Thursday, July 31, 2008

Day 19 After further rain and taking the advice of the locals, we decided not to go the shorter coastal track to Cape Tribulation that was about 110km’s on mostly dirt,so we went the longer inland route which took about 3 hours vs about 2 hrs on the dirt track. We arrived at the Daintree river and prepared to get onto the car ferry (no free ride like the Putney Punt, $25 return for car and van). As soon as we got off the ferry, the road before us looked like something from a lost world. The lush troical rainforest formed a tunnel around the road way as we winded our way to the Cape Tribulation National Park. The rain had even flowed over one of the low spillway bridges and so we had a river crossing (very mild but fun). We arrived at the National Park and set up in a an amazing site that was set in thick rainforest yet only 50 metres from the beach ( no wonder the marketing tag line is “Where the Rainforest meets the reef”). The kids had a great time playing on the beach and we soon met another family. Victoria & Craig had two children Josh and Chloe and were also travelling with a French family.

Day 19 continued - As the National Park has no power and no showers (only eco friendly hand pump toilets), we welcomed the invitation to join the other families for dinner at the Cape Tribulation Jungle Bar. Cape Trib is an interesting mix of wild tropical rainforest and rapidly growing tourism especially for backpackers. The Jungle bar was great and it reminded us of Bali. We all had a great night exchanging stories and the nine children found a great young girl called Ashleigh who loved children and was happy to look after the kids playing pool for over an hour. I’m not sure if this was the night that Tim, her boyfriend had planned, but he joined in and they all seemed to have a great night. Finally we returned to our campsite that was extremely spooky in the pitch black of the dense rain forest and surrounded but the rustling of foraging animals and many strange noises. It continued to lightly rain but interestingly, most of the moisture seemed to be caught by the plants and did not hit the ground.

Day 18 This day started very early as it had rained all night and I was up early in the morning to check the van. The Jayco performed perfectly with no leaks at all. We decided that this would be a good day for the famous Cooktown museum and it proved to be good timing as the rain continued in the morning. The museum was very interesting and I was most impressed by Captain Cooks quote “ I had ambition not only to go farther than anyone had been before but as far as it was possible to go” now that’s inspirational! By late morning the rain had cleared and we decided to head out to see the coloured sands on the beach past Hopevale where we had been the pervious day. What we did not allow for was the combination of 35mm of rain together with roadworkers having dumped loose soil on the road and not compacted it. The first 60 km’s was fine but then we got into the road works and they had reduced the speed limit from 80kmh yesterday to 40kmh today. As our 4wd experience was limited we sat well under the new speed limit. All was good until we reached the bottom of a slight hill at which point we totally lost all steering and all braking ability. The road had turned to jelly and we were sliding out of control (all be it very slowly) towards a white road post. At this stage we must have looked like a graceful elephant on the ice and despite all efforts to regain control, we kept going. The Prado was up to its axles in mud and we watched helplessly as we hit the post at slow walking pace. I guess this is not an uncommon event as the posts were made of light tin or plastic and simply placed loosely in the soil and so it gently bent over as we slid into it. We finally stopped with no damage to man or machine and I decided to reverse slowly to the nearest high ground and turn around. This manoeuvre worked perfectly and we were soon returning to Cooktown. I assumed it was my in experience that had caused the problem but I could see a serious Land Cruiser in my mirrors that appeared to be having the same problem. We later bumped into a fellow traveller who had been returning from Cape York that same day and said the worst road he faced was that section we had our troubles in. I must admit it was very frightening to be in such a large car, with no control (we didn’t even get a picture as we were both too concerned at the time). We both decided it was time for a drink so we returned to Cooktown and travelled out to the famous Lions Den Hotel. This is a famous frontier drinking hole and to call it a pub would be an overstatement. It was rough and ready but the people were delightful and we enjoyed our much needed drink (the young barman from the UK got talking to Harry and the topic of Footy cards came up, suddenly he had given Harry about 60 cards that he had collected during his bar work). We completed our day with a beautiful dinner at 1770, a well known local restaurant on the waterfront and enjoyed the wine, food views and being safe.

Day 17 - Today we went for a tour of the town and was even more impressed with the general feel of Cooktown. We looked at the site where Captain Cook beached the Endeavour for repairs and other interesting historical sites. We also went for a walk through the botanical gardens and arranged a guided tour of some local aboriginal rock art with an aboriginal elder, Willie Gordon. To meet him for the start of the tour, we drove out through the Hopevale aboriginal settlement and watched some of the Cowboys rugby league team having a clinic with the local aboriginal kids.

