Back in Cairns we decided to attempt the Blue Arrow Walk which I mentioned
to you on Page 27. Recapitulating, there are two walking tracks commencing
near the Cairns Botanical Gardens. The Red Arrow Track, which we completed,
involved a steep climb, including 330 steps, which took us to a viewing
spot high above Cairns Airport. That track is rated as moderate
in our guide book. The Blue Arrow Track was closed at that time due to
the many large trees blown down by Cyclone Larry, however it was later
cleared and made safe. Our booklet described it as strenuous
and only recommended for fit walkers. It takes you through six
kilometres of dense rainforest, up and down steep hills, along precarious
ledges and through a creek. And you have to climb to the top
of the Red Arrow Track before even commencing it. Doubtless
Pam will give you her opinion of the walk in her journal. She believes
that if she was meant to behave like a mountain goat, she'd have been
born with four hoofs. However, we all completed the course without needing
to trouble the rescue services.
Halfway round the course there is a track leading up to a lookout, reputedly with wonderful, panoramic views. We decided it warranted the additional 800 metres of walking and diverted accordingly. There were a few other people at the lookout; two were workers, the remainder were walkers who departed as we arrived.
Like the viewing spot previously mentioned, this one also overlooked Cairns Airport and had a sheltered table with benches where we enjoyed a well-earned lunch. The two workers mentioned that a helicopter had been called to collect them and disappeared behind a steel building adjacent to the picnic shelter. We (wrongly) assumed they had been servicing equipment in the building which was dominated by a huge array of antennae on a tall mast. Aircraft communications? Mobile phones? Television? We didn't know.
Our lunch was interrupted by the approaching
beat of a helicopter's rotor blades. Behind the steel building we found
a slightly raised horizontal platform beside which the two workers were
squatting. Access for the chopper, however, was limited to an almost vertical
descent due to trees. I had crouched next to the fence which surrounded
the building, a few metres beyond the radius of the chopper's blades.
Unfortunately I was ideally positioned to receive a powerful blasting
from the debris disturbed by the rotor's downwash as the chopper descended.
The chopper was a Bell Jet Ranger III - I can tell you that with absolute certainty as I read it on the side of the fuselage. The pilot left the engine idling as he attended to his passengers. Don't you just love the smell of jet exhaust? No? Well, it takes all sorts.
As the pilot loaded the workers' equipment into the other side of the chopper, out of the window on my side popped the business end of two whipper-snippers. So they were not highly skilled communication technicians after all, they had been cutting the grass! The pilot then installed the two guys into his chopper, strapped them in, and gave me the benefit of another, even worse, blasting as the chopper lifted off. What I suffer in order to bring you pictures, dear Reader.
The remainder of the walk was either exhilarating (3 votes) or a painful torment (1 vote). It is, after all, a matter of individual perspective.
Two days later we had our achievements on the Blue Arrow Track really
put into perspective. We visited the small sugar town of Gordonvale which
nestles at the foot of a conical mountain known as Walsh's Pyramid. Every
year a race is held to see who can run to the summit and back the fastest.
The Pyramid rises about 3,000 feet above the town. Yes, about
3,000 feet - I'm afraid nobody could tell us exactly. I even asked the
lady at the runners' check-in point. She turned to her colleague:
How high is the Pyramid, Doreen?
Yes, that's right, Dear, was the response, as Doreen turned
My friend smiled and shrugged.
We didn't expect
questions like that, she explained.
So how far do they run? I asked. The answer was similar.
Here, she said, pushing a programme at me.
all in there.
The population of the whole town and much of the surrounding area had turned out to watch the 47th Annual Great Pyramid Race . . . but nobody knew how high it was or the length of the course. It really didn't seem to matter. In Gordonvale, who won and whether the record was broken, that was what counted.
The race started and finished in Gordonvale's Alley Park. As the start time of 2:30 drew near the runners congregated around the starting line. They all looked tense and each had eyes for only one thing - the mountain.
I wonder how many of the athletes noted the symbolism of seeing their
goal - the top of Walsh's Pyramid - bracketed between two rugby goal posts.
