Australia 2004, part 5: WINE-ding our way home

Bob’s lookout

We travelled the 332km back to Cairns via the inland route, stopping off at a few lookouts along the way.

We had one night in Cairns, where we stayed in a Holiday Inn. Rather than brave the town, I opted for my first ever experience of a room-service dinner which was surprisingly pleasurable. (Actually, this remains my only room-service dinner, although we did have room-service lunch in Sydney before flying home.) Our table was set up by the huge windows overlooking the harbour and served with what I considered to be a finesse well beyond the grade of the hotel. These days, I would take photographs but we have none at all.

The following day we flew back to Sydney, and the day after that we embarked on an overnight Mount ‘N Beach Safari. This was a trip we had booked before leaving home: the first day was to be spent touring Hunter Valley wineries, and the second day included visits to Nelson Bay and Port Stephens to drive on sand dunes and go on a dolphin cruise. After my accident, we phoned to cancel on the grounds that my injury would make it very difficult. However, the company could not have been more helpful and assured us that they would choose the wineries with ease of access in mind. I am so glad we went, because the first day especially was a real highlight.

A misty Hunter Valley

We were picked up early and driven out to Hunter Valley, still shrouded in mist when we approached. True to the company’s word, the driver took us to wineries where he could park close to the door and there were no steps. Obviously, we couldn’t buy much wine because it had to fit into our luggage, but I think we did acquire three bottles. We stayed overnight at the Hunter Valley Resort where we had lunched earlier in the day. I remember sitting outside at a lovely table, with delicious food and a glass of wine, and feeling very happy and relaxed. The resort also has a brewery, so in the evening we sampled its products too. It was a special day – and so it should have been. It was my birthday! But do we have any photographs, other than the one above? Nope, that’s it. What were we thinking? I can only assume that the wine addled our brains.

The following day was slightly less successful. We were picked up after breakfast by a different guide, and taken for a drive on the sand dunes near Nelson Bay, then to Port Stephens for a dolphin watching cruise. The dune trip was fun, and in no way affected by my gammy leg.

After lunch, we boarded the boat for the dolphin-watching cruise. This was very tricky for me, and once settled in a seat I found it difficult to move again, especially at the speed required to get to the front of the crowd to see dolphins. So I didn’t see any – John did, but something went wrong with the camera, and after a few shots looking back at Port Stephens we have no pictures of this either!

We returned to Sydney for one last night before flying home the next day. I was very well looked after in all airports and on all flights  – until we got to Heathrow. We were met from the plane and got a ride through the corridors on a motorised buggy, which was fun, but were then dumped in an unstaffed area for passengers requiring assistance. Someone was supposed to come to wheel me onto the plane before general boarding, but only one staff member appeared and he took the other lady who was waiting. A few minutes later, she was wheeled back, loudly declaring “But I don’t want to go to Glasgow! I’m going to Newcastle!” By the time I finally got to the plane, many others had boarded and I had to hop through the crowds on my crutches. My carefully chosen aisle seat had been swapped for the other side so that I couldn’t, when safe, stretch my plastered leg out into the aisle, but had to cram it under the seat in front the whole time. (We found out later that a bigger plane had been put on the route to bring back the golfers from the Open which had just finished at one of the Scottish courses. This meant that seat bookings were all rejigged.)

Once home, I was faced with several more weeks on crutches and in physiotherapy. As I said in an earlier post, I still feel the injury today and will probably never be completely free of it. I bitterly regret that moment of carelessness. However, we had an amazing holiday despite the accident, and would love to return to Australia some day if that sort of travel ever becomes feasible again.

Australia 2004, part 4: Cooktown

Endeavour River from Grassy Hill, Cooktown

Cooktown marks the point where Captain Cook beached his ship, the Endeavour, in June 1770, thus becoming Australia’s first non-indigenous, though temporary, settlement. The town itself was founded in 1873 as a supply port for the goldfields along the Palmer River, and at its peak it had a population of over 30,000. The guidebook we used in 2004 gave the population as 1410: interestingly, according to Wikipedia, the 2016 census puts it at 2631. It’s not very big anyway!

After our drive along the Bloomfield Track, we arrived in Cooktown for a three night stay in Milkwood Lodge Cabins. This was one of the places John had phoned in advance to check accessibility for a person in plaster to the knee, and the owners had kindly moved our booking to a cabin with no steps to the entrance. They couldn’t have been more helpful, and I see they are still in business getting good reviews on Trip Advisor, so I feel confident recommending them. The only downside is that a bushturkey seemed to think he had visiting rights, and when not pushing his way inside could be heard scrabbling about on the roof! But we were quite fond of him.

On our first day we explored the town, first of all driving to the lookout on Grassy Hill, with its 19th century iron lighthouse, from where we got a good overview.

