I have seen a lot of Australia, more so than the average Australian. From crossing the Nullabor, to the beautiful alpine regions of Victoria and New South Wales, to the Top End, to remote towns in the middle of nowhere or along desolate coastlines away from the tourist trail. But far north Queensland took me by surprise, and it was a wonderful experience.
Many see Cairns and Port Douglas as the last major city and town in northern Queensland, before it becomes wild, uninhabited country that is only frequented by big 4WD vehicles that are prepared for extended trips. Although Cooktown is a sizeable town five hours north of Cairns – but by then it is beyond the reach of most tourists.
We heard great things only three hours north of Cairns and intended to find out, without having to venture too far off the beaten track. To the place called Cape Tribulation, just past the world famous Daintree rainforests – the oldest tropical rainforest in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
For this trip I had a Sony NEX5N in an underwater housing, rated down to 40M depth – it was only $100AUD on Ebay, and had served me well in a few countries from scuba diving and snorkelling trips. The lack of an external strobe light meant that using natural light or the small onboard flash was usable at up to 15M depth at good visibility. I also had no red filter as well so it made the post processing more challenging altogether.
I felt like I was in South-East Asia. The air was humid and muggy, the constant noise and sound from the rainforest mixed with the faint salt smell and crash of the waves. I was able to witness something that is incredibly rare on Earth – a rainforest reaching out to touch beautiful white beaches – a rare sight anywhere in the world. This was not the Australia that I thought I knew, the lush green landscape made everything even more beautiful.
Our rental Mitsubishi Outlander performed satisfactorily as expected on the unsealed roads around the Daintree and Cape Tribulation. The occasional deep ruts and potholes were of no concern to the raised height of the vehicle, compared to a normal sedan. I would recommend to any tourists spending a few days exploring this part of Australia to rent something of this calibre, or even better such as a proper 4WD vehicle, especially if you are carrying a heavy load or passengers.
Back in Cairns and out on a scuba dive at Hastings Reef, I saw first-hand the effects of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, and it was a sad sight to behold. The last time I had dived at a big reef system was in Vanuatu at Hideaway Island – the colours and aquatic life with its mesmerising colours and abundance of marine life, where I literally had to brush fish away in front of me just so I can follow my dive instructor – was an unforgettable memory.
It is without a doubt The Great Barrier Reef is suffering from coral bleaching, up to 93% of reefs surveyed by the Marine Park Authority in fact, this is an alarming figure. Nowhere did I see the colourful corals and marine life below as I expected from photos and videos – this is supposed to be our world famous reef – yet it is slowly dying in many parts. This is not a political article, so I do not want to get into intimate details about petitioning our government to do more to reduce the rate of coral bleaching and countermeasures. All I can say is – visit the beautiful reefs before it may be too late.