Archives for posts with tag: North Queensland

In my previous posts about our trip to Tropical North Queensland – Port Douglas, Mossman Gorge, and the Daintree Rainforest, I was pretty much wowed by the beauty of the location and destinations. But my wife (my favourite travel agent) had organised a couple of special adventures for us while we were up there. Two of our adventures would involve the both of us, and one was for me to go and play on my own. Cape Tribulation is the perfect destination to go out and see the Great Barrier Reef (it is quite close to the coast here as opposed to the distance off the coast at Cairns), and if you want to go and find crocodiles in the wild you can do that too. But we have both previously been out to see the reef and saw our fill of crocs up in Kakadu. For us it would be “fun in the jungle!”

A Night Walk in the Rainforest

The first adventure we undertook was with the tour group Jungle Adventures and their Nightwalk. If anyone is thinking of doing this tour, don’t take the your advice from Trip Advisor. This walk through the forest at night was a very cool travel experience. The Daintree is not a forest teeming with large animal life, it is very much a world of the micro. Angie, our guide, picked us up right on time and set our expectations that the wild life does not perform and display itself on cue. But luckily for us the animals did come out to play. Angie was very knowledgeable about the whole ecosystem, and her professional background as a biologist was perfectly suited to her being our guide.

The first animal that revealed itself in the dark was an infant Boyd’s Forest Dragon. It was tiny, I estimate no longer than 15cm from head to tail. But there it was perched on its leafless tree alone in the dark.

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Not more than a few steps further away on the rainforest floor was a green leafed plant teeming with what I would say was over 100 little spiders no bigger than half the thumbnail on my pinkie finger. They were working like ants, which was surprising. They were definitely spiders, not ants, counting by the number legs they had.

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What freaked me out about our little walk was what we saw next, a half intact nest of wasps. The other half of the nest was empty and on the floor of the rainforest. The half that we saw was replete with again over 100 of the biting buggers. Our guide instructed us to keep a very wide berth so as not to “wake them up” – well understood.

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Did I say we were lucky? We saw a couple more additional Boyd’s Forest Dragons that were fully grown. The low light meant that I couldn’t get any good photos of these two. But after walking to the banks of a rushing river, we headed towards some other attractions in the forest. As I shone my torch down on the ground to make sure I wasn’t tripping over anything, I spotted this cricket hopping around and up onto the plant next to me – almost like he was checking out what we were doing.

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I tried to get my wife’s attention to show her the find, but when I returned he had already hopped away. Nearby to our hopping friend were these giant mushrooms sprouting from the base of a tree trunk. I am pretty sure that these are not edible.

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The highlight of the forest was definitely the hollow strangler tree. We were able to walk through it and look up into its hollow structure.

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Then our guide showed us something really cool. She stood within the middle of the strangler tree and shone her light upwards, to cool effect.

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While we were at the base of the tree, Angie told us to switch off the torches and she picked up two pieces of tree trunk that lay on the floor. They were glowing with bio-luminescent light. It was quite a strange experience seeing this green glowing light in the pitch black of the rainforest floor. As we stood there on the floor in the dark, other lights came on in the distance – fireflies! Our guide told us about how they make different light patterns to communicate, i.e. a bit of jungle strobe. Sure enough, that is what we saw. It was so dark that the only way I would have got a photo of these faint lights would have been with an f1.0 lens on front and an ISO cranked up to over 12,000 (BTW – I don’t have that piece of kit).

We had one last Boyd’s Forest Dragon bid us farewell at the end of our trek. His body weight properly bent his branch perch over.

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It was an evening with wonder, and was all the more enjoyable when we took the time to stop and look at all the minute detail that surrounded us. At that point the whole experience came alive.

Jungle Surfing the Canopy

The next morning I returned to the jungle with the same company for a very different type of adventure – flying fox running through the rainforest canopy. This is where tripadvisor is right – everybody loves this.This time we had a different guide, Sarah, pick me up. But Angie from the night before backed up her shift and was the second guide with us. The group I did this with was not much bigger than the night before. There was only a young German backpacker, a young Aussie couple from Western Australia on holiday for the first time in the Daintree, and myself – perfect!

After getting rigged up and going through all the safety conversations we made our way up the mountain slope. The route that we took was very similar to where we trekked through the night before. The rainforest looked so very different during the day than at night. Our first rope was an uphill one, where we had to belay up to the next platform. This was fun being suspended by the carabiners and climbing up like a monkey. My partner for the climbs was the young German girl.

