Setting off from Palm Cove held a distinctly different kind of excitement. We’ve been off-road a little bit so far, but nothing like what’s ahead of us now. It feels like we’re about to take on a totally different adventure.
We’re further north than I have ever been in the country before. And north of here, very few people have been at all. The drive up the coast is stunning. It’s right next to the water for most of the way, whereas for the majority of the East coast you’re inland a good bit. Beaches, hills and rainforests – actually reminded me a lot of the road that twists up the West side of Loch Lomond.
About half an hour past Port Douglas, another nice touristy spot, there’s a big sign that points right, through the last sugar cane field we’ll see for god knows how long, and ten minutes later, we’re at the Daintree River.
The crossing is one of those little ferries that pulls itself across on cables. Just before it on the left, however, is a collection of Croc Tour Boats. Bonza. Let’s go. This is the real deal. None of this watching from afar as the Irwin’s dance around, hurling uncomfortably bad jokes and patronising repartee.
Let’s get out on a river, in the wild, with some big fucking crocodiles.
We didn’t have to wait long. Two minutes into it, we saw a 2metre long female called ‘Gump’ – ‘cause she hangs out across from Forest Creek. Two minutes later, the slightly smaller Elizabeth was lounging on the bank, waving at passer’s by.
And then we saw Scarface. The four and a half metre long Alpha male of this particular stretch, who had been in so many fights he only had ten teeth left. He’s still ‘live and deadly’ though, as our Aboriginal friends would say.
We were on a boat called the Daintree Whisper. A solar powered craft driven by a guy who’s been cruising this river for 18 years, and boy did he know his stuff.
Scarface owned about 10km of the river. He would patrol up and down, visiting his girlfriends, eating whatever he liked, and lounging on river banks much of the time.
“Saltwater Crocodiles don’t actually stop growing.” he informed us. And as Scarface has grown over the years, his patch has grown too.
Crocodile hunting was banned in 1974, and even though it took until the mid ‘80s for North Queenslanders to stop shooting them, most of the giant crocodiles are gone by now.
“That is 30 years ago though, and they’re all starting to get bigger again.” he tells us.
Which means their territory expands, and as there can be only one Alpha male, they’ve started moving further south into areas where people haven’t seen them before.
“I wouldn’t go for a swim on a beach anywhere around here.” he said. “Even as far south as Mackay.”
A week ago he saw Scarface chewing on the skull of a cow.
“So he won’t be hungry for a while. Crocodiles are incredibly efficient. They’re cold blooded animals so they don’t need to use energy to heat up their bodies. They’ve been known to go for as long as a year without eating.”
“They’re older than the dinosaurs. Clever, cunning, and supremely adapted to their environment. “
He told us about an experiment that Steve Irwin and his institution carried out years ago.
They took a Croc from the West Coast of the Cape, and dropped him next to a river estuary on the East Coast.
This river extended inland, almost meeting up with another one that would take him home. They tagged him, and waited to see what happened. It was not, at all, what they were expecting.
Instead of piloting down the waterway, crossing into the other river and stealing his way home, he patrolled up and down his immediate area for weeks. Then he swam 40km out into the sea, all the way out to the Great Barrier Reef, then turned round and came back.
Then he finally headed North, paddled up the coast, round the tip, and within 2o days he had covered 400km. Returning to the very spot he was taken from. During the trip he even stopped and started according to the tides, using them to his advantage – this freakin’ massive reptile, that’s older than the dinosaurs.
Unreal. Animals are truly amazing.
Here’s me shitting myself I’m going to get lost on a trip round Oz with my family. Scouring and downloading maps, buying PLBs and GPS systems. It’s all already inbuilt with these guys. Amazing.
Anyhoo. Off the boat, across the ferry and it was as if we had entered a different world. They say that Cape Trib’ is where the rainforest meets the reef, but it’s also where the rainforest meets the road. You are, literally, driving through the middle of the oldest rainforest on the planet. And it feels like it.
It’s dark. Humid. It feels as if the forest is a singular living entity, mildly annoyed by this black ribbon winding its way through. The vegetation stops at the bitumen, but then reaches in to try and grab the side of your car. Towering above, the trees meet to close out the sunlight, and throw vines down to hamper your progress.
It feels like a very special place. And it feels like you shouldn’t really be there.
Maybe we shouldn’t.
Left alone for a couple of months I’d say the roots would break up the bitumen, return the road to the forest and the Daintree would rejoice.
Despite the intrusion however, I felt it was very well looked after. There are signs asking you to drive slowly, respect the peace and tranquillity of the area. ‘Watch out for Cassowary’ signs are everywhere, and most people did slow down, that we saw anyway.
We’d been told Cape Tribulation Camping was a good spot so we wound our way there, discovered it was lovely, and settled in for the night. Phew, success. And rest.
Katie got ill that night. High temperature, a cough, and throwing up. Not what we’re looking for Katie. Not a great start to this drive into the wilderness.
We stayed another day so she could rest, and thankfully the temperature came down. But it meant we were a day behind our schedule. We’d booked ahead as it was school holidays, and unfortunately our meandering trip to the tip, had been turned into a mad dash to the top. Now we were another day behind.
Oh well, what can you do. We’ll take our time on the way back down.
Ready, set, go!