We have been here in ‘our’ ever changing rainforest refuge for just on 4 months, & have just 7 days before we move on.
The property has cocooned us & sustained us through a time in Australia’s history of unprecedented weather & destruction. Although the anguish & horror affecting so many people in bushfires across so many states has constantly seeped into our lives we have been safe & have felt removed from the danger, even though like most folk not directly affected we have known those who are.
The rainforest & it’s tropical surrounds is, for now at least, an ‘island’ in the midst of a dry, burning country in the grip of drought like never before. Major river systems, abused by those who can afford to, to grow their unsustainable crops, have dried up. These are not ephemeral waterways which dry up every summer. These are major waterways which have sustained huge ecosystems & on which large populations depend, just as people have done for millennia. There is now a growing trickle of large towns which have run out of water, long feared but never before occurred. Winds push apocalyptically huge dust storms across cities & states. On Tv we see people on city streets wearing face masks to protect themselves from the bushfire smoke ‘& the orange dust. The picture of a continent at the forefront of climate change is bad enough, made far worse & increasingly inequitable by an economic system which continues to equate never ending ‘growth’ with ‘success’. It couldn’t be more different here. Our surroundings are green & moist. The air is clean & fresh, and it’s been raining. We reverted back to our old farm behaviour recording our daily rainfall since arriving here. From the beginning of October through to the end of the year, the dry season, a little over 300mm fell. More than many parts of Australia has seen for years! It wasn’t spread evenly across that period though with probably 10 weeks of almost none. The rainforest relies on regular rainfall, & began to look drier than it should. In mid November it looked like the forest was in trouble & we had a troubling vision of it’s future within the next decade or less. The worlds most ancient rainforest at risk of burning. At the beginning of January it rained again, heavily. Just two rain events a few days apart brought both the excitement of night time thunder & lightning spectacles & dropped a combined total of a little over 300mm (12”) of rain, making both us & the forest smile with relief. Frogs, en masse loudly sounded their approval (& have continued to do so nightly since, although never again at quite such volume).
The wetlands & chain of ponds on the property which had mostly dried, leaving a few small muddy puddles amidst dry cracked earth re-filled with the ponds overflowing into the dry swamps, draining into the tidal Barratt Creek, & thence into the mighty Daintree River. Since January 1st until today (23rd Jan) 515mm of rain has fallen. We thought the elusive wet season we have been chasing had commenced……. but not so. The past 10 days have been all but dry. The fierce sun has seen water levels in the wetland ponds drop by 150mm (6”) in that short time. The ground has never once become ‘mushy’ , puddles are mostly fleeting & water is absorbed into the ground almost as rapidly as other surfaces are dried by the sun’s heat. The monsoon trough has not yet arrived. It looks to be on it’s way, but it’s very late. The forecast for the wet season’ is for ‘average rainfall’, but it will be over a shorter period. For now the rainforest is happy but it’s future is far from assured.
Everything changes with the rain & the season. Always something with new blossoms or fruit. New insects, new fungi. Clear blue skies once again have clouds in them, at times all cloud. Unlike the cold wet miserable weather of Victorian winters or the UK of our younger years, the cloudy weather blocks the harsh direct sun & eases the temperatures to the cooler high 20’s & low 30’s (Centigrade). It is humid however. Mould appears quite suddenly on canvas bags & even a leather belt. A sign to keep the ceiling fans running 24/7, keep the air moving. Anything physical sees our bodies wet & dripping, but lazing in the shade or inside under the fans is a largely dry activity. The relative humidity percentages are little different to those we experienced at this time last year on the North WA coast, but it feels different. It’s the rainforest ‘breathing’ around us which is different, sucking moisture out of the ground & bathing us in its warm damp breath. Whether we have simply adapted, or whether it is somehow easier we are not sure, but it hasn’t been a struggle. Air conditioning in the car is nice to have, but we have not otherwise felt the need for it. Sleeping in night time temperatures of low 20’s C, naked on top of the sheet until the early hours when the covering of the sheet becomes welcome has remained consistent here. We like that the house requires no form of heating or cooling.
If we discount our first house-sit on the basis that it was for friends, this has only been our our 3rd, but those 3 have clocked up over 12 of the 20 months since we last left home. Each has been a learning exercise but this one has been by far the easiest, aided greatly by the channel of communication we established with the owners long before we arrived & maintained throughout our time here. We have no doubt that the fact that they are simply lovely people whom we instinctively trust & whom we feel trusted by has been significant.
