking in the bushes or the sea did temper the enjoyment!
We began the drive home ready for our next adventure - a trip to the outer reef and the low isles!
The following day we were up early to head to the boat, we arrived and changed into our stinger suits, we'd chosen to go with Reef Sprinter as it allowed us a good amount of time in the water without a long boat trip, plus they'd seen lots of turtles in the water in recent days. We are all prone to seasickness and I still remember feeling very ill when I went to the Great Barrier Reef in my early 20s so this seemed like the best way to see part of the Great Barrier Reef without being stuck on a boat all day.
Reef Sprinter was brilliant, the trip out was an adventure in itself, like being on a ride as we were strapped in to our seats racing across the waves.
We slowed down near a picturesque island with a tiny lighthouse, only a couple of other boats were there which was another reason for picking this tour, less people in the water! We changed boats to their glass bottomed vessel to get closer to the shore and give us a look at what lies beneath! We floated over coral and fish and even a turtle - our first glimpse! Something about turtles is just magical to me and we were thrilled to have seen one even from the boat.
Our captain, Steve chatted knowledgeably about the reef and the wildlife in it, he also explained how the reef here had been damaged by Cyclone Yasi that passed over if in 2011. He also takes about coral bleaching and how it has become a hot topic by environmentalists, he told us that the coral naturally regenerates and that this is all part of its cycle. Bleaching is effectively sunburn and the coral isn't dead, it will return but it meant that the brighter colours of the coral weren't as evident as we hoped.
We went out snorkelling and saw so many fish, an incredible variety, some nibbling on coral, others in shoals swimming together, it's amazing to watch and always reminds me of Finding Nemo. I saw a stingray too and loved watching the coral waving in the sea currents.
I headed back to shore disappointed not to have found a turtle and checked on the girls. Darcy had spotted a turtle in the distance whilst nik was having a wander around the island with the go pro and Kitty had had enough snorkelling and was out on the glass boat having befriended the captain's daughter - six year old Lola.
I headed back in determined to find a turtle and after much much swimming and searching suddenly in front of me, gliding effortlessly was a turtle. I swam my hardest to keep up with her, entranced by this amazing creature just swimming around going about her turtley business. It's a moment I will never forget and I could hear my own "oohs" and "aahhhs" coming out the top of my snorkel!! I needed to share the moment so I swam back in to get Darcy and Nikki and showed them where I had been swimming with the turtle. They headed out themselves while I returned to Kitty and got out my stinger suit as our time was almost up.
As they emerged from the sea Darcy's face at having swam with the turtle was indescribable, a mixture of elation and joy and surprise - a once in a lifetime for this daughter of mine who avidly reads her National Geographic sea turtle book and whose desperation to save turtles in Barbados helped shape this trip. It was a moment of pure happiness for us - so magical and one we will all remember.
Then it was time to leave Port Douglas, we originally wanted to drive all the way to Sydney but found that the Christmas holidays meant most cars were booked or no rental companies had any cars they wanted to end up in Sydney.
We headed south to the airport stopping on the way at Hartley's crocodile adventure park. Super fun with koalas and cassowaries but mainly crocodiles as it is a working farm providing meat and skin. It was really interesting and a great stop for us all on the way.
We stayed in Cairns for a couple of nights at the absolutely brilliant Coconut Cairns holiday park - absolutely recommend it if you're ever in the area as it was fab - super staff, amazing splash park and everything included in the very reasonable price - tennis, swimming pools, outdoor cinema nights, it was perfect and very hard to leave!
Our next adventure in New South Wales was about to begin!