Cooktown’s main street is Charlotte Street which has many historic buildings along it. We drove up and down so that I could look at it, then John returned on foot to take photographs while I sat on this bench resting my leg. I look quite happy, but I do remember shedding a small tear at this point because wandering round historic buildings is what I love doing.

There is, of course, a statue to the eponymous Captain Cook, and a graveyard where the most interesting memorial was to Mrs Watson “heroine of Lizard Island tragedy of 1881” and her infant son, Ferrier.

Mrs Watson also has a memorial in town, on which she is given a name – Mary. For some reason, we don’t have a photograph of it, so here is the Wikimedia image. We do have a picture of one of the plaques, which you can see below the Wiki photo – “last entry” refers to a journal she kept of her ordeal.

Mary Watson's Monument (2010)
Heritage branch staff / CC BY

It’s a tragic story: the monument was erected in 1886 to honour this young woman, who died, along with her infant son and her Chinese employee Ah Sam, from thirst and exposure after a conflict with a group of indigenous people in October 1881. I can’t do the story justice in this short post: it’s well worth reading the Wikipedia entry if you are interested. Important points I took away from the article are that this is the only known public monument to an individual woman (other than a head of state) in Queensland; and the way it illustrates the injustices which accompanied early European settlement, and the lack of communication and understanding between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. That the memorial does not mention Ah Sam is another illustration of the racist attitudes of the time.

On our second day we explored the area around the town, visiting Isabella Falls, Endeavour River Falls, Barretts Lagoon, and Archer Point.

I wasn’t able to do very much at any of these places except look, but at least we weren’t inhibited from enjoying nice cafes during our stay – often with a view and a good beer.

It was now a week since my accident and I hadn’t yet told anyone at home, so on our last night in Cooktown I made the dreaded phone calls to my parents and my closest colleague. All were sympathetic, of course, so having got that out of the way, we packed up to head back to Cairns and (hopefully) to enjoy the last few days of our Australian adventure.

Australia 2004, Part 3: Daintree

Daintree Cape Tribulation Heritage Lodge

I was so looking forward to our four nights on Cape Tribulation in Daintree National Park, Queensland, where the rainforest comes right down to the sea. It was indeed beautiful, but our nights were reduced to three after the unscheduled stop in Cairns to patch me up after breaking two metatarsals. We manged a trip on the Daintree River Train to see crocodiles, but otherwise our time in Cape Trib consisted largely of driving around looking for places where the road was near enough to the sea for me to glimpse it. There was nearly always a strip of forest between them, and we only found one place where the path was short enough, and smooth enough, for me to make it onto the beach. I did insist, however, that John had time each day to do something without having to look after me, hence the horse-riding picture. Meanwhile, I relaxed on our veranda.

We left Cape Trib via the coast road – the 4WD-only Bloomfield Track – on our way north to Cooktown. In the pictures below, the “road” disappears into the river. It was a very bumpy ride!

About 28km from Cooktown, the track links with the “inland route” by which we would travel back a few days later. On this section, we stopped at Black Mountain National Park with its thousands of precarious looking square, black granite boulders. The mountain is known to Aboriginal people as Kalcajagga, or Place of the Spears. As with most sights, I enjoyed it from the front seat of the car.

Shortly after this, we arrived in Cooktown for a three night stay.

Australia 2004, Part 2: Port Douglas disaster

Wangetti Beach from the Rex Lookout between Cairns and Port Douglas

Most of the rest of our trip was to be spent in Far North Queensland. On arrival in Cairns we picked up our hire vehicle, a 4×4, and set off for Port Douglas for two nights.

The following day, we had booked a Quicksilver Cruise to the Outer Barrier Reef, including a chance to go snorkelling.

This was memorable, but not as memorable as what happened that evening. After dinner, we went for a wander round the harbour area. When confronted with a post-and-rope barrier, I made the split-second decision to step over it rather than retrace my steps. What I didn’t realise was that the ground on the other side was lower – not much, but enough that one foot dropped further than expected and the other failed to clear the rope. I fell in a crumpled heap to the ground.

John helped me up and I felt no pain until I tried to put my left foot down – aargh! I could feel movement where there shouldn’t be movement, and knew immediately that something was broken. I managed to hobble back to the hotel, by walking on the side of my foot, and we went to bed very worried about what would happen next.

The following morning, hotel staff helped us to get an appointment with a local doctor and I entered the Australian health service. I found it very efficient, although there was a lot of driving around for things that would probably all happen under the same roof here. For example, the doctor wanted me to have an X-ray which would happen in a hospital at home. Because the local facility was closed that day, we were sent to one in another town which I was surprised to find was just a unit in a shopping centre. I was handed the X-rays (which I still have), then it was back to the doctor in Port Douglas who confirmed what I already knew: I had broken two metatarsals.

After much phoning, he got me an appointment the next day at the Fracture Clinic at Cairns Base Hospital, so off we went back to Cairns when we should already have been at our next destination. On arrival at the hastily booked hotel, John was despatched first to an address the doctor had given us to procure a pair of crutches (which I also still have), then to buy a takeaway dinner which we ate in our room. This was our view, the only picture we have of Cairns!

