Monthly Archives: June 2015

Inland to Bathurst Heads

It’s 10th June, Richard’s birthday.   We drive inland from Endeavour Falls along Battlecamp Road.   The red dirt is back.

The landscape has changed.  It’s the opposite to the rainforest.  The red roads gradually turn yellow as we drive through the low growing scrub and splash through the Normanby River creek crossing.

Old Laura homestead still stands.  A wide verandah tin and timber house, an old well, workers’ housing and the old forge remain.    The house is protected with chicken wire, to keep out tourists and perhaps the wildlife.  It must have been a hard existence living here in the heat, eking a living from the land.

Steel grey ant hills dot the country as we drive on from Laura.  This is national park land.  New regulations require all campsites to be prebooked online or by telephone.   This is bureaucracy at its best.   It’s totally impractical in an area with no mobile reception, public telephones or wifi.    It’s not in the spirit of bush camping to plan ahead and book the week in advance from Cooktown.   Plans have to change when a closed road, a vehicle repair or a fascinating side track delay the camper.   We shrug.  We will look outside the national park for our spot tonight.

The Kalpower River crossing is wide and flat, water tumbling down on the rocks below.  We drive on corrugated public roads through aboriginal freehold land.  The ant hills grow as tall as the scrubby trees.  Sculpted and impassive they look like druids’ standing stones dotted across an ancient woodland.  Wild horses gallop away as we pass.

There are two options when we cross the Marrett River, through the water or on a rough timber bridge, a few tree trunks slung across bank to bank.  Taking the bridge, we wonder if it will be strong enough to take the weight of the car.   Just to be sure we stall the engine as we cross and spend a few moments gazing down at the river, proving the bridge is strong.

Olive tells us tales of the old Kalpower homestead that is nearby.   It must be deep in the bush now, because our search is in vain.  There are no signs of habitation except an old Bedford truck that gave up the ghost many years ago.

Further down the road,a muddy four wheel drive approaches us, containing two young men.   Don’t bother trying to get to Bathurst Heads, they say.  They have been bogged down in a mud hole for three days and have had to winch themselves out.  The road is impassable.

We make do with a campsite just off the road, towards the river.  It’s a rough, scrubby spot.  Max heads off to the river to fish.   We make camp and get a fire started.

Richard, Dom and Beryl head down to the river to see how the fishing is going.  Richard, axe in hand, ready to fight off any crocodiles who may make their home here.  This morning we heard a crocodile story from the owner of the campsite.  A man was fishing in the river near the campsite and was grabbed by a four metre crocodile.  They had never seen one in that area before.  Male crocodiles have to find their own territory and move out into new areas as the population increases.

Rich and Max and axe

Luckily, the axe is not needed.   Max catches a lovely Mangrove Jack and a Bream, and Dom another Mangrove Jack.  The fish are cooked on the campfire for dinner.   The delicate taste of the fresh fish is better than any haute cuisine.

The mosquitoes are vicious.  Long trousers and sleeved shirts are essential.   They force an early retirement to our beds, after a fine ginger beer scone dessert, cooked for Richard’s birthday by chef Howard.

Cape Tribulation to Cooktown

It’s raining.  Cape Tribulation has a beautiful beach, fringed with palms.   The clouds are grey and the waters dull in the gentle light.    We run from the car in the rain, but do little more than glance at the beach before we are on our way again, on to the Bloomfield Track.  

The gravel track is steep.   Sharp climbs and rocky creek crossings provide our first driving challenge of the trip.  The track follows the coast along the edge of the Daintree Rainforest.  Tropical Tarzan vines hang down over the road and tangle around fan palms and tree ferns.  We speed over the track, as fast as the landcruisers will carry us.

Not everyone who passes by values the rainforest.  It’s sad to see styrofoam food containers and aluminium drink cans lying on the roadsides.  

We stop at an indigenous art gallery for coffee and a browse.   The art is not as impressive as the nearby waterfall, thundering down on the rocky river bed.

Further along the track, misty mountains rise up ahead of us. They create the heavy rainfall, about 7 metres a year, that is needed to sustain the Daintree rain forest.  

