Port Douglas and Cairns
We arrive in sunny Port Douglas and again swimming and living in our bathers is pretty much the agenda. This is such a tourist spot designed to make you spend your money but we resist. We don't visit the reef because our kids are too young and it will mean that one of us has to miss out while the other snorkels. I don't feel like we are missing out though because there will be plenty of other opportunities and the whole idea of this trip is to spend time together, for as long as possible! There are tours left right and centre, to destination this island and that. I've been to a few of them before but if we go to every single island on this leg of the trip heading south down the coast we will be broke before we reach NSW. On an adventure like this you need to pick and choose your 'tours' otherwise you just won't last. There's free kids movies on at the outdoor cinema, (pub) in town and that sounds like a nice way to top off our first day after swimming non-stop at the beach. We visit the 'lighthouse' (replica) and the lookouts in town, have a bbq on the beach and take a day trip to Palm Cove. Every morning River and I took a long 'secrete walk' along the beach to watch the sun rise while daddy and Olive were still sleeping. Port Douglas is a beautiful place but we are keen to get to Cairns.
The last time we saw my cousin Ben was only for two hours or so, for just a couple of drinks, on the Sunshine Coast back in 2008. With one phone call to him it feels a little surreal that now we are setting up camp in his backyard before he's even finished work. It must have been a surprise to arrive home and have two little ratbags greet him at his car door yelling "Hi Uncle Ben". Rivers description of Ben is "Ben is awesome!!' and that pretty much sums him up. Ben welcomed us with open arms and made us feel at home in Cairns. We are so grateful for the chance to stay in Cairns but much more importantly it was the greatest opportunity to really get to know my cousin. River and Olive fell in love with Ben and we will honestly cherish for the rest of our lives how we talked and laughed our hearts out in Bens living room. (And I will never EVER forget Lance!!!) We spent 12 excellent nights in Cairns and it really was hard to leave! The Foreshore has a great pool and water park called The Lagoon which is all entirely free. We took a visit to Stony Creek, Lake placid, The Crystal Cascades and of course Gordon's Gorge. There are so many beautiful places to swim.
Cairns is a great central location to access so many parts of North Queensland. There's a circuit route I would recommend if you like an interesting drive. North from Cairns through the Smithfield Ranges which crazily winds up and over to Kuranda. Then head west to Mareeba and Atherton through the tablelands. Up to Yungarurra where the pub serves quite a good steak sandwich, a visit to the Historic Peeramon hotel, followed by a trip through Crator Lakes National Park for a swim at Lake Eacham and Lake Barrine. The falls circuit is just south and takes you through Malanda (Malanda Falls), Milla Mills falls and more. To finish the circuit you head up over the Gillies Ranges through Gordonvale and back to Cairns. All too often you'll find yourselves saying "wow what a drive". Amazing hair pin turns and twisting and turning around blind corners all over looking deathly cliff edges. Truly these are dangerous roads but the views and excitement of driving them is worth it!
During our time in Cairns a couple of very important events took place. It was Rivers forth birthday and it was the
Afl grand final. On Rivers birthday we went to the local swimming pools but we had a big special day planned for him as well on the following day. I'll get to that soon. So at the pools, just coincidentally, the Cairns basketball team "The Taipans' were holding a family fun day meet and greet. They had set up basketball hoops and an obstacle course bouncy castles arrangement over the water. As soon as River set his eyes on it obviously he wanted a go however you need to pass a swimming test to be allowed on. Then if you pass you get a stamp and you can go and pay $5 and get your wrist band. Desperately River begged me to have a go. Pleading "I can swim, I can swim". I asked the life guard what the swimming test entailed. She explained "He's probably too young. You need to be able to jump into the water off the blocks, swim 25 meters, any stroke you like, unassisted and get out". River over hears.....
"I can do that!".
So I asked if he could at least try and she said okay with a lot of doubt in her voice. We have never been so proud of our tiny little man when he listened carefully to the lifeguards instructions and followed through with the swim of his life so far. He jumped in and swam his little heart, kicking his legs like crazy and taking big breaths when he needed and made it the entire way. 25meters!!!! He gets out and looks at the life guard "Is that ok?"
