Coming home

We can’t believe it’s time, that’s it: we are leaving tomorrow and returning to the US. As we sit in our hotel room in Sydney we reflect back on our one year adventure around the world. It just seems that yesterday we were still at home planning and getting everything ready for our trip. But this last year has gone by in the blink of an eye.

We feel enriched by what we’ve seen, people we’ve met and what we have experienced. While we’ll be happy to see family and friends again, we have no real desire to come home and would rather continue being nomads exploring the world’s many wonders. But we know it must come to an end at some point.
We’ll have our memories and moments we will never forget. We’ve seen incredible wildlife, witnessed unbelievable scenery, learned so much about different countries and cultures and met some extraordinary people. How can we ever forget the roar of lions outside our tent in waking us up at 4am? Or the most beautiful female leopard we’ve ever laid our eyes on? Or the wild mustangs running free? How could we not remember swimming so close to the majestic whale sharks we could almost touch them? How do you ever erase from your memory the suffering of the Cambodian people, the kindness of strangers when we were in need and the most amazing sunsets and ocean colors?
We often hear people say we are lucky to be able to do such a trip but we disagree: yes we are lucky to be healthy enough to take this trip, that we agree with, but the trip itself didn’t happen by luck. Determination, patience, and discipline sprinkled with a little bit of risk-taking is what made it happen. For years, we drove our old cars, kept our old tube TV, did not go shopping or out to restaurants so we could reach our objective. We both worked really hard and were able to put money aside aggressively.
Everybody is capable of doing the same…it’s just how bad you want it and what your priorities are.
So how do you go back to a regular life after a year like this? Well, it’s a good question. We think it lays in our ability and desire to adapt. Time will tell if we are able to adapt back to “the normal life”
…and well if not, we’ll just have to plan another trip 🙂
We hope you enjoyed following us through this blog. We loved seeing your comments and sharing our stories and pictures with you. We are looking forward to seeing some of you soon and catching up.

James & Sylvie

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Our last days in Australia on the Sunshine Coast

Noosa was to be our last stop on the sunshine coast on our way to Brisbane.
Once a little-known surfer hangout, Noosa has become a more touristy destination on the sunshine coast, known for its pretty beaches and wonderful parks.
We based ourselves there for a few days happy to have found a spacious apartment at a reasonable price with full kitchen, wifi , and a big screen TV so James could catch up on the FIFA world cup in the evenings.
On our first day, we headed for Noosa National park, an area that provides great walks, either along the coast or inland. It is also rich in wildlife and you can sometimes spot koalas hanging in the eucalypt trees.
We started with a walk along the coast and were passed by surfers of all ages coming from or going to the beach.
imageimage imageWe stopped a few times and watched as a storm was coming in. With the rain starting, we decided to cut inland to get more tree coverage and also up our chances to see koalas. With some pointers from a couple of women walking the path, we were able to spot one high in the tree.image image imageThe next day, wanting to do something different we drove to the Blackall mountains. We hadn’t done much research and just had a general map, so the first 20kms or so we found ourselves on a dirt road instead of a paved road, going through a thick forest. Our poor little Toyota Corolla hatchback took a few hits.We stopped for lunch by a man made lake and enjoyed the quiet solitude.image imageThe dirt road finally gave way to pavement when we entered the small town of Mapleton. After searching a while for a particular hike (Mapleton falls appropriately enough), we happened on it about the time we were going to give up and head on down the road. While the view of the falls wasn’t great, it did offer a nice valley view with the hike also passing through some beautiful rainforest.image imageAbove: the deadly Green Garden Hose snake that made Sylvie jump out of her shoes 🙂imageNext stop was the cute touristy town of Montville. We stopped and window shopped at many of the arts-n-crafts stores and bought a koala christmas ornament.image imageBelow: view of the Glass House MountainsimageBy the time we hit the next cute town of Maleny, many stores were closing or already closed (it was 4pm mind you!), so we headed home after a quick walk on the main street.

