Queensland – Rocky to Daintree Village … Don’t look back, we’re not going that way!

Back in Rocky, we felt we shouldn’t waste any time getting back on the road and our next over night stop was at Waverley Creek Rest Area just  south of the township of St Lawrence.

This amazing free camp was just off the Bruce Highway and although a little noisy at night with trucks passing,  it was large enough for us to pitch our rooftop tent on a lovely grassed area and be far enough away from all the vans not to be bothered.  The maximum stay here was 20 hours and it had everything any camper would want… plenty of company, great toilets, wood fired barbeques, tap water (that needed to be boiled before drinking), picnic tables (some sheltered), and a public telephone.

Next morning, just a short drive from where we had camped, we pulled into the tiny town of St Lawrence. We had visited here briefly on our last trip; if only to have a quick shower as we passed through from one free camp to the next! The recreation reserve on the outskirts of town actually provided year round camping and amenities for travellers but we had opted for a roadside stop instead!

St Lawrence sprawls around a railway line and is located midway between the larger ports of Rockhampton and Mackay. It was originally created as a port to ship the cattle that were grazed in the hinterland but today most of the population are council workers, railway workers and just a few professional fishermen and local business people. There is nothing more than a pub, a little butcher shop, a couple of general stores, a railway station, a bowls club and a council office, which is the only elegant building in town and seemed quite out-of-place in this otherwise unimportant little town.

Moving on we came to the township of Carmila, another cane growing community at the foot of the Connors Range on the Bruce Highway.  Carmila Beach itself  was approximately 6 kilometres east of Carmila so we decided to poke our noses in just for a look and after driving about 1 kilometre along a dirt track then another 300 metres along a really sandy narrow track we came to some great camp sites set in amongst the bush line just behind the beach.  It was a pretty spot where the water came right up to the edge of the bush; but a word of warning… if you plan on setting up camp here be careful where you pitch you tent and don’t get too excited and camp right on the sand like some very upset backpackers we met had done! When the tide goes out here, it goes out a long, long way and when it comes in, it comes in very, very quickly!

As the day was still young we headed on with Sarina next on the map… and yes, another sugar town. Also at the foot of Connors Range,  Sarina had some beautiful beaches stretching for kilometres to the north and the south,  30e54f9ba5fcfc100eb982be72363963.jpeglots of country charm… and of course we couldn’t help but catch a glimpse of one of Australia’s obsessions with ‘Big Things‘ , ‘Buffy’ the large Cane Toad statue that sat proudly in the middle of the  town, right in-between the north and south-bound lanes of the Bruce Highway.

Continuing along the highway, still engulfed with fields of sugar cane,  we came to Mackay.

As well as sugar cane, Mackay is also widely recognised as the gateway to the Bowen Basin coal mining reserves of Central Queensland. The Bowen Basin is the single largest coal reserve in Australia with 34 operational coal mines extracting more than 100 million tonnes annually and an influential industry for the region and the port of Mackay.

But sugar cane production is the ‘history’ for this region. Mackay is the sugar capital of Australia and it was no surprise that the harbour was home to one of the largest bulk-sugar loading terminals in the world.

Mackay got its name from Scottish born John Mackay who along with a party of nine others including an Aboriginal tracker by the name of Duke, explored the region in 1860 reaching the Pioneer Valley.

This relaxed tropical city on the banks of the Pioneer River was surrounded by a varied mix of art, architecture and nature and had a fabulous marina where we could ride our bikes along the foreshore.  Called the ‘Bluewater Trail’, this trail was a shared path for bicycle and pedestrians and as well as being lined with cafes and restaurants and a large shopping mall it also linked the Botanical Gardens, Town Beach and Bluewater Lagoon; a beautiful three-tiered swimming haven.

Continuing on, the road passed through spectacular country with mountains covered in tropical forests and valleys of sugar cane fields and although harvesting  was almost over a few harvesters were still out cutting the last paddocks for the year… and there was never a dull moment on this road as the trivia signs to keep drivers awake on long and boring roads (although this road was far from boring), soon popped up again with more trivia quiz questions… ‘What is the national flower of Queensland’? Then a few kilometres down the road the answer, which of course was ‘Cooks Orchid’!

