Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

Coffee Beans growing

A Kookaburra that joined us for lunch

Coffee at the Palmer River Road House

View of the countryside around the Palmer River Road House

The Black Mountains on the way to Cooktown

The Endeavor river at Cooktown at low tide

Statue of Captain James Cook

The Scottish cannon

The notice board with the cannon

The old bank building at Cooktown

Some of the historic buildings in Cooktown


What a nice start to the day. Although not as many rock wallabies as last night, quite a number were glad to see me, well cupboard love really as I had the bag of food. Using the techniques well practiced on Sylvia over the years, I attempted to keep some sense of order and decorum. This achieved the normal result. Not one of them took any notice and they ran around doing what they wanted. It was lovely having these animals wanting to hold on to my wrist, even if it was only to stop me taking the remainder of the food away to give to another.

Our next stop was at Mareeba where it would be coffee time. The Coffee Works Visitors Centre in Mareeba is situated in the heart of Australia's premier coffee growing region on the Table Lands, just one hour away from Cairns. We were in for a treat. 'The Ultimate Tasting Experience' is a personally hosted 'tree to cup' tour that gives visitors the opportunity to sample 21 Australian and world coffees, 4 rare Australian teas, 2 exclusive liqueurs and 12 exquisite flavours of chocolate created on site in the Coffee Works own chocolaterie. The brochure did a good job on me; I'm in for this one.

Coffee has been grown in Australia since 1832; the first planting was established at Kangaroo Point, Brisbane. By 1880 coffee was growing in Northern New South Wales and along the Queensland coast as far north as Cooktown. By 1926 the industry slipped into decline and remained so until two major plantings were established in 1981 in the Mareeba area. Although these were failures financially, today's industry was established.

Well, that is the history. The mechanics are; the trees have delicate white jasmine scented flowers covering them for three days each November. From these fruit sets in buds along the branches taking 9 months to ripen. Coffee beans are the seeds contained within the bright red coffee cherry. Harvesting takes place in winter, (June to August - how can they call this winter?), There is only one crop each year. One ripe cherry = 2 beans. One mature coffee tree = 8kg of ripe cherry. 8kg of ripe cherries = 1 kg of roasted beans. So, 1 mature tree produces just 1 kg of roasted coffee, or there about.

Time to start tasting, after first checking out the toilets were handy, (is that the right word for it?). Sitting at nice tables, we started on the coffee pots, turn about to fill our small cups with flavoured coffee, whilst the other guessed what flavour they tasted. We did not get any of them right and though most of them were nice, there was not much difference between them, and I think they had just picked a name out of a hat. When Sylvia could not pick out the 'luxury Swiss chocolate' flavour, I knew the names must be made up.

We broke off when the next conducted tour was about to start. In the garden area we were told about the trees and had the chance to photograph one that had been planted at a different time to the ones in the fields; so that the tourists could view the berries. Then a history tour, followed by a view of old machines, new machines, and modern day methods of making a cup of excellent roasted coffee. After our small samples of coffee liqueur, (the demonstrator with her staff discount has lots of friends at Christmas time), we were told about the chocolate made on the premises.

The demonstration tray contained 12 types of chocolates, with most of them being in the three flavours of milk, white and dark; even the chilli flavour was lovely. The chocolate was either in pieces from broken slabs or in coffee bean shapes. I filled my cup up with several samples from each tray and when it looked like the demonstrator was going to take the trays away, I filled it up again. "I'd give up chocolate but I'm no quitter". We didn't want much more coffee so after one to quench the thirst after all of the chocolate, it was time to look at the shop.

Most items seemed a bit over priced, our favourite shop was the chocolate one; I bet you never guessed? The machines did not look very special but the products were. Sylvia chose a bag of Lemon Myrtle milk chocolate beans and I my favourite which is coffee. My memory of the Lemon Myrtle is that it was a very very nice chocolate. Unfortunately I will have to rely on memory as Sylvia refuses to give me one of hers.

By nightfall we were well on our way to Cooktown, having travelled through the beautiful Table Lands with magnificent views of the hills on Route 81, 'The Peninsula and Cooktown Development Road'. Our night's stop was at the Palmer River Road House which is in the centre of the old gold fields and only 70 miles from Cooktown. The next day we started about 10am, stopping for coffee and cookies at the next Road House before eventually coming to some strange black hills which seemed to be made up of black boulders of varying sizes. We stopped at our second lookout spot of the day and viewed Black Mountain.

At Cooktown we got installed on the Big 4 caravan park before walking about a mile down the wide quite street to the centre of town. As we were leaving the park we met Garry and Lorna, our Scottish friends who had just arrived; what a nice surprise.

I had been looking forward to discovering this town but it seems someone else who had set off from Yorkshire had been here before me, and fortunately he had the same name as the town, what a coincidence. In the centre, near the waters edge, there were a number of interesting things. The one that really interested me was a cannon that had been made in Scotland. The story behind the reason for it being in Cooktown caught my sense of humour. I'll let the photograph of the notice board explain this one; you' would hardly have had the chance to get your eye in, would you?

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