The Run for Home – Cairns and the Cassowary Coast

Then the wind will set me racing
As my journey nears its end
And the path I’ll be retracing
When I’m homeward bound again

From Homeward Bound by Peter Hollens

No not that one. This is the other Homeward Bound. No railway stations here. Peter Hollens is an American singer song writer from Oregon who is known for his “a cappella” treatment of songs. Watch this. Should stir your Celtic blood if you have any. What do you reckon Ali? Good listening?

Cairns waterfront

Cairns is a city of 153,000 people in far north Queensland and the 14th largest city in Australia. Established in 1876 to serve the miners in the nearby Hodgkinson River goldfields it soon lost out to Port Douglas, a more accessible destination, before reforming as a major railhead moving suger cane, agricultural products, gold and other minerals.

The lowland rainforest and Cairns region is the traditional land of the Yidiny people. The clearing of this land for sugar cane and cattle stations is a particularly nasty story even for Queensland’s spotted history of traditional landowner dealings. Several massacres are recorded followed by the removal of family groups to mission stations. It is an understatement to say this history still rankles today and political activism in the region continues. We arrived to a multicultural city in the tropics that appeared to have been thriving through tourism until the coronavirus pandemic struck. Local opinion is that it will be years before a full recovery is seen. Three million visitors arrive in FNQ each year contributing some $2.5 billion a year. Estimates are that most of this will go. Certainly the hotels from 5 star down and many restaurants seemed empty or closed with few shoppers or tourists about. Nevertheless downtown Cairns is nicely developed with a marina, large open public swimming area and parklands along the esplanade boarding the Coral Sea. The main attractions, of course, are the reef and rainforest. We enjoyed a morning in the fabulous botanic gardens – perhaps Australia’s best tropical gardens exhibition.

Just out of interest kigelia africana or the sausage tree as seen in the Cairns Botanical Gardens is the only tree of its genus (family). It occurs throughout the African tropics. The sausage like fruit grows to seven kgs. I know – I never knew that either.

It is my habit to walk early in the morning while Scout bikes to the nearest cafe for an early dawn reviver. About 10 minutes from the campground I could walk through the Cairns Cemetery and War Cemetery. Strolling through I came across a circle of eight well apportioned modern graves of black marble laid flat. On each gravestone was an embossed photo and a closer look showed them to be of young children ranging from two to fourteen years. On 19th December 2014 Raina Thaiday stabbed to death her seven children and a niece. The graves I had stumbled on were those children. Conclusions are that Thaiday, up to then a good mum, suffered from schizophrenia and was apparently poorly served by the psychiatric services. What triggered the atrocity is up for debate but she was found unfit for trial. Thaiday had also been a long term cannabis user. I cried at the sight of these children’s graves and the story behind them. You won’t find a photo of the graves here either. I couldn’t bring myself to take one. On October 17th New Zealand votes on a legalisation of cannabis referendum. I hope everyone has thought the consequences through. Just my view.

Mission Beach

We left Cairns south on the Bruce Highway (highway?) for Mission Beach. Mission Beach is a favourite of ours and we stay at the Mission Beach Hideaway Holiday Park on the promenade at the north end of the beach near the Village. The beach is long and sandy, the water clear and warm. Almost bath like in the shallows so you need to swim to deeper water for a more refreshing dip . We had heard stories of crocodiles along the beach and were regaled once by a camper in NT about him having to yell at a swimmer as a croc headed in her direction. A tall tale? It seemed so at the time. Anyway we survived several swims although swimming becomes less enjoyable through the constant need to keep glancing out to sea for dark shapes. The Mission Beach Village was a microcosm of the Covid era. Once thriving restaurants were closed apart from weekends and what used to be the Sunday music scene was now a tourist adventure centre. There seemed to be many tourists around but it was the season’s end and we heard there had been a three month period of no activity.

Mission Beach – Grey nomads playing petonque

Mission Beach is a 14 kilometre stretch of white sands on the Cassowary Coast – a part of north Queensland that runs from Cairns to Cardwell in the south. The highest concentration of the rare cassowary bird in Australia occurs at Mission Beach. They are bloody rare because we have never seen one. It is wedged between the tropical rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef and for water sports and hiking is unsurpassed. Mission Beach is also the closest access to the reef being only some 40kms across the Coral Sea and was where the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority was first set up. The Authority has since moved to Townsville. There is also an excellent network of bike tracks along the coast and Scout cycled along the beach each morning during a spectacular sunrise. We often cycled north to Bingle Bay, an 11 km round trip – to the cafe to be precise. Bingle Bay itself is a gem with old style baches along the front, a council free camp on the beach and modern homes now being developed on the hills ovelooking the beach. Property prices are extraordinarily cheap for beach front. A chat with the local real estate agent told the story as the area is frequented by cyclones and insurance is a problem. Either way it is lovely and at the moment an unspoiled and laid back region offering a vast variety of activity. Five days of sun and sand were enough and we decided to move inland again for the journey south. We have always hugged the coast when coming this way so a look at some of Queensland’s inland mining towns seemed a nice change.

Bingle Bay – five kms north of Mission Beach

10 thoughts on “The Run for Home – Cairns and the Cassowary Coast

  1. My favourite bird – I have seen them a couple of times obviously not in the wild… they are wild. Australia Zoo over the years. Initially when Steve Irwin was there.




  2. We are so enjoying reading your travels…there is so much in our own countries to just relax and enjoy. Hopefully we can meet up soon… Diane and Bernard


  3. What a journey! Will be sad not to read Mr Gato downunder adventures. Guess you are planning the next journey – maybe Mr Gato travels Covid-free in Aotearoa NZ 🙂


  4. Great listening to Homeward Bound (Peter Hollens) thanks Mike – very stirring! Then I ended up listening to some of his other work on YouTube – all a cappella and beautiful.
    The sausage tree is a bit of a laugh and very pleased there were no dark shapes in the shallows of Mission Beach….


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