Day 29: To Mission Beach

The weather today couldn’t be more different than what it was yesterday: it is grey, fully overcast with low hanging clouds and it drizzles continuously. The temperature dropped way down as well, and it now does not get over 18 degrees. With a day of sightseeing in high roads, this does not bode well.

As we only very briefly saw the Platypus we got up early for a rematch, and went back to the location of our first sighting. And, lo and behold, there it was again. This time we followed it quite a large portion of the creek until the rain started to get the better of us and we went back to have our breakfast at the B&B. The Platypus was really photogenic this time, and we have had a lot of fun watching it munching on the food it found under water.

This B&B is the very first one where we have to make our own breakfast, but after that was done we embarked on a journey further down South. This would take us along highway #1 via high roads and lots of waterfalls (Millaa Millaa, Zillie and Ellinjaa to name a few) down to the coast, specifically a town called Mission Beach. This town so happens to be smack dab in the middle of Cassowary country, so we have good faith in seeing one even though they are becoming more and more rare.

All documentation we have found suggests that seeing a Southern Cassowary means you can consider yourself very lucky. I guess we are then, as we spotted a big one just next to the road only a few hundred metres away from the town Mission Beach. What a majestic animal! It has bright blue and red on its neck and head, and on top of its head there is a very large boney crest. It is very much like an Ostrich, but with its war colours on. 🙂 Wow!

The weather has cleared up quite a bit since we have been here, and it even warmed up to about 28 degrees in the afternoon. We hope it stays this way for some time! We will be in a tow next to Mission beach tomorrow, Wongaling Beach as our Resort is located over here. We have nothing planned, so relaxation will be our main occupancy I guess.

Day 28: On to higher ground

We’ll be leaving Cairns today and as all of our travelling is done by car, we kind of need one of those. And so we were off to the rental people to get ours. We officially rented a standard car (SDAR) but instead got a standard SUV (IFAR), in this case a Mitsubishi ASX. We are quite familiar with those, as we already had one before in South Africa. They are great but have one big issue: our baggage doesn’t fit in the trunk. This one has the same issue, but as we are too lazy to complain about it, we’ll let it slide this time. This car in particular has its own issue though: after the last service at the maintenance place, they forgot to reset the internal service counter on the car. This means starting the car always has an extra quite audible beep and the message briefly flashing on the dashboard saying “Routine Maintenance Required”. It is just annoying, but we’ll live.

Today, we’ll travel South and up, as we will leave Cairns to go to Atherton which is conveniently located on the Atherton Tablelands. This is a plateau above Cairns which has tropical rainforest! This area is a World a Heritage Area called Wet a tropics and is home to a lot of different types of forest and an even bigger array of animals and cultural heritage. It is basically a very rolling landscape with a mixture of really old rainforest, really old regular forest, farmland and secondary growth (really new forest).

Along the way, we stopped for lunch at Lake Barrine where they also have two massive Kauri trees. These ancient types of tree are in this variety only found around the lake, and they are called Bull Kauri. They are closely related to the other Kauri we have seen in New Zealand, but these are quite particular about the location they can grow in, most notable elevation. We are at 600 metres above sea level here!

The rest of the day was lazily spent looking at two other big trees, Cathedral Fig Tree and Curtain Fig Tree. The last one is the most visited place around here, so go figure as to how big it is. Both these are Stranglar Fig Trees by the way, a type of fig Tree which doesn’t have its own timber but starts growth in the top of another tree and then uses it as its support with the roots growing down instead of the tree growing up. The roots will eventually grow so big, strong and tall that they support the entire tree without the help of the host tree. The host generally doesn’t live anymore by then. We have also found a new animal at one of the trees: the Musky Rat-Kangaroo! All brown with a sleek tail, this animal resembles a rat more than a Kangaroo, but they are adorable to watch as they scuffle around the roots of the tree looking for a bite to eat.

We consulted the lady at our B&B for more things to do in the neighbourhood, and she pointed us towards two things: Rock Wallabies and Platypus. Both in the wild! The Rock Wallabies live in the backyard of a campground, on a rocky part of the land. The campground even provides a map and some walking (bouldering!) tracks and charge an entry fee. Even though, it is great to see these animals in the wild! They are tiny! After sitting around them, we checked the clock and saw it was nearing dusk. And dusk is the best time to see wildlife of any kind, so we went to a location given to us by the lady from the B&B in Youngabarra where the Platypus were to be found. And we were in luck: they were there! In reality, they are much smaller than I had anticipated, but they must be the strangest animals we have even seen. Imagine this: egg laying mammal, with a giant beak of a duck at the front and a tail of a beaver at the back. Throw in some webbed feet, and you have a Platypus. What a great find!

Tomorrow, we’ll have to leave Atherton again, and head further down South to Mission Beach.

