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cape tribulation tourist information and history

Cape Tribulation is a place of spectacular beauty, located in far north Queensland, 36km. north of the Daintree river in the World Heritage Listed Daintree National Park.
Although it is a small town of less than a hundred permanent residents is world famous as the place where the rainforest meets the reef, and it also played an important part in Australia's history; this was the last place James Cook saw before it got dark and he smashed his ship on the reef, if he had sunk here then Australia's history might have run very different as it could have remained inthe hands of the Dutch without Cook claiming it for England.

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History of Cape Tribulation

Gondwana - Cape Tribulation's history begins 135million years ago when the giant continent Gondwana was covered in dense rainforests and dinosaurs stomped around the jungle.
Then this huge continent split up into several pieces and the piece that we now know as Australia drifted south and amazingly, for the next 135 million years the rainforest in this area survived climate changes and ice ages and that is why visitors to Cape Tribulation nowadays can still see what the world looked like more than a hundred million years ago!

Some of the flora and fauna have survived all those millions of years, trees like king ferns, cycads and idiospermums, and animals like crocodiles and cassowaries still hang around today like they did 135 million years ago!

Along the coast there are fringing reefs which were once living coral reefs long ago when sea levels were higher before the last ice age, now they stick out of the water at low tide and have lost the colorful living coral, to see the real colorful coral you need a boat out to offshore reefs.

Aborigines - For milennia, the Kuku Yalangi Aboriginal people used to camp here at times and travel back and forth between Mossman (70 km. south) and Wujul Wujul, (35 km. north). They used to forage for rainforest fruits and hunt the rainforest animals.
Some of the earliest settlers, the Masons, lived just north of the cape where now the parking area for Cape Tribulation beach is.
Aborigines called this place Kurangee, which means place of many cassowaries. For a while the cassowaries seemed to have disappeared but in recent years they have made a comeback in Cape Tribulation.

James Cook - The next chapter in the history of Cape Tribulation is James Cook. He had been sent out from England to Tahiti to observe Venus passing in front of the sun. Thanks to his measurements scientists could now work out the distance between the earth and the sun and a range of other things. But to justify the expense of the journey the British Crown had decided that he was also to take possession of New Holland to expand their empire. Cook sailed up the east coast and did quite a bit of surveying and drew up numerous charts, as so far he only had a fairly basic map from the Dutch explorers that had been here 160 years before him. Things ran fairly smoothly until one night after passing this area his ship struck the reef. The Endeavour came very close to sinking, luckily a large chunk of reef had broken off and remained in the hole and actually worked as a plug, this together with a sail covering the hole, the crew pumping like mad and the dumping of all non vital heavy things like cannons, they managed to keep the ship afloat. So when Cook looked out on the coast at first daylight he was not in the happiest of moods and named a few features with not the most cheerful of names; the cape he could see was named Cape Tribulation (tribulation means trouble) and the mountain behind it Mount Sorrow. The reef the ship had struck was named Endeavour Reef and a bay to the north where they rested while towing the ship up the coast with row boats was named Weary Bay. Finally they found a river to go up and beach the ship so it could be repaired, this one was then named the Endeavour River and that is where Cooktown is located nowadays. After seven weeks of repairs, some run-ins with Aborigines and discovering the kangaroo, they headed further north where they planted the Union Jack and officially took possession of this country. This makes the striking of the reef off the coast of Cape Tribulation all the more significant; had they sunk here they would not have been able to claim Australia later on and it could have still been New Holland nowadays. Cape Tribulation would look very different indeed with windmills instead of coconut trees along the beaches and coffee shops in the resorts instead of bars. And the mositure of the rainforest and the Australian termites would have made short work of the clogs as well.

Masons - the first white settler north of the Daintree river was Andrew Arthur Mason, he first settled in Cow Bay (then known as Baileys Creek) in 1927 and after a failed farming venture he moved to Cape Tribulation in 1932. At that time, he, his brothers and their respective families were the only whites in the area. On a seasonal basis, Aborigines inhabited the coastline. The Masons tried a variety of ventures like fishing, farming of bananas and other crops and cattle grazing. The old Aboriginal road north to Bloomfield was sometimes used to transport livestock, this being easier than walking it south toward the Daintree River. During World War Two, the Masons kept a horse and saddle for each person on the farm, the plan being first to walk north along the Bloomfield Track, then west or south to escape invasion. In those days the Bloomfield Track would have been the easiest way out. Luckily the escape plan was never needed. Descendants of them still live in Cape Tribulation and own the local Cape Trib shop and Mason's Tours that does guided walks and four wheel drive safaris.

mason's tours in cape tribulation
Paul and Lawrence Mason and two others holding a python.

Rijkers - In the early 1960s a Dutch family floated up the coast on a raft and went ashore on Cape Tribulation beach and laid claim to virtually the whole bay and forests in the hills behind it. When you're returning from your reef trip or from the lookout at Cape Tribulation Beach you can see two houses on the hillside, the higher one on the left is the house where the Rijkers lived. They cut all the biggest trees out of the valley and sold the timber, later they sold off blocks of land along the beach, like the one where the Beach House is now located. They were fairly independent minded people and local legend has it that when the father died in 1973 the family put him on a big pile of firewood on the beach to cremate him. The local shopkeeper Paul Mason was not impressed with this pagan ritual and called the authorities in on his RFDS radio (there was no telephone yet). Later Willem Rijker developed a habit of running around in a dress because he thought it was cooler in summer but was pulled into line by his brother. A few years ago the Rijkers sold their land and moved on as they thought Cape Tribulation had become a bit too developed, also they were in debt to the local council that charges property owners many thousands of dollars in council rates each year for blocks of land that have no sealed roads, power, water, sewerage or garbage collection.

