30 June & 1 July: Goodbye east coast – hello to the Savannah Way

Author: Mr A

Location: Palm Cove and Cairns, then Gunnawarra, Queensland

Saturday: Our last few days in Cairns have been all about getting prepared to leave behind the relative civilisation of the east coast and prepare to drive across the top of Australia. Today was no exception, with a power shop at what will be our last big supermarket for a few weeks, and maybe up to a month, depending which way we head.

We also managed to squeeze in what will undoubtably be our last fine dining experience for some time. Our fellow Zone owners Wendy and Frank had driven over to see us, and swap tall tales of our respective trips. We went back to the same place in Palm Cove (Choc Dee Thai) we ate at a couple of nights ago, but it was so good compared to the “modern Australian” predictable menus of the rest of the restaurant strip there.

Sunday: It was pack up and leave time, but not before we crammed in one last market, all of 100 metres walk away.Mrs A managed to score some lovely earrings and a necklace made by three local jewellers, and two dresses beautifully modelled here.It was with a good degree of excitement that we hitched up and said goodbye to the Coral Sea as the next ocean we are likely to see is the Timor Sea, up in the Gulf.

We plan to follow what’s called the “Savannah Way”, a well driven route by grey nomads and other travellers heading across to the west coast. At 3,500km (2,175 miles) the Savannah Way is a decently long road, even by Australian standards. From Cairns the road takes no prisoners from the get go, heading up a windy, steep route to the Atherton Tablelands. Then it’s a haul across to Normanton, a small town up near the Gulf, then across to Katherine in the Northern Territory and then finally to Broome.

Broome didn’t really wow us last year, so we think we will turn south for Alice Springs before then, and head out to the West MacDonnell Range, then head back over to the east coast, emerging around Brisbane at the end of August.

Well that’s the plan anyway. As they say, no plan survives first contact with the enemy, and in the Australian outback there are plenty of those. They can take many forms; a stray rock that comes through the windscreen or pierces the side of your tyre, corrugations that shake bits off you and your things, and a pretty harsh climate that in winter will see huge variations in daily temperatures. We are expecting to modify the plan as the trip unfolds.

We called back in to our favourite store on the tablelands, the Humpy, for some last minute fruit, vegetables and other local treats, before deciding to press on to a place called Pinnarendi Station. This is another working farm that is making some money from the passing caravans by offering sites with power, water and even meals. Good on them. It’s great to see so many people having a go at something new, seeing an opportunity and investing in some basic facilities for travellers.

There are also locally made jams and other products on offer here – I bought myself some home made peanut butter ice cream for dessert.

27-29 June: Returning to the coast

Author: Mrs A

Location: Palm Cove, Queensland

Wednesday: We hitched up in more showery weather and headed down the windy roads down to the coast, setting up our home for the next few days in Palm Cove.

Palm Cove is not our usual type of location – there are no hiking or biking opportunities here, but it does have plenty of restaurants, and is not too far from Cairns where we had tasks to complete.

It is quite a picturesque area, with lovely views along the coast and islands off shore, though as the local news reminded us last night – there are still plenty of estuarine crocodiles around, with one settling into a resort lagoon overnight just down the road from where we are camped!Our washing machine has not worked since the end of May, so we have been pretty tied to campground washers – of variable quality. Our first task was to get a sack of washing done, including our sheets and towels. Sadly, one of the machines did not spin, and our washing came out absolutely sopping wet (it took some pieces three days to dry!). So frustrating, and not helped by the continuing showery weather.

After hanging out the washing it was a visit to a local doctor. We are about to head into remote Queensland and I do not want to rely on the Flying Doctor to keep me alive, should something happen with my breathing again. The GP was fabulous, and I left with a pile of ‘just in case’ prescriptions for steroids, inhalers, antibiotics, anti-reflux medication and more, plus two holes in my arms from a flu immunisation and a pneumonia immunisation. You cannot say we’re not prepared!

I called into the local pharmacy to pick up my many supplies while Mr A called into the Post Office to collect our wine deliveries. Sadly, only one delivery made it – good old Amelia Park got the address right, Tscharke Wines sent to the billing address instead of the delivery address! Ugh! The tenants have a nice surprise. Margaret River one point, Barossa Valley nil, and we have six bottles of wine instead of a dozen.

