When you’ve spent over 2 weeks in a car furtively scanning every FM and AM band in search of one decent radio station, it makes you do crazy things. Your mind becomes irrational. Desperation sets in and suddenly, without warning, you find yourself at an IGA in the middle of nowhere, flicking through the CD rack and – worse still – actually purchasing something from it. Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits (2 disc set), to be precise.
This is what happened to us during our honeymoon in Far North Queensland.
At the time, Billy Joel (or as I affectionately referred to him during the trip, “Bee-Jay”) was a beacon of light on a bleak music frontier. We’d been subjected to enough John Laws on local radio (yes – he’s STILL on air) and bearded hipster songs on JJJ to last a lifetime. We had to cleanse ourselves with some Uptown Girl and Honesty.
As we passed through banana plantations, cane fields, tropical rainforest and weird towns of the Daintree and Atherton Tablelands, Billy was there with us, providing the perfect soundtrack to the daggy end of our honeymoon.
In the beginning we’d been living the tourist dream, holed up in Port Douglas for a week. It was relaxing, but as beautiful as the beaches are, and as incredible as the Great Barrier Reef is, Port Douglas is just a tad too plastic and insincere for our tastes. It’s the kind of place where every tour guide, shop assistant and bartender says “thanks for your business!” with a smile….. but you can tell they don’t mean it. They really have to STRAIN it out, coz you’re just another tourist schmuck. We’d trade it any day for the simplicity of small towns in the Daintree and across the Tablelands.
Look, we’re probably not the best judge of towns like Port Dougie. Ordinarily we try our best to avoid them, instead choosing to spend our holidays visiting weird, decrepit places like Bedrock City in Arizona or the Salton Sea in California – you know, places that aren’t on the tourist radar anymore.
But this wasn’t an ordinary holiday – this was a once-in-a-lifetime-never-to-be-repeated HONEYMOON and we were looking to relax in style.
We stayed at a place just out of town called The Pink Flamingo, which was quirky and full of character– attributes that a majority of motels in the area lack. On our first night we checked out Cane Toad Racing at the Iron Bar, which was even dodgier than we anticipated – mostly because the guy that was running the show kept making really inappropriate jokes. A few XXXX stubbies later, the toads were put away and karaoke began. We performed (or was that, “murdered”?) the Kiki Dee and Elton John classic: “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” to rousing applause… from the 5 people that were there.
The next day we went snorkeling around the Great Barrier Reef. I can’t put into words how incredible it was. Just as well I have these photos for you to look at:
We learnt a lot in Port Douglas. We learnt about the breeding habits of cassowaries, spoonbills and black necked storks. We learnt that you shouldn’t swim at Four Mile Beach on dusk, because that’s when the crocodiles are most likely to be having a dip, too.
I learnt that when you see a magpie goose sitting on a picnic table with a “Do Not Disturb” sign next to it, you should take heed – unless you want to get pooped on.
All very valuable lessons.
After a week in the same town, we were in need of some ‘alternative culture’ so we hired a car and went into the hills to visit the hippie town of Kuranda. Don’t get your hopes up – it’s no Nimbin, but it was still pretty good. It was Melbourne Cup Day which, strangely, people care about up there, so it was nice and quiet around the town. We meandered around the markets and stocked up on crochet singlets, tie-dye t-shirts and dream-catchers.
Later that same day, we went for a drive along the northern part of the Tablelands. We randomly selected Mount Molloy as the place we’d stop for tea. We figured with a town name like that, it was bound to have a hotel. We were right – and it was the most glorious Queenslander we’d ever seen!
