Diving in

Diving into Cassowary Falls

You know that old platitude about feeling the fear and doing it anyway? The picture above embodies that for me.

But alongside the fear, it was a moment in which I felt intensely, joyously, indescribably happy and alive. Pretty much as only diving into a hidden, waterfall-fed pool in the middle of the world’s oldest rainforest can make you feel.

So while fear and that incandescent spark that punches you in the lungs with joy every now and then are uncomfortable bedfellows, they are fellows nonetheless. For me, anyway.

I actually did this trip to Far North Queensland 12 months ago (and yep, have been meaning to write about it since then – I am not awesome at keeping up at the moment) but as we are about to embark on another couple of trips I feel the clammy hand of fear and worry mixing with the sweet anticipation. I kind of accept that this is how it will always be for me now. Post-Bali bombings I am a much more frightened, cautious person. But if I let that go to its natural conclusion I would also be a hermit. I’m tempted sometimes.

Creek fed by Cassowary Falls

Instead, I keep on diving in. Because I just cannot let the fear take up the whole bed. I deserve at least half the space. And all the doona.

The trip to this waterfall was extraordinary.

We usually go to Far North Queensland for our annual family holiday anyway but this time I had tagged along as a spouse on a conference handsome husband had been asked to speak at.

The conference organisers arranged for the attending partners to explore either the rainforest or the reef. I was the only one who chose the rainforest tour. Which meant I got a private 4 hour tour of a part of the world I am obsessed with. My idea of total heaven.

Coincidentally, the group booked to run the tour, Daintree Discovery Tours, was the company we have always gone out with the three other times we have explored the Daintree and my guide that day was the owner of the company, Grant, whom I had met before. So when he realised it was just me we changed all the plans (as I had already done a number of the things he had planned) and devised a custom trip instead.

The highlight of which was Cassowary Falls. The falls are on private property and access to them is very limited. We drove in through the rainforest, across a croc-infested tributary of the Daintree River and onto farm land.

I have always loved the farm land in this area. It’s such a beautiful contrast:  the manicured green pasture with the wild rainforest in the background.

Daintree River tributary and pasture

It’s not all green and pleasant though. The cows that graze along this river are sometimes taken by crocodiles if they stray too close to the edge. Yep, they’re bloody big crocs.

So we drove in and then swapped cars for the final kilometre into the falls.

This was the view behind us – and you can see it’s a serious truck with those roll bars…

Daintree pastoral land

and this was what lay ahead.

The track to Cassowary Falls

We forded creeks, and bumped our way over muddy tracks through fields and into the forest again.

Crossing the creek to Cassowary Falls

You have to walk the last 100 metres or so and then, suddenly, you find yourself in an oasis. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to stand on the rocky edge of a tranquil pool, the falls thundering down and the rainforest looming all around, lush and persistent.

And not another soul. It was pretty much a religious experience.

Turtle on a log - Cassowary Falls

Grant convinced me two swim over to the falls and then dive back in. I knew the minute I saw the place that I was going to do that.

I mean, I knew it was safe to dive where I did because Grant did it first and showed me where to aim for a shallow dive. And I knew it was too high and cold for crocodiles. But still.  There are cow-eating crocs just a couple of kilometres away and, well, what if genetic mutation has bred a cold-water tolerant, waterfall pool-loving man-eater of some kind?

It’s funny, the fear is there but something else takes over: the overwhelming desire to experience, to make the most of the moment regardless of the risk – real or perceived.

The next shot gives you a sense of the scale. You can see my little head floating below, looking back in wonder at the falls. Actually I’m watching a water dragon lizard scramble up the rocks but you can’t quite make him out.

Cassowary Falls in the Daintree

So if there was a croc lurking in the deep he did not grab me. The turtles sunning themselves on logs stayed well clear and my only wildlife encounter was with the tiny leeches that attached themselves between my toes. Again. What is it with me and leeches? Grant said he’d never come across one in all his time bringing people into the falls.  I, however, as this post attests, have now had more than my fair share of encounters with these suckers in this part of the world.

This photo makes me laugh.

Zebra truck

I mean, any day you get to go off-roading in a zebra truck is a good day.

The road to Port Douglas - sugar cane fields

After Cassowary Falls we had lunch at a private spot at Mossman Gorge. Once again, a beautiful experience. And once again I got to swim in the crystal clear waters of the gorge all on my own. I still can’t quite believe it.

Mossman Gorge through tree


Aboriginal artefacts

The year before when we were in Port Douglas for our annual family holiday we did a guided walk through this part of the rainforest (near Mossman Gorge) with one of the elders of the Kuku Yalanji tribe, the traditional owners of this land. It was one of the highlights of all our trips there.

