I arrived at Cairns airport in the afternoon, spent the night in town, and then got on a tour bus to Cape Tribulation. The cape is north of Cairns and is surrounded by rainforest. It was named by Captain Cook and is the place where things started going wrong for him. It was just off Cape Trib, that he found the Great Barrier Reef the hard way, and lots of the place names are similarly negative. One of the mountains is called Mount Sorrow.
The Jungle Tours bus takes you straight up to Cape Trib, with only a short stop in Mossman, where they sort out the paperwork and you get the chance to grab something to eat. It's on the way back that you get to see the various attractions on the way. The reason they gave for this was that it was better to get there early, so that we could book some of the day tours before everyone else turned up. The tours included horse riding and scuba diving and they get fully booked quite quickly. I had already booked my diving trip, so it didn't make much difference to me.
There are two main places to stay in Cape Trib. One, called Crocodylus, is a quiet, relaxing kind of place. The other, PK's Jungle Village, isn't. So I stayed at PK's. They've got two types of accommodation; wooden huts sleeping 8 people and tents. The tents have the somewhat grand name of PK's Jungle Inn, and several people were complaining that they hadn't realised it would be tented accommodation.
PK's also has a bar and they do have some less than subtle entertainment on alternate nights. It was quite quiet when I was there, with a few games on one night. Wednesday night is their big night and they were having a "Face and Body Painting Competition". Sadly I missed that.
The beach was only a few hundred yards from PK's. You reach it by walking along a boardwalk over the mangrove swamps. After arriving, I went for a walk along the beach and the heavens opened. I got absolutely soaked and the rain then kept up for most of the next two days and nights. Of course, you can't really complain about rain in a rainforest, but September is supposed to be the dry season.
The rainforest itself is the oldest virgin rainforest in the world. Once most of Australia was covered by forest but climate changes mean that very little of it survives. What I found so amazing was how dense the vegetation is. It would be very easy to get lost in it if you strayed from the paths.
The biggest animal in the forest is called a cassowary. It's a large flightless bird and has a kick so strong it can break your leg. Generally they're not a problem unless they're with their young. You're supposed to stand still and put your hands above your head in a triangle if one starts stamping its foot. This supposedly makes them think you're much bigger than them and they back down. I didn't get a chance to try this as I didn't see one. They're quite rare and getting rarer, because they keep getting hit by cars.
There are two boats that offer diving trips in Cape Trib. One is run by Rum Runner, and the other is called Jungle Diver. I was booked on Jungle Diver. Both boats go to the same reef, Mackay Reef, and they're both about the same price. The boats are not just for divers. There were far more snorkellers on our boat and they also do Try Dives.
The people on the boat were quite a good laugh and kept us entertained thoughout the day. It was raining when we left, as it did for most of the first two days I spent at Cape Trib, and the sea was quite rough on the way out to the reef. I lay down on a bench and went to sleep for the 45 minute trip, so I felt fine when we got to the reef. It was very calm there and the sun came out. The rainforest covered mountains on the shore were covered in rain clouds all day, so we were definitely getting the best of the weather.
The dives themselves were nothing special, though they were pretty much as I expected. The DM wasn't pushy at all and she didn't try to tell me what to do. On the first dive we dived around some coral bommies and saw the usual array of colourful tropicals. The coral was in good shape and everything looked healthy. Our maximum depth was nothing much at 14m and my dive time was 50 minutes. The tanks were 10 litre and were only pumped to 200 bar, so you'd need very good air consumption to stay down much longer.
After lunch we did a second dive which was supposed to be a drift. There wasn't really much current though but it was pleasant enough. The site was a wall and it had some interesting little caves to investigate. This time the dive time was only 36 minutes because that's how long it took us to get to where the boat was moored. Personally, I would rather have gone slower and had a longer dive, but everyone else swam off. Most of them must have had an even shorter dive, because I was right at the back of the group with my buddy.
The day trip cost about A$120 for the day. This included all kit and they didn't give a discount for bringing your own. It wasn't really exciting diving but it was a pleasant day out and I enjoyed myself.
On the third day, it stopped raining. This was a relief because on the way back to Cairns, we were going to stop at various places and it wouldn't have been much fun in the rain. The bus back had a few problems. The door wouldn't shut properly. Eventually they did get it to shut , but because they were worried they wouldn't be able to close it again, we couldn't re-open it. This meant that every time we stopped and got out, we all had to climb over the driver's seat and get out of that door. The air conditioning was broken too.
The first stop was a tropical fruit plantation. They grow all types of strange fruits and make ice cream from them. I had blueberry and black sapote ice cream along with a large slice of mud cake. The flavours of ice cream vary depending on the time of year. The mud cake is thankfully always on offer.
Next we stopped at the Daintree River and went out on a boat to spot crocodiles. The crocs in the Daintree are all estuarine crocodiles which are highly dangerous. We managed to see four of them, including a couple of big ones. One dived into the water as soon as he saw the boat, but others ignored us and lay on the bank. Their camouflage is very effective and, unfortunately, none of them were in particularly photogenic poses.
After the Daintree, we went up to Mossman Gorge National Park. The river cuts its way though the rain forest covered mountains and it's a good place to go swimming or just admire the view. After Mossman, we had just one further stop at a lookout for a quick photo, and then we went back to Cairns. The whole trip cost A$90, including the bus and two nights accommodation, and was booked through Castaways Internet Travel Agency.
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