Were it not for the scheduled passage through the far north of Queensland and one of the our long travels across the world would have flowed with a more relaxed calendar.
We enjoyed the “golden” months of Japanese autumn and winter had meanwhile installed itself with an unexpected mildness. There were, at first sight, no logical reasons to hasten the departure of that exotic Far East that was slowly cooling off.
A few thousand kilometers to the south, however, an unwanted La Niña was slowly growing and the phenomenon was the opposite. The South Pacific was warming before our eyes.
In the extension of the northeast coast of Australia, the Coral Sea reached unhealthy temperatures for the Great Barrier Reef.
We knew that the development of that pattern did not bode well for the east coast of the big island. Accordingly, we accelerated the move to the Southern Hemisphere and the discovery of Tropical Australia.
From Northern Hemisphere Winter to Australia's Torrid Summer
We landed in Cairns at the end of a high, dry season that stretched far beyond normal. The sky was clear and remained blue most days. In parallel, the humidity increased visibly and demanded deeper and deeper breaths.
Shortly thereafter, we find ourselves victims of the typical Portuguese laxity of thinking that everything can be solved at the last, and in serious work to rent a campervan. “Only if I can get you a outdoors (Australian pick-up truck) with canvas cover and arrange it your way … want me to try? “asks the blonde girl at the tourist desk in town and leaves us in undisguised despair.
Luckily, one of your last phone calls gets a positive response. We got away with the old service van of a Cairns Older Car, a much-used rental company.
It is already behind the wheel of the old van that we visit the local Salvation Army warehouses, where we try to solve the vehicle's unwelcoming nudity, buying second-hand curtains and mattresses. After the “decoration” was finished, we left for the lush northwest of Australia.
Barron Falls to Kuranda. The Journey Above the Tropical Queensland Jungle
we interrupt the trip for the first time in Barron Falls National Park.
There we take a cable car that leaves the coast, climbs the verdant slope of the Great Dividing Range and stops at Red Peak Station where an Aboriginal ranger Tjapukai has taken us and other visitors on a walk through the forest.
The humidity was more oppressive there than ever. It made the native host speak slowly. The guide explains to us, with easy examples, the sacred beliefs of your Tjapukai people. Like all things: the Sun, the Moon, the stars, the Earth and its creatures, etc. – originated in the time of the story – the Buluru.
We continued aboard the Skyrail, heading for the next station. On the way, we flew over the immense jungle that covers the region. Until Kuranda, we see little more than the countless canopies of multi-millenary trees and the occasional trickle of water.
On the way back, the panorama repeats itself. Until another approach to the Coral Sea, when the predominant green of the jungle gives way to a gradient of blue.
The forest we just flew over is 135 million years old. It is the oldest in the world, considered a privileged stage of the Earth's evolutionary stages.
In North Queensland, this natural process has intensified as in few other parts of the planet. It gave rise to a biodiversity so vast that it deserved the UNESCO recognition. The organization declared the Daintree National Park (a few kilometers to the north) a World Heritage Site.
Soon, we would understand better why the title.
Back on the Road, Cook Highway Above
Back in the makeshift campervan, we ride the Captain Cook Highway further north. We enter an Australia lost among the dense jungles to the west and the wild beaches that welcome the Coral Sea.
We keep an eye out for the road, ready to avoid the jumping crossings of wallabies and other kangaroos, causing frequent accidents all over Australia.
Worn out by the heat, we gave in to the appeal of the white sands and calm waters of a beach called Four Miles. At the entrance, a huge yellow sign alerts, in several languages, to different dangers: currents, crocodiles and the presence of jellyfish (stingers).
“They just arrived at these parts, right?” asks the ozzy lifeguard, under his hat akubra and distinctly looking for fun. "Well, it seemed to me ... I regret to inform you that they can only enter the sea within that area".
We look carefully. We found that this was a mere fifteen square meters of the almost 900 meters long beach. When it seems difficult for things to get worse, we realized that, within the limits of the buoys, the water didn't even reach our knees.
The floating square has little nets. The nets that prevented the entry of various species of jellyfish and jellyfish feared for injecting lethal chemicals when biting victims (hence the English name stingers).
These creatures are born at the mouths of rivers that descend from the Great Dividing Range and colonize the coastal waters of the Coral Sea. They do this during the five hot months of the rainy season, when the temperature of the Coral Sea can exceed 30º.
Australia Even More Wild of Daintree National Park
Unlike disappointment, the shower is short. Then, we return to the path towards the Daintree National Park, with successive strategic stops on other attractive coastlines.
As we toured the Cow Bay sand, we met James Pratt, a resident of a Beach house next. We only need to mention the frustration of not being able to refresh ourselves in such inviting waters to usher in a new Australian drama.
"So it is. Queensland is really dangerous. In fact, my poodles are in danger right now. I shouldn't let them run so close to the water. You never know when a croc is around… “When it's not the crocs, it's the stingers. Come on, these only bother a few months…”.
There is little to add about the first threat. Like the rest of the Australian Top End, the far north of Queensland has been, since the ends of time, a privileged habitat for the world's largest reptile, the estuarine crocodile. They patrol rivers, mangroves, lakes and, because they are able to swim in salt water, too the beaches.
Unlike their freshwater neighbors – which are smaller and only attack humans in extreme cases of self-defense – estuarine crocodiles are aggressive.
They can exceed six meters in length and cause, every year, fatal victims in accidents that the sensational Australian newspapers take advantage of to make their front pages.
Crocodiles aren't the only ones to deserve it. Despite the tiny size of the creatures, the jellyfish are not far behind.
As Expected, Tropical Queensland's Cyclones and Floods
For two weeks filled with intense experiences and sensations, we continued to explore the region. However, we flew from Cairns to Alice Springs, in the center of the Australian continent. It is there that we celebrate the entry into the new year.
A few days later, the plan was fulfilled.
On every Australian TV and radio station, all over the world it was reported that North Queensland was under water.
More tropical storms and cyclones were expected, more than expected during the months of the Queensland rainy season.
Two hundred thousand people had to leave their homes. Thirty lost their lives. Nine were reported missing.
The final loss amounted to more than 800 billion Australian dollars (to date, around XNUMX million euros).
As always happens in these times of calamity, hyperexploited cases of humans attacked by crocodiles have resurfaced in the newly formed aquatic wilderness.