The End Of The Road

 

 

Daintree Rainforest, Far North Queensland

 

From the Palm Cove apartment I could see the route ahead. The tantalising prospect of the road heading north. For the next few days it wouldn’t just be sailing over the top of the rainforest, it would be exploring deep within it.

 
 

 

The Mossman Gorge

 

Enjoying the rare treat of a hotel on this leg of the trip we were perched in a treehouse high above the Mossman river with glorious walks straight from the door. Crystal clear waters and the low level of the river provide further evidence that the rainy season had yet to take hold.

 
 

 

Wave Rock

 

The overwhelming sounds of the forest, during daylight hours anyway, come from cicadas. Only the male makes the call, to draw the attention of a passing female. A loud call counts for everything in male cicada world. Should a female make an appearance the nearest male starts to vibrate ‘tymbals’, structures attached to the exoskeleton of his abdomen. His chums nearest him, not to be outdone, vibrate too and so on up the forest. The call requires a tremendous effort on the part of the cicada and can’t be maintained for long. As the first males fall silent an aural Mexican wave proceeds through the canopy, the cacophany at its peak enough to stop you in your tracks.

 
 

 

Much of the Daintree Rainforest falls within the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Site, listed by UNESCO in 2015 and therefore now protected, along with the many unique species which thrive there. The Daintree contains 3% of the frog, reptile and marsupial species in Australia and 90% of Australia’s bat and butterfly species. 7% of bird species in the country can be found in this area, along with over 12,000 species of insects (Source: wikipedia here). Sadly much of the rainforest has already been lost, trees felled to make way for agriculture. Vast fields of sugar cane pretty much dominate the landscape around the remains of the forest, as indeed they do throughout North Queensland.

 
 

 

Sugar cane trucks stand ready for the next harvest season

 

It’s not all good news for the farmers though. Through a phenomenon known as Cloud Stripping the rainforest trees contribute a significant volume of water to the region, over and above that provided by rainfall. As low cloud, mist and fog drift through the canopy water vapour condenses on the leaves, running down the branches and trunk or dripping down to the ground. It has been estimated to account for as much as 30% of all the water reaching the ground in high altitude sites. The trees use only a small portion, most of the runoff feeds into the streams and rivers for the benefit of the ecosystem as a whole, as well as providing water for irrigation and urban water supply.

But get this.. the forecast 2° warming of the Wet Tropics region through climate change is predicted to cause a rise in the altitude of the cloud layer. Fewer trees with their heads in the clouds means a much smaller area over which Cloud Stripping can occur.

 
 

 

It’s hard to convey a sense of how dense the forest is once you are within it. Stray from the path and you might easily never find it again.

 
 

 

Strangler Fig

A strangler fig begins life as a sticky seed left on a high tree branch by a bird or a bat which then germinates on the tree’s surface. As it grows long roots develop and creep down the trunk of the host, eventually reaching the ground and entering the soil. The fig creates a nearly complete sheath, in the form of a latticework, around the host’s trunk. The host tree’s canopy becomes overwhelmed by the thick fig foliage and its own root system forced to compete with that of the strangling fig.

 
 

 

Competing with a strangler fig is quite often fatal for the host. Here you can see that the original tree has died and is rotting away.

 
 

 

Nothing much is wasted in the grand circle of life

 
 

 

But if we were to go as far into the forest as I really wanted to go I’d have to confront an obstacle.

Water. I’d carefully planned this trip to avoid any passage over it except in an airplane which, in the circumstances, is somewhat unavoidable. For years it’s been this way. It hasn’t restricted life too much in the big scheme of things. There may never be a holiday in the Maldives but there are other tropical islands. Ones that have runways, albeit grass ones with bumpy landings in tiny planes with those criss crossey things where the jet engines ought to be. I’d truly love to go to Antarctica and that is more of a regret.

So then. If I was to challenge this boat phobia thing where would be the best place to start? A boating lake in an English park maybe? Just a couple of feet deep so I could wade back to dry land if needs must? Or perhaps take a punt over the river at the bottom of the garden.. all of 5 feet across? Nope.

