Upon arriving in Cairns I boarded a bus to Port Douglas. We drove an hour and a bit up the lush coast to the outskirts of Port Douglas where I was dropped at my hotel. After my pre-dawn start, I was asleep on my feet and a bit dehydrated. A receptionist rushed to meet me to tell me I was to be sent to a different resort as they had maintenance issues with some rooms. I had an excursion booked for the following day, and after a bit of a delay trying to find contact details for the guide, we managed to ask him to pick me up from the correct hotel. By the time I reached the new resort I was practically comatose, even though it was only about 6 in the evening. They assured me it was Port Douglas’ finest and that I had been very lucky to be sent there. I went to my room, featuring a huge bathroom containing a spa bath which would comfortably seat four.
After washing my hands and face, I decided to go out to eat rather than simply collapse into bed. I walked to the Beach Shack which was about half a mile away. The beginning of the walk was well lit, but there was a small section in the middle where it was pitch black. I have got better about eating at restaurants on my own, which is the only real drawback of solo travel. I had a tasty meal and then allowed myself to go to bed. I stopped in the dark section of the walk back to admire the stars before deciding that maybe standing around in the dark was not my best idea. The stars were beautiful though.
I had an early start for my excursion to the rainforest. It was just me with my guide, David Armbrust. He told me he would soon be retiring, and that we would be walking on his property where he has allowed the rainforest to grow back over land once cleared for cattle grazing. It was a fascinating, different and magical experience. He is like a pied piper, having got the local animals used to his presence, and occasionally whipping out something for them to eat. It started as soon as we got out of the car. A little bird hopped onto a bush right next to me and stared at me. David suggested I hold out my finger, and the little bird hopped right on. He then told me I would struggle to shoot with a 400mm lens, something I wish he had mentioned when he picked me up and I could have grabbed something smaller. Unfortunately I had taken everything else out of my camera bag to lighten it. Not only was it too dark to hand hold the big lens, it was not necessary as all the animals were so used to people.
He put some banana pieces in a tree, attracting a small flock of Lewin’s honeyeaters, one of which had just hopped on my finger. There were also some yellow spotted honeyeaters, a cat bird, a Victoria’s Riflebird and a female satin bower bird. As predicted, I struggled to photograph them, only successfully shooting ones that were quite still when I pressed the shutter. Thanks, satin bower bird, for posing so beautifully. She is the one at the top of this post.
We set off into the forest, and David explained that the area we were walking through had been completely stripped for cattle farming. He had replanted some trees, and after 30 years there was a high canopy, although there was enough light for some grass to grow on the forest floor. He pointed out a cycad which had a trunk about 30 centimetres high, and explained that they grew about one metre every ten years. As we walked, I heard a noise behind me, and I turned to find a little red-legged pademelon right behind me. “Hello Alice” said David, and offered her a slice of raw sweet potato, which she accepted gratefully from his hands. As we entered a small clearing, we were joined by Mary, another pademelon with a joey in her pouch. While Mary ate her slice of sweet potato, I took pictures of her. In that light, I could not increase the F-stop enough to get her and her joey in focus. One of Mary’s daughters turned up to join the party, as did Belinda, a very pretty pademelon. Mary was very grumpy with the others, growling at them if they got too close to her. David could teach them to trust him, but not to have manners, it seems.
As we walked further through the forest, followed by our little gang of pademelons, as well as a number of birds, we saw noisy brush turkeys, which are rather thuggish, trying to chase off the other animals, and periodically fighting with one another, and some scrub fowls. These are pretty birds, with huge orange feet, round dark blue bodies and brown wings. The backs of their tiny heads have a pointed crest. They were much less friendly than the other animals, as a new male had chased off the one David had accustomed to him.
We walked into an area which had never been cleared, so was ancient rainforest. There was no longer grass on the ground as the canopy was higher and thicker. The trees were diverse and very beautiful, and included a palm with enormous fan like leaves.
Suddenly tiny musky rat-kangaroos appeared at our feet. They darted about, frequently rushing back under cover, seldom stopping for long enough for me to take a photo. David explained that he had been getting them used to people so they could be filmed for documentaries, as they are very shy creatures. They are very pretty when the light shines on their coats, which are dark brown with red highlights.
David then pointed out another cycad. This one was at least 20 metres tall. At a rate of one metre every ten years, that was one old tree. Another fascinating tree was a palm which had the root of another tree growing up out of the ground and all the way up its trunk, tapping into the palm’s nutrients.
I heard a soft bleating noise behind me. I turned to find a badly scarred pademelon at my feet. Once the most beautiful of David’s pademelons, Audrey was attacked by a gang of young males after the death of the dominant male, leaving no one to keep them in check. They injured her badly but she survived, although I would not blame her if she does not like men anymore. She was very polite, gently asking whenever she fancied another slice of sweet potato.
We came to a small picnic area where David gave me a cup of coffee and poured out some food for all of the animals. I did not even attempt photographs in the dappled light of the forest, but it was magical and slightly surreal to sit there in the forest, surrounded by birds and pademelons, while the musky rat-kangaroos darted around our feet, with the peace only spoiled by the sound of bikes going past on the highway, which is obviously popular with bikers, and the occasional brush turkey altercation which would send the other animals scurrying for cover. All too soon it was time to return to my hotel at Port Douglas.
I decided to explore the resort, as it was the fanciest in the area. The lagoon pool, while pretty, has the unfortunate effect of placing all the sun loungers together at one end as there is no room in front of the buildings. Rather than feel penned in, I headed to the beach. That is where I discovered why people come to this part of the world. This was a much better option. Four miles long, it has a narrow stretch of brown sand. I picked a deserted spot (it would have been hard to find a crowded one) and decided to go for a swim. This was a challenge as the water is extremely shallow for a long way, so after a bit of a wade without managing to get my knees wet, I went back and snoozed happily on the beach until woken by a very friendly dog. Even a Labrador can give you a scare when you awake to find one with its tongue in your ear!
After a float in the huge spa bath in my room I went to explore the little resort town of Port Douglas. It is a collection of restaurants, ice cream parlours and beachwear retailers. At one end is a nice park in which one can sit and enjoy the sunset.
The next day there was just time for a little run on the beach (I confess I did not cover the four mile stretch), some photos of a beautiful yellow sunbird and a quick trip into town to buy another swimsuit before I had to head back to Cairns to join my cruise to Lizard Island.