To cut a long story short, I was plastered up and sent on my way. I have two complaints about the plaster cast (or stookie as we call it here). First, I was given a choice of colour and picked blue. Had I known that, once dry, they were going to slit it down each side and tape it up, I might have chosen pink to match the tape. (This was because I would have to fly with the plaster on, and it needed to be easily removed if my leg swelled up.) Second, the doctor in Cairns said I mustn’t put weight on my foot, so it was not a walking cast and I hopped around for the next two weeks. The doctor I saw at home was very scathing about this and said the foot should have been load bearing the whole time. This would have made life so much easier, and allowed me to see so much more on the rest of our trip. Still, we made the best of things and, as you can see below, I was still smiling as we re-joined our schedule the next day to make our way to Daintree.

The accident was on the 6th of July, 2004, so I have recently passed the 16th anniversary. Does it still affect my life? Yes it does. The doctor in Cairns said that in a few months I wouldn’t know that I had done it, but there is never a day passes when I am not conscious of it. I still get a certain amount of pain and discomfort, and my left foot is quite inflexible. It has little power in it which makes going uphill more arduous than it needs to be, and can affect my balance on uneven ground. Someday, I am fairly sure, I am going to need some sort of surgery on it.

But back to 2004. I can’t leave this subject without paying tribute to John who was an absolute rock throughout. Not one word of reproach passed his lips: I can tell you that if it had been the other way round, and he had done something that daft, I would probably (definitely!) not have been so restrained. He spent ages on the phone calling ahead to accommodation, airlines, and other places where we had reserved services, to make sure that my needs would be met, and just generally took care of me for the remaining two weeks of our tour. He’s a keeper!

Needless to say, these days I never jump over barriers and always walk round.

Australia 2004, Part 1: Sydney and Brisbane

We visited Australia for the first and, so far, only time in the summer of 2004. It was something we had looked forward to for years and we expected it to be memorable, which indeed it was, but not always for good reasons as you will find out as my story unfolds.

We arrived in Sydney at 6am one morning, having flown from Glasgow via Heathrow and Bangkok with no stopovers. It was my first time travelling Business Class (thanks to airmiles) which meant we got some sleep on the journey, but I still spent the first week with severe jet-lag. We had three nights in Sydney and spent large chunks of the time wandering around the harbour area in a complete daze.

One of the things that strikes me looking back over this whole trip is how few photographs we have compared to the number we would take today. John had a digital camera, but I was still carrying a camera with film. I’m not sure why, especially as many of my pictures replicate the digital ones, though there is an advantage to that because I have carefully labelled them on the back with exact locations. As an example of this lack, on our second day in Sydney we took an early ferry from Circular Quay to Manly, walked the Manly Scenic Walkway to Spit Bridge, and took the bus from there back to the city. I remember this walk being lovely, but we have only two digital images and a handful of prints!

On our final evening we climbed to the summit of the Harbour Bridge, which was a great experience. I remember climbing a ladder, putting my head through a hatch and feeling a train whizz past. It felt like inches away but I’m sure was at a much safer distance!

The following day, we flew to Brisbane to stay three nights with my aunt and uncle, Elspeth and Ian McKay. Elspeth is the middle one of my father’s three younger sisters, and although she and Ian had lived in Australia all my life we had met at various points over the years. Some of their spells back in the UK were quite lengthy, and I remember Elspeth looking after Dad and me when Mum was in hospital having my younger sister.

The highlight of our visit was the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, which we discovered also housed kangaroos and a variety of birds and reptiles.

Ian died a few years ago, but it would be nice to think we could visit Elspeth again some day. If we do, it will be at the end of the holiday when my body has recovered from jet-lag and I’m less likely to disgrace myself by falling asleep every evening!

From Brisbane we flew to Cairns for the next part of our adventure: visits to the coral reef and the rainforest. Things were about to go wrong …

D is for Daintree

In 2004 we made our first, and so far only, trip to Australia. I was so looking forward to our four nights on Cape Tribulation in Daintree National Park, Queensland, where the rainforest comes right down to the sea. It was indeed beautiful, but our nights were reduced to three after an unscheduled stop in Cairns to patch me up after breaking two metatarsals. I spent the rest of the holiday in plaster up to the knee, on crutches, unable to put my left foot on the ground. Our time in Cape Trib consisted largely of driving around looking for places where the road was near enough to the sea for me to glimpse it – there was nearly always a strip of forest between them, and we only found one place where the path was short enough, and smooth enough, for me to make it onto the beach. I did insist, however, that John had time each day to do something without having to look after me, hence the horse-riding picture.

We left Cape Trib via the coast road – the 4WD-only Bloomfield Track – on our way north to Cooktown. In the pictures below, the “road” disappears into the river. It was a bumpy ride!