It wasn't the most amazing swimming, and it wasn't any stroke in particular. I'd call it a combination of breast stroke arms with crazy kicking legs but he made it and he PASSED. The life guard stamped his hand and sent him up to the counter to pay the $5 and collect his wrist band. The man at the counter looked over and said "sorry mate but you need a stamp to go onto the obstacle course" to which River lifts up his hand proudly and says "GOT ONE!". The man's face dropped and I don't believe that any other child on this obstacle course was only the young age of 4. FOUR TODAY. With his well earned wrist band he tackled that obstacle course with full belief in himself and took it on like a pro. We had people approaching us all afternoon asking how old he was and who taught him to swim. (Thanks Aunty Candy) Sorry for the proud Mummy rant but honestly we will never forget this kids determination and hope he carries it throughout his life.
The following day was River's 'Big Special Day' thanks to Nannie and Grandad and Grandmar who financially supported us to take the kids up to Kuranda on the skyrail. Thanks so very much as it was fantastic day and our only negative would be that we wish you were all here with us. The skyrail in itself is an adventure for the kids as it glides up and over the top of the rainforest, 7.5kms into Kuranda. We went into the butterfly sanctuary, walked the markets, took our packed lunch and played on the playground of course. Then at the end of the day we board the old Kuranda Scenic Railway and loop down and around through tunnels and over huge high bridges past spectacular waterfalls, all the way to the bottom. Really... this is every little boys dream! Again, thank you for a birthday present for River that I doubt he will ever forget. With only a small amount of so called "time" left in Cairns we try to spend as much with Ben as we can. I've posted some pictures of us at Bens old stomping ground Trinity Beach where we spent a great Sunday morning. Then for lunch we head to Red Lynch pub to Red Beret and have a few beers that go down easily. It's the good company! We visit my Uncle and Aunts house when they returned from their holiday and have a swim but unfortunately we can't stay forever and must get back on the road. Finally after a spring clean to the car and van, and Reece fitting in a quick bungy jump, quite sadly we leave Cairns and so begins our journey south.
First stop is just a shorts drive to a free camp at Babinda Boulders for two nights. The swimming was fresh to say the least but the still wide waters enclosed by beautiful big boulders was too good to miss. A great free camp too with an excellent layout and good facilities. Cold showers but we are used to that and it's so hot and humid it's nice. On our day out we explore Josephine Falls. There's an easy 700 meter walk through rainforest up to the first swimming hole but it's really complicated to get the kids over all the very slippery boulders and into a shallow section of water. On the opposite side we spot a good sandy bank to swim but I can definitely see why there are warning signs about swimming in this area. The falls were pounding and the water was so strong rushing past us. The rocks are smooth, big and slippery. Quite a few people have recently died swimming here due to rapidly rising water levels, getting stuck between rocks, slipping and falling. Needless to say Reece and I took turns and we didn't let go of the kids. The fun part was a natural water slide down one of the rock faces. Well worth the trip.
We go for a visit to the Mamu Rainforest Canopy Walkway which is a huge cantilevered structure out over the rainforest. On the way Olive is spotting and pointing at cows along the road. Almost hypoventilation with excitement yelling "moooo mooo look". Then laughing and giggling at them. The landscape never stops changing. More rock faces that overhang out into the road creating blind corners, more country side and surprise rainforest pockets. The top viewing platform at the Mamu Walkway is simply the best view of the tallest mountain in Queensland, Bartle Frere and the North Johnstone River but also it finally gives us a good look at all of these quickly changing landscapes below. Seriously amazing topography.
Another two nights heading further south but this time we set up right on the beach at Bingil Bay. Total paradise! AGAIN! Palm trees edge yellow sands which border small blue waves. This is a really cheap camp with limited sights and people that look like they have been living there for months. We get free fish straight from our neighbours boat and make friends with yet another family travelling Oz. We take a trip out to Dunk Island while we are there, which was fun but a day for other reasons we will never forget. It's the day we forgot EVERYTHING! Our packed picnic lunch, morning tea, drinks, nappies, wipes, bathers, towels, everything you need for an island trip, all left behind. We forgot the lot!! No time to get back as we will miss the boat so I quickly pop into the closest shop and grab 'essentials'. Two new cheap towels, grapes, cheezles.... Forgot nappies!! We board the boat. "Dam, forgot nappies!" So the kids swam nude, we ate grapes, shared towels and made do. It was the best day out but If going on a boat wasn't enough excitement for the kids, what River did next surely was. The water was completely clear and shimmering with a hint of green when River dunked one on dunk island! Luckily we were on the next speed boat home.
On our last day at Bingle Bay it absolutely poured with rain. ALL DAY LONG. We are not complaining.