Following closely after were an amusing series of signs which immediately brought a smile to our faces as we had actually experienced this very same interrogation numerous times as a parent –  ‘How long to go dad or how long to go mum?’, again followed by the answer further down the road… ‘Still a long way to go kids’! These signs were certainly the work of a genius!

It was getting late in the afternoon when we came across a very inviting tourist park sign on the side of the highway. With beautiful palm trees swaying over a crystal clear swimming pool it was quite an alluring sign, so we decided to pull in… but this tourist park was not exactly what we had bargained for and although cheap at $22 a night for an unpowered site, the only attraction for us was a place to refresh after a few days of free camping!

This small park, situated on the banks of the O’Connell River was apparently great for barramundi and crab fishing but on the down side it was visibly scarred from the wrath of Cyclone Debbie, and  home to many permanent residents, some probably homeless from the cyclone but many who had obviously lived there for quite a while judging by their setups – well established little knick knack gardens and attachments to vans!

In March of 2017 a category 4 cyclone made its way down the east coast of Queensland, blowing through the Whitsunday Islands and surrounding towns. The wake of the cyclone not only left many people without power it also damaged lots of buildings and vegetation, many roads were closed due to fallen power lines, trees and flash flooding and the Shute Harbour Marina at Airlie Beach that serves as a gateway to the Whitsunday Islands had been completely smashed, as had the popular tourist destinations of Hayman Island, Daydream Island and Hamilton Island.

It had now been almost three months since Tropical Cyclone Debbie slowly hit this coastline carrying wind speeds of 260 kilometres and for hours Debbie’s destructive force refused to move on, hovering over places like Proserpine and  Airlie Beach before moving slowly south. From tropical North Queensland down to the flood-ravaged communities of northern NSW her anger was evident on our travels and now only months on it was easy to see the devastation she had caused.

The sugar town of Proserpine was just a few kilometres down the highway from where we had stayed and as we drove down the main street we could see the town had been really hit hard. Tarpaulins, cyclone fencing and plywood covered shopfronts and the local hotel was still boarded up and closed. This part of Australia is used to cyclones, but this time, Debbie’s impact was definitely still being felt.

Twenty-five kilometres out to the coast Airlie Beach was also feeling the aftermath. We had met people from here at Cooktown on our last trip and our plan was to call in and see them on the way past then hopefully they would later join us on our trip (welcome to our blog Sandii and Neil)…  but unfortunately their house had suffered damage from the cyclone as had their van and they were heading to Brisbane to sort out the damage.

The eye of Cyclone Debbie passed directly over Airlie Beach leaving a trail of total destruction and although when we first drove through it was hard to see where she had made her mark, the scars were still there, we only had to talk to the locals. Businesses and homeowners were still having ongoing troubles with their insurance companies and behind the main street, the town’s lagoon remained closed to the public having suffered structural damage and issues with sewage contamination.Airlie-Beach-map8-300x265

But as is typical of small communities, they quickly went into recovery mode and with hard work and determination many businesses were soon back up and running and although Airlie Beach did feel quieter than last time we visited with a lot less backpackers and tourists wandering up and down the main strip, it was still just as lovely!

Leaving Airlie Beach and heading further north we decided to detour to Hideaway Bay and as the name suggests, Hideaway Bay is where you can hide… especially to escape the crowds and the backpacking scene. Only about 40 minutes out of Airlie Beach, it was a little off the beaten track and we had to go along a few dirt track to get there;  there were some, but not many, houses, a few cafes and then there was the beach; Dingo Beach… and that was pretty special! This has to be one of the east coasts best kept secrets… and let me tell you this beach will not disappoint.

Leaving Hideaway Bay our next destination was Bowen and another gem on the map that was also hit hard by the Cyclone Debbie.

Bowen seemed a sleepy and forgotten town as we drove in and it was hard to believe it was actually once in contention for the title of state capital.

Our first impression of Bowen was not of a charming town as our first sight from the highway was that of the monstrous saltworks… but beyond saltworks we soon saw the town’s slightly tumbledown and faded elegance, and a coastline of beautiful beaches.

