Sunday, 21 July 2013

Atherton Tablelands to Cooktown (from rain to shine)

Jackie getting her 'animal fix' after not seeing a tree climbing kangaroo

We spent another night in the ‘wet tropics’ on the Atherton Tablelands in the rain, this time at a very nice, but waterlogged campsite in Malanda. Set in the rainforest with its own private access to Malanda Falls and a couple of short rainforest walks where we may see tree climbing kangaroos (even in the trees around the campsite) and platypuses, we just had to go. We set off in the relative warm wearing shorts and tee shirts –and raincoats round the two tracks, spotted neither of our intended animals, but did enjoy the turtles going about their daily business in the river and were almost deafened by the sounds of the birds of the forest. Undaunted Jackie decided we should get up at dawn (I never thought I’d hear her say that!) and go looking again, so bleary eyed we got up at 06:30am and went out in the half light and the rain (again!) but still saw neither of them. Oh well, they had a couple of calves in a cage on the site and, every day at 09:00am the kids (and Jackie) could feed them, so she at least had a consolation prize!

It was also a moment where I found out that we are not the only ‘campervan curtain twitchers’ as a slight mishap I had bought a response from a neighbouring van. This campsite, like most in Australia have either no camp kitchens or very basic ones and this one was no exception. It meant that we have to cook and wash up in our van and, being fairly small it’s easier to wash up outside, using our hinge down integral table.

The geometry of the table leg on a high slab
On this campsite a concrete slab is provided next to the van parking area, so you can step out of the van onto concrete rather than, in this case, mud, but as the concrete slab is a little higher than the ground on which the van is parked, it means the table stands at an angle, sloping in towards the van as the leg is too high for the van. To compensate I simply angle the leg inwards to level the table, but of course it means there a danger of the leg slipping inwards and the table collapsing (don’t get ahead of me here!).

Now physics tells me that if the leg doesn’t slide inwards without anything on the table, it shouldn’t slide inwards when loaded with stuff on the table. The friction coefficient of the rubber foot on concrete remains the same irrespective of the weight on the table and, although there’s a greater force causing the leg to slide, its compensated for by the increased downward force, giving greater frictional force, so as long as friction coefficient remains the same it should remain in balance and not move (I know there will be people reading this who will understand! - and I'd told Jackie it would be fine). The problem on this day is that it was wet, so friction will be less, but even so if in balance unloaded it should remain in balance when loaded, however, it didn’t! At least it did for half of the washing up, lots of soapy water, all the stuff in for washing up breakfast and last nights dinner and everything was going well. I washed stuff, handed it to Jackie through the door, who dried it and put it away. Halfway through the bowl and table swung downwards, the water and contents spilled over our concrete slab, it did miss me and I only got slightly wet and nothing broke. Now why should that happen? Maybe a little movement of the leg as I swished about in the bowl and, as soon as it started to slide, well, dynamic friction is always less than static friction, so away it went!

Elephant Mountain. We decided it looked like an elephant lying down
We both laughed, put the kettle on for more hot water and collected everything from the floor, but a neighbour came out of her campervan and asked if we’d like to borrow her table. “No thanks” I said, repositioning the leg a bit further out so it was more stable, “I hope you didn’t laugh” I said, as she picked her way through the mud and puddles towards the amenity block she said “I wouldn’t dare, I’ve got to find my way through this lot without slipping over yet”.

A 'butch' off road caravan
Anyway, we left Malanda and, after about 4 days of rain we decided we would go anywhere to get to some dry. The big advantage of Australia is that there will be sun somewhere, if you’re prepared to drive far enough. In the information centre in Atherton her computer told her it was nice almost anywhere other than the tablelands where we were. It’s the easterly winds bringing in moisture from the Tasman Sea and condensing over these high uplands, the first encountered, that the cause, so we decided to bypass Cairns for now and head for Cooktown!

Palmer River Road House
Almost as soon as we descended the rain stopped, the skies cleared and it became hot and sunny but, along with it the really nice wet tropic jungle gave way to eucalyptus trees and the more open land of the ‘dry tropics’. Driving on up the peninsular it felt as though we were getting very remote,

The V8's departing for the Bloomfield Track. Good luck.....!
Cooktown is as far north as the tarmac goes and is therefore as far as we can go. Cape York, the most northerly tip of Australia is a further 2 or 300km north and it’s a domain for the adventurous. We’ve met many people who’ve been to the Cape and it certainly seems the thing to do, particularly for Australians. There is one dirt road, that we’re told is probably possible with a 2WD vehicle, so it might be possible for us in our van (“No!” Jackie said!), but most people are in butch 4WD vehicles with lots of ground clearance and high air intakes for river crossings, many of them towing caravans or trailer tents which look built for off road.

