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  The enchanted forestJohn Lane
  Rose gums and emerging rainforest, Upper Daintree (Photo: Jeremy Little)  
  Rose gums and emerging rainforest, Upper Daintree (Photo: Jeremy Little)  

I’ve been wandering around the bush for decades and I’m always amazed by the strange things that happen. I reckon a form of enchantment takes hold. I was badly afflicted on a very long walk from Mossman Gorge to Palmer River Roadhouse.

The first sign showed early. I had this flight of fancy that a gnome-like character (who looked like park ranger, Rupert Russell) was following us just out of sight, flitting from tree to tree as we rock-hopped up the gorge and across the ranges. Rupert had a fearsome reputation amongst many Cairns bushies. Maybe it was his special way of interrogating prospective walkers, or perhaps he unnerved us because he was one of the few rangers who actually ventured beyond park picnic grounds and knew the back country better than we did. Whatever the cause, local bushwalkers always kept quiet about their trips.

On the first night we camped on the Mossman Rock spur. Not so oddly for the gorge, it started to rain. We woke up later in the night to find an eerie light all around. It was like the very earth was glowing. We comforted ourselves with talk of luminous fungi, but I recognised it as another sign of magic.

A day or so later, deep in the Mossman Ranges, we were heading west along a broad but well-defined ridge, very happy that we knew exactly where we were, when we came across a creek that wasn’t on the map. It was wide, full and flowing in the opposite direction to every other stream in the catchment. Talk about the enchanted forest.

  Adeline Falls (Photo: Bill Carrodus)  
  Adeline Falls (Photo: Bill Carrodus)  

A bit further along we came across the best grove of kauris I’ve ever seen. Not huge trees like the ones at the foot of Lamb’s Head, but lots of them – a plantation. In the middle of this marvellous scene we came across a beautifully crafted and decorated bower sporting what could only be described as a limbo bar. I’d heard that twitchers could whistle birds in, so I gave it a go. Much to my astonishment a golden bowerbird flew in to investigate only a metre or two away. At last, I was one with the forest.

After five days or so of navigating through rainforest, fog and rain we were at the northern end of the Carbine Tableland. Breaking out of the rainforest was so sudden it gave us a fright. Within two or three steps we were striding along a grassy eucalypt ridge and the sun was shining. That night we slept on the banks of the Daintree. It was our first decent camp, sleeping under the stars on a sandy bed with a magical water music lullaby sending us to sleep.

Further down the Daintree, below the big falls, the river was wider and pools bigger. We were bashing along the bank and at one point had to climb over a large log. Just as I jumped off I realised it wasn’t a bit of rough ground I was about to land on but the back of a grandpa croc. I’m still not sure who got the biggest fright, but he was gone before my feet touched down and then, instantly, I was back on top of the log. It was my ‘crouching tiger, hidden dragon’ moment. His slide was big enough for me to lie in. Further down we saw another big croc cruising lazily in a crystal clear pool. I slept uneasily for the next few nights whenever we camped on the river bank, not quite feeling at one with the crocodiles.

Soon after we had scaled Adeline Falls to the Windsor Tableland we were back in the rainforest. It was very difficult country to traverse. We had to struggle through that ecotone battlefield where rainforest meets rose gums. It looked like the rainforest was winning here. But once out into the eucalypt and casuarina country of the western Windsor Tableland we were in bushwalker heaven with broad open grassy ridges, granite boulders and fantastic views.
It only took us a day or two to descend the Palmer River to the roadhouse. There were plenty of crocs but, fortunately, only freshies. We dropped our packs outside and after 14 days in the bush headed into the cool, dark bar for a well deserved beer. The old croc hunter behind the bar sang out, ‘Where the hell have you guys been? I was expecting you two days ago.’ Not a word of a lie!


John Lane

John was in Cairns for some years from the early 1990s. He worked with the Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy Taskforce and then with the Wet Tropics Management Authority where he was involved with implementing the Daintree Rescue Program and later the Wet Tropics Management Plan. He has been a keen bushwalker since his teenage years. His favourite walking haunts are southern Tasmania, the Southern Alps of New Zealand, the Australian Alps and the Wet Tropics. He currently lives in Brisbane.

Jeremy Little

Jeremy is originally from Sydney and has spent the last 11 years in the Wet Tropics. He completed a science degree in ecology at Wollongong University with Honours in fire and landscape ecology. He also holds graduate certificates in photography and public sector management. Jeremy has spent 10 years working for the National Parks Services in New South Wales and Queensland on bushfire research and biodiversity surveys and as a ranger. He is currently completing a PhD at James Cook University on the impacts of climate change on fire and forest boundaries in the Wet Tropics. In his spare time he works closely with local conservation groups and likes to make time for bushwalking, camping, exploring, adventuring, photography, spirituality, music and friends.

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