Subject: Trails and Tribulation (long)
Hello Everyone

So, there we were in Cairns, gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. Gail (in Oregon) mentioned that the yacht club in Cairns invites visitors to sail in a race one day a week. As luck would have it, it was that very day so we postponed our departure for Port Douglas and headed to the club. The sun shone some of the time and the rain held off until the evening so Tony had a great sail. Then we stayed on for a BBQ and drinks with his fellow crew members. Lots of clubs in Australia do this so any would be sailors out there just ask at the local yacht club or check for a club website. You don’t need any experience, there were two young Japanese women on Tony’s boat who understood very little English but soon figured it out and had a fabulous time.

That night the heavens opened and I couldn’t sleep for the pounding of the rain on the motel roof. That darned Rolf Harris ditty going around and around in my head:

‘In the wet, in the wet It gets about as wet as it can get Well it’s raining cats and dogs and I can’t stand croaking frogs Oh, brother it's wet!’

The Big 4 campsite in Port Douglas is lovely and we did indeed choose to camp, hoping that our fortitude would be rewarded. We picked the best site, high in the center and sloping gently in every direction and crossed our fingers. Port Douglas is a chi chi little town and one of the best places to get a tour to the Great Barrier Reef. Its beach is unsafe at this time of year so everyone is swimming within a stinger net or in a stinger suit, the river is full of crocodiles and it has millions of mosquitoes, but otherwise it was great! We cooked and ate dinner in the camp kitchen and watched the food chain in action. Cane toads, lizards, geckos, moths, ants and mosquitoes all hoping to catch their supper too and I don’t care to know what those cat sized bats were up to.

There were promising blue bits in the sky when we woke on Good Friday so we caught the ferry across the Daintree River to Cape Tribulation. We managed to get in a couple of enjoyable self guided rainforest and mangrove swamp walks along boardwalks. The Parks authorities certainly take a great effort to make these areas accessible. Back in Daintree village I got soaked while photographing some cows in ‘interesting’ light conditions, I should have recognized ‘storm’ lighting when I saw it.

Back at what we were affectionately calling ‘Camp Damp’ we decided to cut our losses. The forecast was horrible for a trip to the outer reef so Tony could dive and I could snorkel, they do claim to take non-swimmers (yikes). Many of the other places we wanted to reach were cut off by road closures at flooded sections of highway. Next morning we set off for the Atherton Tablelands where at least the waterfalls should be spectacular. Once again the rain was lashing the ground and by the time we reached the turnoff for the Tablelands we were two minds with but a single thought, to keep going south.

Driving down from Cairns we passed through Innisfail again but this time in the daylight. The damage from cyclone Larry is dreadful. Homes seemed to have suffered mostly roof damage but the rains will have ruined much of what was inside. Outbuildings and road signs were tossed around, it didn’t look too bad when compared to the damage a tornado can wreck but devastating to the homeowners and community. The banana crop is felled, huge racks of bananas lying rotting on the ground and acres and acres of sugar cane damaged. The farmers will have a new crop of bananas within months but it will take years to regenerate the forests on the hillsides where ever tree left standing is almost completely without leaves.

By lunchtime we were dropping ‘Troopie’ off in Townsville 3 days earlier than we intended and picking up Blot who is a sheer pleasure to drive after the ‘incredible hulk’. We planned to stay at a motel but really don’t like them so ended up once more at a Big 4 resort park. They are aimed at family camping with van and tent sites and cabins, the pools and facilities for campers are what attract us in inclement weather. They are nicer places to be than a motel and much more friendly when campers gather in the communal areas for eating or just to get out of the rain. When the sun breaks through the outer tent dries very quickly and towels etc. can always go in the dryer. Our inner tent never gets wet and we sleep very well.

By now it was Easter Sunday and the sky looked promising enough for us to head for another ferry, this time to take us to Magnetic Island. At the other end we bought an all day bus pass rather than rent a topless Mini Moke that looked like a fun way to explore the island. Horseshoe Bay was not our type of place but definitely the place for the youngsters to rent their watercraft of just hang out. We took off through a pretty brackish swamp area and over a very steep rocky path to find Balding Bay which we had been promised would have a secluded and beautiful beach, ‘the best on the island’. Along the way we met a gentleman who has taken this walk once every year since 1943 when he was in the RAAF at Townsville. I detect a romance to this story but he wasn’t saying and I was too polite to ask. When we reached the beach, which was secluded and very beautiful, he stripped off to his Speedos and settled down to some old-fashioned sun bathing sans sunscreen. I suppose if the sun hasn’t killed him off yet he isn’t likely to ‘slip slap and slop’ at his age.

Having braved the path back we took the bus to Alma Beach, where we sat on the grass and watched the children running in and out of the water with their miniature surfboards. No need for a stinger net and bottles of vinegar here and no crocodile warnings but they did have a real live Aussie lifeguard complete with his little patchwork hat. Up to now I had only seen the painted wooden ones at Geelong.

Time to move further south in search of sun and a dry patch of grass to hang our tent on. Our destination was Airlie Beach and hopefully some sailing in the Whitsunday Islands. Again another good dry Big 4 site and the rain obligingly stopped long enough for us to set up our tent and shade/rain shelter. We liked Airlie immediately, it has a nice laid back atmosphere and the main street bars are full of nubile young things having fun. Airlie Beach is a bit of a misnomer as there is hardly any beach but like Cairns they do have a large salt-water lagoon with a sandy ‘beach’area and a nice grassy area to relax on.

The weather forecast is not promising. Cyclone Monica is approaching the coast of the northern tip of Queensland as I type this and is expected to reach land with 210km per hour winds by midday tomorrow. Cyclones seem to be very predictable so we don’t expect a last minute reprieve or much improvement in the weather for a week at least. We wanted to bareboat charter here but there is a minimum charter of 5 days and we can’t afford the time to wait out the weather, so Tony has settled for a race with the Airlie Beach Yacht Club tomorrow and a day on the water with a guy who runs a one man one boat tour company. He doesn’t have anyone booked for the Thursday outing but as Tony is a sailor he is prepared to take him out for some hands on sailing. Just what Tony is looking for, all the other sailing experience tours seem to be aimed at cramming as many fare paying backpackers as possible into a boat then island hopping so everyone can‘deck bunny’, swim and snorkel, which sounds wonderful - but not for us.

So far northern Queensland has handed our some major disappointments but we are enjoying the camping and we have encountered some great people along the way. And of course more great meetings still to come as we reach the final leg of our trip where we are due to get together with a number of people on my mailing list and fellow members of TheTravelzine. We are looking forward to that very much as we continue to make our way back to Melbourne and home to Canada.

Regards to everyone, we are looking forward to seeing everyone's photos.

Sue and Tony (Currently in Airlie Beach Queensland) Waterloo ON Canada