B: After all the planning and anticipation for our great Australian roadtrip, it was finally time to put rubber to the road! We went north from Cairns on the windy road up to Kuranda. The small village is located in the middle of a World Heritage Rainforest, 1,000 feet above Cairns. It had a ‘hippy invasion’ in the 1960’s, which transformed it into a base for vibrant arts and crafts. Today’s village boasts world famous markets, street art, and scenic walks for all ages (or the famous Kuranda Scenic Railway and the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway for those less active). We walked through the rainforest at the Jumrum Creek Conservation Park and marveled at Baron Falls, even though it’s the dry season and it’s usually gushing with water.
G: From Kuranda, the drive along the highway was already new and interesting territory. Banana and coffee plantations crept around every curve. Scattered away from the highway were earthen mounds of various sizes that looked like rocks, but were actually termite nests. Some were so big and tall it was both impressive and disgusting to think of how many termites might be living in there! And although I expected it, it was still sad to see the frequent sight of kangaroos as road kill, already being infested by crows. The first night we camped at Davies Creek, a quiet little hideaway 6km off the main highway with great scenery. In the morning, we stocked up on our fresh spring water and took a quick dip to cool the rising temperatures of this hot country.
Next, we visited one of those local coffee plantations for a caffeine hit and then drove through Mareeba to Granite Gorge. Granite Gorge is a boulder park, swimming hole, and residence of the local rock wallaby. Complete with dinosaur footprints and rock canyons, we weaved through the mammoth boulders like a playground meeting the sweet and innocent wallabies along the way. Each time they hopped up, they would look at us presumptuously to feed them, since the owner of the site provides a small bag of dry food. When we finally fed them, they all gathered in colossal numbers!
B: The following day we moved faster, checking off sites of interest one by one as they were near to the circular highway route. The Curtain Fig Tree is a sight unlike any other, so I’ll just let the picture do the talking. Lake Eacham is an old glacier lake that I didn’t find particularly impressive, but the locals seem to like it. Millaa Millaa Falls is one of (if not the) most photographed waterfall in Australia. Apparently it was the sight of an Herbal Essences commercial, as the tour guides were posing long-haired women in front of the falls to snap a photo of the iconic hair flip. I probably could’ve tried it with my locks… 😉 It was scenic, but I preferred Josephine Falls with the rock waterslide. Then it was on to the Mungali Creek Biodynamic Farm where we indulged in the most delicious plum cheesecake. Finally, while searching for a free campsite we stumbled upon Paronella Park.
We were greeted in the parking lot by Mark, founder and co-owner of this unique piece of land. His enthusiasm for the place was off the charts, even though he’s been entertaining guests every day for over 20 years. He couldn’t quite give an accurate description, other than: Spanish-style castle, glowing waterfalls, canyon of kauri groves, #1 attraction in Queensland, forest-meets-Gaudi-meets-Dali-architecture, you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it! Admission included free camping, but at $40 each we weren’t that gung-ho. He offered a 2-for-1 deal at the concession rate of $37, so it was more reasonable and worth the risk of this magical place. (He later told me, “You guys are about my kids’ age, so I have to look out for you.” I told him, “Thanks. That’s funny because my dad’s name is Mark.” He replied, “Good name!” 😉 )
We took a night tour that evening, guided by none other than Mark himself. His enthusiasm was non-stop, even at 8pm! A brief history: Paronella Park was created in the 1930s by Spanish-born Jose Paronella after amassing a fortune from property dealings in the area. On 13 acres of land, he built his dream house (more of a compound) by hand with most of the designs residing only in his head. By 1933 it had Queensland’s first hydroelectric plant and opened to the public in 1935. The Paronella’s hosted locals for Saturday movie nights, tennis matches, and built a pavilion with balconies, refreshment rooms, and changing cubicle for swimmers. There was even a museum! Unfortunately, unexpected weather events and the decline of Jose’s health found the property quickly deteriorating. Decades passed and family members failed to maintain the place through forest growth and harsh cyclones. In 1993, Mark and Judy Evans rediscovered the park and revived Jose’s dream by refurbishing all aspects as close as possible to their original state. Despite the recent cyclones, the park is in great condition and attracts heaps of tourists year-round. It’s eco-certified and heritage listed. The Evans’ continue to restore this beautiful property and preserve Paronella Park so that future generations can continue to glimpse into the past at Jose Paronella’s dream. Oh…and Gabriella was too scared to camp because of the resident 4.25m long python (see snake skin pic) that roams the property, so we slept in the car. 😉
G: After a circuit of the Tablelands, we stopped for a night in Cairns at a free campsite and met a friendly German trio with a unique campervan. We shared stories over wine for the night, and then parted ways as many travelers do. From there, we went north to Daintree Rainforest stopping at a few beaches along the way, including a free camp at Wangetti and quick tour around Port Douglas. The real attraction though came at Mossman Gorge. The drive in was pretty special, but then we ventured into a beautiful rainforest with walking trails, giant boulders, and a swimming hole. A portion has also been maintained as a private residence for Aboriginals from the area. Along the trail we ran into our German friends with the famous campervan!
B: Once we crossed the river into Daintree, phone signal cut out and the jungle began. The road curved in and out of dense forest with lookout points and boardwalks every few kms. Crocodile and jellyfish signs warned us to be on the lookout near rivers and beaches, with emergency vinegar handy as well. Yikes! That evening we stayed at Lync-Haven Retreat, which is also an animal sanctuary housing snakes and baby crocodiles in cages, a more-intimidating full-grown crocodile named Doris, and a few different kangaroos and wallabies. The next morning we were invited to watch a feeding and get to know the locals a little better.
Afterwards, we took the road as far north as we could to Cape Tribulation. It’s the furthest north along the east coast of Australia that anyone can go without a 4WD. The view was stunning; where the rainforest meets the reef! From there we cruised south, hopping from one beautiful beach or boardwalk to the next, checking off the sites of the tourist trail and indulging in biodynamic ice cream (once we chose a flavor!). One of the best stops was Cow Bay, where coincidentally we stumbled upon our German friends again! We explored the Jindalba boardwalk with them before parting ways for good this time.
G: My favorite part of the Daintree was when we detoured off the tourist map to an area recommended to us by our roommate in the Cairns hostel. It’s called the Blue Holes and there are no signs directing people to get there. We had ambiguous directions and figured we’d ask a local for something more direct. When we asked a shop keeper, he hesitated for a second, drew a blue dot on our map, and told us, “You didn’t hear it from me.” The Blue Holes are a sacred female Aboriginal site used for birthing. When the light hits the water properly, it glows a luminescent blue. There were a few other people there when we arrived, but the air was still and the energy was palpable. As with so many of the other amazing sacred sites we came across, this required a moment for meditation—to express gratitude to this infinite universe. Pure Bliss.