There Be Crocodiles..
Palm Cove, North Queensland
It’s a long way to anywhere in Australia. Departing the homestead in the Flinders Range we drove five and a half hours back to Adelaide. Then two hours on a plane to Brisbane. A two hour wait at the airport there and yet another two hours on the flight to Cairns. Wine may have been consumed. Our cases were the last three off the baggage carousel. At 10 o’clock at night with the airport closing down around us two weary travellers once again crossed an airport concourse, this time to find a car hire desk. We approached a man in a palm tree patterned shirt.
Hertz representative: “Mr Wood I presume..”
Mike: “Never heard of him.”
“In that case you won’t be needing this…” The man from Hertz clutched an envelope tightly to his chest.
Given the late arrival, long after the property rental agent had gone home to bed, we’d arranged for our apartment keys to be left with Hertz. Two weeks in and I still hadn’t got to grips with how different life is in Australia. How relaxed everyone is with time for a joke and a seemingly inexhaustible willingness to help. Even at 10 o’clock at night. The instructions for getting to our rental fell some way short of crystal clear but the Hertz man produced a map and marked out the route.
The humidity hits you like a sledgehammer when you land in Cairns (pronounced Cans, as in cans of Coke). And so does the rain. As we approached Palm Cove it bucketed down. In the dark and the biblical torrent of water we drove around trying to find the apartment block. It helped that I’d been there before. Even if only on Google Earth. Mike nudged the car up to a wide roller shutter door. In the envelope there were two keys, sans instructions. One, conventional. The other a keypad with four buttons. Mike pressed the first button and by some miracle the door rose. The gaping maw of an underground car park revealed within.
The stunning view from the apartment’s balcony
NuNu, Beachfront Palm Cove
There’s only one way to recover from a whole day spent travelling. Especially when your cupboards, given the timing of your arrival, are totally bare. Breakfast at NuNu. What else?
Renealmia cernua, from Costa Rica
Cairns Botanic Garden, the first on my list of places to go. Packed full of all the tropical deliciousness you could ever want.
Etlingera elatior (Pink Torch Ginger)
Heliconia orthotricha, South America
Zingiber spectabile x Z. macrodenium
The boardwalk through the fragment of rainforest in the middle of Cairns
Chinese Pavilion at Freshwater Lake
It’s no good pretending you’re asleep.. I can see your eyes
A bamboo you might need a bit of space for
There were crocodiles in the Saltwater Lake. Apex predators let loose in a public garden? It wouldn’t be allowed at Wisley surely. But North Queensland is a different sort of place. It has the feel of being on a frontier. And the wildlife often have the upper hand.
Palm Cove, North Queensland
It had been a long held dream to come here. Being a lover of heat and all things tropical I couldn’t face the prospect of visiting Australia without going north, even though it wasn’t the best time of year. Summer is rainy season for one thing. But it doesn’t rain every single day and between the showers, well, look at that beach.
It just pays to have your wits about you, that’s all. On that first day I was mostly listening out for rustling. Or the padding of feet in the sand. The sound of something approaching stealthily behind my back. Everywhere you approach the water here there are warning signs, repeated at intervals just to make sure you never forget. An adult male saltwater crocodile can reach up to 7 metres in length. That’s 23 feet. Just imagine that. At only 1.5 metres in my longest dimension presumably I would be regarded as a mere hors d’oeuvre. The saltie’s preferred means of attack is to ambush the hapless victim, drag them back to water, drown them and rip them apart or swallow them whole. Gulp.
They are the most dangerous crocodiles on earth. In reality, however, you’d be unfortunate to find yourself with a crocodile sneaking up to your sun lounger. The authorities are right to be cautious but sightings on beaches don’t happen very often. Fatal attacks are even rarer. From 1971 to 2013, the total number of fatalities reported in Australia due to saltwater crocodile attack was 106 (Source: wikipedia here). What worries me just a little bit though is that track up the beach, straight to the camera position in the photo above. I’d not noticed it before. But compare it with the photo of the saltie track on the wikipedia page..
Wangetti Beach, North Queensland
So is it just the crocodiles we need to be worried about then? Nope. Then there are the stingers. In summer it could be a particularly bad move to go swimming in the sea. Irukandji jellyfish are only tiny, 2cm across, but you will know about it if you find one. Approximately 30 minutes after the sting the victim develops severe back and abdominal pain, limb or joint pain, nausea and vomiting, sweating and agitation. Enough to ruin your day perhaps. But it could be worse. Much, much worse..
The Box jellyfish is said to be the most venomous marine animal known to man and its sting is often fatal. They are transparent and pale blue in colour which makes them virtually impossible to spot in the water. The ‘box’ body measures about 20cm along each side but the tentacles can grow to an astonishing 3 metres in length. The gelatinous composition of a jellyfish makes it vulnerable and therefore its venom needs to be potent. It must kill its prey in an instant. A struggle, even with a creature as small as a shrimp, could be enough to turn the jellyfish to mush.
We are not their target, fish are. Humans just tend to get in the way. But for us significant contact with the tentacles of a box jellyfish could still bring on a cardiac arrest within minutes. The pain from a sting is so excruciating and overwhelming that a victim can immediately go into shock, fatal if that person is swimming alone. And then there are the neurotoxins. Those unfortunate enough to still remain conscious are said to feel a sense of complete and utter doom, unmanageable panic, and often see suicide as the only way of escape. Now that’s not my idea of a good day.
Most of the popular North Queensland beaches, including Palm Cove, have netted enclosures during stinger season where it’s possible to swim safely. Failing that there’s the all encompassing stinger suit. Or you could just do what I did.. take in all the beauty of the sea from the safety of dry land!
The train to Kuranda, in the process of negotiating a particularly sharp bend.
At this point, being approximately in the centre portion of the train, we could see both the front and back ends. Mike had insisted on upgrading us to Gold class. This delivered a guaranteed and reserved individual armchair window seat with finger food and other perks..
10.10 a.m. A bit early, even for me. But if included within the price isn’t it rude not to?
The Barron Falls
On the way up, a stop to take photos and a stretch of the legs. The falls are even more dramatic once the rainy season really takes hold.
Kuranda is very much a tourist town. Like most such places across the world it has a few nice shops amongst a sea of imported trinkets and t-shirts. Finding somewhere nice to eat proved something of a challenge. The spectacular trip through the rainforest was the principal lure here. Allowing a couple of hours or so to see the town, maybe a little too much. But with time on our hands we still managed to amuse ourselves well enough..
Yes, I found some more!!!
They are the cutest of little marsupials, the ‘happiest animal in the world’ on account of its normally cheeky grin. Well not today apparently. These two appear to have had a bit of a falling out. The bulge to the side of the left one is a baby.
At least no crocodiles up here in the hills, surely..
..oh yes there are
Who’s a pretty boy then.
The route back to Cairns could have been on the train but.. been there, done that, got the t-shirt. So we went the other way..
On the Skyrail Cableway
Oh. Wow. The gondolas literally skim over the canopy of the rainforest. And some water, as you saw above.
In blissful ignorance of the water, this time it had been me insisting on an upgrade because Diamond class, as well as enabling the ticket holder to bypass most of the queues, gives a unique view..
Through the glass bottom of the Diamond View gondola.. eeep!
Gliding over the top of a road..
But who would miss it for this. On the last leg of the trip (there are scenic photo stops on the Skyrail too) we topped the crest of a hill to be suddenly presented with the most incredible view. The entire coastal plain north of Cairns.
Australia continued to amaze.