Our Northern Queensland “Hotspots”

We arrived in Labuan Bajo on the west side of Flores Island, Indonesia today.  We will dive/snorkel and visit the Komodo Dragons tomorrow. I noted the lead story on the CBC news page this morning was of the unimaginable amount of plastic that is dumped into the oceans.  It’s worth a read.
http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/plastics-dumped-in-world-s-oceans-estimated-at-8m-tonnes-annually-1.2954813

8 million tonnes per year.  If the plastic was spread out ankle deep, it would cover an area 34 times the size of Manhattan.  You may have read my earlier entry about plastic bottles on beaches in Fiji.

https://1year1family1world.com/2014/12/28/fiji-water-washes-up-on-the-beach/

The report featured in today’s story gets around to ranking the countries with the largest contribution to the plastics in ocean problem, and Indonesia is 2nd worse, behind China.  We spent an hour on the beach in Kuta, Bali, and the high water mark is made not by branches or leaves, but by plastic.  And here is a photo I snapped earlier this evening while walking along a beach here on Flores Island.

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This was an average section of beach.  Clearly a very large problem.  I agree with the report in the CBC piece that the problem in these countries is essentially one of waste management infrastructure has not caught up with their quickly escalating “western” consumption habits.  OK, really it’s about western consumption habits …. That all said, there are lots of clean stunning beaches in Indonesia.
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Northern Queensland, Australia is tropical.  It’s HOT.  And we were there in the middle of their summer, so we had it full on.  Dealing with the heat took a significant portion of our attention as we traveled north from Cairns. Our rental car had AC but we were camping with our tent, so sleeping was a challenge, and we were always looking for shade and swimming holes.
The last day in Cairns I took Kaia and Jake about 10km north of Cairns on the bus to Smithfield to do some mountain biking.  The facility there is world class, literally, as they’d hosted the world mountain biking championships the year before.  We got outfitted at Espresso Biking (yes, they specialize in coffee & bikes) and after downing my cappuccino we headed off into the forest.  K&J were a bit rusty on their bikes as the trail got technical and had some confidence draining wipeouts.  But as the ride went on they found their legs again and we sailed through some pretty nice trails.  But the extreme heat (36degC I think) got the better of them, and Kaia’s head started to pound so we didn’t stay out too long.
We set out heading north with the car the next day to Port Douglas (yes, we felt very much at home).  We looked at the beach there and found a rather innovative approach to safe Queensland swimming.  As Kaia mentioned, the beautiful beaches of northern Queensland are generally off limits to swimming, due to very poisonous “box”
jellyfish, sharks (a 17 yr old boy was taken 3 weeks before we got there) and of course, the ever present crocodiles.

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So this Port Douglas beach had an elaborate system of cables and nets that allowed a swimming area to be enclosed, then moved in and out on the beach as required by the tides. 

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There were anchors well out into the ocean to pull the outside corners out.
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Here's the winch to move the net in our out with the tides.

Port Douglas is another big access point to the Barrier Reef – they also had a big reef tour terminal with all sorts of options (platform, dive from boat, sleep aboard etc). 
Our campground had exceptional kitchen facilities … perhaps the best we’ve ever seen.  Covered, stove tops, microwave, kettles, fridges, lots of sinks, and very clean.  So that part of the evening went well.  But falling asleep in the tent without a fan was much more challenging.  I think we were in the swimming pool 4 times between that evening and the next morning.

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Kitchen at Pandanus campground.

We spent most of the following morning at “Wildlife Habitat” – a large zoo-like center with loads of “habitat” right in Port Douglas.  Some animals were enclosed, but the birds and wallabies were free ranging.  This center was really well setup and interpreted and well worth the visit.  I’ll leave it to Jake to tell you about the animals we saw there.  He is certainly our resident family wildlife specialist.  Mossman gorge was our stop of the afternoon.  It had been really built up by everyone we spoke to.  But essentially it wasn’t much more than a nice clear and cool river in the forest.  That said, we gladly dove in.  It was the first water we’d hit in Queensland that was actually refreshing.  Our overnight camp at Wonga Bay was rather uneventful (again, couldn’t swim in the ocean) save for the very lean, yummy “kanga bangas”.  First time eating Kangaroo for all of us.

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Early the next day we arrived in the what is known as “The Daintree” – it is Daintree National Park.

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Access to the Daintree is across the Daintree river on this cable ferry.

This area of Australia (stretching north along the coast) is home to the world’s oldest tropical rainforest that also supports a vast array of biodiversity.  We made a point of spending time at the “Daintree Discovery Center” near the entrance to the Park.  This place was fabulous.  I have seen interpretation at so many places through my life, but I think this one was the best.  They are not out to entertain.  They are genuinely passionate about the Daintree biodiversity (we spoke with the managers) and want people to understand and appreciate what they’re seeing as they drive and walk through the park.

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You are given devices with recorded interpretation, each corresponding to one of the 40 or so stops along the various trails. For each site, you can also listen to an Aboriginal explaining the significance of the feature to their people (food, medicine, housing etc etc).
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The "epiphytes" (plants growing off trees) seen through the forest here are characteristic of tropical rainforests.

The Center regularly conducts eco and carbon audits of their operations and is actively working with local community members and schools to replant disturbed forests.  This has resulted in a carbon negative status. 

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I could go on and on.  But their almost endless wall of eco/sustainable tourism awards perhaps corroborates my observations.  We spent hours there.  Good on ya, Discovery Center.  Funny though … the managers encouraged us to leave feedback on tripadvisor because they often get negative reviews from people who are more looking for a zoo … and are disappointed that they didn’t see the rare cassowary bird or snakes right in front of them..  HELLO …. you’re more or less out in the wild here, folks!

From there we explored north through short trails, beaches, water holes, ice cream shops, swimming holes, cold beer … and had quite a relaxed time.  In cooler weather some of the more extended hikes would have been lovely.

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The mouth of the Daintree River.
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Beaches were gorgeous, but not so welcoming. 36degC but you can't swim, so you don't hang around. This is at Cape Tribulation - named by Captain James Cook in 1700s after he ran aground on the Barrier Reef which started a sequence of other unfortunate events (the details of which were never explained to us).
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Most of the rope swings we try have water to drop into. Kaia burned her hands swinging back and forth on this one.
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This water hole is hidden a ways down a trail at the northern end of the park. Locals assured us that the crocs don't come this far up the river. Jake is looking down to do a last minute check before dropping in off this rope swing 😉
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Bliss ... relief from the heat.
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We went as far north as we could ... this is the end of the line for regular cars (rental companies forbid crossing the river). To head north to Cooksville from here you need full-on 4WD.

From the Daintree we headed south to the other well known area near Cairns – the “Tablelands”.  A dramatic 1000m escarpment parallels the coast in this region and the land to the west is very flat … and very fertile.  Where it drops off towards the coast waterfalls abound, so we drove what is popularly known as the “waterfall circuit”.  We started in Kuranda and did a fantastic short walk to see Barron Falls.  January is normally in the full-on rainy season.  And when they say full-on, they’re talking about several meters in a month.  So these falls should have been crazy spectacular.  But with the rainy season more than a month overdue, what we saw was spectacular in the absence of water!

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This whole scene is apparently white with spray when the rains set in.
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Best. Tarzan vine. Ever.

We were still in “Australia animal” mode, so we took in the “Reforestation” center.  It started out as a reforestation project and the owner brought in a WWII amphibious craft to tour people around the site.  Fast forward 20 years and you have a huge wildlife area surrounded with fruit and coffee plantations set around a large pond/river complex and now 12 of these amphibious WWII craft to tour you around.  For what it’s worth (really not very much …) this is the largest collection of these WWII “duckies” in the world.

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OK, OK, it looks a little bit like Disneyland. Our duckie broke down but because there's a few sketchy animals around they wouldn't let us walk back to the center - we had to wait to be rescued by another duckie. Sure glad we didn't have bullets flying overhead as we waited.

Jake will tell you lots about the animals we saw in these parks in the next blog entry.  Again, great interpretation throughout the park.  Another feature they’d wrapped into this attraction was an Aboriginal dance/didgeridoo/weapon session.  I have to say that I’m generally skeptical about these “indigenous” type cultural dance presentations.  They make me feel awkward.  But the four of us agreed that this dance presentation was really really well done.  You could see the connection to land/animals clearly in the dances.  And the “didge” (didgeridoo) music accompaniment was divine.

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An opera is not over till the fat lady sings. Well, a cultural dance show is not over till they invite/cajole audience members up to the stage (ouch). Kaia and Jake actually volunteered, and did a pretty decent job maintaining their dignity.

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We had a chance to try throwing boomerangs and were amazed with the speed and accuracy of their spear throwing.

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The wooden pole/attachment gives them a mechanical advantage and crazy speed.
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This guy was imitating various animals on the didgeridoo, with remarkable likeness. Here he is telling us we're now hearing a bouncing kangaroo.

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The tablelands are fantastically productive agriculturally.  We enjoyed the roadside stalls for mangoes, bananas and avocados.  Lots of coffee, cocao and wine grown here, and especially peanuts.  We LOVE peanuts, so stopping at the “Peanut Place” for warm chilli/lime peanuts was a no brainer.

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A short walk took us into Hipipamee crater which is a bizarre geographical anomaly.  A lava plug eroded away leaving this 60m deep shaft with water in the bottom.  Apparently the crater drops for another 60m (of water) then changes direction and slopes away … it has not been explored yet.

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Hipipamee crater.
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Dinner falls, near Hipipamee.
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We found a big open space to play with the boomerang we bought. Oh what fun! You have to pay attention ... they really do have a habit of returning ... towards your head.

The highlight of the one overnight we did in this region was the platypuses on the river in Yungaburra.  They are delightful little guys, and I was lucky to see one out of the water on my early morning run. 
Yungaburra is known for two other local attractions:

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Tree kangaroos are very rare. Best way to see them is from the water, at dusk. It didn't happen for us.
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The "curtain fig tree" inspired an impromptu yoga session. This is a "stangling fig" tree - it starts as a small vine wrapping around a tree. It eventually strangles its host, but is strong enough structurally to live on, and sends shoots down to root in the ground. In this particular case, the host tree partially fell over while the fig was still pliable, so the dropping vine/shoots have formed a remarkable "curtain" effect.
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The vine curtain is about 15m wide at this point!

We were running out of time with our rental car, but were told we couldn’t miss Josephine Falls, and after all, we were on the waterfall tour.  So away we went.  This was a very popular spot, owing to the two big pools of water, some great jumping rocks (yes, of course we jumped!) but mostly the great little natural water slide.

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Waterslide on the left.
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Yvonne and I had a few goes. But Kaia and Jake must have taken 30 runs each through this - in every conceivable position, with no bruises, remarkably.

And so ended our little North Queensland Australia stint.  It was all we’d hoped it would be.  We’d have loved to make another trip out to the reef, but otherwise our 10 days was the right length here, for us.  We saw a teenie tiny part of the country.  We’ll need to come back a whole bunch longer to be able to appreciate the scope of this enormous country.  Keeping with our tradition of ridiculous flight departure times, we rose at 3 AM the next day to pack and taxi to airport for a 5:45AM flight to Bali.  But I’m not complaining!

Cam

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