Well, where did that month go? After what only seemed like a few days since we were unpacking the campervan into the Clifton Beach apartment we were loading up another one and leaving, for the last time, what has basically been our substitute home for a significant chunk of the year.
We had settled back in really quickly and, other than our friends Mark and Lisa not being there, things remained pretty much unchanged. The weather was a little hotter, the humidity was a little higher, and Rosie the dog was more than a little bigger, but more or less things remained the same. The permanent residents were all keen to find out how our trip had gone and were genuinely interested in our little adventures so we enjoyed sitting by the pool reliving our trip to The Northern Territory. The people here have been so friendly towards us and we are sure we will see some of them again in the future. An invitiation to New Zealand sounds very appealing but that is probably a long way down the line from here.
Our time in the apartment was spent in a similar fashion to our time here before with lovely walks on the beach and lazing by the pool.
It was also Steve’s father’s 80th birthday and we had a virtual party which went really well. A video call allowed us to “be there” when he opened his cards and presents. We put balloons and a banner up in the apartment and we even supplied a birthday cake with candles which octogenarian Pete blew out all the way from England!
We also used the time for Steve to continue with his cycling and running and for Sarah to catch up on some reading and dog walking. But, if we are honest, when the time came to leave we were both ready to go. We are both finding it harder and harder to stay in one place for any significant length of time and while this is not such a problem now, we can see it could be in the future so we will have to make some adjustments as the years progress. Also, this time things had felt slightly different and the situation had a different dynamic without Mark and Lisa. We were very lucky to find a couple who were so like minded as ourselves and to spend so much time together. We are still regularly in touch and are making plans to meet up again next Spring….. virus permitting!
So with a packed campervan (not quite as luxurious as the last one, but not far off) we locked up the apartment and handed back the keys. It was a sad goodbye to John and Sheree, our landlords. We had some hugs and goodbye photos on the beach and they bought us a great present which was a huge book of camping and walking all over Australia! So with Clifton Beach in the rear view mirror we set off for a new adventure.
We were already fairly well North in Queensland but it is possible to go even further North before the sealed roads run out. It is possible to go all the way to the tip of Cape York on unsealed roads and tracks but our hire vehicle is only insured for sealed roads so Cooktown will be the end of the line for us. Before Cooktown though, we decided to make a stop at Cape Tribulation and are we glad we did. What a beautiful place. We drove as far as Daintree (where we had visited before) and then caught a ferry across the river. After that the road becomes narrow and twisting as it cuts through the Rainforest, and Daintree isn’t just any old Rainforest, it is the oldest one on earth.
It was a fabulous place to drive through with incredibly dense vegetation making you feel that ten steps off the road and you would be totally lost. Every so often the road snakes back to within a few metres of the ocean reminding you just where you are. In fact, this is the closest the mainland comes to The Great Barrier Reef and the Low Isles can be seen clearly from shore. It really is a remarkable part of The World. On our first day in Cape Trib, besides all the trees, lush vegetation, usual colorful birds and regular bats we saw three cassowaries, two monitor lizards, a forest dragon and a rat kangaroo!
We found a small campsite with only 15 spaces, in the Rainforest only a 20 metre walk to a huge deserted beach and only two of hours after leaving the apartment we were well and truly back into ‘vanlife’.
We spent the next couple of days exploring Cape Tribulation. There isn’t a town here as such, just a few isolated properties scattered around, one or two businesses running tours in the area and various types of accommodation from basic camping to high end luxury complexes. There is also an ice cream shop, not just any ice cream shop, this place was pretty unique. It was located a few miles from any other property beside a banana plantation and surrounded by an unusual orchard. Unusual in the fact the trees in the orchard were growing fruit from all corners of the world. Some of the fruits neither of us had heard of; Wattleseed, Jackfruit and Soursap were just three that spring to mind. The people who run the ice cream shop grow all this strange and tasty fruit and then use it to make the ice cream.
The whole thing is in a picturesque tropical garden….. why wouldn’t you stop for a scoop or two, or three, or in Sarah’s case four!!
It was so good we stopped there on both our days in the area. On the day we were leaving Steve was up bright and early as he was keen to get moving, just so we passed the ice cream shop before it opened for the day!
