Sunday, 25 August 2013

Cairns and Cooktown

We came to Cairns on Saturday morning and found our way to my old school friend's home in Bayview Heights. Alison and her husband Fred have lived in Cairns for about 15 years and so we have seen little of each other since our retirement. Al and I - both early baby-boomers - started school together and we became even closer friends when my family and hers became neighbours in 1957. After all these years, it is wonderful that we are still so comfortable together, and many happy hours were spent reminiscing about our early life and also trying to name all the people in our old school photos. After about 55 years we didn't do too badly either!

We parked our van in their driveway in what was to turn out a fourteen day visit instead of the planned four to five days. Our car (damaged in Normanton) was assessed by our insurance company on Tuesday and we were told that repairs would be carried out and that it would be completed in about ten days. No worries, said Al and Fred - and so we began a most enjoyable stay in this surprisingly busy tropical city.

We dined out a few times, toured the city, visited the beautiful Botanical Gardens, and  took a day's trip out to the lovely reef island off Cairns - Green Island where I could have quite happily stayed on at the resort there.

Our hosts decided a trip up to Cooktown would be a good idea, so on Saturday morning we loaded our overnight bags into their 4WD car and we set off on the 5 hour drive up to Cooktown. We had visited this lovely little town once before and not a lot has changed in the intervening years. We checked into the Sovereign Resort where we had a very swish, modern two bedroom apartment.  Hot and sticky after our long trip, Al and I (and later Peter) tried out the beautiful pool in the Resort's tropical gardens.

Next day we visited the Cooktown Heritage Centre which is housed in a beautifully restored Convent. Inside is a trove of items relating to the early pioneering days and also much about Captain Cook's troubles when he sheltered the Endeavour at Cooktown to repair the coral reef damage to his ship over a six week period. The Endeavour's anchor is on display and, together with extracts from the ship's log, it is fascinating to think about that time and the efforts Cook and his crew went to, to effect repairs. There is also mentioned their description of either a Wallaroo or Wallaby - the best they could do was liken it a little to a greyhound!

A trip to the top of Grassy Hill gave us a spectacular 360 degree view of Cooktown surroundings. The reefs and islands and the astonishingly blue sea were just breath-taking. Cook would have had the very same view, but while we were oohing and ahhing at the vista, his notes were all about trying to see a safe passage through the surrounding reefs for his ship.

An afternoon visit to the historic cemetery was interesting. There is so much information on some of the very old headstones. It was sad to see so many infants and young children that didn't survive and quite a few had been drowned. A short visit to the Cooktown Family History Centre was an eye-opener for me. For such a small group (about 30 members), they have set up an astonishing good display and have published quite a few very interesting booklets on various aspects of the pioneering days. I bought a few for our family history library in Frankston.

Driving home we travelled along the Bloomfield Track through the Daintree Rainforest World Heritage Park. This road is unmade and very rough and it was necessary to find a good place to ford the many small bush creeks along the way. After several hours we eventually reached more open countryside and finally arrived at Cape Tribulation.

Cape Tribulation was named by Captain Cook in June 1770  after his ship scraped a reef north east of the cape now named Endeavour Reef.  Cook recorded "...the north point [was named] Cape Tribulation because here begun all our troubles". The beach itself is extensive and very beautiful and with the tide out we had quite a walk to dip our toes in the warm waters.

We ate our lunch at one of the picnic tables under the trees and were treated to a visit by a very inquisitive goanna about one and a half metres in length. Foreign tourists nearby were aghast when he sauntered up to their sandaled feet but the cameras were soon clicking when they learnt he was harmless.

From the Cape to Cairns, the road is sealed and so we had a much more comfortable trip home. We just had to stop though at a place just outside Cape Tribulation for home-made icecream. With flavours like Wattleseed, Banana, Blueberry, Passionfruit and Coconut, this little business set in a gorgeous tropical garden was doing a roaring trade. 

Our last few days in Cairns were spent re-stocking our food supplies and getting rid of the last vestiges of red dust which had infiltrated every corner of the van in the Gulf country.

On Thursday evening we took Al and Fred for a very special dinner at Dundees on the Cairns waterfront as a thank-you for their hospitality and on the Friday, as had been promised, our car was returned to us all repaired and shiny.

Sad to say goodbye to our friends, but pleased we could begin the long trip south, we left Cairns to continue on to new places on our way home.


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