Lunch is at an old hotel with a long history, named The Lions Den.  It’s been a watering hole since the 1800s.  Check out the car park these days and it’s full of four wheel drive vehicles.  Like many outback pubs, the walls are covered with the names of past customers, backpackers and campers.   Is there a need to make a mark?  To be part of a travelling tribe?  How many return to find the names they scrawled years ago, to touch their youth?

On again.  Next stop Cooktown.

This is where Captain James Cook landed to repair his damaged ship, back in 1770.  There are memorials to Cook, including a life size statue on the waterfront.  The town grew to a major centre when gold was discovered on the Palmer River, but has now become a pleasant, but overlooked backwater.  Who knows, it’s time may come again.

At the end of the day we drive to Endeavour Falls to camp overnight underneath the palm trees.

Where the rainforest meets the reef

The roads hug the coast in Douglas Shire, steep rocky cliffs running along sandy beaches, like a tropical Great Ocean Road.   Turning away from the ocean here you do not see mountain ash and tree ferns, but dense green walls of sugar cane, neatly clipped and standing to attention like a sailor’s crew cut.  The air is as warm and steamy as a gardener’s hot house.

The entry to Port Douglas is grand, lined with mature palm trees.   It’s a much bigger town than I’d imagined, a tourist Mecca.   The wharf is busy, with boats offering crocodile spotting tours in the waters nearby and ocean going yachts bristling with equipment and the scars of past voyages.

A white timber clad church stands on the bay.  It dates from 1880.   The little church is cool and peaceful inside.  The east window looks directly out to sea, framing the view to the Great Barrier Reef.  I wonder how many have sat in these pews, what stories they could tell of the history of Port Douglas.  Who was married here?  Who tried to save the church when it was destroyed by cyclone in 1911?   The building keeps its secrets.

We walk through the main shopping street, passing tourist souvenir shops, ladies clothing stores and hotel bars in colonial buildings.   Moccas famous pies live up to their reputation and draw a succession of hungry customers into a side street for lunch.

From Port Douglas we once again pass through lush green sugar cane country.   Cane trains stand loaded with harvested cane.  We are in the wet tropics now.  Clouds sit on top of misty tropical mountains.  We see banana orchards, each bunch wrapped in its own protective bag.

Stopping at Daintree village we wander down to the river.  Two fishermen tell us tall tales of man eating crocodiles.  They are not joking.   The number of signs warning of crocodiles is increasing as we travel north, as are the tales of attacks.  We take the warnings seriously…

The utes queue up for the old cable ferry that takes us across the Daintree River to Cape Tribulation.  It’s a steep climb up the other side.  Now we are truly in the world heritage Daintree rainforest.  

The forest is dense around us.   Strangling figs clamber up the trunks of fan palms, seeking the light.   Elephant ear vine leaves spread out to capture the few rays of sun that break through the rainforest canopy.  The forest glistens and drips in the steamy atmosphere.

We take a walk in the rainforest with Cooper Creek Wilderness Tours.   Almost immediately a cassowary crosses our path.  Strange flightless birds, in the same family as the emu and kiwi, they have a horn like growth on their heads, bright blue necks and red wattles hanging down below.   Standing 1.5 metres tall they could be intimidating, but Big Bertha completely ignores us as she strides purposefully past.

The rainforest tour is fascinating.   We see primitive spiders that gather up their silk at night and camouflage themselves to look like thorns on the branch of a tree.   We hear about the yellow cyrus, the toxic white walnut, the zombie fungi and a tree that expels cyanide gas when chopped by an axe.   I am amazed by the height of the fan palms.  Here they form the rainforest canopy, a roof top of green that shades the plants below.  So tall, so high above us, we would need binoculars to spot birds or canopy dwelling marsupials.

Unfortunately, feral pigs cause damage to the rainforest that will never be healed.  While vines grow quickly here, many plants grow so slowly they can never recover when seedlings are wiped out by a wallowing pig.

Howard and I spy another rare creature here, a short, elderly, bearded Japanese man, in the rainforest with a film crew.   Dr Suzuki, we presume.

The evening light is growing dim.  We need to catch up with the rest of the party who have gone on ahead of us.   We have planned to meet at Noah’s Beach.  So we leave the wilderness tour and head down the winding unsealed road to find the campground.  

When we arrive, it is dark.  Driving around the wilderness campsite we peer at the campers in each of the sites.  No, we don’t recognise them.  Back on the road, we decide to circle around again.    I glance at a sign board at the entry, there is a piece of paper flapping in the wind.   