Our last two days were spent chasing the sun along the coast and looking for good beaches to picnic on and get a swim in.image imageBelow: this little girl couldn’t have been more than 4imageBelow: obviously, the surfboard (or paddle board in this case) is a way of lifeimage imageAbove: we got a kick out of the patrolled swimming area between the flags – all 50 feet on a huge expanse of beachimage image imageWe used up every hour we could on the beach on our last day to the point where we had to strip out of our bathing suits into airport-acceptable clothes and repack in the BP station parking lot after refueling the rental car. We grabbed a cab with a very friendly Kiwi driver to the Brisbane airport and caught our flight to Sydney. Once in Sydney, we checked-in to our hotel and retrieved a package that was there waiting for us: our stolen beach towels had reappeared!! The Exmouth police had called us a few weeks ago saying they had retrieved our towels from the young thief. Well, they went as far as mailing it to us across the country and following-up with us by phone and email. Unbelievable!!image We had a good but heavy dinner at Opium Den thai restaurant and tried to walk it off a bit but the air was cold in Sydney so we made a beeline back to the hotel.

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Fraser Island DIY

After our day trip on the Whitsunday islands, we thought we’d try our luck on World Heritage listed Fraser Island. We based ourselves in pretty Rainbow beach (a tiny seaside town).imageAbove and below: view of the ocean from Carlos sandblow at Rainbow beach. imagePractically everyone we ran into along our east coast route told us not to miss the island. In fact the aboriginals call it K’Gari, which means paradise. The island was discovered by James Cook and it is the world’s largest sand island (measuring 120km by 15km) and the only place where rainforest grows on sand. It also has the distinction of having the purest strain of dingo in Australia. There are no paved roads on Fraser (think sand and tree roots) and you can only access it by 4X4 (either your own you can put on the barge from Rainbow beach or via organized tour).

We had been told the best way to experience Fraser was through a tour (preferably a camping tag-along one), especially for first-timers and inexperienced 4X4 drivers. The owner of the place we were staying at, Debbie, was this spastic-high-energy-a bit opinionated but still very nice lady, who was full of information and advice. So she helped us call a tour operator we had researched online and we talked to the owner, running through a detailed list of questions we had prepared. They had 2 spots left for the next day and so we told them we would call them back with a decision wanting to go through the answers together and with Debbie (as she had recommended a different tour operator but it was not a camping tour). By the time we called them back (may be 15 mins later) they had fully booked through their web site. We were a bit disappointed and frustrated but Debbie had it all figured out for us….we would do our own tour! The logistics for us seemed overwhelming: we did not have camping equipment, nor any ideas of the tide schedule (you have to know the tides as you are driving on the beach), no real experience driving a 4X4 on sand or really rough roads, no knowledge of the island, permits required, barge schedule etc etc. We basically had no idea what we were doing and it all was very last minute. But Debbie made some calls and got us hooked up with a 4X4 rental company (people she knew) who rented us a high-clearance Nissan Patrol that included a lot of the camping equipment we needed. She also gave us additional blankets as the nights were very cold as well as coolers and other picnic supplies. All we had to do was figure out the permits (which we eventually did online with her help), go grocery shopping and pick-up the vehicle the next day at 6:30am. Her friends would show us how to drive in the sand, and share the tide schedule and map of the island then. With everything set, we quickly grocery shopped, grabbed a quick dinner, and packed for our adventure ahead. The next morning we showed up at the 4X4 rental place where Dave, the owner, had the vehicle packed and warmed up and proceeded to go through a quick 4X4 “how-to” and do’s and don’ts. The demo even included a short drive on the local beach where Dave purposefully got the Nissan dug in and stuck, and then freed up again. He also gave us the tide schedule, warned us not to be on the beach 2 hours before and after high tide as well as a map of the island. Armed with lots of advice and little experience, we finally headed to catch the barge.
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The barge nudged its nose on the shore and then lowered the ramp onto the sand. This was everyone’s cue to get onboard. 15 minutes later, same procedure when we reached the island where we were thankfully the last to get off, giving us the opportunity to follow the other vehicles who seemed to be headed in the general direction we thought we should be going.
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As we started to drive on the iconic 75 Mile beach, we were greeted by some wild dingoes. While these guys looked friendly, we had read and been warned numerous times they could be unpredictable and had attacked people in the past for food (even killing a 10-year old kid in 2001). So Sylvie resisted the urge to try and pet them! Dingoes were introduced by Asian seamen 4500 to 5000 years ago as a food source for themselves. They are now one of Australia’s and Fraser island’s icons and protected in Queensland.
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By then, the convoy group ahead of us had gone around some trees that blocked our path clear to the water’s edge. It looked too dicey for us by the time we had reached that point. The tide was moving in and we had been warned to not take the car on the beach at high tide so we turned back and found a very long and bumpy inland road.imageimageAbove: it may not look like much on this picture but this inland road was pretty rough. Below: a good road on Fraser.imageWe finally made it to Lake McKenzie a couple of hours later (it was very slow going -20 kms/h at most) , a beautiful lake with sapphire-blue waters perched high in the white sand dunes and fringed by eucalypt forest. We marveled at its crystal clear waters and James even took a dip. You would have thought we were on a beautiful beach, not a freshwater lake!image image imageAfter spending a few hours there (also waiting for low tide), we drove back to the beach and set-up our camp near the Maheno shipwreck, a passenger liner that met its end during a cyclone in 1935 while being towed to a Japanese scrapyard.imageBelow: SS Maheno shipwreckimage imageimageAbove: setting our camp on a sand dune. Below: sunset and dinner preparation.imageimageimageThat night as we cooked our dinner we had several dingo visitors come into our camp…very very close. Guess they smelled the food…although they were not showing any signs of aggression, we were a bit startled they would come within a couple feet of us. So we shooed them away hoping they would not return while we were sleeping and become more aggressive.