Many is the time in our past travels we have felt that a place we have spent a night or two in was nice enough to see us looking in the windows of the local real estate agents. But really most places have a golden glow when you are ‘on holiday’ & passing through. Longer stays allow for a better evaluation. Climate & community rather than weather & a nice chat. When we visit the market or shops & folk recognise us it’s a good marker to allow us to think we’ve been around long enough to gain a more realistic sense of the place. Joining locally based Facebook groups & becoming involved in discussion around local matters (albeit remaining open about the temporary nature of our stay) offers further insights. As far as potential for a future home we both feel FNQ (Far North Queensland) is at the top of the list. Rainforest living with the privacy it affords, the climate it enjoys & it’s proximity to the sorts of services, like health, which become more important with age, without having to live in a town are very attractive.
On the point of health, I’d like to thank those of you who contacted me after I revealed the unexpected struggle I’d been having with Crohn’s Disease in the December blog post. The support was much appreciated & for a condition, the details of which are virtually taboo to discuss, I was amazed at how many folk ‘came out of the woodwork’, with tales of their own, of relatives, of friends, & even of work colleagues who live with Crohn’s or similar conditions. I really had felt unsure about saying anything, but the response really helped me to feel far less alone & I’m glad I said something. I should let you know, touch wood, that I remain on the prescribed medication which has things under control & pretty much back to normal. I do of course need to be thoughtful about diet, but MrsTea has that side of things under control for which I am exceptionally grateful. From a point not long ago where an enforced end to our travels looked likely, to now where that doesn’t figure as a concern has been a bumpy ride. But what’s a few corrugations in life’s travels? Just another story to tell! Anyway, we both thank those of you who took the time to share & commiserate with us.
How long we will continue to travel remains an unknown. Whether we will continue to travel until we stop & settle down, or whether we buy a place with a view to part time living, part time travelling who knows. Both are possibilities, as too is the possibility of returning home to Victoria & settling back into life where we have a few good friends & neighbours. One day we’ll have to make a decision about these things & it likely wont be easy, but nevertheless we do feel lucky to have the choice. We don’t know, but expect these thoughts are something that most long term travellers carry with them?
Something we had both looked forward to whilst in the Daintree, was the likelihood of seeing some of the large & pretty pythons which call the ‘jungle’ home, & which from time to time make news headlines when they are discovered & photographed in public places, such as one seen on the road close to the Port Douglas primary school a month or two back, it’s full length extending the entire width of the road & a bit more! Well we haven’t seen a single one sadly. We know they are here as the property owners have had them take chooks (chickens) in the past. Apparently they tend to hang around in trees during the day & are more likely to be seen on the ground at night whilst out hunting for their tucker, as was the Port Douglas one. Our occasional torch-lit ’spotlighting’ night time python hunts have been unsuccessful. In fact we have seen very few snakes at all whilst here. A couple of Red Bellied Black’s whilst mowing grass (the most familiar species to us as they were common back on our farm) speedily took off for the cover of bush ahead of the noisy mower’s approach & just one other. MrsTea has swum in the freshwater pool here most days, & on one occasion, shortly after she had left the house for her dip she called me, her voice carrying a sense of urgency & instructions to bring my camera. As it turned out there was no urgency, we watched a beautiful Green Tree Snake with a bright yellow belly wrestle & finally overcome a White Lipped Green Tree frog for close on an hour, the poor frog valiantly grasping onto anything it could to save itself from the snake’s unrelenting jaws. It struggled to the end, a terrible but fascinating spectacle, until eventually it had no more struggle to offer & the snake, using it’s long body coiled around the roots of a pandanus palm, to anchor itself, slowly pulling it’s meal up into the darker & more private recesses of the root system. A meal which looked far too big for the snake to swallow despite it’s dislocated jaw. We hope it did eventually manage to get it down, & that the frog hadn’t died in vain. Four months in the rainforest – three snakes.
