28th May to 3rd June
Cairns to Cape Tribulation (and back again)
So this is it, the final week of our adventure up the East Coast of Australia. From Sydney to Cape Tribulation; a journey of approximately 6,000 kilometres and countless hours on the road. This week we drove from Cairns to Cape Tribulation, visited Port Douglas and snorkelled the Great Barrier Reef. This is the what dreams are made of right?
Whilst most roadtrippers may end their long journey at Cairns, the largest city for miles, we decided to press on as far as the tarmac goes. Cape Tribulation is quite literally the end of the road, a dirt 4wd-only track continues up to Cooktown and beyond, and is therefore a great place to finish. There is now an alternative sealed road which bypasses Cape Tribulation up to Cooktown but you’re getting seriously remote up there!
The road from Cairns is probably one of the nicest in Australia and should be on more people’s bucket lists. This is the Great Barrier Reef Drive where the road winds inches from the sea with palm trees towering overhead.
The weather was a bit hazy and, in the distance, we could see thick clouds surrounding the mountains. Once we crossed the Daintree River on the car ferry, the weather took a turn for the worst and the rain was like nothing we’d seen in a long time. Unfortunately, I had to try and drive up mountain roads through fog and heavy rain which proved quite difficult!
After a two hour drive, we eventually arrived at Cape Tribulation. This area is the only place on earth where two UNESCO world heritage sites meet. On one side you have the Daintree Rainforest (part of the Wet Tropics) and the Great Barrier Reef on the other. In the right weather, it looks like paradise here.
It wasn’t quite paradise for us with the rain but we both felt a sense of accomplishment knowing that we’d made it through the first stage of our journey around Australia. For some reason, there was no pop-up notification telling me I’d unlocked an achievement? I must have spent too much time on the Xbox when I was younger.
There was little, if anything, at Cape Tribulation itself so we simply set up in our national park campsite for the night. We were staying right in the Daintree Rainforest itself, 50 metres from the beach, slap bang in the middle of croc territory. I don’t think I’ve ever been as scared as I was walking to the toilet that night.
A little note on the Daintree Rainforest as it really doesn’t get the credit it deserves. We all know about the Amazon Rainforest in South America and obviously it’s incredible especially due to its size. However, the Daintree Rainforest is approximately 180 million years old; 170 million years older than the Amazon. You really are stepping back in time here.
By morning, the weather had cleared which gave us chance to try and spot a prehistoric cassowary on the way back through the rainforest. Touted as the most dangerous bird on the planet, the Southern Cassowary is slight smaller than an ostrich and an emu but has a 12cm sharp claw. It’s been known to kill probably to protect its chicks! They are also extremely important for the rainforest as they eat fruit whole leaving only the seed to re-grow.
We had no luck with spotting the cassowary down in Mission Beach (considered the best place to spot them) so I didn’t hold out much hope. Only a few minutes into our journey I noticed a car stopped in the middle of the road on a corner. I had a great feeling about it and there was a relatively small cassowary casually crossing the road. It’s bright blue head could then be seen bobbing around through the rainforest. I wasn’t quite quick enough with the camera so some of the shots came out a bit blurry.
Feeling a bit relieved, we made our way back across the ferry (still didn’t see any crocs) and down the coast to Mossman Gorge and Port Douglas.
We spent a good hour or so walking through the rainforest at Mossman Gorge where huge boulders sit in the river. The area belongs to the Kuku Yalanji indigenous people and it’s great to see them running everything here. The walk through the rainforest was great although we both wished we had time (and the money) for a ‘dreamtime’ walk through private areas. During the walk, you are taught stories and shown the way in which life was lived in this environment.
The wind had picked up massively so the famed beaches were uncomfortable to walk on. We decided just to explore the town, have a look in a few of the shops and find a brewhouse I’d read about before we even came over here. The town was upmarket and I much prefer it to Cairns. One of my highlights being a wooden church by the sea surrounded by palm trees.
We didn’t stay too long in Port Douglas as we were going back to Tom & Ireen’s house to start the housesit the following day. We did however have plenty of time for a beer at Hemingway’s Brewery at the superyacht marina. All the beers are brewed onsite and are named after local people; Doug’s Courage, Pitchfork Betty’s. I opted for Mrs Watson’s session ale which, as the name suggests, could literally be drunk all day. It reminded me of Ossett Brewery’s Yorkshire Blonde back home.
Just outside Port Douglas we’d spotted hundreds of palm trees all planted in an OCD-like manner which we knew would make for amazing photos. Despite the wind, I got the trusty Mavic Pro out. Emma drove the van up and down the road through them for some insta-worthy photos.
Back in Cairns, we settled into the guest area of Tom & Ireen’s home with our own bedroom, bathroom and lounge. The next few days were spent sunbathing (Emma) and swimming in the pool with two incredibly cute sausage dogs (me).
Great Barrier Reef
The grand finale. Everyone knows about the Great Barrier Reef and, like many others, we couldn’t wait to see this underwater world for ourselves.
We decided to go on a snorkelling day trip from Cairns to the outer reef with Seastar Cruises. Seastar stopped at two sites, Michaelmas Cay (a sand island in the middle of the reef) and Hastings Reef.
The boat ride out to the reef was something else. On land, there was no wind at all yet out past the safety of the harbour the sea was as rough as anything. Even on the journey over people were being sick.
The reef eventually protected us from the wind with much calmer waters although the currents were very strong. As soon as we pulled up to Michaelmas Cay, we spotted a sea turtle.
Underwater, the effect of climate change on the reef was evident. There were no bright colours and huge schools of fish. The highlights of the first snorkel were the Clown Fish (like Nemo) and a sleeping sea turtle on the seabed (apparently quite rare).
Back on board, and after some lunch, we put the stinger suits back on and jumped into Hastings Reef. I’ve seen aerial photos of the reef and it looks like loads of mini islands yet, when you’re there on the boat, it’s literally just open sea. It felt quite strange when you looked underwater to see the huge reef just there in front of you.
Hastings Reef was much better, albeit with even stronger currents, and we were taken on a snorkel tour where we were shown giant clams, colourful coral and many different types of fish. Whilst Emma didn’t see it, I spotted a huge Maori Wrasse although this one was a bit shy.
After the tour, me and Emma just swam around amazed at how many fish there were here. On our way back to the boat, a reef shark just glided straight past us.
I loved the trip to the Great Barrier Reef but I only wish that the sea was a bit calmer as it was quite tiring swimming against the current constantly. The best part was floating with the current with the reef just 30cm below.
If I had the money, I would definitely fly over the reef as I imagine you’d really get a sense of how big the reef is.
Finishing off the week
On Sunday, Tom & Ireen came back home having found a new home down on the Sunshine Coast. This meant cracking open a bottle of (good) prosecco to celebrate. This turned into many bottles plus vodka & whisky.
Having successfully flown my drone whilst a bit tipsy, I tried again later on in the day. This resulted in it flying into a window, into a palm tree and coming within inches of the swimming pool! Whilst I may have had a bit too much to drink, it wasn’t all my fault. I didn’t realise that the drone hadn’t locked into the satellites. When that happens, the drone goes crazy and flies around like its on fire. That’ll learn me.
Next week we’re moving on into the outback; a bit of a broad term given that it covers 86% of Australia and less than 60,000 people live there! The plan is to drive from Cairns to Uluru (Ayers Rock) a distance of 2,800km. That’s twice the length of the UK and almost as long as driving from London to Istanbul in Turkey. I know Australia is big but that is something else!
Come back next week to find out how we got on!