Esplanade Pool, Cairns
 

Preflight with the “Beach Banger”

I took the two older boys on an EM conference up in Cairns, about 1200 km North of Brisbane. True tropics, now in the drier winter months. It was our first flight out in the 8 months we’ve been here…Psyched….







Styling at the Sebel, Cairns
The three amigos…
 

It was a real swanky affair with rich food, wines, a few poisonous reptiles and disaster managemant, all rolled into one…

New wave “Bush Tucker”





Home Sweet Home

 

Heritage Building Cairns

Pool Party

Aussie colors at sea



 

We went out to Green Island to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, just in case we got weathered out further north…It can be windy and rough out on the Reef in winter, and we didn’t want to be so close and get shut out., it does happen…..It’s a heavily used tourist island, but the coral and fish life were way better than expected….

Children’s Python, a starter snake of sorts…


We had a snake expert from the Cairns Zoo discuss poisonous snakes of Australia, home to all 10 of the world’s deadliest snakes, and around 20 of the top 25. We had python handling session and he even brought in a live Coastal Taipan, 3rd deadliest in the world. About 50-100 times more venomous than a King Cobra, and endemic to the Cairns area…Hold that thought…The boys LOVED it of course, but the hotel staff was a bit on edge…!

Big boat to Green Island
Room Weasel

Green Island reef

Road Trip North
 But, alas, the conference ended, and it was time to leave the easy life behind……Road Trip!!  Up the East coast on the Captain Cook Highway, said to be one of the best coastal drives on the planet.

 It sure seemed it to us…. as bay after bay of beautiful coastal headland opened up in the bright tropical sunshine…

Coastline north of Cairns

The mountains of Cape Trib
Captain Cook discovered Australia during his epic voyage of 1770. He was wrecked on the reef off the east coast and barely survived to journey further north. He gave names to mark the high points of the trip that remain to this day, Cape Tribulation, Mount Sorrow, Mount Misery.. Sounds like it was a hoot.. He limped his crippled ship into what is now Cooktown, QLD and after seven weeks of repairs, sailed away alive.. I believe he was later killed by angry natives on the Big Island of Hawaii. An ignoble end to one of the greatest maritime explorers ever..

Sugar cane rail cars

Sugar mill at Mossman, Qld

Cable ferry across the Daintree River

After you cross the Daintree River, the tiny road passes over a steep mountain and you really feel you are entering a world removed. The road has only been paved since the 1980’s and remains a gravel track north of Cape Trib and on for 30 km to Cooktown, impassable during the summer “Wet.”. This is also the only place on earth where two World Biosphere Reserves ajoin; the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. It truly is a spectacular environment to explore…You’ immediately notice road signs you’ve never seen anywhere else in your travels… Hmmmm….

 

What could this one be trying to say…Hmmm…

The Epiphyte B&B cabin….with appropriate reaction…


Breakfast on the veranda

 

I claim this one…

Tropical fruits..paradise…!



 The Daintree Rainforest is the oldest on earth, around 200 million years. A mere remnant now of the ancient primordial forest, it  covers less than 0.5 % of the Australian landmass today, but contains over 30% of the bird species, 25% of the reptiles, innumerable ferns etc etc etc…It is a true wonder of the natural world…This is a view of Thornton Peak in the clouds from the Epiphyte veranda…


 

Rainforest stream
Another weird sign…the meaning’s pretty clear tho’…..
Rainforest stream, looking for a swimming hole…

We took a fishing / nature charter down the Daintree..The weather was favorable, so we crossed the bar and fished out on the reefs around Snapper Island. Tiny boats were handlining for Spanish Mackerel off to the NE , so we joined them..It was amazing to watch them bob and roll in the 4 foot swells.. We saw a few fish landed, but we struck out..We did manage to catch a variety of smaller reef fish, and even a few keepers for dinner..


Boy’s day out…

I am a  happy guy…..

Handlining for Spanish Mackerel

A Grass Sweetlip

Luke on…!

A jewel from the reef…released..



A Cod of some sort, from the reef

Aidan with a Stripey



 As the day drew on, we went up river and spotted Saltwater Crocodiles, aka “Salties..”  Very impressive up close, definately an apex predator and potential maneater.You can’t really imagine how formidible and ancient they are until you see them up close. This large male is maybe 16 feet long, over 1000 lbs, and looks to be several million years old…Truly a living fossil…


 

A curious thing about the Daintree is the gravel and boulder base of the streambeds. The rivers are ice cold, weed-free and crystal clear. Pools up to 10-12 feet turn deeper shades of green and aqua with increasing depth. The deepest holes hold jungle perch, catfish and freshwater eels..A natural aquarium…and an amazing and welcome contrast to coffee-colored, muddy streams of most tropics …Swim-time…!