Day 27: Cape Tribulation and Daintree National Park

These early mornings are becoming quite the habit over here! Yes, we start off with breakfast at 06:30 again this morning, as we’ll be picked up by Billy Tea Bush Safaris around 7 at our hotel. They’ll be trucking us and a few other people up north today, on a full day of exploring the country north of Cairns.

The first thing on the menu today was a two hour drive to Daintree National Park, where a cruise on the Daintree river was going to be the second thing. Unfortunately, the weather today is overcast but still warm which in our experience means that the animals are a bit more shy, and tend to not show themselves. In this case, it was not different. The tour guarantees sights of saltwater or Estuarine Crocodiles, but during the hour we have not seen a single croc. The birds also were not abundantly present, which left the guide stupified and us a little disappointed. But hey, that is wildlife for you. Luck is everything, and today our luck apparently had run out. The tour itself was great as the river is beautiful, but some sightings of animals would’ve topped it off.

Shortly before lunch, we arrived at a café with their own wildlife sanctuary. They take the orphaned Kangaroo babies (Joeys) off of roadkill and hand raise them to not let the young kangaroo perish. These hand reared animals have no skills which are naturally taught by their mothers, and so they can not be returned to the wild. They live their lives in a big enclosure next to the café, and can be hand fed by the passers by. And we did pass by today! The Kangaroos are lovely, and feeding them sweet potato is really cool. 🙂 After a steak sandwich lunch, we continued our journey north to Cape Tribulation and the Bloomfield Track.

Cape Tribulation is very picturesque and scenic, especially with the clouds of today, but the tour was on a schedule and we needed to get moving again. This time, more food as we were given a tasting of ‘vine ripened’ exotic fruits. These are unfamiliar looking, smelling and tasting fruits grown locally. We has Sweet Custard Apple, as well as Sour Custard Apple (Soursop), A wild variety of Papaya and a few fruits of which I don’t remember the names. They were all quite nice, but very sticky and with the weirdest textures ranging from very stringy to very soft like a custard. Cool!

On route back, the guide insisted on telling us more background on the area, which was very informational but also tiresome as we had been lugged around in a truck all day. Even though, the trip was worth it! Unfortunately, the animals never did show themselves which is a shame as we were in Cassowary country, and we are very eager to spot them. Tomorrow, we’ll pick up a car here in Cairns, and will be off down South.

Day 26: On the Great Barrier Reef

Another early morning for us, as we will be on a boat for almost the entire day today. We’ll be heading off to the Great Barrier Reef! This meant we had to be ready at the Marlin Marina at 8 in the morning to board the boat. And so we were.

Together with 78 other people, we embarked on a 90 minute journey to the Reef outside of Cairns, which is about 40kms away from shore. We were initially booked on as snorkellers, but we had decided the night before that we’d both try an Introduction Dive, as there probably is not a better place to do such a thing than over here.

The journey to the first mooring location was spent with a theoretical lecture on water, diving, air and compression. And mainly about what depth does to the human body, and how to make sure that these effects will not lead to serious injury on us. We were given a set of rules (like, never ever hold your breath), a whole score of hand signals and some exercises for the general behaviour under water. These last were to combat issues you could encounter under water, like seawater in your mask or the loss of your regulator from your mouth. After this, it was time for us to gear up, and get our snorkels, masks, wetsuits and further diving gear on.

I would lie if I’d say I wasn’t a little bit anxious about the whole thing, but after practicing the three things we were taught, I felt more comfortable and even was able to enjoy my time below the surface and on the reef. We were down for about half an hour, and have seen many fish! Everything is so colourful down there! The fish and even the reef itself is full of colour, ranging from bright orange and blue to magnificent yellow, red, white and green hues. Kirsten even went for a second dive that day, while I stuck to just snorkelling on a much more shallow reef nearby.

As the wind had picked up quite a bit, the ride back to town was a bumpy one, and quite a few people got seasick. Luckily, both of us were not, which meant our day ended just as well as it was. I’m not so sure I want to dive again, but having done this here was truly amazing! Tomorrow, we’ll not be on a boat, but in a car on a tour. Let’s see what they have in store for us!

Day 25: A day off in Cairns

The beach over here in Cairns is… quite different to what we are used to back home. For instance, the tides are really big over here, and the beach is either really small or really large. Secondly, no one is allowed on it. Why, I hear you ask? Estuarine Crocodiles.

So, the Inhabitants of Cairns have created their own beach, an open air swimming pool, right on the end of the beachfront Esplanade. It has some trees and grass around it for the locals and tourists to lie on, and even has its own sandy beach. This pool is called the Lagoon and is a favorite pastime for many as there is no way you can enjoy the natural beach which is only a few metres away.

We have basically done nothing today, but enjoying the beach. Good times! Tomorrow we’ll be on a boat! (Again!)