The town had been celebrating Melbourne Cup Day since the early hours of the morning, so by the time we got there, the hotel was full of very merry sorts. We ordered a couple of $10 plates of left-overs for tea and went out to the verandah to eat and watch the sun go down. It was a warm night. There wasn’t much of a breeze. Every few minutes a cane truck would rattle through town, and then it would be still again. As we sat there, a few of the locals came over to introduce themselves to us. Most of them had nick-names like Clarkey, Razzy and Hoffa. Clarkey hadn’t been there for as long as the others, so he made the most sense. He’d been wrangling cattle all day. It turned out that he was also a musician. When he found out that Danny was too, he went over to his ute and fetched his guitar. Sing-a-longs ensued with Danny performing his “Steve Irwin” song. Afterwards, Hoffa tried to tell us a story about how Steve Irwin had come onto his property and climbed onto a windmill without permission. There seemed to be more to it than that, but Hoffa was so sozzled he kept repeating the same bit of the story over and over again. He would have kept going, but one of his mates called him inside to have a tequila shot.
At around 9pm we announced that we were leaving, so Clarkey kindly offered to walk us across the main street to our car. He said he wanted to show us something very special that would bring us good luck. It turned out to be tractor piston that was sticking out of the bitumen in the middle of the street. He insisted that we kneel down and touch it, so we did. Luckily no cane trucks came by while we were doing it.
The next day we crossed the Daintree River on the barge and arrived in the tropical frontier of the Daintree Rainforest. Forget the Amazon – the Daintree is the oldest rainforest in the world! It’s wild and humid and there are lots of things waiting amidst the fan palms to eat you or cause you great pain. Take, for example, the infamous stinging tree which looks innocent enough, but if you happen to brush against it, thousands of tiny stinging hairs will pierce your skin and cause you excruciating pain not just for a day, or a week, but for MONTHS. You might even end up in hospital. Then there’s the crocodiles, of course, who enjoy bathing at the beach, the wild boars, the dingoes and the cassowaries which have been known to kill people if approached. Yep – you’ve got to be on your toes in the Daintree to avoid injury, but that’s what makes it an exhilarating place to visit.
We stayed at a place called Cockatoo Hill Retreat, which had treehouses with views across the rainforest canopy all the way to the sea. It was dreamy. Most days were spent admiring the view, flopping around in the swimming pool, walking on beaches and picnicking. Our favourite picnic spot was one of the beaches just around from Cow Bay. You had to climb over sharp rocks to get there.
Near the end of our time in the Daintree, we took a 4WD tour to Cooktown along the Bloomfield track. It was a full day adventure and our guide was a guy called Mike. It became apparent early on that Mike was really into birds. He talked at about them at length, and we wasted a fair bit of time starting and stopping along the way just so he could take photos of them.
My favourite part of the journey was Archer Point. Rugged, wind-swept hills provided panoramic views of the bright turquoise water and coral reefs. Coconut palms drooped over the white sandy beaches and mangroves provided a welcome break from the relentless wind in places. The best view by far was up at the lighthouse.
We made it to Cooktown at lunchtime, but we weren’t there for long. Mike was determined to show us his favourite spot on the trip – a spot that he felt we should spend a substantial amount of time at. We ate our fish and chips quickly, did a whip around the James Cook Museum and then headed back the way we’d come. Annoyingly, the place that Mike took us to was a bird reserve. I’m not into bird-watching – not sure if you picked up on that already? More to the point, I’m not into bird-watching when I know there are much more interesting things to see. I reckon we mucked around at the bird reserve for close to an hour while Mike took photos of magpie geese (you can see them everywhere in Far North Queensland – they’re not rare) and a tree frog.
As a result, our next stop at the Lions Den Hotel was disappointingly brief. It was a shame, because the Lions Den was KOOKY (and very old – it was built in 1875). We skulled one beer while Mike looked anxiously at his watch. Then we scurried off across the highway to check out some of the other properties with strange names. While we were taking this shot (above), Mike had started up the truck. We bought another beer and took it with us.
Don’t get me wrong – it was an interesting day out (well, apart from the bird-watching), but I couldn’t help but feel disappointed at not being able to spend more time at Archer Point, Cooktown and the Lion’s Den Hotel. I guess that’s what happens when you’re not in charge of your itinerary.