The next day we were up early (again to sync our driving with the tides) and took the 75-mile beach “highway” north to Indian head and “champagne pools”.
Indian head is a rocky outcrop and the best vantage point on the island to see marine life. And it did pay off, we saw rays, turtles, a dolphin and humpback whales breaching in the distance. We also enjoyed the many resident birds.imageAbove: view of 75 Mile beach from Indian head. Below: whale breaching in the distance. image image image image image imageThe champagne pools were our playground for the afternoon while we waited out high tide, and one of the best spots on the island for a safe swim. 75-mile beach, although beautiful, is deemed unsafe because of the high shark and sea snake population. So we didn’t chance it 🙂imageAbove: Champagne pools when seas are calm. Below: the pools after a new wave came in.image Our last day on the island was packed full. We started by taking a look at Eli Creek where fresh water pours out to sea from an inland spring and got side-tracked photographing birds. We were then on our way inland to Central Station, a former logging town, and walked through the rainforest where we spotted king ferns and then hiked to a nearby lake.imageAbove: Eli creek. Below: Eli creek pouring out in the ocean.image image imageAbove: Wanggoolba Creek, a freshwater stream which meanders through the sand.image image image imageWe took a break for lunch at Lake Birrabeen, another of Fraser’s beauty spots and finished the day by taking a short hike to Lake Wabby. Wabby is edged on three sides by eucalyp forest, while the fourth side is a massive sandblow which is encroaching on the lake at a rate of about 3m a year.imageAbove: testing the cleaning abilities of silica sand on our knife – it works very well.imageimageAbove and below: hanging out at Wabby lake and the encroaching sandblow.imageimageBelow: giant millipedeimageIt was then time to head back on the beach and catch the last barge back to Rainbow beach. We were flying down the beach at 80kms/hour, resisting to stop too much when seeing dingoes. A storm was brewing in the distance and we were losing daylight fast when we spotted the barge already on its way back to the mainland. S…T! We had missed the last boat! But to our surprise, the barge started heading back to us, and sure enough, picked us up – they didn’t want to leave us stranded! Upon reaching the mainland, we stopped to get a few pictures of the nice sunset, and further down the road, for the first time since being in Australia, saw a couple brumbies (wild horses), much to Sylvie’s delight.image image image imageimageIt was a perfect way to end our 3-day island stay. We ended up loving the freedom of our self-tour and James loved the 4X4 challenge the sand and rough roads of Fraser threw at him.

