While checking out of the Gables we mentioned our failure to spot a tree kangaroo the previous day, and our host immediately gave us directions to a tea plantation just east of Malanda. Apparently they were often to be seen close to the entrance. When we got there we scoured all the narrow copse for some time, along with a German couple, before Mr V spotted one asleep high in a tree right next to the gate. I thought I’d been looking too low, but then someone leaving the plantation pointed out two, a mother and youngster probably, lower down on the other side of the drive. They were very cute, and didn’t seem at all bothered by the small cluster of people around their perch.
South of Malanda we joined the Palmerston Highway, then left it for a short detour to Millaa Millaa falls. They were pretty enough, but not what you’d call spectacular, and we weren’t tempted to join the trio of young female backpackers swimming in the pool at the base (brave, or crazy?).
If we had needed a reminder of our school geography lessons, the drive down to Innisfail would have provided it. The showery clouds that had made it through to the Atherton Tablelands were just the remnants of the cloud bank that was wedged along the east-facing slope of the coastal range, dropping torrential rain as the wind tried to push it up over the ridge. We stopped briefly at Crawford’s Lookout. We could see a long way down to the stream below, but everything else was obscured.
Down at sea level things were considerably brighter. Unsure of facilities at our destination we detoured into the centre of Innisfail to withdraw some cash. Innisfail may be the largest town in the area, but it seemed half asleep. I thought perhaps we’d missed the main centre, but a drive along the pretty riverside failed to reveal anything more lively.
Driving south from Innisfail along the Bruce Highway the scenery gradually changed – the sugarcane fields petered out and the hills took on a much drier aspect. Our destination was Mission Beach. Or Wongaling Beach. I was a bit confused, but it transpired that the latter was part of the former.
Our accommodation there was a unit at the Dunk Island Caravan Park, just across the road from the sea. Sparsely furnished but spacious, it had a full kitchen and a cunning design – you entered the unit through the bathroom so that you could shower off the sand before trailing it inside. Outside was a car port where your dog could sleep (bowls provided). Through the trees backing the beach was the promised view of Dunk Island, beyond a blue sea and white sand.
After dumping our bags we set off to investigate the Woolworths that we’d passed on the way in to Wongaling. I’d known there was a Woolworths, but I expected it to be small – after all, Mission Beach is only little. So it was a surprise to find possibly the largest Woolworths that we’d encountered. Either it served a huge rural hinterland, or Australian holidaymakers do a lot of cooking.
I should perhaps mention that Woolworths in Australia is nothing like Woolworths in the UK was – it’s a supermarket. There are two main supermarket chains in Australia, Coles and Woolworths. Woolworths seemed a bit cheaper for the things we wanted, but Coles had more own label products that were cheaper than the brands. But I preferred Woolworths, which was nicer than Tesco, Sainsbury’s et al. I bought a lovely fillet steak for under £3, and we calculated that if we really made an effort we could get through another winebox before we flew to Brisbane. At £2 per litre for decent sauvignon it would have been rude not to. On reflection, perhaps it’s a good thing we don’t live in Australia.
Once again I was glad we were spending two nights instead of the originally planned one – it meant we would have a day with no schedules or deadlines and minimal driving.
The Djiru National Park, just a few miles inland, is home to around 40 cassowaries so we headed there after a leisurely breakfast. But there were none along the Lacey Creek walk, just a very large snake sunning itself on the path. So we tried the Dreaming Trail opposite. This was just a rough track, not a boardwalk like Lacey Creek, but there were steps down the steep slopes to streams. Still no cassowaries, although there were signs that the ground had been scraped by something large.
After lunch we went to the beach by the caravan park. Swimming was perhaps risky but, from what I read, the conditions were all wrong for stingers to be around so we took a chance. The water was incredibly warm – totally unlike what I’d experienced on the Barrier Reef trip. When we arrived at the beach it was virtually deserted, but more people began to appear as the sun started to drop.
Unsure of the cooking facilities at our next stop we again prepared a meal to take with us for dinner the following day – the coolbags that we’d bought in Darwin had certainly earned their keep. It was a shame we were missing out on the opportunity to sample Australia’s restaurants, but self-catering made the difference between spending around £8 a day on food and spending at least £38 a day. On a 35 day trip, that was no small consideration!