I can honestly say I have rarely used the words swimming and sharks in the same sentence. Living over four hours drive from the ocean, I see it infrequently and have even less desire to swim, or even contemplate being, in the same water as a shark.
So what possessed me to change my trusted approach/policy when I reached Western Australia?
I’m a terrible traveller. Well, I love to travel but I hate being a tourist.
Yes, I agree there is no logic in that statement, but I never said I was logical!
My reluctance to be branded a ‘tourist’ stems from all those ‘typical’ tourists you see being herded from pillar to post, blindly following a flag-waving guide, holding their iPhones aloft to ensure they don’t miss the next great vista.
We Australians are spoiled for choice when seeking a bolt-hole to escape the worst of Winter. From any point on our continent, just keep heading north, and each inch on the map will equate to a couple of degrees further up the thermometer.
The Brave Man* (BM) is convinced that he needs a short dose of warmth mid-Winter to delude himself that the worst of the season is almost over. Last year it was Hawaii; this year we set off for Palm Cove in far north Queensland to defrost, and see what all the fuss was about.
Palm Cove is one of a series of small beachside communities that populate the region 28km north of Cairns.
If you plan to do much tripping around in this part of the country, I would recommend a hire car. By the time you calculate the cost of taxis and additional shuttle transport, the cost of a hire car and the ultimate flexibility it provides, makes it a financially viable option. In contrast, I would not recommend the Atlas Car Rental company at all. Yes, they were one of the cheapest options available but the staff were exceptionally rude, totally disinterested and refused to supply the size of car originally booked online. The BM* is six foot four inches tall, and he couldn’t even fit behind the steering wheel of our mobile matchbox. Their version of customer service was to hand us the keys and walk away. Buyer beware!
Winding up the rubber band of our little car, we did a quick raid on the supermarket in Cairns before making our way to Palm Cove. For some reason we thought this necessary, not thinking that the towns and villages further north would be of the size to contain decent supermarkets. Wrong.
As we drove north, the Captain Cook Highway took us slightly inland but the abundant tropical vegetation and soft sea breezes indicated that the ocean was never far away. It was obvious to us that this road was an important part of the ‘commuter’ belt with a new, dual lane road much of the way to Palm Cove. It made it so easy to move around.
When planning the trip, the BM* had been told about how noisy it was to stay right on the esplanade in Palm Cove, so he selected the Mango Lagoon Resort & Wellness Spa. It was a leisurely three-block stroll back from the main drag – super-quiet and leafy. Our self-contained apartment was just the right size, with all the mod cons including a washing machine and dryer, and shuttered French doors that opened onto swaying palms and one of the resort’s many pools. Yes, the true definition of a tropical paradise.
The Weather Gods continued to frown on us and, even though it was lovely to pull on the shorts and t-shirts, it either misted, drizzled or rained properly the entire time we were there. We couldn’t complain as we were on holiday, but the locals did not hold back on how unseasonably cold and wet it was as they clomped around in their woollen ugg boots. At 25°C, we thought ugg boots was slight overkill but each to their own.
Knowing that we would not melt under a little rain, and with only four full days to cram everything in, we set out to discover why so many rave about Palm Cove. A stroll along the esplanade with ice creams dripping down our hands, we found it a relaxed and laid back ‘town’ – town being a generous description – and the fastest things were the shuttle buses tootling backwards and forwards to the vast array of accommodation choices. The esplanade is edged with swaying palms, a United Nations of eating houses and ice cream stands, while a long and winding path bordered the beach. I was surprised and disappointed to see signs warning of crocodiles and stingers in the ocean, but a few brave souls frolicked in the green water regardless. The hire car gave us the scope to tour the neighbouring villages of Clifton Beach, Kewarra Beach, Trinity Beach – more swaying palms and ice cream shops – and then explore further afield.
We tried to plan our days around the weather forecast, which turned out to be a really good intention but completely pointless on implementation.
First on the list was a visit to the Kuranda Rail and Skyrail. It was frustrating to watch the rain spatter against the train windows as we weaved and rattled our way up the mountains to Kuranda. The atmospheric train ride and history attached to the railway was fascinating, however Kuranda itself was a bit of a tourist trap – all souvenir shops and over-priced eating establishments. A quick walk up the main street was enough for us.
The Skyrail floated over the tree tops of the Barron Gorge National Park as we descended the mountains and back down to the coast. To make the most of the forest below, there are a couple of ‘stations’ where you can hop off the cable car and explore the greenery on foot. We particularly enjoyed a short, guided walking tour from the Barron Falls station. A fascinating insight into how a rainforest ‘works’ and the various layered flora and fauna.
If we weren’t already wet enough, we went from the sublime to the ridiculous with a day’s snorkelling on the Upolo Reef, an outer section of the Great Barrier Reef. We booked on a smaller ‘sailing’ boat with Reef Daytripper, as neither the BM* or I like crowds. Thank goodness there were only 11 of us (plus crew) on board, as we huddled under protection from the rain the majority of the trip. We refused to let the weather dampen our adventure and snorkelled to our hearts’ content amongst the giant clams, sea turtles, neon-striped fish, gropers, sting rays and
‘Nemo’ clown fish. It was a weird feeling to snorkel and, at the same time, feel the rain pounding on my back. The cloud cover did not allow the coral colours to really dazzle but I just pretended I was hovering above brilliant reds, blues and greens. There is so much bad news in the media about the reef dying, that I didn’t want to miss a moment.
Another gorgeous day trip was up to Mossman Gorge and then onto Daintree. It was on this specific day that we realised why it is called ‘rainforest’. On a fine day, it must be spectacular but after a couple of hours of being drenched to the skin, we were totally ‘over’ both rain and forest!
We sought sanctuary and dryness in the Matchbox car and drove a little further north to the Daintree River. The BM* was desperate to get up close to a crocodile and we got this in spades at the Daintree Cruise Centre.
For around an hour we cruised the Daintree River, taking in the mangroves and wildlife large and small. The weather was still grey and forbidding but not half as forbidding as the huge crocodiles lounging on the river bank waiting for a tourist to dangle a lazy arm over the side of the boat. We ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ over the adult crocs and did our best to spot the babies camouflaged in the mud. There
were vibrant Azure Kingfishers flitting through the mangroves, rainbow-coloured butterflies and a riot of other birdlife skimming the surface of the river. How lucky are we to have the diversity of wildlife – both beautiful and murderous – in Australia?
Palm Cove ticked all the boxes for our Winter escape. It is the perfect destination for a short break with plenty to see and do within an easy drive.
No doubt you could also enjoy the ‘fly and flop’ type-holiday, but watch out for the bities on the beach!
What: A five day break with self-contained accommodation. Eating out in Palm Cove is very expensive so it was nice to have the option to self-cater.
Where: Palm Cove, Far North Queensland.
When: Do your research. Apparently there are certain times of year when it is safer to swim in the water.
Why: To escape Winter and feel the sun and warmth on our skin – with sunscreen of course.
How: We flew from the Queensland Gold Coast to Cairns with Jetstar and then hired a car.