A Travellerspoint blog

Diving the Great Barrier Reef, Port Douglas


After leaving the Daintree the rain came with us and we spent four more nights in a very wet
Port Douglas. We were meant to dive on Sunday but it wasn't meant to be. We got up early, boarded the boat and spent an hour and a half on the boat in very rough seas while 70% of the boat spewed into paper bags. Thankfully we had taken seasickness tablets so were spew free the whole way. When we finally made it to the reef, we were just about to put on our wet suits when the skipper gave notice that we would have to head back. Someone on board was having a medical emergency and the helicopter couldn't come out. We spent another hour and a half heading back into shore and the poor lady was rushed to hospital. We are not sure what was wrong but our dive master assured us she got to hospital fine. Blue Dive was fully booked for Monday so we had to wait until Tuesday to dive. This was ok as Monday's weather was the worst but the original boat we were meant to go on then cancelled for Tuesday which meant we had to go on a different boat.

But...... We were on the boat nice and early on Tuesday morning, the sea was very rough again but we were prepared with seasickness tablets. It was too rough to dive the planned Agincourt Reef so we did three dives on the Opal Reefs. It was a full day on the boat and in the water and we thoroughly enjoyed our dives. They were very different to each other, ranging from colourful corals, swim throughs, and some had more life than others. The dives got better as the day went on, the third one being our favourite. The first dive, the reef had suffered quite a lot of bleaching. This is when the algae on the coral dies due to high temperatures and so the coral cannot survive without it, it goes white and dies. It then often breaks off or dark green slimy algae grows on it. This can happen with only a couple of degrees difference and why global warming is a real issue for the reef. But it wasn't all bad, there were still patches of incredible vibrancy, lots of fish and colour. And the next two dives were similar but looked healthier.

On our final dive when we got in the water to descend there was a huge Maori Wrasse a few metres under the surface, he was the size of a grown man and came right up to us to investigate, swimming up to Chelsea's face and looking at her straight in the eyes. He was amazing and incredibly curious with us. When we got to the sea floor we were equally amazed as there was a gigantic Pabona coral, thousands of years old and so big it took us at least ten minutes to swim around it. Nestled between the coral prongs half way around was a rare wobbigong shark, only around 1.5m but we got up close to it while it chilled on the coral. They are so interesting, and have tassels on the front of their mouths, often living in deep waters so it was a privilege to see one up close. On our dives we also saw white tip reef sharks, a blue spotted sting ray and two huge white painted crayfish as well as thousands of beautiful and colourful reef fish and corals. Swimming through the valleys in the coral and looking up to the sun through bright red fan corals was just beautiful.
Our dive master, Dave was brilliant and he pointed out interesting things and even took photos for us and looked after us all day. We would recommend a private dive on the reef, we were always on our own on the reef and were the last out of the water every time.

On our final night in Port Douglas, and our last night on the east coast we had some sunset drinks on the waterfront and had a rare treat of dinner out. Next we will be heading west, across the vast dry red rock that is Australia so we enjoyed every minute of the sea views.

Posted by Chelsandliam 03:23 Archived in Australia Tagged diving great_barrier_reef port_douglas Comments (0)

Exploring the ancient Daintree National Park and Cape tribul

all seasons in one day 29 °C

We decided to stay in the Daintree, at Noah Beach for three nights. We had already booked a guided walk so we could learn more about the area and booked on the 10am walk with Cooper Creek Wilderness, the only guided walking in the area. It is ran from there home as they own a patch of land in the National Park which has protected status as being extremely important.

The Daintree is the oldest continual rainforest in the world and is one of the most biologically diverse areas. It is the most significant living record of plants and animals evolution over the past 400 million years. Walking through the trees even as someone with no knowledge is humbling. Everywhere you look giant trees grapple for space with each other, vines entwine around branches and trucks, spiked stems attach to other plants and it is filled with so many species of animals and insects that they haven't accounted for them all yet. This is why we decided to do a guided walk, to learn more and appreciate how ancient and important each aspect of the forest is to our world.
Our guide, Tony was as passionate as we had hoped. He took us onto the property and explained that it was once owned by a farmer, who started to clear the forest and plant a tropical fruit orchard until he was told he could no longer cut down the trees as it was protected. He then sold the land to the current owners. They couldn't dig the orchard up as that would unearth the soil, wash in into the creeks and the ocean, straight onto the Great Barrier Reef so they were advised to leave it and slowly let the rain forest take back the land. Slowly but surely the forest is encroaching, a few metres at a time. Ferns are growing on fruit trees and slowly, experts advise that in 150 years the forest will have taken back over the orchard.

