Furthest point on our travels from Perth
Trip Start May 01, 2010
58Trip End Oct 03, 2010
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The laughing Kookaburras were in good form as morning broke while we were preparing the caravan to leave. We left really early at 7am with the intention of stopping at interesting places along the way as we had already booked at the Cooktown caravan park.
After leaving Innot Hot Springs, the first town we reached 30kms along the road, was Ravenshoe. We wondered if it is pronounced Ravens-hoe or Raven-shoe! Anyway, it is the highest town in Queensland at 920m and has Australia’s largest windfarm with 20 wind turbines and has a population of 846 people and the rest cows!
We didn’t see one windmill as the fog was so thick, but we take their word for it! There must often be such a fog around these parts as the road sign warned of “Heavy Fog. Keep headlights on for safety.” We saw many herds of Friesland cows and Swiss type brown cows and they certainly looked happy with the mist, drizzle and lush green grass. We also saw a lone white horse come out of the mist looking so enchanting. At about that point we passed a sign “Tree kangaroo crossing”. Didn’t see any but presumably they were where they were meant to be, in the trees and not on the road in front of us.
Thankfully, the fog lifted so we could enjoy the hilly countryside with tall trees as we drove east with the rising sun in our eyes. The first river we crossed was “Wild River” - there was a lot of water but as smooth as glass!
Short time later we were driving through pockets of rainforest with thick vegetation and fern trees like in New Zealand. Between those areas of rainforest, we drove through lush green dairy country in rolling hills which reminded us of New Zealand South Island or fields in Switzerland especially with the light brown cows grazing. There were a few farm houses around and one even looked Swiss among a few pine trees but mostly gum trees reminding us that we are in Australia. What a contrast to the last seven weeks of driving through the outback. It even felt different. Mike was feeling quite poetic as he said “The sun broke through the misty clouds and displayed this wonderful panorama of rolling hills with Simmenthaler cows grazing on the lush grass”. We did though also drive passed some tall Avocado trees and mealies (maize) ready for picking, to remind us we are still in the tropics.
Just as we were beginning to think what great roads we were on and it all looked so civilized, we were suddenly back on 9 foot tar for quite a few kilometres - anything goes in Queensland!
Before long we had arrived in the city of Atherton with a population of over 6,000. From the ‘Lonely Planet Book of Queensland’ we had a list of a few things we hoped to see and we were pleased to find them fairly easily.
One was Chinatown with it’s unique Chinese temple built of corrugated iron. In the late 1800s many Chinese migrants flocked to the area to search for gold. In the surrounding park is the Platypus garden but they were hiding and we were too early for the Birds of Prey show. We headed back into town to the Visitors Centre where they were very helpful and then across the road to McCafe.
We had an egg and bacon wrap with our free seniors coffee latte and were impressed with the tables set up next to power points for travellers to make use of their free internet service with their laptops. Both were being used while we were there. We walked down the street passed banks and all sorts of shops and businesses on our way to Woolworths to buy our provisions. Great to spend time in the bush but then also good to be in a town again - first one since Alice four weeks ago. With the new map of the countryside we headed out of town and found the “500 year old Curtain Fig Tree” one of many of these impressive trees in the area. The curtain is formed on the host tree by birds dropping the fig seeds high in the tree canopy. The new plant sends down roots which forms the curtain that eventually strangles the host tree.
Another couple of kilometres on, we turned into The Gallo Cheese Family farm. The timing was perfect as we could watch the Friesland cows marching into the dairy for milking as we parked our van.