 
 

 

Here. The Daintree river. Deep. Wide. Fast flowing. And infested with crocodiles.

Apparently the Daintree is the second most crocodile infested river in Queensland. (The first, the Proserpine river in the Whitsundays, was by sheer good fortune the place we would be going on to next). I read a story once, from Bill Bryson I think, about a woman who’d just been idly running her fingers through the water somewhere in Australia. Seconds later she’d disappeared without trace. A crocodile grabbed her arm and dragged her down, drowning her in the murky depths.

Our quest was to drive to Cape Tribulation, the most northerly place one can get to on the east coastal route of Australia before the road turns to mush. And the only way to do that is to put yourself, and your car, on a boat. I held my breath all the way. Rules are you must stay in the car. To guard against the possibility of finger dipping. Obviously.

 
 

 

You’ll notice the cables tethering the ferry to the shore at each side of the river. It was the promise of this extra stability that swung it. As long as it didn’t. If you get my drift. Doh.

 
 

 

Made it.

The view from the north side, where the Daintree meets the sea.

 
 

 

Cow Bay

The indigenous name for this idyllic spot is Kaba-Kada (Rain A Lot).

 
 

 

Coconut Beach

Simply glorious. And still we had these beaches almost to ourselves. Do they know something we don’t?

 
 

 

Snap snap..

In what seemed like just desserts, or entrees as it happens, I tried crocodile for dinner on our last night up here. I was intrigued. I’d imagined something like salty beef. It’s actually more like chicken and not at all unpleasant.

 
 

 

A familiar sight in the rainforest, buttressed trunks. Possibly to provide stability, or to hold water around the roots, their function is unknown.

 
 

 

Scrub fowl nest

A rather odd looking chicken of a bird uses its vertically aligned tail to brush the leaf litter into heaps into which it lays its eggs. This particular heap was over four feet high, I could barely peer into it. We tried on many occasions to get a decent photo of the bird, they’re just too skittish. Once the eggs are laid the birds vacate the nest, leaving the offspring to dig out and then fend for themselves.

 
 

 

At intervals up this stretch of coast there are places to stop and delve deeper into the forest on boardwalks.

 
 

 

The Marrdja Boardwalk

A strangler fig again, with the host tree having died and completely rotted away leaving only the latticework of the fig.

 
 

 

Amazing, no?

 
 

 

The Marrdja Boardwalk takes us deep into mangrove swamp. If you were going to see crocodiles anywhere, surely this place would be it. Sadly it was not to be.

 
 

 

Prop roots hold the mangroves fast against tides, waves and wind. Red mangrove seeds germinate while still attached to the parent tree. The seedling drops off, floating away on the tide to take root where it washes up.

 
 

 

Almost at journey’s end. The ultimate prize, Cape Tribulation.

And I have to tell you folks, it is gorgeous.

 
 

 

These patterns in the sand are made by ‘Bubbler Crabs’ as they feed. All this was created within the space of just one tide.

Check out the incredible video (here) of the Bubbler Crab at work from David Attenborough’s The Blue Planet.

 
 

 
 

 

Mangroves on Cape Tribulation beach

 
 

 

And this is it. The end of the road.

Beyond here the Bloomfield Track to Cooktown and then it gets seriously hairy. It’s possible to drive all the way to the tip of Australia but really only in an organised group with serious off road drivers. And only in the dry season. Major rivers need to be forded. In the car. No ferry. Not even a raft.

 
 

 

As if to emphasise the point, this was the sight around the next bend.

For me, turning around to face the return crossing of the Daintree river was excitement enough for one day.