Stop!   I look at the paper, it says “See you at Coconut Beach.  M & O, M & H, D & S”.  

Where on earth is coconut beach?

We drive down the road, looking for a sign.  A voice crackles over the radio, “Turn right at Masons Store”.   

Turning right after Masons Store we find the lovely Cape Trib campsite on the beach and are reunited with our convoy.

Back to the land

The weather forecast is for winds at twenty to twenty five knots.   It’s already blowing white caps on the waters and whistling in the rigging.  We’re up early for our trip back to port.

Checking the chart once again, I can see that it’s going to be an exciting journey.   We will make our way down around the southern tip of Whitsunday Island, through a narrow channel called Solway Passage.   There will be reef on one side, rocks on the other and a lumpy sea from the action of the wind against tide.  Once we are out in the deep water to the South of the island, there may be some swell before we head through another narrow channel, Fitzalan Passage, to curl around the north of Hamilton Island and back to the marina.

The crew downs their doses of ginger seasickness remedies.   We recheck that all the hatches are closed, and we are off.

Richard grips the wheel and helms as I point out the marks and obstructions along our route.   The wind is growing stronger and stronger.   It’s gusting thirty to thirty five knots as we motor towards Solway passage.  

The reef extends out underwater from Haslewood Island to port and we need to keep close to Whitsunday Island to starboard.   The water on our left looks like a surf beach and to the right like a boiling cauldron.  Richard tightens his grip on the wheel and we push ahead.   We glance at the electronic chart for reassurance as we continue on a bearing that appears to take us directly into a rocky crag sticking up from the water ahead.

As the water gets deeper, the catamaran climbs and dips In the growing swell.   Olive whoops from behind me.   This is fun!

Hang on everyone, I call.  Able Seaman Jeffery is checking that the life ring rope is free of tangles in case of emergency.   We turn around the South of the island into deeper water.   We are on a roller coaster.  Safe now from the underwater rocks and reefs Alida is rocking and rolling in the motion of the waves and the two metre swell.

Hamilton Island resort can be seen in the distance.  It’s high rise blocks are distinctive in the green vegetation of the islands.   We point the bow in their direction and enjoy the rolling ride.

The island provides welcome shelter from the worst of the wind.  We turn into Fitzalan Passage and the sea bubbles and hisses over the reef to starboard.  Then the excitement is over.  Despite the thirty knot winds we moor safely in the marina.  It’s good bye to Alida and the Whitsundays.

The ferry trip back to Shute Harbour seems much quicker than it did six days ago.   We overnight at Airlie Beach, then drive all day to Cairns to meet up with Dominic and Suzanne.   Ready for the next adventure.

We are sailing

Cid Harbour is a sheltered anchorage.  We share it with four or five other yachts.   As the sun goes down, we see their white anchor lights shining around us.   We dance with them in an evening waltz, each yacht swinging on its anchor chain, back and forth to the music of the wind and the waves.

There is an air of anticipation about the crew.  Tonight is Gilligan’s Island night.  Each of us has been given a character to play from that ancient US TV show.   The identity of our alter egos has been kept secret until now.   Costumes on, we emerge from our cabins and attempt to stay in character through the evening meal.   

Ginger steals the show, with her firey red hair, black evening gown and dark sultry looks.   She makes a fine figure casting fishing lines from the bow of the boat as shoals of tiny fish leap in the moonlight.

In the morning we rise early for a day of swimming and snorkelling at Butterfly Bay.  Time to relax and enjoy the warm sunshine, to slip off the back of the boat into the turquoise blue water and to head off with snorkel and flippers to explore the underwater life of the coral reef.  

The next day the wind is blowing a good fifteen knots and the sails go up.  We are sailing!

Heather proves to have a sensitive hand on the helm, getting the yacht to move at a respectable 7 knots.   Richard tightens up the main to eke out a little more speed, while Max trolls his lines from the stern.   As the sun rises in the sky, the crew get sleepy in the warm sea air.   Suddenly there is a shout and Max is reeling in a glistening blue mackerel.   The boat comes to life with calls of encouragement.   Reference books are consulted to identify the precise species.   Everyone wants to take a look.  The fish is too small to keep and is thrown back to the ocean depths, but the buzz lingers to liven up our sleepy passengers.