The cheese tasting was a treat as the camembert had been kept at the perfect temperature and was creamy and delicious. After tasting quite a few different cheeses, the decision was made, a camembert and a piece of their Brisbane Cheese Award Gallo Tilsit. Back into Atherton and then straight out again on the road to Mareeba. After the lovely European style cheeses and cows it almost seemed we should be driving passed grape vines, but instead we drove passed fields of avocados, mangos, sugar cane, coffee trees and vegetables. The stalls had big bags of zucchini for $2! In the fields of sugar cane we saw the same big irrigation systems as we had seen in Broome, but of course there they weren’t irrigating sugar cane. Outside Mareeba we drove into the Mango Winery and were impressed by the mango trees having flat tops…our mango tree at home will be having a crew cut also when we get back so we can reach next year’s mangoes easily. We arrived just in time for the mango wine tasting which was really good, as was the mango port and liqueur.
Soon after Mareeba north towards Cooktown we were out of the agriculture tablelands and as we quickly descended towards sea level, we went through bush with beef cattle again and inland lakes surrounded by swamps. An hour later we were in a mountainous rainforest area with spectacular views, unfenced cattle herds and brumbys along billabongs. After driving up a mountain pass, we stopped at Bob’s Lookout to see Mt Elephant. We weren’t sure which was Mt Elephant but ahead was a range of mountains and below a valley of trees, a view we presume similar to looking from a hot air balloon. Another lookout was the James Earl Lookout over the Byerston Range. The 250km inland drive from Mareeba was more interesting and mountainous than we had expected with just a couple of road houses and cattle station turnoffs along the whole stretch. At Lakeland Downs intersection we went through another environmental free car wash to rid our vehicles of noxious seeds but this time the water came out brown not like the nice clear water at Mt Surprise. Mike was not impressed and was not happy looking at our dirty brown car bonnet which is meant to be white.
Thankfully we went over the Normanby River which still had water and pulled over to a picnic site. Mike went down to the river and came up with a bucket of lovely clear, clean water to wash down the car. When he went down for another bucket of water to wash the caravan I used the chamois to dry the vehicle and then went behind Mike as he cleaned the van. After the thirsty work at 29C we really appreciated our bottle of water. Now after seven weeks we have clocked up 8,696 kms as we arrived at Cooktown the furthest town from Perth accessible on a sealed road.
This is the last significant town before the vast expanse of the Cape York Peninsula begins where all the roads are unsealed. For this reason we’re staying in Cooktown for the weekend and then will slowly make our way south east along the coast. We arrived at the Big 4 Caravan Park about 4pm and Des, the yardman directed us to our site in between the tall trees for much appreciated shade. We are just one tree away from the ablutions. Thought we had seen every type of ablution configuration but this is totally different to any we had seen before. Des had pointed to them and said something about all the common unisex ensuite bathrooms but didn’t realize what he meant. It is a long wide building with seven doors on each side. After walking past the first two with the engaged sign, the third one had the lock turned to vacant. Inside is this huge room with toilet, big shower recess next to another recess with a slatted wooden bench below three hooks. Adjacent to that the rest of the wall has an enormous attractive green marble look vinyl vanity with basin, soap and paper towels and huge mirror. The room is airy and bright with terracotta floor tiles and sparkling white wall tiles to the ceiling. Each room has its own bucket, mop and toilet brush and they all look very fresh and clean.
Soon after we had set up our chairs and tables, but before we had put away our grocery shopping from Atherton, our neighbours had arrived for a chat. By then it was 5pm so guess it was time for caravaner’s happy house! Bill brought his whiskey and soda and offered Mike one and Barbara had ice tea while Margaret enjoyed a small glass of mango port from Golden Drop at Mareeba. They stayed till just after sunset and as we drove into town the sky was still lovely and pink. The fish and chips shop was easy to find as it was right alongside the jetty to where the fisherman bring their catch of barramundi. Barra and chips was the order of the day which turned out to be real good tucker. It was a long day so a relaxing evening and early night was just what we needed.
A lovely way to wake up on the first morning of week 8 with every imaginable bird sound except kookaburras reminding us that we are in the tropical rainforest. With the trees being so high and thick and a lot of them small birds, we couldn’t actually see who was singing. The only bird we have seen well every now and then was a black bush turkey with a red head and neck above a yellow collar.
