Exploring Australia: The Rainforest in a Cyclone

We headed out of Sydney right when the weather was finally predicted to become nice to head up to Cairns for 10 days. The issue was that the night before our departure, a cyclone struck the northern part of the state we were heading to and then got stuck there due to a pocket of low pressure. This meant that we headed from rain to more rain. Even though it rained a bit during the first part of the trip it was still great

Our flight was an uneventful three hour journey to Cairns, and then we hopped in the shuttle bus to our rental car. It was raining. Cairns is an ocean front town, which many of the major cities in Australia are, that is frequently used by visitors as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. We got our car and stocked up on food and headed to the Atherton Tablelands. The tablelands are an area about 30 miles inland that are at 2,500-3,000 feet. They are a big agricultural and dairy farming area. The rain thankfully stopped before we left the grocery store. We had a very, very windy road to gain the elevation, with some misty clearings, but most of the views were socked in by the clouds. We made a couple stops, with the first being a giant fig/ficus/banyan (pick your terminology) tree and the second being a dairy/cheese/chocolate factory. 

One difference from New Zealand that we noticed right away is how red the soil is, coupled with slightly different fauna, and with a lot less ferns and palms. We continued our drive and stopped at a random farm stand and picked up some avocados, limes, peppers, and potatoes for the next few days. The limes were a big score, since for some reason they are $20 USD/kg in New Zealand and were only $3 USD/kg at the stand. Our next detour was to Malanda Falls, which would have been an awesome swimming hole if the weather had been better. Instead of swimming we went for a short walk looking for tree kangaroos. We walked at an excruciatingly slow pace since Katy held onto my arm and looked up into the trees the ENTIRE time, trying to catch a peek of the elusive tree kangaroo. We eventually made it to a platypus viewing platform, where we saw a bunch of turtles and a bush turkey, but no platypus. Katy did take a break from peering at the treetops when I discovered a pademelon which is a marsupial hopping around on the ground.  We got skunked on seeing any tree kangaroos, but at least we saw a few creatures.

Four different types of passionfruit given to us by our hosts

We then arrived at our AirBnB, which was a little cottage next to a couple’s home a couple miles off the main drag, past the milking station, past where the two-way road narrowed to one lane. It was a great AirBnB. The owners brought over some purple and yellow passion fruit, which have slightly different tastes. They also showed to us a couple nasty jungle plants to avoid, including the stinging tree and the lawyers’ vine. We settled in with some beer and a game of settlers and they came back with a giant granadilla which is the largest fruit in the passion fruit family. They cut it open and explained how to cook the flesh which is starchy and slightly fruity. I would put it close to a potato, in that it is fairly bland and goes well with any seasoning, which worked out well since we were making a curry for dinner. We managed to avoid rain and mosquito bites the rest of the night, but had to retreat into the house after settlers due to Katy not liking the size of bugs (Katy: HUGE!!) that were attracted to the outdoor lights.

The next day we woke up and realized why they had a fire going in the house the previous night when we arrived. It was wet, the type of wet that makes your completely dry jeans damp, and that will prevent your clothes from ever drying. As we were packing up the car it was lightly raining/being 100% humid, and once we pulled out of the driveway it started to rain for real. Unfortunately this rain was stubborn and would last all day and into the next one. When it was just medium strength raining, we were going to take another shot at seeing platypuses, but a few seconds before we pulled into the parking lot the rain intensified significantly, and so we abandoned that plan. We then continued on to a coffee plantation and went on a tour and had a coffee. We were doing decent on time at this point, but that was not to last. We then continued our drive towards the Daintree River ferry, but we discovered the road was closed 10 miles before a junction that we needed to reach. This necessitated a driver change and what turned into a 3 hour detour to backtrack. The road was closed due to flooding, and the waters were still rising at that point. Due to the detour, we had to skip all of the activities we had planned to do that day and basically spend 6-7 hours driving instead of 3ish. 

We used our internet skills and found the Queensland road closure page and were able to assess that we could still make it to our destination. We also found the Douglas shire council’s Facebook page, which was giving updates on the ferry we needed to cross the river, and they said they might have to close at 5:30pm instead of midnight due to high (and still rising) water levels. 

The river was only about four times higher than normal

We made it to the ferry before they closed due to flood levels. The ferry is an old school river ferry that operates on a cable system and goes straight across the river. It is the only access to the area by car. We could see why they were saying it might close because the water level was a touch high. The scary part was getting off the ferry. The exit ramp was rather flooded and luckily there was a car ahead of us so we followed them and made it to dry ground without a hitch. By rather flooded, I mean the river was so high the exit ramp from the ferry was at almost 45* instead of the normal 15*, and there was probably a foot of standing water at the junction of the road and the ferry ramp. I have to admit that I was glad I was not driving and also glad that somehow water did not come in through the car doors. The rest of the road was pretty manageable, but you could tell the rain was rather intense with a lot of the ground flooded, but the levels were not over the road.

This was the road. Just a small waterfall spilling right on it.

It did create a large number of waterfalls at or near the road, including one to drive your car through if you wanted a free car wash. We made it to within 200 meters of where we were staying, a tree house on an exotic fruit farm, and there was water on the road.  The difference with this water was that it was actually flowing across the road at a decent clip. I got out of the car and sussed it out to be ankle deep and was really considering parking the car and walking, which I really did not want to do. At that moment another car, albeit a small SUV, drove through it without a hitch. That gave us probably a false sense of security, and we decided to drive across, but Katy made us switch and made me drive. We successfully forded the creek and finally ended our drive a touch after 5pm, with a few new white hairs.

The accommodation was an exotic fruit farm that had 3 rental bungalows (Katy called it a tree house), and it is definitely nicer than our normal backpacker/shared bathroom type accommodations. We fell asleep that night listening to the sounds of the ongoing heavy rain and the surrounding rainforest. 

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