Location: Hamilton Island, Whitsundays
Weather: Starting to get a little more humid here today! 30c
Not known for travelling that lightly at the moment with everything I have to take with me in order to dive, blog, photograph and live, I almost feared the fact that my latest itinerary spanned nearly 14 days and would take me to a wide variety of environments and appointments all requiring different attire and equipment. I left Blue Pearl (my house on Hamilton Island) with nearly 48kgs……yikes!
After a short hop onboard my Qantas flight to Cairns the blast of hot air greeted me as I exited the aircraft, I’d arrived once more in Tropical North Queensland and the temperature was certainly a few degrees warmer than that back home.
First stop, collect my hire car from Avis, a rather cute Holden Astra(Opel/Vauxhall depending on which country you reside in) which was convertible. Excellent I thought, a little wind in the hair motoring to come. I popped the roof back, threw my luggage in and drove…..for almost a kilometre before coming to the end of my journey at the hanger of GBR Helicopters, my next mode of transport to whisk me up north.
It took me two seconds to place the face in front of me, Nigel had flown Bre and I back in July when we visited Green Island on a short flight out over the reef and would again be my pilot today, excellent! I love meeting up with familiar faces once more.
Safety briefing out of the way (I could almost give these to the pilot now as I’ve become so used to them!) we powered up on the landing zone, waited for clearance and took to the skies once more, Nigel expertly sweeping us low over the Hinterland taking in vast properties, fringes of rainforest and the Captain Cook highway winding its way north along the coastline towards our destination for the day, Cow Bay around 100 kms to the north.
As we banked back into the mainland from the reef the stunning beauty of the Daintree became obvious; a spectacular mountain range smothered in dense green rainforest towering above the coast it runs along. Memories of driving through a similar environment in Gabon last year during my Afritrex expedition brought the emotions flooding back….I actually cried back then as I was so blown away by it all.
Dropping out of the sky and down to the cleared grassy area meant the end of another fantastic experience. I said goodbye to Nigel and hello to Barney from Back Country Bliss Adventures, my host for the remainder of the day and an experienced guide who manages a company offering some of the best adventures I’ve heard of and totally up-my-street such as river snorkelling, sea kayaking, mountain biking, kitesurfing, wakeboarding etc….having just an afternoon with them would not be enough.
I was being tagged onto the back of a group made up by an international contingent from Tourism Queensland with familiar faces from all around the world. As I arrived at the Daintree Discovery Centre two faces stood out from the crowd, Shana who works in the USA office and was instrumental in organising my recent interview with Oprah (still can’t believe that actually happened – massive round of applause please) and Jane Nicholson from the UK office who I’ve known since the initial round of Best Job interviews started way back in March, great to see her smiling and away from her desk for once – a very deserved break I think.
We were deep in the rainforest now, the Daintree Discovery Centre being an informative and fascinating insight into the life of the flora and fauna which exists in this incredible eco-system. There’s raised boardwalks which allow you to walk from ground level up into the trees giving a unique view of the surroundings and ends up at the huge tower and information centre which, if your control of vertigo allows, lets you climb the remaining 20 metres to the viewing platform above the canopy.
The 360° views are awesome as are the sounds of the birdlife below, it’s almost as though they don’t see you as they fly past cackling, screeching and calling out. I loved it up top and could have stayed for ages but the whirlwind tour had to continue and we headed back to the 4x4’s ready to move on…but it wouldn’t be long before we’d be back up in the trees.
As we bounced and bumped up the dirt road which wound through the rainforest a clearing appeared and our next destination had been reached – Jungle Surfing – Zip Lines – Flying Fox, call it what you will it meant more adrenaline and more dealing with being up in the clouds.
Harnessed up, personalised helmet on (I was to be called Tarzan for the day…but I could have been MiniMe, King Kong, Skippy or Barbie!) and camera strapped to me, we made our way to up the first stepping-off platform at around 12 metres off the ground.
The platforms are all mounted high up in the trees using cable and chains but extensive efforts have been made to protect the trees as much as possible. There is no direct alien contact with the trunks themselves instead small wooden blocks have been placed around them to stop the chains cutting into the bark – a very good effort to protect their environment and duly noted!