Cape Tribulation had been a wonderful place to stop with beautifully accessible Tropical Rainforest right on the beach and we were lucky to have had amazing weather with cloudless blue skies, but now it was time to move on to our most northerly stop of Cooktown. There is an off road track through the rainforest that links Cape Trib and Cooktown, but yet again we were restricted by our vehicle which meant it was the long way round for us. The lack of four wheel drive has been at times frustrating and has meant us missing out on one or two things we would have liked to have done. We both agree that at some point in the future we would like to return to Australia for an extended period and buy a four wheel drive vehicle and do a different type of trip and then hopefully sell it at the end!!
Cooktown, population two and a bit thousand, was a real surprise to both of us, in a positive way. We thought, because of its location, it may have been a little bit forgotten about and maybe slightly run down. But it was just the opposite. There has obviously been some money invested in the town and the place looked clean and fresh while retaining many historic buildings in the main street.
The two main themes of Cooktown are the ‘Goldrush’ of the late 1800’s when tens of thousands of people decended on the town from all over the world and walked off into the outback to make their fortune by searching for gold. The other main theme is once again our old friend Captain Cook, whose ship was almost wrecked close to here and only just managed to make it safely into the river estuary before it almost sank. He spent several weeks here in 1770, repairing his vessel and trading with the indigenous people. The town was eventually named after him (they were going to name it after the year he landed but some imaginative person had already claimed that one!). There are also museums and memorials to him and his crew all over town.
We camped on the racecourse, on the outskirts of town, which was a free facility provided and maintained by the council and it was a great setting. We found some walks to secluded beaches, spent some time in the botanical gardens, sat and watched the world drift by on the esplanade, walked up a super, steep hill to the lighthouse and lookout and in general had a great mixture of being active and relaxing all at the same time.
After Cooktown it was time to turn around and head South to Sydney…. not in one or two days though! Instead, we are going to take a couple of months to do it. We have seen so much on our makeshift trip to Oz we feel that anything else now is a bonus, so we are going to take our foot off the gas take things easy and drift South with no particular plan and see what comes up.
We pulled into Port Douglas and camped on a guy’s front lawn. There were four or five others there and it was a reasonable size lawn. We thought we might stay for a few days as we really like Port Douglas, but then we realised we had seen pretty much all it has to offer in previous trips, plus the weather was getting pretty hot and the humidity was rising by the day. We needed a campsite with power so we could utilise our air conditioning unit! So we set off again.
Steve found a campsite at Cowley Beach….”Where?”, said Sarah. “I’ve never heard of it”. “Me neither”, replied Steve “but it’s got powered sites and it’s cheap”. We arrived and booked in for a night and got a pitch almost on the beach. The next day we booked in for a second night, then a third, then a fourth….. a bit like the ice cream scoops!
It was a really fabulous place, right in the middle of a huge 10 mile long, almost deserted, palm fringed bay, with golden sand, blue sea and tree covered islands dotted on the horizon. It was incredibly relaxing. On one occasion we spent the entire day within 30 metres of the campervan, something we never do. The most energetic thing that happened was a walk onto the beach, where Steve took his fishing rod and threw in his line and sat down to wait. Sarah joined him ten minutes later and found him fast asleep! In the afternoon we sat in the campervan, opened up the back doors, lay on the bed and looked out to the ocean with a cooling breeze blowing through. “We are going to have to move on soon, otherwise we could still be here in a month”, said Steve. “That wouldn’t be so bad”, said Sarah. In the evenings we would cook and then at dusk we would watch the colony of fruit bats make their way from their daytime home to their nightime feeding areas which took them directly over the campsite. Thousands and thousands of these huge bats made their way across the sky in the fading light. Every so often one or two would descend into the trees next to our van. When a couple of them circle close above your head you really see how big these creatures are.
After four great days at Cowley Beach we unplugged from the air con and headed once more into the heat and humidity and back up to the main highway. “Left or right?”, said Steve. “I don’t suppose we have time to pop back to that great ice cream shop in Cape Trib do we?”, replied Sarah. “No we don’t, it’s over 300 miles away”, said Steve”. Sarah replied, “OK, no harm in asking, better turn left then!”