Coconuts and cassowaries

I’m now in the beautiful Mission Beach area, staying at a wonderful eco-lodge set deep in the rainforest with a very end-of-the-earth feel (no vehicles are allowed here, you have to walk along a narrow forest path to reach the resort). It’s a ten minute walk down to a beautiful, secluded beach (so secluded that I have been warned that it acts as an unofficial nudist beach!) and I’m staying in my own little cabin with just flyscreen mesh for walls, so that it almost feels part of the forest. Privacy is not really an issue as the cabin is surrounded by a dense boundary of trees and vines. The deafening roar of nocturnal insects and frogs, distant crashing waves and the wind in the canopy was strangely soothing last night; it felt like the best white noise you could imagine, helping to empty my mind and send me off into a deep, relaxed slumber. I woke today feeling immensely refreshed, and couldn’t help a smile creep across my face as I opened my eyes and saw the forest dripping with morning rain just inches from my face.

View from my pillow this morning.

I am proud of myself as, having had the aim to allow spontaneity into my travels a bit more, I decided to try and hitch the 20km from the bus terminal to the lodge. It felt pretty safe in this sleepy, rural area. I tentatively stuck my thumb out, and the first car that came past stopped for me – result. A really nice local kayak guide then took me all the way to the carpark, which is down a rough gravel path, and he even took a little detour to show me the best place to spot cassowaries by the road – as we arrived there he saw a juvenile one; I just saw the grass move. I think I’m going to have to improve my observation skills… As we pulled into the carpark, the owner of the lodge was also arriving at that moment, so it was a smooth transition from truck to truck to be taken the last leg up a bumpy track and save me having to tackle the rainforest path with my heavy bag. So spontaneity came good in this case – I felt very chuffed with myself, and with life in general.

It turned out that I was the only guest at the lodge last night and I was massively outnumbered by staff (most were travellers volunteering for free accommodation and food). It felt magical to have the place to myself, especially when falling asleep in the forest, and I ate a delicious vegan dinner with the owners and staff in the evening and had a lovely yoga session on my own in the beautiful treetop yoga studio, which I can use when I like. Tourism here has apparently taken a bit of a hammering since a huge cyclone hit the Mission Beach area last year, as well as due to the global economic downturn versus the strong Australian dollar affecting Australian tourism in general. I noticed this in Cape Tribulation too, where once-grand tourist resorts were now empty and crumbling, being reclaimed by the forest. Great for the forest, but not great for these more remote communities that rely on tourism to get by.

Today the sun came out, after heavy rain yesterday and last night, so I took the opportunity to explore the long stretch of coastline that makes up the spread-out Mission Beach area. One of the volunteers here joined me for the first leg, which involved a walk along the long, coconut-fringed beach below the resort, followed by a heavy-duty clamber over rocks to reach the next stretch of beautiful beach.

Mission Beach paradise.

Broken pieces of dead coral littered the sand, along with coconut shells and the bobbles of sand that I’ve previously blogged about, and have since discovered are made by the ‘sand bubbler’ crab; a perfectly apt name.

Sand bubbles.

We then parted ways as I needed to feed my caffeine habit (oh dear) and wanted to check out a cafe that had been recommended to met. One fine Greek salad and banana smoothie later (and the inevitable flat white coffee) and I was chatting to a local who offered to drive me up to the far end of Mission Beach so I could walk back – perfect, another successful hitch under my belt. Good job, too, as it was a long walk, but it felt great to stretch my legs along the empty beaches, clinging to the shade of the palms. I saw what I think were cassowary footsteps in the sand, as well as lots of comical masked lapwings (I’ll try and get a photo of these funny-looking birds). I also nearly slipped on cassowary poo on a stretch of the walk that went through forest, which basically looks like a HUGE splat of fruit remains (only an ecologist would be clued up on what the poo looks like before even seeing the animal!). And then, just as I was staggering up the unpleasantly steep drive back into the lodge, I was rewarded for my efforts by a male cassowary and chick popping out onto the path just ahead of me (the males look after the chicks in this species) and wandering nonchalantly past the lodge entrance. There was a brief stand-off, where I held my breath and subtley reached for my camera whilst being eyeballed by the protective dad. Only the chick seemed unfazed, as it continued down the path towards me. Dad must have then decided I was OK, and followed, although still eyeballing me slightly disconcertingly – I tried not to think about all the signs warning that cassowaries can be dangerous, and thus the need to be ‘casso-wary’. They passed close by me, almost within arm’s reach, and I was so excited I failed to take a decent photo. However, I’ve put the best ones below.

Big Daddy gives me ‘the look’…

…whilst the unperturbed little’un just walks on by.

The adult is a beautiful, imposing bird, with its opulent black feathers, but has a crazy look about it, with its red goitre and blue head – as though it’s on its way to a fancy-dress hat party. The male was nearly as tall as me, and the chick was above waist height – incredible.

Anyway, I feel very happy that I made the effort to come here – cassowary mission accomplished at Mission Beach already! The other wildlife here is spectacular too – I’ve been taking lots of photos and will probably do a bit of a nerdy wildlife blog tomorrow as my belly is nagging me to stop now – definitely dinner time…

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3 Responses to Coconuts and cassowaries

  1. Lu says:

    Hey Becky, wow sounds like you’re having an amazing time! I spent a few weeks around Cape Trib, Cairns and Mission Beach and loved it. I didn’t do half the things you’re doing though, sounds fantastic. Love the blog!

    • beckymayhem says:

      Hi Lu – is that Lu as in Lu Medland?! If so, great to hear from you! Yep, really enjoying myself out here – I just love the rainforest/beach combo environment. Hope things are good with you – I’m temporarily going to be working back in my old Warwickshire County Council ecologist job when I’m back, on maternity cover! x

      • Lu says:

        Hi, yes it’s Lu Medland. All is well with me thanks, I am still working as an ecologist for RPS and live in Newbury now. That’s good that you have a job to go back to when you get back! Enjoy the rest of your travels. I’m looking forward to hearing all about Thailand! x

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