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Whitsunday islands

As we headed further South, the weather forecast was iffy but we nevertheless decided to stop at Arlie beach, the base to take off from for the Whitsunday islands. The Whitsunday group of 74 islands are located off north-eastern Queensland and from this archipelago sandy fringes, the ocean spreads towards the horizon in beautiful shades of every blue you can imagine. The big star attraction of the numerous stunning beaches is Whitehaven beach, renowned worldwide for its pure silica sand. So pure and fine, you can apparently clean your jewelry with it or even polish your teeth. We arrived in Arlie Beach late in the afternoon and right away set off to book a tour for the next day. The guy at the tour office answered all the questions we asked about the different possible outfits and confirmed a spot for us the next morning with a company called Ocean Rafters. We didn’t choose to go sailing or a live aboard as this was just for the day, mainly to see Whitehaven. It rained that evening and we crossed our fingers it would get it out of its system by morning. We woke to partly sunny skies and were picked up by the tour company’s driver and taken to the pier where the boats where lined up ready to go. image We had a great skipper and first mate who joked with everyone while going through the day’s itinerary and safety items. The skipper admitted the snorkeling stop we were making as our first stop was going to be quite underwhelming due to recent rain and large tidal swings, but James gave it a look anyway. image image There were no underwater pictures from that stop – pretty much explains the conditions. The next stop was the north end of famous Whitehaven Beach where we jumped off the boat and hiked up to the lookout. image Above and below: north end of Whitehaven beach.image image image Above and below: views of Whitehaven beach looking south from the lookout.image Below: what the inlet above can look like at low tide. We hit it at a rather high tide and after rains, but still gorgeous.image We all then hiked down to the other side of the island, climbed back onboard, and motored the 7km length of the beach to the southern end where we anchored. Our skipper and first mate prepared lunch, and we all stuffed ourselves and then played beached whales for the next two hours, enjoying the view. Being winter, the air and water temperature were less than steamy but we swam a bit anyway.image image image imageAbove: we found some goannas lazing around the picnic area looking for scraps and warming up in the sun.

Below: enjoying our Whitehaven beach time.imageimageimage

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Island time: a day on Magnetic island

The next day we drove to Townsville, a city in a northeastern corner of Queensland, arrived late and got wifi working for free downtown which allowed us to book a hotel. The owners/managers were very chatty and informative and gave us the low-down on Magnetic island, which we wanted to visit. That night, we had a wonderful dinner at an unpretentious indian restaurant and started planning our next day. Sun was finally in the forecast so we were looking forward to our one day-trip to the island.

We woke up and yes the sun was shining! We barely made the 8:45am ferry and had to run to buy our tickets. Since taking our car on the island was cost-prohibitive, we booked a car last minute from the ferry. The ferry to Magnetic island only took 20 minutes and the rental car lady was there waiting for us at the dock when we arrived.imageAbove: off cruising the island in our little suzuki

Magnetic island is also known as Maggie. Over half of the island is a national park and has one of the largest concentration of wild koalas in Australia, hence our desire to visit this jewel. We were set on seeing koalas in their natural habitat in the wild and not in a zoo or so-called sanctuary!imageAbove: koala signs everywhere on the island

First order of the day was to stop by where the rock wallabies hung out. They were a cute bunch sunning themselves on the rocks.image imageWe had heard of a popular hike called the “Forts” that had several scenic lookouts and a good chance to spot koalas, or so we had read. So that was our next stop for the day. The name “The Forts” is due to the fact that in 1942 Townsville became a major military base and a forts complex was built on Magnetic island to spot planes. We saw remnants of the military base and it was a nice hike but unfortunately, we saw no koalas….a lot of people like us looking for them though. But those buggers sleep during the day and are very hard to spot.imageAbove and below: scenic lookouts from our hikeimageDisappointed, we then headed to Radical Bay, a road only for 4X4 vehicles, and picked up a nice couple from Slovenia that was walking the road. They were grateful for the ride as it would have been quite a hike! They headed to a nearby beach and we had lunch on Radical bay but didn’t think about going in as the water was very murky and cold from the last few days of rain. We also noticed a dead turtle in the bay we had stopped at before, so it wasn’t super inviting.image imageHorseshoe bay was our next destination but it wasn’t terribly attractive either from a beach perspective so we decided to hike the wetlands. As we were looking for a place to park we ran into a tour group that had just emerged from the forest. Disappointed we hadn’t seen koalas yet, we asked them if they had spotted any (Sylvie thought the tour guide would know where to find any). The main tour guide then came forward and was kind enough to show us on our map exactly where to see a mom koala and baby. We were estactic! They also tipped us off on the butterflies walk they had just taken. Thankful and excited we drove off to the koala spot and after a bit of searching, James finally located the baby and then mom koala in the Eucalyptus trees. The youngster was awake and adorable. Mom was in a nearby tree sleeping hard.image image image image image imageAfter taking many many pictures, we backtracked to do the butterfly walk in the forest. Again, it was terrific. There must have been hundreds of butterflies! We also finally took our wetland hike which was scenic but only produced a few birds.image image image image image image image image image imageBelow: kookaburraimageWe finished our day on the island by driving to the furthest West point and had a little bit of fun with our 4-wheel drive. It was pretty tame though. We had hoped for a more challenging road but not that our cheapy Suzuki could have handled it anyway.imageAbove: playing with our little Suzuki, below: West pointimage imageAbove and below: common birds of Magnetic islandimage We looked for koalas some more but did not find any so we decided to return the car and got on the 6pm ferry back to Townsville. It was a full day and we enjoyed the island very much, especially seeing the koalas.

