Saturday, 16 October 2010

A Little Further North to Cape Tribulation

Crossing the Daintree River
After yesterday, we will start heading a little less further north, as our journey took as across the Daintree River and through a winding, narrow road to Cape Tribulation. This is the journey we would have made a few days ago, with trailer attached but for our concern about rain and crocodiles. It was pouring again and several of the creek crossings were well over the road, alleviating possible shame that we are getting soft. In truth, sensible would be a fairer description.

The crossing of the Daintree is achieved via a large and very powerful car ferry, under-worked during our passage but scooting us across the wide river in less than three minutes and from the start of the thirty odd kms of blacktop to Cape Tribulation, you become aware that this is not designed to be a fast trip as one tight hairpin bend follows another and where ever straights are more than fifty metres long, large suspension wrecking speed bumps topped with fist size rocks embedded in the concrete layer on top, are placed to avoid the need for fourth gear.

A sign at the start even implored visitors to slow down and soak it it up.

Then of course, there are the two metre high cassowaries who wander across the road with the highest level of pedestrian right of way. We sighted one male, with his 30cm high chick following, about 200m ahead of us but he was gone before we could make them into a photo.

Lunch was at a cafe/bar at Thornton Beach. We ate our toasted focaccia looking into a mix of rainforest and mangrove which had the beach as its backdrop.

When we finally reached Cape Tribulation, the rain had eased a tad and we walked the short boardwalk to the lookout. It was wet, the view was restricted but we both had a wonderful sense of achievement at the more than 3000kms we had travelled in the past three weeks and the things we had seen. Along the boardwalk was a beautiful lagoon, coloured brown from the surrounding trees sending sonar rings across to meet with others as large drops fell from nodding leaves. Here was that sudden interface between forest and sea ... forest, mangrove and sea to be precise.

We moved on reluctantly but visited Noah Beach campsite, which would have been our destination and vindication was all over our faces. It was sodden, pools of water were just joining forces and campsites were gradually becoming submarines and all the time the rain kept bucketing down. There was only one group in the camping grounds and they were huddled under a medium sized tarp which had been gerry rigged using trees, guy ropes and no poles and the rain was gradually boxing them into an ever decreasing space at the centre. We got back into our dry vehicle and drove off. The trip back to Daintree Village was just as good and we realised that had it been dry, we would never have seen this beautiful place at its best.

By mid afternoon, we had arrived at the Daintree River Cruise headquarters, their sign a distinctive painting of two egrets but whose significance we would not understand until very late in the day. We had booked a three hour bird and nature lovers cruise which would take us to sunset, although under the weather conditions, we didn't expect to see it. Our guide, Mick, arrived barefooted and in khaki with a severe haircut and cheeky smile and asked us what we wanted to see. My reply, "what ever you think we should see" lit up his face and he replied, "I think this is going to work out just fine, eh".

It did.

For the next three hours, we probably only travelled 3km and half of that in the last half hour but what a fantastic experience. Hailing originally from Albany in WA, Mick came to Cairns in the late eighties to work on landscaping the foreshore in Cairns after high tides had wiped it out and soon found his way to Daintree. He started work as a carpenter doing infrastructure work for the Rainforest Centre and just seemed to fall into boat driving and guiding. However it happened, his knowledge is immense and he was recognising birds by call and then maneuvering the boat with expertise so we could see and photograph them. Mick interpreted what we were seeing, guiding us so that we might also have his zeal and love for the Daintree. We were also given a thorough explanation of the mangroves and how their systems work and we would have been happy with that, especially as the rain was rallying again and driving into any space it had not previously wet under the boat's canopy.

However, we huddled under towels as the light faded, assured by Mick that this final part of the trip was worth the trouble. Rounding a big bend in the river, we both we confronted with one of those truly amazing sights one will always remember. A section of about 100m of trees along the river bank were gradually turning from being green, to polka dotted in white. Cattle Egrets were flying in large groups - perhaps 30 to 70 in each group - and finding a roost. As we watched, flock after flock came winging down the river and settled on their own wooded space. In the highest spots, Grand Egrets their necks with the extra kink, held court above the others. We sat for twenty minutes, rain still continuing its dominant role in the rainforest scheme of things and still the egrets kept coming.

We have had one or two of these humbling experiences in the wild and they are not subject for comparison but sit beside each other as a collection of moments which leave us in awe both in the experiencing and in the remembering. We might have hoped to see these thousands of white birds soaring in and landing with such lightness that even small branches seemed not to bother in some imagined wonder that the Daintree might have offered but to have hope superseded by reality was beyond breathtaking. In just a short time here, we have seen how there are many that want to give tourists a thrill - the big crocs are the main attraction - but we wanted something different. In Mick, we found someone who wanted us to understand the Daintree, not just ooh and aah our way through an hour on the water. Thank goodness there a few real operators left.

To cap this day, we dried off back at camp and wandered across the road to the general store/restaurant/grog shop and entertainment centre and joined others for mackerel and chips - the one dish on the menu - and a bottle of red and some vary reasonable live music. After dinner, Sue managed to talk our ten co-diners into dancing and the owner even smiled ... something out of the ordinary for him as he seemed to use a scowl as a greeting.

What a remarkable day!

1 comment:

  1. Wow! What a trip. Have enjoyed reading about your journeys.And Mick was obviously an enlightened sand Groper who has found his niche in life.
    By the way did you join in the dancing?
    Steve L


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