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We went in pairs and my climbing partner kindly offered to take a few snaps of me as we went. The helmets were a bit naff and had seen a few sweaty scalps, but they all had funny names and mine was “George of the Jungle” – appropriate for me.

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Our guides suggested that we take some funny shots while suspended. Here is one of my legs as if I am gliding over the top of canopy.

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It was good that we were allowed to take the cameras with us, hooked onto carabiners on our harnesses. Here is a compilation of some of the video that I took. Some of me, and some of the others. The final rope was upside down, a very strange sensation.

You can tell I had fun!

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I had an awesome time up in the canopy of the rainforest, and we learnt a bit more about what we were flying over the top of. I still can’t get over the green of the trees. If you ever go to the Daintree, you should definitely add this adventure to the list too.

Sunset Paddle at Cape Tribulation

The last of our adventures was a sunset paddle in a sea kayak with Paddletrek Kayak Adventures. The owner of the company, Pete, was to be our guide for the afternoon. My wife was back in the swing of the adventure, and we would take out a two person kayak, with me in the engine seat. There was only another two people on our tour, two girls from London who had only just arrived – boy were they going to get an education in Australian wildlife up close.

Pete asked me to help him bring the boats out to the shoreline, and as we brought the first two up we saw a juvenile reef shark thrashing about in the surf trying to eat something. Couldn’t get a shot of it, and as Pete tried to approach the shark bolted off back into the water. It was a perfect afternoon for a paddle out on the water. The swell was less than a foot and the wind was virtually non-existent.

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The underwater case for my Canon Powershot G15 was to come in handy for this adventure, as were my polarised cycling sunglasses – enabling me to see through the reflections on the water surface. It wasn’t only the reef shark that was hungry. This great billed heron was also searching for dinner among the shallow reef.

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Our route was to traverse through breaks in the shallow reef and make our way out towards the mangroves to look for box jellyfish – the second most dangerous thing in the sea. We were also searching for dolphins in the hope they would come close and play with us. The dolphins were playing in the distance, and we concentrated on finding the jellyfish near the mangroves.

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Pete was enthusiastically telling us about what we do and don’t know about the amazing creature known as a box jellyfish. And it is a truly amazing underwater animal with the most bizarre breeding patterns, its unbelievable strength and well… it’s deadliness. That didn’t stop Pete the crazy kiwi from picking one up out of the water to show us its biology. The priceless moment of the whole paddle was seeing the look on the faces of the two girls from London.

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Out of the water the tentacles recalled from the juvenile jellyfish. Pete showed us its perfect symmetry of its body, and gradually the jelly fish relaxed. He even was able to place it in the palm of his hand, and with all his experience he knew that holding it the way he did communicated to the jellyfish that he was no threat. My wife even got to touch the non-venomous part of the body. Pete gently placed the jellyfish back into where it went back to its business.

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Paddletrek is a family business, and Pete’s wife baked the most awesome moist carrot cake that we got to eat while we were out on the kayaks. That was very unexpected. Fortunately for us the afternoon shower held off and we were able to paddle back to the shore easily.

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The last surprise for the London girls was another huge golden orb spider right next to the shower where we were to rinse off. Definitely three for three, and a great fun time out on the water with a very knowledgeable and experienced guide.

That’s pretty much it from what was probably one of the best short trips that we have taken. I will definitely be heading back up there with friends next time and exploring some other parts of Tropical North Queensland (like Palm Cove and the Atherton Tablelands) – but that is for another adventure. I couldn’t more highly recommend a trip up to the amazing Daintree Rainforest, it truly is a magical place.

Work has been quite busy over the last couple of weeks and lots of changes have been made. It has been keeping me away from keeping up with my blog and (apologies) keeping up with all my other fellow bloggers. It has been a time struggle just writing the posts. But things have quietened back down and hopefully I can get back to investing some time in the blogosphere.

On our recent trip up to tropical North Queensland, following the first two stops in Port Douglas and briefly at the Mossman Gorge, we cross the Daintree River into the rainforest proper. I am going to get this single point out of the way now –

the Daintree Rainforest is awesome!