Originally named Port Denison it was later called Bowen after Queensland’s first Governor and the towns only claim to fame is that it doubled as the 1930s Darwin for the Baz Luhrmann film, ‘Australia’ when the 2008 movie was filmed around the town.

The reasons that this made a good stand-in for Darwin were the same reasons that gave this unassuming place its charm… the streets are wide and quiet and there were a number of historic buildings that had a faded but pleasant appeal about them… and of course there was the jetty!

Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackson starred in the film and hundreds of local people appeared as extras,  but when inquiring as to where all the amazing buildings were that were used in the film, we were quickly directed to a big vacant block of land opposite the waterfront and told ‘the entire set was there’!

We couldn’t leave Bowen without checking out the sights again and the history of Bowen from the earliest settlers through to present day was depicted on 25 wonderful murals painted on buildings around the town.  Also on our agenda was a visit to the lookouts which is definitely a must do when visiting Bowen. The weather was perfect while we were there and the views from Flagstaff Hill where we had lunch were spectacular stretching over Bowen and Edgecombe Bay,  Gloucester Passage and Gloucester Island, which Captain Cook named Cape Gloucester when he sailed past in 1770 not realising it was an island. Also just as stunning were the views from Grays Bay Lookout and the Reservoir Hill Lookout.

Home Hill was our next comfort stop for the night… a free camp and clearly a first in, first choice of site. This rest area was right in the centre of town and when we arrived there were caravans and campers parked on both sides from one end to the other of Railway Avenue! It was obviously a very popular spot and quite hard to find a parking site… but we eventually squeezed in and set up our rooftop tent. This area is provided as a service to travellers by the local community and all they ask is that we buy supplies and explore the town and it’s district… and that is exactly what we did!

Just a few kilometres down the road we came to Ayr. Ayr is a town near the delta of the Burdekin River and was named after the Scottish town of Ayr by the early settlers. As with most of the coast up here sugar cane crops were still a dominant feature of the landscape and this area produced the most sugar cane per square kilometre in Australia due to the underground aquifers and a dam to irrigate crops when the rains don’t come!

We had visited Ayr on a previous trip and stayed at the local caravan park. We were there for 2 nights, and both nights ‘Burdekin snow’ fell and each morning our car and tent were covered in ash… ash that came from the practice of burning the sugar cane prior to harvesting.

Further north, they harvest the whole cane and use the trash (leaves etc) to generate electricity, but here they burn the trash and as a result every night, it snows! This region, the Burdekin Region (hence Burdekin snow), is the only region across Australia to still burn sugarcane before harvest and this is because of an abundance of water in the region, which makes the cane too leafy to cut.

Timing was really important for these burns and we just happen to ask the right questions and be in the right place at the right time to witness this process when one of the local workers offered to take us out to the cane fields to watch a burn.

The cane farmers wait until dusk when the temperatures and winds have dropped and then it is a mad dash for everyone who works in the cane fields (and for us), to drive a few kilometres out of town.

We watched in awe as they went about lighting the cane, back burning and watering down the cane then just as quickly the flames rose metres high into the sky… and ash was again blown across the town! These cane fires are pretty fierce and we could feel the heat from down the road where we were instructed to stand. It was such an amazing process to watch and such a unique opportunity for us.

Considered the unofficial capital of North Queensland, Townsville was our next port of call.

Robert Towns, a Sydney businessman and owner of Woodstock Cattle Station, drove a quest to find a suitable port site essential for the rapidly expanding cattle industry on the tablelands. An expedition party established a camp below the rocky spur of Melton Hill in 1864 and in 1866 Robert Towns agreed to provide ongoing financial support for the new settlement on the Ross River and Townsville was named in his honour.

Today Townsville is a city and a great place to visit. The historic waterfront on Ross Creek is the site of the original wharves and port facilities and had some excellent old buildings mixed with a modern skyline. The city itself had a fantastic blend of heritage buildings and modern buildings and was dominated by the mass of red granite called Castle Hill, 292 metres high (just 8 metres short of being a mountain) looming above it.

