Exploring Australia Part 4: Port Douglas

October 13, 2013
The fourth and final leg of our Australia trip was based in Port Douglas. Port Douglas is the last “touristy” town heading north on the entire east coast of Australia. It’s actually got a pretty nice vibe going to it. There’s lots of places to eat and drink, decent shopping, but most importantly- miles of beautiful beach. And it’s the last watering hole on the way to Cape Tribulation. But we’ll get to that.

On our way out of Kewarra Beach we stopped in Palm Cove and spent an hour or so stand up paddle boarding. It’s a fun way to get in a little exercise and sun. I wish I had some photos of how beautiful the water and islands looked from that perspective. Afterwards, we took our time driving up the coast. We spent our first day in Port Douglas exploring, shopping, and relaxing.
We stayed in a comfy one bedroom apartment about 5 minutes drive from the city center. It wasn’t special, but it was convenient. And they had a couple of beach cruisers that we were able to take advantage of. We cruised on the beach (never done that before!) with a bottle of wine, our books, and a frisbee. That afternoon was the relaxation I’d been looking forward to for the whole trip!
Driving through Port Douglas- obviously snapped through the dirty car window.
With two full days left of on our holiday left, we felt a little stressed. We wanted to maximize all of our minutes in the rainforest, without missing any really good hikes or adventures. So the first day we headed up to Cape Tribulation… or “the end of the road” marked A on the map below:

Zooming on out…. again A is Cape Tribulation, which is where all paved road ends. Australia is huge, and so much of it is uninhabited.

Anyways, if you check out the Daintree River on the first map, you can see that to travel to Cape Tribulation (or Cape Trib to locals), you have to cross the river. The river is like the guardian of the jungle. You have to take a ferry across, and very few people live on the other side.
The ferry, coming from the other side.

Why not a bridge? During flash floods, the river can rise up to 40 feet. Even a multi-million dollar bridge would have little chance of surviving that!

Yet another sign telling us to be casso”wary”. Hilarious guys. Not helpful at all.

Once we got across, the jungle drive began. We were on the hunt for good hiking, but soon realized that building hiking trails in the forest is a really difficult, dangerous business. And, well, there’s one. One real hike called “Mount Sorrow” and then a few boardwalks labeled as hikes. Mount Sorrow boasted the reputation of being really difficult- the guidebook said don’t even consider leaving after 10am, and make sure you travel in groups of at least 4. Apparently the trail could disappear at times, and it was as awful and treacherous as the name made it sound.

Since Mount Sorrow was at the end of the road, we decided to do the drive, see what we would see, and decide on if we would do the hike the following day once we got there and checked everything else out.

Jungle scenery
We drove by the Daintree Tea Farm- which was kind of neat. I’ve never seen a tea farm. I drink tea every day. Exciting? Nope. But I bought a box and took a picture of where it came from- so it’s blog worthy…

We stopped on a boardwalk through the jungle, and learned more about all of the vicious plants and animals in the area. Are you all aware that there are several types of dangerous plants and many deadly animals in the Daintree Rainforest? Well, now you know.

I liked all the creeping vines.
More vines.

The Strangler Fig: Starts as a seed dropped by a bird… and starts to grow atop a branch of another tree. Slowly it grows viney roots both north and south, eventually reaching the sun and the earth. As it grows, it weaves around it’s host tree- using it to climb up to the light and down to the nutrients. Eventually, the host tree dies of starvation and light deprivation, and you are left with the hollow Strangler Fig:

Looking up…
The closest we got to a real cassowary…

Eventually the rainforest got close to the ocean and morphed into a mangrove swamp. This is a muddy, salty environment where pretty much only mangrove trees and crabs can thrive. All in all, I found it gross.

Mangrove swamp

A very silly bright orange and blue crab…
Beach at the other end of the swamp.
Patterns left behind by “bubble crabs”

So after our jungle-swamp walk and a bit more driving, we came upon the Mount Sorrow hike. Once again, the sign warned us not to leave after 10am, and that only “above average” hikers should even attempt the climb. We also needed to be on the look out for stinging trees, leeches, and of course, be casso-wary. I didn’t find this last bit of information helpful AT ALL- because all of the signs told you to be aware of the 6-foot tall flightless talon adorned bird, but none of them told you what to actually do if you met one. Run? Hide? Fight? Cry? Nothing. I have no idea.

We hemmed and hawed for a few moments, and decided to start the hike in spite of the warning sign, and just go for about an hour and turn around. We apparently didn’t have the time for the whole thing as it was already 1:30. But in the back of our minds we were both thinking… no matter how hard it is- how long can a 3 kilometer track really take?
I admit, I was very wary during the whole tramp. We came along two other couples coming down, which made me feel better about my survival chances. But between the cassowary threat (I wanted to see one so bad until we got out here) and the endless spiny palms and plants, I was a bit on edge. It was more of a run-shuffle-hike than a leisurely walk. Mount Sorrow indeed.
Anyways, after about an hour or so, we debated turning around. But we still had plenty of light and we’d already gone 2k. So we persevered on… and it became more and more like this:

And then like this:

And this:

After probably 90 minutes total we decided to turn around. We didn’t know how dark it got under the canopy in the afternoon, and I was thinking about how all animals come out to eat in the afternoon as well. Yikes.

When we got back to the bottom (and I pulled a leech of my ankle- eeeeeeewwwwwwww!!!!!) we realized that we had made it about 3.3 of the 3.5 kilometers. We probably only had 15-20 minutes to go. And we had plenty of light left. I know it was a bit gutting for Scott to have not made it. But honestly I was so damn thankful to be in one piece, with all of my limbs unscathed and with only minor blood loss…. I really didn’t care. We got him an ice cream and he got over it.

Well deserved post-hike beach time.

On our last day we decided not to make the long journey back to Cape Trib. Instead, we re-visited the idea of Mossman Gorge (the place with all the crowds that totally turned us off and we left the previous Saturday). It was now Tuesday, and we woke up early with a plan. Instead of taking the $6 tram to the gorge with all the people, we decided to make it a run. 2k isn’t very far, but at 10am in the tropics, it’s far enough! We got a nice workout, and were rewarded with a dip in non-croc infested waters.

After our swim we hiked the “difficult” 2k loop through Mossman Gorge. It was more beautiful rainforest, although very similar to all the rest of what we had seen. Below, a picture of just one of the many mean plants disguised as a pretty palm:

Look at all those spines!

More photos from Mossman Gorge Rainforest walk:

We finished up our day with that bike ride along the beach, and dinner in Port Douglas. We partook in trivia night at the local irish bar, and lost badly as usual. It was the perfect ending to a pretty perfect vacation.

Beach at Port Douglas

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