Friday, February 4, 2011

Friday Night Relaxer: The Great Far North

redlynchIn 2005 I did something that I don’t think my wife will ever totally forgive. First I finished my PhD (ok, she was fine with that), but then I got a job in Canberra working in the public service.

It meant we would be leaving Far North Queensland after 11 years. A place she loved like she was born to live there. And it meant going to Canberra a place she… well we have a nice house and many friends here.

We lived in a town north west of Cairns called Redlynch. She had got a job teaching in a nearby school, and when we moved to Cairns we decided to either live in the towns of Freshwater or Redlynch. For some reason I liked the sound of Redlynch more, and so when we found a townhouse for rent, we took it. We were only going to stay 2 years, 3 tops. Within 18 months we bought the townhouse next to ours and stayed for nearly a decade longer.

The town is nestled right in the foothills around Cairns that lead up to the Atherton tablelands. The hills there don’t rise gradually – they shoot up like mountains. They are covered in trees and the lushest most verdant vegetation you will see anywhere – no bare grazing hills here.

Back then most of the area was sugar cane. In the time we were there blocks were sold off bit by bit and turned into new housing estates. After we left even more cane was replaced by houses such that when we returned last year for a holiday we were able to shake our heads like old timers and wonder at the changes that had occurred.

We lived in a street right behind the big glorious Queenslander pub the Red Beret. We lived a street behind the house where Xavier Herbert lived when he wrote Poor Fellow, My Country. The Kuranda train went by every day at 5pm. When we had our first child we would always go for walks at that time so she could wave to the driver and all the tourists. The people would always wave back, and there are many Japanese people who have back in their homes a photo of our daughter waving to them as they stopped at Redlynch.

frog 02When we got there the cane toads were plentiful (still are – especially in the summer). We learned very quickly not to leave cat food outside, because toads love it and pretty soon you’ll be seeing the biggest, most ugly creatures you’d ever want to cross. But there were also many many green tree frogs – the fellas would cling to our screen doors. They and the cicadas would provide a natural cacophonic symphony each sultry night. 

When we arrived in January the temperature was hovering in the mid 30Cs, and the humidity was in the mid 90s. For us two from dry old SA, it knocked us around – we lived in the pool.

The wet season was an eye-opener, and we would see our old home town’s annual rainfall fall in 1 or 2 days. I bought a rain gauge and didn't bother to count how much rain we had received unless it was more than a inch.

We came to love the place – the relaxed way of life – too hot to bother with shirt and tie, too far away from Sydney or Melbourne to worry about keeping up with the pack. Bugger the pack, have a drink, relax.

The barrier reef? My God. As a rule I am not a beach person, and I love a river more than the ocean, but floating along the top looking at the most vibrant colours imaginable? Ah me, such bliss.

Boulders 01The rivers of course are no go zones – too great a danger of crocodiles. But there are water holes – such as Crystal Cascades which is in the Redlynch Valley, and it was where I used to take my daughter when she was a toddler to paddle and throw stones in the water. Down south near Babinda, there are the “Boulders” a collection of massive rocks through which streams flow and tranquillity is attainable. Go north and you drive along a road which makes all other scenic roads hang their heads: rainforest to one side, the bluest ocean on the other. And you’ll reach Port Douglas, home of resorts, but also of beautiful Four Mile Beach and a lovely town worth spending the day walking around and smiling. Go further north and you get to Mossman Gorge, where you will find yourself in the middle of a Steve Parish photograph. It is the type of spot, where you find yourself saying, I could die happy right now.

Turn back south and head to Mission Beach – it’s a bit of a drive, but it is worth it. You could go out to Dunk Island, or you could do, as my wife and I often did, and stay in a caravan park on the beach. And at night, though it is July, and all back down south are wearing jumpers and sitting close to the heater, you will be walking along in shorts and a t-shirt. And you’ll be smiling.

Back in Redlynch, go just 5 minutes north and get on the Sky Rail which will take you up to Kuranda. The views are amazing, and on a clear day, you may not be able to see forever, but you can certainly see as far as you would ever wish to.

Kuranda is indeed a tourist town, but enjoy the markets, enjoy the train station with its massive palms and staghorn ferns.

Come back happy, come back smiling. Cairns 2010 028

My wife and I would sometimes go to one of the northern beaches for a walk – say Palm Cove or Kewarra Beach. We’d smile and think to ourselves that for some people doing what we are doing would be the trip of a lifetime, and yet here we are living here.

In the end I did kind of go troppo – the summer is bloody hot, there’s no getting around it – and with a child, I really needed to get a decent paying job (tutoring part time didn’t cover many bills). But geez, for about 5-6 months in the winter, the weather and climate is as close to perfect as you can get. And the entire year round, the people and the life is unlike anything you’ll find down here in the south.

If this all sounds like a love letter or perhaps an advert, you’re right.