As we walked through the land and into the rainforest you could immediately feel the difference, it was cooler and the air was heavy and wet. We spent two hours walking through the forest while Tony showed us different plants, fruits, insects and explained the biodiversity and the importance of the forest. Each aspect of the forest relates and often relies upon another to survive. The plants and animals communicate to each other in a way we didn't think was possible and he explained to us that instead of looking at it as different parts we should try to see the forest as one living thing, all connected to each other and supporting each other to live. Most of the trees were several hundred years old, one of them he showed us was 1200 years old, a huge monster of a tree, towering above the rest with a trunk so wide it dwarfed everyone.
Lots of the plants rely on each other, some actually growing upon each other, some overtaking and killing the others, some happily living in coexistence. One surprising thing we didn't know is that after a cyclone, the forest is aware that it has been damaged and all the trees and plants release seeds, like a baby boom they know they must try to reproduce to fill in the gaps in the canopy.

One of the trees he showed us had a mutual relationship with insects and could communicate with them. The tree purposefully drops one of its branches and sends out a pheromone to attract a beetle. This then bores a hole where the branch has fallen and lays grubs, which then makes tunnels in the trunk before they hatch and leave the tree. The tree then sends out a different pheromone to attract a type of ant to colonise it. Once an ant colony decide to live here it then somehow tells the tree to close in the hole the beetle has bored a little to make it small enough just for an ant. The tree then grows its bark over the hole, just big enough for an ant and they live inside the tree. It does this several times until the ants completely colonise the trunk. The tree produces a nectar which the ants feed off and the ants bring in nutrients from outside and protect it from other tree colonising insects like termites. The tree then sprouts flowers directly out of its trunk which get pollenated by possums, as a reward for the possums the tree produces fruit which the possums then eat and disperse around the forest. This is just one type of tree in a huge, dense rainforest but everything we looked at had a complex and intricate connection to something else.

One of the plants he showed us could change its temperature deliberately by 12 degrees, another one proved that this bit of forest had been there for at least 170 million years.

Another amazing and scary thing we learned is that studies in the Daintree have shown that when a tree doesn't get enough water, it stops absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen, it reverses its natural process and starts actually producing carbon dioxide. When it then rains it goes back to normal.

The area of rainforest we walked through is predominantly rare fan Palm, a beautiful bright green, fan like palm leaf that feels almost like plastic and is waterproof. It is slow growing and as we walked through the forest we were often completely shaded from light and the elements, we could hear the rain falling in the treetops but it is so dense that you hardly feel any at all.
He showed us poisonous fruits and seeds and we tried some edible forest fruits straight from the tree, a tiny yellow fruit that tasted a little like sweet corn. He even encouraged us to try a green ant, something Aboriginals often ate and Liam eagerly licked its bum and said it tasted of citrus.

He also explained to us the importance of the Cassowary. This 2m high bird is the only animal that can digest and fertilise some of the trees fruits and seeds. It swallows them hole and can eat even some of the most poisonous fruits and then disperses them around the forest. Some trees have a ninety percent success rate of germinating after being eaten by a Cassowary and only a ten percent chance if not. They have three adult Cassowary's living around the property but we were not lucky enough to spot them.

We absolutely loved our walk through the rainforest and was in awe of its magnificence, it's age and its importance. We would encourage everyone who visits to go on the walk, it was $55 each and worth every penny.

Afterwords we went to a local cafe which he recommended as the owner rescues animals and often has them out in the sun on the lawn. We were not disappointed and we got to see a rare musky rat kangaroo that our guide had rescued when it's mother had died. It is the smallest member of the kangaroo family and was only about a foot high.

We also got up close and personal with some snakes, and got to hold a python and feel its rubbery skin and contracting muscles before our lunch which was amazing.
On our way home we had a walk on one of the boardwalks in the area through a patch of rainforest and mangrove area and spotted a giant golden orb spider. Bigger than an entire hand it tended to its web while we watched it in horror and awe. They are not dangerous to humans..... Just very creepy.
On our last day in the Daintree we decided to Drive up to Cape Tribulation, only a few kilometres on. Here the sealed road that leads all the way up the Australian East Coast ends and it becomes a four wheel drive track only. We drove to the end of the road and did a few walks around Cape Tribulation through the forest and onto the different beaches. The beaches are deserted tropical paradises, lined with palms and an ocean full of deadly jellyfish and crocodiles.
After walking all morning we were incredibly hot and sweaty as the humidity was unbelievable so we went to a beach front cafe on Thorntons beach for a beer and some lunch.
The Daintree and Cape Tribulation is a tropical wilderness, wet, humid and dense, being in the forest for four days feels almost claustrophobic. But we have absolutely loved it. We have learned a lot and enjoyed spending so much time just admiring nature. It is very different to anything we have seen so far and we are grateful to have seen one of the wonders of our planet.