 

Climbing out of one swimming hole, we saw a snake, right off the trail…It looked somewhat familiar…Oh, a Coastal Taipan..remember that one..?  Only the third most poisonous snake on the planet…Dr. Nolan again risked life and limb to bring you these live action photos..The boys were in the background saying, “Look out Dad,,,,”. Well, at least they care,,,,

The Blue Hole

Yet another curious sign

 It was really too much to hope to see a Southern Cassowary in the wild. One of the rarest birds in the world, in the late 1990’s, only 1100-1500 adults were estimated to exist in far Northern QLD. Listed as Endangered in Australia, the only other place they exist is in Papau New Guinea across the Torres Strait. Essentially a six foot, rainforest dwelling, flightless ostrich, that dates back to prehistoric times; they are solitary and wary. If seen at all, it’s often in the morning along the roadside verge, where they sometimes feed. Amazingly, we were heading north at 0700 to go snorkelling at Cape Tribulation, when I saw this shaggy, brown butt moving at the forest edge. Hard braking and a quick reverse…fumbling for cell-phone camera….and Voila! The rarest bird I will ever encounter, shot in 10 seconds, leaning over Luke in the passenger seat…..This is a juvenile, under three years old, and still 4 feet tall, but yet to develop the striking blue head and bony “Casque” protuberance of an adult of either sex. I find it encouraging that there are younger birds coming up, a hope for the future…
Is it real, or only a dream…?
A Southern Cassowary, in the wild…..

 Here are a few shots of an adult Cassowary I took today at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane ( a full blog entry coming soon…). This bird is as tall as an adult man, and quite aggressive. Note the coloration and the distinctive bony Casque, or skull extension.. A stupendous sight, even in a zoo enclosure.. but, that doesn’t really count, does it…?


A bird from another age…
After shaking off our astonishment, it was time to link up with Ocean Safari, the only Reef boat operating out of Cape Trib. Look them up, highly recommended; a tiny boat, 20 passengers max. and only a 25 minute ride out to the pristine Maclay Reef. The crew is informed, fun and energetic.. They pull the boat right up onto the beach..Wetsuit recommended, as it is midwinter in AU, and the water is surprisingly cool…

Adventure of a lifetime…!

Good to go…

As for the GBR, all I can say is that it meets and surpasses all expectations. Entangled forests of healthy, vivid Staghorn corals, each branch tip with an irridescent pink or purple bud. Multi-hued , living Brain and Shelf corals sheltering schools of fish in Technicolor….You are only snorkeling in 2 -10 feet of water, at times alarmed that you may be deposited prone on the corals by the swells and tide…The magical moment for me was hovering over a slowly swimming, 3 ft diameter Green Sea Turtle in only 4-5 ft of water.
. He was not alarmed and only a foot or so below me; so I synchronized my strokes with his foreflippers and we swam along together for several minutes.. Absolutely sublime….Sorry, no photos, only memories of a most amazing day…
Great memories with my young men…

Finally, it weas time to head back South, towards Cairns and the flight home. A final night in the resort town of Port Douglas, and an early morning trip into Mossman Gorge, one of the most well-known gorges in the tropics..

Coastal Mountains and beach, P.D.

Four-Mile Beach, Port Douglas

Feathered friends, P.D.

Old Birds….



 
Mossman Gorge was being loved to death, getting 300K visitors a year; so some crowd control was needed.. The QLD government just opened a beautiful multi-million $$ Visitor’s Center, eight weeks before we arrived. Operated by the local Aboriginal people, it provides jobs, education and protection for the area. As in all Ausrtralian parks, the facilities are world class and not too intrusive. You pay a small fee to be driven into the Gorge on a shuttle bus, but are still free to wander, and to swim in the magical, pristine pools. Strangely, the large boulders and cold waters reminded me of the Kangamangus Highway in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, half a world away…

New Visitor’s Center, Mossman Gorge

After a refreshing swim or two…
The hospital in the sugar town of Mossman, QLD
So, every party has to end, and it was time to head back down the Captain Cook Highway and fly back to Brisbane, and to Stephanie and the rest of the kids…Of course, when we got there there were two Japanese students staying in our house for a week, Saho and Renge..The girls were having a wonderful time of course, and Stephanie is a true saint….But that’s a tale for another time…. 

 

 

Claire’s Komono, with new sisters



Homecoming, now with seven kids….!
It was good to be home with the family, everyone safe n’ sound. We hope you enjoyed this tour of far Northern Queensland, and here’s hoping for many more.. safe travels  to all….DDU.

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