Exploring Australia: Cape Tribulation, Port Douglas, Cairns

We woke up our first morning in Cape Tribulation with no sense of urgency. The lack of urgency was due to the fact that about thirty minutes after we crossed the ferry the previous night they closed it. They very rarely close the ferry, and it is not rare to go an entire year without closing the ferry once. We logged onto the Douglas Shire council’s Facebook page, and their update informed us that the ferry might open up later in the day, but it wasn’t guaranteed. This meant that many businesses were closed, since the workers live on the other side of the ferry, and they could not get to work. The water was also too high to do any of the river cruises or crocodile safaris we were considering. 

We were very relieved to discover when we headed out that the water level had dropped a decent amount from the previous night, and the road leaving the accommodation was no longer flooded. I was not looking forward to driving through that again. 

The roads were delightfully void of cars, but rather full of debris. You could tell that the water had gone down significantly since there was not as much encroaching upon the roads and far fewer waterfalls actively attacking the road. There were two sections of the road with trees down, and it looked like a local had taken a chainsaw and cut a section large enough for their car to fit through and then continued on. Thankfully my car was smaller than their car, so I was able to squeeze our car through as well.

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We eventually made it past an epic car-eating pothole to our destination for the day, the Daintree rainforest discovery center. There was a ground level walk, an elevated walking path around 20-30 feet off the ground, and a tower that took you to the top of the canopy. It was interesting, but most of the wildlife was hidden away since it was still raining out. 

Our next planned stop was to get ice cream, but both of the ice cream shops were closed. Katy was not happy in the slightest. We abandoned the idea of ice cream for lunch and went for real food. The first two places we tried to go were closed, but the third place was open. We learned that much of the Daintree shuts down if the ferry shuts down. 

The vines are called lawyers tongue/wait-awhile and have hundreds of barbs in them and can really slow you down.

We then went for a walk on a beach boardwalk through mangrove forest where we actually encountered a human and made two stops on the beach. The beach is not really a great swimming beach because it is currently stinger season (box jelly fish), and there are saltwater crocodiles that occasionally come to the beaches. We then headed back to our bungalow/treehouse. The water had risen some since the morning, but the water was still not on the road. I then went for a walk through the fruit orchards and picked some mangosteens (a fruit the size/color of a plum, but that contains pieces of white flesh inside, and is mild and juicy). 

Mangosteen at top (white inside), the green thing’s pulp tastes like vanilla ice cream, the orange thing tastes like a starchy mild papaya

After our dinner of grilled barramundi (local white fish) we checked the ferry status, and it turns out that the ferry only opened for about an hour all day, and water levels were still at the upper limit of moderate flood levels. Part of the issue with the ferry is that the rain also correlated with a king tide, which is the highest of high tides. The ferry opened at the low tide mark, and they predicted they would open around 12:30/1pm the next day, once the tide went out again in the morning. This timing worked for us since we wanted to cross the ferry at about that time. 

The next day we ate breakfast, went for a walk around the orchard, marveled at how much lower the water level was (although it was still flood stage), and headed back to the elevated jungle walk. We saw a lot more animal activity, which probably corresponded with the rain having stopped for the first time in several days. Along the way we were still skunked by the first ice cream place, but the second one was open, and we got some jungle fruit flavored ice cream. 

It was then my turn to drive onto the ferry, and boy was it easy compared to Katy’s conquest. The ramp lowered at a manageable level, and there was no water to wade through on either end. We then headed to a sugarcane and cocoa farm tour. The tour was just okay. You could tell the farmer had a set script, and it was his wife’s idea, but there was a canola farmer on the tour that asked a bunch of interesting questions, which made it way better than it would have been otherwise.

We then jumped into our car, overjoyed that it was still not raining, and headed towards Port Douglas. Port Douglas is a coastal tourist town about 45 minutes north of Cairns. I was expecting a high-end ritzy town and was pleasantly surprised by how laid back and pleasant the town was. We booked into the Pullman hotel, which was a touch more than we normally spend on hotels, but in low season it was less than half the price it normally is. I somehow was expecting the drive from the sugarcane plantation to take a lot longer than it did and started to give Katy grief about her navigation when she was telling me to go on all these side roads, but I was wrong, and she successfully guided us there in record time. I somehow had accumulated low level status with Accor hotels, but I have no idea why. The hotel was kind enough to give us an upgrade to a one bedroom suite and a bottle of champagne. 