Cairns and many places in the Far North survive on agriculture – sugar cane and bananas – and on tourism. And after the impact of Cyclone Yasi we can’t all plant cane or bananas, but we can go there for a holiday. It is a long way, and it is expensive for families. But if you are thinking of a big trip this year; give Bali a miss. Don’t bother with Thailand or Vietnam – you’ve got enough pirated DVDs and “Louis Vuitton” bags. Give the Far North a go.

You can even blame me if you find you never want to leave.

Have a good weekend – to those in the FNQ, have a great one.


Melistomato said...

This IS a love letter, and you capture the sense of the place beautifully. I'm going back to FNQ in April, taking the whole family.

Marie Ryan said...

You're right, it's a fantastically beautiful part of the world and I'd really love to go back for a visit. The crocs make me a bit nervous though. I was regaled with stories by the locals of dogs going missing and local ponds becoming croc habitats. Not sure if they were pulling my leg...

Greg Jericho said...

Marie Ryan do not worry. Unless you want to go camping inland by the Daintree river, the only time you're going to see a croc is at one of the great wildlife zoos they have up there.

Anonymous said...

You truly are a special person. On your bad days (and we all have them) you need to remember this. From and on behalf of North Queensland, thank you. You're right, what's needed up here more than anything else is more visitors.
C'mon up folks, I guarantee you'll you'll love it - but not in the heart of Summer.

Pteropus said...

Thanks for reminding me why I choose Far North Queensland as my home. Looking everywhere at the damage each day at the moment sometimes makes me start having reservations about why I live here. But then I am reminded, it really is the most beautiful place you can find and as after Cyclone Larry, I know this area will bounce back better and stronger than before.

Sir Ian Crisp said...

I can still taste the fresh and free mangoes there for the taking in the trees at Ellis Beach. FNQ is a jewel.

Miss Bailey Herself said...

You know, Grog, this isn't a hobby; it is a gift - for all of us who read you.

Anonymous said...

Lena from Germany

I stayed 8 weeks in Mission Beach 2004. And from then this place was/is my paradise. Sometimes i think it would make more sense to live there and helping all so wonderfull australians to build up everything than to live in Germany wihtout floods, cyclones and heat.
FNQ is where my heart is, no matter what happened there. If there would be a chance - i would go back....
Thanks for this love letter!

Sonia said...

I went to Port Douglas on holidays a couple of years ago. The whole time I was there all I could think of was making the change from Sydney to FNQ. Alas I got back to Sydney and nothing eventuated. Overt the years I have dreamed of what our life would be like if we had made the change. Such a great place . Once my children are old enough to snorkel I cant wait to go back the the Reef. What a great lifestyle they have

Anonymous said...

Some many years ago, avid 4wheeler camper friends suggested a trip from dry SA to Qld. We saw so many beautiful places, including Kuranda and everywhere you mention.

Great gigantic black boulder filled placid at that moment rivers. Clouds of butterflies.

Oh, unbelievable.

Sometimes tough. My friends were well set up. I a pup tent, a Kathmandu mattress. Though I had practised sleeping on it,the real thing was tougher. Bedding down on rocks, on occasion, water rushing in (under, not over, thankfully.) Many Panadeine later, I realised the problem and purchased a foam mattress, Townsville, I think. Our journey continued, up to the Daintree, sodden as hell. Then a futile bid to go further. Attempting the heart of FNQ. Well I remember sitting in a ditch, leeches attaching themselves, as the vehicle and trailer had to be chain winched by fantastic people able to assist, to safety after an ill advised bid to reach the steeply angled top, in the drenching rain and mud. Tourists disembarked from buses, slithering after their chain strapped transport. I still smiled. So fantastic.

And all the while, the sheer beauty. The jaw dropping joy of the kaleidoscopic views, stunning rainforest joining stunning pebble lined or beautious sandy shore to sea. Rainforest becomes coral reef.

A lass from Germany, doing an invited student placement at the State Library, Adelaide, thought she had seen everything. Opera House etc. No. I suggested Alice Springs, Uluru, the Daintree. You haven't seen any OZ till then.

She could just afford those journeys,in her limited time and money.

Her ecstatic postcards are unforgettable. As I am sure she will never forget.

Thank you for your story. What a gorgeous reminder.

Anonymous said...

I did not intend to be anonymous. Just a bit challenged over how not to be.

Fond regards.

Crikey Whitey.

Re my post, February 7, 2011 1:00 AM

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Nice post, Grog.

Even if tropical heat makes me all stabby.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this article so much I'm saving it as a favourite so I can read it again - so evocative of Cairns and district. We visit often from the UK as we have family nearby - can't wait to come again (in your winter!).

Everyone - please keep visiting this area - and please keep buying avocados and other produce from the NQ farmers - they need your support after the cyclone.

Anna said...

I didn't mean to be anonymous either, (Anna from the UK)

Emily said...

Haven't made it there yet - coming to Cairns from the USA in June and can't wait! Thank you for the validation that I have chosen the best part of Australia for our once-in-a-lifetime trip!