Port Douglas and Cairns in the far north of Queensland
I hope this finds all you lovely people safe and well!
What strange times we are living in! The USA is being steadily undermined by Trump, Brazil by Bolsonaro, Lukashenko in Belarus, Maduro in Venezuela, China by Xi Jinping let alone Assad and Putin watching on while Syria is being destroyed. Johnson is trying hard in the UK and even Morrison and friends here in Australia, with their heads in the sand while temperatures reach record highs with extreme bush fires, still advocating fossil fuels in this country of endless sunshine and wind and there are still ongoing deaths in custody
Large street protests in the USA, Belarus, Hong Kong, Australia, Chile, Bolivia, Lebanon, Ecuador, Spain, France, Egypt and Austria among others. Common themes are massive inequality, corruption, racism, lack of action on climate change, police brutality and the relentless accumulation of wealth by the few at the expense of the many.
All through this Covid-19 cuts it’s swathe and shows up the continuing fallacy of endless growth and consumerism. Who is bearing the brunt? The front line health workers, especially in aged care facilities (who are paid poorly), the casual workers, victims of the ever increasing casualisation of the work force and of course the women who are not only mostly low paid, although essential casual workers, but who have had to bear the majority of child care and home schooling in lock-down situations.
In the meantime, the stock exchanges have gone through the roof and the billionaires of the world have increased their wealth substantially. It doen’t really seem to be the time to give them more tax breaks!
As for us, we feel extremely lucky to be living in Queensland. Here at least, Covid-19 is under some sort of control thanks to the closing of borders with other states (invoking the wrath of conservative polies in other states and federally), and we find ourselves free to move around the entire state as long as we don’t go to any other state and then try to come back again. Son Max is under a strict six week lockdown in Melbourne and we feel for him and everyone else in Victoria. At least it does seem to be working. As a country, we are still around 800 deaths in total which, although shocking, is a very small number compared to many other countries, especially the almost 175,000 deaths in the USA.
In the middle of all this we decide to go on holiday … not a trip, but a holiday, something we don’t often do. Time to help out our flagging tourist industry by spending some money.
We find ourselves on a flight to Cairns from whence we will proceed to Port Douglas in far north Queensland. It feels stange to be in an airport (mostly empty) and get on a flight on which every seat is filled. Everyone is wearing masks and sitting very quietly, for the two or so hour flight.
We land into the warmth of a tropical evening and board the shuttle bus to Port Douglas. Our Airbnb apartment in the Marina Terraces resort is welcoming and we quickly settle in before walking the five minutes to Macrossan Street, the main (and almost only) shopping street in town. We need food now. The flight only offered pre-ordered meals so we are hungry. The restaurants and cafe’s are many and varied and seem to be doing ok in a socially distanced sort of way.
We do notice, however, that many cafes and restaurants have not opened at all, even on a Friday night, and that outside the cafes, there are not many people about. There are also quite a number of business’s which have obviously not made it, and closed down
We find ourselves a Thai restaurant and after signing in (obligatory any time you sit down for a meal) enjoy an excellent meal outside in the warm night air where the tables are suitably far away from each other and we definitely can’t be overheard.
Our home is only a five minute walk from four mile beach, the main beach in Port Douglas.
At this time of the year, Port Douglas would usually be heaving with tourists from all over the world, but only Queenslanders are able to get here with all state and international borders closed. So it is very quiet, which suits us quite well and gives us a glimpse of what things must have been like ten or twenty years ago.
Sunday is market day and the weekend attracts a number of visitors from down south … Cairns that is … so it seems relatively busy. The market is held in the open area next to the old wooden church and it reminds us of our days in Denmark, Western Australia, when we sold our baskets and pots at such a market. There seems to be quite an alternative community here judging by the huge variety of obviously locally made items and the look of people selling them. Plus, of course, the usual stalls selling clothes from Thailand, although there were also a number selling locally made clothes. Good fruit and veggies and lots of instant food stalls including some excellent mango ice cream.
I leave Jacqui to wander around the market and sit near the water listening to the service and hymn singing from the church and contemplating our idilic surrounds.
The days drift past; we get a good walk in most days, from four mile beach we walk around the headland to the harbour. A walk along four mile beach soon becomes an evening ritual. Then a visit to the Marina to see the Wednesday market and eat lunch overlooking the boats.
The town itself (one main street really) is very quiet. Many of the shops have not bothered to open.
Today we have hired a 300cc scooter to go and see Mosman Gorge, which has only just re-opened after being closed for four months. We visited the gorge fifteen years ago on an exploratory trip to see if we wanted to move “over east” from WA. At that time we parked in the carpark and walked in. Covid-19 has changed that and now there is a compulsory shuttle bus from the visitor centre to stop anyone going into the Indigenous community. These communities have largely shut themselves off to avoid the coronavirus and it seems to have worked well.