Posted by Chelsandliam 00:32 Archived in Australia Tagged australia daintree Comments (0)

Cruising for Crocs on the Daintree River

Obviously, now becoming the norm, it rained heavily the night before we left so had to pack another soggy tent into bags before we set off. It was another short drive but there were lots of things we wanted to see on the way so made a day of it. From Port Doulas we drove north, through sugar cane fields and towards the Daintree river. Before the ferry crossing there are a few huts witch do boat tours on the Daintree River, spotting salt water crocs and other wildlife. There is some information on the area and we booked on to one of the boats we liked the sound of, a family run boat, which used solar energy and so was quiet and eco friendly, with a 99% success rate of spotting a croc, called Solar Whisper.
We had to wait a while so we read some information on the area and they gave us some Daintree tea and biscuits while we waited. Our tour started at 11.45am and it was a very small group, only around 8 people. We picked a good time to go as the tide was going out and so some of the banks were being exposed and the crocs liked to crawl out of the water and lay in the sun. We silently cruised along the river, through the mangroves while our guide explained a bit about the area. Mangroves are one of the most important ecosystems on the planet. They hold the soil in place and stop it been washed into the oceans and more importantly they are a nursery for life under the water. The are a safe haven for baby fish and reptiles as well as a place for prawns and shrimps to hide. The river goes from being salt water to almost fresh water in the Daintree depending on the time of year, in dry season it is mainly saltwater. Only saltwater crocs can live here as they can live in both salt and fresh water where as the smaller fresh water crocs don't do well in salt water. Salt water crocs, especially the males can grow huge and they grow very slow so it takes a long time to mature into a giant saltwater croc. They have territories and so the guide knows each croc in the area, most of them he has given names and he knows there personalities.
After only a few minutes he spotted one, a smaller croc nestled in the mangroves, half in the water half out. We also saw two juveniles, only two years old they were still very small. We stopped for a look and then carried on, the guide taking us further down the river to a croc called Lizzie. She was a female, 2.7m who had given birth two months ago and there were three surviving babies which were no longer dependent on her. Crocodiles can have several mates so it is not unusual to have different fathers within the same group of eggs. The temperature of the eggs determines if they will be male or female and there is a good stable population of crocs in the area as they are more likely to be female. As we approached her territory we saw two tiny babies which had climbed up onto a log out of the water and were laying together in the sun. They were only 2 months old and were very small and delicate, with sharp pointy teeth. They are very vulnerable at this age and so find protection out of the water as are a good little snack for other crocs.
After viewing them a while we headed down one of the smaller mangrove creeks and a croc was swimming in the water, a few metres from the boat, as it got close it went under. It was a medium sized male.
Further on was another male croc, sunning himself on the bank of the river. His mouth was open to regulate his body temperature and to cool him off and as we stopped by him he paid us no attention. He was a big one called Scooter but only half the size of the dominant croc in the area. It was amazing to see them in their natural environment and we learned a lot from our guide.
Cruising on the mangroves and spotting the crocs, birds and other wildlife was really interesting. The area is beautiful, all green mountains and thriving mangroves and at only $25 each it was well worth it.
After our morning cruise we crossed the Daintree river on the ferry and drove immediately into the rain forest. This is another area where Cassowary's thrive and there were signs everywhere about them. The road north is a very small, winding road through the ancient forest all the way up to Cape Tribulation. Here the road ends and any further north is by four wheel drive only as it is unsealed.
On the way up we stopped at Alexandra Lookout for amazing views over the rain forest and down to the coast where the river meets the ocean.
We also stopped at Daintree Ice Cream Company, a local homemade organic ice cream made on an exotic fruit farm where you get given the four flavours of the day. We got raspberry, passion fruit, wattle seed and soursop. Two of the fruits we had never even heard of but they were absolutely delicious.
We are camping at Noah Beach, a Queensland Parks campsite in the Daintree National Park. It is simple, the only amenities is a composting toilet so you have to bring your own water and take any rubbish away with you but it is a nice spot. It is in the forest, just back from the beach. The beach is tropical, backed by rain forest and palms and has beware crocs inhabit the area 'beware of injury or death' signs as you enter. At night time things get a bit noisy as all the nocturnal animals of the forest come out but it is nice to sit and listen to them all.

Posted by Chelsandliam 00:15 Archived in Australia Tagged australia daintree Comments (1)

Port Douglas, The Gem of the North Coast

Port Douglas is only a short drive from Cairns but we had heard good things about the town and we had already decided that we wanted to dive from here as it is closer to the reef than most of the other dive hot spots and we knew the reef up here was meant to be in much better condition. The drive up was stunning, the road hugging the coastline with gorgeous views over white sand beaches, palm trees and turquoise seas, all backed by bright green rain forested hills and mountains.
It is an expensive area so there were no free or cheap campsites around so we enquired in a small caravan park, in walking distance to the city called Tropic Breeze. It had spots and they were quite cheap, and they offered a discount if we stayed more than 2 nights so we agreed.