Castle Hill is a massive part of Townsville and according to thegotownsville there are 15 different walking tracks you can take. One track to the top is called the ‘Widow-maker‘ because apparently it is a little perilous in places and easy to lose your footing in some parts and as there are no safety barriers it is  just a little dangerous.

Our track was along the road which was lined with walkers, joggers, cyclists and runners of all ages. For those not so energetic, you can drive it. It was a long, steep climb but finally we reached the summit where from the lookout we had a great ‘birds-eye’ view of the layout of the city and its suburbs and panoramic views of Cleveland Bay and Magnetic Island and it was well worth the climb up and the jog back down!

We were visiting Townsville for a second time and a walk along ‘The Strand’ was also a must do. This long tropical beach and garden strip stretches from the Casino and the wharf area at one end to the Jezzine Military barracks site at Kissing Point on the other.

It is a magnificent waterfront, with cafes and a few restaurants in the fabulous gardens between the road and The Strand, and fantastic beaches to swim at, of course netted for stingers when needed.

Just 29 kilometres north of Townsville, Bluewater Park was our next stop. This free roadside stop was a traveller’s oasis just in off the Bruce Highway.  It was only a 24 hour stay but sometimes that is just enough time to take a break from the road when your on a mission,  so we set up camp and made ourselves comfortable.IMG_0291

Situated by a creek with a massive green recreation ground adjacent to the camping area, this camp was shady and clean and gave us a sense of space even though it was a very busy roadside stop. IMG_1966The facilities were clean, water was available (needed boiling), barbeques and picnic tables were provided, there was lots of wildlife, a beautiful sunset and we arrived just in time to enjoy the community fair on the recreation ground!

After a restful stay reading and relaxing we headed into the Paluma Range National Park. This national park is considered to be the oldest continually living rainforest in the world and the southern gateway to the Wet Tropics.

Twisting and weaving along a narrow but beautiful tree-lined road we pulled in at Little Crystal Creek Bridge, a local watering hole just perfect for swimming and camping. Much of the Mount Spec Road we were travelling was created during the 1930’s with many of these narrow roads hand-blasted and chiselled, snaking their way through beautiful rainforest.

Crossing the Roman-style Little Crystal Creek Bridge we continued on for quite a way before pulling in to the tiny township of Paluma. Our trip to Paluma was only a spur of the moment detour and was certainly not long enough to see all of its secrets but it was enough to have us wanting to come back to explore this hidden valley.

The Paluma Rainforest is known for it’s quaint town, beautiful walks and tea and craft rooms and after a quick walk through the rainforest and a stop at Lake Paluma we headed back down the same road we had travelled up… but not before taking a short walking track on the outskirt of the town that led to a lookout where we had incredible views over Magnetic Island and Great Palm Island… IMG_0288a mystical view on a perfect day where the islands seemed to float in the blue space where water and air met.

Paluma Range National Park is divided into two sections; Mount Spec which is 61 kilometres north of Townsville and Jourama Falls, 91 kilometres north of Townsville. Detouring off the highway to Mount Spec, Big Crystal Creek and Rockslides, only a few kilometres inland, we came across a lovely rock pool to cool off and another great campground which was most certainly marked in our camps book as a must stop next time we pass through this way. We shared this naturally enclosed pool with fish, tadpoles and turtles as we slid off the rocks into the refreshing, cool, clear waters and spent a few hours swimming and floating, watching clouds as they slowly drifted past. But the highlight of this park were the Rockslides. Following the signs towards Rockslides along a dirt track we came across a beautiful waterhole with a small water slide and  higher up above the pool….  bigger slides.

We still had quite a few daylight hours left when we left so we decided to keep moving on to Ingham. Here we couldn’t miss the slogans where the locals were very quick to tell us… ‘New York has Little Italy, Melbourne has Carlton and Queensland has Ingham’… obviously a  little slice of Italy with more than half its population identifying as Italian or Italian-descent. This town, another sugar town, owes much of its multicultural flair to the sugar cane industry, which drew Italian immigrants to our shores with the promise of work at one of the largest sugar mills in Australia, CSR. The rest, as they say in Ingham is ‘istoria’.

