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.
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
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
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.
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
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
Nowadays the dust has settled a bit, but many properties can never
be developed now and others have a lot of restrictions on them.