As the clock ticked towards 2:30 the starter gave them their final briefing - the route through the streets to the foot of the mountain, the bridge where the gravel was loose at the edges, the half-way station on the mountain where water was available from an orange-clad State Emergency Service (S.E.S.) crew, the tempting short cuts they must not take on the way back.
Walsh's Pyramid rising 3,000 feet behind the goal posts.
As we waited for the starter's gun I could not help but think of my own
comparatively meagre climb from the Crystal Cascades to the Copperlode
Dam. That climb was only half the height of the Pyramid and the race winner
would be there and back in little over the time it took me to
reach my half way stage. Even so, I was able to empathise with them -
the bursting lungs, the pounding heart, the aching muscles. And on the
way down, the burning thighs, the trembling legs and the fear that they
would collapse at every step.
Yes, but these are youngsters, I hear you say, looking
at the picture.
And you're just a decrepit old fart.
Well, thanks for that but believe me, some of those runners looked almost my age. They certainly did when they arrived back.
Finally the starting pistol was fired and the runners - both men and women - streamed from the park. As they pounded past I found myself standing next to the mother of one youngster who was competing for the first time. She would be a nervous wreck until he was safely back. Some of the track is precarious and a slip or an accidental nudge could have had dire consequences. In the meantime we watched the mountain through binoculars. The bright orange overalls of the S.E.S. people at the half way water station were easy to spot. We also noticed a black and yellow helicopter slowly circling above the leading contestants. It was to prove handy in tracking the progress of the runners who were otherwise invisible to us for most of the time.
The S.E.S. team at the park were in radio contact with those on the mountain so we received intermittent updates on who was leading. As expected it was number fifty, Troy de Haas, who reached the summit first with a five minute lead. He had won the race the previous year and, sure enough, when the first runner re-entered the park some time later it was number fifty.
Do you know what was really sickening? The guy looked as fresh as when he'd set off. Take a look at that mountain again. This man had run to the top and back in an hour and twenty minutes and he looked totally relaxed. Really. If it wasn't for some of the poor wretches that dragged themselves in later we'd have sworn they'd all been in the pub.
Troy said he was disappointed. Yes, disappointed! He'd missed the record by four minutes, perhaps due to aggravating an old injury on the way back down. Well, if he missed the record it certainly wasn't for want of trying. He said he'd be back next year to try again.
One day Pam spotted a small article in a Queensland newspaper. The Tasmanian
Parks and Wildlife Service was looking for a volunteer couple to look
after a lighthouse on an island for four months. "Fantastic!
What a wonderful opportunity," we thought, "let's contact
them for details."
So we did, and received a brief but friendly reply with an eleven page attachment. The Parks and Wildlife Service being a government department, we were probably lucky to escape with only eleven pages. It took some absorbing but we perused it several times until we had the gist of it. The document was a year out of date, contained contradictions and errors, and worst of all, the position did not involve looking after the lighthouse at all. In fact, the lighthouse had been decommissioned several years ago and replaced by an automatic beacon.
Maatsuyker Island is 3 km long and 1½ km. wide. It is situated 10 km off the south coast of Tasmania in the c-c-c-cold Southern Ocean. The successful applicants would be the only inhabitants and the climate was described as 'frequently cold, wet and very windy'. In other words, thoroughly miserable. I'll let our reply to the Parks and Wildlife Service speak for itself:
I read the eleven page Information Package for Volunteer Caretakers on Maatsuyker Island carefully and with interest. May I run past you my understanding of the situation?
Applications must be received by 4:00 pm on 9th September 2005 - last year. The successful appointees will have to travel to Hobart approximately one month prior to commencement for training which takes place over 30 days, and to attend medical, dental and psychological assessment. All travel and accommodation will be at their own expense.
Appointees will be flown to Maatsuyker Island in a helicopter with only a 70% chance of being able to land due to the weather which is
frequently cold, wet and very windy. Should the landing be successful they will
live for four months in a house which is available for
part occupancy and has an asbestos roof. It has no heating.
They will take food purchased at their own expense. After the first days they will have no fresh food as the helicopter will not return for a month. For re-supply, appointees will be responsible for the purchase and adequate packaging of food on the mainland, and the transport of it to the boat or helicopter, all at their own expense.
Primary duties will be weed control, fire prevention work and feral animal control. The appointees must also assist with the maintenance of management facilities and equipment including:
A record must be kept of all work done.
