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SnR's OZ TWO trip report, part 3, Yungaburra to Laura to Cooktown (LONG!)

SnR's OZ TWO trip report, part 3, Yungaburra to Laura to Cooktown (LONG!)

Nov 10th, 2007, 03:26 PM
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SnR's OZ TWO trip report, part 3, Yungaburra to Laura to Cooktown (LONG!)

Day 12—October 14
Chillagoe to Yungaburra
Accommodation: The Gables B&B $88/nt [email protected]

We reluctantly left Chillagoe about 9:30 and headed east until we got to the town of Mareeba where we stopped at the Mareeba Wetlands Park for lunch and a guided boat trip on the lake. Chris did it all--took money for the tour, got lunch ready, and did the tour! It was quite hot and in the middle of the day, so we didn’t expect to see many birds, but we did get to see several species, plus a frilled lizard and lovely water lilies in bloom. It was a cool way to see the area. Off to the south through increasingly wooded and farming areas to the small historic town of Yungaburra. Most if not all of the buildings are protected and are quite attractive. It was fun to see a bowling match in progress and one of the competitors even explained a bit of the rules to us. Our “room” at the B&B was actually an apartment in a historic house, with a small sitting room, a kitchen (where each appliance had to be unplugged to use another one!) and a comfortable bedroom, and all for $A88 including food for breakfast! We walked down to the nearby stream to look for platypus and we saw some—unfortunately not on the surface long enough to take a picture, but enough to make us extremely happy. We then went to Nick’s for dinner where our host, Katie, had made a reservation. It is a Swiss-Italian restaurant presided over by the Swiss half of the couple-owners with his chef hat on and an acordian ready to be played. He even yodeled for a group right next to us as someone beat rythmn on the cow bells hanging as decoration. Really fun, and tasty food for dinner besides.

Day 13—October 15
All day private tour with Alan Gillanders and night group tour with same ($260 for both) www.alanswildlifetours.com.au

Alan (TreeRoo to you Fodorites) met us at 7:30 and rode in our car, directing Randy where to drive and regaling us with information about the plants, animals, history and geology of the area. He is a fount of information and this trip was a highlight of our time in Australia. Not only is he knowledgeable, but he is also friendly and a good conversationalist. This tour is a real bargain, so don’t miss it! First we went to Lake Eacham area to search for the red-legged paddymelon; no luck but we did see a kookaburra sitting in the old gum tree (although we didn’t hear it laugh.) This was a goal of mine for this trip since we hadn’t seen one our last trip, so I was very happy. We also saw a rare bird—a bridled honeyeater and other lovely ones at a rainforest inn, and then wemt on to Lake Barrine where we walked to see the twin Kauri pines which are huge, 900+ year old trees and walked along the path seeing birds and hearing their calls. We even saw a bower bird’s bower and several of the poor guys calling and calling for a mate. We went to the Curtain Fig on the way to a place where Alan is allowed on private property to see a pond where platypus are active during the day. We watched them surface and dive for quite a while, even though it was raining. Alan knew my interest in ancient plants, so showed us some coral ferns that are small now, but were tree-sized in the time of the dinosaurs and were precursors to the cycads, my favorite tree. We went to Millaa Millaa Falls, which is exquisitely beautiful, especially with the ferns all wet from the rain and shining in the filtered sunshine. After a picnic lunch in a playground shelter, we went to Mount Hypepimee National Park to see the crater and to look for the elusive cassowary. There were warning signs all over the place since they can be dangerous, but we didn’t see even one feather. The walk to the crater was gorgeous, though, and we saw some other birds and three huge, buttressed northern brush mahogany trees, one of which had fallen down the slope and exposed its roots for us to see how shallow-rooted the huge tree was. Alan directed us back to Yungaburra via lovely emerald-green pastureland that had a bit of rainforest left on the tips of each hill. Off to the side of one unpaved road was a bunch of saurus cranes. Two of them were doing a dance of sorts and were being lifted off the ground by the stiff wind when they spread their wings in their dance. It was an unforgettable sight. After a quick stop at a flower supplier for a bouquet for Alan’s wife, Alan took us to his home to show us the plants he has grown there and the damage that was done by Cyclone Larry. Maria gave us tea and bikkies (how could she not when Alan brought her this huge bunch of flowers) and we had a nice chat. We went off to the village to do a bit of emailing and to order a pizza from a take-away place. Surprisingly, it was tasty as was the salad. We ate them at the tiny table in our B&B since it was turning chilly outside. We changed into our St. Vinnie’s warm clothes and went off to meet the group for the spotlighting tour. I got to wear the spotlight and battery for our couple and promptly spotted the first animal, a green ringtail possum (although not related to N. American opossums). We never saw a tree kangaroo, but did see several species of possums and a pregnant golden orb spider as large as my hand, and some bats. We did a bit of star-gazing when we got to an open place, but never saw the Southern Cross this trip—it sets before sundown and rises before we get up at this time of year. This night tour is very fun, I recommend the whole experience.