I had known about this place all through school and when my interest in travel piqued its prominence as a destination to explore rose even further. All I can say now is wow! The Daintree Rainforest is the oldest forest in the world. At over 120 million years in age, it has never been beaten by the ice ages of the past. It is also the only place in the world where you can take a photo of two world heritage sites in one shot – the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. It is also that forest that has the highest amount of biodiversity in the world. But this trip was focused on the forest that meets the ocean, and it turned out to be the perfect time of the year to go. It was surprisingly the low season, the weather was perfect, and the beaches were deserted. How else could I have got a shot like this one – no staging required.

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Crossing the crocodile infested Daintree River set the tone of the trip – adventure! We drove onto the cable ferry to cross the murky waters, waiting on the other side was the rainforest.

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Getting off the ferry, we immediately felt like we were surrounded by the forest with the tree lined route overhung with foliage. I couldn’t help but stop at the first lookout. I was surprised when we got there as the afternoon storm shower was rolling in. From the lookout we could see the mouth of the Daintree River, but it was the cloud and rain that I wanted to nab through the lens. This would be a perfect candidate for me to experiment with HDR.

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The drive itself along Cape Tribulation Road is fun. We hired a Subaru Forester for the the trip and it handled great on the roads. Along the route there are several aggressive speed bumps whose intent is to slow people down significantly around the areas where cassowaries are likely to cross. The cassowary in Australia is an endangered species with just over a couple of thousand still left in the wild. So my hopes in seeing one were to be random at best. But we got lucky, after traversing one of the many speed bumps my wife excitedly gestured to the left side of the road in the shrub. Sure enough there one was making a slow getaway back into the forest brush. This was the best I could do, given that I was behind the wheel.

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The expectation that the rainforest would be teeming with big fauna was quickly dashed. This is a forest of the small and nimble. I think this makes it even more beautiful, because it is not the domain of humans. The animals are definitely not scared of the tropical rain. Straight after the afternoon shower, these birds just got back to business in this red hued plant.

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The ferns, some of the most ancient of plant life, continued to slowly uncurl. The natural spiral pattern of the frond has an eerily mathematical beauty about it, and I will never get  tired of shooting them.

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Speaking of other animals in the trees, the largest spider I have ever seen was a common sight all around the rainforest. The golden orb weaver is huge, with its outstretched legs giving it a reach much longer than my outstretched hand. Initially they are quite confronting, particularly when a couple of the locals told us about the strength of their webs, but they are not aggressive towards humans. Their strands of spider silk have a greater tensile strength than that of steel. One of the locals said that American researchers were trying to work out how they could make body armour out of synthetically produced silk of this kind of spider, via goats of all things. In this photo I took you can see the tiny male in the bottom left of the photo trying to approach the female as she gorges herself on some insect food. The same local went on to tell us that the male would soon suffer the same fate as the insect “meal” but not before he went about his reproductive business.

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As dusk approached, the quite of the rainforest took over. There is no mobile phone coverage in the Daintree, no signal, no data, nothing. And the TV reception at the house we stayed in was dodgy at best. The noise of the forest takes over, the birds and beetles humming away. The moon was in the final stages of the waxing gibbous phase and illuminated brightly the night sky. The lack of other radiant light added to the aura of seclusion. I didn’t have my full blown Manfrotto tripod with me, but a mini one that I carry always was the steady arm for this shot.

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Before the above photo we took a guided walk in the rainforest at night. That is for my next post, but my recommendation is for anyone to do it!

The next morning, the sunrise was serene and spectacular. I didn’t quite get the shot that I wanted, the lack of a tripod hampered me significantly. But this was the best I could do. I like the “ladders” on the ocean that the sun’s reflection caused.

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We had a couple more days in the Daintree, and we chose to do some other adventures – zip lining and kayaking (again both for my next post). But I think the highlight for me was actually walking in the rainforest itself. There are a number of boardwalks where you can walk both into the dry and wet parts of the rainforest, whilst ensuring that you don’t get lost. The only danger being the swarms of mosquitoes hungry for the sting. The mozzies were relentless around the wetlands, but on the dry rainforest floor not so much. But it was nothing that a spray of repellent couldn’t keep at bay. Walking through the forest with my travel partner in crime, my wife, brought back our sense of adventure that has gone a bit dormant as parents of a 3 year old. My wife and I love to travel together, and over the last 14 years we have been to many, many destinations around the world. When we do travel together we naturally take on designated roles. I am chief pilot/driver, repairman, photographer, scout, and sherpa. My wife is chief travel planner, logistics manager, chef, spotter, and a somewhat accurate navigator.

