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AUSTRALIA

Where The Rainforest Meets The Reef

Crossing the crocodile infested river on our small ferry boat, we wondered what adventures the remote area of Cape Tribulation had in store for us over the next seven days.  We were in Far North Queensland, heading for what our guidebook touted as the place “where the rainforest meets the reef.”

The name, Cape Tribulation, came from Captain Cook, whose ship hit the reef in 1770 and consequently, left him stranded there for four months while he and his crew repaired their vessel The Endeavour.  During this time in Cape Tribulation, the crew also discovered the area’s rainforest, which literally creeps up to the shores of the pristine sandy white beaches.  In fact, the Daintree Rainforest (incidentally, the oldest rainforest in the world) and the Great Barrier Reef are the only two National Heritage Sites on the globe that overlap.

Cape Tribulation makes up part of the North Queensland’s “Wet Tropics.”  The Wet Tropics only cover .01% of Australia, however, they are home to 36% of the country’s mammal species, 50% of the bird species, 60% of the butterfly species, and 65% of the fern species!  According to history books, Joseph Banks, the chief naturalist on Captain Cook’s expedition, collected 186 species of plants while shipwrecked in Cape Tribulation.  Without a doubt, this is an area boasting incredible biodiversity.

During our stay, we concluded that the beauty of Cape Tribulation has been preserved at least in part due to its secluded location.  It was only in the last 20 years that a partially paved road was built to access the town.  Moreover, in the rainy season, which lasts from January to the beginning of April, vehicles often cannot pass through the flooded roads.  Besides a few small hotels, restaurants and a couple of tiny markets, the area is devoid of commercial activity.  As a result, nature has been left alone to lead its course.

It is the peace and deep presence of nature, which seems to draw people to this area.  One such couple is Digby and Allison Gotts, who came across the area 18 years ago on a move from Melbourne to Darwin.  They loved Cape Tribulation so much that with the money they had saved for a world tour, the couple instead purchased land in Cape Trib and started an exotic fruit farm.  Our visit to their farm was one of the highlights of our visit.

In Dibgy and Allison’s gazebo, we learned a little about their lives, sampled loads of delicious rare fruit, and then toured the grounds.  One of the most fascinating aspects of our visit was learning about how the farm thrives.  Digby and Allison designed the farm specifically as a permiculture, a method of planting different trees, plants, herbs and brush in ways that protect each other.   For example, you will find large and sturdy Jakfruit trees planted next to smaller ones, to shelter the weaker plants during a cyclone.  The Jakfruit creates a barrier that pushes the strong winds up and over the farm.  In another example, the couple planted a small bamboo forest that functions as a water pump to soak up all the excess water during heavy rains.  They also use nitrogen producing herbs and nuts to lower fertilizer costs and planted fruit trees in alternating rows so insects cannot destroy a whole crop by jumping from tree to tree.  All this care and attention to detail has produced some mighty tasting fruit!

We sampled exotic fruits like breadfruit, longan, ruby sweetsop, rollina, rambutan, and soursop.  Two of the main reasons these fruits are rare is because they have a very short shelf life and can be quite fragile, both of which make them difficult to transport to markets.  If by chance you are lucky enough to find a “mangosteen,” buy one and try it!  It was our favorite fruit—very sweet and juicy, with a hint of lemon flavor.  As a sidenote, we also learned a helpful fact:  papaya grown in warm climates (>20 degrees celcius) does not have the “vomit smell” like the papaya grown in cooler climates.  So, if you enjoy the taste of papaya but have to pinch your nose every time you eat it, check for papaya imported from warmer regions!  For more information, check out Digby and Allison’s site at www.capetrib.com.au.

As if terrific food and scenery were not enough to keep us satisfied, the variety of activities in Cape Tribulation were equally enjoyable.  From diving the reef, to taking nighttime forest walks, hiking, biking, and swimming in fresh water pools, the entire area was chockfull of things to do.  Well, almost the entire area…  If you decide to visit, beware of crocodiles in murky creeks and rivers!  Keep your eyes open for snakes in the bush!  Last but not least, pay attention not to walk into giant webs with spiders the size of your hand!  Remember, this is not some manmade Disneyland attraction—although, we are sure you will enjoy it twice as much!

Pictures of Australia