WONGA BEACH - We didn’t need an early start as we weren’t planning to do any sightseeing during the first 200kms of the journey. We had driven the road on our way up last Friday but still enjoyed the pretty drive through the ranges which took on a new look when coming from a different direction and time of day. There is always something new to notice - Black Mountain wasn’t so obviously black last time we passed by, probably because the sun wasn’t shining on it at the time. This vegetation free mountain is covered in black rocks unlike the other heavily forested mountains and hills surrounding it. These rocks are not volcanic as were the black rocks at the waterfalls near Cooktown which were very heavy. We are still enjoying seeing the cattle alongside the road even though we have to slow down each time we pass them as they are a bit too close for comfort. We watched one poor ol’ bullock run across the road in front of a car and we didn’t even see the car’s brake lights come on! They would have had a fair size dent in that sedan if the big beast hadn’t moved as fast as it did.
At Lakeland Station turnoff we saw “bananas in pyjamas," plastic bags placed over bunches of bananas hanging from the trees. Our last banana was eaten this morning so we are looking forward to getting more at the next stop. A sign we haven’t seen in any other area read “Slow Vehicle Turnout” which turned out to be similar to a passing lane but not nearly as long. This sign is on the winding road through the Bryanston Ranges after Lakeland Station and allows slow moving vehicles to stop for faster ones to overtake.
As we watched caravans going the extra 200 km to Cooktown we wondered why people, including ourselves, make the trip! The only reason we could think of is that Cooktown is there, and because it is the furthest point north on a good sealed road. The scenery is very impressive though we didn’t know that before we made the journey! We stopped at the Mt Molloy free camp area to use the toilets and were amazed at the facilities provided by the Roads Department and the Mt Molloy Rural Council who only requested a $2 donation per vehicle per night. There are a couple of fully tiled showers, though probably only cold water, and good clean proper toilets. We noticed on our way up how many caravaners were making use of this free camp facility. It was cold and cloudy compared to Cooktown so time to get out a long sleeved shirt. From there we backtracked a few hundred metres and turned onto the Daintree Explorer Trail for the 51 kms to our destination of Wonga Beach via Julatten, Mossman and Matlo. The last town Matlo is marked on the map but we didn’t notice it! This short stretch of road which we hadn’t been on before was so different to any other we had seen and even felt different. It was very hilly with many tight curves and we passed through fields of sugar cane and then litchi tree orchards which were new to us. There are also obviously market gardens around as there was a roadside stall selling pumpkins at 50c a kilo. Further along we noticed a large prawn/mud crab and barramundi aqua farm. After we had passed the first lot of sugar cane fields the landscape became so pretty with rolling hills, wooden cabins, pine trees, with cloudy skies and cool temperature it reminded us of SW of Western Australia or a bit like England’s forest areas or around the Lake District. We even drove past a winery called “English Park” though we didn’t see any grape vines but a bit further on another banana plantation with bananas $2/bag. Then we were back in the hilly landscape again and stopped at a view point. It smelt so fresh like the Swiss or English countryside but with a view of the ocean far in the distance.
From there the road took very sharp tight curves zig zagging down till we reached the ocean. We were hardly into a right bend when a left one came up and so on with our bodies being pulled one side to the other. Mike commented that we could get sea sick on that road! This was the first time that our 15litre water container, which usually stayed neatly jammed under the table, ended up sliding across the caravan. From the high Tableland Escarpment we dropped from 500m to sea level in a very short time. We were going through beautiful rainforest areas full of ferns with clouds hanging over distant mountains and then suddenly we were back into huge sugar cane fields in flower. The town of Mossman seemed to be right in the middle of cane fields with houses and building on the left and tall sugar cane on the right. The town stretched on further and we were surprised how big it is and it even has a Woolworths Supermarket and many other shops and businesses. The sugar industry must keep this town going. Along the road we noticed very narrow gauge railway tracks and bins on the railway line every now and then. All this sugar cane - felt like pulling off a bit to chew as we used to from the few plants in our back garden in Africa. Going past so many kilometres of sugar cane reminded us of the kilometres of Olive trees we drove passed in Spain. We don’t remember ever seeing so much sugar cane in Natal, South Africa. Eventually we came to the end of the cane fields and passed a pretty golf course on the road to Newell Beach and then the Daintree Salt Water Barra Farm.
We arrived at beautiful Wonga Beach Caravan Park at lunchtime just as the sun came out. It is in a pretty setting with coconut palms, tall trees and even a huge hanging fig tree by the BBQ behind our caravan. This park is good in that while we had our lunch, they provided peacocks to eat the insects off our radiator grill but we were told they do like a little bread in payment - only happy to oblige!