Our final task of the day was to pick up our new washing machine from our friends’ apartment in Yorkeys Knob. That all went very smoothly!

Thursday morning was a much anticipated day, when we were finally to get our washing machine fitted. A mobile caravan repairer arrived as planned, his name was Demc. We were struggling to understand how to pronounce his name. He explained he’d been named after the Din Wai Electrical Manufacturing Co. fan in the room where he was born, and his name was pronounced ‘Dempsey’. He even carried around the old fan switch to back up his story…

Demc found the cause of all our washing machine drainage problems, a drainage pipe which had been installed backwards then bent over to try and rectify the problem! He replaced the piece of pipe and installed it correctly. Hopefully our days of drainage errors are now over – fingers crossed.It wasn’t long after that our friends Bob and Ann Gadd arrived to join us for lunch. We last saw them down in Adelaide where they live during the warmer months – this time of year they are found in their apartment in Port Douglas, escaping the cool South Australian winter. We ambled along the street, catching up on news and found a cafe for lunch. Lots of laughs were had, stories told, and maps looked at to help us plan for our next few weeks.After saying farewell to them, we returned to the Zone to find more Zoners were in town!

Before long, we had an impromptu Zoners catch up with Greg Nolan arriving, and Gary and Trish from the Sunshine Coast coming over for a chat. We exchanged tips and experiences, and continued with Greg over a bottle of wine and dinner at a local restaurant. Great fun!

Friday was another day of tasks, so little of interest to report. We dropped the car off early into Cairns to have new shocks fitted, and meanwhile we completed some final pieces of civilisation while we could – back to the hairdressers for both of us, and I got my nails done. Must keep up appearances after all!

We finished the day with Singapore Chilli Crab, thanks to a delicious cooked Mud Crab Greg had gifted to us, and chilli sauce I whipped up. Civilisation is not too bad after all!

23-24 June: A wet weekend on the tablelands

Author: Mrs A

Location: Atherton & Yungaburra

We awoke Saturday morning to a new phenomena for us – drizzle! We’ve not seen weather like this for a long time, and it was quite a novelty.

Today was market day in the village of Yungaburra, about a 20 minute drive from Atherton. Diving there, the scenery looks like parts of the UK, but with wider roads and tropical crops such as sugarcane nestled alongside the paddocks of cattle. The flocks of gangly legged Saurus Cranes feasting in the sorghum fields were also not quite fitting with the British Isles!

Arriving at Yungaburra, we saw sweet little buildings and flower lined streets, more akin to an English village, not your typical Australian settlement.The market was great too. Alongside the stalls of fresh-from-the-farm vegetables and herbs were bakers, jewellers, artists (including musicians, painters, woodworkers, ceramic workers and potters), massage therapists, plants of all varieties, flowers and even fertilised eggs, chicks and chickens for sale. It all felt very authentically country.

We spent quite a bit of time there, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoyed some delicious food, chatting to some of the locals as we sheltered from the rain.

A short walk from our campground concluded our day as the rain continued throughout the afternoon. We discovered the pathway up to a nearby ‘mountain’ starts just metres from the back of where we parked up in the campground. We didn’t walk all the way up to the lookout – the low cloud would have blocked any views anyhow.

Sunday morning started in much the same way, with the occasional dry patch between the showers. Tassie decided she would take me on a walk, and bravely strolled up the same path Mark and I had taken last night. Again, we didn’t get too far before Tassie decided it was time to return to the Zone. She always amazes me with her courage – as a 14 year old predominantly indoor/garden cat, she had not really travelled much before last September, but now she’s been right across Australia. She always knows where the safe Zone is, and keeps her wits about her, even when being dive bombed by birds…they don’t seem to understand she’s a lover not a catcher!There are plenty of birds here. We have spotted pale yellow robins, firetails, finches galore, and lovely purple and green fruit doves feeding on the mandarins on and below the tree beside where we are camped. The little black and white Willy Wagtail is the feisty one, always flying at Tassie and frightening her back indoors. I guess he’s met some hungrier cats in his lifetime.

As the rain settled in we decided to go for a drive, heading for a local dairy with a good reputation for cheese and milk chocolate. Being dairy intolerant, it wasn’t really my first choice of location, but I was happy to go along – happy husband, happy life after all!