Pushing on we came to Cardwell. Cardwell overlooks Hinchinbrook Island, the largest island National Park in Australia, situated right on the coast of the Hinchinbrook Channel.

Shipping activities were central to Cardwell’s early history and its first jetty was constructed in 1872 and built over the water in front of the Post and Telegraph Office at the southern end of town. Within 2 – 3 years it was used to transport the first shipments of gold by sea from the newly opened northern goldfields of the Palmer River and Atherton region. Today it is a holiday, fishing and stepping off point for Hinchinbrook.

We had already witness the damage left by Cyclone Debbie earlier in the year but we had also witnessed the devastation of Cyclone Yasi left behind in 2011! This massive category-5 cyclone crossed near Mission Beach, between Cairns and Townsville bringing peak wind gusts estimated at 285 kilometres per hour, destroying homes, shredding crops and smashing marinas as it roared ashore, that is without the damage it did to the surrounding islands. Because it was such a large, strong storm, Yasi maintained considerable intensity as it tracked inland into the state’s north-west, finally weakening to a tropical low as far inland as Mount Isa more than 20 hours after it crossed the coast. The towns of Cardwell, Tully, Mission Beach, Innisfail and many surrounding townships were badly damaged but the far north’s major cities of Cairns and Townsville were very lucky to escaped relatively unscathed.

Cardwell really took a battering and was wiped out by the catastrophic winds and rain and we saw plenty of evidence of this terrible event on our last trip. As we drove through this time we were amazed at what an incredible job the community had done to rebuild this town from when we had last seen it 5 years earlier!

It had been a long day of driving when we pulled in at Bilyana Rest Stop just 21 kilometres north of Cardwell. This lovely rest stop,  on the western side of the Bruce Highway was surrounded by lots of lovely trees  and was another free camp for us. It had a bitumen surface with lots of grass and plenty of room and was quite full when we arrived  but lucky for us there was extra space on the grass and although a bit closer to the railway line the trains didn’t seem to run all that often so the noise wasn’t that much of an issue… the important thing was there were toilets and rubbish bins.

Heading on the next morning we made a quick stop at Murray Falls between Cardwell and Tully which is one of north Queensland’s prettiest waterfalls. A rainforest boardwalk leads to the top of the falls where there are great views out across the Murray Valley.

Our next stop was Tully and the ‘Big Gumboot’. Now why would a town choose to build  a giant gumboot, frog and all?…  Well, it is because it celebrates the fact that it is ‘a pretty wet place’,  and probably has nothing to do with the fact that Australia has an obsession with ‘Big Things’!

The Sugar mill dominated this skyscape as we drove in and across the road the ‘Big Gumboot’ stood proudly. Made of fibreglass, it stands 7.9 metres high and commemorates the record-breaking year of 1950 when 7,900mm of rain fell on the town.

The irony that the wettest town in Queensland was just 200 odd kilometres from the sunniest one was not lost on us and our next mission was the appropriately named Mission Beach…  to capture the magic of the palm trees and white sand.

We had traversed this area before to explore the beaches of this unspoilt spot on the coast where nature takes centre stage. With its 14 kilometres of unspoilt, sandy beaches fringed by the rainforest it is truly a beautiful place where lush rainforest literally touches the shores.

There are four villages that are collectively known as Mission Beach…South Mission Beach, Wongaling Beach, North Mission Beach and Bingil Bay and hiding amongst the rainforest is the elusive southern cassowary, a very hard creature to sight indeed and as it turned out we would look for these majestic creatures everywhere we went over the next few months but never see one until we reached the Atherton Tablelands!

Cassowaries are an endangered species in Australia now and it is believed there are only 1200-1500 of them left in the rainforests of North Queensland.

All the beaches along this coast were amazing! All with a backdrop of coconut palms, most of these little communities are home to retirees and fisherman and at Cowley Beach the Australian Defence Force have set up a small base, right on the beach so a slight detour to check out some of these fabulous spots – Kurramine Beach, Cowley Beach and Etty Bay was just what the east coast doctor ordered!

