Summer in Melbourne this year was almost non-existent. The thought of a long grey winter was depressing…or was it? To cheer things up my husband checked out ticket prices to Cairns, airfares were cheap, he clicked ‘buy’. A cold drab winter seemed so much more do-able knowing it would be broken by two weeks of warm tropical sunshine in far north Queensland. I got out the photo albums, curled up on the couch, pulled over the ruggy and started scrolling through pics of our holiday. And there it was, that strange place we’d found by chance last year, almost forgotten…
We’ve been really lucky to have access to my father-in-laws gorgeous house in the tropics. He lives in a secluded little spot, on a remote palm fringed beach, an hours drive north of Cairns. It’s been our sanctuary for many years. The kids have learnt to swim there, to kayak the reef, to go on long beach walks and most importantly really get to know their grandfather.
In the depths of a 5 degree winter morning we board the plane wearing coats. Three and a half hours later we land in Cairns, step out into warm sunshine, peeling off the layers of winter clothing, excited by the possibility of a swim before lunch…it’s hard to believe we’re still in the same country.
It’s so nice each morning to wander across the lawn to the beach, pajama clad, coffee in hand, watching the sun rise over the ocean. It had been a hectic time, the three books had just been published and it was good to sit quietly without the pressure of deadlines and last-minute editing. I’d tried to capture this mood in book three FINDING THE LOST WOMAN…
I was free.
The business was running smoothly, thriving in fact, and for the first time in ages, I had time on my hands. No books to write, no appointments to keep, no press on my tail. The trouble with my early retirement was that all my friends and acquaintances were at work, busy. The house had been cleaned from top to toe. I had tried every new restaurant in need of discovery and had walked my way around just about every laneway, street and park of inner city Melbourne. By mid June, the winter cold and boredom set in. Maybe I’d been just a bit too hasty in withdrawing from the world.
Like a moth to the flame, I was being drawn to warmth. I set off and after a two week drive found myself, thousands of kilometres away, on the outskirts of Tully, in hot tropical north Queensland, knocking on the door of George MacDonald’s house.
And then a little further along in the book when Christina discovers the idyllic town of Sanctuary Beach and wakes up the next morning to discover a tropical paradise…
I woke to the sound of waves not far away and got up, drew open the curtains and pushed back the bi-fold door to the balcony. It was paradise, a long white beach, palms dotting the shore, where the rainforest met the sea. Sun rising over the water into a warm pink sky. Coffee in hand, I wandered the short distance across the manicured lawn of my private garden and straight onto the beach. Not a soul in sight, no one to see me in my pyjamas as I sat on the soft white sand, contented and utterly at peace. The voices in my head silent at long last. This would be a good place to stay for the next few days.
We’d had a week of perfect weather but this morning the grey clouds looked like a day on the beach might not be the best idea.
My brother-in-law Andrew rang, said we should check out their new holiday house. I dragged everyone out of bed, loaded up the cars and set off on our adventure to the world heritage Daintree National Park.
We drove along the spectacular coastal road, past Port Douglas, then inland to the pretty little town of Mossman and picked up a few things from the farmers market in the grounds of the old church.
I couldn’t resist taking a look in the weatherboard hall to see if there weren’t a few paperbacks suitable for holiday reading. Christina finds a similar market at Sanctuary Beach…
Back in town I noticed a market had sprung up under the mango trees in the village square. The local people were out selling their wares. Home baked goods, pickled, dried and fresh produce. Potted plants, herbs and bright tropical flowers. Sugar cane and pineapple juice. Yummy smelling food, ready to feed the breakfast crowd. Pearl and silver jewellery, handmade clothing, wooden toys and brightly coloured kites.
The entire market was full of great things, people with an enthusiasm for what they made, their town and the people in it. I could see this becoming a Sunday morning ritual.
The last stall, near the church, was the St. Bertulph’s Ladies Guild. Second hand books, trinkets and yummy homemade cakes and biscuits, with furniture and clothes in the church hall next door.
Loaded up with lots of delicious goodies we continued our drive. The only way to get to the National Park is to cross the Daintree River. Many people are put off by the ferry and don’t bother making the crossing. It is probably why the place has remained so isolated, so pristine.
And then, the minute we drive off the ferry, as if by magic, the clouds break and the sun beams down. Mel, my sister-in-law, takes no time flipping back the soft top!
Initially we head up a very steep road, thick jungle on both sides.
To the highest point where we pull over and see Cape Tribulation, the beach we’re aiming to visit before lunch.
But as we’d been up since dawn and were all feeling a bit hungry Mel decided a quick stopover at one of her favorite little restaurants was in order. We sat on a deck, up in the tree tops, and shared a traditional morning tea consisting of pumpkin scones with paw paw jam, cream and a pot of the locally grown Daintree Tea…(a Queensland specialty).
Andrew showed us the gorgeous blue water hole just below the restaurant and we decide it’s never too early for a swim.
