I’m lying in the back of the four wheel drive, bright yellow goliath of a van purchased by my travel companions, Anna and Ari. They are a sweet and delightful couple from Canada and the US, respectively, who I met through couchsurfing.com while staying in Cairns. A few days ago the three of us set off for a camping adventure into the Daintree Rainforest and beyond, and now we are making our return to Cairns after a deeply satisfying venture. I am reclining on the bench seat in back and my feet are resting on the wide window opposite me as we bump along this deserted highway through the bush lands of northern Queensland. The scenery of golden grasses and sage colored trees slides easily beneath my pink painted toes. When the trees end the scenery gives way to wide open grass plains, framed by distant hills. Cows are a constant feature of the landscape and every so often a kangaroo comes hopping into view before quickly scooting off into the brush.
This trip up into the rainforest and tablelands north of Cairns was, in a sense, a test of this van’s four wheel drive capacity, its fuel consumption, and our comfort in it as a long term camper van. Though our venture was at first off to a troubled start, the short five day trip has proven to be a grand success. We left Cairns with the intention of heading up towards Cook Town (the second to last human outpost of any significance on the north east coast of Australia) via the Bloomfield 4wd track. The Bloomfield track begins just north of Cape Tribulation and the Daintree Rainforest, a popular tourist destination along the coast whose claim to fame is that it is the meeting point of two world heritage sites: the ancient Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. Unfortunately we didn’t get very far along our mission before we realized the gas tank had quite abruptly dried up. This was troublesome because the van only runs on LPG, a difficult variety of fuel to find in more remote areas. Upon our realization, we were forced to back track nearly 40 anxious, nerve racking minutes with one solitary bar on the fuel gauge before finding a station that carried LPG. This left us with some serious questions on whether or not the van’s gas consumption would out run the miles of rough dirt track through the dense jungle that lay between us and Cook Town. To add to our doubts, we heard from a friend that sections of the track were washed out due to recent rains. It didn’t look too promising that we were going to make it up to Cook Town after all!
We decided to think it over and stay one night in another popular tourist town, Port Douglas. After having dinner with some friends at a local back packer hostel, we set off down the coast and found a great, hidden and little known place to camp right next to the beach. I left Ari and Anna to have the privacy of the bed in the van and I set up a tarp, camp mat and sleeping back out on the beach beneath the breathtaking night sky. The moon was out with a shining brilliance that lit up the heavens. Slipping silently under the silken moonlight were thousands of thin clouds, arranged like luminescent tiles across the sky, ethereal and light as gauze. Where the clouds broke, the inky black sky was studded with fierce stars, shining like diamonds against black velvet. On the deep blue ocean, the moon light rippled and broke into a countless glittering shards, winking on the easy movement of the waves. When my eyes had taken their fill of these riches, I laid my head back and breathed deep letting the crash and hush of the waves wash through me. I slept easy and deep, that is until I awoke to a throng of mosquitoes eating me alive. Thankfully, such things are easily handled with handy repellant and a good dose of tiger balm to cool the itch.
The next day we did a bit more research and found out that the track was in good condition and fine to travel. We also discovered that indeed LPG was available in Cook Town and received confirmation that we would easily make it there on a full tank of gas, given the size of our tank. The good news spurred us onward, so we plunged once again onto the road, this time with a properly full tank of fuel.
This proved to be a fantastic decision. The dirt track that we traveled cut through the beautiful dense jungle of the Daintree Rainforest, chock full of ancient varieties of ferns and palm trees. This lush vegetation broke only to give way to glittering rivers winding through the undergrowth. Our van handled the river crossings and rough terrain with like a great yellow beast. Had she been able to roar in triumph, I’m sure she would have. Instead it was us, her loyal passengers, who cheered and grunted in victory after some of the more difficult climbs and crossings. The gas gauge held up beautifully too; we reached the halfway point between our starting point and Cook Town and we still had a tank which was more than ¾s full. If you were to believe the gas gauge that is, which at times appears to be on drugs, bouncing down a bar, then up two bars, then down two bars, back up one bar . . . and so on. Unfortunate gauge behavior if you are trying to determine if there is enough gas in the tank to make a detour even deeper into the bush. . .
Our first night camping along the Bloomfield track, we stayed at a lovely little isolated road house owned by a character named Pete. Posted all around the small shop were signs encouraging way ward travelers to buy something to support the store. Signs such as: “PAY MORE FOR LESS HERE! Because here is a blooming hard place to get anything to, even you!!” Or even better “%60 of travelers coming to ask for directions do not buy anything to support our store, %40 get to where they are going.” Pete and his wife were great folks, helpful and welcoming to the nth degree. In the morning Pete gave us a lesson on how to crack a whip and each of us managed a pretty impressive crack after only a few minutes instruction. We mentioned to him that we were hoping to make it to a nearby fruit farm to try the exotic miracle berry that makes everything you eat taste sweet. To which he replied, “Why go that far? I have a miracle berry bush right here!” And so he did, just next to the front door of his store. The bush was devoid of berries save three hidden beneath its leaves. Armed with a brilliant red berry each, we set down with slices of lemon to begin our miracle berry experience. After first carefully opening our berries and rolling the relatively large pit, coated in a thin layer of flesh, around and around our tongue, we then took a lick on our lemons.