As we drove along, we spotted a sign to a local national park I had read about. It contains around 220 of Australia’s 700 bird species, so is extremely ecologically important. And as a bonus for us, it had a two storey under cover bird hide so we could try and spot some while remaining dry. We called in for a look.

Hasties Swamp did not disappoint. The first thing that grabbed our attention was the noise. Literally hundreds of Whistling Ducks floated along the shoreline, all whistling away, and so beautiful. Many other varieties of duck and water bird were there too, as well as a Little Kingfisher (yes, a kingfisher that is, urm, little). We stayed longer than we expected, watching as little dramas unfolded and dissipated among the flocks, and as pairs of pink eared ducks (which have zebra patterned feathers) swam in circles in pairs catching their food. Just fascinating.Soon the cheese was calling, and off we went to the farm where Mr A tried some cheese and purchased a delicious (according to him) blue.From here we drove a short way to another little national park – home to the Curtain Fig. This tree is a survivor in a small patch of remaining rainforest which was saved from the saw in the 1800s by the rocky surface, not ideal for grazing. It is protected by a raised boardwalk, and pretty magnificent.

We returned to camp for a late lunch and an afternoon of planning our next section of trip. Next Sunday will see us leaving the coast and heading back across the Atherton Tablelands on an adventure to the Northern Territory over the Savannah Way.

20 June: Energetic entry into the Endeavour River

Author: Mrs A

Location: Cooktown, far North Queensland

After a fairly relaxed day enjoying our serene surroundings and going on multiple walks with Miss Tassie, we headed into Cooktown mid afternoon. It was time to meet our skipper and do our bird watching trip on the Endeavour River.

Our skipper turned up in a four wheel drive towing the boat, and launched into the water. We ambled over and introduced ourselves, soon realising we were the only customers. Our skipper was called Mark and hailed from Reading, England – not quite the true blue Aussie we were expecting.

It didn’t take us long to realise this was not going to be anything like our fabulous trip on the Daintree River. Mark’s knowledge of birds was limited, and probably gained through taking other bird spotters out on the water.

There was no educational banter about the history, flora or fauna either, he preferred to roll up a cigarette and puff his way through the trip. Mr A and I resigned ourselves to this fact, and decided to just enjoy the scenery and hope nothing went wrong – we hadn’t signed anything, there was no trip itinerary, no briefing about lifejackets or plans, we just took off…More fool us, perhaps?Skipper Mark let the motor rip, and sped us up to the quieter parts of the river, about 10km upstream. I spotted a Forest Kingfisher (my first one!), a blur of blue and white as we whizzed past, and hoped there might be more when we slow down.

Before long we spotted a massive male crocodile, warming at the edge of the water behind some reeds. His yellow eye was well and truly on us, but he wasn’t willing to jump in the water and cool down.Our skipper lowered an electric boat motor into the water, and we moved slowly past for a better look, before leaving him alone in search for more wildlife.

Beautiful reflections awaited us, a few little Rufous Flycatchers flashed past in the undergrowth and an Australasian Darter poised on a branch, hoping to catch a final snack for the day.We spotted a Spangled Drongo and a Wompoo Fruit-Dove flying past. Our skipper called it a Wompoo pigeon, arguing a fruit dove is much smaller. That’s not what my best selling bird book says, but hey-ho…

Before long it was getting pretty cold out there, and time to turn back. Although it was apparently about 22 degrees centigrade, the wind chill as the speed boat travelled was absolutely bitter, something the sunset photos does not do justice. It is the day before the winter solstice after all…In dire need of defrosting, we decided to head to a nearby restaurant for dinner and a warming glass of wine…much better.A fine conclusion to our visit to Cooktown, but not sure we’ll be recommending the bird watching tour!

And finally, a quick pic of Miss T, who has her own camping chair and made much use of it the past few days! Captions welcomed…

19 June: Cooktown from an Aboriginal perspective

Author: Mr A

Location: About 10 minutes outside Hope Vale, an Aboriginal community north of Cooktown

So today was our trip with a local aboriginal guide (Willie), so we headed off in the car and were somewhat relieved to find him, after the vague mud map he had drawn of where to go! Three other couples were also joining us, a nice small group.