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The flora is spectacular and was the inspiration for James Cameron’s movie Avatar. The trees were very strange, and very seldom were adjacent trees of the same species. Here are two together, a regular tree being slowly consumed by a strangler fig. Eventually the strangler fig will devour its host and all that will remain will be the fattened roots of the strangler fig forming a tree on its own.

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A break in the forest canopy, caused by the last cyclone pounding the coastline is a prompt for regeneration. These Daintree fan palms are unique to this part of the world, and their leaf diameter was over a metre. For this part of the rainforest, this was the canopy.

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The Daintree is home to 28 different species of mangrove. You experience a significant change in your surroundings when you reach the wet part of the forest floor. The water runs off from the mountains and into the ocean. This is unlike anything that I have seen.

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The trees changed colour, notice all the orange, and it went from being very green to hues of orange and brown thrown into the mix.

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The muddy forest floor was teeming with crabs! Mostly they were no bigger than the palm of my hand and they were all shy. Everytime we came within a couple of metres of them, they burrowed back down in their holes. So to grab this shot I had to move slowly, silently, and softly on the boardwalk. It wasn’t until after I downloaded the image that I noticed the second one at the bottom of the shot who was motionless to avoid detection.

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While the waters of the ocean looked inviting it was very stinger season with the Irukandji jellyfish everywhere. The waters look sooooo inviting, even with the cloudy grey tropical sky.

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So the best place to take a natural dip is in the watering holes dotted around the forest. We went for a swim at Mason’s watering hole (no bikini shots of my wife allowed 🙂

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Tips for a trip to the Daintree Rainforest

The natural beauty of the rainforest is breathtaking. Here are some tips that I picked up for the next time when I take my son when he is older.

  1. Hire a four wheel drive (SUV) – a small hatch or sedan is not worth the bumps and discomfort. Even if the 4WD you hire is only a small.
  2. Make sure you bring mosquito repellant – you have been warned.
  3. A solid pair of hiking shoes will increase your mobility – it is a forest after all.
  4. If you a bringing a camera, one that is good in low light is best – the forest canopy significantly reduces the available light with which to shoot, even in the middle of the day. First side tip is to keep your camera handy when you are driving (I would have missed the cassowary shot if my camera was packed in the boot). Second side tip is to bring an underwater case if you have one (the forest climate is very wet).
  5. Bring a pair of binoculars if you have them – I am sure there were things I did not see in the canopy above my head because I wasn’t optically armed.
  6. Get used to not having a phone – who needs to be constantly connected anyway.
  7. Water, water, water – carry with you a bottle, camelbak, flask, whatever. It is hot and humid, and you want to keep going to see more.
  8. Careful what you touch – the plants are more of a danger than the animals.
  9. Careful what you pick to eat – most of it is poisonous.
  10. Relax and take in the world of micro – it is awe inspiring, but don’t expect to see child size lemurs jumping out of trees.

Magic Accommodation

Finally I want to put in a plug for the accommodation that my wife found. We stayed at the Sanctuary Bed and Breakfast house at Cape Tribulation. The house is spectacular and we had it all to ourselves. It sits in the forest canopy and is far enough away to be privately secluded, but close enough to get to most of the sights in Cape Tribulation within 15 – 20min. Just don’t forget not to leave out any food for furry or six legged visitors.

Here are a couple of photos of the house (and I shot a number of the photos in this post from the wooden deck).

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On my recent trip up to tropical North Queensland and after leaving Port Douglas on our way up to the Daintree National Park, we stopped at the beautiful Mossman Gorge. It is located in the home of the Kuku Yalanji people, and the local elders administer the visitor information centre and entry to the gorge and rapids. It was good to see you local people at the tourist centre. The gorge itself is in the Southern part of Daintree National Park, and covers the Mossman River and the adjacent Rex Creek. The rapids were wild and the current strong. It looked dangerous to go for a dip in the water (no crocodiles in these waters), and sure enough we found out that a couple of days after we visited the place a Taiwanese tourist lost his life after getting swept away in the river catching his feet in the rocks. Searching on the web I found that he has not been the only one. Luckily my spidey senses were tuned in. I don’t understand how they couldn’t have been though, given that there were boulders in the river taller than me – a sure-fire sign that this body of water has the ability to “move” big things.

This was my first taste of the Daintree Rainforest, and all I could think was wow! It was lush and overgrown and a veritable microcosm of all sorts of flora and fauna. The streams running down the slopes were tranquil and beautiful.

