1 & 2 June: First days of winter in tropical Queensland

Author: Mrs A

Location: Wongaling Beach, Mission Beach and Tully River

Friday brought us the beginning of June and with it the first day of winter. With daytime temperatures in the mid 20s (centigrade) and nights dropping into the mid teens, this is our kind of season!

A strong southerly wind had picked up during the night, making the Coral Sea quite choppy. We were not too surprised then, when we received a call to say our three island boat trip had been cancelled. I didn’t much fancy a three hour journey with a bucket on my lap anyway.

So we decided a walk would be in order. We drove up the coast to Clump Mountain National Park to hike up to another lookout. Signs at the bottom warned of a need for adequate fitness to do the walk, but it turned out to be much less steep than yesterday’s effort on Dunk Island.

More signs as we started the walk warned us of the dangers of the stinging trees, with ‘heart shaped leaves’ (don’t they all more or less?) and fruit that looks like raspberries. Touching these leaves will release lots of tiny hairs which will lodge in your skin and potentially airway and lungs, causing incredible pain for several months, potentially years. Ugh. No off piste walking then – in fact we were careful not to touch anything on our walk up the hill.

As we climbed up there were lovely glimpses of sea views, leading to inland vistas as we wound our way around. The walk was a fraction of the steepness of yesterday’s hike on Dunk Island, but still rich in wildlife, predominantly skinks and butterflies.A beautiful view south towards Hinchinbrook Island was our reward on reaching the top, which we enjoyed along with a pair of sea eagles which glided before us. We’re just loving the richness of this tropical environment.

Saturday morning dawned fresh – just 14 degrees in our caravan, and a good opportunity to try out our newly repaired diesel heater. After a couple of tries it got started and worked a treat, making us nice and toasty as we got up to face the day.

We did a little food shopping before an early lunch and getting ourselves ready to head to the Tully River. We were excited to be going white water kayaking using sports rafts – inflatable kayaks, suitable for one or two people, not too dissimilar to our pack rafts, but a lot heavier (about 16kg when dry) and a lot hardier.

We were picked up by John, one of our tour guides from Wildside Adventures, and driven the hour up to a parking area alongside the Tully River. There, we unloaded the boats and carried them down to the river to launch.

While we both have done quite a bit of paddling on flat water and the sea, white water paddling is a completely different kettle of fish. To start with, there are always rocks, and these are just centimetres below the water’s surface. Secondly, the water is heading downhill, so continues moving regardless of the obstacles in its place.

We did a little practice play in the first pool, realising how heavy the boats are to manoeuvre, and the heavy aluminium and plastic paddles are to lift – not quite like my carbon fibre paddle! Then it was off down the first couple of easy rapids. They were quite exciting, with a lot of white water splashing – these are grade 3 rapids

Class 1: Very small rough areas, might require slight maneuvering. (Skill level: Very basic)

Class 2: Some rough water, maybe some rocks, might require some maneuvering. (Skill level: Basic paddling skill)

Class 3: Small waves, maybe a small drop, but no considerable danger. May require significant maneuvering. (Skill level: Some experience in rafting)

Class 4: Whitewater, medium waves, maybe rocks, maybe a considerable drop, sharp maneuvers may be needed.(Skill level: Exceptional rafting experience)

Class 5: Whitewater, large waves, large volume, possibility of large rocks and hazards, possibility of a large drop, requires precise maneuvering. (Skill level: Full mastery of rafting)

Class 6: Class 6 rapids are considered to be so dangerous that they are effectively unnavigable on a reliably safe basis…a dramatically increased likelihood of ending in serious injury or death compared to lesser classes. (Skill level: Full mastery of rafting, and even then it may not be safe)

As I sailed down backwards on the second rapid I notice Mr A perched high, stuck on a rock – it was hard to right myself as it was a challenge to see through the tears of laughter!

Onwards we went until we reached a particularly serious rapid. There were only three of us novices on the trip, with two guides, and at this location both guides went ahead to be ready to rescue, should we need it. I was waved down and off I went. You are at the mercy of the river to a great extent, paddling as hard as you can to guide your vessel between the rocks and away from any hazards.

In particular we had been warned about a big rock here called ‘Tombstone’. Apparently it has a huge ‘hole’ behind it, a bit of a whirlpool, that sucks you in if you are not careful. I managed to avoid it and although I got quite a bit of water in my boat, emerged unscathed. Mr A was less fortunate.

Footage from his GoPro shows what went wrong, as he headed right instead of left behind Tombstone and got sucked right on in. To him, it felt like he was under water for a long while, but we timed it at around 20 seconds. Still quite frightening when its happening.Other than a purple fingernail, and a few minor bruises (including a black and blue ego) there was no bad outcome from this one, and he was soon back in his boat continuing the trip.

Just to make Mr A feel better, I managed to come out on the next rapid, a similar story with lack of experience meaning I paddled the wrong way and was tipped under water. The same thing happened on the very next rapid too, allowing Mr A to feel very smug that I had come out twice!

Despite the unplanned swims, we continued smiling, and would definitely do it again!The trip concluded after about 6km of river, and just before the saltwater crocodile infested waters commenced, thankfully!We were dropped off at the caravan park, and we hurried off for hot showers to warm up.

We then headed out to dinner again at Nana Thai Restaurant, just across the road. We took along our own wine and glasses, and enjoyed a spectacular massaman beef and a spicy pad Thai. We slept well!

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