By 11 am we reach Cape Tribulation.
Find a spot in the shade and wait for the kids who were following us in another car.
The water is warm and clear and we spend the next hour swimming and dolphin spotting.
By midday we are all starving so we head to Mel and Andrews holiday house. We make our way along a jungle track and find the cottage, surrounded by lush gardens and perched above their own private mountain stream. It’s secluded, very private and would make the most perfect setting for a romantic getaway.
We will have a barbecue on the back porch.
Mel takes us to the river. There’s a crystal clear waterhole they swim in all year…so much nicer than a chlorinated pool! It’s palm shaded and refreshingly cool on this hot August day.
Mel and Andrew have created stunning little spots in the garden where I can imagine sipping champagne at sunset… wondering if a Cassowary will appear. Cassowary’s are big emu-like birds that live in the rainforest, they’re very shy, sightings are rare. Mel has seen only one of these elusive birds on her property and was so delighted she named the property Cassowary House.
Andrew fired up the barbecue, we made salads from the food we’d found at the market and had a delicious, long lunch.
It would’ve been so easy to stay, the house, the gardens, all so beautiful, but our time was limited and there was still so much we wanted to see before the ferry closed at sunset. Mel and Andrew were staying overnight so they could set up Cassowary House for paying guests who were arriving the following morning. We said our farewells.
Drove back down the mountain to the coast…
And came to a screeching halt to avoid hitting a Cassowary. We pulled over, crossed the road and attempted to follow it into the jungle.
After sneaking through the undergrowth we realised the cassowary had alluded us. But rather than be disappointed we looked up to see the giant bird had unwittingly led us to an expansive, deserted beach. As the boys went climbing over rock pools we keep walking further along the sand. Something catches my eye, I see some sort of large building.
And find ourselves standing in front of a completely empty resort! It was eerie and even more strangely in reasonable repair… not damaged, not graffitied just abandoned.
From the murky swimming pool I was quite convinced a giant croc would emerge and wasn’t prepared to get too close. We edged our way a long the deck to the main entrance.
Apart from the odd broken window pane, there was barely any damage …perhaps an errant coconut from one of the palm trees shading the pool.
We did a lap around the building and found an office door wide open so we went inside.
It was a massive, no furniture, but hard wood floors, reception, dining area and the buffet bar still intact.
We walked up a staircase to find a mezzanine lounge. I could imagine sitting here, Margarita in hand, looking out to the Coral Sea …ocean or pool…where would I swim next?
At the waiters station I found cash register receipts dated 2008 which told me the place had been vacant for over six years. It was utterly remarkable that not a thing had been vandalised. No destruction, no fires, no garbage!
Even the stainless steel equipment was still sitting in the kitchen. A pile of broken crockery the only sign of damage. We were all captivated by the place and wondered what the hell had gone wrong and why it sat untouched for so many years. My imagination started to run wild with ideas for future plots…
But then again it might be that it was just too far away and not the kind of place for bus loads of day trippers looking for an ‘all you can eat‘ buffet? Tourism was a very unpredictable business. Christina observes this when she goes to a second-hand store to buy kitchen equipment for her holiday house…
During the week, I went to Cairns to look at second hand catering equipment. I fancied I might like to cook a little more now that I had so much time on my hands. I struck gold with a free standing stainless steel kitchen bench and small commercial oven. A warehouse full of used equipment spoke volumes about the fickle nature of tourism and the restaurant market.
By 5 pm it was time to head back, we had a ferry to catch and didn’t want to end up stranded in the abandoned resort overnight! That would’ve been way too creepy!?
We drove back down the deserted highway and noticed the almost post apocalyptic fire ahead. We looked warily at one another wondering if it was serious or if in fact the world had ended while we were off exploring paradise. But it was nothing so dramatic…just a sugarcane farmer burning off rubbish after his crop had been harvested.
We returned to our beautiful beach side sanctuary, chatting away like excited children who had just been on an Enid Blighton Adventure. My father-in-law knew nothing of the abandoned resort and its story remained a mystery. A calming gin and tonic in the hammock quieted things down a little.
I was glad to be a writer and not some hapless hotel owner waiting for the trade to pick up. Wondering when the next load of tourists might dare to venture across the river into the beautiful wilderness of the Daintree National park…
And that evening we watched the sky turn pink, made more brilliant by the smoke from the cane farmers fire and I started to think about what might have been…
‘Cesare stood proudly, surveying his new multimillion dollar hotel…he could never have predicted a cyclone was heading straight for his little piece of paradise…..’
Sorry…couldn’t help myself! It’s a sneak preview of the next book.
Cheers, Anna x
P.S. Andrew and Mel’s Cassowary House is available for holiday rental on air bnb. Check out the photo’s and brilliant reviews their gorgeous place is now getting.
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The Lost Woman series follows the sexy adventures of Christina as she makes her way through a world of new media, design, fashion, travel, and … men.
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