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Plane, train and automobile - instead of southern Africa it's off to FNQ

bpeteb

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Neither of us could cancel the holidays that we had booked (we could shorten them by a week) so instead of flying to JNB for our Intrepid Explore Southern Africa overland tour we headed to Cairns and places north for two and a half weeks.

Spirit of Queensland Brisbane - Cairns
Breakfree Royal Harbour Cairns 3N
The Reef House Palm Cove 5N
Crocodylus Cow Bay 2N
Ferntree Rainforest Lodge Cape Tribulation 4N
Ramada Port Douglas 1N
QF Y CNS-BNE

Despite it not being what we'd originally planned we had a really terrific holiday
 
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bpeteb

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If you've read any of my previous trip reports you'd know we like a trip on a train. We had the luxury of time so 25 hours seemed like a nice way to start our holiday.

Spirit of Queensland

We booked RailBed seats for $390 each. This gave us a lie flat seat, three meals with a wine/beer/other beverage with dinner and lunch.

The train left on time. Every person on the train was sat at a window to socially distance everyone. The RailBed cabins are either 1/1 or 2/1. The rest is 2/2. The seat wasn't fantastically comfortable until 'day 2' (it leaves Brisbane just before 4 and arrives into Cairns at 4:40pm the following afternoon) we were left the pillow we'd slept on. Hint for anyone who decides that they want to do it, ask for a pillow straight away. The staff were really nice. The food was decent. The cafe/bar car was also socially distanced with only six seats available to use. The view varied from interesting to monotonous, like lots of train travel... For what could be a high speed train the speed varied from fastish to slower than I could walk.

Would we do it again? Most likely not but we enjoyed it and for people who like train travel would recommend it.

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The seats at the front of the carriage were recommended. Don't. The doors are constantly opening and closing right in front of you.

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Little amenities bag handed out to each of us

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Non-alcoholic welcome drink handed out before we left the station. Ginger lime and soda I think

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The carriage eventually filled as we made some stops along the way

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bpeteb

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They ran out of this soon (all by our purchases...)

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Nice screen, a long way away, limited selection (that's the door through to the next carriage just to the left)

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socially distanced cafe car

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The bed made up. A bit like Q suites some are more private than others. Aisle not, window on the left going north is

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bpeteb

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Like I said the views varied but I just love staring out of a window at anything, or nothing :)

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I'm not sure I'd like to sit in these for 25 hours

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we sat in a siding for 20 minutes waiting for the southbound Spirit to pass

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the train slowed to a crawl as it approached Cairns. When we woke up on Thursday morning we'd travelled two thirds of the total 1600 or so kms. The last 500 took the rest of the day and the last 100 a very long time. Going through Gordonvale and the area around there saw us going through some super tight radius turns. They were all signed at 10km.

This is the final tight turn as we approached the station in Cairns, right on time

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bpeteb

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We weren't hugely fussed about where we stayed in Cairns provided that it was central and had a view of the ocean. Breakfree Royal Harbour was daggy but met our criteria BreakFree Royal Harbour - Cairns Accommodation. I've already posted pictures of the 'unusual' shower in the deal breaker thread. Ignoring the weird bath/shower the room was clean, bright, and suited purpose.

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apologies for the unmade bed. Bedroom was a strange windowless space at the back of the apartment. Room was not serviced and we were aware of this

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it would have been nice to have a higher 'front' apartment (we were in 403)

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but we had a view

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and saw a couple of cracking sunrises

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A year ago yesterday I gave bigal a Lesley van der Sluys print for his 50th. Imagine our surprise when we went down to the ground floor of the building only to be greeted by nine or 10 LvdS prints surrounding the lift lobby, including another of bigal's :)

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bpeteb

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The only thing we had organised in Cairns was attending a 'gin dinner' at the Hilton. Gin's supplied by the local distillery Wolf Lane.

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Sunset as we wandered to the dinner

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The social distancing thing was odd. Everyone mingled out in the hall with welcome drink/s and some nibbles then we were sat at tables of six or eight in a bizarrely lit function room. If you were thinking of injecting while you were in there you were out of luck...

I've done everything that I could with the admittedly limited editing that Microsoft pictures provides me with to take the blue out of the photos. Luckily our brains are smart enough to override the colour and all of the food and matched drinks looked (and tasted) very good

Menu including the matched cocktails

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we had a great time and returned to Wolf Lane on the afternoon before we flow home to buy some of the Davidson Plum gin
 

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Apart from that we wandered around and did some touristy stuff - Hemingway's Brewery, the museum (interesting and well laid out if expensive considering how many museums around the world are free), the lagoon, boardwalk. So many businesses closed. Saying that. more people around than we expected and way more young and not so young international tourists. Not sure how they missed the 'you should go home' messages...

