off we go! travel blog

Up early this morning to be collected and taken to the airport for our few says at Bloomfield Lodge. The weather looked as if it might be changing with some heavy clouds rolling in, but these came to nothing and it became another beautiful dat. Very friendly welcome at the minibus and at the airport. Flight brief from the very talkative pilot and then on to the 18 seater plane. There were eight of us plus the pilot. North along the coast at 2,000 feet, we could see some of the islands and reefs of the Great Barrier Reef, before descending to land at an airstrip, grandly called Mount Louis Airfield, set in a cattle station in a clearing in the rainforest. Then by minibus to the Bloomfield River where we boarded a boat to take us ten minutes out of the river mouth to the Resort. Warnings about not swimming in the river!

After a welcome drink and briefing we were shown to our lodge, beautifully appointed, and overlooking Weary Bay and the rainforest. There was a huge spider, almost as long as my hand, on the outside stairway, a Golden Orb spider, it was fantastic to watch and as the sun came on the web we could see why the spider is so named; the threads of the web looked like gold. We avoided using that stairway! As we walked in, we noticed many of the trees and bushes had name tags so we could, at last get some understanding of what was around us.

A little rest then lunch where we really met the other guests; only 12 in total. All Brits, except for one young Australian couple, newly weds, this was their honeymoon and they were twenty years younger or more than the other guests! It was good to have the chance to relax and talk to other people after all our travelling. Of course everyone wanted to hear about our travels as the others were on two or three week holidays.

The guided rainforest walk was set for after lunch. Only five of us joined Jamie, the guide, for the walk and we set off out through the back of the resort and up a dry creek. Jamie pointed out different trees and some of the uses the aboriginals found for various parts of these trees, from food to bows and arrows and to medicines and poisons. A fascinating walk, not a lot of wildlife was seen as the forest was pretty dense and many of the animals are nocturnal. We climbed up on to the ridge behind the resort where the vegetation changed a little and where we saw signs of wild pigs having been foraging.

Having got very hot and sweaty, we headed for the pool for a nice cool dip, it was lovely, not a pool for doing laps but relaxing. Then it started to rain, not especially heavy, but persistent so we bailed out, had a cup of tea and relaxed in our room. This is the life!

Dinner we set on one big table, with a few of the guests having opted for a table of their own, but we were ok with the communal setting. Good food, a nice bottle of wine and we were ready for bed.

It rained heavily for short periods on and off during the night which made a terrific din on the metal roof, but it wasn't too hot under the ceiling fan and we did manage to get some sleep. Breakfast was a buffet with an optional cooked to order dish. Good to meet up and discuss plans for the day. We decided to join the river cruise up the Bloomfield River. 

It was hot and humid, and rain showers came and went during the trip. Our guide was excellent, quite laconic with a dry sense of humour but very knowledgeable. He told us all about the mangrove swamps we passed through, a bit of the history of the area (once again settlement started due to the discovery of gold, then tin, then timber cutting, then planting of sugar cane and finally cattle ranching. The Bloomfield Township was bigger than Cairns in the late 1800s, but now only about 400 people live there. He related various stories about the local aboriginal tribe and introduced us to features on the river and it's banks regarded as sacred or with special significance for the aborigines.

On of the guests thought she spotted a crocodile hidden in the bush on a low bank of the river, we swung across to find a 2 metre or so crocodile, basking in the sun. Our guide reckoned he was about 7 or 8 years old, big enough to take a bite out of someone. He watched us carefully as we approached, allowed some photos to be taken then with a whoosh, shot off into the river. Exciting! We were shown a crocodiles nest but the lady crocodile was not to be seen.

Back to the lodge and by now the wind had picked up and the tide was ebbing fast so,a,bit uncomfortable for a while, but we got back safely and went off to,get ready for lunch. We chilled after lunch, catching a few zzzz, then Ruth went for a pedicure and I wandered around a bit, taking in the beautiful flowering bushes and trees and then it was time for dinner. I went out after dinner to try and find some of the nocturnal animals we had heard about, but it wasn't very late and I returned to go to bed before long, not having seen anything.