 
 

 
 
 
 
 

2017-02-24T11:03:04+00:00 February 24th, 2017|Tags: |70 Comments

70 Comments

  1. Vicki Emmett February 24, 2017 at 11:16 am - Reply

    Well done for facing your fears – It looks like it was totally worth it. I understand your pain – I do not like the sea. My first ‘dip’ was swimming with whale sharks 30 miles off the cost of Mexico. I enjoyed it, but won’t be doing it again in a hurry 🙂

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 4:04 pm - Reply

      Hi Vicki and welcome.
      Now that really is facing your fears. I couldn’t have done that if you paid me. Well done!

  2. jannaschreier February 24, 2017 at 11:51 am - Reply

    Oh, Jessica. You are going to have to stop doing this to me. Mossman Gorge, where I swam on my honeymoon. I can see the exact rock we sat on for a rest in the middle of the river. I don’t do swimming but I could have stayed there all day in the warm, fresh water. And the ferry, the bubblers crabs. I did actually cry when I left the Daintree. Hope you managed to hold it all together!

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 4:18 pm - Reply

      I can’t think of a better place to honeymoon!
      It was so sad leaving Daintree, especially as before we arrived it was one of the places I wanted to go to most. And it’s so beautiful. But it was only half way through the trip and I had so many other places to look forward to. I held it together until the end. Flying out of Sydney on the BA plane the tears flowed and wouldn’t stop. We’ll just have to go back. Can’t leave it there.

  3. frayedattheedge February 24, 2017 at 12:08 pm - Reply

    More wonderful memories – although we didn’t get quite that far north. I’ve eaten crocodile in Australia, and alligator in America – as you say, much like chicken!
    Have a great weekend, Anne xx

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 4:29 pm - Reply

      It seemed only right to eat crocodile, after all they wouldn’t think twice if the opportunity was the other way round. I was also offered kangaroo. That didn’t seem so right.

  4. Marian St.Clair February 24, 2017 at 12:12 pm - Reply

    Amazing, yes! I’ve never heard of Cloud Stripping, so interesting. What a wonderful world!

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 4:31 pm - Reply

      Fascinating isn’t it. Travel teaches you so much.

  5. Anne Wheaton February 24, 2017 at 1:25 pm - Reply

    These posts make me want to pack my bags and fly out there right now. Have you conquered your phobia?

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 4:34 pm - Reply

      Me too!
      I doubt I’ve conquered it. The river crossing was pretty tame. If I’d closed my eyes I wouldn’t have known we were on a boat at all. And at two minutes side to side I could have held my breath all the way!

  6. Vera February 24, 2017 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    Excellent post, Jessica. I have enjoyed sharing Australia with you!

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 4:35 pm - Reply

      Thanks Vera.

  7. FlowerAlley February 24, 2017 at 1:41 pm - Reply

    I loved this so much. The strangler figs are the ultimate climbers. I am amazed at the beaches size and beauty. Thank you for lessons on cicadas and cloud stripping. The mushroom photo was lovely. I hope you felt awed by all that life around you. I really appreciate the sharing. You are a Lucky Duck.

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 4:40 pm - Reply

      It’s hard not to feel awed in a place such as this. It is so ancient and, as you say, full of life. I just feel awful that the delicate balance of the ecosystem that has evolved over millenia (billenia?) is now so threatened by man.

  8. Backlane Notebook February 24, 2017 at 1:46 pm - Reply

    Gosh this was some adventure and brilliantly recorded. Well done for the boat trip. My fear is flying which is soon to be tested!!

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 4:43 pm - Reply

      Oh gosh, good luck.. I’ll be thinking of you.

  9. Dorothy Borders February 24, 2017 at 3:44 pm - Reply

    Thank you for sharing your adventure with us. I truly feel almost as if I had been along with you. Love all your wonderful pictures, especially the “circle of life” one. Fungi are amazing.

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 4:48 pm - Reply

      They are. I was surprised we didn’t see more fungi given how much rain there is. Maybe once the rainy season really gets going.

  10. Jennifer February 24, 2017 at 3:58 pm - Reply

    I really enjoyed the way you wrote about this adventure. The mangroves are amazing! Actually, I find them a little scary for some reason. They remind me of kudzu, which I was afraid of when I was a small child living in Georgia. For some reason, kudzu was really upsetting to me. I probably thought it looked like a tentacled monster draping itself over things. You really faced your fears and I’m proud of you!

