Deadly Queensland!

Trip Start Oct 01, 2007
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Trip End Mar 05, 2008


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Flag of Australia  ,
Monday, December 3, 2007

Australia is said to be the most dangerous country on earth in terms of the range of animals and plants that can kill you just by looking at you. Some of the world's deadliest animals live here in Australia and alot of them live in Queensland. Queensland is in the tropical North East of Australia. I stayed in Port Douglas which is just north of Cairns and right in the heart of this tropical paradise (incidentally this is where Steve Irwin was killed by a stingray while diving just off the coast of Port Douglas a couple of years ago). There are jellyfish the size of your little finger that will kill you with one sting, crocodiles waiting to munch you for lunch if you are stupid enough to go for a dip in the river and all sorts of other nasty creatures eager to kill you should the other ninety nine fail to see you off first. I figured that I was going to be very lucky to get out of here alive. 

Landing at the airport at Cairns was pretty nice - you descend from the clouds between mountainsides draped in tropical rainforest and a turquoise sea in front of you. Then as you step from the plane you're hit by the heat - this time a wet tropical heat that leaves your sweating almost instantly. This is a pretty uncomfortable place in the summer time (Aussie summer as opposed to European summer). Port Douglas, my home for the next 4 days, is a good hour's drive from Cairns and I'd arranged a free transfer to the hotel there - the Port O'Call. The driver of the bus (a guy from Holland) was a complete madman and I seriously thought we would go crashing to our deaths into the sea as he tore his way up the coast road before I had even had the chance to be killed off in more exotic means by stingrays or jellyfish or crocs. 

It was so hot and humid in Port Douglas - a much different heat than Uluru. It's no exaggeration to say that within five minutes of being outside you'd be wet from sweating, even without lifting a finger to do anything - not a pleasant thought I know and not very pleasant to experience either. I decided (as I usually do) to orientate myself to my new home by having a couple of beers at the bar and speaking to the barman and any other locals to see what was what.  The guy behind the bar was a friendly Scot called Jonny who recommended a couple of excursons - a swim in a place called Mossman Gorge; snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef and a trip into the rainforest. I was only staying here for three full days so these activities sounded perfect. Jonny told me he was going to go to Mossman Gorge the next day for a swim to cool off and if I fancied it I could go with him and a Swedish family he'd been talking to who were also staying at the hotel. Mossman Gorge (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mossman_Gorge%2C_Queensland) is a very popular and beautiful little spot. It's on a river that flows out of the rainforest and it's a well known location for swimming. The cool and clean waters flowing from the mountains are free from crocs and are a great escape from the tropical heat. This being deadly Queensland though you do have to be careful - apparently there have been more than 30 drownings in the last two years at Mossman Gorge - usually from drunk tourists or locals going swimming when conditions are not good. On the day that we went up there it was lovely and the water was lovely and clear and cool - it was so refreshing. There were plenty of people swimming and diving into the water. We had a great afternoon but I did slip on the rocks a couple of times (with all the grace of an elephant) and bruised my hand and foot. It was all very invigorating though and I slept like a log that night after all the day's excitement. Incidentally there was a tremendous thunderstorm which I stayed up to watch for a while which gave a tremendous display of thunder and lightning as it passed over the mountains.

The rain cleared the next day and I made leisurely start on a snorkelling cruise from the harbour on a boat called the Shaolin which is an authentic chinese junk boat. It was a fantastic cruise out to one of the Great Barrier Reef Islands called the Lowe Islands on a boat with so much character. Please have a look at this link, because my description doesn't do this trip justice -http://www.shaolinportdouglas.com/.  The crew were great and it was just so perfect - heading out in turqoise seas with a blue sky stretching endlessly above us. We stopped at the reef for lunch and then we headed out into the warm water and the underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef! I've snorkelled a couple of times before but none of that was anywhere near as spectacular and so full of life as here. The density and variation of sealife is astounding. We were able to swim alongside turtles; look at cute clown fish (the ones from Finding Nemo), gaze respectfully at deadly stingrays; see massive giant clams; watch reef sharks zipping through the water and see a million and one other animals whose names I don't know but were all so colourful and spectacular. It was like being in a dream. The crew literally had to haul me out of the water at the end of the snorkel session because I didn't want to come back onto the boat. As we set sail back to the mainland under a setting sun we shared our stories of the day and experiences of travelling and sipped champagne on the deck of this marvellous boat as occasionally a flying fish would go skimming past the boat. It was just perfect (and we hadn't been eaten or electrocuted or stabbed by any of the sealife). 

