Port Douglas

Trip Start Sep 03, 2007
Trip End Jun 17, 2009

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Leaving Townsville on a bright sunny morning, we continued north on the 'Bruce Hwy A1' as it ran through more sugar cane fields which were being harvested. The road ran slightly inland from the coast, with the occasional road running off to the beaches.

As we progressed clouds slowly started to develop and by the time we reached 'Ingham' the cloud cover was complete. Past the edge of the 'Girringun national park', with its thick rainforest and then on for a lunch stop at 'Tully'.

The town is famous for having the highest recorded rainfall in Australia and by the way the clouds had gathered we could believe it. They have a town monument to celebrate (?) the event when 7.9 metres of rain fell in a year. The monument? - it's called 'The Big Welly', well, what else !!!

Onwards, as we intended this to be a steady and hopefully the last, long days driving. The route stayed slightly inland, with its rainforest covered mountains and single peaks and flat areas to the coast.

Through 'Cairns', which is the last major town on the Queensland coast and a major tourist centre for anything to do with the Barrier Reef. We wanted to avoid its noisy bustle and continued for another 60 kms on the 'Captain Cook Hwy44', along a narrow twisty road that ran along the sea edge, until we turned off for 'Port Douglas'. The weather had changed again and we had warm afternoon sunshine.

Distance driven     446  kms                277 miles

Port Douglas is on the tip of a peninsula and is a more laid back, although still tourist orientated, small town which is favoured by the monied set. The shops are quite an assortment between tourist and classy.

We struggled a bit to find an apartment, as we wanted to stay for four nights and I was puzzled as I believed this was the quiet, winter season. It turns out that it is winter here (a pleasant 24 deg) but in the South of Australia and New Zealand (where there were snow avalanche incidents), it was serious winter and people from there were coming north for the winter warmth. Very much like the Canadian 'snowbirds', who go to Florida, the Caribbean and South America for their winter. I must remember this arrangement!

Eventually we found pleasant apartments just out of the town centre and booked in for four nights. Not being sure how early the supermarkets closed around here we didn't unload but went straight into town to shop.

When we returned the reception was closed and we found our key didn't work! We left messages on their answerphone and waited. I tried going round the (ground floor) apartment but the key didn't open the rear patio either. All I succeeded in doing was scaring several unknown animals in the surrounding shrubbery, who noisily scurried off causing me to jump at each incident. I reasoned that snakes wouldn't jump and scurry off and hastily returned to the 'civilised' side of the apartments.

We were taken pity on by a Canadian family who were next door and they invited us in for a glass of wine (God bless 'em) and a chat - thank you David and Ann. After an hour and a half the owners returned, gave us a replacement key and we were able to stop and relax with a late supper.

Friday 15th August

A late start and after booking a dive trip for myself out on the reef, my last chance and a recommendation from the dive centre in Sydney, we went into town to look around. It was quite busy but had a nice relaxed feel, as people wandered round the shops or sat at the kerbside cafes and bars.

After lunch we drove up to a lookout over the town's 'four mile beach', which is on the east side of the peninsula and where people were swimming in the sea. We wondered about the marine 'stingers' but it seems they don't come out in any numbers until October and people were happy to take their chances.

We noticed large green ants running round the area and whilst talking to some Aussies, they pointed out the ant's nests, built from leaves amongst the tree branches. These nests are almost the size of a football and the ants have a serious bite

Back down in town we walked along the west shore, overlooking the bay where the marina and harbour are located. At a small park we watched sea birds wading along the shoreline and were buzzed by swallows, as they zoomed round in tight circles chasing insects. Boats were returning to the marina and we passed the tiny church of 'St Mary's by the Sea'. This is right on the shore and is such a popular wedding location that it is booked up for two tears in advance.

At a town bar Norah decided to treat herself to a strawberry daiquiri, which was somewhat disappointing - not a patch on yours Sylvia!

As well as being warmer the nights were staying lighter and it didn't go dark until after 6pm. In the dusk we returned to the apartment for another easy evening.

Saturday 16th August

Alarm clock at 7am - must be a dive day. Norah had decided she'd had enough water for a while and had a lie in. I was picked up at the apartments and the boat set sail at 8.30. It was an hour and a half's fast run out to the reef and the operation was slick. Certified divers (yes that's right - I'm classed as certified down here!!!) in one group, try dives in another and snorkellers in another.

By the time we reached the 'Agincourt Ribbon Reef', we were kitted up and ready to go as soon as we moored up. I wanted this last dive, as although I had enjoyed all my other dives, the Great Barrier Reef was the main appeal for diving in Oz and the yacht dive out of 'Airlie Beach' had, I felt, not shown the picture book reef I was looking for

We jumped from the boat into 24 deg, clear blue water which (only) had twenty metres visibility because of the winter onshore winds. The reefs were covered in multi coloured corals, sponges, feather stars and what's more -fish. This was what I wanted to see. All shapes, sizes and colours of fish were on and around the reefs and bommies. From different colours of clown fish (nemos), half inch long blue and orange fish hiding on the table tops of coral to shoals of larger reef fish, who floated in long streams away or around us.

