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.