Solo Adventures in Oz: Cape Tribulation

Australia, Lost Girls RTW Adventure, Solo Travel, Tours & Attractions, Wildlife & Animals — By on September 13, 2007 at 11:54 pm

After a single day wandering through Cairns as a solo traveler (and getting woken up constantly at, quite possibly, the worst hostel in all of Queensland), I’d already morphed into a diffident, sleep-deprived version of former self.

Now that I had all the freedom in the world, what was I supposed to do with it?

For almost our entire year on the road, Jen had spearheaded the travel planning. She’d devoured the contents of every guidebook, studying the listings in our Lonely Planet with the same steadfast devotion that rabbinical students reserve for their torah portions. She presented Holly and me with rank-ordered options for hostels, sharing details she knew would be critical (“this one doesn’t have a bar, but it does have triples with en-suite bathrooms!”) and ironed out how exactly many days we could afford spend in each new city.

During the rare times that Jen put the LP aside, Holly took up the planning, creating quirky itineraries that led us through a chocolate factory one day and on a deep-woods hike the next. On most days, she’d wake up with some new shopping mission in mind (“I have to find shower shoes…it’s a crisis!”), and off we’d go, our days becoming scavenger hunts for sleep sacks, alpaca sweaters and blow dart guns.

While I’d always excelled at dreaming big (“hey girls, why don’t we quit our jobs and travel around the world for a year??”) I had a much tougher time orchestrating the day-to-day details. The fact that Jen and Holly actually liked figuring out stuff like food, lodging, excursions and activities had enabled me to circumnavigate the globe without actually planning or booking much of the trip myself.

Now, I not only found myself without my best friends, but I’d also lost two of the world’s best travel agents and social planners. If the girls had been around, the might have warned me that five packaged tours over 1,000 miles in three and a half weeks might be a little too ambitious, even for me. But they’d already gone home, and I had three very good reasons for my decision:

1. I’d get to see as much of Oz as possible in the short amount of time I’d allotted
2. Once I’d booked the excursions, I wouldn’t have to do much additional planning
3. Because I’d be seeing the same travelers for a few days in a row, I’d probably manage to make some new friends.

It would be like summer camp, right?

When the Cape Trib Connections mini-bus collected me on the morning of Day Two, I slid into one of the nubby polyester seats and felt more at ease than I had in days. I could finally relax and enjoy the ride up the coast. Our guide and driver Jeremy provided running commentary about the history of Cape Tribulation, his raw enthusiasm surprising for a man who’d been showing tourists around for nearly twenty years.

We learned that during its history, the lush, tropical headland of Cape Tribulation has been occupied at various points by dinosaurs, the cassowary bird, the crocodile, aborigines, pirates, hippies, marijuana growers, criminal outlaws and most recently-backpackers, who found the spot where rainforest-meets-reef irresistibly appealing.

Because it’s cut off from the mainland by the Daintree River and the local government has put the kibosh on all future land development (even electricity isn’t standard here), much of Cape Trib still looks as savagely wild as it did when prehistoric beasts used it as their stomping ground. Free of high-rise condos, five-star resorts and beachfront restaurants serving $25 hamburgers, this spot was rumored to be a true, all natural paradise.

At our first stop, the Mossman Gorge, our group filed out of the van to get an up-close glimpse of the rainforest canopy and stare at a group of backpackers insane enough to jump in the icy cold river cutting through the trees. Stopping at one of the lookout points to take pictures, I was surprised when a girl in from our group joined me at the railing and started making small talk.

Until then, I’d felt so awkward about the idea of just walking up to a random stranger and saying something, but it wasn’t obviously wasn’t a big deal. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t in New York anymore, where starting a conversation with someone can be considered intrusive and even an act of aggression. I was in Australia, and dammit, I was a backpacker! Even if someone didn’t like me, or didn’t want to shoot the shit, guess what? I’d probably never had to see them again.

Having cleared that first minor hurdle, I felt relieved. I resolved to not to let my fear of rejection/embarrassment/looking desperate get the better of me.

A few hours in to the trip, we stopped at the Daintree Mangroves Wildlife Sanctuary where we get up close and personal with some very cool Aussie animals.

We watched as Jeremy feed a cassowary, a flightless bird with a fan-like horn on its head. At first, he simply looked like a black and blue cousin to an ostrich—until Jeremy explained that the cassowary’s three toed feet contain a middle claw long enough and sharp enough to disembowel and kill and enemy with a single kick. And if you think you can escape the thing, keep in mind that they can run up to 32 miles an hour, jump five feet in the air and outswim you before your feet ever got wet.

