After surviving one last night of thunderous rainfall (did I mention that already?? It's a bit of a sore spot), we set course to Cooktown. This involved crossing over the Great Dividing Range on a VERY windy and very steep road over Mt. Molloy. (Just when we thought we'd left the wild winding roads behind us in the rainforest...)
Once on the other side of the mountains, the road was much less prone to inducing motion sickness, thankfully. And what a change of scenery! We understood instantly why it's called the Great Dividing Range - the Daintree was like a dream and we were now back to the reality of being in Australia.
The drive north to Cooktown was bordered by cattle station country, a.k.a barren nothingness, except for some very thirsty-looking trees and an endless number of termite mounds of various shape and size (some of them were absolutely massive!). Oh yes, and a long straight stretch of road in front of us. We did get into a bit of mountainous countryside for a while though, and the views from the top were pretty incredible.
We rolled on in to Cooktown late in the afternoon and had no trouble finding our accommodation at the "Top Pub" - where the locals meet and eat apparently. It's an old pub in a great old building, and there were definitely some colourful locals keeping the bar propped up ;) It has a big beer garden in the back as well as a "bistro." Dave was quite enamoured with the place; not to mention the fact that he gets to sleep right above a pub ;)
The rooms are very basic and kind of clean, but about 10 steps outside our door is a big verandah overlooking Charlotte Street below and panoramic views of the hills and Endeavour river in the distance... so what's to complain about?
It's bloody hot up here in Cooktown, no doubt about that. And once again we are tortured by the cool, crisp and crystal clear waters of the surrounding beaches and endless miles of river - all of which are teeming with creatures that could inflict substantial amounts of pain and possibly death - namely crocodiles and jellyfish. So we just kept on sweating!
We strolled leisurely down Charlotte Street and admired the various heritage buildings and monuments which carry the legacy of James Cook and the Endeavour, as well as the subsequent events of Cooktown's colourful history. We treated ourselves to a lunchtime feast of fresh local fish: Barramundi fish and chips, and pan-fried Spanish Mackerel. It was so delicious... we left there feeling stuffed like Thanksgiving turkey. The restaurant - called 1770 after the year of Cap'n Cook's arrival - was down on the riverfront, and we lunched al fresco on the back patio with the river right below us where we watched an angel fish putter aimlessly along. We also watched as a skinny, shirtless and bronzed fella managed to appear busy while actually doing rather little on a gorgeous king-sized yacht.
From there we waddled with our full bellies up to the James Cook museum for a history lesson while our tummies attempted digestion. The museum is in a beautiful old building that once housed the Sisters of Mercy, and has a fascinating and abundant collection of various relics and artifacts dating back to Cooktown's beginnings. Most impressive of all was the actual anchor of the Endeavour, recovered from where it was embedded in the sea floor and restored to its original splendor.
Still feeling rather bloated we went back to the hotel to drop off some excess baggage and stock up on cold water for the planned afternoon trek. Then, after slathering ourselves with more sunscreen we were on the road again. Didn't quite know exactly what we were in for though...
From the hotel, we walked straight up the hill and over to the Botanical Gardens. To our great enjoyment, we found the gardens to be getting a refreshing drink from several sprinklers. So we happily strolled through the line of fire for a bit of relief from the hot sun.For the next couple of hours, we were at the mercy of the Scenic Rim walking trail. From the Botanic Gardens it was a short and painless hike over a small hill to Finch Bay, where we clambered around on some massive boulders for a bit of fun, still wonderfully ignorant of what was ahead.
The next hill was slightly bigger, and significantly steeper, but afforded us some spectacular views of tropical seas on our way to Cherry Tree bay on the other side - yet another beautiful deserted beach. By now we are long since dripping with sweat which, combined with our sunscreen and all the sand and dirt we were kicking up, made for something of a "tarred and feathered" kind of feeling. To make matters worse, lunch still seemed to be haunting us, weighing us down with every step. On the bright side however, my asthma didn't flare up once!! It would seem that extreme humidity agrees with my lungs nicely :)
We were still in relatively high spirits as we left Cherry Tree bay, but the worst was yet to come (this is all beginning to feel very much like hiking the Cinque Terre or our expedition on bikes through the mountains of Tuscany in Italy which you may recall - I know Taryn does - as being magnificently scenic in a "on-the-brink-of-death-from-total-exhaustion" kind of way, but without the gelato to bolster our spirits along the way). From the beach there, it was nothing but straight uphill climb for probably 500m or so. Having come so far already in the unforgiving afternoon heat with a feast of fish fermenting in our bellies, the climb was, in a word, BRUTAL. I don't think I have ever sweat so much in my entire life - not even through an entire game of basketball have I perspired so persistently.
When, at long last, we finally came to the road, we were delighted to find a bench waiting there patiently for us, eager to take the load from our weak and weary legs. So we politely obliged and made it wait no longer to fulfill it's God-given duty. It was a good bench indeed.