Another night disturbed by bursts of heavy rain, and Ruth thought she heard animals! A relaxed breakfast, then I went off to fish from the end of the jetty with a couple of other guys while Ruth went to the gym and the pool. The fishing was a first for me, but one of the staff talked us through the kit and how to load the hook with pilchards for bait. One, guy, Frank, managed to catch and land four fish; two small snappers, a metre long black-tipped shark and a blue spotted leopard ray, a beautiful looking fish. We put them all back once we had released them from the hook, a bit of a performance with the shark and the ray! I managed to hook three fish but they eventually broke or bit through the line. The last was another leopard ray, quite a size judging by the size of his tail and the pull on the line, but after over 15 minutes on the line he too broke free. Just as well as by now it was lunchtime!

Another lovely lunch from chef and we relaxed and chatted for some time afterwards with two newly arrived guests, before retiring for our, by now customary, afternoon siesta! The rain that had come and gone all morning seemed to have gone, it was a beautiful sunny afternoon so we decided to walk along to the beach. We got about halfway there and the heavens opened, foolishly we had not taken umbrellas so we got a soaking an d beat a hasty retreat back to our room. We went to dinner early to try and find our hosts to badger them about e snorkelling trip. The boat they used was being repaired but was two weeks overdue, such is the work ethic here. We pestered them to get the boat back as we had really wanted to go out to the GBR as it was our last chance before heading home.

Later that evening they told us the boat would be ready for collection tomorrow from Cookstown just up the coast. Our persistence paid off and we also persuaded them to let us go along for the ride!

Next morning, after another downpour during the night, after breakfast we joined Craig and two of his team at the dock and headed off by boat to the Bloomfield River dock where we decamped into the 4WD for the hour and a bit's drive to Cookstown. A lovely drive, one of the crew, Shane, had a fund of stories and knowledge about the area and so the journey was great fun. Cookstown, so named as it was where Captain Cook spent 6 weeks while his ship, 'Endeavour', was being repaired after stranding on the reef. There are monuments and a lookout all named after Cook and several buildings dating from the late 1800s goldrush in the area.

We were dropped at the Botanical Gardens while Craig went to check on the boat and spent a pleasant half an hour learning about the flora and fauna of the region. We had a nice picnic lunch and the call came through that the boat was ready so we set off back down the road to the Lodge. We called in at Cook's Lookout, with great views over the town, river and the coastline. We joined the new highway, called Mulligan's Highway after a local gold miner and general adventurer, to The Lion's Den Pub where we also stopped, and had a drink. The Den dates from the goldrush and tin mining days and hasn't changed much since then; great atmosphere and a lot of graffiti on the walls, much of which dates back to the mining days.

Finally back to the lodge. I noticed one of the guests had hooked a small shark and ere was no one around to help, so I walked out to the end of the jetty to help lanfpd it. It was a very pretty little black-tip reef shark, we unhooked it, took its photograph and put it back in the water. It started to rain again so I made my way back to our room to get ready for dinner. It rained, but in a gap we made for the library to watch a DVD called Journey North, about a couple who drove from Perth in Western Australia to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the north. It was dire and so dated we couldn't watch more than 15 minutes or so, but luckily per dinner drinks called us away!

Dinner was a great barbecue. The starters included Moreton Bay Bugs and giant prawns, both delicious, followed by steaks, king fish fillets, chicken and sausages. Great food, the best meal we had had there. Just getting ready to return to our room and the rain fell in torrents, it had been raining all evening but we waited and waited and as it eased we legged it!

More rain on and off through the night but the sky was clearing as we walked across to have breakfast; everyone else had the same idea so we all arrived together. We confirmed our day trip was still on. The weather was supposed to improve so the trip was on. We all gathered at the beach and were ferried out to the sea-going boat. The passage out to the reef was fairly rough, even for the catamaran we were in, but we arrived safely after a 45 minute passage.

We anchored off a little island part of the Hope Isles National Park, a very pretty island surrounded by coral reefs and soft sandy beaches. The interior had some trees and bushes and there were honey eaters, coastal egrets, a white bellied sea eagle and a couple of osprey. No snakes or mammals.

We were advised to wear stinger suits, so these black and blue Lycra one piece suits were produced and there was great hilarity as people struggled to get into them; they were very clingy! We snorkelled off the beach for about an hour, very pretty corals, soft and hard, with plenty of small reef fish and some larger fish at the fringes. Lots of clams nestled into crevices in the reef.

Lunch on the beach with the crew - actually, leftovers from the barbecue the night before but they still,tasted good. By this time everyone knew each other fairly well so we had a good time, and the boat skipper, Shane, was particularly entertaining.