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 4:54 pm - Reply

      I just googled kadzu and looked at some of the images. I can quite understand your feelings about that. Perhaps I’ve watched too many bad science fiction/horror films. I fear my garden will look the same if I turn my back for a second. It certainly tries!

  11. Susan Garrett February 24, 2017 at 6:57 pm - Reply

    Fabulous photos and some wonderful trees, Images that I wouldn’t generally associate with Australia. I’m mot a boat fan or a plane fan come to that,

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 5:02 pm - Reply

      It’s such a huge and diverse country stretching from temperate to tropical climatic zones. It must have every different type of ecosystem going. I didn’t realise until recently that you can actually ski in Australia.

  12. Denise February 24, 2017 at 7:27 pm - Reply

    The tree roots and trunks are amazingly architectural, aren’t they? Most inspirational from an artistic point of view.

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 5:09 pm - Reply

      We had ivy growing up the (ex) big conifer which looked a bit like a strangler fig in a minor sort of way. Same sort of lattice. I’m glad our little scrap of woodland isn’t quite so dense though. Sheesh. I’d go off to fill up the compost bin and never return.

  13. Linda B. February 24, 2017 at 8:10 pm - Reply

    Those strangler roots are amazing. Thanks for taking so many great photos and providing so much info. This is a trip I won’t be taking so it is lovely to get this view of the country.

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 5:12 pm - Reply

      Thanks Linda. It was tough to edit the photos down to 30. I took so many!

  14. restlessjo February 24, 2017 at 8:48 pm - Reply

    It’s a fascinating place alright but beaches with beware the crocodile signs spook me even more than boats do (did 🙂 🙂 ) you!

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 5:16 pm - Reply

      They spooked me to begin with. But the more beaches we walked on with no crocodiles turning up the easier it got! I guess that’s when it gets dangerous.

  15. Ian Lumsden February 24, 2017 at 9:54 pm - Reply

    Your journey has been a delight, full of wonder and wit. Your holiday is more than that – a voyage of discovery and your blog communicates your own sense of excitement. Thanks.

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 5:20 pm - Reply

      Thanks Ian. That’s just how I like a holiday to be. If I went somewhere with nowhere to go but a sunlounger I would be bored rigid in five minutes.

  16. wherefivevalleysmeet February 24, 2017 at 10:18 pm - Reply

    Love those rocks in Mossman Gorge but pleased that we don’t have strangler fig growing here.

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 5:47 pm - Reply

      Yes, they’re quite gruesome aren’t they. It’s a successful evolutionary strategy though, there were a lot of them about.

  17. Freda February 24, 2017 at 10:24 pm - Reply

    Brava Jessica! That second photograph is STUNNING.

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 5:48 pm - Reply

      Thanks Freda. It was late afternoon and the light was perfect!

  18. Kris Peterson February 25, 2017 at 1:52 am - Reply

    This has been a fascinating series of posts. I’ve always been intrigued by Australia but you’ve managed to make me even more so. Everything, from the strangler figs to the scrub tree nest, has a fanciful aspect. (Clever birds to incubate their eggs in what amounts to a self-heating compost pile!) Missing out on the crocodiles is a good thing in my view. Thanks again for sharing your trip!

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 5:53 pm - Reply

      I hadn’t thought of the compost pile aspect to the nest, but you’re absolutely right. Heat and water, perfect ingredients for a nicely fermenting pile.

  19. Caro February 25, 2017 at 7:09 am - Reply

    Wow, what an amazing end to your trip north – you seem to have learned so much on your travels. Do you feel braver having crossed the river or is your phobia still to be conquered? Personally, I’d have eyes swivelling for spiders, snakes and crocodiles if I went, although the scenery captured in your photos is, to use the word correctly, awesome. Memories to last a lifetime!