Innisfail, just along the road,  is the regional centre of the Cassowary Coast and named after this rare local flightless bird that we were still to spy!

Situated on the Johnstone River between World Heritage rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef it had a very interesting history. European cedar cutters and Chinese gold seekers were the first settlers here, arriving in the 1870s and early in the 1880s. Apparently with the opening of the Palmer goldfields on the Cape and other mineral discoveries there came a rush of multi-cultural settlers which lead to the establishment of Cairns in 1876.

Innisfail was called Geraldton until 1911 and was founded  by Thomas Fitzgerald in 1880 who took up a large land grant funded by the ”Catholic Bishop of Brisbane’ and ‘All Hallows’ Sisters of Mercy’. With 10 Irish and 35 South Sea Islanders as workers, he began planting sugar cane in the cleared rainforest lands with little success but those who followed him did better and the community began to grow rapidly on the proceeds of sugar production.

We were now just over an hour from Cairns so continuing on we came to Gordonvale, just 29 kilometres from the city,  where our Campermate app told us we would find another free camp.

Now what can I say about Gordonvale! It was an interesting old sugar town centred around its mill and a park but I probably wouldn’t set up camp under the bridge again in the Gordanvale Rest Area on the Mulgrave River! There were a few vans parked up when we pulled in and obviously staying the night but on further investigation we noticed the ‘NO’ had been removed from the sign leaving ‘Camping’! There were plenty of larger spaces for caravans and campers to park and lots of grassed area but apart from us, two derelict vans (obviously permanents), and a couple with a camper trailer, no one else seemed to pull in… so we sat for a few hours, reading and watching and deciding whether to set up camp or move on.

All the while we had that uneasy feeling and felt quite uncomfortable with the number of 4WDs that drove in and out.  A very friendly aboriginal guy, with a bottle in hand and obviously under the influence wandered through and off to the edges we noticed dirt vehicle tracks that lead to the river! Later we were told that camping here was at our own risk and police were known to patrol the area as it was often frequented by the homeless, druggies and a few undesirables in 4WDs. We were even told that locals had reported crocodile sightings in the river… surprising, as while we were there, there was not a drop of water in the river!

We had been doing a fair bit of free camping on our travels, and to date we have NEVER had any issues. If anything we have found most free camps very social and inviting and although there had been some dodgy looking campsites most were pretty good… that was until we arrived at Gordonvale!

It was getting late in the day when a few ‘wizz banger wicked campers’ pulled in (vans with sliding doors on the side that  went whizz and then a loud bang when shut)… and just as we were planning to move on some more arrived and by dark we finally had safety in numbers… so many that they packed in right beside us and by morning there wasn’t a vacant space to be seen! Just a sea of campers and young backpackers and the couple in the camper trailer from Victoria… welcome to our blog Kaz and Graham.

It was a welcome relief to pull out the next morning and head for Cairns and after a quick stop at Windscreens O’Brien to have our windscreen repaired and a brief look around Cairns we headed out of the city to Ellis Beach.

We rolled into Cairns in the early morning and if there is one thing you must do in Cairns’, it is without a doubt,  cooling off at Cairns Lagoon. Cairns does not have any nice beaches and this large lagoon style pool means the locals are not missing out.

Cairns is a beautiful city on the edge of the Coral Sea, surrounded by mountains and rainforests. With its tropical climate and year-round sunshine it was the height of activity along the seafront. The Esplanade boardwalk stretches for 2.5 kilometres and was full of people cooking in the barbeque areas, exercising at the gym stations, and children playing in the playgrounds. There is even a skateboard and bmx park, a dedicated bike track and it was a buzz with outdoor fitness classes and live music… it really is a different lifestyle here and the people definitely know how to make the most of the tropical climate!

Cairns is also home to some of the world’s most amazing natural attractions; the Great Barrier Reef, the Wet Tropics rainforest and the Australian Outback and is also the party town of the East Coast where most backpackers start or finish their trip and the general consensus is to laze around the town’s lagoon pool during the day and party away the night in the infamous bars.