We set up and went into town to book some diving, we had already researched and knew the dive shops we preferred so called them. We were told at this time of year we needed to book six weeks in advance by one of them so called our second choice. They said they had two spare spots for Sunday the 24th April but nothing else so we booked it and decided to rearrange our plans. In Port Douglas Quicksilver group has the monopoly on reef tours. Of the three major boats that go diving it owns them all and so we were concerned that we would be on a big tour with big groups to dive with. They go with groups of up to 8 per dive master and had decided this was too big for us as it meant you were always being dictated by other people in your group. If not everyone was advanced, we could only go to 18m, if someone ran out of air the dive would be over and if the dive master pointed out something interesting underwater we might not see it as not everyone could be at the front. We were only going to see the Great Barrier Reef once so we decided to book a private dive with Blue Dive. These rent a space on Poseidon, one of the main boats but there would be a dive master and only us two in our group. With this sorted out and our camping spot here rearranged for the weekend we had a full day to explore Port Douglas.

It is only small, but it is immaculate. The Main Street is full of beautiful cafes and shops and there is a marina and a tropical paradise beach. We spent the morning on the beach, there is a stinger net to protect you from deadly jellyfish but after hearing stories of people going too close to the net and getting stung through the net with tentacles up to two metres we were not that confident in it. We braved a paddle in up to our waists but spent most of our time on dry land. The beach is a curve, lined with palm trees and backed by lush rainforest hills, so dense it looks like thick green fabric had been folded and wrapped around them.

We spent the midday heat by our tent, having a dip in the pool and doing some laundry and decided to go out before sunset for some drinks on the marina. The caravan park owner had told us some nice places to go and one of them was a bar on the marina that at 5pm every evening fed a giant groper. This sounded intriguing so we went to investigate. It was on the water and the views were beautiful and at on the dot at 5pm a staff member came out with scraps for the giant fish. It took a while to show itself but when it did it was huge, 200lb and 2m long. It has been coming every day since before the bar was here as it used to be a wholesale fish market and they used to throw in the scraps.
To finish our night we walked over to Barbados, a stunning bar on the marina with happy hour drinks and we watched the sun go down over the boats and mangroves.
Port Douglas is a little paradise, a place where we could stay for months but with limited time left there is so much more we want to see. We will be back at the weekend however to do some diving and hopefully explore the Great Barrier Reef.

Posted by Chelsandliam 23:59 Archived in Australia Tagged australia port_douglas Comments (1)

Camping in torrential rain

Mission beach to cairns

rain 27 °C

Our last night in Abergrowie State Forest, was wet. It rained all night so we had to pack our soggy tent into big plastic bags to move on. Everything was wet and muddy.... That was the norm for the next few days.

We spent 2 nights in Mission Beach and it rained non stop, all day and all night the entire time. Normally a tropical paradise, mission beach was a muddy, flooded and extremely windy ghost town.
We managed to have a walk into town, had beers sheltered from the rain and we attempted to have a walk along the beach and in the rainforest but it got too wet and we had to give up. One night the weather was so bad we got ready to sleep in the car, but our tent was our hero and kept us dry and snug the entire time. We visited Etty Bay in the hope of seeing another cassowary but we think it was too wet and windy for them as we saw no Casowarys in the capital of cassowary country the entire the time we were there apart from on the drive out, where one was walking on the side of the road.
After packing up another soggy tent in between downpours we drove through the rain up to Cairns. It continued to rain all day until late afternoon and we ventured out into the city.

Cairns is a town in the tropics. It is thriving from tourism and has a new posh area along the harbour, full of restaurants and bars. We had a walk along the front and sat at a nice bar with a cold beer. We then went for an explore, a spot of shopping and walk around the city.
Our first full day in cairns the sun was finally shining. We needed to wash some clothes as they had got damp and dirty so we spent the morning doing some chores and having a slow morning in camp, relaxing by the pool, waiting for our clothes to dry. We spent the rest of our time in the city, we had a rare treat of dinner out and had some drinks along the harbour and a stroll. There is a purpose built salt water lagoon in the city as there is no beach and a walkway that goes along the tidal mud flats, with views across the marina and out to the sea and mountains. It is a lovely spot and although it is another very busy place, full of backpackers it is a nice relaxed city to spend a few days.

Posted by Chelsandliam 23:47 Archived in Australia Tagged australia cairns mission_beach Comments (0)

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