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Wet and Cool

The next day we left Port Douglas and headed inland through Atherton tablelands, an area that had been recommended to us. Since it was still raining anyway, we didn’t mind going inland. The cool, tropical Tablelands are set in rolling plateaux at an average of 700 metres above sea level. Dairy farms, waterfalls, wineries and unique wildlife are the area’s attractions. So we stopped at one of the dairy farms ( Gallo Dairy Farm) for lunch and chocolate tasting. The locally produced chocolate we bought was very tasty and didn’t last us very long!imageWe had made the cute town called Yungabarra our goal to reach that afternoon and found a 500-year old curtain fig tree along the way after leaving the dairy farm.imageWe stopped at visitor center in Yungaburra and got information from 2 nice older ladies on platypus spotting at Peterson Creek. We had been told that chances were very slim to see one as they are very shy but we decided to try anyway.

The platypus is a semiaquatic mammal endemic to eastern Australia, it is one of the only mammals that lay eggs instead of giving birth (monotreme). Although they look cute enough to want to cuddle, it is one of the few venomous mammals, the male platypus having a spur on the hind foot that delivers a venom capable of causing severe pain to humans. Platypus used to be hunted for their furs, but it is now an iconic symbol of Australia; it has appeared as a mascot at national events and is featured on the reverse of its 20-cent coin. It is also the animal emblem of the state of New South Wales.

After hiking along the creek for quite some time, we only spotted a couple freshwater turtles, so we started to head back to the car. We asked all of the people we encountered on the trail and everybody was looking but no one had seen one. Then it happened – James saw the elusive creature floating very still in the creek in a hidden pool. The first click and flash from the camera sent the scared animal diving under the water and we thought the show was over. It then reappeared a bit downstream and proceeded to give us our own private photo shoot. How cool was that?image image

Very proud, we went back to the visitor center to share our photos with the 2 nice ladies and they were ecstatic we had seen one. I think they were even more excited than we were!