Dozens of curlews around the foreshore. We love them. They are so funny when they stop and stand still as they they are thinking of I stand still those large animals over there won't see me

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a boat trip we definitely plan on taking one day Trinity Bay Cruise (Cairns): UPDATED 2020 All You Need to Know Before You Go (with PHOTOS)

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Hemingway's Brewery Cairns Wharf

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fish tacos

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made by Ballistic Ballistic Beer Co | Enjoy Safe, Contactless Delivery in Brisbane with reef/animal friendly cardboard can holder. All beer should use this. Not the horrible and deadly plastic holders most craft brewers are now using

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Entry to one of the two Wolf Lane premises in Cairns North Queensland Gin | Wolf Lane Distillery

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bpeteb

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We hired a car through Jucy Campervan Hire from Cairns Queensland | JUCY AU and chose to insure our excess through RACQ. We didn't even know this was possible. $46 to insure the $3000 excess or $20 per day for 14 days...

We drove the long way to Palm Cove via Gordonvale and up and along the Atherton Tableland before coming down through Kuranda and rejoining the highway near Smithfield. It was a really lovely drive with stops at Crater Lakes National Park and the Lake Barrine Teahouse for coffee and scones

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huge kauris at Lake Barrine. bigal was devastated to find that they were the same kauris as NZ has :)x

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we called into Gallo Dairyland Gallo Dairyland | Cairns Highlands Chocolate & Cheese and bought some cheese (and a cooler bag with little ice bricks)

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and The Humpy https://www.facebook.com/The-Humpy-239202969542992/ that had a fantastic range of local Tablelands produce including this delicious local milk and black garlic

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views along the way

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before stopping to taste some gin at Mt Uncle Distillery.

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We bought the smoked gin. It is STRONGLY flavoured.

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We stopped at Kuranda on the way down. It was about 3:15pm and Kuranda was literally closed. We were there last May and you could barely move. We both really enjoyed the drive and will possibly do it again next time we head north and maybe stop somewhere overnight.
 

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As some of you would know we booked a Luxury Escape at The Reef House at Palm Cove The Reef House - Palm Cove, Cairns | Official Website. They did us right by refunding our cancelled May escape to Kewarra Beach so we gave back by booking this escape. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. If I'd called and booked direct, with my Accor All membership they would have matched the deal and price then taken $100 off it. In the scheme of what's going on $100 is just nothing.

The deal was five nights with an upgrade to a verandah king, a $200 dining and bev credit, couple of $25 spa vouchers, bottle of bubbles and chocolates. I'll start with the last - two leaf shaped chocolates in the fridge, albeit locally made, and the same bubbles we were given last year.

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The spa vouchers were of no use to us. Not that we did but we could have booked spa treatments along the road for far less, even without a $25 discount.

The room. We loved our verandah king last year. Big room with a dressing room where we could hide our bags. It was on the top floor of the building at the 'back' of the property. We could look down to the pools and also see the ocean through the palms.

This time we were walked to the right of reception and into the building on the north side of the property. We opened the door to a room (423) with a view straight across to the ocean and a giant spa on the balcony. It's a kind of mongrel room in that it wasn't/isn't a verandah king spa suite, or an ocean view king room, but it suited us just fine. The only thing it missed out on was internal floor space (and the unnecessary four poster bed). It's the most peaceful room either of us have ever stayed in. I could have just moved in and lived on that verandah forever. We slept every night with the sliders open all the way and the shutters pulled.

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we even sat in this one afternoon. Literally took an age to fill

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oops, clearly a room used only by men...

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ignoring the spa you could still give the neighbours a surprise from the shower...

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our lit balcony (on the upper level) from out on Williams Esplanade

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bpeteb

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Dinner first night was at Choc Dee Thai. Choc Dee Thai Restaurant Not a bad meal and nice service. We've been before

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The beach at Palm Cove and the winding path along Williams Esplanade

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Breakfast was included and it was a little odd. They of course can't have a buffet (it was great last year), well they could, if someone stood there and gave you what you asked for. Instead they bring out a tray as per below. No options for cereal - bran flakes or cornflakes on rotation, fruit the same each day, juice or pastries. I suppose we could have said we want something else but it was ok. Getting a second coffee was an ask, not a given. Hardly McGallery/Sofitel. At least the pastries were standard Accor - delicious.

