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Saturday 13 Apr 2013
Cairns, Australia

Cape Tribulation and Port Douglas... in the rain

The far north of Queensland is the only place in the world where two UNESCO World Heritage sites meet each other.  In this case it is the Danetree Rainforest - the oldest rainforest in the world - and the Great Barrier Reef - the most biologically diverse area in the world.

I joined a coach trip up to the Danetree Rainforest with overnight stops in Cape Tribulation and Port Douglas.  Being a rainforest, it really lived up to its name and did not stop raining the whole time.  I was visiting at the end of the wet season, but I hadn't anticiapted quite so much rain in one go!

On the way up we stopped off for a short cruise on the Danetree river looking for saltwater crocodiles.  The heavy rainfall meant the bigger crocs would stay on the river bottom (salt water from the sea inlet sinks to the bottom as the fresh water from the mountain run off flows across the top after heavy rains) but we spotted a couple of baby crocs sunning themselves on logs at the river's edge.  The survival rates for saltwater crocs are pitiful with only 2-5% making it to maturity.

Our next stop was at the Murrimba boardwalk, where our driver guided us through the forest and mangrove boardwalk.  She had interesting things to say, but sadly had the air of a bored teenager while saying them, so most of it came out as a monotonous drone.  The Alexandra Lookout gave us a view across the coast and out to Green Island... or it would have done if it hadn't been raining.

We were dropped off at the Beach House YHA in Cape Trib at lunchtime. The YHA was made up of individual cabins spread along a path down towards the beach. I had booked a deluxe room, which simply meant an en suite rather than shared bathroom (I am gettiing fussy now) and was lucky enough to get a room to myself.  I headed down to the bar and bistro for some lunch with Thekla, my belgian companion on the trip.  The bar was a large decked area sheltering under a big tent canopy with a swimming pool at the end.  While we were chatting a group of backpackers from our bus came running down the path in the rain, paused only long enough to ditch their shoes, before leaping fully clothed into the swimming pool laughing raucously.  As they pointed out, they couldn't get much wetter than they already were.

Thekla and I joined them for a walk on the beach.  A swim in the sea was out of the question due to the presence of jellyfish and crocodiles.  I think the latter would be more of a concern for me!  We spent the rest of the afternoon playing UNO and Perudo (liar's dice) in the bar. 

A few of us had signed up for a night walk in the rainforest but were starting to regret the need to get wet again.  Luckily, it was still warm despite the rain.  The guide who picked us up was very cheerful and his enthusiasm was infectious, so by the time we reached the head of the trail he had us swapping names, countries and favourite foods.  We were given powerful waterproof torches each and set out into the forest together.  After 10 minutes walk we stood in a huddle and turned off the torches to allow our eyes to adjust - it was so dark I couldn't see my own hand moving in front of me.  After a few moments though we began to see things glowing around us.  The rainforest is home to a particular type of phosphorescent moss that glows in the dark.  James Cameron apparently spent time in this area researching these plants before he filmed Avatar, which inspired the glowing plants in the film.

The rain meant we were not going to see the nocturnal animals, such as the tree kangaroo, that I had been looking forward to - even the guide said he couldn't remember a wetter walk - but we saw quite a few big spiders (eeek!) and other insects.  He showed us how Huntsman spiders lie in wait for their prey to walk under them, rather than trapping it in a web, by moving the tip of a twig closer and closer to a spider waiting on a rock near the path.  I don't like spiders, but I can cope with them if they are not moving.  This one went for the twig, then hurtled down off the rock and off up the path, causing at least half the group to shriek and leap out of the way.  Luckily it ran away from me, or there would have been a Zoe-shaped hole in the undergrowth!  The best thing we saw was a big lizard hanging off a vine above our heads.  He was over a foot long.  We heard a steady chorus of singing frogs, but sadly couldn't see any of them. My trainers were fully waterlogged by the time we got back and as smelly as ever!

The next day we played more dice and cards until the bus picked us up again at lunchtime and headed back down south.  We stopped off at the Mossman Gorge Indigenous Centre.  We were shown into a clearing by the river where an Aboriginal guide gave us a 20 minute talk on the local tribes and their cultures.  He demonstrated their hunting techniques with various boomerangs and clubs as well as the body painting techniques they use with clays and ochres.  We were driven down to the head of the gorge walk and looked out over various waterfalls and boulder gardens along the gorge.  It actually stopped raining for a short while so some people went for a swim in the river.

I was dropped off in Port Douglas at the Parrotfish Lodge.  I hung out my still-wet clothes in the dorm and went down to the bar for some food.  I spent the next few hours curled up on a comfy sofa listening to the pounding rain outside and finishing my book.  When I returned to the room, my first thought was that someone had terribly hygiene and really needed to take a shower.  I then realised guiltily that the smell was in fact coming from my soggy trainers! I mentally apologised to my roomates and crawled into bed.

The sun finally came out the next day for long enough for me to go for a walk around Port Douglas.  It is quite a small seaside town catering to tourists heading out to the reef and rainforest, a bit more laidback than Cairns.  I had free wifi in the hostel (a rarity indeed!), so after a walk around town I headed back and uploaded my latest batch of photos to this blog.  A day on your own can be exactly what you need after busy journeys!

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