From Cairns to Darwin

Sun 15 Jul 2007 10:26

                                    FROM CAIRNS TO DARWIN, 2007


 Before leaving Cairns we headed off west by car to the  Atherton Tableland, a high plateau, for a couple of days, the landscape varying from the typical dry Australian bush to lush forests and uplands.






He created a whole park around the castle, landscaped the waterfall, filling the pool with voracious eels, and cleared walks through the impressively tall kauri trees.Today, although his family no longer own the property, his dream has been kept intact for us to share.



The local rain forest Aborigines form part of the Paronella experience, offering Bush Tucker walks and dance exhibitions. Here is our guide making colours by simply wetting different ochreous rocks and rubbing them on another stone to create the paint. Chris is receiving the 3-finger stripe which he didn't wash off for several days!



Cooktown was a pretty little place and had all the charm of untouched colonial  architecture.





The weather was wet and rainy during this part of our trip, as you can see from the photo of Carelbi at Cooktown below. Walking back down Cooktown's main street we were caught in a downpour and returned to Carelbi totally saturated.




Since meeting in an anchorage called Flinder's Passage, we had been sailing with Dave and Di on Amoenitas and Andrew, an Australian solo-sailor on a yacht called Brut. Andrew is from Melbourne and is more or less halfway through a circumnavigation of Australia.
We had lots of wind and short lumpy seas on this part of the trip. On the right is Carelbi doing  8 knots in the typical 25 knot SE trades and below our friends on Amoenitas.

After Cape York we had another fast, bumpy passage across the shallow Gulf of Carpentaria. This little cormorant hitched a lift with us and spent 24 hours sitting and shitting on our solar panels. He was quite impervious to the flashlight which shows him sleeping peacefully around midnight. Luckily his farewell presents cleaned off quite easily with water.




 This huge pipeline, stretching away further than one could see brings the bauxite-bearing soil to the processing plant, photographed on the right.  




The art was quite fascinating, but to appreciate it properly I understand that one needs to be able to decipher the symbols for tribal totems, family kinship structures and landscapes portrayed, knowledge not easily acquired by people passing through as we were.



 The coast between Gove and Darwin was singularly without interest, being mainly long flat beaches fringed by mangrove swamps, and infested by crocodiles. No towns, no buildings, nothing except impressively endless nature. Each bay looked like the preceding one, it was not sensible to go ashore and  we all decided to get to Darwin as fast as possible. If ever I have to spend time in hell as a punishment for my sins in this life,  God will send me to sail the east coast of Australia!



























On our second day we visited Paronella Park, the fantasy of a young Spaniard who had made his fortune in Australia in the early 1900's. He returned to Spain to collect a wife and together they built  his Spanish castle just south of Innisfail using the local volcanic stone.  

We stopped off for 24 hours in Cooktown. You cannot sail anywhere in Australia or New Zealand without following in the footsteps of this incredible man and marvelling at the legacy of all the places named by him and after him. 
Cooktown has not forgotten its Aboriginals, neither past nor present, and has stones set into pavements and walls commemorating their customs. The first plaque shows the animals and plants associated with the months of the year and the second their original hunting implements.
The next point of interest was Cape York, about 500 miles further north, and the northernmost point of Australia. Despite alarming warnings about crocodiles: "ACHTUNG!"  we read on the signpost, in German we were told because a German tourist had been dragged to his death in the vicinity. We have nine German boats on the rally we are taking to Indonesia and we are told that the intrepid occupants of these boats had a habit of jumping into the water as they arrived in these crocodile infested bays, much to the horror of other yachts nearby. Below is the plaque depicting the various distances to far-flung places such as London and Paris from Cape York.  
Brut used to leave an anchorage an hour before us every day and sailed his much smaller boat so well it was usually afternoon before we managed to catch him up.
We made landfall at Gove which is a township built and owned by Alcan who operate the local bauxite mine. The soil is the deepest red I have ever seen,and the scale of the operation was quite awesome.
Together with Dave and Di from Amoenitas,  we were temporarily adopted by a kind couple who had lived in Gove for fifteen years or more. Leonie, below left, had been formally adopted into a prominent Aboriginal family and took us to the workshop and museum of Aboriginal art in a nearby township.
Most nights found Chris, Andrew and Dave plotting how far we could get the following day, given the available anchorages and wind conditions.
Finally, and with a huge sense of relief, we found ourselves locking through into Cullen Bay Marina in Darwin, squashed into a 10 metre-wide space with another boat, about six inches between us and the lock walls. We all went off to a local restaurant to celebrate and I ate a large portion of crocodile, my revenge for being imprisoned on the boat by the continuous presence of these fearsome beasts on our long trip.