30th June 2012
Waking up to the orange and red rays of the rising sun hitting my face through the open curtain of the campervan, I clambered out with a fresh cup of tea and watched the sun push itself up becoming more yellower over the basking outback of dry trees that spread to the horizon. This truly is Australia.
What even made it more special that …Ta-dah…my search for the infamous Cassowary is finally over! It was by pure chance as I walked around from the van to make Smera laugh with a towel wrapped round my head like a woman’s as she was wearing the same as she walked back from the showers, she didn’t even register mt joke and rushed forward with a smile on her face pointing her finger and shouting ‘cassowary!’ Jumping ahead I actually saw one with my bare eyes as I saw it cluck around, scouring for fallen fruit. I remarked to it that it was probably a long way from home. After all, they are the rainforest’s gardeners as they are the only creatures that are able to fertilise 60 different kinds of fruit in their gut (nobody knows how) and basically poo them back out again.
Taking a few Snaps it still hung around. Maybe it likes me…or my eyeballs.
But I didn’t realise today was going to be many first sightings of Australian wildlife!
After finishing getting washed at the Palmer River Roundhouse, where we arrived last night after a long journey from Cape Tribulation, we clambered in the van and set off for the old town of Cooktown. I drove the 120km to the town through the rain showers, the windy and extremely straight roads and there was nothing to be seen apart from the outback. Leaning back in my seat, I told Smera, ‘I can now believe I’m in Australia.‘ this is what I imagined of Australia. All that was missing was a few hoppy and skippy kangaroos to jump alongside the road. Well, alive ones. There were a lot of dead kangaroos littering the Mulligan Highway…remember guys to watch your speed, a kangaroo can jump out in front of you. But we didn’t see a single Roo throughout the journey.
Cooktown wasn’t as we expected as we rolled in. It was very quaint and very quiet. The houses were on stilts and still made of wood. Pulling into Charlotte Street, we could see Endeavour River in the distance and the esplanade was here to give you a panoramic view of the bay itself. Pulling up on many of the free parking spots (I love Australia, they like to give people to park for free..FREE! Screw you Britain), we checked out the main street (Charlotte Street). Walking up the wide road, you can see the Saturday market in full swing alongside the James Cook Monument, the James Cook Statue and the Cannon. Everything is named after James Cook!
I’ll pause here. If you do not know who James Cook is, then follow these instructions:
Bring your hand out to the side of your face and hover palm facing you about 30cm away
Slap self repeatedly. Preferably 100 times.
Then go to the library…you know the building with many books..wow!
Look up James Cook
Those who know about James Cook will realise that he’s one of the greatest explorers of all time. He’s the one who single handedly charted New Zealand to claim for Britain and discovered the East Coast of New Holland (Australia today) to discover the fabled southern continent. He’s a pretty special bloke. Unfortunately, on his 3rd visit to the Australian continent, he met up with some aboriginal dudes and they killed him with their spears. All this happened in the 18th century.
But before I learnt more about the special guy as there’s a fantastic museum dedicated to him, we still wandered the main street of Cooktown seeing Anzac Memorial Park to commemorate the soldiers sent to Galliopi and Europe during the first world war, the old bank, the old post office, etc. Then for a spot of lunch, we headed to Finch Bay, a lovely beach where there’s a small creek running to the Pacific Ocean and the Great Barrier Reef. There were a few mangroves as well. I went up to one of them and realised that maybe it wasn’t a good thing. There could be crocodiles waiting for me and I didn’t have my ticking clock to hand.
After, of course I went to the James Cook Museum and became enthralled in the steep and significant history. The pinnacle was seeing the original anchor of the Endeavour Ship that James Cook sailed in, it was retrieved from the sea bed. If it wasn’t for the glass barrier surrounding it, I’ll probably be giving it a hug. Weirdo, you may think. But think about it. If it wasn’t for Cook, then I probably wouldn’t be on my travels to Australia today.
The James Cook Museum is based within the Catholic Convent that was built in this town to establish and push the Catholic Agenda during and after the Gold Rush of the Palmer River. Sadly, it fell into disrepair when the town was evacuated during the second world war. Damn those pesky Japanese and Germans! It was never used again for the church and luckily a nice guy heading the Queensland Trust decided it would be a great chance to preserve the building and also house the James Cook Museum. I urge you to visit, I got so much enjoyment out of it and in fact made me want to buy James Cook’s biography.
Theres also a fascinating insight into the old times of Cooktown and how it expanded thanks to the Chinese immigrants as it was a major port from Canton. It’s pretty multicultural up here, thanks to the town being a major port in those days.
As the sunlight dwindled, it was time to find a place to rock up for the night. Taking advantage of mobile phone reception, I sent off a few quick texts, one to my mum to reassure I was still alive. Only while it just turned morning in Britain. She would have killed me if I texted any earlier and woke her up in the middle of the night.
We stopped off briefly at the very peaceful and green Cooktown Cemetery and the Black Mountain National Park. We also checked out the Lion’s Den Hotel, situated in the middle of the outback and also on the end of the Bloomfield Track. We decided not to stay at the camping ground there as it was far too expensive for us.
The light dwindled rapidly to near darkness as we drove back to the Palmer River Roadhouse again. But along the way, as the sun set, the wildlife came alive and nearly became road kill!
What did I see?
Wallabies! And plenty of it! Alive! I was amazed how not perplexed they were about traffic. So many times Smera had to brake sharply thanks to a Wallaby sat in the middle of the road looking at us or running out from the side of the road to scare us. I think they enjoyed doing that. The three of us enjoyed spotting the kangaroos but amazingly we spotted our next first animal unexpectedly as it ran out from the side of the road. A DINGO! We couldn’t believe it. It’s so hard to spot a dingo in these parts and we couldn’t believe out luck.
I was well impressed at the wildlife I have spotted so far. Rats, Possums, Platypus, Tree Kangeroos, Cassowaries, lizards, geckos, Kangeroos and now Dingos. Now I am expecting a Koala to be munching on an eucalyptus branch in the middle of the road.
We finally got back into Palmer River Roadhouse, albeit worried that the warning lights of the dashboard came on. We surmised that it could have been the low level of water in the engine. We will check it in the morning as it was dark.
Now I write this as the waxing moon hovers overhead giving an eerie glow to the outback and several truckers and campervan people light their bonfires or their makeshift grills as Smera cooks dinner and Elsie talks about the day. You know what? I was happy to be back in the outback.
I thought to myself.
‘Welcome to Australia!‘