The road from Atherton to Cooktown has only relatively recently been fully sealed all the way, prior to that it too was the domain of 4WD only, but about 9 years ago the final bit of tarmac made it into a tourist destination. As we drove along we could see evidence of the old dirt road and imagined, as we glided gently over rivers, creeks and gorges, how much of an effort it must have been in years past to get where we were going effortlessly. It really is going into a remote region with only this road through wilderness, how exciting!

The lion at the Lions Den campsite
We’d booked into the Palmer River Road House for the night, which is about 100km short of Cooktown and one of those places that appears out of nowhere, providing refuge for weary travellers. It appears to have everything, albeit with a rustic slant, accommodation, fuel, café and bar - and what a great feel to the place! (It did have a great feel to it, but I couldn’t help be reminded of the closing scene in ‘From Dust till Dawn’ as the camera pans out from this gorge where all the motorhomes of all the people the vampires have eaten have just been driven over the edge!.....) Its run by a couple with two kids who’ve been there for nearly 5 years and seem to really like it. “You meet all sorts of people” he said and certainly it was full of people like us, people going to and from Cape York, either by the standard road (“in a few years it’ll be fully sealed all the way” they lamented), or more adventurous 4WD only tacks. 

People we spoke to were telling us the route they’d done and it appeared some of the crossings are notorious and have some credence among the 4WD elite, sadly they meant nothing to us! Our host was telling us many of them are deep gorges where you have to winch your vehicle down and back out again, “where’s the sense in that” he said, but its very popular and I could feel myself getting caught up in it and thinking how much fun it must be….

In the bar in the evening (well, we had to go in for a couple of beers!) we met 4 blokes living in the caravan next door to where we were parked who are working on laying a fibre optic cable right up to Cape York. There’s already one in existence, this is a secondary backup, but their job is to drill under all the river beds using tungsten carbide drill bits (diamond tipped bits are no good apparently). He told us how they can angle the cutting head to change the direction, but it’s a long job as most of the rock is granite and progresses at an average of 4.5km per day, sometimes much less (in retrospect that seems quite a lot, perhaps he said 450m, or even 4.5m.....). They go through and to some quite remote and inhospitable areas most days, but today (Saturday) is their last day of working for a week, so they were somewhat relaxed in the bar!

The other group we met were marshals for a charity car race that was taking place mainly off road in V8, but generally 2WD cars. They throbbed into the car park, most of them dressed up in fancy dress, had a rest, something to eat and drink and then off again. They actually stayed at the place we’re at tonight near Cooktown and one couple we spoke to there this morning said they were still partying at 4:00am this morning! As we arrived there to check in at 10:00am, the last of them were just leaving, heading off down the notorious Bloomfield Road from Cooktown to Port Douglas, that we’re told is a testing road for even 4WD vehicles. Good luck to them!

The highly venemous brown snake
The other bit of excitement was the sighting of a very deadly brown snake in the campsite. We were alerted when we saw lots of people with cameras so, grabbing mine we went round to see it slithering towards someones tent, who fielded it away with a spade. It slithered into the long grass and away down towards the river (where we’d been previously to look at the old road and river crossing over the Palmer River).

The Road House also had a small museum with pictures of the old Palmer River gold rush days. Gold was found in the river in 1873 and in the years that followed up to 18,000 people, mainly Chinese, came to the area looking for gold, with Cooktown being developed as the closest port. It’s still possible to find gold in the river now and the owners son (about 13 years old) was telling us he’d found about $300 worth.

The Endeavour River, complete with crocodile warning sign
Today we’re in the Lions Den campsite about 30km outside Cooktown and have been into town this morning to look out where we (I) want to go. It is, of course named after Captain Cook who beached the Endeavour here on 17th June 1770 and stayed here for 48 days while he repaired his ship after grounding it on the Great Barrier Reef near Cape Tribulation on 10th June. It’s a great place to feed my Captain Cook interest and I expect to make a long entry on the great man in the coming blog entry, so beware! 
Thai curry for lunch from the market stall in Cooktown
Today we just went to the market, where Jackie managed to cuddle a 4 month old joey (baby kangaroo)! We also met the woman who runs the Captain Cook re-enactment society and had a long chat with her, and visited the Captain Cook museum, but more of that later!

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