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 6:05 pm - Reply

      The phobia is still to be conquered. Certainly don’t think I am ready for the open sea yet, although a similarly smooth river crossing maybe wouldn’t be so bad. Might be up for the King Harry ferry on the Fal river now..
      We did jump a bit when something rustled in the undergrowth nearby but it was always either a scrub fowl or a lizard of some kind. Saw some big spiders but not a single snake. For the most part I think they try to avoid you as much as you them.

  20. Jo February 25, 2017 at 10:26 am - Reply

    Those strangler figs are amazing, I’ve never heard of them before. Fancy their seeds being germinated on a high branch and the roots having to find their way right the way down to the soil.

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 6:07 pm - Reply

      They are amazing. I wonder if the host tree has any defence against them, I must research it a bit more and find out.

  21. Rosie February 25, 2017 at 1:44 pm - Reply

    You faced your worst fears twice on that trip. The strangler figs are amazing as are the wave rocks. What a wonderful adventure you had:).

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 6:19 pm - Reply

      It was quite an easy crossing if I’m honest. I felt far more confident about coming back across the river. Which is just as well, because there is no other way back!

  22. Linda P. February 25, 2017 at 3:04 pm - Reply

    Having enjoyed your posts, learnt a lot of new facts, appreciated the amazing photos and witty recording of your trip I’m wondering if you’ve come down to earth yet? I guess that a few weeks have gone by and you’re enjoying your newly renovated room and starting to plan that project on the bank by the steps etc. I hope the storms haven’t taken trees down in your woodland area. The late winter/early Spring flowers were looking beautiful on a recent post.

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 6:24 pm - Reply

      The arrival of Spring is helping the shift back into gear. Coming home from the Australian heat was certainly a shock to the system, particularly in the middle of winter. But much has moved on in the past month and I’m enjoying seeing the signs of new growth. I’m also looking at the amount that needs doing.. I need a good Spring with plenty of gardening days to get things back under control. Thanks Linda.

  23. smallsunnygarden February 25, 2017 at 5:15 pm - Reply

    That shot of the Daintree flowing into the sea is the stuff dreams are made of… despite the fact that I am none too comfortable with dense woods. But if you can cross crocodile-infested rivers, I suppose I could plunge into the jungle 😉 Because it looks sooo gorgeous…

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 6:31 pm - Reply

      The wonderful thing about the rainforest is that it is deliciously cool, a welcome respite from the sun. A few mozzies maybe.. I did get bitten half to death, even with repellent.

  24. Brian Skeys February 25, 2017 at 7:48 pm - Reply

    For all the fabulous photos Jessica,it is the Mossman Gorge and the beautifully coloured stones that I really like. The water looks so beautiful and clear.

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 6:49 pm - Reply

      It was a beautiful spot and all the better for having it all to ourselves. Apparently if the water turns cloudy you start running away from the river fast, it means a storm surge is coming. The river can rise by metres in minutes.

  25. Cathy February 25, 2017 at 9:41 pm - Reply

    Really enjoying sharing your journey

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 6:50 pm - Reply

      Thanks Cathy.

  26. CherryPie February 26, 2017 at 12:04 am - Reply

    It all looks fabulous, you are such and adventurer 🙂

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 6:52 pm - Reply

      I’d love to have gone much further up the track in an offroader. It’s a real adventure to get to the tip of Australia. If it weren’t for the fording of rivers I’d have been seriously tempted.

  27. germac4 February 26, 2017 at 1:11 am - Reply

    Lovely to read your Aussie posts & see the country through your eyes. Your photos are wonderful …. No wonder the serious photographers down here in the south go to Far North Queensland whenever they can. Looking forward to your next post, and hope you are going to some of the gorges & Kakadu National Park

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 8:23 pm - Reply

      Thanks Gerrie. The closest we got to gorges was in the West MacDonnell ranges, which I loved. Kakadu will have to wait for a different time of year. I thought Dec/Jan might be just too wet. It’s a place I really want to go at some point though. And the Kimberley.