In return, the Parks and Wildlife Service will give the appointees . . . nothing.
Steve, to voluntarily accept such an arrangement
the appointees would have to be stark staring mad. And if they
were stark staring mad they wouldn't pass the psychological
assessment. Catch 22.
You do realise that convicts in gaol are infinitely better treated? They even have three meals a day, heating and television supplied at taxpayers' expense. In fact, if convicts were sent to do this work on Maatsuyker Island on these terms, there'd be an outcry from the Civil Rights mob.
Anyway, Steve, good luck. If you do find some volunteers, make sure they take an adequate supply of their medication with them. And make sure there's no axe on the island.
Kind regards, etc etc.
To be completely accurate I should add that there were additional responsibilities
for a different government department. The Bureau of Meteorology required
readings taken three times daily - the first at 6 a.m. - and the data
forwarded. That department did pay for the readings - approximately
$36 (about £15) per day.
We received no reply to our email so that was the end of that. Sometimes things just ain't what they seem.
You may - but probably don't - remember that we visited Green Island when we were in Cairns in 2005. A meal on the island was included in the price and it was pretty awful. We complained on our return and Meredith, a representative of a company called Quicksilver, came to enquire about the problem.
Quicksilver had just taken over the Green Island cruise and were working hard to improve the service. Meredith offered us a free trip as compensation and although we weren't able to take advantage of her offer at that time, we contacted her on our return in 2006 and she was as good as her word. Consequently we booked on a cruise to the Low Isles and a had an absolutely fabulous day. Thank you Meredith. Thank you Quicksilver. There was certainly nothing to complain about on that trip - quite the reverse.
Wavedancer, a beautiful catamaran used by
Quicksilver on their Low Isles cruise.
We were collected from the Cool Waters Holiday Park
at 8:30 by a large, new coach and driven in comfort along
the picturesque coastal Captain Cook Highway to
Port Douglas. There we boarded Wavedancer, a pristine, white
catamaran, to find that the attentive and humorous crew had coffee and
biscuits waiting for us.
Before we sailed we were given a rundown of the day ahead. Wavedancer would tie up just off the beach and small, glass-bottomed boats would run a ferry service back and forth all day. We had the choice of:
All scuba and snorkel equipment
was provided. A safety officer would patrol the beach.
Two other choices remained - do all of the above, or do none and just laze around in the sun on the beach or on Wavedancer.
The cruise out to the Low Isles (which are sand banks created by currents around the Great Barrier Reef) was pleasant and relaxing, the breeze light enough to be refreshing but insufficient to cause a swell. After about an hour we were tying up to a buoy off a small island which had a lighthouse and some trees. It was encircled by a near-white beach where people were already sunbathing and swimming.
I opted to snorkel but discovered that the face mask would
not seal around the undergrowth on my top lip, so I settled for a swim.
After lunch, Pam, Jan and Ross and I took one of the cruises in a glass-bottomed
boat where we gazed down on various forms of coral, clams, turtles and
many colourful fish.
An excellent lunch was served on board Wavedancer and it was a feast. There was a choice of soup, meats, chicken, prawns, pasta, potato, salad and fresh fruit - all you could eat. And a nice cold beer washed it down beautifully. You know, I could very quickly learn to live like that.
Wavedancer sailed for Port Douglas soon after 3:00 p.m. and afternoon tea was provided on the way. We were even given cool, moist flannels to refresh ourselves à la airlines, and one of the crew sang to a guitar. He wasn't bad, either. Our bus was waiting for us when we disembarked and soon we were safely back at Cool Waters after a wonderful day. Congratulations, Quicksilver, here you have a tourist attraction of truly international quality!
Staying on the subject of boats, the first recorded European landing on the Australian
continent was the twenty man crew of a Dutch exploration ship, the Duyfken,
which visited Australia's north coast in 1606. To put that into perspective,
good old Captain James Cook wasn't even born then. In fact, even Captain
Jim's great-great-grandfather wouldn't yet have been born.