The Gorge is particularly beautiful with severely limited numbers of people. The shuttle bus only takes 12 passengers at a time and everyone busily avoids each other. The water is clear running over the rocks and a few hardy souls swim in one of the large pools. The rainforest is lush and full of cane, taking us back to the days when cane was such a central part of our lives.
We continue up to Daintree Village where I discover why the scooter feels a bit bumpy. The rear tyre has gained a large bubble the size of a small paw paw on one side which explains why going around a right hand corner feels very strange. After phoning the hire shop it seems there is little we can do but to ride the sixty odd kilometers back … very slowly.
Of course the cars don’t much appreciate us going at 70km/h on a 100km/h road, but there you go. We both have fingers and toes crossed all the way back, but luckily make it without incident. That’s our bit of excitement for the week.
Tomorrow we start for Cairns, there to stay another week.
Arriving in Cairns is a bit of a culture shock after the tranquility of Port Douglas. Not that it is crowded with people, but instead crowded with high rise hotels and the entire centre of Cairns and the adjoining marina seems to be given over to tourism.
But the tourists are not here, save the few from other parts of Queensland and a few others who have become stranded. Cairns is usually a hotspot for Asian visitors, especially Chinese and Japanese, who fly directly here, arriving by the thousand at this time of the year. Not this year. The huge Chinese restaurants are mostly empty as are many of the seafront restaurants and cafes. Each has a trickle of customers but there are many that have not opened at all. Indeed, judging by the proliferation of “To Lease” notices, many businesses have simply closed down.
The Marina is full of huge boats advertising diving trips to the Barrier Reef, but most stand idol.
Luckily, the birds haven’t noticed the absence of tourists and a small knot of twitchers with their tripod borne long lenses and binoculars around their necks, watch the migratory wading birds massed on the first small patch of mudflat as the tide begins it’s retreat. Many of these birds breed in Siberia or Alaska and fly the thousands of kilometres here to avoid the northern winters.
We contemplate a trip out to the reef but the hundreds of dollars it would cost on the one boat that’s operating puts us off. We contemplate the train trip up to Kuranda past the Barron falls, but again the high costs put us off. We opt instead to hire a small car for a couple of days to explore the hinterland and a visit to the Aquarium.
First day with a car and we are off up the switchback road over the Kuranda Range to the small town of Kuranda itself. This is the destination of the train and the Barron River falls.
The town is empty. The last time we were here, some 15 years ago, it was buzzing with visitors and it’s alternative life stylers were out in full force. Now, many of the shops and stalls haven’t bothered to open and indeed, many have closed down. Covid-19 has really had a huge impact. In “Sprouts”, a small cafe with excellent food and coffee, the clientele are mostly locals.
We go off to the Barron Falls and although, given the enormity of the Barron Gorge, the falls themselves seem a mere trickle, a photograph on the notice board gives an idea of their majesty during the wet season.
Out towards Mareeba we take the turning to the Davies Creek NP to revive memories of our last vist to these parts. The creek is still magnificent, a really beautiful valley with small rapids joining quiet pools amid large expanses of granite.
On our second day with the car we drive up the coast and end up in Palm Cove which is full of resorts and restaurants … and palm trees!
Meanwhile we wander around Cairns; buy veggies in Rusty’s market; go to the movies (‘Made in Italy’ – we have the cinema to ourselves) and visit the botanical gardens.
The Spirit of Queensland
We have long had the train trip up the east coast on our bucket list. Although the train was booked out for the whole of August we managed to get two Railbeds for the 1st of September. It is a 1,700 kilometre, 24 hour journey from Cairns to Brisbane, and we will get off in Cooroy at 6:30 tomorrow morning and miss the last couple of hours to Brisbane.
The Railbeds are a bit like business class sleepers on a flight, and when the night arrives the reclining seats magically turn into flat beds complete with linen. As on a flight, all the meals are included and delivered to your seat. With social distancing in force, the normally three Railbeds across are reduced to two with one seat left empty. At six in the morning, the attendants arrive to reset all the beds and we go off to the cafe for coffee and croisant.
The journey is enjoyable during the daylight hours, watching the passing scenery, but I can’t say we sleep well. However, it is an experience. Perhaps the best ticket would be the hop-on, hop-off ticket which allows one to get off at a number of stops on the way and then rejoin the train.
As always, it is good to be away, and it is good to be back home. Thank you Pete and Robbie for collecting us from the station! We live in a beautiful part of the world and are happy to have washed up here after our long journey through life.
May this fragile planet we live on safely reach the other side of this extraordinary time we are experiencing. I trust we will learn how to care for everyone and leave this increasingly divisive atmosphere behind.
May you be well and happy!