A chilling howl from a dingo in the distance sent shivers down my spine and I froze, poised to leap up on the bonnet of the campervan. My hands were black and filthy from trying to fix the engine that gave up in the middle of the outback, stranded in the harsh terrain of north-east Queensland in Australia. The sun was already rapidly setting, lighting up the red desert with waning warming glows slowly disappearing into the blackness of the night. Staring out at the panoramic beauty, I saw three kangaroos hop in the distance, eating away at the scarce leaves before bed-time. Sighing and throwing down my rag, I looked down the lonely highway, straining my eyes to see in the hope of seeing headlights of an unlikely passing car to see if they could help. I called out to my travelling buddies to stay in the van, not quite knowing if the dingoes were going to pounce on us. Shutting the door behind me into the cosy abode, we helped ourselves to our camper dinner, an ear out for any vehicles that may pass us in the night, and talked about our Queensland trip through ancient rainforests and the outback.
A week earlier, we had left the party atmosphere of Cairns after a beautiful diving experience at the Great Barrier Reef to head to our first stop in Port Douglas, where Australia’s elite camp to for the glitzy maritime yacht races. Along the way, we got sand in our pants visiting the Northern Cairns beaches especially one which tickled my fancy called Yorkney’s Knob. As luck would have it, we reached a lookout point on the Captain Cook Highway where you could see the entire north-east coastline in its breath-taking splendour. So what was the name of the lookout? The Rex lookout! Reaching four mile beach at Port Douglas, we amused ourselves watching the small crabs roll balls of sand. Ah, Australian wildlife at its finest.
The next day, we left Port Douglas to head to the Daintree Rainforest, reputed to be the one of the oldest rainforests in the world. Meanwhile, along the way, we stopped by Mossman Gorge, a place of natural delights where you could enjoy a spot of freshwater swimming and dodge the rolling boulders. Have no fear; there were no crocodiles in there! Learning about local aboriginal legends was a definite highlight and you were free to interpret them as you wished; an activity that had us in stitches as we drove to our next destination, the town of Daintree, where I faced my first danger…
‘Whatever you do, please don’t put your hand in the water, I don’t like the sight of blood.’ The tour guide jokingly deadpanned as we boarded the river boat. We were about to sightsee the Daintree River, which so happens to be crocodile infested. ‘But if you do, make it snappy,’ he continued as everyone groaned at the bad joke. We had to keep our eyes peeled though. We had heard an 8 foot crocodile had moved into the area and was known to tangle with the boats creating a scary experience. But not to worry, it was midday and they were mostly sunbathing, mouths a gape. Spotting dozens of crocodiles along with many poisonous snakes and strange exotic birds, this really was a unique look into one of Australia’s many habitats.
Later, we crossed the Daintree River by pulley ferry, carting our campervan along to head deeper into the Daintree rainforest and headed into the unknown. I say this, because I promptly lost all mobile phone signal much to my devastation. However, we were transported into another world. As this was the ancient rainforest, we were treated to the prototypes of modern plants today. Large, unique and sometimes deadly, this is where life developed. As the sun set, we pitched up at a very basic campsite where we were greeted with bandicoots, colourful frogs, and an extremely large slug that I promptly discovered with my bare foot!
However, this was indeed an idyllic setting. Listening to the strange calls echoing through the stillness of the night as I gazed up at the star-strewn sky, warming my hands on my mug of tea that I boiled on the stove, it was indeed surreal to be on the other side of the world yet so comfortable and familiar. The next day, we continued, stopping off for a delicious Daintree flavoured ice-cream and stocking up on Daintree Tea, we then finally arrived for our next highlight – Cape Tribulation. This is where the sealed road ended, after which you needed a 4X4 car to tackle the dirt track that continued. Cape Tribulation is also famed for where Captain Cook, the discoverer of Australia, became stranded onto the reefs and spent a long time collating information about this newly discovered continent. It was truly a magical beach to be at. The sea was a dazzling blue, the sand crisp and fine, the rainforest competing with the beach for space.
Backtracking on our journey, we split off on another lonely highway to head towards Cooktown, this time through the outback. The Rainforest melted away as we whizzed through the sun-scorched land only stopping overnight in a car park of a quaint Roadhouse.
Acquainting myself even more about the legend that is Captain James Cook in their very own interactive museum and getting a roadside haircut at a market, we found ourselves on our way back to Cairns when the disaster happened. The campervan broke down in the middle of the outback. With no-one in sight, with no mobile phone signal, and the day was turning into night; I toiled to fix the engine.
But as we finished our dinner, we imagined ourselves as Captain James Cook stranded as he was in 1770 and thought he might be watching over us to send us luck. Turning the key into the ignition, we fervently hoped our best. Suddenly the engine roared into life and we pulled away slowly to reach civilisation, leaving the howling echoes of the dingoes into the dead of the night.
This truly was an Australian adventure to remember.