We did three dives in different areas and each one was fabulous. Rays, white tip sharks, grey reef sharks, moray eels, barracuda, coloured parrot fish, large maori wrasse - all a wonderful display of colours and shapes. At one point near the surface was a shoal of twenty plus cuttle fish, 'flying' in a line over the top of the coral. Fascinating.

My last chance had been worth it and I returned to shore very happy at having enjoyed this wonderful experience. There is always more to see and although the reef is suffering from the effects of global warming and pollution, I was delighted to have been able to dive on just a part of it.

Sunday 17th August

Another lazy start and a visit to the Sunday market, a great mix of stalls from fruit and veg to paintings, jewellery to clothes. I was intrigued to see a fruit juice stall of cane sugar, where a young lad put a length of sugar cane into a pair of rollers, which were then belt driven from a pedal cycle. The juice was sweet and delicious.

After a couple of hours on the market we drove out of town and north on the '44', some thirty miles to 'Daintree', a small town on the side of a river and the end of the line, as all road traffic from here is by track and four wheel drive only.

At the river were signs warning people of crocodile activity in the area and several small boats were running crocodile 'viewing' trips. The pretty area was in a small, flat valley with fields surrounded by forests and it was quite pleasant in the hot afternoon sunshine.

Returning southwards we turned off for 'Mossman Gorge', a deeply forested area where the narrow 'Rex Creek' runs through the gorge, over several small falls with deep pools, which are favourite swimming spots. At one point on the gorge trail there is a suspension bridge over the creek, which swings and sways as you walk across. The whole park belongs to the local aboriginal tribe and there were several of the local peoples around, one of the few times we had seen them during our trip through Australia.

We returned to the apartments for another easy night, although the selection of tv stations was mostly the Olympics or American crime sagas. We had booked for another two nights here as an alternative to heading back to Cairns before our Wednesday flight on to Darwin.

Monday 18th August

An easy 'housekeeping' day of computer work, laundry and preparations for moving on again. We were going into Cairns tomorrow to collect our travel pack for Asia and made plans to do anything else that was wanted.
I needed more computer discs for photo archiving and a trip into town for shopping yielded none. We were told there may be a shop at the marina or in the next settlement but a trip to both places turned up nothing.

During the weekend one of my new fillings had fallen out and a phone call to the dentist revealed a branch in Cairns.

Tuesday 19th August

We were on our way to Cairns before 10am and arrived late morning for a long meeting with the travel agents, who thankfully had received our final schedule, tickets, travel packs, visas and returned passports. We also finally got our hands on the new bank cards, forwarded from England, via Yamba, to Brisbane and then couriered to Cairns (thank you John, Dorothy and Neil for all your efforts).

Next was a visit to the Quantas office, to tidy up our final flights on the round the world ticket, caused by us rescheduling them in Oz. New tickets were issued and we were now on our way into Asia.

After a quick lunch we drove to a local shopping mall and the dentist. Yes, they knew I was coming but didn't have any appointments available for a few days. They did however, have another branch some ten miles north of Cairns and would make an appointment for tomorrow.

Whilst in the shopping mall we called at a pharmacy with the prescription for our malaria tablets. No, they didn't have any stock in but there was another pharmacy on the next floor. We visited them and yes, they did have stock but only enough for one of us! I couldn't understand this since Cairns is the most northern departure airport for Asia. Does no one in Australia ever travel to Asia? They did have another branch some ten miles out of town which had stock and they would hold it for us. We were still having trouble getting the computer discs I wanted.

We drove the ten miles east and found the other chemist on another shopping centre. It seems that reasonable size shopping centres are spaced out every few miles round here and are not necessarily close to a town. Now stocked with enough malaria tablets to cover our Asia trip we also found a store in the same centre that had an acceptable type of disc.

We had also been looking for a printers business, as I had figured out that blank business cards could be used as slide in luggage labels. It is surprising the number of labels we have gone through during this trip and we still have a few destinations to go yet!

Back in the apartment I archived photos ready to send home (sorry John, there's more) whilst Norah searched for a hotel in Darwin for tomorrow night. We were arriving late and didn't want to have to start looking for a room after we had landed. She found out that there was a 'Darwin Festival' taking place and all hotels were fully booked, eventually managing to find a room in a city centre hotel but at a high price. We were booked to be on a flight tomorrow, so we took the room, which rattled the budget a bit.

Consequently it was reasonably late when we finished supper after preparing for moving on.
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