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What I was not expecting was the huge variety of fauna that lived in the macro world. After you tuned into your surroundings, every step yielded a new and for the most part small discovery. These tiny mushrooms, rooted into the tree, were no bigger than my fingernails. I could hear a Mary Poppins tune in my head.

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I was awestruck by the rapids. They were strong and flowing with big huge rock boulders creating a path for the water to flow. The ones you can see in the middle of the shot were all bigger than me in height.

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The majority of our surroundings were green, but there was the odd dash of colour in the fruits of certain plants. I am pretty sure that these were not safe to eat.

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I was hoping to see a cassowary or a forest dragon, but what we did get stopped in our tracks by was a brush turkey. Not the prettiest of birds, and this one decided that it was going to walk directly across the track in front of us and scrap the forest floor underneath it across the track. I don’t know what it was trying to achieve but it was definitely not scared of us, proceeding to go about its business regardless of our presence.

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Bidding farewell to the bird we returned to the shuttle bus, but not before seeing more weird and wonderful flora. I have no idea what the round things growing on the side of this tree were. So I am going to call them tree polyps.

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A beautiful introduction to the rainforest which was only going to get better as we crossed the Daintree River.

I can’t believe that after all my years growing up and living in Australia that I have never been to tropical North Queensland. Every Aussie who lives in the Southern parts of Australia knows the names of all the places, but to experience it is something else. So when my wife said, “let’s leave the boy with his grandparents and go for a trip up to Port Douglas and the Daintree Rainforest” I was there!

With work being so busy of late, I decided not to put in a half effort to research our destinations but trust in my travel agent – my wife. The first destination on the trip was Port DouglasTo get to Port Douglas from Sydney, you either drive for 2 days or fly to Cairns. Cairns was our choice as we were time poor for this short 5 day trip. I am not sure what expectations I had, but they were very quickly dismissed. Port Douglas itself is over 100 years old, built off the back of the mining and timber industries. But it is now very much a holiday resort town at the foot of the Daintree. I knew it would be green, being in the tropics with almost daily rainfall. So these photos were no surprise.

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This is Four Mile Beach, which has a large amount of detritus at this time of year. This is all part of the natural cycle where the old plant life is washed down into the ocean, churned by the waves, washed back again, and then feeds itself back into the ecosystem.

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What I didn’t expect was such an eclectic mix of buildings housing hotels, cafes, restaurants, and pubs. The place we stayed out, the QT Hotel, was a couple kilometres outside of the main street in town – Macrossan Street. It was pretty cool, and for this time of year empty!

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When do you ever see the hotel pool this void of guests? BTW – don’t be confused by the grey skies, it was 28 degrees Celsius and quite humid.

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The town itself is a cool mix of old an new with some vibrantly coloured buildings which very much reflect the artists who are resident in these parts.

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Turquoise brightens up Macrossan Street, but not in a tacky way.

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An old steam train still runs through into the town, which is more of a novelty ride than serving a proper industrial purpose.

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This railway station is adjacent to the Port Douglas Marina, which is an impressive collection of expensive maritime hardware. A couple of the Great Barrier Reef tourist catamarans / trimarans could be painted grey and commissioned in the navy.

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And the town is very cycle friendly, my sort of place. I rode one of these two bikes (the salmon coloured one) the morning after we arrived, and it was quite possibly the worst bike I have ever ridden. But it was two wheels without an engine, so I had to give it a go – and it was fun!

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The older buildings have quite a history themselves, and look like your typical tropical North Queensland buildings. This pub dates back to the time when the town was founded.

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And this church dates back to the same time period. No doubt both structures have been ravaged multiple times by cyclones.

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The local shopkeepers are quite expressive with their quirky shop signs. The jewelry and art shops are probably the most impressive here.

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The colour continued through to the tropical fauna, which was only a taste of what was to come up in the Daintree. Macro photographers would have a field day up here.

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And unique views are presented by zooming the lens in on some of the tropical plants.

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The best bit of our trip up to Port Douglas was being able to rendezvous with old friends of the family on my wife’s side – Nori and BM. If it wasn’t for Nori, my in-laws wouldn’t have got together and my wife would not be here. BM’s brother and his wife were also up in Port Douglas and we had a splendid meal at the Sea Temple hotel.

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This was a great start to the trip, and it got better when we crossed the Daintree River.

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