Day 14, October 16
Yungaburra to Laura
Accommodation: The Laura Pub $60/nt

We drove a long distance today from rainforested areas with farms and towns up some windy roads over steeper terrain, to a drier area where the gum trees are of uniform size (not very big) and seemingly uniform distance apart. There were a couple of lookouts where you could see hills and miles and miles of just trees. It really gave us an idea of the size of the country and the expanse of basically uninhabitated land there is. We lunched and gassed up at Lakeland, which is a small settlement at the Y-intersection where the left road leads to Laura and then points north all the way to the tip of the York Penninsula, and the right road leads to Cooktown. We felt bold and adventurous when we turned left and hit the unsealed road, with 50 km to go. The road is quite easy in most places, but we were back to dodging cattle. About 11 km before Laura is the turn off to a stellar Aboriginal rock art site called Split Rock. It was quite hot, but we started hiking up the hillside to the first gallery, thankfully in the shade. There are some reader boards that explain the art which are very well done. All in all there were three excellent sites, my favorites were these flying foxes with their feet in the air. There was no one else around, either at the sites or in the parking lot, we were free to enjoy the art as long as we wished. Next stop, the Cultural Centre in Laura with whom I had been corresponding regarding the sites, tours, and accommodations. The director, John, had left that day for a family reunion in Ireland, so we were in the capable hands of his assistant, Shallyn. Even though she had recently had a knee reconstruction and was in a wheel chair, she took us around the Centre and explained the exhibits, with a lot of extra information thrown in. She was delightful and gave us good advice on where to stay. Even though the pub rooms weren’t air conditioned, we opted to stay there instead of the “dongers” which were unequipped rooms in a portable type building in the camp ground. Neither option had en suite facilities, but the campground bathroom was a trip outside and down a dirt path in the dark vs. across the hall in the back of the pub. Everything was quite casual at the pub in regards to locking up things, so we just went with the flow. We ate at the Laura Roadhouse and had very good chicken kiev and chips.

Day 15, October 17
Laura Quinkan gallery tour and Cooktown
Tour booked via www.quinkancc.com.au $125/pp for premiere tour

