At a respectable 8:30 AM this morning, we were off on a tour to the world-heritage-listed rainforests of Daintree and Cape Tribulation. Our guide told us plenty of obscure stories and historical facts along the way, like the one about the Cockatoo Motel we passed, which boasts 100% occupancy rate even in the low season, when all the neighboring motels are lucky to fill 15%. Why, you ask? Because the motel owner was desperate for bookings and decided to promote the place as a nude motel. Or there's the one about how the famed 4-Mile Beach in Port Douglas has coconut trees but no coconuts. Why, you ask? Because the local government cuts them off so they won't fall on anyone's head (there are, in fact, six "denutters" on the Port Douglas city council).
We also learned about Thornton Mountain, which is a mountain of virgin rainforest shrouded in clouds 300 days a year (as it was today). In the late '80s, a plane crashed there. Six weeks after it went down, when skies cleared enough for rescuers to helicopter in and survey the wreckage (there were of course no survivors by then), they found more than they anticipated: they discovered the remains of a World War II Japanese communications post!
The Daintree rainforest is known to be more than 100 million years old, which means it's one of the oldest if not the oldest rainforest in the world. The average rainfall in the Daintree is 160 inches a year. (There are only two seasons in the Wet Tropics of North Queensland: wet and dry.) After picking up big, delicious, and affordable bananas at a roadside stand (they are grown locally--the Brisbane folks on the coach, who have been without bananas this year, went nuts for them!), we had morning tea at the Daintree Discovery Center followed by a guided walk to the Center's Canopy Tower and across the Aerial Walkway, where we got amazing views of the rainforest, the sun streaming through its leaves.
Next stop was a beautiful Cape Tribulation beach, where we met two hefty Lace Monitor Lizards (Goannas)--these are the ones who, if cornered or threatened in any way, will run up a tree...or up the nearest tall person!). Check out the one on the beach--he's solar-powered.
The Daintree is gorgeous, and there's plenty to see and do; we'd have loved to have had more time and a car to explore at our own pace, and we'd definitely consider staying at one of the lodges there one day.
Lunch was at a remote and really pretty site along a river, where the perch in the water eagerly awaited any leftover steak and damper (traditional outback bread). Another Goanna wanted a treat from the BBQ, too--he needed to be chased up a tree with a broom! Dessert was a platter of tropical fruits (none of which are native to Australia--apparently the country has no native fruit that is non-poisonous and actually tastes good!)--all were common and familiar to us but the very sweet and tasty custard apples.
Our next adventure of the day was the Daintree River cruise in search of estuarine crocodiles (salty crocs)! We learned all sorts of crocodile facts, including:
--Crocodiles have four eyelids; the inside set is clear to serve as underwater goggles.
--The longest crocodile ever found in Australia was 26 feet long.
--Baby crocs in the wild have a 90-98% mortality rate (most die before they even reach walking stage).
--The brain of a crocodile is the size of a walnut, and they aren't particularly bright (lucky for us--otherwise, they'd realize they could easily get into a boat or walk into town and eat us!)
--Crocs don't know their own strength, and they hate to be outnumbered or in any way threatened, so they'll always go for the weakest, smallest, and loneliest specimen they can find (never crouch down by a crocodile river!).
We did spot a wild boar and four crocs on the cruise--three babies and the yellow spotted tail of one larger one, though none of them photographed well). A few passengers thought they saw more..."Is it a crocodile or a logadile?" asked the guide each time. Yep, logs look a lot like crocs!
Our last stop was Mossman Gorge, which is stunning and even greener than Cape Tribulation. We walked to the suspension bridge for a great view of the rainforest and water.
On our way back to town, we passed tea plantations (tea is not native here, but it thrives!) and sugar cane fields galore (there's a cane railway for transporting the cane to the sugar mill--but there's no refinery, so they only produce raw sugar here).
We came back to the hotel and are ready to crash after a room service salad and sandwich, but we have to pack first--the airport shuttle will arrive for us at the ungodly hour of 4:30 in the morning!
More on how to speak Australian:
--"jacket" = "jumper"
--"that's great" or "good for you" (but not quite--it's a wee bit flip and really has no American translation, but it's quite fun to say when the moment is just right!) = "good on ya"
--Three Australians a year lose their lives to 9-volt batteries (they test them on their tongues and electrocute themselves).
--Three people die each year from shark attacks worldwide; by comparison, 30 people die each year from coconuts falling on their heads (more, no doubt, if not for the trusty Port Douglas city council).
--Crocodiles claim 1000 human lives a year (they attack with stealth and can lunge out of the water at an impressive 35 km/hr; there are far more croc attacks than that, but most people survive them); by comparison, snakes claim 40,000 human lives a year.
--Australians really (really) like to talk about this morbid kind of stuff.
--The cassowary, a bird that is as tall as a man, is actually Australia's largest land animal. It doesn't fly (good on ya, because apparently one cassowary dropping can weigh up to 14 pounds and is bright blue!).
Favorite signs of the day:
(Apparently this cassowary sign gets modified and replaced and modified and replaced and modified...you get the idea. We kinda like it this way.)