Still on a high after our trip to Cape York, we ventured south towards the Bloomfield Track via the Cooktown-Bloomfield Road; keen-for some more low-range action. What starts as a typical dirt road weaving through green farming pastures, soon dives into pockets of wet tropical rainforest, with views to the coastal Cedar Bay National Park, accessible only by boat or on foot. The coast road passes through the peaceful bush locations of Rossville, Lorna Doone and Ayton where the bitumen returns, if only for the short hop to the indigenous community of Wajul Wajul on the Bloomfield River.
We stopped at the Bloomfield River Inn, courtesy of an unusual sign. "A happy wife = a happy life. She deserves an ice cream!" At least it caught Anita's attention. Proprietor Peter Johnson is an interesting character, teaching tourists how to crack a stock whip without losing an ear. Basic riverside camping is available with space to moor a boat. The Bloomfield River runs out into Weary Bay and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, making it popular for fishing folk. The store provides fuel, tyre repairs, takeaway and a bit of everything else. It is conveniently located, close to the northern entry of the CREB Track, with Peter able to give us some handy info.
We continued on to Wajul Wajul to see the Bloomfield Falls,located at the end of a short walking trail. Big saltwater crocodiles are said to inhabit the base of the falls, although they weren't visible on the day. Backtracking to the Bloomfield River crossing, we stopped into the Cultural Centre and Café for a look around and a bite to eat; the pecan pie and cappuccino certainly hit the spot.
Once across the Bloomfield River, the 4WD only Bloomfield Track begins, tracing its way across the ranges and through tropical rainforest to Cape Tribulation. The river crossing was washed away by Cyclone Yasi in February 2011, with a temporary crossing constructed three months later, cutting off the tourist trade.After rain, the crossing is unpassable, even in a 4WD, however there are plans to construct a $5.5 million bridge, commencing late in 2011; so chances are this barrier will be eliminated some time in the near future.
The wet tropics area gained world-wide exposure in 1983 when the local council tried to forge a road between Cape Tribulation and Wajul Wajul. Environmentalists opposed to the idea chained themselves to trees and bulldozers. These images were projected around the world, focusing media attention on the issue of wet tropics preservation. The Bloomfield Track was eventually created,although the campaigning succeeded in getting the area a World Heritage listing, protecting it from commercial logging.
The track is unsealed with a couple of significant water crossings, steep climbs and descents, with the steepest sections sealed with concrete to aid traction. To give you an indication on the gradient, Donovan's Range is 20% and Cowie Range 33%. Yep,that's seriously steep!
I can attest to the severity of the gradient, particularly with a substantial camper trailer tagging along behind. It was a sweaty palms experience as we neared the concreted sections, as I weighed up the options of traversing in low range, with the potential for axle wind up versus the perils of tackling the climb in 2WD and running out of puff midway (manual transmission), requiring a handbrake start on the steep incline. Eventually, with the turbo singing on full boost, the Patrol steamed up the range in 2WD with the Topaz in quick pursuit, leaving the STTs to scrabble for traction on the sealed bends.
Once past the concrete strips, we slipped into low range for the remainder of the journey to Cape Tribulation, with many of the downhill sections tackled in first gear, we were grateful for the extra braking power of our DBA slotted discs.
We spent a few lazy days at Cape Trib Camping on Myall Beach,nestled in a rainforest setting on a powered site. The park offers beach frontage, with all sites protected from the wind by natural bushland. There's plenty on offer to keep you busy within the area including the Daintree Discovery Centre (which has an aerial walkway), a tropical fruit ice cream farm, tropical fruit tastings,rainforest boardwalks and magnificent beaches.
We spent a day exploring the CREB Track from the southern entry,just out of Daintree. The CREB is best suited to motorbikes that don't seem to mind the steep, rutted and potholed passage. 4WDs and camper trailers do traverse these parts, but it is not recommended by the authorities and makes for slow going unless you don't mind pounding your vehicle, camper and occupants. Here in the wet tropics rainforest, rain can fall with little warning, turning the red-clay tracks into a treacherous slippery dip. At the time of travel, there had been three helicopter rescues over a four week period and, like any remote destination, the cost of a vehicle recovery is a wallet emptying experience.