During the afternoon it turned hot and muggy at Wonga after the lovely cool mountain air around Mt Molloy this morning. Seeing we told you about some of the other caravan park ablutions, here they are also good….plus they have two huge fans to cool the place on these hot muggy days. There is also a great big camp kitchen with a good selection of books for exchange. Just as well as we hadn’t seen a book exchange since we finished all our books on the lazy weekend at Karumba. The pool area is so picturesque with a rocky waterfall feeding into the children’s pool and another big pool with a cold spa next to it. We never saw the evidence of what bit us so badly at Cooktown but were told it was green ants. On the swimming pool gate post at Wonga there were two green ants. They are quite attractive but hope there aren’t any close to our caravan to feed on us!
As early evening approached it was lovely and cool to walk along the beautiful sand with coconut palms bordering the beach. The waves crashing on the sand sounded so loud from our caravan that we expected to see huge waves but instead there are multiple small ones starting way out at sea. To get to the beach we walked along the coconut palm lined path with the warning “beware of falling coconuts”. They are huge, high and heavy so not sure how one is meant to avoid having one fall on ones head, but they wouldn't be dropping down slowly with that weight. With poor or no TV reception at most places and very limited internet access we at least had books to read again. The sound of the ocean at night was great to lull us to sleep.
In the morning we met up again with Lester and his wife, with whom we had chatted for a long time the previous day at Cooktown. They had left their caravan behind and travelled the unsealed 4 wheel drive track/road via the Daintree rain forest to Wonga and stayed overnight in a cabin and were about to set off on their return journey.
We crossed over the Daintree River on the ferry at about 9am and made our way first to the Discovery Centre.
No more sugarcane for today and it was really good to drive through the forest with our air con on in the car making it feel as it looked, cool in the mountains, but when outside we could feel the muggy warmth of the tropics. The Discovery Centre has won many tourist awards over the years and is indeed a very worthwhile place to visit. Included in the centre is a Canopy Tower high up among the trees to give one a view of the forest canopy, and a long aerial walkway with an audio guide and 48 page interpretive book.
“The Daintree Rainforest is one of the most unique ecological regions in the world. It is the oldest continuous rainforest on earth and its diverse plant and animal life is incomparable. It’s incredible bio-diversity makes it an iconic destination - it is World Heritage listed and it is said to be the oldest tropical rainforest in the world. It’s estimated to be between 150 and 200 million years old compared to the Amazon which is only 7 million years old.” The Aerial walkway is for viewing mid-level rainforest and spotting cassowaries but they were in hiding when we went through! The canopy tower is 23 metres high with 5 observation platforms and interpretive displays. After a couple of hours going through the different interesting areas, we stopped for a coffee (from the Tablelands coffee plantations) at the coffee shop. We still aren’t remembering to always ask if there is a senior’s discount and didn’t notice the small sign saying that there was and as I said to the lady, seeing it is for seniors who no longer have good eyesight, the sign should be much bigger! After hearing someone else asking about it, I enquired at the counter but was told it was too late if we had already paid as there is no refund key on their cash till. Oh well, put it down to experience and hopefully we will remember next time and off we went to see the last section of the walk which we noticed we had missed. When we arrived back, the young lady from the desk came to us and said that as we had missed out on our senior’s discount, they would like to give us a free pot of Daintree tea for two as compensation! We really enjoyed that free pot of tea from which we managed to squeeze three cups!
From there we drove straight up to Cape Tribulation. “In 1770 Captain Cook sailed the Endeavour up the east coast, making a chart of the coastline. He struck a reef 40 kms north east of the Cape, now called the Endeavour Reef, and he named the point they had charted earlier in the day ‘Cape Tribulation, because “here began all our troubles
.” The last mountain range before Cape Tribulation is the Noah Range with Noah’s Creek to cross before we zigzagged down the road to Noah’s Beach. What an extraordinary beach in the shape of a horseshoe with rainforest all around and a lovely white sandy beach in the middle. It was lovely to see the sunshine high up on the misty mountain. Couldn’t resist having a swing on the monkey rope vine! Another pretty creek we drove over was Oliver’s Creek with a fair bit of water running between the rocks. At Cape Tribulation we had lunch at PK’s Jungle Village. Out of the National Park and just before the ferry, we stopped at the Daintree Tea Plantation.