As December progressed everywhere was getting drier, & we visited the bird hide less, as without water observable bird-life had dropped away. Lots of birdsong & calls told us they were still there, but we have learned that finding birds in the thick of the forest is far from easy. The place to see them is at the edge of the forest, in clearings or alongside waterways. Obvious really, but we had to learn this from experience. We had other things affect our birdwatching activities too. The health stuff of course, but a huge blow, at least to my enthusiasm was the loss of our entire record of sightings built up over the past two years on MrsTea’s iPad. When the ipad spontaneously developed two cracks across it’s screen we put in train what became a 2 month long saga, where initially we were told that the damage would be covered under common law warranty (as it should have been), but later were told it would not be covered, (with no reason given). Instead we were then expected to pay over half the price of a new iPad for a replacement unit. As you might expect we unhappy about this, but were dealing with Apple at arms length, via a local (Cairns) ’authorised repair shop’, who passed on the message to us re ‘payment now required’ , but had not been told why a claim they had deemed acceptable had been denied by Apple. By this time MrsTea was getting anxious to have her iPad back ,time had passed, including a period where the faulty iPad had been returned to Cairns, sent back to Apple again, got lost by the courier service & delayed by the bushfires etc etc. The authorised repairer basically suggested we contact Apple ourselves if unhappy, or pay up. The inference was “if they wont tell us why it is not going to be fully covered by warranty they wont tell you”. We paid the repair shop & received a new replacement in the mail sent via the repairer. I then, still feeling miffed about what I thought should have been covered, decided to contact Apple’s Sydney heaquarters anyway. Long story of helpful Apple staff & drawn out bureaucratic company nonsense. We finally received our payment refund in full, & have a new iPad with a full warranty. The point of this sorry tale of woe & it’s eventual good outcome is that prior to sending away our cracked screen iPad, we were advised to back it up & then to ‘wipe’ it clean of all user data, which I did. When restoring the backup to the replacement iPad all went as expected, except for one thing. The complete record of our bird sightings – species, location , dates etc etc was gone. A record comprising several hundred entries & far more than I had been able to photograph. Contact with the people who make & sell the ‘app’ confirmed that unlike the rest of our apps which retained all ‘user data’ as expected, theirs required the user data to be backed up separately. For me a big part of ‘collecting’ bird sightings is not the building of the ‘collection’, but it is the excitement of finding the ‘new’. Seeing a new bird for the first time is a buzz. Starting the collection again isn’t. I still don’t know if I will, although seeing the ‘new’ will doubtless remain exciting. To rub salt into the wound, since the loss the app has had a new version released which makes backing up the user data far easier as well as the need to do so much more explicit. Grrrrrr!
And so Christmas came around once more. That time of the year to spend over-indulging whilst surrounded by family. Bah humbug! On our own, health induced dietary restrictions. Pah! Last year at Goombaragin I had thought we would treat Christmas as just another day, but was so happy when MrsTea had secretly brought the necessities for Christmas dinner back from Broome for us & surprised me with a lovely Christmas dinner on the top of the pindan cliffs overlooking the ocean. This time we planned together. No decorations, no presents, & no cooking. Instead we would buy a selection of exotic fruits at the market, & a quantity of prawns from a local lady, renowned for her annual Christmas supply of cooked tiger prawns, picked up from her on Christmas eve, after she had collected them fresh off a trawler in Port Douglas, & cooked them the night before Christmas eve. This is exactly what we did & it was wonderful …… made even better by MrsTea’s secreted length of tinsel around a flower arrangement from the garden. Oh & the crackers (bon-bons), also smuggled in from Mossman, containing the obligatory paper Christmas hats. MrsTea you dunnit again.
‘New Years eve followed Christmas, & as has become the norm, saw us both well in the land of nod long before midnight. Bushfires continued to rage & worsen & we felt worn down by the constancy of the ongoing disaster, having felt compelled to watch the 24 hour Tv coverage. Perhaps guilt at having been able, unlike many, to take ourselves out of harms way, & in part being so familiar with many of the areas & towns affected, whatever it was we watched the Tv reports compulsively out of some ‘sense of duty’ , places burning where friends lived, on New years eve. Without ever being anywhere near to a fire it was hard work on so many levels. The whole nation must have been feeling it. Social media was alive with bushfire ‘news’. There was much being used by those who felt it opportune to push their own agendas. Some agendas we would support, some we wouldn’t. Fake news, twisted news, blame & finger pointing all mixed up in the emotion of the time. All of this seemed to add to the load, much of it, even that which purported to be supportive was just ‘noise’. In among the noise were some heart rending reports, but what took my breath away was the contact I received from old friends overseas, far more ‘removed from the action’ than us, on the other side of the planet, who wanted to show their support. To donate to those affected by the fires, people who have never been to this country, to whom none of the place names carried any familiarity. Simply moved by the obvious, the disaster at a human level. One lovely lady, an old friend living in Ireland whom I haven’t seen for 35 years organised a collection in her village. Donating ourselves & facilitating others to do so helped us to feel less useless. But even now the fires continue to rage. Just today the Tv told us of a water bombing aircraft crashing over the fires in very windy conditions, with the loss of all the crew.