Back in Cairns, we planned to take some time out before hitting the highlands. We propped ourselves at the Lake Placid Tourist Park on the outskirts of town. The park backs onto the Barron River,part of the Barron Gorge National Park. With its bush surrounding sand tropical rainforest setting, it's a lovely place to chill out for a while, away from the hustle and bustle of the inner city.
We booked a Kuranda Rainforest Experience through Kuranda Scenic Rail, combining travel to Kuranda on the Kuranda Scenic Railway, a day at Rainforestation Nature Park, a return journey via the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and all transfers. Both scenic transit options provide a stop-off at Barron Falls for photographs and boast commanding views of the treetops and coast below.
Beyond the treetop views en route to Kuranda, the Rainforestation tour in an army duck amphibious vehicle was thehighlight for me, with the duck negotiating its way along the tight mountain trails, before dropping down into the lake, showing of fits true amphibian skills.
To the west and south of Cairns is the highlands region,encompassing the Atherton and Evelyn Tablelands and a string of parks and forests renowned for crater lakes, waterfalls and rainforest. It was a relief to escape the humidity of the coast,with the elevation of the tablelands allowing for far cooler temperatures. We spent a few days at Lake Tinaroo in the Danbulla National Park on the Atherton Tablelands, camping at Downfall Creek campground, one of five campgrounds within the national park. On the upside, it permitted the use of generators and had flushing toilets. On the downside, it was noisy on the land and water, with ski boats, partygoers, and doof-doof music playing all day and for much of the night.
Scoping out the other campgrounds, the non-generator Kauri Creekseemed to be the pick; a lush green, grassy area extending to the waterline, sheltered from the prevailing winds, and blissfully silent. Just the way I like it!
Signs throughout the national park warned of giant white tailed rats with an appetite for wiring looms, eskies, tents and virtually-anything else. The ranger advised us that they like to chew in darkness, so we left the bonnet of the Patrol open after dark, lit with an ARB LED Adventure light, which did the job while drawing minimal current.
The 28km Danbulla forest drive navigates around the lake,passing through rainforest pockets and picking up crater lakes, the popular strangler fig trees and a number of historical sights. It'sa great day trip, made better by a visit to the Nerada Tea Estate just outside of Malanda. Devonshire tea with fresh scones, jam and cream are served with views across the tablelands and up to MtBartle Frere and Mt Bellenden Ker, Queensland's highest mountains.Otherwise take a factory tour and learn how tea is grown and processed in Australia's largest tea estate (1000 acres).
Mission Beach was looking a little sad as we rolled into town.Formerly the mainland hub servicing Dunk Island, Cyclone Yasi putan end to that, ravaging Dunk Island and the mainland, shredding much of the rainforest canopy. The upside is the transformation from tourist hotspot to peaceful seaside village with a smattering of boutique shops, bars and restaurants; the ideal place for a relaxing seaside break.
With the corridor of rainforest a popular home for the Southern Cassowary, the area has earned itself the title of the Cassowary Coast. Early one morning we watched an adolescent Southern Cassowary wander across the manicured grounds of the Mission Beach Hideaway Holiday Village, only to run off into the rainforest to escape the increasing number of travellers wielding cameras.
The Dunk Island Resort has now closed but you can take a water taxi across for a self-sufficient day exploring the walks of the national park. Alternatively, take a three-island hop over the course of an afternoon, for a reasonable $30 per adult charge for either option. We hired a tinnie from South Mission Beach to explore Dunk Island and do a spot of island fishing.
That brings us to the end of this month's adventure. Catch up with us again next month as we explore the magnificent Whitsundays,engage low range in the Mackay Highlands and tackle the Big Sandy Hill of the Byfield National Park.
Bloomfield River Inn, (07) 4060 8174, www.bloomfieldriver.com.
Cape Trib Camping, (07) 4098 0077, www.capetribcamping.com.au.
Danbulla National Park, 13 74 68, www.derm.qld.gov.au/parks/danbulla/camping.html.
Lake Placid Tourist Park, 1800 807 383, www.lakeplacidtouristpark.com.
Mission Beach Hideaway, 1800 687 104, www.missionbeachhideaway.com.au.
Kuranda Scenic rail, (07) 4036 9333, www.ksr.com.au.
Rainforestation Nature Park, 07 4085 5008, www.rainforest.com.au.
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, 07 4038 1555, www.skyrail.com.au.
Paveys' Blog, www.tracktrailer.com.au/paveys.html.