After doing our laundry and other household/caravanhold chores, at about 11am we drove into Cooktown to see the sites. Our first stop was the most northern spot at the end of the road where the Gunpowder magazine was built in 1874 and is the oldest brick building in Cape York. From there we had a great view towards the Coral Sea in front of us and the Endeavour River mouth to our left. We then drove the short distance back to Fisherman’s Wharf to park and walk around the town looking at the different sites as marked and numbered on our map. It was here that Captain Cook first set foot on the Australian continent when his boat Endeavour ran aground. Cooktown is the biggest town on the Cape York Peninsula with a population of 1336 today but at it’s peak during the gold rush had a population of 30,000 with 22,000 being Chinese here to seek their fortune. The sealed road was only completed in 2005 which is just as well as the mines are slowly closing down so more and more the existence of the town depends on tourists. On 17 June 1770 Cooktown became the site of Australia’s first non indigenous settlement when James Cook and his crew spent 48 days here while they repaired their damaged vessel.
During this time their chief botanist, Joseph Banks was kept busy studying the plants and animals along the Endeavour River and artist Sydney Parkinson illustrated their finds. From the walk our map took us to the Mick the Miner statue in memory of the Palmer River Gold Rush, the Cairn where Cook ran aground, the steps built for Queen Elizabeth II for her visit to Cooktown in 1970 to open the James Cook Museum and of course the James Cook Statue and Memorial all close together.
Back to the car and a short drive up Grassy Hill for the great view over the town and the Endeavour River mouth opening into the ocean, before driving on to the Botanic Garden. These gardens were originally established in 1878 and are the oldest in Australia. We enjoyed the walk among the cool shady trees and then drove down to Finch Bay on the Coral Sea. When we returned back to our caravan for a late lunch, we found our new neighbours are a couple from Mandurah. Most West Australians we meet around at Caravan Parks are from Mandurah and we think it‘s because Mandurah is full of retirees who have the time to travel! In the evening we bought a kilo of local prawns from a fisherman’s van which drives through the park every evening. We enjoyed a good stir fry with the prawns, rice, broccoli and carrots.
The night was very windy but too warm to shut windows. Thankfully we didn’t blow around the caravan too much! The next morning after chatting to our neighbour about Landcruisers, Prados and Pajeros fuel tanks etc, we headed off to the 4wheel drive road to see some local waterfalls. It was not as windy as during the night, but cloudy and fun to sample just the beginning of the York Peninsula dirt road. Soon out of Cooktown we were surprised to see “Welcome to Marton” which consisted of a BP station, 2 houses, 2 boats, an airfield and the beautiful wide Endeavour River. Also a sign to a luxury bush camp 5 kms down a track. This is again cattle country and we passed a horseman mustering a few young cattle who were being very compliant. Showers were forecast for the weekend and we were told you can’t have a rainforest without some rain all year. We never did see the rain though, as the wind seemed to blow the clouds away and we ended up with lovely sunshine once more. One of the stations we passed was Hazlemere Station with the homestead and beautiful garden of bouganvilleas close to the roadside and a pretty rocky creek running nearby called Paw Paw Creek.
We stopped at the next station, Endeavour Falls Station, where we first chatted to an old local near the Bullock pen who daily takes a loaf of bread from the shop to feed the cattle in the pen and gives them a pat. He told us that there are three different breeds on the station one of which is the Brahford, a mix of Brahman and Hereford. From there it was a short palm lined walkway to the Endeavour Falls which were not quite as impressive as the next ones we went to see.
They are the Isabella Falls another 6kms further on down another dusty, winding corrugated road. To get there the road climbed up overlooking a beautiful canopy of trees, before dropping to the river crossing just above the falls. We parked and walked through the bush to get a better view of the lovely waterfalls. Before we headed home, we stood and watched a couple of cars go through the river.
Tomorrow, Monday we are off again and this time south towards the Daintree National Park.