Day 17 Continued - We met Willie and followed him through the forest in our 4wd’s (about 3 other cars). It was obvious that here was a very friendly and warm person who was keen to share his culture with anyone who is interested. It was equally clear that he wanted to focus on the kids and so most of his discussion and question was directed at the children. His explanation of the art was fascinating as he tried to explain the aboriginal philosophy/belief system rather than simply showing pictures. His message was simple but strong and certainly resonated with all of us. The role of the family unit is crucial, man should live in harmony with nature and you need to aim for a calm life with less focus on material things. He believes many of the problems for both “black and white is the breakdown of family”(Willie said he can refer to black and white with no concern for political correctness). The time we spent with Willie was very precious and we appreciated the way he related to our children in a way that should have a lasting effect. The still speak fondly of Wille weeks later.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Day 16 - This day started as most other days with Harry and I heading to the shower and it was now that I realised how so many things had changed since leaving work a few weeks ago. In my new non corporate life, my major concern each morning was..........keeping my undies dry in the shower cubicles. I can hear you laughing but I would like to tyr an relate how serious this issue is and how a failure to meet this performance objective can spoil your day. I have spent a great deal of time sharing with Harry the important skill of keeping this important item dry and off the floor. These instructions include the sub topics of correct undie placement before you begin the shower (including making sure you don’t mix up the new and the old), the stork stand and careful aim required to get a wet foot through the dry undie leg hole. If you need further details please email for full explanation.
After having breakfast and packing up the van we headed for Cooktown about 215 km’s away. Along the way we stopped at the Lakeland coffee house which we were told is the best coffee north of Brisbane ( and we think they may be right). We arrived in Cooktown with a rousing rendition of “Celebration” that I’m sure would have even pleased Kool and his gang. It was a beautiful sunny day and we instantly fell in love with this frontier town (the kids insisted that it was named after us and told everyone they met). We went for a walk along a beautiful beach called Finches Bay however we were still not very sure about the Crocodiles at this stage and so stayed clear of the water. It seemed like everyone in the town was either on the way to Cape York or had just returned (this included an army squad we met on the road that were going all the way to the top for some reconnaissance). The only thing we didn’t love about Cooktown was the wind but a local told us that there were only two windy times, January to June and July to December. We checked into an excellent park that was recommended and it was perfect. We settled into a fantastic site, went for swim and enjoyed a BBQ that night.l