Oh my, did they taste incredible! It was like they had suddenly become lemonade fruits. They tasted just like sweetened lemonade and it was a taste you just couldn’t get enough of. We quickly were taking walloping bites out of our lemon slices, hungrily devouring this incredible flavor. He also gave us some fiery Tobasco sauce to try but, while it was a puzzle for the tongue, such an intense spicy burn paired with resounding sweet, it didn’t taste nearly as blissful as our lemons. He brought out more lemon slices and we ate those up to, as easy and quick as if they were slices of orange.
Pete also took us around back to show us his mammoth of a motor home/tank. This vehicle nearly rose perhaps 5 meters off the ground and sat on tires around a meter tall. It could seat 18 people and he once used it to take tourists on bush safaris. The monster of a machine was once a German tank vehicle built for war and able to tackle just about any terrain. He pointed out the massive metal bull bar in the front, in particular two curled “tusk” like protrusions that could be folded down when traveling through thick bush. “Yeah, she has no problem mowing down trees about this big around when the front gates are down,” Pete said while creating a circle with his arms that was perhaps a foot or more in diameter. She was a creature to behold alright but sadly out of commission as the last venture into the bush left her with a shattered windshield and three out of four tires busted. As each tire costs $2,000, Pete replaced the three tires, left the windshield broken, and with, a heavy heart, parked her out back for an extended rest. Plants were winding their way up into her frame and she was unthinkably dirty when we saw her but he assured us that such a rare and powerful machine is still worth upwards of 150 thousand dollars, even in her present condition.
Before we extricated ourselves from this delightful couple’s endearing but rather sticky company, Pete told us how to get to their local treasure, a waterfall honored by the Aboriginal people as a sacred space. The only concern was that to get there we must drive another hour on a dirt track even deeper into the bush. Whether or not our gas tank could sustain through this detour and the remaining distance up to Cook Town would remain to be seen. We just couldn’t resist the chance to see this spot.run
Off into the bush we trundled in our giant yellow beast of a van! We roared our way through more creeks and over countless bumps and hills, passing beautiful scenery of golden grasses amidst tall arching eucalyptus trees. Beyond the trees was a blue sky that coudln't be beat. I tried in vain to capture the passing landscapes, craning my head and arms out the window and snapping away at random.
After more than an hour of traveling on gut churning dirt track we finally arrived at the camp spot near the falls. As the day was quickly waning we wasted no time in heading out on the trail to the falls. Technically the Roaring Meg Falls are a sacred place for the Aboriginals where only women are allowed but Anna and I brought Ari along anyways, making several silent prayers of forgiveness to the Elder’s sprits hoping this might help make up for our digressions from the tradition. At several spots along the trail there were signs posted forbidding the use of cameras to take any photos in respect for the Aboriginal Elders. The Aboriginal people believe that photos steal one’s spirit and it is feared that any photos taken at Roaring Meg Falls will capture the Elder sprits and hold them prisoner in the cameras of the tourists. So dutifully we put the camera safely away and let our eyes soak up the surrounding beauty, taking only memories with us when we left.
I cannot adequately describe the feeling that rose in me when we stepped out of the bush and gazed at the scenery that dropped away before us. When we emerged from the dense trees and brush the sky opened its arms and a yawning gorge spread wide to meet it. The waterfall, frothing white and surging with power, tumbled down a series of rock cliffs and landed in a vast deep blue pool before snaking delicately off into the distance. But the falls, we now realized, were just a piece of this scene. The power of the place was felt from the massive stone cliffs, from the open mouthed sky and the wide range of hills and valleys that could be seen clearly from both sides. The trees, a coppery green, could be seen in fine detail from great distances; they air was crisp and absolutely clear. In fact, all the colors had a distinct richness: the deep blue green of the river before the falls against the shocking white of the water’s froth; the olive green and gold trees against the piercing blue sky, and the cool shale colored rocks the firm backbone beneath all that beauty.
It was a place that silenced you and bid you sit still, and watch a while, wait a while, and listen. . .
So this is what we did. We found some solitude and some silence before the graceful roar of Roaring Meg. And what she had to say cannot be said.
A fiery fairy who has set off to explore Asia and discover new things about the world and herself. The journey is one to fully realize her strength and an unwaivering faith in her personal power.