Thursday, 11 October 2012

All over croc country

Welcome to Far North Queensland, where crocodiles rule the waterways and cassowaries roam the rainforest.

This wild corner of Australia supports so many species, including the sun-seeking holidaymaker. With so much exploring to be done, there was no time to waste and we headed straight from Cairns Airport to Port Douglas in our hire car.

The proximity of Four Mile Beach (above) to our apartment meant only the shortest of expeditions was required before we were splashing in the shallows and playing the bat-and-ball game at the water's edge. Everything here was as idyllic as the guide books suggested. The discovery of a coconut on the white sand led to an impromptu tug-of-war as we grappled to remove its outer husk.

Planes, trains and automobiles will get you so far in Australia but only the Kuranda Skyrail cable car dangles you just a few metres above the treetops in the Atherton Tableland. We surveyed the rainforest from the comfort and quiet of our small pod - but to construct something as monstrous as this, over mountains and overlooking gorges, must have been a gigantic effort. Well done to all involved.

Peering down from our lofty, mobile vantage point, we started to get some idea of how vast these rainforests are. We could just make out sounds beneath us, under the canopy in a green, mysterious world.

Kuranda's Birdworld was jam-packed with feathered creatures of all shapes and sizes. I won't embarrass myself by guessing which species this little chap belongs to, but he loved those seeds.

One journey on the cable car was sufficient and we travelled back to Cairns on the scenic railway. When the 15.30 pulls out of Kuranda station, the village empties - almost everyone pounding the streets during the day is a tourist.

The train's design and decor reminded me of an episode of Agatha Christie's Poirot - but fortunately David Suchet was nowhere to be seen. "Get your cameras ready" called the guard as we approached this towering gorge. Another great engineering feat.

Lots of road signs in this part of the world hint at the proximity of cassowaries, but the only ones we saw were in wildlife parks. To my eyes, it seems to be a hybrid of body parts from other animals: the torso of an ostrich, the neck of a turkey and the feet of an eagle. As for the top of the head, I don't know where to begin. Could it be that Karl Pilkington's otherwise nonsensical evolutionary theory, featuring a giant toenail to protect the skull, orginated here?

At Cape Tribulation, we reached the northernmost point of our Australian adventure. Only four-wheel-drive vehicles can negotiate the dirt road which clambers further up the coast. The undergrowth all around us was thick and wild - perfect for crocodiles when the wet season comes. They can't get enough of those mangroves.

Down came the rain at Mossman Gorge. To say the water here was chilly would be an understatement, but it was so refreshing to jump in among the huge boulders after trekking through the trees in temperatures approaching 30C.

After getting to grips with Far North Queensland and experiencing all sorts of wildlife at very close quarters, we brought the week to an end in a rather more civilised fashion. Salsa Bar & Grill Restaurant (above) is well worth a visit if you make it to Port Douglas and the presence of crocodile sausage in the Seafood Jambalaya made it a stand-out choice for Ed and I.

Port Douglas was a terrific holiday location, not 'too touristy' as some had suggested, and certainly far more classy than 'party central' Cairns, which seemed totally devoid of character.

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