Day 15 - As Jenifer was leaving our van the previous night, she mentioned that the Mareeba Rodeo was on this weekend. So we got up early and spoke to Jenifer who kindly rang and confirmed the rodeo was on today and you simply bought a ticket when you showed up. So off we headed to the Rodeo. As we approached we saw a huge number of motor homes set up in a field together with amusement rides and a number of grandstands set up around the arena. It turns out that the Mareeba Rodeo is the second largesr in Queensland and competitors travel from all over the world to compete. The atmosphere is hard to explain as it is a cross between the air of fun and excitement associated with events such as Mardi Gras together with the testosterone laden feel of more gladiatorial sports such as Rugby. One thing is for certain these guys are tough as we experienced first hand. Within minutes of arriving at the Rodeo we were seated some 50 cms from the fence (yes ½ a metre from man and animal). You are probably asking why Wes the safety cat had his family so close to the action and I can only assume that the sheer magnetism of the event draws you in. The second event on the card was the final of the bull riding. We saw the first few thrown and lan awkwardly, the cowboys quickly getting back to their feet to save some pride but we were close enough to see the absolute pain on their faces. The next rider managed to stay the full time on the bull but the bull was not happy with this and so ran straight at the fence only metres from our seats and managed to squash the cowboy against the face like we swat a fly. It was truly disturbing to see another human being hurt so close to us and yet we could do nothing. Fortunately the safety crew arrived, another cowboy on horseback managed to reach down and extract him from his the vice like grip the bull had set with the fenceing rail and place him on his horse. The bull was ushered back into his pen to a round of applause and yes, the cowboy crushed cowboy leapt from the horse (or was he pushed), waved his hat in the air and wobbled to the waiting ambulance.
The other aspect of the day that was both surprising and leasing was how welcoming the locals were. We had managed to find a seat next to the arena however after an hour in the direct sun, it was starting to get unpleasant. Next to us a family had come ready for the whole weekend and had set u a huge tarp on roles to provide shade and had brung several lounge suites (yes that’s right… lounge suites) and set them u so they could see the event in comfort. One of the guys who also had a few young children asked us if we would like to join them under his tarp (this was very kind as it was obvious we were not locals as we were the only ones not in cowboy hats). So we sat watching the rodeo out of the sun sitting on a very nice brown and orange 3 piece lounge next to the main arena ( a very good choice of colour as it did not show the dust kicked onto in by the bulls in the arena. The guy explained that these sites were booked and pai for a year in advance and pointed to a series of sites on which, utes, trailers, and even a crane had been used to ingeniously construct various sheltered viewing platforms. The Rodeo was a marvellous event and something I can strongly recommend. I have no doubt that in years to come occupational health and safety will stop such open access for spectators but for the moment try and get along and experience it first hand. We left the rodeo and returned to Mt Carbine as Jenifer’s husband Robert, gives a complimentary mineral, wildlife and history tour every night at 6pm. It was very interesting and all of this for $16 a night (great showers, very clean). On to of this they offer free van storage in a dedicated area if you would like to leave your van while travelling onto Cape York. Jenifer was telling us about the many lovely people they meet (mainly Grey Nomads) but shared as story about one not so nice one. GN’s are renowned for their stinginess as can be heard in any shop, petrol station or restaurant as they complain how expensive things are out here (of course they expect supplies to be shipped thousands of kilometres in refrigerated containers and to be the same price as the local Woolworths store…. We thought most items were reasonable). Anyway, they had one GN arrive stay a night ($16 thank you) and then insist that the free van storage must be under cover. I know what I would have done with his undercover (be nice) but Jennifer and Robert being the generous couple they are, put is van in one of their powered undercover sites and charged him nothing for three months. Anyway, we loved our time at Mt Carbine and it is the only time we ever left a tip, however Jenifer insisted on giving the kids a polished gemstone. Thanks Jenifer and Robert for a great stay.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Day 14 We left Undarra and headed towards Cooktown. Along the way we experienced an amazing transformation of the landscape as it changed from the dust and termite mounds of the outback to the incredible lush green fields of the Atherton tablelands. We also had dry creek beds replaced by flowing rivers one of which contained the Milstream Falls which is the widest water falls in Australia. This area was also home to over 100,000 army troops during world war two as they were stationed here for training, recuperation from the pacific campaign and to make sure troops were close at hand should Japan invade Australia from the north. We also learnt that Mareeba, a nearby town that we were destined to spend more time at, also played an important role as a base for Australian and US bombers also pivotal in the pacific campaign. We then bought some rolls for lunch and decided to take a scenic detour to have lunch at Millaa Millaa falls. As we started along the track we were confronted by a sign stating that caravans were not to be taken on the road. According to Wes this was clearly not meant for us as we had a camper trailer/van. The road was spectacular as it took us past an impressive field of wind turbines, beautiful rainforest, dairy country and over small streams. The road was very narrow and the friendly greetings from oncoming traffic in the outback was replaced with rude gestures suggesting perhaps that our van was not welcome on the road. Undeterred we reached Millaa Millaa falls and had the most amazing picnic spot you could wish for. While the day was not freezing it certainly was not warm and the water was freezing. Our peaceful picnic was interrupted by a group of 16 year old American students who were on a 30 day camp in Australia. We spoke to the tour organiser and it was interesting to hear that he needed to provide a very quick moving agenda with many quick visits with short explanations. The reason he gave was “this is the ipod generation and you measure their interest level in minutes not hours”. It started me wondering how is this group ever going to be able to work in a job where you are required to stay engaged in your job for a full day. Perhaps we could redesign each role for this ipod generation so they work no longer than 15 minutes at any one task…… No wonder the Chinese economy is booming…………no Ipods ! We then travelled to see a huge strangler fig called the Curtain Bay Fig tree, it truly looked like an ornate curtain. Finally we continued on through Atherton and ended up in a small town called Mt Carbine. This was a mining town that had closed down in the early ninties and had been turned into a caravan park. The area was frequented by over 400 species of birds (most of them managing to leave a message on the Prado). It is run by a Victorian couple, Jenifer and Robert. We finished our day sharing a bottle of Red with Jenifer and our ears pricked u when she mentioned the Rodeo was in town.