He was an interesting character, with a very insightful way of commenting on the lives of Aboriginals, their struggles and character. Willie kicked off by saying in Cooktown there is no “white and black” anymore, people are integrated and living together with minimal conflict. He spoke of reconciliation as having happened here, of his grandfather in the 1890s accepting a white child from a mixed marriage into their family. Willie also acknowledged the abuse of alcohol and drugs that had been part of his own life as a teen, and was present today as a huge challenge for the community here. He had even trained as a mental health nurse to try and find ways to support his community. What a complex problem with no easy fixes.Willie started to take us on a tour of his “backyard”, where his grandfather’s bones are buried and where he was birthed. He explained what they ate and drank, plucking plants and fruit for us to smell and feel, and talked about the seasonal migrations from the bush to the beach, at pains to point out they were not nomads but followed a set path of migration along the songlines.

His powers of observation were incredible, spotting tiny lizards and tempting them out for a drink from a curled up leaf he was holding.The knowledge of flora and fauna these people have accumulated over 40,000 years and passed on through stories, music and art is just incredible. He had Catherine mix up some seeds in her hand that are used to put a protective coating over a wound, while he had another lady rubbing together some leaves from the soap bush creating a cleaning compound that was antiseptic.We were led to a birthing cave and Willie explained the symbolism of some of the drawings, how they were painted and why. A big question the community is discussing is wether the drawings should be renewed, as they fade after a couple of thousand years. A couple of thousand! Incredible..these timeframes are mind boggling.Catherine and I tried to take in as much as we could, but it was like walking into a library and having a teacher open a couple of books at random and read a few lines. We knew it was but a fleeting glance into a world we will never fully understand, but certainly appreciate and respect now even more what a trove of wisdom is there.If you come this way, support these efforts to help us all better understand and respect aboriginal culture. Willie Gordon can be found at Cooktown Cultural Aboriginal Tours – the information centre knows where to find him or indeed others like him.

Sundowners with Eric and Gail of Zone #92 around the campfire concluded our day.

17-18 June: Cooktown serves up a feast of delights

Author: Mrs A

Location: from Mount Carbine to Cooktown, far North Queensland

Sunday: We began the day with a sunrise stroll along the Bustard Downs property, and true to its name there were several bustards about – large birds looking like flying roast turkeys, extremely ungainly!

We returned from our walk to have breakfast and pack up and let Tassie have final run around.Once we hit the road, we headed north through amazing scenery, the roads winding upwards between rolling hills, with several lookouts along the way.It was around 2pm that we rolled into Cooktown, the final frontier settlement before heading up Cape York. This is the top of the road on the east coast for us on this trip.

It just so happened that today was the finale of the Cooktown Discovery Festival, a three day event celebrating the landing of Captain Cook in this area to repair his ship in the Endeavour River (named after Cook’s ship), in June 1770.

We missed the re-enactment in full 1770 dress, but caught the end of the go-cart races, and watched the winner roll down the hill by the pub and crash through the barrier of hay bales. The local police were there with their speed guns to test how quickly the carts travelled – it all felt very quaint, like a 1980s England local village fete, with a lovely community feeling.Unlike in other areas of Australia, there is a real feeling of acceptance, with black (Aboriginal) kids running around with white kids, and the same with adults. We later chatted to a local Aboriginal guy who told us that Cooktown is probably the first place in Australia where there has been real reconciliation and acceptance amongst both parties. It certainly feels a lot closer than we have seen elsewhere.

We went into the Cooktown History Centre run by local volunteers. What an interesting place! It covered the history briefly of the local Aboriginal population (likely in this area for 40,000 years, concrete evidence of up to 15,000 years), through to Captain Cook’s landing with excerpts from diaries written on board the ship, right through to the gold rush in Victorian times, the impact of war, cyclones and up to current day. It even covered the visit of Queen Elizabeth II in 1970, with her royal car delivered by ship two days early.We walked along the Main Street just soaking up the atmosphere, before returning to the rig to drive another 20 minutes up to our campsite.

Several people had recommended we camp at Endeavour River Escape, a bush camping area at the back of a passion fruit farm. As we drove in, we were so impressed. A beautiful wooded area with defined campsites, each with their own fire and bbq, and plenty of space between each one.