The Duyfken was a comparatively small ship for her time, though fast and well-armed. Her name means 'Little Dove' and her usual role was to act as a scout ship, sailing ahead of a large fleet then returning to report what she had found. In 1606, however, she sailed alone on behalf of the Dutch East India Company on a voyage of exploration to "discover the great land of Nova Guinea and other unknown east and south lands". In 1606 she found herself in the Gulf of Carpentaria and chartered 350 kilometres of the west coast of Australia's Cape York Peninsula.
The replica Duyfken
in Cairns Boat
Harbour on a wet Sunday afternoon.
She took three years to build.
With the approach of the 400th anniversary of that first landing, a replica of the Duyfken was built in Fremantle. This was an amazing feat given that there were only three original sketches of the Duyfken from which to work.
In 16th century Holland, a ship's design existed only in the master-shipwright's
head; there were no detailed drawings. However, something was known of
the ancient construction techniques used by the Dutch and these were employed.
For example the replica, like the original, was built plank-first, the
European oak planks being first bent to shape over an open fire. Wherever
possible, all original materials were used. No plastics here!
To celebrate the 400th anniversary, Duyfken embarked upon a voyage sailing anti-clockwise around Australia. Leaving Fremantle in April, she called at fifteen ports before arriving in Cairns in September. From Cairns she called at nine more ports, backtracking south down the east coast to Tasmania before concluding her voyage in Sydney. Oddly, this being an anniversary commemoration, she did not visit the area where the original Duyfken landed. During the voyage she was manned by a crew of sixteen; six were permanent crew and the remainder volunteers who were periodically replaced.
Duyfken is pronounced 'Dove-kin' in Australia, though probably incorrectly. Pam and I had the opportunity to tour the replica and we were amazed how small she is. How those sailors lived for up to two years at a stretch, often out of sight of land, in such cramped and harsh conditions is truly amazing.
The cook prepared food on what resembled a wood-burning barbecue over which cooking pots were hung. Yes, a fire on a wooden ship! The headroom was so low that the cook was either a midget or spent half his life bent double.
The helmsman stood on a platform with just his head above deck level. There was no wheel by which to steer, instead he held a long vertical wooden lever or "whipstaff" which connected to the rudder via the "tiller". Near his feet was a compass. That's it; there were no other instruments or controls apart from an hour glass to determine when he was to be relieved and a lantern for the nightshift. No GPS, radar or radio for those men, nor even maps - these were the men who sailed uncharted waters and discovered new lands. It was they who drew the first charts for others to follow.
Behind the helmsman's position was a cubby-hole with the grand name of 'Captain's Cabin'. The captain shared that space with the first officer; the remaining crew slept on deck. The captain's cabin was off limits to visitors but we took a peek inside. It was so dark, despite two small windows facing astern, that we could hardly see anything. It was so low it would have been impossible for a man to stand upright in there.
On the helmsman's right was a steep staircase leading down into the bowels of the ship. The cargo hold on the replica had a brick-lined floor, the bricks being for ballast. On the original Duyfken the ballast would consist of any cargo that could be sold off at the ship's destination prior to loading up with the real payload - spices more valuable than gold.
What follows next isn't too delicate but we were curious to know about the toilet facilities on
the original Duyfken. The guide told us that, contrary to some
people's opinion, that was not what the poop deck was for. Obviously
a stock answer for visitors who asked the same question. He led us off
the ship and around to the bow, pointing up at the wooden prow rail marked
'A' on the photo.
They sat on that rail, he said,
with their backsides
out over the water.
And . . . er, toilet paper? we wanted to know.
The guide pointed to the rope marked 'B' on the photo. It hung down into the water, its lower end braided.
They pulled that rope up,
used the wet end, then dropped it back into the sea.
Not much fun in freezing waters, not much privacy, and you wouldn't want to be last in the queue.
We tried to ascertain what time the Duyfken would sail when she left Cairns so that we might photograph her, hopefully under full sail.
She's due to leave on Friday, we were told,
But if the
wind's right on Thursday afternoon when all the visitors have gone ashore,
we'll sail then. On the other hand, we may well not leave until Saturday.
It all depends on the wind.
That was the trouble with 17th century technology, you never knew where you were with it. Much like the Australian postal system of today.