Tall trees in Daintree

I know I’m swiftly running out of superlatives but this part of the world does that to you.

Daintree canopy

Our guide was Harold and he is a revered elder and a renowned medicine man who not only uses the rainforest as his pharmacy but is also used by the North Queensland police as a professional tracker in hard-to-crack cases. He uses his peoples’ traditional song lines to navigate and locate people who are lost in the rainforest.

Harold the healer

A thick book Harold showed us at the end of the walk attests to the fact he has healed hundreds of people from all over the world. As an interesting aside, he is also Cathy Freeman’s uncle and officiated at her wedding!

Aboriginal body paint

Here’s a hot n’ sweaty baby Betty!

Hot baby Betty in Daintree

She appreciated the swim at the end in this magical place.

Mossman Gorge

Harold was a superb  guide and pointed out the eleventy billion things that can kill you but also talked about all the natural remedies and tools he uses ranging from plants and berries through to the pincers of the ubiquitous green ants that can be used in place of stitches  or surgical staples to keep wounds closed.

Daintree flora on a tree

There are berries that look so similar that pretty much only a Kuku Yalanji member could tell apart; one heals, the other send you blind. There are cancer-inhibiting plants. These are just starting to be explored by western medical interests. Happily, any profits that flow from future medical discoveries  from this area – and the potential is HUGE –  will be fed back into this community. That gives me comfort.

As we walked through dense forest the rhythmic echo of wood on wood became louder and louder. Suddenly a clearing emerged; a natural amphitheatre and there we listened to stories of the aboriginal dreamtime from this area.


I can’t recommend both of these tours enough. Daintree Discovery Tours  for a general tour of the area and a Dreamtime tour with the Mossman Gorge Centre.

I don’t know why I feel such a strong pull to this part of Australia.But I just can’t get enough of it.

Cane fields with burning off FNQ

Here are some of my other posts about Port Douglas and surrounds:

Our Holiday

I survived 

Far North Queensland

Summer Snapshots

Summer Snapshots 2

River Drifting 

Listen to Sir David Attenborough’s endorsement of the Daintree Rainforest over and above even the Amazon!

So tomorrow morning we head to the airport for our next adventure. One familiar place and one entirely new for us.

Deep breath. Dive in.

My weekend: the pool, pins, some planting and a party. Perfect.

Last weekend was a long weekend here and we managed to fit in some lovely things.

I am consistently guilty of trying to fit too much into our weekends (like waaaaaaaaay too much) but for once I managed to get the balance (almost) right.

We start every weekend at 8am on Saturday with swimming lessons. Getting up and out the door to be in the pool by 8am is not the most relaxing way to start the day but we’re always happy once we’re there.

We swim on the site of some historic old sea baths and it’s a unique place because not only do the floor-to-ceiling glass walls provide a spectacular view of the beach and bay just outside, but the water in the pool is actually filtered water from the bay. I don’t know of many pools (indoor pools, anyway) where you can actually look out to the beach and ocean beyond as you swim. You can see Tasmania on a clear day. Well, almost.

The photo at the top is Olive and I at that beach a couple of months ago. She’s a reluctant toe-dipper.  And, ummm, despite the fact it might appear from this photo that I have a hump on my back, I don’t. As far as I know. (Note to self: check back for hump).

You can see the building the pool is in the background here.  And check out the chubby legs on that person on the bottom left. Edible.

The other benefit is that the therapeutic value of sea water is well-known and although it stings your eyes  (and back of the throat if you’re unlucky enough to get a mouthful) it has far less chlorine and other irritants usually found in the water of traditional pools.

Here’s Evil Knievel powering down the pool.

The rest of Saturday I spent working on some cherry brooches (I only used the word “pins” in the title because I was on a “p” kick) and butterfly hair clips for a  wholesale order I had from a lovely online shop in South Korea.

On Sunday we finally got around to putting in a small vegetable garden.  This is something I  had on my “to-do in 2010” list and it was great to finally see it realised.  If I’m honest I think I enjoyed finally ticking it off my list as much as I enjoyed doing it. Yes, that does make a profound statement about my character.

When one of our enormous olive trees suddenly fell over for no apparent reason 6 weeks or so ago (could have been a disaster if anyone was in the courtyard)  I cried.  Then we found the silver lining: not only did we get to collect all the ripe olives from its uppermost branches that we would otherwise never have been able to reach, but we also ended up with the perfect little square space for a small vegie plot.

Here’s the space after my husband (handsome and hardworking) prepared it with some organic compost.