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the view makes up for it

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we went for a walk along the beach after breakfast, it became our thing to do for the rest of the trip

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there was a warning sign in front of the lagoon beside Alamanda Resort, at the southern end of the street, and what I thought was a strangely located jetty. On our return stroll we chatted to a man walking his dog and of course the jetty wasn't that at all, it was a cage to try and catch a croc that had moved into the lagoon!

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We'd originally thought we'd do a day trip to Cooktown, us driving, because on google maps it was only 90 minutes straight up through the Daintree. We mentioned this when we were at the gin dinner and we were asked if we were hiring a 4WD because if we hadn't we would be going round the long way. Bloody google maps.

So we searched for a day trip and they are hella expensive. We couldn't find one from Cape Trib so it would have to be from Palm Cove. The first we found was over $400pp, the second 'only' $295pp so we booked that one Cairns To Cooktown 4WD Tours

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Pickup outside the hotel at 7am. We'd arranged a breakfast box the night before as breakfast didn't start until 7:30. It was delivered just after 6 and included some cereal, milk, fruit and pastries.

It was a very long day. It started wet but was fine before we left the Bloomfield Track. We picked up another two people from Port Douglas (saw with horror how far out where our last night would be spent). Then across the Daintree ferry

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past the two places where we were going to stay after Palm Cove, then along the Bloomfield Track. To be honest on a fine day just about any non-sports car could have made it up the track but you'd be a nong to drive a hire car past the 4WD only warning...

sign outside the cafe at Thornton Beach

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the one and only wet crossing of the drive, all of about 15cm deep

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the northern barricade had only been opened the week before

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Annan River

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we stopped for a drink at the Lion's Den Hotel - blah

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humungous mango tree!

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at least we got to see a lion, even if it wasn't in Botswana...

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What did you think of the Wolf Lane ? I have heard it's very good
 

bpeteb

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What did you think of the Wolf Lane ? I have heard it's very good
All of the cocktails were delicious. We haven’t yet opened the Davidson Plum we bought on our last day. I’ll post an update on here once we have
 

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Instead of stopping at that apparently historic hotel we could have stopped at the Wujal Wujal and visited their shop/gallery. On the way in to Cooktown we passed the Black Mountains. Dale didn't even mention them as we sped past. I actually asked about them at lunch.

Cooktown is tiny. We had no idea how little it was until we looked down onto it from the lighthouse.

Our very comfy and new November 2019 bus

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Lunch was supposed to be at the Cooktown Hotel - steak or fish - but we find out while we're up at the lookout that the chef has been let go. The owner of the pub recommended to Dale we go to the RSL instead, so we did. It was bloody good

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then there was more drama due to the museum being closed. He'd worked out some deal with one of the people who worked there to open up for us for a bottle of wine. We knocked, noone came to the door and as we walked away it opened. Her phone was flat and she'd come out to check if we'd arrived.

The museum is in the old convent. The building had a very interesting history, as does Cooktown. It is about to be re-imagined and brought into the 21st century. I had a looka ta some of the story card prints stuck to door frames and it's going to be really good. At the moment, apart from the Cook and aboriginal history, it's a bit of a jumble. By coincidence we were in Cooktown exactly 250 years since the Endeavour was high and dry on the banks of the river - June, July, August 1770.

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we had all of 35 minutes in the museum. Way too short
 

bpeteb

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On the way out of town we did visit Kalkajaka (Black Mountain) National Park. It really is like someone just dumped a couple of mountain's worth of black boulders on either side of the road. I'm sure JohnM will know all about this place!

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we stopped at the Palmer River Roadhouse to put another couple of dollars into the struggling local economy before the very, very long drive back to Palm Cove.

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would we recommend this trip? Nope. Way too long. Not enough time in Cooktown. Instead of going back the long way it would be more interesting to return along the Bloomfield track. This would allow more time in Cooktown and potentially time to visit Wujal Wujal. Dale was passionate but his knowledge was at times limited although he admitted he's always learning more. His politics and personal opinions strayed into his commentary a couple of times and it wasn't appropriate.

Dinner was at the Irish Bar in Palm Cove, a place we'd normally avoid but it was late and we wanted a meal. It was surprisingly good. bigal's beef cheeks were apparently delicious, as was my pork chop

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