Port Douglas and Mossman Gorge

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Mossman Gorge

If you’re following the trip and feel you’ve missed anything, this page has the whole journey in the right order.

Sometimes, instead of driving everywhere, it’s nice to go on an organised tour where it’s all done for you. With that in mind, we went through the brochures for tours up to Mossman Gorge and the Daintree River. Quite a few looked great, including the Gorge, a cruise on the river, a trip to Cape Tribulation, and an Aussie barbecue lunch. But then (having learnt our lesson when looking at Great Barrier Reef cruises from Cairns) we checked online to see what effect covid 19 had had on the offerings.

The barbecue lunch was off. Feeding the wallabies was off. The visit to the ice cream place was off. Some trips weren’t doing Cape Tribulation, some weren’t doing Mossman Gorge. Trips only went on specific days, so choice was limited. We looked at each other and shrugged. We could get to Mossman by ourselves and find a Daintree River cruise. Cape Tribulation was going to be more rain forest with a view of the sea. Taking a tour would have cost us over $200 – each! We might as well do our own thing.

Mossman Gorge isn’t far away – just a 60km drive from Palm Cove. We arrived at the information centre and purchased our tickets to the area which included a ride on a shuttle bus to the gorge itself. As usual, we signed in for contact tracing. The buses left every fifteen minutes. Covid rules applied so they could only carry passengers in every second row. When people got off the driver disinfected the bus, wiping down the handles and such.

I’ve mentioned before that the north was badly in need of rain. That was glaringly obvious at Mossman Gorge. The board walks crossed dry creek beds that in normal times would be full of water. The gorge itself was reminiscent of parts of the Babinda Boulders but wider and not quite so dangerous – no aboriginal spirit luring young men to their deaths. Even so, the signage warned against complacency. If it rained up in the hills – and that was actually happening – the river could swell without warning. In fact, the signs said not to swim today. But, people being what they are, that suggestion was ignored.

We went up the track to the Rex Creek Bridge, a suspension bridge crossing (um) Rex Creek which wasn’t much more than a trickle.

The army was called in to build the first bridge.

“In September 1986 construction began. To protect the rainforest, all materials were moved by hand from the car park to the water’s edge. Cement and about 20 tonnes of aggregate were loaded into sandbags and carried along the 700m track.” That’s some effort.

The new bridge was finished in 2010. It used prefabricated components which were put into place using helicopters.

Notice the sign at the top – don’t stop on the bridge

And this is where covid regulations really get silly. There’s a sign on that bridge saying you’re not supposed to stop while crossing to maintain social distancing. Give me a break. We’re outside, in the fresh air, no sign of covid except in capital cities, and reduced visitor numbers.

From the gorge we went on to the little town of Mossman and found a café for morning tea. From there, we headed further north to Daintree Village overlooking the river. A number of places offered cruises on the river but the timing didn’t suit. We would have to kick our heels for an hour in places where there wasn’t much to see or do. We drove down to the Daintree river crossing where a car ferry took vehicles across to the other side from whence they could drive up to Cape Tribulation. Quite a few cars were waiting to take the trip but we decided not to bother and returned to Port Douglas to see if we could get a cruise on the river. We could. The lovely old paddle wheeler, Lady Douglas, took us out for a ninety-minute trip on the river and estuary.

It was high tide, which is not a good time to spot crocs. At low tide, they’re often visible lounging on the mud flats between the mangroves but we didn’t spot any. We did learn some interesting stuff, though. It seems mangroves are the only land species that can grow in salt water. The salt is stored in sacrificial leaves, which are yellow. Eventually they die and fall off. Mangroves are very important as nurseries for many fish species, as well as crocs. Here in Port Douglas the channels through the mangroves also serve as refuge points for the boats in the marina when a cyclone threatens. They all have their own moorings and leave their ropes in place for when they’re needed.

Note the yellow sacrificial leaves

Back in the harbour our skipper pointed out some of the flashier vessels like Phantom, which belongs to keen angler, John Farnham. Also the enormous Quicksilver VIII and Quicksilver V. These massive catamarans take visitors out to the reef. They can carry 450 passengers and 50 crew. But in these days of covid the vessels are restricted to 130 people. The fares would hardly cover the cost for the diesel to get them out of the harbour so they stay tied up – as do the rest of the Quicksilver fleet, moored in Cairns.

It seems Port Douglas was founded to cater for the gold mining in the hills. It was an important town until the construction of the Kuranda railway. It became a virtual ghost town until sport fishing and the Reef led to a recovery. At the vanguard was controversial millionaire, Christopher Skase, who famously skipped out of town just before the ’80s crash and holed up on Majorca. I actually stayed at his Mirage hotel back then, attending a conference. He also built the marina and lined the main road into town with oil palms, at prohibitive expense. Never mind. The money was all somebody else’s.

All up our do-it-yourself tour of the area including Mossman Gorge and a river trip cost about $190 – which is rather a lot less than $400.

We headed back to Palm Cove in the late afternoon, where we discovered our room had not been cleaned. The bed was unmade and the remains of the antipasto still stood on the sink. I would have washed the plates and used crockery but there was no washing up liquid or tea towels. Management of this hotel left a lot to be desired. We complained, of course, and received the usual abject apologies and an armful of clean towels. I made the bed.

Dinner that evening was at El Greco, a rather nice Greek place we’d been to on a previous visit. It had its own variation on the covid 19 register. One entry for both of us wasn’t enough We both had to sign the form. Good humour was getting a little frayed around the edges but we complied. Just as well we had some Scotch, and a bottle of wine in the fridge back at the room.

The great-billed heron is apparently a rare bird. I was lucky to get a great shot.

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