Travel: Far North Queensland

I planned to take some time off work having been in the job for almost a year. My plans for Australia hadn't been to do the usual backpacker trip, but I was still keen to get around the country. Far North Queensland had been on my radar for quite some time. Of course, it's home to the Great Barrier Reef, but I'd also really felt a pull to the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation. Ideally, I'd love to go further North, take the 4 wheel drive track as far as you can go, via Cooktown, to Cape York. 

However, this trip I was doing solo. That along with the fact that I was flying up, gave some order to my route and capabilities. I spent a few days staying in Cairns. The days themselves not actually spent so much in Cairns, but used as a base for plenty of day trips into the surrounding area. I visited Fitzroy Island on an eco day trip, which I enjoyed wandering around and doing a bit of snorkelling from. I also sliced off a good chunk of my toe, fixed up by the jovial guys in the beach hut as my flip flop became slippery with blood. What really stood out to me on this trip was, in fact, the boat ride back. Yes, I know, I'm totally taking the Island for granted. The boat trip back had such a good atmosphere to it though, as the sun set I was provided with a completely different viewpoint of the lush rainforest and mountains surrounding Cairns. Cruising right alongside the wildness, beaches you couldn't access from land, and plumes of smoke rising in the valley from the Aboriginal community. 

I ticked off the Great Barrier Reef. It was beautiful, awe inspiring, I saw psychedelic fish the size of my head you wouldn't believe existed, a shark, sunlight filtering through the water, a strange sense of calm, fish 'highways,' I dived, I saw 'Nemo,' beautiful colours of coral... but I also saw the effects of humanity, I saw coral bleaching, I saw damage. I questioned whether I should do the trip or if I was just adding to the damage. I'm glad I did it, it just made me more passionate about ocean conservation and educating people, I held what I viewed in quiet appreciation and gratitude. Ideas skimmed through my mind for future projects on the way back. 

I also explored the Atherton Tablelands, an area of so much natural beauty, jumping into waterfalls and wandering through rainforest. Days in between included trips to the little village of Kuranda, and enjoying the Botanic Gardens. The latter was a bit of a lovely surprise, somewhere I'd considered going if I had time. I'm so glad I made it, a conservatory of orchids and butterflies, lots of grounds to wander through, with an area dedicated to Aboriginal uses of native plants. The biggest surprise was probably when I wandered into the transformed Tanks galleries to find a huge space with an impressive and inspiring selection of artwork for the Inkmasters Printmaking Exhibition 2016. 

Finally, I picked up my tiny two-seater steed with a bed in the back. I was as surprised as anyone to find that a bed fit! Heading North solo was a little nerve-wracking at first, but also exhilarating. The first day I found myself wasting away the hours, next time I'd make a beeline for the Daintree and miss out places like Port Douglas. It's a nice place but it was very similar to numerous other coastal towns, and I wanted to get out into the wild. The journey itself does hug the coast with impressive views and a real road trip feel. Crossing on the tiny ferry as the sun began to dip I finally was on track. Once North of the Daintree River, there is no mains power, only generators, and definitely no signal. That in itself is magical in this day and age. 

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I enjoyed the foliage and mountains that adorned my every viewpoint as I drove along the winding road. This was where I wanted to be. It's been designed to impact the area as little as possible, with plenty of bends and bumps. I arrived at my campsite late, settling into the evening with a quick recce of the beach, dinner, wine, journal, and my current book (Kim Gordon's Girl in a Band - a good pick for a solo female traveller). As night fell the rainforest lit up with a chaotic chorus and sounds I'd never heard before in my life. 

Morning brought another look at the beach. Cape Tribulation feels a little like the end of your world, particularly when you're the only one standing on it. Palm trees, a long stretch of sand, and an ocean you can't wander into for fear of being eaten by a crocodile. There's something truly Jurassic about the area. I headed for the award-winning eco-centre, nervous it was a tourist trap but eager to learn about my surroundings. Luckily it definitely wasn't a trap, instead filled with so much information I ended up spending hours there. My favourite part was the ability to listen to an alternative Aboriginal information spiel in my headset. I felt this was the most valuable information on my trip. Learning about this history, this culture, respecting it, and learning far more about the land and environment than I think the modern Western world knows even with all its technology. I enjoyed the sass the Aboriginal speaker gave as she said, "Now the world calls it environmental sustainability, we just called it common sense". The eco centre has been built with minimal impact on its surroundings, walkways are raised, native animals such as the Cassowary run through, and money is raised for environmental projects and education. I was impressed with what was on offer, and felt I'd learnt plenty to then go out into the rainforest myself. 

I made it to a yoga session on Cape Tribulation beach. This was a highlight. Still in the early stages of my yoga journey, even a year or two on, I am always encouraged by the souls I meet, inspired by the stories shared, intrigued to learn more, and appreciative of the settings and situations I find myself in. To be doing this yoga session at Cape Tribulation was something else. Our teacher was so forthcoming, so intuitive and warm, I connected to her straight away and we talked about training in India next year. A Canadian who trained in Bali to then find herself teaching on this beach, I hope our paths cross again and look forward more than ever to travelling to India next year. After grounding myself in my beautiful surroundings I took myself on a treat for the evening, rather than curling up in the same location twice. I visited a restaurant just down the road, taking a seat on the deck surrounded by the night's rainforest sounds. The quality was very high, the staff again so friendly, and I whiled away a couple of hours with my book and a delicious  meal. 

Heading back to Cairns the next day, I was saddened by the shortness of this part of my trip. I did a couple of rainforest tracks before hitting the ferry back the other way. I made the stop off at Mossman Gorge, breathing in the rainforest, the clear water of the gorge, the butterflies dipping around... and trying not to be attacked by a Cassowary. Add it to your list, but try and go when there will be the least crowds. I grabbed breakfast at a surprisingly excellent spot considering Mossman feels like the middle of nowhere, called The Junction Cafe - I recommend! I relaxed back in Cairns, writing in my journal before my flight the next morning. Without a doubt I would spend so much more time in the Daintree than Cairns next time and definitely plan to go back, hopefully to include travelling even further into the unknown North.

You can find the full photo diary on the Visuals page x

TravelCamilla Sampson