We had booked the premiere tour which they say that they only allow 50 people a year to view. Whatever, it was fantastic. We met our Aboriginal guide, John Ross, who was a member of the local dingo group of the Oakala tribe. He was 53 years old and very tall—he said that his people were all tall. He had been a cowboy on a station most of his life. His mother’s family had been one of those torn apart by the government’s policy of taking mixed race children away from their parents and giving them to white families to raise. She was half Irish and had been taken away at age 12. John indicated, however, that that might have been a good thing for her since she had been promised in marriage to a 78 year old man. John was very well-spoken and kind, with a lot of knowledge of local customs and landmarks. We tried to spot an emu at a place where they hung out, but no luck. John has us eat a green ant (it was quite citrus-y) and explained about its uses as well as other bush tucker. As we approached the art site, Johnny said a few words to the spirits, asking them if we could enter. The Gallery was stunning with many figures—-upside down ones which indicated that they were dead, spotted ones indicating that they were sick, and lots of animals. Some had lines which were explained as the servings once it was cooked—some were for the revered members of the group, some for the pregnant or nursing mothers, etc. There are a lot of magic and taboos that the people have to contend with, and one image showed someone who had been cursed. John seemed to believe in this because he said that if he removed a grinding stone that was in the rock area that he would get “crook” (i.e., sick.) We went to another site where there was a huge white ibis painted with a huge, long rainbow serpent. There were marvelous long, thin figures with their arms raised—they were the spirit people. On the way back Johnny showed us a nonga plum, which we tasted, and a “magnetic” termite mound which points north and south. Back at the Cultural Centre we looked at the displays that we had missed the day before, and read the rock art display with new eyes. After eating the lunch provided by the Roadhouse for the tour, we headed off for Cooktown. We saw the Black Mountain NP lookout. This is a very mysterious place where the mountain is made of these huge black boulders (actually gray with a black fungus on them). This location is sort of like the Bermuda Triangle of Far North Queensland! When we got to town and checked into the Sovereign Hotel (recommended by Pat W.) it was like we had gone to heaven after Laura and the dry drive. The pool is a natural shape with rocks in and around it with palm trees providing some shade. We dove right in! The room was nice, complete with green ants all over the nice balcony (the bellman said, “Oh, yes, they are everywhere here.”) They didn’t come in the room, though, which was good since we had found out in Chillagoe that they bite! We went up to Grassy Hill lookout where Captain Cook walked up to reconoiter the area. Then down to the wharf to watch the sunset while families fished, but didn’t catch anything while we were there. We had made reservations at the restaurant attached to the hotel, so we showed up at the appointed time and were surprised that we had to wait even though it was not very full. Then they lost our order and we ended up waiting for over an hour. However, the meal that finally came out was the best of our whole trip, so in retrospect, we didn’t mind the wait! It was barramundi with shrimps on top, lovely seasoning and sauce. And damper with brie as a starter. MMMMMMM.
Sally in Seattle
SnRSeattle is offline  
Nov 10th, 2007, 04:14 PM
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It's so great to see your report Sally! We leave a week from Wednesday, can't wait. It's good to hear how some of your planning worked out. Hopefully we will also be able to tour with Alan, and we planning on visiting the Mareeba wetlands as well. Did you go to the coffee plantation? Is that someplace you can visit?
Toucan2 is offline  
Nov 10th, 2007, 09:56 PM
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Yes, we didn't do it (too many good things to do, not enough time! Plus, even though we are from Seattle, we don't drink coffee. Don't tell Starbucks.) Pat W. recommended a place to go. Maybe she'll chirp up and let you know the name, I forget. I was interested to learn how they made the coffee, so you'll have to let us know when you go.
Sally in Seattle
p.s. Bring lots of your favorite sunblock (although they sell it there) and don't forget LIP sunblock. I got a blister from the sun on my lip. )-:
SnRSeattle is offline  
Nov 11th, 2007, 12:17 AM
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Hi S & R, thanks for taking the time to post your JBRs. Apart from enjoying your adventures vicariously, the detial (such as accommodation costs etc., ) is really helpful. You've a great memory (or even better notes (lol)).
Did you get to Watsons Bay?
Bokhara2 is offline  
Nov 11th, 2007, 02:15 AM
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Hi Sally, enjoying your report, it doesn't matter much if you run it continuously or break it up (see your other post), as Melnq observed its easy to find here anyway.

