Port Douglas is not far north of Cairns, but it was the first time I had to drive in Australia. I did this by repeating “left left left” whenever I got into the car. The coastal road from Cairns is long and hazardous, more hazardous if you’ve only just gotten used to being on a different side of the car.
Pulling out or making turns, I always had to think it through:
– Where does my direction go?
– Where’s the other direction of traffic go? Do they stop?
– Where do other people who are turning go?
– Are there any Americans around who might run into me even if I think this through properly?
Port Douglas is a lot nicer than Cairns. The nightclub-and-touristy thing hasn’t overrun the whole town. You could get a decent meal, for instance, without being forced to pay $20/entree. There was a lot of real estate for sale or rent, and some development going on, but it wasn’t so big a deal.
We stayed at a place run by a couple of Germans, so I got to use a bit of my extremely rusty UW-brand language skills on them (this, naturally, was amusing).
On the Zumsteg name
, a brief digression
I grew up with it as Zum-steg, like reading it aloud with American English pronunciation. I understand back in Germany it’s more Zoom-schtaag with a quick “zoom”, but I don’t particularly care one way or another. Anyway, the woman who checked us in told me that Zum-steg was incorrect, and that it should be pronounced “Sum-stahg” and I smiled, nodded, and didn’t protest. I’ve had my name butchered so many times that having someone come up with a new pronunciation was novel. And if she’s right, so be it.
We spent our time in Port Douglas geeking out on the rainforests. We walked Mossman Gorge, and the Daintree National Park, finally getting up to Cape Tribulation, where the rainforest runs right out to the shore and into the water, one of the few places in the world where this happens (or so we’re told).
One of the beaches had this great set of signs:
Yes — don’t swim, the stingers’ll get you! And if you do get stung, even though you’re a moron we’re not going to let you die… here’s some vinegar to use while you wait for the medics.
Then we went to the Atherton Tableland. This involved driving the Gillies Highway, which is absurdly long and twisty. The map has a road. Driving that road is crazy. The emotional roller-coaster went:
Turn right. Turn left. Repeat forever. There were numbers painted on the road for no reason, counting down from 100. I grabbed onto them, knowing that something had to be at the end of the numbers. They counted back up in the same manner. I have no idea.
We stopped for a road crew once and the guy holding the stop sign wandered over.
“First time?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I replied.
“Pretty curvy,” he said. “Should be about five minutes.” Then he walked back to talk to the next car.
Aussies. They’re crazy.
We checked out a crater lakes, Lake Eacham (nice and all, but Crater Lake is way better). We got to see “bum breather” turtles that, the sign helpfully explained, have specially adapted so they can draw some oxygen out of water they cycle in and out of their… bum. We saw a 500-year old Gadgarra Red Cedar tree (possibly the last accessible native one in all of Queensland). And again, I felt aware of the wonder of all things, seeing this ancient tree in a forest of young growth (settlers had logged around it, sparing it for reasons no one knows) reaching up through the canopy.
Next up: Uluru, and the Flies of Dooooooom.