There are a total of five cables secured between the trees each of which interconnect the platforms and offer a different ride from the next; the first is a winch up hill, then a short slide across the canopy, the next a trip across a deep valley below, then a super-fast ride steeply downhill to the final test….a trip upside down to the last hopping off point.
It’s a cracking adventurous ride which educates and excites, the guys operating give a short talk at each platform about the environment, the trees, the history and the view and you leave feeling pumped up and relieved to have made it to the end in one piece…yes especially you Jane Nicholson and very well done for completing it at all!
Back Country Bliss Adventures offer a huge array of activities which you can do here in the rainforest and together with GBR Helicopters can drop you off at one of the peaks where you can mountain bike down to the river for a snorkel before enjoying lunch on the beach.
I had one more appointment to make before the afternoon was out which involved a drive south towards Port Douglas, a left hand turn towards Mossman Gorge and a short climb up to Kuku Yalanji Dreamtime – an Aboriginal Tour Centre which gives an insight into the local community’s connection with the forest itself.
Run by locals the walking tour winds through the rainforest floor with stop-off points along the way to listen and learn about the history of the area and the traditions contained within it. One I’d been secretly dreading but was keen to try out once and for all was the eating of the witjuti grub….yes that famous long, fat, pus-filled monster found in dead trees out here. Bushtucker trial…eat your heart out!
Of course to make life slightly easier for all concerned my hosts had very kindly been out and sourced some of these particularly in-digestible grubs prior to my arrival so as I arrived at the bush camp I knew something ready for me judging by the smile on their faces.
Here’s the video of me trying the gorgeous appetiser, which turned out to be much better than expected – once the heads been removed you’re left with a squirming body that has a wet, fish skin-like consistency filled with gooey water. Once I’d chewed it a few times the taste disappeared I after a proper swallow it was gone…wow that was something I’ve been meaning to try for ages and not as disgusting as I thought.
There were a few Custard Pears to try afterwards to wash down the witjuti grub which cleansed the palette rather well…or at least offered something different to taste anyway, the whole process provided great amusement to the crew who’d decided they didn’t want to participate for some reason.
Warren took me on a walk through the forest explaining to me the significance of the trees in their culture and about how he and his family have a particular interest in protecting the forest for future generations. We arrived at a slowly flowing stream when he decided to take a liking to my face and painted red ochre and other natural clays across it just as the Aboriginals would have done traditionally with their own people.
No visit to the gorge would be complete without a lesson in how to play the didgeridoo and so came my turn. Now I have about as much musical talent as a…person with no musical talent but I thought I had to give it a go as I’m here…
I watched the master at work and then tried desperately to recreate the incredible sounds he was able to produce, pursing my lips together and blowing a raspberry through them….after a few attempts I could do it! But then came the really difficult part….circular breathing. This is the art of continually breathing out through your mouth to create a sound with the didgeridoo and at the same time inhaling through your nose to provide air for the next breath, simple I thought.
No way in the world is it simple, I huffed and puffed and stopped, Then huffed and puffed some more…and it stopped again, damn this is harder than it looks. The lesson came to an end a few minutes later as my mouth really wasn’t able to do it and my mouth was starting to cramp with all of the effort, stick to running and training Ben.
With the excitement of the day over I jumped back in my little hire car, dropped the roof back and prepared for some more convertible-motoring all the way back down the coast to Port Douglas, or just Port as the locals affectionately call it and what a great little town I found too.
The spit of land which the town is sited on has a sumptuous entrance road lined with palm trees and smart looking commercial and business properties leading to the main road through which is where the shops and restaurants start.
My guide for the afternoon was Doug Ryan whom I met at Salsa, one of the classier eateries along the front offering views out over the water and a corking menu, I hadn’t had pasta for a few days and you can never have enough seafood….so I combined the two and came away delighted. Stomach full it was time to catch up on some family business with some birthday present shopping in the town and then back onto the road south for Cairns, my overnight stopover.
My weary head was in need of a good pillow and the Hilton in Cairns can certainly offer that…there’s one of those amazing pillow menus to choose from but I was so tired I could have slept on a brick that night!
Distance covered: 500kms on Qantas, 100kms in a helicopter, 120kms in a car!
End of day location: Cairns
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