After turning in our very comfy motorhome in Alice Springs, we hopped on two flights (Alice Springs to Brisbane, then Brisbane to Cairns) totaling about 5 hours in the air. We were very excited for this next phase of our adventure down under. I was treated to 2 nights in a motel when we arrived in Cairns. Yes, I said treated. After 16 days sleeping on a dinette turned bed, I was thrilled to sleep in a regular bed. Since we arrived somewhat late on Saturday, and were scheduled to pick up our next camper van on Monday morning, we really only had 1 full day to explore Cairns (which we did in full)!
We started our day early with a visit to Rusty’s Market which only takes place on Saturdays and Sundays. Here there were a variety of food carts, craft stalls, and a huge assortment of farm fresh fruits and veggies (the whole reason we went). We made it a mission to stock up on a variety of fruits we either couldn’t get at home or had never even heard of. We had rambutans, passion fruit, dragon fruit, mangosteens, and custard apples. Needless to say, we had to be taught how to eat several of these treats. The custard apples were by far the ugliest fruit we had ever seen (and totally clueless as to how you would eat one), but they turned out to be one of our favorites. It was quite a fun fruit adventure!
After taking our haul back to the hotel, we headed out on foot to the boardwalk down along the ocean. Cairns is a beautiful little beachside town with great walking/biking paths and an awesome children’s water park that goes on and on. Later that evening, we had an amazing dinner overlooking the ocean. Our first real meal out….and a fancy one at that! The next morning was going to be a big day.
We decided to try and pick up our camper van a little early, so we headed out on foot in the morning. We didn’t even get a block before it started pouring rain….time to call an Uber. We arrived at the rental place the same time as several other groups, and wouldn’t you know, we could not check out early. On top of that, we couldn’t stay inside because there were too many people per the Covid rules. So, several of us stood outside, under a small awning to shield us from the rain, for close to an hour. Finally, it was our turn to check out our camper van. This was not going to be easy after getting super comfy with our big RV. We were back to living in a van 🙁 This time, for 3 weeks!!! Ugh….just shoot me now. As we were telling the woman at the rental place where we were headed, she asked if we planned to swim or snorkel. We told her probably not. She then replied, “Good. Don’t.” We were headed to the home of Box Jellyfish, Great White Sharks, and Saltwater Crocodiles! She basically told us that if no one was on the beach or in the water, then we should not be either. Gulp! I just found even more ways to die in Australia!
Guess how many empty beaches we saw? ALL OF THEM!!!
From Cairns, we headed north to the Daintree Rainforest. To get here, you have to take your vehicle onto a river barge to get to the other side of the Daintree River (did I mention the river is infested with Saltwater Crocodiles?). We weren’t entirely prepared for the heat and humidity that greeted us (shocking, I know). It was also pouring rain, and we no longer had a rig equipped with air conditioning or space to hang out when the weather was bad. This was not going to be fun! Luckily, Dan found us a campground that had beautiful grassy grounds and a few covered campsites. We opted for the covered spot so that we could at least sit outside despite the rain. Unfortunately, the cover did nothing for the wicked heat and humidity (it actually made it worse). We had originally planned to spend several days up in this area, but it was not looking like that was going to be a possibility given my lack of heat tolerance.
We left our site in the morning and headed out to do several different walks and skywalks through the rainforest. On one skywalk in particular, we were in search of the famous Cassowary. This is a giant, prehistoric bird that looks somewhat like an ostrich, except it is far more colorful. It also has this odd, solid structure on the top of it’s head and a razor, sharp claw on it’s feet. The Cassowary has been labeled the world’s most dangerous bird (go figure) and is capable of eviscerating you with those claws. Unfortunately, we did not find any Cassowaries (but I did see way more spiders than I ever wanted to).
From there, we headed to Cape Tribulation, the furthest point north that you can drive following the coast. We headed down to the water for a quick peek (also watching for crocodiles), then did another rainforest canopy walk. As we made our way back to the van, Dan decided to take a short cut between two trees. I almost followed, but then decided my good sense dictated I stay on the path to the correct walkway to the car (only another 20 feet or so). When I got to the car, Dan was dancing around frantically like his head was on fire. He had managed to walk through THE BIGGEST spider web ever and was terrified that the spider had come with it. Luckily the spider was still up in his web (and by far the biggest spider we have seen so far! He was like the size of an adult hand)! The web was nearly impossible to get off of Dan because it was so sticky and filled with yellow goo! ACK! So glad I didn’t follow him (insert big shiver here).
