Having seen the outback, the city, the rock, the beach, the reef, and the bars on our whirlwind trip around Australia, it was time to see the last remaining landscape—the bush.
Port Douglas is sandwiched between the beaches of the east coast and the rain forest to the west. We put on our hiking shoes and headed out into the humid forest. Driving out of Port Douglas we were presented with more glorious views of the coast. Looking away from the coast, fields of sugar cane butted up against the rainforest.
Traveling inland along the narrow roads leading into the rainforest, we eventually found a spot to park the car. The Daintree Rainforest is a World Heritage area and contains the highest number of plant and animal species that are rare, or threatened with extinction, of anywhere in the world. Away from the sea breeze, the sticky heat became even more noticeable. Even standing still you became covered with a sheen of sweat. The ferns, the heat, and the giant trees gave the area a prehistoric feel. The Daintree Rainforest is over one hundred and thirty-five million years old—the oldest in the world. Eager to emerge ourselves into the forest, we set off on one of the longer hiking trails.
The trail wound along above a river which provided a subtle background roar as it churned beneath us. Birds called noisily to one another. Great views were presented from cliff outlooks and giant trees towered overhead. Boulders and rock formations covered in moss were scattered throughout the forest. Large spiders lay in the centers of massive webs that looked sturdy enough to even ensnare a human. Even a wallaby popped out next to the trail and watched us as we passed by.
We hiked down to a hidden pool formed by a spring. Greg, armed with his super hiking sandals, waded right into the middle of the pool. Realizing that we were all watching him, he started to scale up a log that led to an elevated pool. He made it to the top, and just as we were congratulating him, he disappeared behind the overhang with a thud. Quickly popping back up, he started making his way back down the log (although clearly taking his time after already experiencing one fall). Greg safely returned to the lower pool and we continued on our hike.
Even though Greg was the only one to actually get into the water, we were all drenched. I literally dripped with sweat. I don't think I had ever experienced that type of heat and humidity (and that is saying something having experienced multiple North Carolina summers). We got down to the car and downed cold VBs that were stashed in the car. After the AC had made the car cool enough to enter, we piled in and began making our way back down to Cairns.
We had one more stop before leaving the tropical north. Having seen most of the major Australian wildlife, we still hadn't experienced one of the most famous—the saltwater crocodile. A wildlife park right off the road presented us with the perfect opportunity to get up close and personal with the crocs.
Upon arriving in the park, we went straight down to take a ride through a natural part of the park to watch crocs attack bits of meat hung from poles. Our guide drove us slowly through the marshy areas and pointed out the crocs that lined the riverbank. Pairs of eyes appeared a few feet from the side of the boat as crocs began surfacing to inspect the possible prey. Others watched lazily from the shore. As one of the female crocs approached the boat, the guide prepared the snack. He hung the pole off the side of the boat and slowly dipped the chunk of meat in and out of the water. Suddenly the croc lunged out of the water and snapped the meat from the pole.
The guide did the same thing as other crocs approached the boat. After all the interested crocs were fed, we found our way back to the dock. Dawn and Jason wanted to check out the crocodile farm where they raised crocs that would be made into purses while Greg and I decided to wander through the other enclosures where the big males lived.
Dawn and Jason learned the in and outs of being a crocodile farmer. They saw the crocs in various stages of development. The farmed crocs apparently are only kept until they are 3 years old. After that point, even though they are still not full size, the leather begins to get too thick and hard and loses its vibrant colors. The guide even brought a baby croc out so that you could pet it.
Greg and I made our way through the various enclosures. I didn't realize crocs got so large. Old males can weigh 3,000 pounds and be over 20 feet long! We saw some of these monsters laying out in the sun. Some of the enclosures appeared to be empty, but then the croc would appear out of the murky water 3 ft in front of us before disappearing again moments later (and only a chain link fence separated us). Some of the enclosures only housed a single male and female, while a couple others had large areas teeming with crocs. One section of the park contained fresh water crocodiles ("freshies"), while lizard and snake enclosures provided additional variety.
We met back up with Jason and Dawn at a snake keeper presentation. This guy came out with two large containers, which I assumed to be filled with snakes. He didn't disappoint, and surprisingly jumped to the big gun and pulled the deadliest snake in the world out of the first bag—the taipan (also called the fierce snake).
Right from the start, I suspected the snake handler was a little...different. He had a way of talking and used quirky hand motions. When he pulled the deadliest snake in the world out of a bag with his bare hands, I knew he was flat out crazy. After telling us it had enough venom in a single bite to kill over 100 people, he casually waved it around in front of us while loosely holding it with one hand. I was glad we weren't sitting in the front row. While waving the snake around, he continued to talk about the different types of venom and reasons snakes might bite. He started getting into snake bite first aid and asked for a volunteer, and without really waiting for anyone to offer, he selected Greg out of the audience to help out. I actually thought for a second that he was going to have this snake bite Greg and then show how to care for the bite. Thankfully he put the snake away first. After explaining how to apply the bandage (which by the way, this was only for Australian snakes, for US snake bites you throw the poor guy in a car and ignore all traffic laws as you get him to the emergency room), he held Greg's wrapped arm and waved it around while he talked. Eventually Greg was released as he moved on to non-venomous snakes. While holding a large python, he tried to convince a kid's mother why snakes make great pets (while the snake was big enough to probably eat her child).
After the snake presentation, the four of us made our way back through the croc enclosures. We snapped a few more pictures and wound our way down to the crocodile attack presentation. A croc keeper came out to talk about the various techniques the croc would use to kill you. We saw the vicious shake and death roll. He also demonstrated how high they can jump out of the water and how fast they can snatch something in their jaws. After watching that demonstration, there is no way you'd find me swimming in the creeks and rivers in the north of Australia.
On the way out we stopped to see the koala. After a couple pictures (because koalas don't really do much), we left the park and started the drive back down to Cairns.
Just before reaching the airport, the boys finally saw their first wild kangaroos. Over 100 kangaroos were moving around in a field just off the highway. Several male kangaroos were boxing and kicking each other while the rest lounged on the grass. We watched briefly before filing back in the car to catch our flight. It was time to head back to Sydney.