Port Douglas beach on a sunny day.
Port Douglas beach on a sunny day. iStock

Wild weather ruins dream road trip

We have driven the Captain Cook Highway from Cairns to Port Douglas many times. It's a scenic 50-minute drive with the Coral Sea on one side and the green mountains on the other. It is one of the country's most picturesque drives, but it can be dangerous with its winding corners, sharp bends and unexpected twists.

We never stop at any of the lookouts or deserted beaches or tiny fishing spots. Our aim has always been to get quickly from Cairns to the tropical charms of Port Douglas so we can be poolside in our resort with fancy cocktails in hand.

"We should make a day of the drive,” I told my husband/travel mate last week on yet another of our visits to family in Cairns. "Let's stop, explore the beaches, eat at the pub at Ellis Beach, there's a lot we haven't experienced. It would be a good story for my travel column.”

So, despite consistent rain from Cyclone Nora thrashing about at the Top End of the country, we set off early, driving happily out of Cairns where the sugarcane plantations stretch lushly to the foothills of the mauve mountains.

First stop, Palm Cove, that pretty village-like town by the sea with its majestic melaleuca paperbarks. The rain was heavier now and a few tourists were battling along the esplanade with giant umbrellas, heading quickly into cafes.

We parked and looked out through the heavy rain to the brown choppy sea. I suggested we turn back.

"We are only half an hour out of Cairns,” the travel mate said. "We have to keep going, you need to get your story.”

So we continued, driving further into punishing rain and by now, fear (on my part - a bloke rarely admits to fear).

It was unsafe to stop in the torrential rain, no hope of getting a photo with visibility just a few metres in front of us.

Those sea views on one side, normally breathtaking, were invisible and on the other side, waterfalls were cascading from the mountains on to the road.

As we inched our way to Port Douglas the water was steadily creeping over the road.

"This is not good,” I said, but the travel mate was not going to admit it.

Into Port Douglas, now hammered by rain, there was not a soul about. Shops were closed, pubs empty, even the Sunday markets had packed up and gone.

We braved a short walk from the car to The Reef Marina, our umbrella turning inside out, the rain torrential now.

We were two of only four visitors at the normally busy marina and by now, a quick check on our phones told us Nora was devastating towns further north. Port Douglas and Cairns were receiving a dumping of rain from its tail end.

"We are going straight back to Cairns,” I said with such authority the travel mate dared not question it.

We drove at 30km/h all the way back, trees now falling on to the road, waterfalls now gushing in torrents of boiling, angry water down the mountains on to the highway.

How we made it back to the safe arms of our family in Cairns is a matter for only God and fate to know, but we did, shaking, traumatised, grateful.

We learnt we had only just missed dangerous landslides on the highway and reached Cairns moments before the road flooded and was closed.

So, I am unable to tell you of the beauty at Rex Lookout, or the fun of the Sky-Rail or the bracing adventure of a walk on a deserted beach.

Nor can I tell you about the crocodiles at Hartley's Crocodile Adventure or the charms of Thala Beach Nature Reserve, all highlights along the highway. On this most unfortunate drive it was a question of getting safely there and then back.

But you must make the drive, take a full day, stop at every interesting point. Just check the weather before you go.

Read more of Ann at www.annrickard.com

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