Our last day in Cairns brought our first re-packing challenge, how to get everything back in after it had so gratefully exploded from our backpacks? Here we have the first bit of advice that we can give with absolute confidence, even after being on the road for a couple of weeks; packing cubes, buy packing cubes, they have made our lives so much easier.
And so, after the Queen’s Birthday celebrations (the Aussies have a day off and the Brits don’t, go figure!), we picked up our home for the next 8 weeks, a 4×4 campervan which we have christened Heidi Hilux. There was some nervous anticipation about this but in the end it was unfounded, Heidi is awesome. We stocked up on essentials and headed north to Cape Tribulation via the Daintree River Chain Ferry and the stunning Great Barrier Reef Drive with its backdrop of mountains, beach and ocean. Not a bad way to clock up our first few kms. We made a point of sharing the driving from the very beginning so that we could both get a feel for it and so that James could overcome some of his nervousness at anyone other than him driving.
Our first stop was beautiful Cow Bay Beach, an expanse of fine white sand backed by the rainforest and palm trees. This was our first chance to sink our toes in to the sand in Oz and it did not disappoint.
A rope swing off the over-hanging palms was an added bonus.
We continued our journey north, stopping briefly for a walk through the mangroves to do our bit feeding the local mosquito population and to learn about the ecosystem (every day is a school day). We arrived at the Cape Tribulation Safari Lodge, our first campsite and departure point for our Great Barrier Reef trip the following day. Cape Tribulation beach was yet another beautiful setting and a great spot for an evening leg stretch and some (unsuccessful) croc spotting. Cape Tribulation is the only place in the world where two World Heritage sites meet; the rainforest and the reef, not too shabby for a camping spot.
Setting up the van for the first time was a general success although we did have some head scratching over where the water from the sink went, a question it took us another few days to figure out. Our first night in the camper was spent surrounded by rainforest, and rainforest noises. Truly wonderful, although the configuration of the bed may take some getting used to as Caro kept knocking her arms and legs in to the low roof at the front of the van.
We were up early the following morning to head out to the reef with Ocean Safari (thanks to the elder Stones for their very generous birthday present!) Bear with us for a quick minute whilst we gush / gloat; we had chosen Ocean Safari as the trip was limited to 25 people and the journey out to the reef was short. We were not disappointed in any respect; the team, both onshore and on the boat, were excellent, it took 25 minutes to reach Mackay reef, which we had entirely to ourselves, and we enjoyed two hours of snorkelling in two different locations. Now for the gloating; we were in the water at our first site for about 2 minutes before spotting our first turtle, here he is:
He was soon joined by a friend and we spent 15 glorious minutes watching them feed along the bottom, absolutely perfect. At our second site we spent our time in the shallower water marvelling at the colours and vast array of fish, Caro had a quick glimpse of an octopus and the crowning jewel were the enormous and beautiful clams. A turtle was casually hanging out under the boat when we returned to it so we spent another 5 minutes with him before making the trip back to the beach, where we were advised to get off the boat and out of the water as quickly as possible to avoid unwanted attention from crocs.
The afternoon found us playing the first of many games of Canasta (1-0 to Caro) followed by a BBQ dinner and bed. The next morning, we hit the beach for a barefoot morning run, observing that we could probably work up more enthusiasm for running in general if the setting were as good every time.
This was followed by our first bit of 4×4 driving on the Bloomfield Track, which winds through the mountains of the Daintree Rainforest towards Cook Town. A few creek crossings and steep slopes later, we emerged and took a short walk to the Bloomfield Falls, another of the many waterfalls so far on our trip (turns out you can never see too many). We had been told there was a resident salty so we were on full alert but still no croc sighting for us.
We had a quick stop in Cook Town and climbed to the peak where Lieutenant Cook looked out over the ocean many years before and concluded that he and his crew were royally screwed. The site itself actually has some interesting and amusing anecdotes and if you happen to be nearby it’s worth a visit (drive up, don’t walk!) but beyond that there isn’t much to see so we promptly left again.
We had been told (again by the excellent staff at Ocean Safari) that a stop at Archer point was a must, despite not featuring in the guide book, so we made our way down a gravel road until we hit an absolutely breathtaking and isolated coastline which was perhaps the most beautiful we had seen so far. We pitched our chairs for a leisurely lunch and relax, followed by a wander through the rugged landscape.
We set up camp at the Lion’s Den Pub, about 20 minutes South of Cooktown. This was a real experience in itself, and one which we would highly recommend. It features the world’s grumpiest camel, cockatoos flinging mangoes at you from above and cattle invading the campsite, along with enormous portions of tasty food. A river runs along the back of the campsite and, as it is too high up the river system for crocs, we went for a refreshing swim before retiring to the pub for another round of cards (1-1) and a few drinks, James adhering strictly to the trip rules and trying all of the local beers.