Sub-divisions and hippies - In the 1970s Cape Tribulation was discovered by the hippies and it became the end of the London-Kathmandu-Cape Tribulation overland trail. Marijuana growing, smoking and running around naked on the beaches were the main activities during this decade. Cape Tribulation was also discovered by the property developers during this time. A few enterprising individuals with friends in the right corrupt government places took out large grazing leases, then converted to freehold, and then divided them into about 1200 smaller lots, in Cape Tribulation two hectares is the smallest size but in Cow bay there are many one hectare blocks. Though normally the developer has to provide services like power, water etc. this was all overlooked by the various government departments, either through corruption, incompetence or maybe both. The local Douglas Shire Council opposed the subdivision but was overruled. A nationwide advertising campaign was started and people bought blocks of land for reasons that varied from preservation to intending to live there to investment as all power and water services were promised and many thought land values would skyrocket.

Declaration of National Park - In 1981 the rainforests surrounding the privately owned land were declared Cape Tribulation National Park, under protest from local council and state government who wanted to keep it as a State Forest, so it would be available for logging.

Blockade of the Bloomfield Track - Cape Tribulation really became famous when in 1982 the Douglas Shire Council began bulldozing a track north of Cape Tribulation in 1982. Protesters came from everywhere and tried to stop the road, leading to several arrests by the army of policemen. The protests were unsuccesful in stopping the bulldozing of the forest to clear a road but did lead to the nomination and subsequent inclusion of the area on the World Heritage List because of the publicity surrounding the issue. The protest leader, Mike Berwick, stood for mayor of the council he protested against and won! In 2004 he is still mayor and has been re-elected for another term.

World Heritage Listing - In 1988 UNESCO declared Cape Tribulation National Park a World Heritage Area because of its outstanding value and beauty, once again local and state government protested to no avail.

Backpackers - In 1985 the Jungle Lodge, the first backpackers hostel, was built in Cape Tribulation. The huts where it used to cost $5.- a night to sleep are now part of Ferntree resort on Camelot Close and now you pay around $180.- in the same huts, though they have been upgraded a bit. Cape Tribulation, in particular PK's, developed a reputation as a major backpacker party place amongst the crowds that shag and drink their way around Australia. Highlights included drinking games, limbo competitions, dryer riding (see pics), beach bonfires, all washed down with copious amounts of sex and alcohol.

Solar power subsidies - In 1996 the Queensland state government offered residents north of the Daintree river subsidy to install solar power. So far only mayor Mike Berwick and some neighbours were the only ones north of the Daintree river to enjoy mains electricity from a cable hanging over the river. The denial of mains power to others from the Daintree river to Cape Tribulation was deliberate to discourage settlement as this would lead to degradation of the fragile eco system of this area. During 1996 and 1997 many houses were fitted with solar panels, batteries and back-up generators. Most households run their generators a fair bit as solar power in a rainforest is not the ideal solution but it scored Australia points at the Kyoto Greenhouse Convention. Currently many residents are calling for "mini-grids", it would be far more efficient for a community like Cape Tribulation to have one big generator with a cable network for the town than thirty households run their own, this is not too difficult to organize, where ever small Aboriginal communities are in the outback this system is used, but so far no results.

Flood - 1996 also saw some very wet weather, in february 1996 1500mm of rain (yes, one-and-a-half metre) of rain fell in 36 hours in the Daintree river catchment area and the river rose that high the cafe at the ferry crossing only had its roof sticking out of the water and the current was that strong that the ferry cables on the north side broke and the ferry would have washed out in to the ocean had it not been for the cables holding on the south side. When the water subsided again the ferry was sitting high and dry on the riverbank and it took a week to get it back in action again. Meanwhile the reef trip operator in Cape Tribulation used his boat to ferry tourists out to Port Douglas and food back up.

Rainforest Hideaway - June 2000 saw the opening of Rainforest Hideaway, the best place to stay in Cape Tribulation.

Sealing of the road - In April 2002 the last section of road was sealed. It had taken the local council no less than TEN years to surface the 36 kilometres of road from the Daintree river ferry to Cape Tribulation. When you consider the 6700 km. long Great Wall of China was also built in ten years, at the rate of a mile a day, that does make you wonder about the productivity of their council employees a bit.....

Development ban - In June 2004 the Douglas Shire Council managed to severely upset a lot of people by announcing a 12 month moratorium on all building and development permits, which was also meant to become part of the town plan, turning it into a permanent ban on all building. For nearly a year an enormous amount of time and money went in to consultants, lawyers, meetings, planning etc. and then it was voted out again in May 2005, then voted back in and so the saga continued on, much to the distress of affected landowners.
Nowadays the dust has settled a bit, but many properties can never be developed now and others have a lot of restrictions on them.



daintree treefrog at cape tribulation
daintree rainforest tree frog
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Rainforest Hideaway Cape Tribulation Accommodation & Sculpture Trail - 109R Camelot Close, Cape Tribulation 4873, Australia Ph: 07-40980108