We left Noah Beach and got down to the Daintree River for our ferry ride across to the big, wide expanses of sugarcane country we could see across the river. The small cane trains on their small tracks were fun to spot.
We hit the coastal drive and stopped in at Port Douglas where the Sunday markets were in full swing and the moon was right for fresh prawns straight off the trawler.
The drive along the coast to Cairns is spectacular as the road winds along the cliffs and beachfront. Being a Sunday, it was very busy with a non-stop stream of traffic both ways.
We pulled into Cairns and surprisingly easily located where we were staying for the week. Some shopping and the boys hit the pool for some tropical Queensland fun. Grandma and Pa are our special guests for a few days and we picked them up from the airport. Again, the airport was surprisingly close and easy to get to.
A day down on the foreshore esplanade was great with lots of playing at ‘muddies’ playground and a lazy swim in the waterfront lagoon. The birthday boy enjoyed a great lunch at one of the restaurants overlooking the marina.
Over the road from where we are staying is the Centenary Lakes parkland and a short walk through there brought us out into the botanic gardens which are pretty expansive – so much so I don’t think we ever had much of an idea where we were exactly but the amazing flowers, butterflies and orchids kept us fully engrossed.
We never made it to the visitor centre which is where we thought we were heading and we’d probably need another day to keep wandering around. Even though we’d ditched the tent for some second-storey, brick and tile accommodation, we still couldn’t help noticing a friarbird that had built a nest in the top of a palm level with our balcony. Over the days we watched the eggs being laid – four in total – and kept watch as the bird came and went and often just sat guard in a nearby tree leaving the nest open for us to see if any new eggs had been laid.We also had a special visit from a green friend!.
Grandma and Pa jetted back to Sydney – not before we had some great fish and chips and shared a dozen oysters – the boys’ newly acquired taste for oysters means a dozen doesn’t go far!
We spent a day cruising out to Green Island and had a great time snorkeling and exploring the small island.
The birds are interesting – the first Buff-banded Rail you see is exciting but by the time you leave the island you’ve seen about 800 – they are everywhere!
Underwater was great even if the coral is damaged and bleached – the fact that the fish, turtles, rays and sharks are still living is a positive. The highlights were a Black-tip Reef Shark which we got a good close up view of and we followed a turtle off the coral into a seagrass meadow and watched it casually grazing while we floated above only metres away.
But all the little fish, starfish and clams make it a fun spot to spend a few hours – and just a swim off the beach as well which the boys easily managed being the fish they are!
We also did a short glass-bottomed boat trip which was ok and got us out a bit deeper from the island but the commentary was average with the boat skipper not knowing much correct information.
We saw some bigger fish (which they feed to attract them in….) and a turtle but overall you could skip it and spend more time snorkeling.
We were tired by the time we did the return cruise to Cairns but still sat on the top open deck and watched the beautiful scenery of the islands and hinterland of Cairns.
Another great day trip was the Skyrail from Cairns up into the ranges where there are two stop-over stations to hop out of the gondola carriages and do short walks to lookouts over the dense rainforest valleys and Barron River Gorge.
The Skyrail finishes at the small village of Kuranda which is chockers with overseas tourists – we didn’t realise that this is such a “box-ticker” for so many people’s Australian tour – probably the huge number of international flights from so many countries direct in and out of Cairns boosts the numbers.
We pottered around the village but it was a very hot day so we sought refuge in the cool, sheltered beer garden and had a pub lunch.
To get back down the mountain to the coastal plains of Cairns we took the scenic train ride which is slow and surprisingly full of people – we had four very friendly Americans sitting opposite us on the bench seats and the lack of breeze had everyone sweating.
But there are very nice views at times and there is some interesting history around the construction and engineering of such an impossibly steep railway. Eventually we trundled through the back streets and level crossings of Cairns and hopped off.
Once we’d had enough of staying in the big smoke, we shifted back into camping mode and booked a campsite at Speewah Nature Reserve up in the hinterland west of Cairns. The compact campground only had four defined campsites which were large and private and then a big open grassy area for more tents to be set up. We took up one of the campsites and hit the walking trail to explore the rainforest – the tracks go for miles – days of walking – in a few different directions and some people do the walks in sections while others do longer walks all in one go.
We had one couple who camped for a night as they made their way trekking along the trails. A few others in cars and campervans came and went but overall it was pretty quiet for the five nights we stayed here. Quiet except for the Bush-stone Curlews which we absolutely love hearing but they went pretty hard on the all-night screaming here. The resident curlews were easy to spot as they secretly tip-toed around the campground. We even found a nest with two mottled eggs which was pretty cool but it was also while we were trying to have a school lesson on the phone so it was a tad distracting!
The highlight on the bird front though – you can probably guess – was the Cassowary which we spotted three separate days while we were staying there – it would pop up out of the rainforest creek and forage along the edge of the campground before quickly disappearing back into the scrub. Good luck chasing it through the thick, nasty wait-a-while.
One of our day trips while we were at Speewah was a bit of a back-track north to Mossman Gorge which Uncle Nick had given a rave review for swimming. We went inland to Mareeba and then north on the main highway zig-zagging down the steep range back to the coast.
The last two kilometres of the road to the gorge has been blocked off with a boom gate and you get funnelled into an information centre which doesn’t offer much unless you want a souvenir or coffee – but they then try and put you on a bus for the 90second drive to the end of the road for about $27.
The walk there takes 20 minutes through beautiful rainforest and nice views across the sugarcane to the green hills but they try and find all kinds of excuses for you to get on the bus! We declared it the most expensive bus trip in Australia and decided they were fleecing enough money from the unsuspecting tourists without us contributing so we took the walking option.
It was good to see that others did too but the majority got on the buses. The gorge section we got to was more of an open boulder-strewn creek with a good flow coming through for the late dry season. We had a nice swim (the information centre also had a sign that said there was currently no swimming….but when asked why – maybe poor water quality – they said the sign always said that????).
The walk that we did up to the suspension bridge was worthwhile with kingfishers and Ulysses butterflies. We navigated through the cane trains that are busy during this harvest period and drove the coastal road back to Cairns and then up the Kuranda Range Road to our camp.