We tack down the coast, watching out for other yachts.  We admire the sleek lines of thoroughbred racers that glide past, overtaking us with ease.   A turtle swims alongside, lifting his head on his wrinkled neck to survey the surface before diving back down.  A whale, or is it a dolphin, slips past.

Our destination is Whitehaven.  The fine white silica sand squeaks underfoot as we walk the length of the beach.  Day trippers disappear on to the tourist boats. We climb into the jetty and return to the yacht.   

The evening ends with a huge full moon rising over the water, glowing pink against the azure blue sky.  The reflection of the moonlight on the surface of the water is broken only by gentle ripples in the cool breeze.  

Tomorrow we return to dry land.   Thinking back, it’s been a great few days on the water.  We have had no sea sickness.  Able Seaman Jeffery has manfully tackled every sailing task, proving it is possible to swim from shore fully clothed.  Gourmet meals have been cooked by the ladies in the smallest galley kitchen I have seen.  Entertainment every night has had us roaring with laughter.  

Howard has explored the underwater world.  Max has caught two fish.  Richard has managed the boat and engine in all conditions, forward gear or not.  And I have had a great day’s sailing.

Oh, and the skipper with his blokey ways will stay on the island, with Ginger.

Worse things happen at sea

Let go the mooring line!

She’s away.

Richard puts the yacht into reverse and we move away from the mooring.   A stiff morning breeze blows across the water.   The crew are up and about, ready to sail to Stonehaven Bay on Whitsunday island.

Crunch, clonk, clank.  All heads turn.  What was that? 

A grinding noise is coming from the stern as Richard pushes the motor into forward gear.   The mooring is drifting away to port and we are being carried north by the tide.

I can’t get any forward gear, he calls.   He pushes the lever forward again and the crunching noise grows louder.  

Can we pick up the mooring again?   

I don’t think so Debbie, it’s over there.  Malcolm points at a blue dot on the water in the distance.

Richard shouts, I can get reverse.   I’ll try to reverse back on to the buoy.

Yachts will reverse under motor, but steerage is poor, especially into the wind with the tide against you.  We are moving, but the mooring is out of reach.

Shall we put up the foresail?  I ask.  We’ll at least get some forward motion then.

Let’s keep trying the engine, I don’t understand what’s wrong with it.  It sounds terrible.

The yacht is holding its ground against the tide in reverse, but we just can’t get any forward motion.   

I look at the inexperienced crew around me.  Many of them have not been on a sailing boat before.  Sailing to another mooring is an option, but not an attractive one.  We are on a charter boat in unfamiliar waters.  While the channels are deep around the islands, there are hidden underwater obstructions, coral reefs and rocks.

I feel a little sick.   Not from seasickness, but from a sinking feeling inside me.  I have brought these people out on to the water to experience the exhilaration of sailing, to share something I love, only for the yacht to fail us on the first day.

I decide to call the charter company on the VHF radio.   We can hold our position in the deep channel under reverse gear quite safely for some time.  If the engine fails altogether, we will put the foresail up and sail into the main Whitsunday channel where there is plenty of water.  We are safe, but it’s getting uncomfortable out in the channel with the waves rocking the boat from side to side.  We could see some green faces if we don’t get moving soon.

Richard keeps working to try to get the gears to engage.  No joy.  We have to accept the gears have failed and we will have to suffer the ignominy of a tow back to port.

I pick up the VHF microphone.  Sunsail, Sunsail, this is Rhythm, Rhythm, over.   

Rhythm, this is Sunsail base, go ahead.

The radio exchange continues.   Sunsail Base asks us to get back on to the mooring if we can.   They will see if they can send a boat out to assist.    The conversation ends.

I ask Beryl to sit below and listen to the radio and let me know when Sunsail calls back.

The mooring buoy is truly out of reach.  I am soon calling back on the radio to request assistance again.  We’ve been sitting out in the channel for 20 minutes and no sign of the rescue boat.  The boat is bouncing around on the waves and although everyone is upbeat, we all know this is not a good situation.  I consider the option of putting some of the crew to shore in the dinghy if seasickness hits.

Sunsail are on the radio, calls Beryl.   I go down below and explain our situation again.   We switch to mobile phone to finish the conversation and they confirm a fast boat is being sent to tow us back to the marina.  We spend another twenty minutes bobbing up and down in the deep water before we see the fast boat coming towards us in the distance.   

