Crater lakes, a wary cassowary and a croc

Trip Start Jun 04, 2005
Trip End Apr 05, 2006

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Saturday, October 8, 2005

On Tuesday afternoon, 4 October, our Great Barrier Reef diving adventure ended as we docked in Cairns and disembarked from the lovely ScubaPro III. It was time for goodbyes - we excused ourselves from the big night out planned for that evening, and collected the hire car we had booked before departing on the liveaboard. The plan was to spend the next three days exploring the Atherton Tablelands (inland, west of Cairns) and the Daintree/Cape Tribulation area, and to do so camping.

But first, we needed a tent. After a bit of hurried gear shopping (cheapo tent, hiking matresses) at the local army stores, we were on our way by about 5.30pm. Poor old Rich was not feeling too well... he was convinced he was suffering from the bends after all that intensive diving, but in reality it was probably just exhaustion and a mild fever caused by the bacterial skin infection he'd been living with for a few days.

So we decided not to go very far, and made a stop in Kuranda, a quaint little town set in lush forest in the hills behind Cairns. The camp site was lovely - super communal kitchen, pretty gardens and roaring camp fire - but Rich was in no state to enjoy the ambiance. He crawled into the tent and lay there in a feverish daze for the rest of the night, while I cooked a steak on the gas BBQ and sipped tea.

After a 12 hour sleep he was in a better state the next morning, so we broke camp and set off exploring the Atherton Tablelands, a highland region of farms, lush forests and picturesque natural sights. At the western end of the Tablelands, beyond the town of Mareeba, the red sands and dry scrub of the outback meets the green of the highland forests, so the drive from Kuranda took us through some interesting changes in scenery. We stopped to admire a gigantic strangling fig tree, the 'Curtain Fig', near Yungaburra, then took a walk around Lake Barrine, one of two beautiful volcanic lakes in the Crater Lakes National Park. We picnicked beside its twin, Lake Eacham, later in the afternoon. Both lakes have incredibly blue, clear water and are fringed by lush rainforest.

At sunset we made our way to the camp site at Millaa Millaa, but were disappointed to find that the gas barbeques (which Aussie camp sites can be relied upon to provide) were out of service. So we had to go and cook our sausages on the BBQ in the village park! The place was a ghost town, not a soul on the streets, so it was a bit of a spooky experience. We rounded off the evening with a lovely bottle of Shiraz by torchlight.

On Thursday morning we hit the Waterfall Circuit, a 16 km scenic country road just outside Millaa Millaa with three spectacular waterfalls set in gullies shaded by tree ferns... we saw them all, and moved on to the Mount Hypimamee Crater, another legacy of the Tablelands' volcanic past. The 138m deep crater, with walls of vertical rock and a mucky-looking lake far below, was formed by superheated gases exploring through the earth's crust.

After a picnic lunch at Hypimamee, we tackled the four-hour drive from the Tablelands region up the coast to the Daintree area. The short ferry ride over the Daintree River is like a gateway into a different world - you leave behind the dull towns and sugar cane plantations, and enter a magical world of towering rainforest trees and mangrove creeks. The pace slows down too, as the road winds its way along the coast and through the forest. Magic.

Lync Haven, our camp site for the night, was also home to orhaned 'roos, wallabies and birds. The owner told us that a young cassowary often strolled through the tent site in the early morning, and, lo and behold, the next morning he came along. These flightless birds (quite similar to an ostrich, but smaller) can often be agressive, but this chap was simply curious, pecking his way among the tents and eyeballing us warily. At one point he came alarmingly close to me (I had the camcorder in my hand) and I had to take a few cautious steps back!

At mid-morning we hopped aboard a river boat for a salty croc-spotting cruise up Cooper Creek, a mangrove-lined estuary. The skipper warned us that our chances of spotting a croc weren't brilliant, as the weather was warming up and they tend to spend less time on the banks in summer. However, all our peering among the mangroves was rewarded with a sighting of one big boy, about four metres long, lying very still on a grassy bank... what impressed me most about him was his set of orange gnashers!

We drove a few kilometers up the road to Cape Tribulation beach, a lovely long stretch of pure white sand. Didn't have much time to hang around, though, so took an hour walk on the Marrdja boardwalk through the forest and started our drive back to Cairns. Got to the airport just in time for our 4pm flight to Sydney!
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