Our relief was short-lived however, when we realized that if we wanted to see the view from atop "Grassy Hill" (clever, isn't it?), it would require yet more climbing; though just how much climbing we didn't know. Turns out, it wasn't a short one; nor was it a pleasant gradual slope either. And there was no path so we had to walk along the dirt road, which involved being peppered with dust with each passing vehicle, the dust clinging ever so nicely to our sweat-soaked skin. However, our reward was an unexpectedly breathtaking view.
Of course, as it happens, we still were not at the top and there was yet another viciously steep hill to climb to get to the lighthouse and the really, really REALLY fantastic views: 360 degree panoramas of the turquoise Coral Sea, the winding Endeavour river, mountains, islands, and Cooktown itself. Lucky for us, karma came through for us in the form of a plump little nurse in a rental car :) Not only did she drive us to the top of the hill, but she took us back down as well - all the way to the front door of our hotel!! Dear, sweet plump little nurse. What a gem J I did feel a bit like a cop-out for getting ride after having come so far already... but we had come so far already!! It was inhumane!!
For our final night in Cooktown, we decided to ditch the Top Pub and head out to the Cooktown "stix" (a bit of an oxymoron really) and the Lion's Den Pub. Down a dusty and severely rutted dirt road, with a few dodgy bridges, not too far from the Mulligan Highway, sits the historic Lion's Den. It's a colourful joint, to say the least. The entrance is guarded by a very weathered old lion statue (well, a mannequin, really - no, wait... a lionnequin) with a matted mane, a patch over one eye, and a few bits missing.
Once inside the pub, it's a feast for the eyes, albeit not the most appetizing feast: the walls and ceiling are absolutely covered with everything from foreign currency, to stubbie holders to various articles of clothing (undergarments included!) carrying messages from the owner, to license plates, to, well... just about anything you can imagine. And where a patch of wall or ceiling is bare, it has been scrawled with random messages from the great number of past patrons. It's a thing of beauty to be sure.
Behind the pub is a small campground and a few dongers (a.k.a 'portables' to all you North Americans) serving as motel rooms. Our home for the night was one of their "safari tents" - massive canvas tents set up atop a platform about 10ft off the ground. They were bloody cool!! ;) The platform extended beyond the length of the tent providing a spacious deck area. And they came complete with a mini fridge, toaster, kettle and kitchen sink. We were lovin' it.
Just below the campground there was even a patch of croc-free river for swimming! Although by this point (every beach and river we have come across so far have crocodile warning signs plastered everywhere) the paranoia of getting eaten has pretty well taken over and it took a good half hour of climbing around on rocks only half in the water before we were actually convinced (75% anyway) that is was indeed safe to fully submerge ourselves, and then we only swam for 5 minutes before losing our nerve again ;)
Meanwhile, it would appear I have gotten ahead of myself yet again... after leaving the Top pub, we took our time checkin' out some more scenic stuff en route to the Lion's Den.
First off was a drive northwards to the Endeavour falls, which turned out to be more like the Endeavour trickle. Not quite the right time of year for waterfalls apparently. It was a nice spot though and we explored a bit until getting chased out by a horde of blood-thirsty mozzies. Nice caravan park there by the way (you could say we've become connoisseurs of the caravan park world).
Next stop was Keating's Lagoon, a massive pond with a nearly solid layer of water lilies and their fellow pads. Rather picturesque you might say. We took the short walk to the "twitters" hideout to see what the birds were up to... not a whole lot as it turns out. There was one little beaked psychopath that was chasing another of his species off his group of lily pads, so that was somewhat entertaining. We had wanted to see the only Aussie species of stork that was said to be there, but it wasn't until we were back on the highway that I noticed about 4 of them on the other side of the road in a small, much less picturesque lagoon. It figures.
I think the best part of the day would have to be when we took Charlie for a bit of an off-road adventure out to Archer Point - a 12km drive down a dirt road. Once out there, you're stunned by the contrast of amazing azure waters lapping up against a coastline of dried out, desolate savannah, with charcoaled bald spots where bush fires have blown through. The dirt road leaves the bush and winds its way through a small group of hills along the coastline, forming a few separate little coves where people were camping and trying to reel in some fish.
The piece de resistance was an incredibly steep hill that rose straight up from the water's edge sandwiched by bays on either side of it... and that means there was a spectacular view to be had. We could see a lighthouse on top of the hill and that the dirt road wound its way up the hillside toward it. It was a treacherous bit of track but what the hell, we were feeling adventurous. Lucky for us, so was Charlie!! Our little red wagon handled it like a champion! There was even a camper van ahead of us on the hill that chickened out half way up and turned around. Who needs a 4WD when you have a Toyota camry wagon, eh??