Is there any 'cheating' on the replica Duyfken? Well, yes, there is a little. She is equipped with small auxiliary engines for manoeuvring in and out of port, though insufficient fuel is carried to use them at sea. For that she relies on the wind in her six sails. She also carries
a minimum of modern navigational gear to supplement the traditional
methods. Make whatever you like of that, but if I were the
skipper I'd have my faithful GPS under my pillow - though God knows where
we'd end up then.
And the modern crew's facilities? Yes, they do have toilets and they have a tiny galley - about the size of a wardrobe. Oh yes, and they do sleep 'down stairs'. However, there is no such thing as a chair on this ship! Perhaps it's little wonder that one of the regular crew could tell me, to the day, when his contract expired. The excitement and enthusiasm of the new recruits, however, was palpable. The next leg would take them 1,800 kilometres south to Coffs Harbour. Twenty eight days had been set aside for that section.
Seven days after we visited the Low Isles, that larger-than-life
character, Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, lost his life in
a freak accident in waters close to the islands. Steve, who
wrestled crocodiles and handled deadly snakes with impunity,
was pierced through the heart by a stingray's barb as he snorkelled
above it. The event was captured by Steve's film crew who
were swimming with him. Steve pulled the poisonous barb from
his chest but died immediately.
Although we never met Steve, in common with people the world over, we felt we knew him and his death stunned us. The reaction in Cairns was one of shocked disbelief. The outpouring of grief from around Australia and the world was astonishing. People flocked to the gates of Steve's "Australia Zoo" leaving tributes of flowers and messages in a scene reminiscent of Buckingham Palace after Diana's death.
Rest In Peace, Steve. You Are Sadly Missed.
On re-reading the above, the phrase
Rest in Peace seems singularly inappropriate for a man who
could never sit still for a minute and who was always bursting with
life and energy.
There was an unfortunate sequel to Steve's death. Only days after his funeral, ten stingrays were found dead on Queensland beaches. The tails, which are tipped with the poisonous barb which killed Steve, had been cut off. If the perpetrators of this senseless slaughter imagined that they were avenging Steve's death, then they understand nothing of Steve Irwin or what he so passionately believed in.
Having been in Cairns for several months we had visited just about all the local tourist attractions at least once. Our constant companions of the previous four months, Ross and Jan Taylor, had departed south in search of fresh pastures. Pam and I remained in Cairns as we both had medical appointments. Hence the two of us were looking for somewhere new to visit.
We had previously driven to Mount Hypipamee where there is an interesting crater and some waterfalls in the upper reaches of the Barron River. The weather, on that occasion, was so thoroughly miserable that we'd decided we would return in more pleasant conditions. Well, the weather was perfect so we decided that a drive to Hypipamee would do for starters. Then we could travel on to a small town called Ravenshoe that we hadn't seen yet. The name has nothing to do with footwear for crows (Raven shoe), it is pronounced Ravens hoe, and it is the highest town in Queensland. We know that; the sign said so.
It was a one hundred kilometre drive to our first stop at Mount Hypipamee
National Park. The drive included the tortuous, twisting road which
climbs the Gillies Ranges. Miles and miles of hairpin bends, frequently
with steep drops on one side and cliffs on the other. Twist left, twist
right, left again, right again - guaranteed to make any car passenger
However, we made it alive to the car park at Mount Hypipamee National Park (nothing like a bit of exaggeration) where we paused to eat our picnic lunch. We then walked first to the crater. A lookout platform has been built out over the drop and about sixty metres below us we could see the surface of the water which fills the crater. The surface was light green in colour, being completely covered in duckweed. Under the weed the water goes on down a further eighty metres. Perch-like fish and small crustaceans live down there. At the bottom, the crater curves under the lookout to become a large, submerged cave which continues down into the granite.
Left: Mount Hypipamee Crater
Surprisingly, it appears from the information board that divers have
not yet explored the cave so its length is not known, nor is there any
further information on what might live down there.
According to the board, the crater was formed by gases from a nearby volcano forcing their way, under immense pressure, to the surface through fissures in the granite. On reaching the surface they expanded rapidly, blasting a hole - or 'diatreme' - in the rock. No lava escaped with the gases so when the volcano cooled, the crater and its tunnel were left open and subsequently filled with water.
