A week in Far North Queensland

A visit to Far North Queensland (FNQ) a couple of weeks ago reinforced the conclusion that a longer time is much better. With the world’s oldest rainforests and largest coral reef, as well as scenic country, wilderness, misty mountains, tropical agriculture, intriguing towns and a distinct culture, FNQ is substantially different to my home territory 3,000km to the south.

Friends Peter and Steve generously provided accommodation at their rainforest B&B, located about an hour and a half south of Cairns. This base offers exceptional relaxation in a very special environment; with the sounds of a rushing stream and rapids coupled with late Wet Season showers on a tin roof, the deep green of the rainforest, wild bird calls… as well as walks beside surrounding sugar cane and banana farms, and allowed easy day visits to:

  • characterful Innisfail – featuring Art Deco architecture and quirky local culture, and access to the abundant harvest of its fishing fleet
  • the Atherton  Tablelands – gorges, waterfalls, more rainforest, atmospheric towns, lush farms of cattle, sugar cane and bananas
  • the Mission Beach area where two world heritage areas meet (the Wet Tropics and the Barrier Reef).

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Mission Beach looking out to the Coral Sea and Dunk Island, one of many islands close to this coast. You can walk 14 km along the beach for similar sublime views, then explore the rainforest as a contrast, hopefully to sight a Cassowary.

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A wild Brush Turkey making eye contact at breakfast time.

Utchee Creek swimming hole at the rainforest B&B.

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In Australian country towns, pubs usually represent the strongest architectural presence, occasionally challenged by churches. Pub patronage has generally been more enduring.

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The Criterion Hotel in South Johnstone.

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The Malanda Hotel at Malanda in the Atherton Tablelands – above. Below – the Grand Hotel in Atherton and the Royal Hotel at Herberton.

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Innisfail was substantially destroyed by a cyclone in 1918. An Art Deco theme in the rebuild is a feature of the town, similar to the architecture of Napier in New Zealand, rebuilt after that town was destroyed by earthquake in 1931.

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The sign for Ansett Airways – ‘Book Here’ – omits to mention that the airline became bankrupt in 2001, probably just another example of local humour.

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While some towns in FNQ are flourishing, others like South Johnstone are in decline.

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Sugar mills remain important.

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South Johnstone; the cane train line to the sugar mill runs up the middle of the main street.

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Tully’s sugar mill. Tully is the wettest (or second wettest) town in Australia averaging more than 4,000 millimetres (160 in) annually.

I’m heading north again very soon.

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A Trip to Far North Queensland

Far North Queensland is removed from the southern states of Australia by more than distance.

The Daintree Rainforest region is part of the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Site, the oldest surviving rainforest in the world, and notable for the diversity of its vegetation. Off-shore  lies the Great Barrier Reef.  The region offers wilderness, solitude, and a sense of remoteness unavailable in more populous parts.

Cape Tribulation is located 139 kilometres north of Cairns. While the drive could be completed in around 3 hours, it is better to savour at least some of the offerings on the way. The chosen vehicle for this trip was a campervan hired in Cairns, and eventually returned in Brisbane 4,000 kilometres later.

The road between Cairns and Port Douglas is claimed to be one of Australia’s most scenic: it hugs the Coral Sea, meandering, and rising and falling with the terrain as the hills plunge into the sea.

Port Douglas is a popular destination, too popular perhaps for some, but it retains vestiges of its old frontier port ambiance, a raffish past, amidst the cafes, restaurants, pubs, and upmarket clothing and tourist shops. With a permanent population of  about 1300, which quadruples in holiday season, the town has a broad beach, a scenic location and port area with extensive offerings of reef trips, diving and snorkelling,  yacht cruises, and other marine adventures.

One end of the main shopping street, Macrossan Street, reveals the town’s palm lined beach, while the other terminates at a town park,  fronting the estuary and port.

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Port Douglas

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Mossman is the next major settlement north of Port Douglas, a farming town located in a sea of sugar cane farms, backed by forested mountains, and close to beautiful Mossman Gorge. Saturday morning is market time.

The Daintree River crossing, by ferry, marks a transition to the very far north. Things get wilder.

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No swimming is recommended

The camping ground at Cape Tribulation highlights an interesting feature of camping grounds and caravan parks in Queensland. In winter, many residents from the southern states and southern Queensland head north for the weather. Some camp grounds and caravan parks south of the Daintree are dominated by older travellers and rows of their very large caravans and matching sized tow vehicles. At times they almost resemble a retirement home where the residents occupy mobile homes/caravans instead of units or rooms.

As a contrast, the camp ground at Cape Tribulation attracts a different clientele. Adventurers in 4 wheel drives who are heading to or returning from Cape York (‘the Tip’) join a significant number of youngish overseas travellers, both backpackers and young couples and families, and Aussies of varying ages, who are all seeking elements of the rainforest, reef and wilderness experience. Most are keen to sight a cassowary, crocodile, and turtle.

Walk opportunities abound: on the beaches, into the rain forest, and beside the intertidal zone.

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A trip to the Great Barrier Reef is a highlight of a north Queensland visit.

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The soft coral surrounding this giant clam was dancing to and fro with the wave motion, like spaghetti cooking in a pot.

Cape Tribulation Recommendations

Reef trip from Cape Tribulation.

There is only one reef trip publicly available from Cape Tribulation. Professional and personable staff cater for snorkelling only with a small number of passengers (maximum 25) . At $134 the half day trip is much cheaper than those in Port Douglas.

http://www.oceansafari.com.au/

Cape Tribulation Camping

A really nice campground right on the beach with plenty of bush and rainforest. Friendly and helpful staff.  $40 per night for a powered site. Good facilities, including camp kitchens, which are a good place for informal chats with other campers, and a pub with modestly priced drinks and wood fired oven pizzas.

http://www.capetribcamping.com.au/