Australia Part Seven: Cape Tribulation

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 2:51 pm

We seemed to pass through the worst of the swells during dinner Wednesday night; by the time we collapsed in our bunk, the boat was merely rolling pleasantly, rather than leaping out of the water. The customary door-banging wake-up call rousted us from our bunks around 6:30am, and everyone began hustling to finish packing their junk and haul it to the back deck.

Goodbyes were necessarily a hurried affair, with the crew eager to get on with their day of cleanup before welcoming the next batch of guests that night. Of course, there was the obligatory group photo before we all disembarked:


After ditching the bulk of our wet and dripping gear at the Holiday Inn bell desk, we were picked up by Sugarland Car Rentals and taken to their office. I was feeling slightly overwhelmed by all the tourist possibilities between Cairns and Cape Tribulation (our destination for the evening), so I was thrilled to discover that Sugarland caters to tourists with lovely little maps showing all the cool places to stop.

Our first challenge, of course, was learning to drive on the left side of the road. Jeff had gamely volunteered to be the driver; I took the position of navigator, calling out helpful instructions like “Now you’ll turn left into the roundabout, and LOOK RIGHT, LOOK RIGHT.”

We’d heard that it’s surprisingly easy to get the hang of driving on the left side, and Jeff did seem to pick up the basics pretty quickly. But it’s the little things that kept tripping him up. For instance, in Australian cars, the blinkers are on the right-hand side of the steering wheel; on the left are the windshield wipers. Think for a minute about how ingrained the “blinker-on” motion is when you’re driving, and you’ll understand why I spent a lot of time saying “Now turn off the windshield wipers and signal.” Also, coming around a bend in the highway and seeing traffic flying towards you on your RIGHT side? Very startling. This led to a lot of (half-joking) yelling “We’re going to diiiiie!”


Our first stop, other than a few “scenic viewpoints,” was at Hartley’s Crocodile Farm. We might not have bothered with such an attraction, except for the fact that they advertised posed photos with crocodiles. Sign us up!

It was overcast and starting to drizzle when we parked at the Croc Farm, and there was no one around as we approached the photo booth, except for the croc handler and Mr. Wiggles, the freshwater crocodile. With no one waiting in line, we were able to chat up the handler for a little while, and get a look at the “spare” saltwater croc kept in a tub behind the counter (to be brought out when Mr. Wiggles started to get grumpy.)


We stuck around for a boat trip through the crocodile-infested lake, where the boat driver lured a big croc up to the boat with a chicken carcass. It was worth sitting through the humidity just to hear the famed “crack!” of crocodile jaws closing on their meal!

After lunch in Port Douglas, we headed on up the coast. The skies cleared up, and the sun lit up the fields of cane on either side, and rainforest-covered hills inland. Towns got smaller and looked more run-down, until we finally reached the ferry across the Daintree River.

There’s an interesting passage in our guidebook describing the Daintree River crossing. The writer mentioned a “strange sense of inertia” as the ferry starts to move, as well as a feeling that you’re crossing into something really different. I’d say he pretty much nailed it on both counts. The ferry creaked across the river on a cable, pulled by enormous wheels. It took a moment to realize we were moving, and that it wasn’t just the normal flow of water I was seeing. The far side is a wall of trees, broken by the landing and a few “Warning” signs about high voltage wires and crocodiles.

The sense of remoteness doubled as we started out along the “highway,” a narrow, windy road with the occasional stream of water flowing across it. Although not very far on the map, Cape Tribulation takes a while to get to when you’re dealing with all those twists and turns, trying to remain on the left side of the road, and watching out for cassowaries.


At length, we reached our destination: Cape Tribulation Beachhouse, on the far north side of “town.” I was a bit dismayed to discover that the “hotel” was basically a bunch of cabins. Like, the kind that you camp in. We hiked downhill to our room, which was quite nice on the inside, but still a cabin. See?


(You can also see how lovely I look, all sweaty and rumpled after a day of wandering around in the sun while slathered in bug spray and sunscreen.)

