third in a series from Queensland, Australia
Daintree National Park in Queensland, Australia, is a world treasure. Most of the huge park is tropical rainforest, some of which has existed continuously for more than 110 million years. It may be the oldest rainforest on Earth. Some plant and animal species have been found nowhere else on the planet.
You can book a ride (or rental car) into Daintree from Port Douglas, north of Cairns, but you won’t get through it, toward Cooktown, without a four-wheel drive vehicle, such as those operated by guides from Adventure North.
Over rutted road, through crocodile-infested streams, and across one river on a cable-drawn ferry, an Adventure North guide carefully drove me and my partner Fran Golden along a coastal road that is impassable in the wettest season.
For some travelers, the 12-hour trip may be worth it just to say you’ve been to the old mining town of Wujal Wujal; seen the mysterious Black Mountain of Aboriginal legend; and had a XXXX Beer (sometimes called Four X) at the Lion’s Den Hotel, an old bush pub dating to 1875.
Beyond the creepy crawling of crocodiles in the nearest river, nothing much happens these days at Wujal Wujal. We stopped to call ahead to order lunch from the Lion’s Den, which we would not reach for another hour of jolting along the rutted road. I assumed that travelers don't want to arrive unannounced at such a remote stop, as they might run out of cold beer or thawed chicken breasts.
The quick Wujal Wujal stop fulfilled my five-minute rule, which is the amount of time I require to justify saying that I have visited a place. You can’t just zoom by a Wujal Wujal and say you’ve been there; you have to stop and at least stretch your legs. Once, I spent 10 minutes in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, zooming off a train and running around the block, hopping back on the train just before it left, so I could place the city’s great name on a dispatch I sent home to my newspaper in Cleveland, Ohio. Alas, newspapers don’t publish much in the way of foreign travel these days, especially not from such outposts as Wujal Wujal.
Where no (English) man had gone before
North of Daintree is Cooktown, a somewhat sleepy seaside village that sits at the edge of the river that Captain Cook named for his ship, the Endeavour, which was repaired here after a damaging scrape on the Great Barrier Reef.
Endeavour had left England in 1768, on a mission to go farther than any man had gone before. Sound familiar? "Where no man has gone before" is a phrase made popular through its use in episodes of the original Star Trek science fiction television series. It refers to the mission of the starship Enterprise.
If you visit the Captain Cook Museum in Cooktown, you will note other similarities in the beliefs about the two explorations. You may note that when Cook's ship arrived at what is now the Endeavour River, he sent his Master of the Vessel ashore to explore. The Master was a fellow named James Molyneux, 22, the first I knew that I had a probable relative aboard the Endeavour.
Little did Captain Cook know that he had landed within a few miles of the sacred birthing caves of a local group of indigenous people. The Guurrbi Tours Rainbow Serpent Tour, led by Wilfred Gordon, offers walking trips to see and understand this amazing Aboriginal Rock Art ($125).
At one point along the tour, Gordon stopped beneath an overhang of a boulder. Simple human drawings decorated the ceiling. "Here," he said, "my grandmother waited until it was time to have her baby. This was the place where my father was born." Here, his mother's placenta, like those from other mothers, was buried.
Next: Australia's island retreat for lizards, campers, and wealthy sailors
David Molyneaux writes regularly about cruising news, tips and trends at TravelMavenBlog.com. His cruise trends column appears monthly in U.S. newspapers and on other Internet sites, including AllThingsCruise. He is editor of TheTravelMavens.com