I slept blisfully again even though another thunderstorm crashed and banged through the night and the next day I took part in an ecotour of the Daintree rainforest. The day's itinerary was a walk around the Mossman Gorge; a trip on the Daintree River (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daintree_River) to try and find crocodiles (sleeping ones I hoped); a walk on the beach at Cape Tribulation; a swim in another gorge and lunch in the rainforest; and finally a trek through primary rainforest that's been there for millions of years. We had a nice small group and our guide was one of the most knowledgeable people I've ever met. Not only in ecological things either - there wasn't anything that this man didn't have some knowledge of and he had a pretty forthright opinion on everything! He was very entertaining to say the least. The group was an interesting mix too - six of us, all english with the majority being from the North of England - it was quite funny to hear so many northern english accents for the first time in ages.

The day started well with the walk in the Mossman Gorge, our guide telling us interesting facts about the flora and fauna around us. At the Daintree River we managed to find one croc - a small one who was only about 18 months old and about 18 inches long - the guide assured us we weren't in any danger. Cape Tribulation was also lovely. It's a remote headland and beach north of the Daintree River where the rainforest meets the sea - and is one of the few places on earth where you have two world heritage sites meeting each other (the Daintree rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef). After lunch and a swim in another creek (croc free!) the walk through the rainforest was amazing. It really was like something out of Jurassic park. We walked through rainforest that has been in existence at this location continuously for the last 110 million years - that's quite a strange thing to think about. We were walking in something that had been around for more than a hundred million years! It was nice and cool on the forest floor and with the noises of insects, strange sounding birds and the odd rumble of thunder from the cloud draped mountains in the distance made this a distinctly "Jurassic Park" experience. You almost felt like a velociraptor or triceratops might come crashing through the undergrowth at any moment. Again, it was a lovely experience and I enjoyed every minute of it with our knowledgeable guide. There was one particularly funny moment when one of our group asked why the forest was called rainforest...we all thought she was joking but apparently not. She was so sweet the lady that asked but I wonder sometimes why us northerners have a reputation for being a bit slow...

As we arrived back at the hotel I started to not feel very well. My sinuses and teeth (yes, teeth) were starting to hurt and I felt like I was starting to come down with a bad cold. I couldn't work out what was wrong with me, but I figured that some creature or other may have bitten me and I was a little bit worried. I managed to have a couple of beers at the bar (of course!) and it so happened that the Jonny the barman was also feeling a little bit under the weather with similar symptoms. It turned out that we'd probably both picked up sinus/ear infections from swimming and diving in the Mossman River (or perhaps from snorkelling). I had a very early night, didn't sleep well and woke up the next day feeling even worse. My head felt like it was going to explode and strangely, my teeth really, really hurt - I couldn't close my mouth properly. I felt so unwell that I had to cancel another day of snorkelling - this time at the Outer Reef - and I spent most of the day around the pool or in bed sleeping. I was particularly worried because I know that with ear infections you're really not recommended to fly and I couldn't believe the bad timing because I was going to take at least 4 flights over the next 4 days. I did manage to have a few drinks with Jonnie and a few other people I'd made friends with over the time I was in Port Douglas but I really didn't feel good and I wasn't looking forward to the flight to Sydney the next day.

In the morning I felt more or less the same and I was very lucky that the flight to Sydney was relatively OK. But by the time I got to Dave's place on Friday night I was really starting to feel sick and I was getting worried that I wouldn't be able to fly out to Cape Town on the Sunday - not for the first time I was having some sort of crisis just before I was supposed to fly to a new country. By Saturday morning things had got so bad that I booked myself in to see a doctor. Thankfully he said I'd be alright to fly, but I'd got an ear infection or maybe two ear infections - an outer and inner infection, probably caught from swimming. He gave me some antibiotics and recommended that I get ear plugs, nasal sprays and cross my fingers for the flight. Apparently there are not many things more painful than getting blocked ears on a plane when it's coming in to land - one quote I read described it as like having someone shoving a pick axe into your head. Not nice. So I was getting pretty worried about this flight and hoping that the doctor hadn't got his prognosis optimistically wrong. I had visions of me passing out from pain or my ears exploding in a spray of blood...and I had two flights to take - one from Sydney to Jo'burg and then a connecting flight to Cape Town. So I was very relieved that both flights passed uneventfully. The first flight was long at 14hrs, and as all long haul flights are, very tiring, but I made it down to earth safely and with no discomfort at all - I feel very lucky that I got away with it. The second flight was only two hours or so, but I was so tired from the flying and time difference that I slept the whole flight. So eventually, tired but happy to be alive, I landed in Cape Town and slept the sleep of someone who's exhausted but happy to be alive!

So now, comes the South African adventure. My friend Kaska is coming over to join me for the first two weeks and a half and we haven't made any plans yet, so we'll see what happens. And this is the final country and continent on my trip - I'm three quarters done now and in many ways I feel like I've just started!

Bye for now,
Martin
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