After our stay in the Daintree, our planned activities ended. We had no accommodation booked and didn’t know where we were going. It’s was a nice feeling. We decided to cruise over the Tablelands again, this time going as far south as Mena. It would take us a few days. The first town we came across was, once again, Mt Molloy. By day, Mt Molloy has a bit of stuff going on. There’s the pub, of course, but it also has a fairly decent vintage store and a weird Mexican cafe that sells authentic Mexican burgers – purportedly “Home of the world best hamburger TWICE” (whatever that means). We put in our order at the counter and the guy told us we wouldn’t regret it, because we were about to experience “the real taste of Mexico”. Five minutes later, a hamburger the size of Danny’s head arrived. It didn’t look particularly Mexican (there were no corn chips in it, for example). It certainly didn’t taste Mexican (Ok – it tasted good, just not Mexican). We asked the guy to explain the authenticity of the burger and he replied that there was chorizo in the patty. That was it.
After we’d finished our meal, we popped into the National Hotel to say G’day. The bartender had a whinge about the Mexican guy and his burgers. While he was talking, I noticed this sign on the bar (below). I love small town rivalry. It’s so pointless, yet so endearing.
It was mid-afternoon when we set off from Mt Molloy en route to Yungaburra. Along the way we passed many excellent things, such as the Peanut Place at Tolga:
I’m sure you’d agree that Peanut Place is stunning. It simply doesn’t get any better. A definite honeymoon highlight for me.
We also found an original drive-in cinema just outside of Tolga. It’s still open for business.
In our final days of honeymooning our accommodation choices took a downward slide. Within the space of 24 hours, we went from the ritzy treehouse retreat in the Daintree to a dodgey motel room at the Lake Tinaroo Caravan Park. For a mere $50 for the night, we got a room overlooking the lake and the rest of the caravan park.
That evening, while we were sitting out on the patio, there was a knock on the door – the Caravan Park duty manager had bought us a 5 litre keg of Bundy and Coke. He’d already had a bit, but thought we might like to polish off the rest. All he asked was that we returned the empty keg to him in the morning.
That’s the type of hospitality you get across the Atherton Tablelands. Everybody is courteous and up for a chat. Each time we stopped at a pub or a café, the locals would make us feel welcome and give us tips of what to see and where to go. As a result, we were able to check out landmarks such as the crochet bikini tree in Yungaburra:
Waterfalls and swimming holes at Milla Milla:
South Johnson, where the cane train goes straight through the town centre every 10 minutes or so:
And finally, Paranella Park:
Situated in the tiny farming town of Mena, Paranella Park looks to contain ancient ruins. Surprisingly, the park was built in the 1930s – it’s just that it was built out of shoddy materials. Add a few floods, cyclones and a fire to the mix and you’ve got yourself a crumbling castle and moss-encrusted gardens.
During the 1930s and 1940s, Paranella Park was a magical wonderland. Families made the long journey from Cairns on a gravel road just to picnic and swim in the watering hole. Boats could be hired and rowed under the waterfalls. Couples would stroll through the grounds and walk along Lovers Lane and through the Tunnel of Love. There was an ice-creamery and a garden cafe where you could often find jazz bands playing. It must have been divine.
Sadly neglect (it was abandoned in the late 1970s), bad foundations and natural weather events led to its decay. A fire also destroyed the grand ballroom in 1979. And as of 2013, you’re not allowed to swim in the watering hole anymore…. unless you fancy getting chomped by a crocodile.
While it might not be as grand as it once was, Paranella Park is still rather magical. Mind you, if you’re to believe the tour guide we had, you’d want to get in quick to check it out in its original state. Apparently they’re planning on rebuilding the ballroom next year and (gasp!!!!) will be giving it a ‘modern twist’. Modern does not belong at Paranella Park. Yes – something needs to be done to make sure the whole place doesnt fall down in the next cyclone, but there are ways to restore an old building while still retaining its original character. Fingers crossed they get it right!
Our final night of the honeymoon was spent in Palm Cove which reminded me of Port Douglas. It was all pretty fancy. As we sat at the pool drinking our non-fancy Stone’s Green Ginger Wine we contemplated our time in Far North Queensland. Unlike other holidays, this one had gone past nice and slowly. It had been relaxing. Most of it had been charming. And though we were sad to leave, we were very much looking forward to listening to something other than Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits.