Thursday 29th March 2018
Imagine, if you will, flying into an airport in the middle of the Peak District, perhaps in one of the tighter valleys, say the upper reaches of the river Dove? That is the sensation you get flying into Cairns, an airport that is surrounded by green fields embraced closely by the hills and rainforests of the Kuranda and Barron Gorge National Parks. It must be one of the prettiest airports capable of handling large jet aircraft. What a great welcome to tropical Australia! [Of course you knew the tropics lay 23˚ either side of the equator and that Cairns is at least 7˚ inside that zone, didn’t you?]
As we collected our hire car we were relieved to hear that, due to major work by the local council the aftermath of the floods earlier in the week and been repaired or removed. Indeed it was hard to believe that it had only stopped raining two days ago and in the space of two or three days they had had over 1000mm of rain. This had cause major upheaval; we had seen it on the TV when we were in Sydney. Vehicles had been swept away, a family had been recued from their motorhome only by the fire brigade smashing through a window and pulling them out.
Soon we were on our way up the Cook Highway, heading for Kuranda, a rainforest village. By the way don’t you like the way that Australia have given their major roads names rather than impersonal letters and numbers? It epitomises the typical Australian familiarity and lack of unnecessary formality. You can forge a friendship with a road called Cook or Stuart in a way that is difficult with the M1 or A52, let alone the B5023.
Kuranda was a very picturesque village with a bohemian feel, indeed it had been a major hippy destination in the 70s and some of them had stayed on and opened small enterprises in the ‘world famous’ Kuranda Markets selling high-end tat. We needed breakfast and Katy’s ‘phone told us the place to head for was a café called ‘Frogs’. It was misnamed. The warm welcome from a dreadlocked and pierced waiter almost went unnoticed as all our attention was focussed on the floor by the side of him. Squatting imperiously in the middle of a pool of sunlight was the biggest lizard we had seen this side of Singapore Zoo and what’s more it had an impressive frill around its neck. This was the first of many water dragons that were to join us for breakfast. Completely wild (not as in livid) they emerge from the forest, attracted by the smell from the kitchens and then hang around all day cleaning up after the messy customers. They were completely unphased by our presence, just shuffling away if a chair leg or a foot moved too close.
A group of Americans who arrived just after us were similarly bemused by them. When one pondered aloud;
‘I wonder how they got here?’
Her friend replied;
‘They must have flown in!’
We took another cable car, this time called the Skyrail over the majestic Barron Falls and right into the heart of the rainforest. Here a ranger called Cameron, who had styled is look on Paul Hogan circa the early eighties, gave us a very informative tour explaining that this rainforest was also a cloud forest in that the plants were able to extract water from the vapour in the air. [To qualify as a rainforest it must receive at least 1300mm of rain a year – they had almost had that in a week]. He also explained the fragile interdependency between the Great Barrier Reef and the rainforest.
It was back on to the Cook Highway (or the Cookie as I like to think of it) bound for Port Douglas. On the way we had to stop occasionally where workers were still clearing up the remains of the roadside landslides caused by cyclone Nora.
Now Cookie came into its own as it skirted the ocean, past beach after pristine beach with rainforests coming right down to the sand and not a soul on them. What a beautiful road and what a beautiful part of the world.
On the outskirts of Port Douglas, just before ‘Dougie’s Backpackers’ Resort’ where James Foskett once worked, there was a tree full of slumbering flying foxes hanging from the branches like large overripe fruit. I am going to have to go back there at dusk to see them fly later in the week.
Katy has booked us a pretty classy Airbnb, a two-bedroom townhouse that is part of a complex run by a very friendly couple called Bruno and Toni. It has everything we could want especially as it is only two minutes slow dawdle to the beach.
We just had enough energy left for a dash to the supermarket and bottleshop (off-licence) for provisions for the weekend as North Queensland is pretty primitive and everything shuts for Easter weekend.
I hope that things calm down for us too so that I can catch up with the blog!