This fire season has months yet to go. It will come to an end – a reprieve until later in the year when it will all begin again. The scale far worse than ever before. I, like many others, have talked of the need for extensive & different management in this changing climate, whilst our country’s decision makers exploit the disagreements & finger pointing within the community to justify doing nothing proactive. Even their reactive assistance to the catastrophe was slow in coming, spurred only by increasingly loud public anger toward a government unwilling to acknowledge any connection between the fires, the drought & climate change, or anything which might not sit right with their support for the fossil fuel industry.
With the new year upon us, it struck us that our time here was running out, & to date we had done virtually nothing ’touristy’, in this part of Australia which is a ‘tourist heaven’. Admittedly we have been here before & enjoyed Great Barrier Reef trips, Mossman Gorge, Port Douglas & Cape Tribulation. We have enjoyed our unique (as visitors) experience of ‘relaxing in the rainforest’ this time around, but we decided to get out & about a few times anyway. First up – the road we have driven regularly between here & Mossman, a bit over 30kms each way is a lovely drive taking us through rainforest, extensive sugar cane fields, complete with cane train rail tracks, and a backdrop of impressive rainforest encrusted mountains. The road winds at times along the shores of the Coral sea, just a few paces from white palm lined beaches. We decided to drive it again, only this time to stop at all the lovely spots we had regularly driven past. Humbug Reach, my favourite place name in Australia I think, with it’s views of the Daintree River & Barratt Creek. Wonga Beach, Rocky Point, Newell Beach, Cooya Beach & a variety of unnamed pretty locations along the way. Undeveloped wild beaches easily accessed & mostly with not a soul in sight. It was a relaxed & most enjoyable day, satisfying to catch up with what we had driven past & missed so many times. Fish & Chips at Newell Beach wasn’t a bad punctuation to the homeward leg of the journey.
Earlier in our time here, friends Annette & Markus visited & stayed for a few days in their Tvan. They took one of the number of croc spotting boat cruises on the Daintree River & returned with good reports having seen some crocs, & a python coiled up in a tree on the banks of the river. We decided we should get out on a cruise too. Unfortunately for us, with it now being later in the season the water has warmed considerably resulting in crocodiles not needing to surface nor to come out onto the banks to sunbathe & warm up. It was a pleasant trip along the river, in a quiet solar powered boat, but we saw just one tiny croc, about 18” long hiding among mangrove roots, & very little else. Certainly no pythons, & the few birds were ones we regularly see on the property here.
As it was, the lack of crocs on our croc cruise was more than made up for back on the property a day or two later. With all the rain & the water levels full & overflowing in the wetlands it became obvious that there was now an open ‘pathway’ between the Barratt Creek & our ponds. We are certain that Betty, our ‘resident’ croc had returned to the Barratt Creek when the water levels here dried up, just as she has apparently done for several years. What we hadn’t expected was to see a croc in the ponds so soon after the rains, & we certainly hadn’t expected to see a croc that was not Betty! But that is exactly what happened. We had wandered down to the hide two or three days after the second big rain as we had realised that observable birdlife was increasing again, & there it was right in front of us! We know that Betty has used this pond, but we had never seen her in it, only in another nearby pond further from the hide. This croc we believe is a bit smaller than Betty, I estimated around two metres whilst we think Betty is closer to three. We can’t say with 100% certainty that this is not Betty, but this croc’s behaviour is different to that which we have observed from her. She will submerge & hide as soon as she is aware of our presence, this one didn’t. Far bolder, laying there in the water watching us. Needless to say it’s presence has seen us down at the hide more often again, but to date we have only seen it on 3 separate occasions, but I think it’s safe (& wise) to assume it’s still around. We expect Betty will return sooner or later, although in all likelihood we wont be around to witness the two of them sorting out who’s territory it’s going to be. We have already observed sufficient water movements to think that eels & fish will offer a plentiful food supply for one or both of them.
