Ants’ Bums, A Sexchange Hotel and The Sisters of Mercy: A Cape York Adventure, The Final Episode

We’ve had some fairly random blog post titles in the past but this one probably takes the prize. As ever, all will become clear, but equally true to form, feel free to entertain yourself with one of The Sisters of Mercy most popular hits, This Corrosion, instead. They really don’t make videos like that anymore.

After our time at the tip of Australia and the Torres Strait on our tagalong tour (read how we got there, here) we prepared to hit the corrugated roads again and travelled back over the Jardine river ferry. With brief stops at Fruit Bat Falls and Captain Billy’s lookout on the east coast we drove towards our camp at Moreton Telegraph Station. Along the way our tagalong guide, John, had a couple of special experiences in store. One was to see a huge termite mound which he assured us was bigger than the one recorded by the Guinness Book of Records. Apparently, it had been even taller but about a metre had been lost in a lightning strike. The other experience was not for the fainthearted, and that was to lick a green ants bum.

Yes, you read correctly. The weaver ant (Oecophylla Smaragdina) commonly known as the green ant feeds on caterpillars and produce a liquid which is sharply citric in taste and high in Vitamin C. As a result, aboriginal people use it as a cold remedy. Andy couldn’t go past this opportunity, especially as he’d tried green ant gin before. The ants were a little nippy but he eventually managed to procure one, hold it in the right position and give it a lick. It was a strange but pleasant sensation almost like a sherbet lemon on steroids. Andy also managed to persuade Jane to give it a go as long as she didn’t have to hold the ant. Oddly enough, it was only the poms in the group who were willing to give it a go. There was no bum licking from the Aussies or the Kiwis.

The next day saw us stop for lunch at the Batavia Goldfields. Yet another site you wouldn’t know was there unless you had someone with local knowledge. It was amazing to see the machinery in situ, left standing since the late 1800s when it became unprofitable to mine the gold.

After a night at Archer River Roadhouse we continued south through Coen where we stopped for coffee and to look around The Heritage House. It provides some interesting history about the town and the development of the telegraph line. There is also some coverage of the life of Thora (Toots) Holzheimer who was a pioneering woman truck driver in the Cape. Alongside having eight children, Toots was famous as a vital supplier of goods to the cape even in the most difficult of weather and conditions. She was sadly killed in a loading accident in Weipa in 1992 but is remembered by a memorial at Archer River Roadhouse and a bridge over the Kennedy river. We were particularly interested to discover that she was born in Bundaberg, a good Bundy girl.

Opposite the Heritage House is the Exchange Hotel. The pub is famous locally as over forty years ago, a bunch of drunken plumbers added an ‘S’ to the beginning of the name. After an attempt to remove it, the landlord gave up and it’s remained the Sexchange Hotel ever since. Sadly, as we were driving through, we didn’t have chance to stop for a drink.

The Sexchange Hotel

From Coen we drove into Lakeland National Park, a stunning landscape, almost lunar but some of the worst roads we’d driven on. We were sure that OTIS*, our jeep was going to get shaken to bits. Fortunately, we arrived at our camp at Hann Crossing safely and set up for the night. We weren’t sure about this spot when we arrived as after the rough drive it was dusty and there was no showers or anywhere for a swim. However, when the sun went down we could really appreciate it. We were in the middle of nowhere and the total darkness showed off the stars even more brightly than we’d had at any of the other stunning campsites on our trip.

*We don’t normally name cars, but if you read this post, you can see that our jeep came with one

We made a bit of a splash leaving Hann Crossing then continued through Lakefield National Park with stops including another croc sighting at Old Faithful, Eliza Falls, and the Heritage listed old Laura Homestead.

We arrived into Cooktown in the mid afternoon and it almost felt like another world. A caravan site with bitumen roads, proper bathrooms and sparkling cars and vans. We felt as if we were in the height of luxury after dirt roads and dust. Following welcome hot showers, we walked the 2 km to the wharf for a fish and chip supper as the sun set over the ocean. The reason for walking was that we could try out a couple of the pubs on the way back; The Sovereign and The Top Pub, and both met with our approval.

We spent some time exploring Cooktown the next day and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. There’s a lot of information about Cook’s visit there in 1770. His ship, The Endeavour had come aground on a reef off shore. Once the crew managed to refloat it, they needed to come to land to make repairs. Following this, they had to wait for the right tides so ended up staying seven weeks. We also explored the various galleries and craft centres before driving to the top of ‘Grassy Hill’ (Cook really was imaginative with his place naming) for some stunning views of the area. Dinner was at the Returned Serviceman’s League (RSL) Club. It was a great little club and served top quality steaks.

As we prepared to leave Cooktown, we had a bit of a hiccup – OTIS wouldn’t start. Given that we were in a town with mechanics and spares, we thought we’d call a recovery service rather than get a jump start and have it happen again. One new battery later we we were on our way once more for our final stop in Cooktown; The James Cook Historical Museum. This was fascinating, it provided a lot more information about Cook and his crew’s time in the area including their interaction with the local indigenous people. The museum also houses an anchor from the Endeavour which was salvaged in the early 1970s.

The museum is housed in an ex convent of the Sisters of Mercy (we got there in the end) and we also learnt a lot about their time in Cooktown. Alongside this, there are superb exhibitions on the indigenous history of the area, and the growth of the town through the goldrush and on to today. One aspect we hadn’t realised was the importance of the large Chinese population in Cooktown, and North Queensland more generally. They arrived during the goldrush to seek the gold but many also set up associated businesses such as stores to support the increased population. At one point, the Chinese population in Cooktown was so large that a Chinese consul was appointed in the area. It’s a small museum but very interesting and extremely well presented. We’d recommend a visit.

After leaving the museum, our final camp with our tagalong group was at The Lions Den Hotel. This is a famous destination for visitors to the Cape and it used to be the case that everyone wrote a message on the wall. There are now signs prohibiting this – spoilsports – but there was no mention of stickers.

Our last day started with a stop at Bloomfield Falls where we spotted a freshwater croc. We then traversed the Bloomfield track to Cape Tribulation for a photo with our group of new friends. The track used to be a fairly challenging 4WD adventure but several bridges have been built where you used to need to cross the river by driving through it, so it felt straightforward in comparison with some of the other driving we’d done. We were really pleased to have taken this trip at the beginning of our Australian adventure as it’s given us a lot of confidence about driving on tracks and unsealed roads as we continue to explore Australia. We can’t recommend Tagalong Tours of Australia highly enough. If you’re thinking of doing some four wheel driving in Aus, this would be a great way to learn how to do it properly, explore part of the country, see sights you wouldn’t see on your own and make new friends. Check out our review on Tripadvisor.

From Cape Tribulation, we took the ferry across the Daintree river and said goodbye to our companions. They came from across the country and we hope to cross paths with them again as we continue our travels.



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