Monday, April 3, 2006

Ferntree Rainforest Lodge


Imagine a place where thousands of square miles of untouched tropical rainforest spread to the horizon, rising up to blanket solemn mountains capped by taffeta cloud crowns. Wildlife rustles through the undergrowth, occasionally emerging to give the casual observer a fleeting glimpse of brightly-coloured plumage and the prehistoric.

Ancient trees dip down onto deserted beaches, invitingly brushing fine white sands strewn with conch shells and palm fronds, and the opalescent gateway to the reef sparkles under the gaze of the sun just a coconuts throw away…

No, this isn’t the pitch for a Bounty commercial, but is Cape Tribulation as I found it – a destination gem that has to be the jewel in Australia’s crown.

Beneath the lush canopy and looped lianas the city hustle melts to a distant memory, and the sounds of car engines, tooting horns and shouted conversations are replaced by intermittent birdsong and bush turkeys scratching through the scrub.

Cape Trib is unique in that it is one of the few places in the world where two World Heritage listed sites – the rainforest and the reef – are found together, and a visit to the area isn’t complete without a day trip to meet some of the more colourful locals.

Everyone - but everyone - goes to the tropical north to see the Great Barrier Reef, but unlike other big tours where I’d had to scramble for ancient fins and a leaking snorkel, there were just 24 people on board the Odyssey H2O as it sped out to sea.

The commanding figure of Mount Sorrow dwindled to nothing in the distance, and when we anchored after just 45 minutes I could see nothing except cool blue water shimmering up to the horizon. With so few people sharing the open ocean, as I pulled on my mask and flippers and plunged into the vibrant world beneath the waves I really felt like I had the whole reef to myself. Sheer magic.

And enjoying such natural beauty doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice little luxuries. After backpacking for two months I would’ve been happy to find a serviceable toilet in this unfettered land-before-time, but was amazed by the opulent and affordable accommodation cocooned in the canopy. Ferntree Rainforest Lodge had all the modern comforts the discerning traveler comes to appreciate (and which until then I had sacrificed). After sleeping bags, 12 bed dorms and mad bathroom dashes along chilly corridors, the sheltered pool oasis, plump downy pillows and en suite bathrooms immersed deep in the jungle were almost too good to be true.

The only difficulty in this hedonistic haven of relaxation is trying to fit everything in – eco-tours, 4WD expeditions and beach horse rides are just some of the many activities on offer if you make it away from the beach. With so much to see and do it is impossible to fully appreciate the breathtaking beauty of Cape Trib on a day tour, and I feel sorry for anyone that tries. Eight hours just isn’t enough, and despite what Captain Cook christened this slice of paradise, the only tribulation of a trip to the Cape is having to leave.

Just go.

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