Huh. Okay….nice birdie. Can we move on?

Our group was hiking over to a marshy area to check out a crocodile (a creature that sounded rather mild by comparison) when I heard the girls ahead of me start starting squealing: a kangaroo had plopped down in our path to take a little nap in the sunlight. Of course, I couldn’t resist petting her fur and asking someone to take my picture!

But the most unexpected and amazing interaction was this one; we actually got to cuddle with a sweet little baby ‘roo named Jack. What a cutie, no? Even though he tried to eat all the girls’ hair, we still wanted to bundle him up and take him with us.


As we rolled along the coastal road towards Cape Tribulation, the foliage grew denser, a tangle of hanging vines and trees so tightly interwoven, it was impossible to tell where one ended and the other began. Dollops of white mist as foamy as Cool Whip obscured the tops of the low humped mountains on one side of the bus. On the other side, we could catch glimpses of deserted beach where those same green hills finally swept into the sea.

By nearly two o’clock, we were all starving for lunch and thrilled to finally arrive in Cape Trib. The bus dropped several of us at PK Jungle Village, the first and most popular backpacker oasis in the area. The place definitely had it going on–a palm-fringed swimming pool, a large central building with a bar, a restaurant, a deck, a huge space for dancing, several sleeping cabins, a community kitchen and a direct path through the jungle to the beach.

After taking a much-needed two-hour nap and wandering down the path to the nearly deserted beach, I decided hit up the little general store and piece together some dinner for myself. Since meals at the Lodge were $15 and almost everything in the store was double the price of the groceries I’d seen in Sydney, I bought myself the cheapest thing I could find, a $5 can of Chef Boyardee-like pasta, and took it back to the lodge.

Just as I was searching for the can opener, I heard someone say, “Oh mi got, I cannot allow you to eat this.” The voice belonged to Inman, an Israeli girl who’d just started working at the Lodge in exchange for room and board. She was so disgusted by the idea of my dinner that she insisted that I eat some of the pasta she’d already prepared for herself-and wouldn’t take no for an answer.

And with that, my first friendship as a solo traveler was born. As the night progressed, and the place got livelier, we ended up “picking up” several other friends that were either traveling alone in a pair.

It still felt a little strange, striking up conversations with strangers-there was always the lingering doubt (what if they’re just being polite? what if they want to be left alone?) but almost everyone I ended up talking to proved themselves to be kind, open and interested in hanging out. There were very few Americans staying at the Jungle Lodge, so the people I met actually had lots of questions and comments about our culture, our celebrities and of course, George W Bush.

Other than deflecting political questions and trying to escape a very persistent, obnoxious Australian army guy named Jimmy who kept trying to get me to “go for a walk on the beach” (where were my Lost Girls to rescue me?!), the overnight trip to Cape Tribulation turned out to be great.

Before Jeremy came back to pick us up the next day, I took a walk along the dirt road cutting through the rainforest, and ended up running into, of all things, a CASSOWARY! Having been forewarned about what these big birds can do, I gave the thing a wide birth (they won’t attack humans unless they feel extremely threatened) and continued on my way.

It was a little scary, but given the choice between obnoxious hostel guys and deadly birds, I’d take the cassowary any day of the week.

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    7 Comments

  • mamacita chilena says:

    You have lived one of my dreams…petting a kangaroo! I’m jealous, I must go to Oz.

  • Michelle says:

    I love your honest take on solo travel! I can’t wait to read about what happens next on your Australian adventure.

  • K. says:

    yay for an update! LOVE all the pictures, amanda! in true lost girl fashion, i’m reading your post from a solo trip to iceland – not nearly as warm as OZ, haha 😉

  • laradunston says:

    Let me know if you’re going to get to north-west Western Australia, Amanda. I’ve sent you all an email and left a few comments (Dubai, couples travelling). I’m a travel writer generally based in Dubai but in N-W WA visiting family. I’d love to buy you a beer. Enjoy your travels! Lara

  • Gary says:

    Did you really find traveling alone that different than what you’ve been doing the last year?

    It is funny. I’ve been on the road now for 6 months by myself and I haven’t laid eyes on a person I know in that entire time.

    Traveling with someone else would require adjustment for me.

  • Steven says:

    I found it very difficult to travel on my own at first. But what a liberating feeling to know you can do it. I am always surprised how open backpackers are when I say hello. I wish you great adventures and wonderful insights, Amanda.

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