Further still, as we were guided in to choose our spot, we noticed another Zone parked up. We decided to set up camp nearby. Eric and Gail, fellow members of the Zone Owners Facebook site and owners of Zone #92 popped over to say hello and exchange a few notes on how our vans are going. Yet more lovely Zoners – it must be a condition of purchase!

Monday: Tassie decided to forgive us for tearing her away from Bustard Downs and had a nice long stroll around the campgrounds here – blissfully free from dogs and with plenty of interesting smells. Once she was tired, Mark and I headed into Cooktown.

Our first stop was to book ourselves on a visit to some local Aboriginal artworks with a local ‘interpreter’ who can explain the stories and history, as well as take us through some of the bush medicine and plants. We handed over $200 to Willie, a local guide and who we look forward to spending some time with tomorrow.

From there, we drove up Grassy Hill, a local lookout with some spectacular views. It was extremely windy at the top, with a 35 knot wind blowing off the sea, and almost knocking us off our feet on occasion.Memories of our fabulous Daintree River cruise encouraged us to book a similar sounding trip for Wednesday afternoon on the Endeavour River. Fingers crossed it delivers.

One thing we have no doubt about is the presence of crocodiles. When we checked into camp yesterday the farm owner, Terry, mentioned they had only lost one visitor to the crocs…we thought he was joking. Managing to get a phone signal, I checked on Google, which confirmed that indeed, about 10 years ago, a 62 year old gentleman was taken by a croc here. They never found his body, just his watch, a sandal and a new video camera. Apparently he had waded into the shallows of the river to pick up a crab pot. Nasty.

This evening we sat around the campfire with Gail and Eric, exchanging travel stories and caravanning tips and hints. It’s always so good to learn from those more experienced than us, and with 7 years of travel around Australia under their belts, this is one couple which have a lot to share. They are old friends of the passion fruit farmers, and staying for free in return for their labour picking fruit from the vines.

Gail gave us a couple of passion fruit to try – they’re huge, and Terry gets $1.50 each fruit down in Sydney – they were certainly delicious. Gail told us of how she risked her life to get us these fruit – coming face to face with three feral boars while she was in the vines. Fortunately she kept her wits about her and escaped unharmed. The fruit tasted all the more sweeter for her efforts!

17 June: Up into the north Queensland tablelands

Author: Mr A

Location: From the Daintree to Mount Carbine, on the Atherton Tablelands

Saturday: We packed up camp and pottered down the road towards the Daintree ferry, travelling pretty gingerly, as there are a heap of blinds bends. A motor home that was charging round one of them, clearly piloted by a psychic driver who could see round corners, clipped our wing mirror. Luckily there was barely a scratch on it, it does reinforce for me though my motto of “drive assuming Harry Nutter is coming round the next blind corner”.

Our route today was taking us back through Mossman and hoorah the Saturday market was on. A quick power shop for fruit and veggies scored us some great finds. For instance the locally gown tropical fruit called a soursop, a new one on us but apparently similar to custard apples. Then we found a stall run by a goat farmer, selling all sorts of meats – we sampled and brought some salami – well our friends are setting up a goat farm for bloodstock down in NSW so we need to support the industry!We finished up with a whole range of other fresh locally grown fruit and veg, so with our fridge crammed to capacity, we then turned off the coast road we had followed for so long and headed inland, up onto the north end of the Atherton Tablelands. We watched the scenery change dramatically as we climbed up the range, the Cruiser doing its usual impeccable job of dragging the 3 tons of loaded up Zone up the steep climb. Our destination was a place called Bustard Downs, a working cattle farm with some camp spots we would stay the night on. As we drove down onto the property we were immediately struck by the amount of birds around.When we met the owner she said around 150 different types have been logged by local birders, so we set off to explore. Even the cattle were beautiful!

Tassie was very happy to be surrounded by such a grand space as well.Only one other caravan was there on the whole of the property, well until 6.30 pm when it was pitch black, and we are in full dinner prep mode for a nasi goreng feast, with me wearing a clear plastic glove on one hand as I was cutting up the turmeric (it stains your skin yellow)..and there was knock on the door. I opened to find a lady at the door, another van had pulled up right next to us. They had been delayed on the road after hitting a kangaroo and she was asking me where the camp office was.

