Our plans for Cairns were possibly the most wishy-washy out of all the places we’d been thus far on our East Coast journey. We had a whole week to psyche ourselves up for our trip into the outback, and what better way to prepare for plus-40oC dry heat than spend a week in cool and rainy Cairns? We were really lucky that the wifi in the hostel was pretty good. Yes, we had to pay for it and if we were only going to be staying there for a couple of nights then I probably wouldn’t have forked out for it, but there you go. Instant internet access is so important these days that it’s quite scary. Anyway, I digress. We had three things sorted – a snorkel trip to the Great Barrier Reef, a skydive and a trip further up north into the Daintree Rainforest and on up to Cape Tribulation.
Cairns is the only place on Planet Earth where you can see two UNESCO World Heritage Sites at the same time. Granted, you are also in the vicinity of a LOT of creatures who can kill you, but how many people can say they’ve seen the Great Barrier Reef from the Daintree Rainforest? I mean, it’s true you can actually see the Reef from Space, but I would imagine that there are far fewer people that can claim they’ve seen that!
Of course, the first thing we had booked was snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef. Due to the fact that I don’t have a GoPro, I have no pictures of this, but rest assured, even in the light drizzle, we got to see some pretty incredible sights under the water. Of course we had to put stinger-suits on, and we got given flippers again, so I was quite happy with the flotation devices we were given. Annoyingly, we also had to wear a life jacket too, but I guess the companies offering trips out into the middle of the ocean have to cover their backs somehow… yes, we had travelled out around an hour and a half from the coast of Cairns before the boat stopped to anchor and we could jump off and see one of the seven natural wonders of the world. (If you want to spend an hour on the internet actually learning stuff instead of an hour scrolling Facebook and watching cat videos, try Googling the Seven Wonders of the World, and seeing how many different lists there are. Seriously, I don’t know where that hour went!) In and amongst the awesomeness of the corals, the beautiful colours, and some pretty fish too, I heard a call of my name from the other end of where we were all snorkelling. Helen had found a Green Sea Turtle! I swam over as quick as my life jacket would allow and then no joke, we swam with this turtle for a good few minutes. Obviously, no touching, but I was that close that if I wanted to, I could have done. So graceful and massive! That’s another thing to cross off the bucket list!
We had a bit of lunch back on the boat and then we had a serious swim ahead of us. The boat had anchored to a buoy 250-metres away from a tiny little island. When I say tiny, there was literally 15-20-metres of sand in the middle of the ocean. No trees, no shade, nothing except a couple of logs that some birds were chilling on. We were told that we had to swim from the boat straight to the island and not to drift because the current was pretty strong. You’ll never guess which current it was… anyone seen Finding Nemo? Yup, it was the EAC, or the East Australian Current. Pretty strong it was and all! On the way, there was of course some awesome marine life to look at. There were these brilliant royal blue starfish that were really quite big just hugging some of the coral, but every time I got distracted by the cool stuff under the water, I found myself drifting. I would look up, see the island in the distance, rotate my body directly to it and start swimming with purpose, long kicks of your legs from your hips, like you’re some kind of mer-person. Then I would look back up again and find that I was swimming to the left of the island. I’d readjust myself and no sooner had I looked up again, I was hardly making any traction and swaying towards the left of the island again. It took a long time for me to get there. But I did. Eventually. Helen and some of our friends were already on the island and could see someone needed some life-guarding assistance and joked that they hoped it wasn’t me! She says that she could see me already, so wasn’t concerned for my well-being… In any case, after a while on the island where we were treated to a bit sunshine, though it was slightly easier to swim back to the boat, it still took me an extra 5-10 minutes! I keep telling you how unfit I am. I should join a gym when I get home.