Day 24: Bye bye Kakadu!

All good things must come to an end, and our visit to Australia’s most famous National Park is not different. We actually have nothing planned for today, and decided to totally wing it. We’ll make up stuff along the way, we know we need to be at the airport at a certain time to hand in the car and catch a flight to Cairns, but that is all.

We received a good tip from another couple to visit Berry Springs, and that was an awesome tip! The springs actually have warm water, which makes the three pools nicely warm as well. The upper pool has its own (miniature) waterfall, the main pool is of course the largest, and the lower pool is nice and quiet. We have had a luscious swim in the pools, and enjoyed watching the fish. They were Archer Fish, and just ignored the swimmers as they went on to do the things fish generally do. There are not Estuarine Cricodiles here, just some Freshwater ones, but they generally do not attack humans. 🙂

The Arnhem Highway crosses the Adelaide River, and on this river, there are multiple companies offering “Jumping Crocodile Tours”. They are also quite cheap! But as these crocodiles have learned to just feed on the stuff the boats hang out for them, all natural behaviours on them have vanished. And this is in a country where nearly all animals have their own sign saying not to feed the wildlife! The cruises hang a large piece of meat over the water, and entice the croc to ‘catch’ is by yanking it higher the moment the croc wants to take a bite. Even though it is their natural capability to jump out of the water like that, it feels odd. And so, we moved on.

The last stop for today was a place called Howard Springs, which is really close to Darwin. Due to the saltwater crocodiles there was no swimming allowed, so we just relaxed a bit and learned something about the history of the place and its role in WWII. (Recreational, as it was being used as a retreat for the soldiers on duty in the Darwin Area)

Handing in the car was a sad moment for us, as it is really new still. We drove around 1350kms in it, and it even smells new! The flight to Cairns was about 2 and a half hours, and was very quiet. The transfer to the hotel was swift, and the weather over here is nice as well. Tomorrow, we have no plans, but we heard there’s a place where you can lie on a beach!

Day 23: More Kakadu

This morning, we’ll have a do-over for yesterday afternoon, but without the sunset. Oh yeah, we are about to embark on a boat again to watch wildlife. Yesterday evening, there were a large amount of waterbirds and only a few crocodiles, today it is the complete opposite. Loads and loads of crocodiles, but the birds are a little bit more camera shy.

Even though they are harder to see, we still have found a great number of species, and even some others than yesterday. Among those are for example the Crested Jacana (with a very young chick!), the Brolga and the Willy Wagtail. Great!

We only have a short drive on the menu for us today, as we stay inside the National Park but move to the only village inside the park, Jabiru. Along the way, there are quite a few places we’d like to visit, which means our day is already planned. And at 36 degrees, it is also promising to be a hot one!

This part of the park has a lot of sites where Aboriginal Rock Art can be found, some of which is dating back to about 20.000 years ago. Yes, that is twenty thousand, almost all of which is continuous. This means these parts of the country are the longest continually inhabited places in the world. This also shows in the art itself, as scientists are able to see the art itself progress in intricacy and beauty over time. The best sites are Nourlangie (Burrunggui) and Ubirr. The first one is situated about 35 km South of Jabiru, while the other is about 40 km North of the town. The latter is even a World Heritage Site, and one of the reasons the park is a National Park. They are great, and well worth a visit.

We have spent the rest of the afternoon in the (sun heated) swimming pool, which was a welcome way of escaping from the relentless sun. And tomorrow, it’ll be even hotter! We will be driving back to Darwin, and will catch a flight to Cairns late in the evening. Also, we have to give the Toyota Prado back. I’ll be sad to see it go!

Day 22: Off to Kakadu!

After a good night of sleep and a huge breakfast at the Gorge information centre, we found some time to admire the resident Wallabiesat this place, even though we are still unsure what kind they were. They were still enjoying the morning coolness as we left, on a day which promised to be hotter than yesterday. We eventually hit 34 degrees!

Along the way to Katherine, you’ll find Pine Creek, a typical Gold Mining Town, along the railroad from Darwin all the way down to Adelaide. We paused in the town for a while, overlooked their now defunct open pit gold mine, and found ourselves right in the middle of a huge flock of Flying Foxes! As it was nearing midday, they were also hot and flapping one wing to stay cool. We estimate there were several hundred animals roosting in the trees surrounding us! 

Pine Creek sits on the intersection between the Stuart Highway and the Kakadu Highway, and we took a right turn onto the Kakadu Highway, which leads to the Kakadu National Park. We drove along it to find a place called Cooinda, which our GPS knew nothing about. It turns out it is not a place after all, but a single resort big enough to get its own signage. As we are very close to the wet season over here, not all roads are accessible yet, and a few have very deep wading points where the river crosses the road and you have to drive through the river to get on the other side on the road. We wanted, for instance, to visit a few falls, but found ourselves having to cross 75 cm deep water. Even though we drive a big 4×4 rental, we decided this was not for us and backed away.

