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Cape Tribulation
Cape Tribulation
Crossing the country
Jim's Joint

Cape York Drive Pt I

Thursday, September 9, 2004
Ben is on his dream road trip heading to the top of Oz passing through rainforests and country towns to the beat of some Rock’n’Roll.

Ben is on the road again. This is the one he has been waiting for — the untamed north-east of Australia, Cape York Peninsula.

Bordered on the east by the Coral Sea and the Pacific Ocean and on the west by the Gulf of Carpentaria, Cape York Peninsula is one of Australia's last frontiers. Most of it is a low-lying patchwork of tropical savannah, overlaid by wild, snaking rivers and streams. Along the eastern flank is the elevated northern section of the Great Dividing Range, which ends in Dauan, a remote Torres Strait outer island. It is the northernmost tip of Australia's Great Dividing Range.

It covers an area of around 207,000 square kilometres with a population of just 15,000, half of whom are Aborigines or Torres Strait islanders. Much of the land is protected in spectacular national parks, which are jointly managed by traditional owners. Permits to visit are required. The extreme climate is made of two seasons — dry from June to October and wet the rest of the year — and it's been that way for more than a million years.

Ben's journey began in Cairns, where he enjoyed bitumen driving while it lasted. The first adventure was in Cow Bay, just two hours north. Ben met Steve Lamond, who has been collecting insects for most of his life. Steve has travelled the world building his collection and spends most weekends hunting butterflies in the Daintree Rainforest.

In July, Steve opened the Daintree Entomological Museum to display his collection, the largest in Australia. There are tens of thousands of insects, ranging from beetles to dragonflies to moths.

Steve sells butterflies — the most expensive have fetched $15,000.

Helenvale is 127km up the track. This is where Ben met Jim Symes, known locally as the snake man. He has 40 of them in his shed as pets, including a five metre python, king browns, death adders, taipans, eastern browns and lizards. He feeds them rats and mice. When Jim is not working as the area's pest control officer, he will happily show off his pets to anyone who is interested.

You may need a cool drink after visiting Jim and the Lions Den can provide that. Built in 1875, it is on the edge of the rainforest and is the place locals congregate for picnics, markets and general socialising. It is a genuine bush pub, something which is becoming a rarity. It has a shed which serves as a rough bar, play equipment for children, pool tables and a crocodile-free creek ideal for swimming.

The Lions Den has camping facilities and Safari Cabins, which are part wood, part canvas, tucked away in the trees.

Thirty kilometres north is Cooktown, the first true European settlement on Australian soil. Captain Cook arrived in 1770 and Joseph Banks, the Endeavour's botanist, gathered 186 species of native plants there.

Cooktown saw rapid expansion in the late 1800s as word got out about the Palmer River gold find. As many as 35,000 people lived there in its heyday, but as with most towns created by gold finds, the fortunes of Cooktown faded as the gold dwindled. A couple of devastating cyclones didn't help.

Today Cooktown is a sleepy, yet historic, hamlet of about a thousand residents, who enjoy its beaches, lagoons, waterfalls, mountains and gardens. The town comes alive for a week each June for the re-enactment of the arrival of Captain Cook and the crew of the Endeavour.

Cooktown Hotel is the place to stop for a drink, meal or even to spend a night or two. From the balcony you can see kangaroos hopping along the main street. There is always a local at the bar who is willing to share some of the town's stories.


From Cairns to Cooktown

More information

Daintree Entomological Museum
176 Turpentine Road
Cape Tribulation 4873
Ph/fax: (07) 4098 9045

The Lion's Den Hotel
Bloomfield Track Helenvale via Cooktown 4895
Ph: (07) 4060 3911

Cooktown Hotel
Charlotte and Walker Streets
Cooktown 4895
Ph: (07) 4069 5308

Qantas: 13 13 13

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