Now in the wet tropics our attention divides our time between rainforests, enchanting birds, mountain ranges, waterfalls, bush-walks, and catching up on some Australian history. Mossman Gorge, The Daintree National Park, Cape Tribulation and a run up to Cooktown via the Bloomfield track were all things we wanted to experience on this short 3-day leg of the trip.
In choosing though where to base the T3 for a few days north of Cairns was not so straightforward proposition as there were literally so many places to choose from; each claiming points of difference, one spot apparently more beautiful than another and so on, and we end up deciding on a campground just north of Port Douglas and 10 mins south of the township of Mossman. On the day we arrived from the Atherton tableland and whilst setting up, one of the first unusual things we noticed were a lovely pair of Bush-stone Curlews in a nearby raised garden bed trying to look inconspicuous. Over the next few days, we would see dozens of these wonderful (mainly) ground dwelling birds and enjoyed observing there unique and shy behaviours …and those eyes, eyes that stare you down in an instant.
On our first day, a unanimously voted quiet one, we drive into the township of Port Douglas 8kms away from camp. We stock up on provisions, take a look around the many up-scale “resort wear shops” and end up having lunch at a rather looking flash pub on the main strip opposite a lovely big park. It was great weather, no wind, if not a little humid. The afternoon was spent mainly schooling for the boys with a special emphasis ATM on math, and a late rewarding afternoon swim. The boys were all smiles as they both typically enjoy the curiosity of numbers – albiet fractions excluded, for now. That evening, we had several showers of good rain and it was the perfect opportunity to clean our rubber ground-mat (that we usually use under our vans awning) that was green in colour at the start of trip that now resembled more of a deep desert red colour. With the rains brought out the cane toads, but also many green tree frogs and the boys loved finding them and showing Celia and I their finds, including some lovely Geckos too. (Sidenote: It was always a delight for Celia and I seeing what joy and excitement it gives the boys to seek out various wildlife no matter where we are of an evening whilst instilling in them to always take care and respect of the wildlife, observe them, and carefully put them back where they found them. It was pleasing to us to see Aidan & Lochie living up to this mantra.)
On the second day, we planned a few days earlier to drive up to Cooktown through the Daintree National Park (via the Daintree river ferry crossing), across Cape Tribulation, down into Bloomfield falls at Wajul Wajul, then up to Cooktown. It was going to be a long and a little rushed sort of a day at 530kms in total. And to top this off, we had also promised the boys that we would go out for dinner that night to have Thai …meaning, we had to be back in Port Douglas at a reasonable hour that same evening.
We didn’t start the day as early as we would have liked and by the time we got going after double checking maps and coordinates for the day, we made it to the Daintree ferry crossing at 10am. For reasons still unexplainable, we did not take a photos here – perhaps we were too distracted by the ferry crossing itself, too caught up in another podcast or listening to the many rounds of the boys bad jokes – whatever the reason, we didn’t capture any images on this section of the route.
About 25 mins on, we arrive at the Daintree discovery centre to find out what we could see, do and learn at the centre. In the interest of time, we decide in the end to forgo any activity here, and also balk at the $80 family admission fee for a self-guided boardwalk tour. Perhaps we’ll leave it for another day!
We get going again and not long after hit the start of the gravel road of the 4WD Bloomfield track and come to the first stream crossing at Emmagen Creek. The track’s construction back in 1983 led to the Bloomfield blockade, one of Australia’s most important environmental protests. The area now has World Heritage protection and the 4WD track has become an iconic 4WD experience. At the Emmagen Creek crossing and what is the official start of the Bloomfield track, there were several cars and 4WD parked here when we arrived and we deflate a few pounds out of our tyres and make the 80M crossing – and remembered to take a photo or two. Soon afterwards, we pass several other 4WD’s heading southbound (we’re heading north) we also came across a large recovery/rescue truck and had to move off the track as best we could so he could safely pass. He looked as though he was in a no mood for slowing down and was quickly out of sight after passing – perhaps someone had come a cropper behind us, who knows? Along the way, we cross several more streams (9 in total according to Lochie’s count) some no more than a wide-puddle, others were larger with crystal-clear medium flowing rainforest streams with very accomodating medium sized flat river stones to drive across on.
Further along the track, we stop at a lookout with glimpses over the lower coastal rainforest and out to the Great Barrier Reef. It was a sunny period/overcast day with a lot of hazy and occasional harsh light and we also encountered a isolated shower around Cape Tribulation. Before making Wajul Wajul, you must cross a few ranges, some are very steep, notably the Donovan’s Range (20% – 1:5) and Cowie Range (up to 33% – 1:3) incline/declines. The boys loved crossing these and likened some of them to an amusement ride. I wanted to take photo’s of the Cowie range ascent but there was no place to pull off the track to do so. The range here is so steep that in the wet you would never get up them so the national park have concreted these steep sections with broad grooves to aide traction, safety and water run off.
We make the small aboriginal township of Wajul Wajul just after midday and officially what is the end of the Bloomfield track proper. the track itself is not very long, approx. 35kms, and not difficult by any means, however from some of the antics of other 4WD’ers we noticed on the track, perhaps is why two recovery trucks are often required ;). Nonetheless, we head to the nearby Bloomfield Falls and have lunch in the falls car park. From there its a 5-10 minute gentle walk up to the falls but beware of crocs with warning signs erected everywhere. We take several shots whilst always keeping a watchful eye on the river and for any signs of Crocodiles – fortunately we didn’t see any.