It was only afterwards I said to Catherine ‘I wonder what she thought when I answered the door wearing a yellow stained transparent glove and my fluffy dressing gown?’…

15 June – Mew-sings of a glamping cat

Author: Miss Tasmania (Princess, Blue Burmese, Adventure-feline)

Location: Far North Queensland

If you are not a fan of prose from my paw, then please feel free to skip reading this. The staff will be back on duty tomorrow.

I have not written for a while, it has been hectic. There have been days where I have managed less than 21 hours sleep – can you imagine?My staff have continued to escort me up the east coast of Australia, and I must admit some of the locations have not been too bad. I have not experienced species discrimination lately (yes, would you believe some camping areas allow those noisy, smelly canines but will not allow felines!), which is always a positive.

I do enjoy pulling up somewhere new and making an assessment as to whether the location is suitable for me. I sharpen my claws and bound down the steps to explore – no pro-cats-tinating for me.

When I am forced to leave somewhere I purr-ticularly like (one might say ‘claw-some), I have been known to punish the servants by dropping a special smelly gift into the litter tray while travelling. I enjoy their protests as they race to find somewhere suitable to park up and remove it.

My favourite locations are those with no canines, no other vehicles or people. Of course, that has been a challenge and one does have to compromise on occasion.

Recently it has all been quite tropical, and even the lizards seem too big for me to chase and don’t drop their tails.In addition to those big lizards, there has also been the occasional snake…they tend to make them rather large up here though – I still prefer to stalk a ribbon in the comfort of my safe-Zone.Right, time for another nap, so over and out for now.

Until the next time, stay paws-itively purr-fect (like me). ?

14 June: Cassowary-Free-Zone in Cape Tribulation

Author: Mrs A

Location: Diwan and Cape Tribulation

Thursday started with the now familiar calls of the Wompoo-Fruit Dove, somewhere in the trees around camp. We wandered out to see where and Mr A spotted it, hanging precariously upside down munching on fruit on a palm tree. He hung around long enough for me to capture some photos, something that is pretty rare to achieve apparently, given they spend most of their time high up in the canopy and are often seen only as a bright flash of green, yellow and purple as they fly off.We took this as a good omen that we might see one of the rare and endangered Cassowary birds – at between 1.5 and 2 metres tall and up to 80kg, they would be hard to miss!

We jumped in the cruiser and headed north, our first port of call being the picturesque Thornton Beach. The first thing we spot, other than the view, is a ‘recent crocodile sighting’ sign. There are a few of these about, reminding us that there is always the chance we could become a toothy scaly creature’s snackette. We took a chance and strolled along the beach.No crocs in sight, just a vocal Beach Stone-Curlew and a very cute Red-Capped Plover strutting the sands at low tide.From here we continued north, calling next in at Dubuji Boardwalk and Myall Beach. The short walk was very informative, and as always full of incredible sculptural rainforest trees and vines.We drove up as far as the 4WD commencement of the Bloomfield Track which leads up to Cooktown, before turning and calling in to more short walks at Cape Tribulation and then Noah Beach.There’s so much to learn about the rainforest, and incredible that this has been around since the time of dinosaurs, many of the plants changing very little in that time.

We returned to camp and to wake up Miss Tassie who had enjoyed a good 5 hours without being disturbed. She took me for a walk up the hill behind where we are staying, and clambered on more rocks.Oh and the Cassowaries? Nowhere to be seen…

13 June: Arriving in the Daintree

Author: Mr A

Location: Diwan, Cape Tribulation, Queensland

Wednesday morning we awoke to a thick fog shrouding the surrounding hills and even reaching down to the Daintree river that we overlooked. Just when you thought this place couldn’t bring you another feast for the eyes it did. The weather changed before I could brew up, and once again we were in bright sunshine.

We packed up and headed off to the ferry that would take us over the Daintree River, making sure that I pumped up the suspension to give clearance when we went on. I need not have worried though as it was high tide and hardly an articulation in sight.This was Tassie’s first trip across water, she was looking a little puzzled out of the window, not too impressed with seeing water in all directions.

