As my blessed mother would say “it happens in the best of homes” when something went wrong. She certainly did not have a complete computer crash – and an external hard drive back-up! – in mind, but that is what I had to contend with, at the end of my trip to Australia. I won’t bore you with details, just keep your fingers crossed that my trusted IT man in Germany will be able to recover the data (most importantly, about 5000 photos of these last four months of my trip) from the hard drive. The upshot of the story is that the few photographs I still had in my camera after the crash will have to make do to show you the wonders of FNQ – Far North Queensland – as the locals call it.
All the promotional photos that you have seen umpteen times on flyers and advertisements are true. The Queensland beaches are really spectacular. Fine sand, palm trees, mostly empty of any crowds, clear waters – but watch out from November to May (in other words, their Summer months) for the Stingers. Every beach I’ve been to has large signs warning of these jellyfish, which, even though beautiful to look at (if you see them, they are mostly transparent), have long floaters that inflict searing pain if they touch human skin. Pain and irritation that may make it necessary to be hospitalized. That is why every beach has at least one bottle of vinegar for victims to douse the affected area with, as a first aid measure. I remember these beasties in a much milder form from my childhood on the beaches of Argentina and the memories of that pain is still with me. But enough of that and back to Queensland.
The photos are of Mission Beach, south of Cairns. But they can just as well be of any of the lovely beaches north of Cairns, known as the Northern Beaches and fast becoming a favorite vacation place for Australians or have a second home in. The most mundane of these is Port Douglas, could be also called the Marbella of Queensland, with its swanky boutiqes, elegant restaurants and vibrant nightlife (this is sounding like a promotional brochure!), but all with the Australian laissez-faire attitude. Very sympatico!
My base of operations was one of the Northern Beaches – Trinity Beach. Based purely on internet research, I found the Roydon Apartments, separated by the beach by a one-lane road. A large and airy apartment with a gorgeous view and all the amenities I could want, I was a happy puppy for the week I spent there, being able to pop into the sea at will and do a walk along the fairly narrow but soft sanded beach every morning and/or evening.
My most memorable trip was up to “the Daintree” and Cape Tribulation: I rented a car for the day and drove up the coast on the Captain Cook Highway, past innumerable small golden sand beaches that all looked ever so inviting. I did stop over briefly in one such beach, actually in the lodge next to it, because it looked extra-special: Thala Beach Lodge is a bit of heaven set in a heavily wooded (and thus shaded) area; it prides itself in being a true eco-tourism venture. I would love to stay there the next time!
Then the highway bends inland and on through sugar cane fields as far as the eye could reach. And then the road stops abruptly. The Daintree river creates a natural barrier and there is no bridge. Instead, a simple large raft, a cable ferry, shunts about 10 cars at a time to and fro. As I mentioned, there was not much traffic, only a couple of other cars and I waited for the ferry to cross the 400 meters or so. Parrots were jabbering away in the tree-tops. Otherwise, silence. While waiting, I went over to a large billboard, severely warning of crocodiles on river banks.
By the time the cable ferry came and we crossed the Daintree, it felt like crossing the mythical river Styx, into another world, maybe not the mythological underworld of Hades, but close to it. In this case, the other side was the Daintree tropical rainforest, the diametrical opposite of the desert-like center of Australia. Tall trees tangle to form a dense green canopy. In 1988 its ca. 1200 sq. km were added to the World Heritage List in recognition of the enormous diversity of the Rainforest’s flora and fauna. To quote some numbers: The Rainforest contains 30% of Australia’s frog, marsupial and reptile species, 65% of its bat and butterfly species as well as 20% of the country’s bird species. There are also over 12,000 species of bugs. And we haven’t event started on the flora yet! And all this on just 0.2% of the landmass of Australia!
The people who live in the Daintree also seem very special: Ecologically oriented, some of an antroposophical bent (like the delicious ice cream maker, with over 26 flavors to chose from), all with a love, no passion, for keeping the Daintree in as natural a state as possible.
I reached my destination by early afternoon. Cape Tribulation – so named by the explorer James Cook in 1770 when his ship ran aground on a reef and “here began all our Troubles”. The beach itself cannot be described except with superlatives. The sand is soooo soft and sooo white, I am sure it glows in the moonlight. No doubt because a major component is white coral. Mind you, the sleepy town (a couple of backpaker accommodations, two supermarkets, five restaurants and a couple of understated and expensive resorts) is not high fashion, but it would be lovely to spend a week here and visit the Great Barrier Reef from here and “let it all hang out”, 70s style.
The paved road ends shortly north of Cape Trib. Since the terms of my car rental contract stated I was to stay on paved roads, it meant that this was the return point for me. The road (unpaved) continues for another 800 km or so up to Cape York, the northern most tip of Australia. But that adventure will have to wait until another trip…