As this threw our schedule for today, we arrived at the resort a little early. But, as the resort offers one of our favorite things to do, not all was lost. We booked a boat tour to view wildlife. What else? 🙂 It was to be the sunset tour, where you not only got to see hordes of aquatic birds, but also a magnificent sunset where the sun sets behind the floodplains of Yellow Water, or the Jim Jim Billabong as they know it over here. During the tour, we have seen three sizes of Egret (Little, Intermediate and Great), at least three varieties of Heron, Whistling Ducks, Jabiru (Black-necked Stork), a White Headed Sea Eagle, White Bellied Eagle, a good bunch of Estuarine Crocodiles (Salties) and even some pretty rare feral horses nowadays know as magnificent Brumbies. All in all, an afternoon really well spent!

There is one downside though: the airpnditioning in our cabin is way too underpowered to be of any use, as it cannot keep it cool below 28 degrees. With the high humidity over here, that’ll be fun tonight! We are only staying here one night, and will move s few kilometres north tomorrow to a place called Jabiru.

Day 21: To Katherine Gorge

Quite early into the drive from Batchelor to Katherine, we found ourselves in the middle of a huge flock of Red-Tailed Cockatoos. As we were on a highway, we had to pull over and put the car in the dirt right next to the road. From here, we had excellent views of this flock of birds, which was about 200 birds large as they were moving along and crossing the road.

About 40 Km’s from Katherine is a site called Edith Falls, and we were by several people informed about it. It supposedly is very nice, and there would also be a small café where nourisments could be bought. They were all true. The site is home to Edith Falls, where you can swim in both the top pool and the plunge pool, as these are patrolled for Salties (Estuarine or Salt Water Crocodiles). There only are some Fresh Water Crocodiles in the pools though, but they generally don’t attack swimmers. We have had a really refreshing dip there, and dried up in the sun. As temperatures have risen to a very comfy 34 degrees, that was a welcome swim! The food at the café is really good, and everything is home cooked by the patrons of the campsite. Great!

Nearing Katherine Gorge, we found a Black-Necked Stork or Jabiru, the largest stork over here. It grows to about 1.4 metres tall, which is pretty large. The one we found was decently sized, and it dwarfed the other storks around it. Despite its size, the stork was quite unsure what to make of us though, as it nervously walked around trying to keep the distance between it and us the largest. It still looked awesome though!

We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening on a boat tour of the gorges which make up Katherine Gorge. Right now, it is not one but 13 connected pools, of which the first three can be visited by boat. We toured the first two (the best ones of course) and even had dinner on a boat. How lovely. The other gorges by the way can only be visited on foot (numbers 4 through 11) while the last two can only be viewed from the air.

Tomorrow, we’ll drive to Kakadu National Park, the biggest and best known NP in Australia.

Day 20: To Litchfield National Park

Today is the day that we will get another car, this would be pickup number 3. After a Toyota Camry, and a (couple of ) Toyota FJ Cruiser, what will it be this time? Oh yes, another Toyota. This time a white Toyota Land Cruiser Prado D-4D. It is big. One could even say it is massive. And it is brand new! With 11km on the clock, it is ours to explore the city of Darwin and the National Parks surrounding it.

Today, we will travel to Litchfield National Park which is a mere 90 minutes drive from the city. We will spend the night in a town just outside of the NP called Batchelor. The day will be spent exploring the park itself. And it is nice! With temperatures rising to about 33 degrees and the sun blazing, it is great weather to be outside. The park has quite a few highlights, all handily reachable alongside the main road in the park. A lot of Falls, and a site where a specific type of termite builds giant mounds, all perfectly aligned with the magnetic poles of the earth. These are called Magnetic Termites, and their mounds are really cool.

Other notable places to visit in the park are: Florence Falls, Wangi Falls and Tabletop Swamp. We have spotted a lot of birds along the way, and even a small Kangaroo. As the National Park was being under maintenance with controlled burns, the air was thick with smoke in some places. This is really weird to us, these people are deliberately setting fire to their forest! 

The upside is, that the Black Kite know that burning grass means insects trying to escape, and they are lining up for the bugs to come out so they can eat them. At one point, we saw at least 50 birds attacking the insects who were trying to flee from the fire across the road! The birds were constantly swooping down through thick smoke to the road, what a majestic view. Those were not the only birds we’ve seen today, as the Galahs and Rainbow Lorikeets have also made their presence clear to us by being really vocal in the trees near to the hotel room. We were even lucky enough to see some black Cockatoo flying! Finally, a pair of Blue Faced Honey Eaters sat down in our eyesight, and posed beautifully for our cameras. Great day!