After making sure there were no insects in our room, we wandered down to the beach for a look at the famed meeting of ocean and rainforest. It was low tide, so we were able to stroll around a bit on the sand, watching little crabs roll sand boulders out of their homes.

We scarfed down an early dinner at the hotel restaurant (outdoor dining – thank goodness for bug spray), then walked back up to reception to meet our tour group for the night: a night walk in the rainforest. No, really. I agreed to go squelching through the rainforest, in the dark, and look for interesting insects. And by “interesting,” I mean “large.” Also, did I mention I still had a cold?

I’d held out some hope of seeing cute mammals, but it was not to be. There were about 7 of us tourists, led along a moderately tricky jungle track by a local nature guide. In daylight it probably would have been an easy walk – and I’m not saying it was HARD, exactly; just occasionally unnerving. Like when the “wait-a-while” vines would grab hold of someone with their little stickers. Or you’d “discover” a root in the track by tripping over it. Or the occasional stream to slog across.

Still, I have to admit the hike was pretty cool. (It would have been cooler if I wasn’t sick. And if there weren’t as many large bugs.) We saw an Eastern Water Dragon (cute lizard), some other kind of monitor lizard, toads, and… lots of bugs. Enormous grasshoppers; wolf and huntsman spiders; stick insects. Most of the critters stood still for inspection and photographs, but my trigger-happy husband did manage to provoke a grasshopper into leaping off into the distance. I was just glad the bug was facing the other direction when he went flying.


After two hours of tromping through the rainforest, I was dripping with sweat and thoroughly creeped out. It was a very happy Anna who crawled back into the air conditioned van. We made a brief stop close to the creek, to look for crocodiles, but there were none to be found.

At checkout the next morning, I mentioned to the clerk how pleased I’d been to not see a single bug in our room. It seemed impossible to me that the cabins could be insect-free given their location; whatever they did the keep the bugs out was clearly working. She seemed a little nonplussed, and protested that they didn’t spray or anything – just made sure to rotate all the rooms out so they never sat empty for long.

Walking back to the car, Jeff started cracking up. Apparently he’d spotted, killed and hidden no fewer than eight bugs in our room, of varying sizes (some large enough to more than freak me out). Gah.

We opted for a leisurely trip back down the coast, stopping at various points along the way for a walk. Up first were some of the boardwalks around Cape Tribulation, where we got a glimpse at the rainforest in daylight:


There was also the mildly-disappointing “Bat House,” where I expected to see, you know, bats. I figured the “Bat” in the name was generic; but in fact it really meant there was A Bat. In the house. There was a small room full of displays about bats, and a young intern sitting behind a desk, keeping an eye on a solitary bat dangling from a clothes-drying rack. I was bummed to learn you can’t hold or touch bats in Queensland; there’s too much threat of rabies in the area.


Continuing our creepy-critter tour, we checked out the Insect Museum on our way out of town. It’s a small, one-room museum, but houses dozens of cases packed with exotic (and not-so-exotic) insect specimens. I was most taken with the live Macleay’s Spectres hanging out on a eucalyptus branch near the entrance. These little guys are chunky enough to seem more like small reptiles than big bugs to me, so I had (almost) no problem letting them crawl around my arm.


After our visit to the insects, we said goodbye to Cape Tribulation and headed back towards civilization. We nabbed a late lunch in Port Douglas, and took a quick walk to the river at Mossman Gorge, but nothing was as interesting as the rainforest had been. (Well, one thing was interesting: after Port Douglas, I got to take a turn at the wheel. We’re gonna die!!!) We squeaked back into Cairns with just enough time left to check in and return our car.

1 Comment

  1. ahhh, cool! neat to see your terrestrial adventures after all of the cool underwater excursions. jeremy did the same thing with the wiper blades in australia… less so in new zealand because our tin can was stick shift, so his left hand was busy shifting instead of hitting the wipers :)

    Comment by Jen Yu — 4/3/2007 @ 10:39 am

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