At the side of the road among the tea bushes, were a couple of old machines used in the process of tea making, and a big metal tea chest with packets of tea to buy using an honour box. There was also a table with a visitor’s book and we were interested to read some of the comments, the first one being from some West Australians who said, sorry but they still owed $2, and they had run out of money. The next comment was from someone to say they had paid for their tea plus $1 towards the WA person’s debt and later on another customer wrote that they had paid the last $1 for the poor West Australians! Just as we were leaving five young French people arrived to buy tea and they told us they had seen two Cassawaries that morning crossing the road in front of their car! At least we know they are around but just not in front of us. We were surprised to hear they can be up to 2 metres in height and are related to the ostrich, but are as illusive to us as the Canadian moose was while we were in Canada a few years ago! Interestingly, with all the sugar cane around, we still haven’t seen a cane toad, not that we particularly want to, but we had expected to see them everywhere.
As to be expected in a rain forest, we had rain the evening before and a little more around dawn but the rest of the morning while we were in the Daintree Rainforest National Park the weather was perfect. It started coming down again after we had seen all that we wanted to and were on the way back to the caravan park. In the cool of the evening as we sat outside chatting to our neighbour, suddenly one of the peacocks flew high up into the fig tree behind us to roost for the night. Had just been wondering earlier where they might go at night as we hadn’t seen any early in the mornings.
At 9.30am the next morning our boat was the first to head out onto the Daintree River for a short cruise.
There are twelve boats that cruise along the Daintree, four of which leave from near the ferry crossing. The boat we went on is a smallish solar electric one with an onboard screen onto which the guide can focus his camera when he spots animals and birds, making it easier to see them. Our group consisted of only five people so plenty of room for each of us to get up close to see the wildlife. Sometimes it was a bit too close for comfort as the boat stopped right underneath a huge Amethystine Python curled around a branch hanging over the river! We were told this is the largest Australian snake growing up to 8.5 metres. He also pointed out to us a much smaller tree snake up a tree on the shore and at different places a large male saltie (salt water crocodile), a female croc and a very young one. The favourites though, were a couple of beautiful Papuan owls sitting serenely on a tree branch easily visible from the boat. It was a very pleasant hours trip amongst the mangroves, ferns and other dense vegetation with a lovely cool breeze on the calm waters. Being high tide and therefore no shallow areas for the tall birds to wade, we did not see a large amount of birdlife and though we could hear the smaller birds they were not visible amongst the canopy of such tall trees.
After the cruise it was nearly 11am by the time we arrived at the little Daintree village where we went into one of the two cafes for a “wait-a-while” coffee! Just as well everyone is on holiday and no one is in a rush as the coffee took over 30 minutes to arrive at our table. Those who ordered Devonshire Teas got their devonshire, ate it and sat waiting for their tea! There is not a great deal to see there, besides a wood gallery with the most beautiful but expensive wood vases and bowls made from the local multi coloured wood.
After a quick stop for lunch at our caravan, we headed in the other direction to Mossman and the Mossman Gorge. Mossman is a pleasant unpretentious cane town with a working sugar mill and cane trains to prove it. We saw some of the rail wagons filled with the freshly harvested cane though the harvest season had only begun. Most of the fields still had tall sugar cane with the flowers, like grass seed, waving in the breeze as the cane was waiting to be cut. From the town we turned down a narrow five kilometre road to the Mossman Gorge and had an interesting four kilometre walk through rainforest.
The high humidity in the gorge together with the heat made us believe we were hiking through a sauna. While we were walking we could empathise a little with the poor Aussie Diggers on the Kakoda Trail who would have put up with much more discomfort fighting the Japanese in those conditions. The highlights were hearing and then seeing the rapids as the river roared downstream over the rocks together with birds singing high up in the canopies of trees of all descriptions some displaying their huge root systems.
Carved by the Mossman River, the gorge is a boulder-strewn valley where sparkling water washes over ancient rocks. Some people were enjoying a refreshing swim in a natural pool between the rocks but to cool us down, we were happy with the locally made delicious mango sorbet and ice cream bought from the ice cream van back at the carpark. It began to rain again soon after our walk but all we had to do was refuell the car, which Mike did under the protection of an umbrella, on the way back to Wonga! Our two days' stay in the Daintree Forest area came to an end and on Thursday it was only a short drive to Port Douglas to see what this well known town is all about. Our guide book describes it as “the flashy playground of tropical northern Queensland”!
At 10.10am after chatting to our neighbours on both sides (about our new PM and the next sites to see along the road), we said farewell to Wonga Beach. This is probably the latest we have ever left a campsite, but we had less than 50kms to the next stop. A nice change from the 500km stretches we had been doing when going through the red centre earlier in our trip.