We then started to look for a place to call home for the night. But we soon learned that all accommodations were fully booked. It turned out they had a bird “convention” in town and an orchid event in the surrounding larger town of Atherton where we had backtracked to. One woman at an Atherton motel took pity on us and called every single hotel in town and surrounding areas. Nothing… we couldn’t find a decent place to stay. We had resigned ourselves to spend the night in the car when she suggested we try the hostel since it was a backpacker’s place and usually had lots of dorm space. Didn’t sound so good but we had no choice. Turned out the hostel (back in Yungabarra) called ” On The Wallaby” had a private room for the night. So despite the bathroom being downstairs (you had to go outside to reach it), we were happy to at least have our privacy and not have to sleep in a dorm. It was homey, clean and the hostess was very friendly. Lots of backpackers were there chilling out waiting for the weather to get better. That evening, we had dinner with people from all over Europe and stayed up late chatting with them and exchanging our Aussie experiences.
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It rained all night and we woke up to pouring rain in the morning as well. We still wanted to do something so we decided to drive to a nearby lake, Eacham Lake, and hike a 3 kms track. Of course because of the rain we didn’t see much wildlife, just some birds but it was still a nice hike. We could have done without leeches we ended up with though!
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After the hike, we ate a late lunch and decided to stay one more night at the Wallaby hoping the rain would let up for our tentative plans of seeing waterfalls the next day. The Wallaby only had a dorm room available, but we were the only ones in it (the manager made sure). We took her energetic half dingo dog, Lucky, on a walk that afternoon to check out a large dead python in a field close by and got soaked (the decorative skin and some bones were all that were left). We didn’t get much sleep that night because of partying backpackers and our wallet somehow got lighter we later found down the road. Backpackers…grrrrr
The next morning we headed for the waterfall loop, stopping at the Nurata tea farm along the way as someone had tipped us there were tree kangaroos hanging out there. We treated ourselves to a devonshire tea (black vanilla tea with scone), needing to warm up from the cold rain.
image imageAbove: bush stone-curlew.. Below: tea bird 🙂image2 pictures below: cute tree kangaroosimage imageDespite the weather being still cool and rainy, we forged ahead with the waterfall loop drive after our tea time.image image image Below: bush turkeyimageWe got to Mission Beach in the late afternoon, a cute little town but (still under rain), and ate a late lunch at the only open restaurant. They had wifi so we booked ourselves for 1 night at a local B&B. Before going to our B&B, we looked high and low for the cassowaries that supposedly wander around the town, but again just like in Daintree, we did not find any, just a lone kangaroo.imageThe B&B was in a beautiful setting with fine hosts Adrienne and Robert. Our room was a haven after spending 2 nights in the backpacker’s hostel. Quiet, large, and very well appointed. We had drinks with the owners at 6pm and met some great people also staying there: Jared, Stephanie and Oriane, astronomers who are currently living in Paris. After chatting for a few hours, we retreated to our room, watched “Rabbit Proof Fence” and fell asleep to the sound of the rain. The next morning, we all had a yummy breakfast with wallabies hanging out and Smokey Bear, the half-persian cat. During breakfast we discussed plans for the day and we all wanted to hike (also gave us another chance to see cassowaries) so we left cars at each end of a trail and did 3 short hikes (9kms total) together. We all got soaked and saw signs of them, but not a single sighting!image image image imageAbove and below: large beautiful spider we spotted on our hikeimageBelow: finally when we ended our hike, the sun came out!imageWe were all starving by then and so headed to the recommended Shanti cafe where we had a delicious lunch before parting ways.imageOn the way out, we finally saw a cassowary, but it was a juvenile. But good enough!!image image image

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Getting wet in North Queensland

We flew from Alice Springs to Cairns, arriving late in the evening, so didn’t tour very much while there. In the morning, we walked to Jucy car rentals and picked up our little Toyota and headed downtown to research outfits for snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef. We came upon a French woman in one of the tour shops who gave us some great advice on different tour companies as well as what reef to snorkel in and when to go as the weather forecast was increasingly getting worse. She also pointed out some sights to take a look at going north from Port Douglas. So we booked a tour out of Port Douglas through her as the tours there tend to snorkel reef areas less frequented than out of Cairns ; in this case the one of the further outer reefs called Angincourt. The corals were terrific, but the variety and quantity of fish was a little lacking (compared to Ningaloo on the West coast). Despite stiff winds, choppy seas, and half the tour group joining in a barf-fest just before the last dive/snorkel (we were fine as we bought some anti-nausea pill), it was a terrific day with off and on sunshine.

Below: great barrier reef shotsimage image image image image image imageimage image image image image image image imageThe next day, as predicted, the rains came so we caught up on the blog, did some grocery and window shopping, and then drove to the town’s viewpoint to see its iconic 4-mile beach. Not that striking due to the weather having churned the sea.imageWith persistent rain and gray skies the next morning, we drove to Daintree National Forest and on up northward to Cape Tribulation. Along the way, we hiked a few boardwalk type rainforest self-tours and also found the “Blue Hole” that the French woman had told us about. It rained on us quite a bit but we were in the rainforest after all!image image imageAbove: one of the weirdest spiders we’ve encountered. Below: Cape Tribulation beach after stormimageimageAbove: blue hole. Below: one of its inhabitantsimageAlthough we had been told that there were many Cassowaries (think big bird) in that area, we unfortunately didn’t see one. We did see many road signs warning us of crossings along with bumps, and even one that someone managed to combine the two:imageWe went back to Port Douglas wet and a bit disappointed we didn’t see the iconic cassowary but knew we would have a second chance later in our trip along the coast.

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