There are two men on the boat.  It’s a charter fishing boat with two huge 220 HP engines on the back.   The younger man jumps aboard the yacht as they come alongside.  He first tries to put the engine into gear, to prove to himself that there really is a problem.  The crunching and grinding sounds convince him quickly.

He ties the two boats together side by side.   I’ll steer, you provide the power, he shouts to the older man in the fast boat.

The engines roar and we begin our journey back to base.  Lance, the younger man, is a kiwi.  He chats to us as the boats drive forward into the wind and waves.  Every so often a wave crashes over the bow of the fast boat, showering the helmsman, John, with water.  Lance roars with laughter.  You owe me a beer for this, calls back John.

We pass a white monohull, from the decks two people wave.  They live full time on that boat, Lance tells us.

He makes a few phone calls as we motor along, trying to find us a replacement boat.    It looks like the only option is a catamaran.   Neither Richard or I have sailed one and they have a reputation as floating caravans amongst serious sailors.   But, we can tell it’s going to be the only option if we are to continue the sailing holiday.

As the two joined boats enter the marina, I feel relieved, but a black cloud descends on my mood.  It is so disappointing I can hardly speak.   I’m not good company.

At about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, we hear the new yacht is ready.   It is a 38 foot cat, named Alida.   To our surprise it is John, the helmsman of the fast boat, who shows us around her.    He tells us he owns the company which has just taken over the local Sunsail franchise.    No wonder Lance was so amused when his new boss took a soaking on the way back to port!

My mood lifts as we head out on the water again.   The sun is setting over the ocean when we find a sheltered anchorage at Cid Harbour on Whitsunday island.  We are back at sea and tomorrow is another day.

Springsure Show

We saw some memorable characters at the Springsure Show on our way to Airlie Beach.

Cattle lovers, we enjoyed admiring the beautiful bovines strutting their stuff in the ring.

Showing cattle

We watched the bulls being washed, combed and blow dried before their big moment.  What gentle giants.

Their handlers were dressed up too.  Pearls, earrings and perfect makeup for the girls leading these handsome beasts.

Springsure cattle

The cattle were mainly Brahman cross breeds, like  Charbray, a cross with Charolais,  and Brangus, a cross with Angus.

Big bull

We saw poultry of all shapes and sizes.

 Black red chook

A campfire cooking demonstration accompanied by cheeky poems rounded off the morning.   We now have the recipe for ginger beer pufferloons.  Yum, yum.


It was the 150th Springsure show.  150 years of history, of cattle, chooks and prize winning fruit cakes, the small Queensland town put on a day to remember.

The Whitsundays

Up at six, we drive to the Shute Harbour ferry terminal. The water is glassy, pink with the dawn light. A few early fishermen stand on the jetty casting lines into the mist.

The ferry terminal is quiet. A mobile coffee seller opens up the back of his vehicle, ready to start his day. The milky coffee is welcome, warming our hands as we stand and wait for the 7:30 ferry. The smell of coffee mingles with the fresh salty scent of the ocean.

These days, most ferries to Hamilton Island leave from Airlie Beach. The terminal here at Shute Harbour is running down. The ticket office is closed. Rust pockmarks the skin of the white painted structure. But still, it’s a beautiful view across the water to the islands.


The ferry finally arrives and we line up to get on. The thirty minute trip gives us our first view of the Whitsundays. Steep rocky cliffs covered with dark green vegetation rise out of the ocean blue.  Many of the islands are set aside as national parks and have few signs of human habitation. We point at the occasional home, perched on the slopes, enjoying the perfect view. What would it be like to live there?

Hamilton Island is bustling with life. Electric golf buggies swarm over the island, a quick easy mode of transport for tourists and locals alike. We have a few hours to kill before the yacht is ready.  It’s time to explore the island.

The free orange shuttle bus stops for us and we climb up out of the town through manicured gardens and grand design houses, catching glimpses of the sea view at every turn.  The roads wind up and up until we stop at a panoramic lookout in the heights. The bus rings with oohs, aahs and the click of our photographers as we capture the view.

Back on the waterfront, the yacht is packed with provisions. The briefing doesn’t take long and soon we are on our way.