I had got a little anxious about the next part of the drive, having been told a variety of things ranging from “I wouldn’t take our van over there” to “you’ll have no problem”. It’s actually hard to know what to believe, as people have such different ideas of what they and their rigs are comfortable to tackle. I needn’t have worried on this occasion though, it was a simple enough road with a few tight bends and a couple of hills, with one eye up at overhanging branches and the other in the lovely big Clearview mirrors ensuring the Zone didn’t cut in too much. The only real risk as always on bendy roads like this was, is Harry Nutter trying to prove how “manly” he is (or just not caring?) travelling too fast from the other direction on blind corners, and we have had our fair share of those on our trips. My tactic is just to drive at a speed that gives me some time to manoeuvre out the way. So far, touching my head, it has worked.

We were finally in the Daintree National Park proper, and there’s something symbolic about crossing that ferry. We had expected it too be a little more “out there” than it was though. There are cafes, lodges, ice cream factories times two (noted) and all the trappings of civilisation. Still, with some nice little twists though, like the tea plantation selling their products at the side of the road using an honesty box system. Tea picked and packaged in less than 24hrs, was their claim. I like the sound of that, I thought, and we can vouch for the freshness of the flavour having tried it later that day. About as far as you can get from the bits of tea dust that Bushells seem to put in their tea.The caravan park we had selected (oddly called the Rainforest Village, given it was a petrol station and a lovely open space for camping) was the furthest pet friendly one travelling north along the Cape Tribulation road.The bitumen ends in another 20km or so, then its a rough four-wheel drive only track surrounded by National Park all the way to Cooktown.

This camping spot is a relatively new one that has sprung up to provide a central base to explore the area for those like us travelling with fur children. We really liked it, lots of trees, big sites, thick lush grass, bird calls from the plentiful trees. More importantly Tassie gave it an eager paws up by jumping out the car and casting an approving eye and twitching nose over her new home for the next few days.

After a quick set up and lunch (thank goodness for Coles bake at home bread – all the way from France – when you need a quick, tasty filler) and headed off back down the road a short distance to the Daintree Discovery Centre.

We were immediately given the pitch from one of the staff to justify the $35 p/person admission (and $3’s off for oldies like me). We paid up and I’m so glad we did, it was so worth it to learn on our first day here from all the educative displays, and the audio you were given on a little device to carry around with you. As we walked in one of the staff who brings her Eclectus parrots to work (now thats a phrase I doubt you have read before) offered us some quality perched-on-our-shoulder time with them. They are indigenous to only this area of Australia and quite beautiful.We spent several hours here, it could have easily been longer, there is so much to see and read about. For instance, the Daintree Rainforest contains 12 of the 19 oldest plants on the planet and many other species found nowhere else on earth. The fauna coverage is also huge as well, the Daintree has 20% of Australia’s bird species, 35% of its marsupials, frogs and reptiles and 65% of our bat and butterflies species!

The Centre is owned and operated by the local aboriginal community, and partnered with people like CISRO for research being conducted there on climate change impact, and no good news in that, as you can imagine.We could have stayed longer – much longer – but we decided to head off for a walk, hoping really for a cassowary sighting. Alas, it was not to be. However, we did get to experience again the majesty of being immersed in this unique ecosystem. Some of the trees we spotted were huge, especially next to the lovely little package of Mrs A. Some of these are over 500 years old apparently. Brightly coloured cassowary plums littered the floor, and crystal clear streams regularly meandered across our path.Spotting birds up in the canopy isn’t easy, particularly when you have my poor eyesight, but thankfully eagle eye Mrs A was there to draw my attention, and my trusty bins soon picked them out.

It was then a quick dash to the ice cream place that fellow Zoners Wendy and Frank from Cairns had recommended, the Daintree Ice Cream Company. Given Mrs A’s dairy allergy, I got the better deal here having the special of the day from fruit all grown on their property, a delicious combo of coconut, mango, wattle seed and black sapote. If you are not familiar with the latter it basically tastes like chocolate mouse. Amazing…Mrs A was not quite as blown though away with her rosella fruit sorbet, well at least she didn’t make noises like I did.Back at the Zone we then spotted two Wompoo Fruit-Doves up in the tree next to us. Their calls are very distinctive, which is a good job as despite being so colourful, they are hard to spot once they are stationary up in the canopy.As I hope you will have decided by now reading this blog, if you haven’t been to this area before you simply must. It’s hard to describe in words just how special it is, Mrs A does a much better job with her images I think. It’s sensory overload from the sights, to the sounds and then those smells unlike anything else.