We finally got ourselves across the river (Daintree) by the only means possible – the car ferry, and spent a long day of mixed ’touristy stuff’ & checking out many of the back roads for potential real estate locations. We found several areas not far from the river, off Forest Creek drive, which we pencilled in as ‘maybe’ areas, but the rest of the areas further north , whilst beautiful didn’t appeal as future home locations. Too touristy, a very slow, tight & twisty access road, with many properties so enclosed by the forest at close proximity to the house that we could easily imagine them becoming dark & depressing places to live, especially as most do not have mains electricity once away from the river. Off grid appeals to me, but not without solar. We think most places up there must rely fairly heavily on generators, & those that dont, were likely well out of any budget we might have. We wondered how many homes in & around Cow Bay & Diwan have permanent residents.
Having made it to Cape Tribulation Beach, & wandered along it, reminiscing from our visit there 10 years ago it was fairly late in the day & we were both feeling a little tired & grumpy. Nevertheless we stopped, for nostalgic reasons as much as anything, to walk around the 600 metre walk through rainforest covered mangrove swamps on our way back. An easy walk on mainly raised boardwalk paths. Completely unexpectedly something happened mid walk to see us forget any tiredness & any grumpiness. A bucket list item was well & truly ticked off. The tide was out, unlike our previous visit when we had been surrounded by water. This time we were surround by mud & small trickling water ways, & many species of mangroves with their millions of tiny ‘breathing roots’ which sit just above the mud to supply the mangroves with the oxygen they need …… at low tide. Buttressed tree trunks abounded . We wandered & did the “Oh I remember this bit ….at least I think I do” thing a few times, but our tiredness was now dragging us back to the car, with a lot of driving still ahead. And then we saw it! The vibrant almost day-glo colours in this muddy, mozzie infested mangrove shady location it stood out like a sore thumb. Those colours could be nothing else. Our first ever Cassowary! Woohoo! The section of boardwalk was several feet above the mud, & thankfully had fenced handrails along both sides creating a barrier enabling us to feel safe. These large powerful birds are renowned for their potential to get grumpy, & are more than capable of disemboweling a person. This Cassowary however seemed almost oblivious to our presence even when just a few feet away. It must have known we were there, but simply ignored us, going about it’s business of picking up the small red berries it ate whole, stopping now & then to go for a drink at a close by stream of presumably fresh water. When it had had sufficient berries it wandered toward us, leaving many berries untouched, & ducked under the walkway, out the other side, walking across the mud in a slow casual manner, eventually disappearing into thicker bush on raised ground 30 or 40 metres away. It was there with us for a good 20 minutes +. We had no idea that mangrove swamps would be Cassowary territory. They are very special birds, often shy. Our grumpiness forgotten we drove back to the ferry & ‘home’ buzzing …… & grinning.
Since then we also visited Port Douglas for a wander around the town. It’s ‘Tourism Central’, but done quite nicely. Akin to Airlie Beach, but classier. Lots & lots of shops, clothing, beachwear, souvenirs, cafes & restaurants & Great Barrier Reef tour operators/ticket sellers & of course every style of accommodation from backpacker dormitories to very grand hotels complete with golf courses, helipads etc. Palm trees everywhere. It is the stuff of glossy holiday brochures. And of course the beach. A very attractive beach, like all the beaches in the area, but unlike all the other beaches this one can be guaranteed to have plenty of people on it. It’s what attracts all the folk who fly in to Cairns from around Australia, & from overseas, having pre-booked their Port Douglas/Great Barrier Reef/ rainforest holidays. Very nicely done, but not our type of holiday.
Our preparations & packing to leave are now under way, in a slow day by day sort of way. This time next week we will be on a plane, flying up to the aboriginal settlement of Lockhart River, before being met there & driven to our next house sit 40 minutes north at Portland Roads. Storage for our car in Cairns is booked, close to the airport, & we’ll be leaving our Tvan here to collect when we return in March. Overnight accommodation is booked in Palm Cove for the night we return. Our first foray into the world of Airbnb. https://www.airbnb.com.au/rooms/9646123?source_impression_id=p3_1579766816_rfYdme1EpmEvW3jH We thought a one nighter with a meal out might be nice before our house sit in Clifton Beach nearby commences the following day.