Oop North

Trip Start Jan 16, 2007
Trip End Aug 20, 2007

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Where I stayed
Dunk Island Resort

Flag of Australia  ,
Saturday, March 10, 2007

One of the joys of having a car is the abilty to change what you are doing in an instant. With what we were doing (apart from getting the car back to Cairns for the 9th of March) we didn't have much of a plan as to what we were going to do until then. Though we had intended to stay at Townsville on the way up, this changed when we got there, as it would have been the equivalent of trying to find something to do in Kettering on a Sunday afternoon after the shops had shut. With no accommodation booked, our time there was brief and totally forgettable. Whilst there, we did manage to book a day white-water rafting further up on the Tully river. Thinking we were hard-core, we went for the 'Xtreme' option. The only noticeable differences between this and the regular launching-yourself-through-a-set-of-deadly-rapids that they offer is that you also get to go through some rapids without the raft (smart bloke whoever thought of that one first), as well as jumping off some pretty huge ledges/rocks into the river, and being flipped in the raft whilst going over a waterfall. Hmmm. That wasn't for a couple of days, so we headed up to somewhere where you could actually do stuff. The place we were now heading for was Mission Beach, a fairly sleepy hamlet whose main attraction seems to be landing on the beach after jumping out of a plane. It is also in the heart of Cassowary country - the cassowary being Australia's most dangerous bird, but looking like a giant turkey in drag. I'm personally not too sure how deadly they really are - it sounded to me a bit like the scene in Monty Pythyon and the Holy Grail where they are warned of the deadly white rabbit with 'sharp pointy teeth'. I think it's quite likely part of a marketing ploy to make everything in Australia a hazard to human life - to admit they have things that, quite frankly, are not able to kill you just by looking at you, would show they are not as hard as they make out.

In the day we had at Mission before the death-throws/white-water rafting, I made a trip over to Dunk Island, just off the coast. Mike wasn't too interested in coming, so off I went. The choices for getting over were either a 45 minute, extortionate ferry ride on a plush boat, or a 10 minute, cheap ride on a water taxi. Only catch being you had to wade through the surf to get to it. So, ten minutes later I was on the island. Dunk Island has a resort, small airstrip, and that's about it. The rest is pretty much still as it was before the Europeans arrived, minus the former locals. The first European resident was EJ Banfield, who arrived in the late nineteenth century, told by his doctors that he only had weeks to live. Deciding that he would like to spend his final days on the island, he went ashore and lived for another 25 years. He attributed this to the island's laid back like-style (which, frankly, when you are the only resident, is not overtly difficult), and the place is still a pretty chilled affair. I went for a walk round the island (only about 10km), climbing up to the peak, before heading back. The views from the top were quite stupendous, with the mountain range behind Mission Beach rising out of a blue haze and continuing to the horizon.

Enough about Mission Beach and the 'deadly' birds, and onto the really dangerous stuff. The river we went rafting on was the Tully River, one of Australia's most reliable rivers for water flow (water outlet controlled by a dam), with grade 3-5 rapids over the entire stretch. Rapids range from 1 (bath-tub) to 6 (Niagra Falls and certain death), so we were in for a good day. As there were only 6 of us in a raft, we all had to paddle when the guide told us, otherwise the boat would be pretty difficult to steer. Though there were a few teething problems, the boat did manage to get the hang of it eventually. The biggest problem some people had was being able to paddle in time with one another. Whilst the rapids we had in the morning were pretty tough in places, they were not at all scary. The fun really started after lunch - one of the first things we did was what they called 'the drowning simulator', and for obvious reasons. trying to float down rapids on your back, without drinking too much water and keeping your head above the surface for as long as possible certainly has its moments. After a couple of times, that was enough of that for me. Even though I had a life-jacket on, at times I was not too sure of its floating abilities. One jumping off a huge rock later, we headed down to the best part of the day - a category 5 rapid. On the way, we did a bit of rapid surfing. Basically, go over the rapid, get into a quite bit of water to the side, then paddle like fury into the raging water you've just about made it over. The water going round at the base of the rapid pretty much keeps the raft there, meaning you get soaked to the skin as the water flows over the raft. One raft in our party was not quite as successful as we were, and had to abandon ship into ours, whilst their guide pulled their raft out from under the water. The category 5 (though I think it was catagory 5 with a bit more water) was a series of walls of water that we crashed through and over. Difficult to really explain it without taking an absolute age - you had to be there. We were warned not to fall overboard in the last 5km, as there had been crocodile sightings (though unconfirmed) on that stretch. Always good to know. It certainly kept everyone in the boat though. By the sounds of it, most of the 'sightings' are exaggerated stories from down the pub, with each man trying to better the other as to where his dog was eaten/last seen. From experience in these sorts of situations, it is likely that the crocs were probably about 20km further downstream. However, I wasn't going to be the first to find out whether it was a load of bollocks, so I stayed in the (relative) safety of an big rubber dingy (which no doubt would have been sunk if something had decided to eat it). We've had quite a few random meetings with people on the way up the coast who were doing the same things as us, and the rafting was no exception - a couple in our boat were on the live-aboard dive trip we've just done up in Cairns. However, it's not as impressive as a pair of Canadians that we've met, completely randomly and with little/no prior knowledge of where they're going to be, on at least 5 occassions. On 3 of these, they were even in the same room of the same hostel. How bizzare.

From the waters of Mission Beach (in river and sea form) we headed through the Atherton Tablelands, a rather impressive range with heaps of waterfalls, up to the waters (in rain form) of Port Douglas and Cape Tribulation. Cape Tribulation and the Daintree area are where the sealed road ends and the long slog up through to Cape York starts. We were limited to the sealed roads, but even so the rainforest is especially dense once you've crossed the Daintree River, much of it never having been felled. The area from here up to the tip of the country at Cape York is effectively Australia's Amazon, with scientists trying to find cures for various diseases amongst the plants, but juxtaposed with development that threatens the attraction of the area. The development at Cape Tribulation has mostly happened since the listing of the areas as World Heritage, and it seems rather ironic that the listing that was designed to protect the place could speed up the ultimate destruction of the area, as more people are attracted by the 'wilderness' value, which leads to an increase in accommodation and sealing of roads, thus perpetuating the cycle. Still, to get to Cooktown and anywhere further north, you either have to take an extremely convoluted road inland, or need a 4*4. From here on as well, there are loads of alcohol restrictions, due to the number of Aboriginals still there and their propensity to turn to drink/ruin/etc. The rainforest at Cape Tribulation runs right down to the sea, and I imagine the whole place must look pretty similar to when it was discovered a few hundred years ago. From Cape Tribulation/Port Douglas (the only 'civilisation' anywhere near) it was from one almost pristine area to another, the Great Barrier Reef, it too becoming engrossed in mass, un-sympathetic tourism.
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