Toucan, there's quite a few coffee plantations on Tableland around Mareeba, just follow the road signs. The biggest would be Skybury (although I buy my coffee from North Queensland Gold); Skybury on the road out of Mareeba to Dimbulah/Chillagoe - you might think you're in the middle of nowhere for 12 kms or so, but it will appear, turn right at Skybury sign. The toilets there are fabulous!
pat_woolford is offline  
Nov 11th, 2007, 10:22 PM
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The food and sweets at Skybury are also excellent. Don't know about the coffee, don't drink the stuff as it gets me too excited!
Saltuarius is offline  
Nov 12th, 2007, 08:50 AM
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Hey, Bokhara, yes, we did go to Watson's, but it was funny, we took the 5:30 or so ferry over there and when we got off, I asked them what time the last ferry went back to Circular Quay and they said "This one that goes back at 7:00!!" Not possible to eat dinner in the 15 or so minutes we had there, so we looked around a bit and then went back to Sydney. We could have taken a bus, but didn't want to have a long bus ride back (not knowing their schedule and not having enough time to find out) because we had an early start the next day to go to the Hunter valley. We asked about water taxies, as you suggested, but they said they were really expensive. We asked about during the week and the latest ferry back was at 3:30 pm!! I guess they don't cater to the dinner crowd from Sydney. Not knowing what else to do and having no time to work out a solution, we just took the ferry back. It was a Jet Cat (but they let us on with our regular pass) and a nice ride back to Sydney as the sun set over the city, so we weren't sorry we missed dinner at Doyle's pub since we had the sunset and then went to dinner in the Rocks. When we went to Manly later in the week we waved in a northerly direction to you (and maybe saw your beach from the head there?)

Sally
SnRSeattle is offline  
Nov 12th, 2007, 02:46 PM
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Hi Sally,
You'd think a State Government would be capable of running a ferry service to cater for people's requirements, wouldn't you?
Or, radical thought ... actually doing something to encourage tourist use or local people to leave their cars at home. Far too much to expect, obviously!

Even if they ran a smaller ferry say, once an hour after 7 until 10:30 or midnight in the daylight saving months, it would be such a delightful trip for people.

As a matter of interest, I checked out the cost of Water & road taxis.
Water taxi $75 for 2 ... road $35 - $40.

Glad you got the sunset anyway ... it's a pretty spectacular entry into the harbour isn't it?

Looking forward to the rest of your JBR, Hunter Valley etc.
Bokhara2 is offline  
Nov 14th, 2007, 02:35 PM
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Now I'm terribly curious about the fabulous toilets at Skybury! Please do tell.
Toucan2 is offline  
Nov 14th, 2007, 04:07 PM
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Toucan, don't know about the Skybury fabulous toilets, but the ones in the Opera House are pretty fancy as well as the loo at the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney.
Sally
SnRSeattle is offline  
Nov 14th, 2007, 05:09 PM
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I may well check those out as well!
Toucan2 is offline  
Nov 14th, 2007, 05:26 PM
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Can't remember the loos at Queen Victoria Building or Opera House, but you'd sort of expect them to be of superior variety.

Skybury's are a lovely suprise to find off a rural road, where most you can usually expect is a loo attached to a service station; clean enough but decidedly unglamorous. Don't know about the men's at Skybury but the women's are stylish and modern; featuring a sunken pond with native fishes and a sort of atrium affair looking out on an enclosed courtyard with native plantings - all very peaceful.

Other loos worth mentioning in FNQ are to be found at Freshwater Connection railway station for Kuranda train - nice use of local marbles and silky oak timbers.
pat_woolford is offline  
Nov 14th, 2007, 05:42 PM
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Definitely going to have to keep an eye out.

Wish I could share some Australian loo memories, but all I can tell you about are the Ladies in the top of the Columbia Tower in Seattle, where the stalls all are completely glass-fronted...It's so high all you need to worry about is the occasional helicopter (or at least that's the way they used to be!)
Toucan2 is offline  

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