Friday 28th November 2014 Day 81
On Tuesday we had driven past the town of Kuranda without sampling its tourist delights, knowing that in a few days we would be back on a pre-booked tour. Today is that day. We were collected at 7.35am from the bus stop at the end of Moore Street and taken to Freshwater Railway station, stopping at the Skyrail station to pick up another couple. Once at Freshwater we received our tickets for the day which involved a trip up to Karunda on the scenic railway, free time in the town, then back down the hill again in a Skyrail gondala.
The region we visited is another World Heritage site, comprising wet Tropical Rain forest containing 13 out of 19 of the world’s primitive flowering tree species, and which is estimated to be 100 million years old. It meets the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage site at the coast.
The Karunda Scenic Railway was built as a lifeline to the Atherton tablelands and to maintain the importance of Cairns at the end of the 19th century. It is an engineering marvel given the difficulty of the steep terrain, the rain forest and the climate. In fifteen miles it rises 327 metres, an average gradient if 1:50, cramming in 106 cuttings, 15 hand cut tunnels over 1700 meters in length, 55 bridges over 2000 meters in length and 98 curves. The train of 15 coaches was hauled by two diesel locomotives, one painted with the rainbow serpent which is the principle agent in the local Dreamtime stories of the origin of the landscape, and left at 9.00am. It travelled through Stoney Creek, with a spectacular curved bridge passing just in front of the Stoney Creek waterfall then across the face of Glacier Rock and Red Bluff, where mass movement in deeply weathered granite posed significant engineering challenges and finally along the edge of the Barron Gorge, in places with a vertical drop of over 250 meters to the valley floor. Just before Kuranda the train stopped at a specially constructed viewing platform to allow a clear look at the Barron falls, a 267 meter waterfall. Both falls are spectacular but at the beginning of the rainy season carry little water, while in spate they would be magnificent.
Once we reached Kuranda we took advantage of the boat cruise on the Barron river, along the edge of the rain forest. As the only passengers we had the full attention of the very knowledgeable boatman who showed us a freshwater crocodile, two species of turtle, six species of fish, including the archer fish which apparently is 96% accurate over up to two meters in hitting insects with a water jet, plus two birds, the darter and a cormorant, as well as significant trees, including the ‘wait a while’ palm with its barbed fronds, if it catches on you, it can rip you, so you have to wait and carefully reverse from the fronds.
From the jetty we walked into town where we enjoyed a coffee before strolling through the various emporia, including those selling aboriginal art. With some time in hand Eric diverted Joyce from the markets into the butterfly sanctuary where the Ulysses and Bird Wing butterflies were the most beautiful.
We enjoyed our picnic lunch in the park before strolling back along the shopping street and visiting the 1915 St Saviour’s church. After a short wait at the station to board our gondola at 2.15pm we headed back towards Cairns The cable way travels above the rain forest canopy and has two stations which allowed us to alight and enjoys firstly views from the other side of the Barron waterfall and secondly a boardwalk through the rain forest. At the lower terminal we were met by a coach which returned us to Trinity beach by 4.15pm. A short perambulation along the windy esplanade led us back to our room.
In the evening we completed the consumption of the roast chicken, sitting on the balcony, listening to the waves breaking on the beach.
Saturday 29th November 2014 Day 82 Rainforest reprised
Today saw the last full day tour in Australia as we headed for our furthest north point on the east coast which is 16.067o South, not quite as far north as Darwin which is 12.45o South. We were picked up ten minutes late at the trusty bus stop on the corner of Moore Street and Trinity Beach Road, joining an almost full 25 seater coach.
Travelling along the Captain Cook Highway we reached Port Douglas where we visited the excellent Wildlife Habitat. Although small this zoo has an excellent presentation of Australian wildlife in three zones of wetland, rain forest and savannah. It was our last chance to say goodbye to the sleeping koala and to actually see some kangaroos as well as two southern cassowaries. Since just before Mission Beach we had been travelling through this bird’s territory where it is a vital component of the wet rain forest’s ecosystem. Known as the gardener of the rain forest it eats a wide variety of seeds which are then distributed far and wide. We had seen myriad signs to be aware of the bird crossing roads, as vehicles are the greatest threat to its existence, but despite many signs recording recent sightings we failed to see any in the wild. It was therefore a pleasure to see these two active creatures, more active than those we had seen in Port Moresby. Other species to say farewell to were the spotted quoll, also asleep curled up at the back, looking like two cats, the wallabies and the tree kangaroos.
We were a bit pushed for time to do the zoo justice as we soon had to be back on the coach. From Port Douglas we continued north to Mossman with its church built of river cobbles and boulders and its sugar cane farms. Here we spent a while in the southern extension of the Daintree National Park, part of the World Heritage wet tropical forest. This region receives three metres of rainfall on average each year, most falling in March and April, although the mountains can receive twice as much.. We walked through the forest to the Mossman river gorge. At present it is at low flow, peacefully gurgling between huge rounded boulders, but in flood these boulders would be inundated. It was just like being in a rain forest, as we walked back along the river in a sudden downpour, to the shuttle bus which return us to the Visitor Centre.
Our next pause came as we crossed the Daintree river, on the cable ferry, before crossing the Alexandra mountain on a narrow steep and winding road hemmed in closely by the rain forest. Of special note were the King ferns of gigantic size. Once across the river the road led, crossing a series of pretty creeks, to the settlement of Cape Tribulation where we had a lunch of steak at the Beach House. After lunch we walked on the beach in the tropical sunshine towards the Cape itself, named by Captain Cook after the Endeavour ran damagingly aground on the Great Barrier Reef, eventually finding our way blocked by mangroves. In this bay the reef lies within sight of the beach and the forest truly meets the reef, linking the two World Heritage sites (the only place in the world where two World Heritage sites meet).
We then headed homeward, retracing our steps. At the ferry we were taken on a cruise on the Daintree River. In the wet season, especially as a result of cyclones, the Daintree river can reach a flood peak of 11 metres which passes in 48 hours. Our guide made a great deal about the antiquity of the landscape and vegetation, thought to be the oldest in the world; its bounty and also many hazards presented by plants, insects and animals (having 13/16 of the deadliest snakes and 9/10 of the most venomous spiders). One notable sight was a juvenile freshwater crocodile on the bank of the river. Grateful to be still alive after the experience we rejoined the bus and were returned to Trinity Beach.