The main reason we were staying at this hotel was the pool. They claim the pool is the largest one in Australia, which might be a true statement…  It doesn’t exactly have a lazy river, but it is pretty impressively large with columns supporting tiki torches throughout. Shortly after we arrived, we headed to the pool. Katy being Katy has forced me to pack her lollipop floaty. This floaty took up 1/4 of my bag and is about six feet long inflated. Katy of course designated me as the lollipop inflator. Let me tell you, next time I am bringing a pump even if it takes another 1/4 of my bag. After ten minutes of blowing the floaty up, it was only 3/4 inflated,and my face was as red as a beet. This entire time Katy looked on urging me to blow it up faster and to not take any breaks so she could “lollipop” sooner. I finally topped it up,and off she went into the pool. Unfortunately our evening pool time was interrupted by what started as a sprinkle and turned into real rain. At this stage, the lollipop came in handy since we popped it over our heads, and it was an instant giant lollipop umbrella. 

It turned out that our room had a full kitchen and laundry which was a giant win. We made a quick grocery store run and cooked some dinner. I think that after dinner I promptly fell asleep. At least I tried to be sneaky about it by falling asleep briefly in three different places for varying times. Meanwhile Katy was productive and finished up her scuba diving certification e-learning.

I started the next day with a bang by setting off the fire alarm while cooking soy breakfast sausages at 8:30. Boy was the alarm loud, and thankfully I was the only one who felt a need to leave the building like the alarm was instructing you to do.  I may place the blame with the fake meats, but it truly was user error. Afterward, I finished cooking breakfast by microwaving the breakfast sausage, and then we headed out to the beach. 

Even though our resort was on the beach, we had to drive about 10 minutes down the road to get to an area where it was safe to swim. It is the middle of stinger season, and they have certain lengths of beach completely surrounded by nets that are small enough to prevent the small irukandje and larger box jellyfish from coming in and ruining your day. After beaching for a few hours, we wandered and explored “downtown” Port Douglas. This really means that we walked down the Main Street until Katy found a place she could get a turmeric latte and that was where we ended up eating lunch. On the way home we stopped at the weekly farmers’ market and grabbed a couple more avocados for $0.70 each (this is a steal since they are now out of season in New Zealand, and they were $3.50 USD when we left), some rambutans, and a guava Apple (it was named something like that). It was then time to head back and do some more pool lounging.

Our final morning at the Sea Temple I managed to cook breakfast without setting off the fire alarm, which was a major internal victory for me. Katy then went and got in a final pool session for about 30 minutes. It was a great weather day, and we headed towards Kuranda so Katy could add to her list of alternate modes of transportation. With much excitement, Katy paid the $160 bill to ride a really long gondola (7.5 km) to a mountain jungle town and then a 1.5 hour scenic train ride back. My enthusiasm was tempered because I took it that we were paying money to ride in a metal sweat box for an hour in 95 degree weather with near 100% humidity. 

A positive was that it was not raining and relatively clear, providing views of the hinterland. I think this is the first time I have heard someone use the term “hinterland” in earnest, rather than in jest. Soon after we made it in the sweat box to the first platform, the breeze picked up, and it became downright pleasant. It was actually a pretty cool ride above the trees. We saw many Ulysses butterflies, which are the bright blue ones, some green parrots (I have no idea if they were parrots, but it sounds better if I say they were), and many types of flowering trees. 

We eventually made it to the town of Kuranda where the gondola terminated and we made a beeline to the koala gardens. Katy had discovered that she could hold a koala and get her picture with it, and she decided it was a must-do on the trip. The koala park zoo was rather small, but there was a part where you could feed a variety of marsupials ranging from the small pademelons to the larger wallabies. Then it was time for Katy to hold the koala. We got in line for the “cuddle a koala” experience, and Katy gave me VERY strict instructions to be very slow taking pictures of her holding the koala, and then for the group photo of both of us and the koala to be slow to walk over to give her more cuddle time with her koala. Needless to say, Katy enjoyed cuddling the koala and has talked about it for days afterwards. 

We then explored the town some more and grabbed the train back to our car. The train turned out to be 90 minutes of screeching brakes with maybe 10 minutes of views. It got a little old after the first 15 minutes. In hindsight doing the sweat box gondola both ways is the right choice. 

We then made it back to Cairns, checking into our pleasantly nice $50 backpackers hostel, returned the car, and went to a couple happy hours around town. Cairns is definitely a real city with some solid tourism infrastructure. The second part of our trip was a blast, even though the weather wasn’t the most pleasant. There is something to be said for being in the rainforest when it rains almost two feet; it certainly adds to the atmosphere. 

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