After leaving Cairns, we followed the Captain Cook highway toward Port Douglas. The drive from Cairns to Port Douglas is one of Australia’s most scenic coastal drives and passes through Cairns’ beautiful northern beaches. We stopped briefly at Palm Cove where we had camped on our previous trip but decided to head on to Ellis Beach.

Ellis Beach is about 30 minutes north of the centre of Cairns and is just a speck on the highway but it is a magic spot with a campground right on the beach and it is without a doubt a beautiful spot.  It was packed when we arrived but we managed to secure an unpowered sites on a large, sandy, shady site that  it was just a short stroll to the amenities and just across from the camp kitchen… but even better than that, we were only about 20 metres from the beach and it was heavenly for a swim and a run along the beach!

The further north we travelled the beaches continued in the theme of all the beaches along this coast… palm fringed with crystal clear blue water and white sand although here at Ellis the water was quite murky but that didn’t stop us from donning our swimmers when we saw others splashing around in the shallows. This was our first swim in the ocean since Workman’s Beach at Agnes Waters and although Stingers were not an issue here at the moment… the thought of a croc lurking in the murky waters was, so it was a relatively brief swim!

After a couple of days here we headed off again. The Cairns Beaches, or Northern Beaches are a line of beach communities between Cairns and Port Douglas –Machans Beach, Holloways Beach, Yorkeys Knob, Trinity Beach, Kewarra Beach, Clifton Beach, Palm Cove and Ellis Beach. They stretch for 26 kilometres and each is at the end of its own spur road off the Captain Cook Highway then 68 kilometres further on we came to the coastal town of Port Douglas.

This stylish coast town is known for its famous visitors including Bill and Hillary Clinton, clothing boutiques, and fine dining, low-rise buildings and wide streets, it is the closest town to the Great Barrier Reef and lies just 16 degrees below the equator. It is a former fishing village but is now more of a holiday destination with an abundance of cafes, restaurants and bars. A somewhat lesser aspect to this town is that it is also inundated with cane toads!

Cane toads were originally introduced to North Queensland from South America in order to eradicate a bug that was destroying the sugar cane plantations.2015-06-09_1030 However, they have now evolved into a super breed whose venom can even kill cats or dogs and are a serious problem as they are running loose all over the region.

A short drive from Port Douglas we came to Mossman and  Mossman Gorge. Mossman Gorge lies within the world heritage-listed Daintree National Park where the Mossman river flows over huge granite rocks that line the gorge creating a crystal clear freshwater swimming hole and along both sides of the gorge the rainforest rises up to the mountain tops. This gorge has been home to the Kuku Yalanji people for many thousands of years and their Dreamtime stories are closely connected to this landscape.

Arriving at Mossman Gorge Centre we parked in the car park at the indigenous ecotourism centre. This centre was relatively new and was a great way to experience the Indigenous Culture of Tropical North Queensland. Inside there was a cafe and cool things to explore in the shop as well as a fantastic Indigenous Art Gallery… so it was worth spending a little bit of time inside.

Mossman Gorge is at the southern most end of the Daintree Rainforest and is ancient and pristine. The Gorge is free to enter but you do need to purchase a pass to catch the shuttle bus into the heart of the Mossman Gorge at a cost of $9.10 for a return ticket… or you can walk the 2 kilometres yourself.

After being dropped off we decided against a swim in the waterhole when we arrived and followed a circuit track along a pretty easy-going walk that wound through some spectacular scenery, from great views of mountain tops to lush rainforest and hidden water holes, perfect for a mid walk dip.  At the end, all hot and sweaty from our walk, we opted to jump into the lovely, cool water at the first swimming spot and cool down before catching the bus back to the centre.

Further on along the Captain Cook Highway we came to the Daintree River and Daintree Village. The Daintree River is one of the longest rivers on the Australian East Coast and is home to the world’s largest reptile, the saltwater crocodile.

Our visit here was short as we had to press on on our journey north and I have to say, our next stop was one of out favourites of the entire journey… we were heading across river on the ferry to the Daintree National Park!

Sometimes because of life circumstances the road is just too long or too hard for some to travel. To my dear friend in Ireland, enjoy our journey!

A good friend knows all of your best stories…. 

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