After the falls we continue northbound along the Bloomfield River road to Rossville, then further on into Cooktown along the cape development road. We refuel and increase tyre pressures and look for a coffee (& failed) and take a quick look around this fascinating town before heading up Grassy Hill lookout made famous by Lieutenant James Cook in 1770. The hill was named by Cook after he climbed the hill in an effort to seek out a safer passage for his ship the Endeavour amongst the many reefs off Cooktown. In fact, as history is indeed recorded as of present time, it was at grassy hill in Cooktown where Cook first records Aboriginal language (approx. 50 words) and first records the Australian Kangaroo.
It was at this point standing atop of Grassy Hill as we look out over the reefs off-shore and to the northwest over the Endeavour river, we realise we wished we now stayed in Cooktown to explore the region more comprehensively. We had not realised the strong historic significance of the town before our brief stop. The large gold rush that also occurred back in 1872 on the nearby Palmer river, the history of Cook and scientist Joseph Banks when they stayed in Cooktown for several weeks repairing their ship. Cooktown is indeed an interesting town and deserves quality time to properly explore and therefore appreciate …time though we did not think to allocate which, in hindsight, was unfortunate. Nevertheless, we still had a Thai dinner for the boys to uphold and by this time is was close to 4pm and we still had to call into the Keating’s Lagoon 5kms south of Cooktown and then a drive of 270kms back to Port Douglas.
We reach the Keatings Lagoon turnoff at 4:00pm and a minute or so later find ourselves in the small carpark, come turning circle. All of us grab our camera’s and walk the 700M to a permanent bird-hide and along the way as we walk next to the lagoon look for any signs of Crocs. We reach the bird-hide and are instantly inundated with mozzies. We quietly peer out over the myriad of stunning water lilies to only see a lonesome Comb-crested Jacana deftly walking across the broad Lilly pads. It was still a little too early in the afternoon light to realistically see a lot of bird-life so we take a few shots of the small Jacana and quickly head back to the car whilst swatting mozzies on each other along the way.
It was now 4:30pm and we hit the development road again and occasionally glance at the sun getting lower in the western sky. Close to an hour later we reach the roadhouse in Lakeland and drop in for a take away coffee – they even had espresso. The nicely operated roadhouse sits up high off the highway with lovely sweeping views out over the west and the main turn-off to Laura, Weipa, Cape York and the tip of Australia sits enticingly opposite the roadhouse. As we sip our coffees, the sun now looking magical in the low lying hills, we casually notice a couple of 4WD travellers with their custom off-road camper trailer, a tinnie on the roof, a trusty dog in the back and a with a serious looking quad bike refuelling for their run up to somewhere in the Cape.
It was at this point that a sudden realisation hit us… Our 10 month-long journey thus far was now in effect starting to wind up after todays journeys end. No longer would we be covering “new ground” for us. In other words, from this junction onwards, will now be more about finding things to see and do than seeking the wide-open spaces of outback wilderness and pre-planned notable trip objectives.
What a somber but strangely warming moment we both thought. Not exactly immediately uplifting but realistic nonetheless and the day was not yet over as we still had a Thai dinner objective to complete and perhaps now, a good reason to also lightly celebrate the moment.
We get going again and put on a few more podcasts to listen to (ABC’s Richard Fidlers Conversations) for the now after dark journey back home. Throughout our trip since Aug 2015, we had purposely avoided night time driving as much as possible due to the genuine risk of hitting wildlife and thus, avoiding trip limiting damage to the D4, or worse still, a possible accident. Between Lakeland and Mt Carbine there was very little traffic and we encountered a lot of livestock on the road in the form of cattle, numerous Kangaroos and Wallaby’s, as to be expected. We took it easy and make good use of the X-Ray spot lights on the D4 and without issue reach the main restaurant street in Port Douglas at just before 8pm. We all dine in and thoroughly enjoy what was our first genuine Thai meal of the trip with a nice (relatively speaking) bottle of white wine and make it back home at 9:30pm. What a long, but highly enjoyable and memorable day…
We rise to a scattered cloudy cover and after breakfast and a little more school work by the boys, make the short journey up to Mossman Gorge 15 minutes north of our campground. It was a $20 family entry fee which included a shuttle bus ride up to the start of the gorge walk however we decide to walk up to the start ourselves – some 3kms on. There were lots of people from all walks of life doing the main walking loops around the gorge. There was not much to photograph due to the cloud cover and the dark rainforest (so I thought) with so many people around, which was quite fortuitous really. As it turned out, I had forgotten to replace my compact flash card in my camera and we were walking the gorge loop walk and carrying a couple of lenses, filters and a tripod – all for naught. 🙂 Still, we enjoyed the rainforest and saw lots of stunning trees, and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, extensive feral pig damage to the flora within the park. A couple of hours later we end up taking the shuttle bus back down to the car park and head into Mossman to find a bakery – the boys wanted a meat pie for lunch – sounds good to us.
After lunch, we head back to camp where we catch up on laundry and other periodic chores that always need to be done – and also think back to what would we now be doing if we had decided to stay a few days in Cooktown. An opportunity perhaps should have been taken on this leg and now, an another opportunity to park with many others to gain in the future sometime.
Geoff / Celia and the boys