We walked all the way around the island after lunch; after about ten minutes we saw tracks in the sand. These were of a crocodile who, judging by the way the tracks went, must have been sunbathing and when hot enough slid into the sea, and this after Shane had assured us he had never seen crocs on the island for over 20 years. I think he was a bit surprised too. (There was a notice on the beach, posted by the National Parks staff warning that crocodiles inhabit this area). So, everyone walked on a bit more cautiously and away from the waters edge! It only took half an hour to walk right round and we re boarded the boat to set off for snorkelling in slightly deeper water further offshore. About a mile. Further north we anchored and jumped in the water again. It was much clearer water here, so we could see further mad more fish. There were huge Giant Clams, some were almost two metres across. They were beautiful when open, a brilliant blue with fluorescent blue, green and yellow 'highlights', they looked like velvet. The smaller clams closed up as we swam over them but the Giants didn't see bothered at all.

All too soon we were back on the boat and were taken to another spot on the reef to do some fishing. Simple line and hook with either sardine or squid bait. I caught a small fish, about 20cm long and very pretty with yellow vertical bars. The ladies insisted it be returned to the ocean and Shane reluctantly did so. He was quite prepared to use it as bait for something bigger. Anyway, we fished on and the ladies retreated to the cabin. Gary caught a beautiful Spanish Mackerel, all silver and glistening. It was about 80cm long and it was definitely heading for the pot. A few other fish were caught and returned to the sea and then it all went quiet, bait was taken from the hook but no proper bites so we cleared up and returned to the Lodge. It was another 45 minute very bumpy journey before the little beach below the Lodge came into view. Just as we decanted into the smaller boat to go ashore, the heavens opened once again, so another soaking!

It was interesting to hear what Shane and some of the other guides said about the weather. They weren't at all surprised by the amount of rain though our research had indicated the 'wet' should have been over by now. It was a bit of a shame about all the rain, but it didn't really stop our fun, just had to modify things a bit.

All in all, a good day, the snorkelling was good, and with better weather would have been superb, the fishing was fun and we had good company. Back to our room to freshen up,for dinner.

We met for canapés and drinks and were surprised to see that the Spanish Mackerel caught on our trip had been prepared in three different ways; battered and deep fried, raw but cured in a vinegar preparation and just plain raw, as in sushi with sweet chilli sauce. All three were very good and not at all like the cold water mackerel we are used to in Europe, it is far less oily and with a milder flavour. Well we knew how fresh it was!

The main course was another reef fish, large mouth nannygai, and it too was delicious, just grilled and served with a lemon sauce and crushed salted almonds ( plus veggies!). A very enjoyable meal, we sat with two Americans from Santa Fe, New Mexico and a couple from Devon and halfway through dessert (mud cake with chocolate sauce, Sarah, sorry to tease you) Rick, the guy from the US spotted a Quoll. Now these are quite small nocturnal creatures, related to the Tasmanian Devil, it had a dark with white spots fur and a squirrel-like tail. They are now rare as they have been dying out after the arrival of poisonous cane toads in the region, as they have been eating the toads. Anyway, this one had obviously avoided the toads and looked very healthy, quite a cute creature! He brought the room to a halt as he ran backwards and forwards trying to hide from us. Eventually he found a way out and was gone, but wow, what a find!

More rain during the night and we had to be up early to catch our flight to Cairns. It was to be earlier than usual as due to the very low cloud and the potential for heavy rain it was felt the plane would not be able to land at Mount Louis so we were to be taken to Cooktown, an hour and a half away by road. So, a good breakfast and we met at the beach to be ferried across the river, in the rain, lots of goodbyes, and we were off. This morning there were six of us, four who had to catch planes either at 12 or at 1 o'clock; it was going to bee tight!

We piled into the minibus at the Bloomfield River dock and set off to Cooktown down a mostly unsealed, potholed road until we hit the highway. Finally arrived at Cooktown airport (an ex WW2, American built airfield) and after a short safety briefing we took off. The weather had improved as we approached Cooktown but deteriorated as we headed south. Some good views of the coast and reefs between the clouds and we did see the Lodge as we flew past.

We arrived at Cairns just after 11.30, very, very tight for the flights; the people were dropped at their respective terminals and we left them to it and proceeded to our hotel.

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