We were relieved to say the least to drop the car off and catch our flight to Cairns, though we were distinctly unimpressed when we arrived at Cairns airport and couldn’t get any food because the baggage collection is after the arrivals lounge and you can’t go back through without going through security, which you can’t do if you have a knife or toiletries in your bag – a big thanks to whichever genius designed that airport.
We headed into Edge Hill, a suburb of Cairns, for our first Couchsitting experience, where a semi-pro AFL player and his team/house mates kindly put us up for free in their massive house. They have two huge dogs, the bigger of whom almost bowled me over in excitement, and there are random geckos on the walls that apparently just wander in.
Edge Hill is lush and beautiful, sat at the foot of the Atherton Tablelands, and is still hot and humid but more tolerable than Darwin. It’s home to the Botanical gardens, so we spent a day there checking out exotic plants (the cannonball tree was a particular favourite), having a wonderful strawberry and chocolate waffle in their café, and then walking around the Centenary lakes full of turtles, pelicans, and mud crabs.
After a few days, we picked up our “Hippie Camper”, named Celine, smaller albeit much cheaper than our previous campers, and difficult to sleep in as the bed is above the engine, which as you can imagine is pretty hot after a day of driving. Despite the impending cyclone, we drove north to the tranquil Mossman Gorge and the oldest rainforest in the world, Daintree, which were eerily (or should I say, thankfully) devoid of tourists. The drive up from Cairns to Daintree is so stunning it even rivals the Great Ocean Road, rainforest-covered mountains meet the rolling sea, separated only by the coast road that winds around them.
If you’re in this part of the world, it would be a mistake not to see one of the great wonders of the world – the Great Barrier Reef. We stopped in the chic town of Port Douglas and booked a tour to Agincourt Reef with Quicksilver. A large, more than comfortable catamaran took us to their outer reef platform with underwater viewing areas, semi-submersibles, and a large snorkelling area. After a trip on the semi-sub, we grabbed our snorkels and spent a few hours marvelling at the coral reef and rainbow of fish – some of them huge! – in this indescribable underwater world. Our day couldn’t have got any better when we found a big green sea turtle (like Crush from Finding Nemo) and swam along with her for a while, even getting to stroke her shell (the marine biologist said they like this). It was incredible.
We spent a day in Cairns city – it reminded me of a very nice Spanish holiday resort – and cooled down in their seafront lagoon. The drive down from Cairns is equally impressive – huge mountains and endless fields of sugar cane line the road. Northern Queensland is probably the most beautiful area of Australia we’ve seen so far. The only problem we encountered was the number of mosquitos around so we bought a mozzie net and hooked it up inside Celine – indispensable in these parts along with a can of Bushman. Oh and the tiny matter of the grill they provided us with Celine setting itself on fire. At least Peb got to refresh his firefighting skills.
We spent a day in the city of Townsville (I wonder if the creators of the PowerPuff Girls knew this place existed?), a lovely little city with a huge pink granite rock called Castle Hill that provides great views over the city and the lagoon. We had lunch on “The Strand” in our favourite, the Coffee Club, and tried their brand-new-that-day banana, marshmallow, and Nutella pizza. There are no words for that level of delicious. Peb bought a ukulele – I look forward to being serenaded on our journey. We camped in Home Hill, an RV-so-friendly-town that they’d even provided a camp kitchen and showers. A pretty impressive bridge links Home Hill and Ayr – the Burdekin “silver link” Bridge, which is the longest bridge in Australia built on no solid foundations. I’m also willing to bet that it’s home to more giant spiders than any other bridge in Australia. They’ve set up whole cities on there.