We headed back across the river barge down to a riverboat tour on the Daintree River. Here we would be searching for the Saltwater Crocodile. The Daintree River is a 120 kilometer river that is freshwater at low tide and salt water at high tide. When the tide comes in from the ocean, the water level goes up by 2.5 meters (8.3 feet)! It is very brackish which makes it the perfect hangout for the Saltwater Croc. We motored around the river and came across 1 large male croc and a few babies, but that was about it. It definitely wasn’t the most impressive crocodile tour we’ve done.
Next, we drove to the Kuranda Rainforest. At this point, all of our campgrounds have been quite nice….until now. This one was tucked deep into the rainforest (nice) but the facilities were not so great, and the permanent residents far outnumbered those of us camping. After my cold shower in the dark (no, not my choice), this was a one and done. We headed off bright and early for Kuranda Village. This was a great little town with all kinds of cute little shops and touristy things. We decided to do the Koala Gardens. This was basically a glorified, miniature zoo. However, we did get to see the koalas up close as well as a number of other animals.
At this point, we decided it was time to come down out of the rainforest and head to the Atherton Tablelands. We found this awesome camp area that catered to “gray nomads”. Yep, that is literally what they call themselves (not sure I care to be called that). It was a beautiful spot and meticulously clean and well kept. The camp kitchen had everything you could imagine and was a unique experience in and of itself.
After leaving the camp early the next morning, we headed out in search of a platypus. There were 3 specific areas where they were known to be found. Unfortunately, it was raining again. We walked the banks of the first river….no platypus. We walked the banks for another river….no platypus. We finally went to a pond area and paid to go in. After standing in the pouring rain, we finally got to see this elusive little guy. They are quite odd looking. If you have never seen one, they are a mash up of a venomous, egg laying, duck billed, beaver tailed, otter footed mammal.
The Tablelands are also known for their abundance of mango plantations, banana plantations, creameries, tea plantations, coffee plantations, and wineries specializing in exotic fruit wines and liqueurs. So, that adventure was next on our list for the day. Since there weren’t enough hours in our day, we chose to visit a coffee roaster/chocolatier, 2 creameries for cheeses, and a tea plantation. I know….you’re speechless that we skipped the wineries! We propped up the Aussie economy by buying treasures from each and every place.
We made our way out of the Tablelands by early afternoon and drove down the coast to a place called Etty Bay. We were extremely lucky to be able to score a camp spot at this tiny beach area on Thursday because they were completely booked up for the entire Easter weekend. This spot was a very important score for Dan since he read that you were sure to see Cassowaries roaming the beach at dusk and dawn. No sooner had we parked our van and opened the door, and a Cassowary wandered by our van. Holy crap!! He was right there! He was obviously very use to people as he freely roamed all over the campground trying to steal food. At one point, a large group of people were sitting under their awning, and he strolled right in. That sent the entire group scattering and squealing (he may be comfortable with people, but he is still dangerous). We were beyond excited to finally get to see one up close and personal. I came really close to walking into him the next morning as I distractedly talked on the phone. I looked up just in time to stop dead in my tracks.
Down on the beach, there was a big net out in the water. We quickly learned that this was a jellyfish net, designed to offer a protected area for people to swim and play in the water. This was a big no thanks! There was a crocodile warning sign here too. We spoke with the lifeguard who informed us that a croc had been caught in the net the day before. She proceeded to tell us it was a small one….only 2 meters! Ummmm, 2 meters is way bigger than I want to encounter! We asked about walking on the beach and whether or not it was safe. She basically told us it was okay to walk on the beach but stay away during dusk and dawn. She said that was like feeding time at the zoo. Ooookay, note to self…..STAY OFF THE BEACH!!
So, that brings us to the end our rainforest and tablelands excursion. We have seen and experienced some amazing things in this incredible country. We have 2 more weeks in our camper van to make our way along the east coast back to Sydney, so stayed tuned for more adventures in Australia.