The olive trees to the left have since been well and truly lopped, basically cut in half, by a handsome arborist. The same arborist to whom, when we were arranging which date he would be coming, I sent a text which I inadvertently (force of habit) ended with “xxx” ie “kiss kiss kiss”. Mortifying. Not least because after I tweeted about having done it (because although mortifying I also thought people might find it amusing) a twitter account called “Builder’s Crack” (sexy) picked it up and re-tweeted it to thousands of tradesmen. So now they know twirling betty is a potentially desperate housewife.  But I digress.

Both girls were very excited to be involved. Sophia got the ball rolling by tickling her nose with the chives.

Olive enjoyed taking as much of the carefully prepared soil as she could and chucking it around the courtyard.

Here’s Sophia reverently planting the climbing pea  that she germinated from a seed at kinder, raised to a seedling and then brought home for planting.

We planted a couple of kinds of lettuce, silverbeet, some swiss chard, broad beans (which I hope will poke their little heads through the spoil, see the trellis, and make for it with glee), and my all time favourite, cavolo nero:

Sometimes called Tuscan black cabbage, this is so yummy and nutritious and reminds me of many delicious winter soups and stews we ate in Italy.

Later in the season we have grand plans for strawberries and tomatoes and perhaps another raised bed with carrots and cucumbers. And herbs. And we might pop in a coffee plantation while we’re at it.

I sourced some of our seedlings (and plan to get the strawberry and tomato seeds) from Diggers Club. This is a fabulous place just outside of Melbourne where you can buy heirloom seeds and seedlings. The owner is committed to the preservation of heirloom and rare varieties and putting CO2 back into the earth. He’s quite inspirational, and although I haven’t been yet, apparently the gardens at Heronswood, the estate he lives on, are spectacular.  I sense a day-trip in my future.

The only problem is, other than nurturing a thriving vegetable patch one season many years ago in Canberra, I do seem to have a bit of a black thumb. That is, I kill plants. Inadvertently, mind. Thankfully, my mum has a spectacular green thumb. So although she’s given up giving me plants, she does come around and provide wise counsel when things get desperate in our tiny garden.

In order to maximise our chances of success (what me? results oriented? never) I wanted to read all the books, consult all the charts, make all the lists and then start planting. Andrew, as is his wont, said “let’s just chuck some in and see what happens”. He’s cool like that.

So, it’s been a week and so far all the plants are still upright and green! And, touch wood, uneaten by pests. I read somewhere that sprinkling crushed eggshells around the perimeter of your vegies will keep snails and slugs away. Does anyone else have any good chemical-free pest solutions? I’d be grateful for any and all advice.

And so we come to the party bit of the weekend.

On Monday morning I hosted a small morning tea to celebrate the fact my father was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia in this year’s Australian honours list. To say I’m proud is an understatement. He was only one of 10 Victorians to receive that level of honour this year!

Dad has always devoted at least 50% of his professional time to charitable works. He’s chaired more charitable boards than I’ve had hot dinners, has mentored hundreds of youths and contributed to Australian business and enterprise in myriad ways.  We were so thrilled to see him, an extraordinarily modest man, formally recognised.

So I threw a little tea party.

We had chocolate and coffee eclairs, apricot and pistachio tart, macaroons and a chocolate chip Viennoise from a lovely local French bakery and my mum made some delicious little savoury tartlettes  – some with smoked trout, some with roast duck and caramelised onion.

Most of those gorgeous doilies, the table runner, platters and cups have all come to me from Betty, my Grandmother, and many I think came to her from her mother and even Grandmother.

I totally embarrassed Dad by pinning the announcement in the newspaper to our front door – with the relevant bit highlighted.

I also made him this temporary medallion as he doesn’t get his until September when there is the formal presentation ceremony at Government House.

I’m pretty sure it’s quite similar to the official one he’ll receive on the day. Wouldn’t you think?

And finally, this ceramic hat/vase of Betty’s is really a little Pollyanna for my tastes but, being the nostalgic thing I am, I can’t bear to part with it.  And I do love that the brim is designed for fresh flowers. This was the perfect opportunity to actually use it and I managed to find fresh violets to decorate it.

So, my lovely friends, that was our long weekend. Have any of you got up to lovely things on your weekends lately?

Before I finish, I also just wanted to say that I am extraordinarily grateful for the lovely, supportive, encouraging comments people left on my last post about twirling betty visors being in Small Magazine. I appreciated each and every one more than you could know. I tend to a balk at blowing my own trumpet (which is what it felt like I was doing in that post) but was so excited I REALLY wanted to share the news. So I pressed “publish” last week with a little trepidation and was really so touched by your responses.

You guys rock. Let’s krump!