A couple days after my skydive, we had a trip up to Cape Tribulation planned, and this was where we’d get a chance to go through the rainforest, go swim in the Daintree River, and go croc-spotting! Unfortunately, Mother Nature had some other ideas in mind for us! We got to the rainforest. Where it rained. We couldn’t go swimming at Josephine Falls or the normal swim spot because the water level was too high and rising rapidly. No bother, we just went to another spot a bit further along. Nu-uh. Not happening here. Normally, the water here is completely still and about knee-level if not lower. Our guide was gobsmacked! The water wasn’t still at all and at least 4-ft. And even though this area was a little bit sheltered, if you got swept up in it, you’d be rushed out into crocodile-infested waters! Not ideal… And the croc-spotting boat-trip? Well, we did go on the trip but apparently due to all the rain, the water temperature was down, so the crocs were out of the water, trying to keep warm under the trees making it close to impossible to find them. We saw lots of bats though.
Okay, so we stopped off for some lunch at this nice little hostel/bar/pub/restaurant in the middle of the rainforest. Since we’re on a bit of a tight schedule, we’re told we can have 45-minutes. After eating, there was a beautiful beach a little further on through the trees that we could go have a look at, but no swimming, because of the numerous things that can kill you. You know, the jellyfish, the other stingers, the crocodiles, the sharks and all the rest of it. Trouble was, as soon as we finished eating, it started chucking it down again. A few people were clever and brought raincoats with them, but I am apparently not one of those people. In fact, my raincoat is about as useful as a chocolate teapot. Another girl decided she was going to walk down to the beach in just her bikini and I thought that was a genius idea, so we went, shivering slightly in the cold rain down to the beach, took a picture and then walked back again. It was a little bit like going to the beach in England to be honest with you. And what with only wearing a bikini, I didn’t have a pocket for Thierry to sit in. So you can have this picture of me grinning like a loon.
Along the way, there was a boardwalk over what I imagine on any normal day would be a cute little creek. Not today, it was a gushing river maybe six inches below the wooden bridge. When we got back to the bar our guide gathered us all together and let us know a few things. Whilst he had been conducting tours out in the Rainforest for around 15 years, it was only his first solo Cape Tribulation tour with this particular company. He had asked the locals and they all said that their creeks in their gardens had overflowed in the past day or two since they’d had over 300mm of rain overnight. This part of the rainforest normally gets on average 600-800mm rain per year. Almost half that had fallen in less than 24 hours. So he wanted to get in touch with the bosses and find out what the back-up plan was in this kind of situation. Surprise surprise, there isn’t really a plan “B” when the back-up swimming area to the back-up swimming creek to the back-up bit of water was all flooded out. Our guide was brilliant. He used to white-water raft at his last job and he said he wouldn’t even trust himself in the waters that day, let alone let any of us jump in. He even said that when there were warnings, sometimes he would talk to the (National) Park Rangers and work around them, but not today. No chance. Not when apparently Josephine Falls can rise a whole meter in 20-seconds of rainfall. Instead we went to a family-run ice-creamery where they actually grow all of the fruits in their orchards to ensure only the freshest ingredients.
On the way back to Cairns we stopped off at Port Douglas and their world-famous Four Mile Beach, but in the rainy greyness of the day, it didn’t really look all that impressive. I mean… At least I can say that I’ve been there. Just didn’t experience it in all its glory. It just gives me a good excuse to come back to Cairns one day… you listening, Mike?!??
Even though it was pretty much a washout trip to the rainforest, we didn’t actually get to see any of the waterfalls that the rainforest is famous for, so when we got back to Cairns we found ourselves in a Happy Travels shop right next to our hostel. Mostly because the guy in there was bored towards the end of his shift and he stopped us to say hi, but we got chatting and managed to get ourselves booked on to a waterfalls tour through the rainforest a couple days later at a great price too. Also – note to anyone who finds themselves heading up through that part of Australia and who needs a sound guy to help them out with some travel plans, hit me up and I can give you his contact details.
We went to the Babinda Boulders which was gushing water like you’ve never seen before. Not that this is a normal swimming area in the rainy season, but it felt like this rainforest trip was going to be just as much of a washout as the last one… Although on the plus side, you do need water for good waterfalls.