  28. Evan Bean February 26, 2017 at 2:26 am - Reply

    What an incredible part of the world. So much beauty. Thank you for sharing your journey.

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 8:25 pm - Reply

      It really is. Everything about it, landscape, wildlife, plants.. all stunning.

  29. Jacqueline February 26, 2017 at 11:58 am - Reply

    Oh my goodness Jessica ….. how beautiful it all is and how different to little ole Blighty !!! What an experience for you. The amazing trees, those mushrooms/funghi , and that glorious beach. I’ve just been watching an old Monty Don programme where he visite gardens all over the world and, funnily enough, he was in Australia and New Zealand ….. such different gardening to ours. XXXX

    • Jessica February 26, 2017 at 8:31 pm - Reply

      New Zealand is on my list too, which I would imagine is a lot more like here. But I did love the tropics, unbelievably lush.. all year!

  30. Caroline February 27, 2017 at 10:30 am - Reply

    Wow that strangler fig is a monster. I did wonder if it was introduced to Australia and was now a ‘pest’ but having googled I see mother nature knows what she’s doing and clearly the plants live in harmony, or not in this case!
    The Australian Port Jackson willow/wattle (depending on where you live) was introduced to Cape Town to help stabilise and bind the soil on the Cape flats after the naturally growing trees were used for fire wood. It grew too well and scientist released a parasitic wasp to help control it. Apparently the wasp stings the tree and leaves it infertile. We really should leave nature well alone. Except of course when trying to save a species.

    • Jessica February 27, 2017 at 9:49 pm - Reply

      We do meddle far too much and the consequences are often quite disastrous. I am grateful that I only have grey squirrels and rampant crocosmia to deal with, strangler figs I can happily live without!

  31. Brenda February 27, 2017 at 4:30 pm - Reply

    Fascinating. We keep mucking up the natural balance of things though, don’t we? That strangler fig is the stuff of nightmares for me and I suspect that too much time in a rain forest would prove a bit claustrophobic. Give me a good old boat on the water any day! Ha. Glad you conquered your fears.

    • Jessica February 27, 2017 at 9:58 pm - Reply

      We do, and will we ever learn. Conquering the fears might take a bit longer, but I shall be working on it!

  32. snowbird February 28, 2017 at 4:43 pm - Reply

    Good for you taking that ferry, my terror is of flying and considerable amounts of wine must be drunk before boarding….
    I did enjoy this post, and the last one, it was lovely seeing the places we visited five years ago, Daintree is a gem isn’t it, pics don’t do it justice although yours are fantastic. I loved the mangroves, we saw crocs there and on the river, very chilling! How awful to hear of the tree felling! Reading your posts has me itching to go back. Looking froward to hearing more.xxx

    • Jessica March 1, 2017 at 7:39 pm - Reply

      Daintree is an absolute gem. If only it had been protected long before now. I sort of wish we had seen crocs, at least from a distance! We were also on the lookout for cassowarys and didn’t see them either 🙁

  33. Natalie March 3, 2017 at 2:38 pm - Reply

    Wow wow wow!! What gorgeous photos. The sugar cane trucks remind me a bit of our corn cribs. And that beach looks so inviting except for the damn crocodiles!

    • Jessica March 3, 2017 at 9:27 pm - Reply

      The crocodiles are probably the best way to ensure the beaches are left as nature intended! And all the better for it. They really are stunning.

  34. pollymacleod March 3, 2017 at 10:03 pm - Reply

    Thank you for another trip down memory lane Jessica, Mossman and Daintree. Those fungus are incredible. Well done with facing your fear of water, not just any water, crocodile infested water, I’m sure you kept your arms safely in the confines of the boat! The Bubbler Crab video is great. What a fantastic trip you had, wonderful photos and memories.

    • Jessica March 4, 2017 at 2:54 pm - Reply

      Aren’t the bubbler crabs amazing? I only wish we’d seen one at the time but they’d all disappeared into their burrows.

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