Day 13 We woke at Undarra and had a full day planned at the park which included our own campfire that evening. In order to have a fire, you obviously needed wood and without an axe or chainsaw, we needed another plan. It soon dawned on Wes that the easiest way to get wood was to take it from others, but how could this be done legally? Simple, if you wait for people who are packing up, just ask them if they need the spare wood in their campsite. The answer was always “help yourself” except from the GN’s who said “No we cut it and we are taking it with us”. Have you ever seen sad grumpy old people loading rough chunks of cut timber into a $250,000 motor home. I’m sure the cost of the scratches inside the motor home are not worth the timber, but who am I to argue with the knowledgeable senior members of our community. After gathering wood, we started with a walk to the bluff look out followed by lunch at a swam with the wallabies.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Day 13 continued - After lunch we went for a swim in the pool followed by the much anticipated tour of the lava tubes (this is the only way to see them and at a cost of nearly $100 for the family, we hoped they would be good. It was looking good until we arrived and to our horror not only did we have all GN’s on the tour, the tour leader was also a GN. But we thought we were saved when another family arrived with a 6 and 4 year old. Unfortunately the other family had children who were very loud and boisterous and so I did have some sympathy for those who were trying to hear the tour leader. The lava tubes were very interesting but I’m not sure they are a must see. That night we had a great campfire with the kids and gazed into the crystal clear skies. This was a great family night

Day 12. – Today we left Normanton unsure how far we would go but knew we needed to go west heading towards the coast. We stopped briefly at Croydon and decided to push onto the Undarra National Park and home to the most impressive set of lava tubes in Australia. Just before we completed our 450km drive, we came across a sign explaining the concerns about transferring weeds across Australia and inviting us to clean the underneath of our vehicle. At first I was not sure how they expected us to complete this seemingly mammoth task. I then realised that not far away was a device something like an upside down car wash. So we proceeded across the wash area and suddenly like an explosion from the earth, hundreds of high pressure outlets sprayed the bottom and sides of the car and van. The car rocked and jolted and Donna who was in front of the car ready to video this event jumped back in shock. After the dust of Lawn Hill it was a welcome clean.
At last we drove into the National Park van park. Many of you may not know that there is a strict etiquette when you check into a park and that is that you line up in the order you arrive and wait your turn. At this park, the office was not clearly marked so people were driving around including one set of Grey Nomads who had driven 40kmh on a perfectly good bitumen road for 20 kms and of course they were in front of us. Wes was of course patient and relaxed as he wasted 20 minutes of his precious life in the dust of yet another pair of self centred grey nomads! So when we finally go their and they appeared to head in the wrong direction, we thought we may get the last laugh (famous chinese proverb – he who laughs last, laughs and laughs and laughs etc). So we slid to a stop and the sprint was on. A reluctant Donna needed to cover about 75 metres to win the ultimate prize (yes the glory of checking in first). But the female GN appeared and at first did not look like particularly tough competition (her profile from the rear was almost as wide as the Winebago they drove). That was until I saw the steely determination on her face that had resulted in them being able to hide all of their assets (including lump sum super) from the tax department to enable them to receive their God given right of a full pension. But it goes to show, it sometimes more about the will to win rather than your physical ability. She wanted it and Donna was less inclined to compete. Before I left Sydney on this trip, I think this would have frustrated me but I simply laughed at the stupidity of my thinking and wished the GN couple well and thought about that famous quote from one of our greatest modern philosopher’s (“I’ll be back”).
We then settled into our camp spot. After dinner, we heard they had rangers talking around the communal campfire. We were not aware that topic of the talk was “Australia – the most deadly continent on earth” but it sounded interesting. Clearly this young ranger did not have children as he explained around the eerie light of a campfire, just how many Australian plants and animals can kill or mame you. His core message was once in the bush, never move as if you step on any of these animals then they will bite you and you will die a slow and agonizing death in less than 3.3 milliseconds. Perhaps he expects us all to parachute into the bush and then stand in the one spot waiting to be extracted by a helicopter. Even Harry our captain of thrill and adventure was squirming in his seat until we decided we should leave. The short walk back to the camp site was a mix of comedy and horror as we imagined every spider and snake was in our path. I’m glad the trusty Outback Jayco is well off the ground as he said nothing about these animals having advanced mountaineering skills.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Day Eleven
The best tip we were given in Normanton was to go and speak to Helen in the visitors info centre. What a wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm for the whole district. We spent the morning in Normanton looking at many fascinating things including a life size statue of the larget Croc ever caught, beautiful old buildings such as banks, stores and even a jail. We then travelled out to Karumba on the Gulf of Carpentaria. It was very pleasing to make it that last 30 km’s that Burke and Wills could not achieve (mind you they did not have the mighty Prado - now known as Greased Lightning). Many people had raved about Karumba but frankly we don’t know why. Apart from a few pubs, shops and caravan parks jam packed with older Australians (politically correct), we could not see what the fuss was about. It does appear to have great fishing and the sunsets are legendary. We went to the Baramundi Discovery centre and had a great tour that ended with us feeding the larger 20+kg Barra’s.