Now, bear with me here… there has been a lot of confusion and misinformation about the location of a certain British Pop Star’s music video for his smash hit 1996 single Mysterious Girl. This is a truly terrible song by Peter Andre who is very famous in England and not in (m)any other places, but it’s catchy and I feel somewhat attached to it because my surname is Mistry and I have (half-) seriously told my mother that this monstrosity of a song is going to be the first dance at my wedding. Mostly because I can’t be dealing with having a soppy love song. Anyway, I’m not planning any weddings, so let’s just forget I mentioned it. Right yeah, many places in Australia, Indonesia, and Thailand claim to be the location for the iconic waterfall scenes in this music video. (Click here for a bit of mid-90s nostalgia, or if you’ve never even heard of Peter Andre… you can thank me later.)
Turns out, Millaa Millaa Falls is not where the video was shot. It is, however, the location of a certain Herbal Essences Advert from a few years back. It was funny seeing lots of girls trying to do the hair flick, and being one of the only girls who decided not to get into the cold and kind of murky-looking water, I became something of the group photographer! And I must say that I think I’ve gotten a bit better at taking pictures since I embarked on my travels over a year ago now…
We stopped off at a few other places of interest, like this cute little baby turtle hangout! The picture isn’t very good, but trust me, there were lots of little turtles swimming about.
We did a few more rainforest bush walks and went tree kangaroo spotting. Having no idea what a tree kangaroo looks like, and only being given the following description, it wasn’t too much of a surprise that we didn’t see one. “You’re looking for these little grey animals that are not really well equipped to live in trees. They tend to fall out of the trees a lot. They look a bit like bears with a big long tail.” We did see some pademelons though, that were really cute little wallaby-type animals, just hiding off in the trees. And a golden orb spider. I think I’m right in saying that the only place on earth you can see one of these particular venomous spiders is the Daintree Rainforest. Can you see it?
In any case, we went off to this crazy massive tree called the Curtain Fig Tree which is a heritage-listed strangler tree, that although kills its host, isn’t technically a parasite. It forms roots down to the ground and doesn’t take nutrients from the host tree’s sap. It was during a talk about the significance of this tree in this part of the rainforest and the Tablelands that Helen spotted a tree kangaroo! It was so far away though, so I couldn’t get a decent picture, but I saw it, and that’s pretty rare! The guide was so happy that he had a whole bus see one that he kept going on about it for the rest of the day.
The last stop on the tour was Crater Lakes National Park where the Freshwater Lake Eacham is actually the basin of a long-dormant volcano. Apparently, a few freshwater crocs hang out there too, but there haven’t been any confirmed sightings yet. I did learn the difference between freshwater and saltwater crocodiles though, and it’s not as simple as it sounds. Freshwater crocs don’t tend to kill people, but will defend themselves if under attack. They’re not quite as big as saltwater crocs and they only live in fresh water. Saltwater crocodiles on the other hand are the complete opposite. They’ll quite happily chill out in fresh water. They’re vicious as anything and can grow up to seven metres long. Not 7-ft. Metric metres. Actually, crocodiles are fascinating creatures. They basically have GPS built in to their brains. There was an exercise carried out in the mid-80s with these “problem crocodiles”. Basically, there was this one town that had some issues with these crocs that liked to hang out near play parks and there were a fair few attacks in a fairly short period of time. So these croc specialists tranquilised and tagged them and put them in some crates, took them all the way across Queensland and released them in a completely different area, nice habitat, river, and all the rest of it. Over the next few weeks, these crocodiles trekked it all across the +1000km and settled back in their old river. Creatures of habit, I guess?
I did jump into this water because it looked beautiful and still. And the sun had come out. It was incredibly deep though, so I stayed quite close to the jetty thing. Great temperature too actually, but I didn’t stay in too long, in an effort to dry off before we had to get back on the bus.
Leaving the rainforest for the second time I was hit by what an amazing part of the world Far North Queensland is. I’ll leave you with these facts, and if you have any questions, fire away.
- The Daintree is over 135 million years old, making it tens of millions of years older than the Amazon
- There are over 200,000 species of known bugs in the Daintree Rainforest
- 1 hectare of land in the Daintree has 1,300 species of tree, whereas the whole of North America and Canada combined only have 120 species
- 40% of the world’s butterfly population can be found in the Daintree Rainforest
- You really do have to see it for yourself