Leaving the crater we took a steep and narrow footpath down the side of a gorge from which the roar of water in the Barron River could be heard. These are the Dinner Falls, though how such a strange name for a series of waterfalls was arrived at we really don't know.
Dinner Falls on the Barron River
The path zigzagged down through dense rainforest to a large pool into
which white water cascaded down a rock face. Downstream of the pool,
the river meandered around boulders for a short distance before disappearing
abruptly over the edge of the next tier of falls.
After taking far too many photographs - as usual - we climbed back up to the car park and set off for Ravenshoe. About halfway there we came over a hill, and there in front of us was . . .
Over the years we've
heard plenty of criticism of wind farms, usually on noise and aesthetic
grounds. There was a viewing area almost beneath one of the turbines
so we were able to form a first-hand opinion of the sound which consisted
of no more than a gentle whoosh-whoosh-whoosh, despite the breeze being
quite strong. Under another turbine cows grazed, quite unperturbed.
As for the wind farm being a blot on the landscape, well, form your
own opinion. There were twenty turbines on this site, eight of which
can be seen in the picture above. Our opinion was that the turbines
were in no way objectionable. The towers were white at the top but lower
down the white phased gradually into green to blend with the grass.
There was little additional infrastructure to complain about. If anything,
the turbines added interest to the landscape.
The wind farm's capacity was 12 megawatts - enough to power 3,500 homes. Windy Hill Wind Farm results in a reduction in greenhouse gases of 25,000 tonnes per year from non-renewable sources. The turbines are designed to be low maintenance and are computer controlled. Each computer can be accessed at the bottom of the tower, or remotely from anywhere in the world.
With so many positives, why would anybody object to this form of clean, renewable power generation? Yet when I re-wrote this page nearly seven years later, interest groups were still objecting and claiming the noise deprived them of sleep and made them ill.
We left the wind farm and drove on to Ravenshoe. Guess what we found there?
Each blade weighs 2.5 tonnes and is made of fibreglass. Their 22 metre length
made the log truck look inadequate. It must have been fun negotiating
sharp bends with that overhang at the back. The driver of the truck
told us that a set of three blades costs A$180,000. The ones he was
loading - there were four - were faulty and had been replaced. A large
insurance claim had been involved and the faulty blades - made in Germany
- had been stored on this site for inspection.
Now back to Ravenshoe town. Our faithful G.P.S. (remember Alice?), calculated that the town was 3,034 feet above sea level; it was certainly considerably cooler up there than back in coastal Cairns. It was an attractive little country town with a Visitor Centre of which any town would have been proud. Outside the Visitor Centre was a finger post sign which ingeniously combined the distance to various towns, their direction and their annual rainfall.
A clever finger post.
The finger points at the town and gives the distance. The height of the finger equals that town's annual rainfall.
Down near the bottom of the post were Coober Pedy and Alice Springs. Their rainfall is hardly worth mentioning. Up at the
top was nearby Topaz where the rainfall is - well, way over our
Where is Topaz, by the way? Even Alice hasn't heard of it.
Somewhere in the middle was Cairns, while right down on the grass was Cairo. Now there's a puzzle. Did that sign refer to Cairo in Egypt, or Cairo near Cloncurry in Queensland? All the other fingers point to Australian towns but we believe it referred to Cairo in Egypt; the finger is pointing in the wrong direction for its Queensland namesake.
It was getting late by the time we'd toured the Visitor Centre so we only had time to look up the steam railway that runs every weekend. Alas, the railway had temporarily suspended operations though the reason was not given. We soon found the railway's headquarters and a beautiful blue 4-6-4 steam locomotive open for inspection. The reason it was not operating should have been immediately apparent but I missed it until I looked at the photographs.
Using fiendishly clever software, we took a photograph of the left side of the locomotive and converted it to a mirror image then cropped it to show you what the picture above would look like, had the pipe not been removed. And, yes, we know you don't give a damn but humour us - have a look anyway.
A mirror image of the other side of the loco showing the 'missing' pipe (circled).
So there we are. A little bit of Ravenshoe, the highest town in Queensland. We should really go back and 'do' it more comprehensively but it's a 256 km round trip with that Gillies climb and descent thrown in. Maybe next year, if we return to Cairns.
Footnote: This re-working of Page 30 was completed on 13 April 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.