For our first night we decide to stop on the northeast of Henning Island, only about nine nautical miles from the Sunsail base. We motor up the Whitsunday passage, getting to know Rhythm, our 44 foot monohull yacht.  The crew are dosed to the eyeballs with ginger seasickness remedies, testing their sea legs.  I see no green faces.  All is good.

Henning Island is a relatively quiet spot near a small sandy beach.   Able Seaman Jeffery catches the line on a blue mooring buoy, I tie it and we are set for the night.

We share a hearty dinner around the cockpit table, enjoying our first evening at sea.  It’s hard to relax when moored at night and we regularly check the line to the buoy.  We fiddle with the line.  It’s a mistake we regret when we end up with the buoy trapped on the starboard side of the yacht.

After much debate we decide to leave the buoy as it is for the night.  Able Seaman Jeffery makes one last reconnaissance mission to the bow and shouts as the line slips.  He grabs at it and holds it for minutes in his bare hands until he has to let it go, and we find the yacht unexpectedly detached from the mooring buoy in the dark.  A surge of adrenalin and we all jump into action.  The mooring line is reset.  No harm done. Sleep now.  Tomorrow we start our yachting adventure.

Motel California

You can’t always rely on the Internet to find last minute accommodation. Trust me, I know.

The motel comes into view as we drive around the corner. Grass is growing between the cracks in the concrete. Paint is peeling from the faded sign.

I climb reluctantly out of the ute. Heart sinking. Foolish optimism making me hope that maybe first appearances are deceptive. I’ve booked the motel for the eight of us to stay overnight before taking the ferry across to Hamilton Island. I need to check it out.

A paper sign is stuck to the window with Sellotape, handwritten in black ink. “Call Dave on 0431 254 876”. I peer inside the darkened interior. A figure moves slowly towards the door. A middle aged man, dressed in baggy trousers and a stained cotton shirt pushes the sliding door open.

We’ve booked rooms, I say.

He mumbles. You’ll have to speak to Dave in room 5. Just knock on the door.

The door to room 5 is closed. The curtains are pulled over. I knock.

No response. Knock again, calls Beryl.

I knock again, louder. The door opens. I see a bed. The sheets and blankets are pulled to one side, pillows piled in the centre.

We’ve booked rooms, I say. At this point I’m contemplating my escape plan.

Dave, hair sticking to one side of his face, taps the side of his head.

Give me a minute to get my head together. Just give me a minute.

He closes the door, then quickly reopens it. His face confused.

You have to give me a minute to get my head together.

We’d like to see the rooms, I say. He fumbles in his pocket and drops a handful of keys into my hand. Look at 3, 5 or 6.

I look at the jumble of keys. I can see two with labels marked 3 and one with a label marked 9. Room 9 is nearby. I turn the key in the lock and look inside. The room is a mess of bed clothes, a mop and bucket stand by the door. I close the door quickly. No way are we staying here.

He said look at room 6, says Beryl. As I walk over to the door marked 6, I hear Howard call out. Lovely gardens you have here.

The small dirt area in front of the motel building is sunbaked. A few lonely weeds struggle to find life in the desolate strip of soil.

A strange noise is coming from room number 6. My feeling of foreboding increases. I walk towards the door. Hand ready to turn the handle, I stop and listen. Silence, except for the strains of a familiar song playing in my head. “Welcome to the Motel California, such a lovely place, such a lovely face…”

There is a key to room number 6, but the door opens as I turn the handle. Two beds. A view. It looks all right, says Beryl. Inwardly I admire her chirpy optimism. I wish I could share it.

The red counterpanes on the beds look old and tired. The carpet threadbare, well worn. Turning back the bedclothes I see biscuit crumbs.

A sound comes from the bathroom. I turn my head. A cloud covers the sun and the room darkens. I take one step forward. The door to the bathroom slowly opens. I step back in surprise as much as horror.

“There’s plenty of room at the Motel California, any time of year, you can find it here.”

I run quickly from the room and thrust the keys back into Dave’s hand. It’s not what we are looking for, I call, as we drive away.

What did you see? Asks Richard. I look out of the window at the figure of Dave receding in the distance. The doorman is just visible behind the smeared glass entrance door. A shiver runs down my back, I’ll never tell.

“You can check out any time you like. But you can never leave…”