Adventure before Dementia'. Rob and Sue had this sign written beside their name and 'UHF channel 40' on the arse end of their caravan that we had been staring at for far too long. Heading north from the Sunshine coast to Cooktown ? a two thousand kilometre haul - our mantra had lost its initial appeal and had given way to frustration as we slowed to a painstaking crawl at the beginning of another steep climb. The beauty of Australia's enormity is two-fold for the kitesurfer ? the diversity of its beaches and its weather.
The warmth and tropical trade winds of far north Queensland were just the excuses we needed to go walkabout at the end of our first season operating a kite school in the southeast corner of the state. Cooktown held a kind of fabled top spot on that enigmatic pile of beaches that nestle within this region and I was hoping to up my skills in anticipation of gaining my kiteboarding instructor's ticket, so after Rob and Sue - and possibly dementia ? were finally behind us, Cooktown was where we were headed. There are certainly more than a handful of permanent kiting communities north of Brisbane but, with the exception of a notable few, many of the rideable spots are unknown to the masses.
We have enjoyed the warm embrace of communities all the way along this coastline, in particular the spots between Cairns and Port Douglas and these small communities have become an integral ingredient to notching up a noteworthy ride. The steady trickle of positive reviews from these local crews on Cooktown were more than enough to justify a final extension to our two thousand kilometre journey north. Cooktown is where the bitumen stops and gives way to tropics, bush tracks and Aboriginal reserves. Cape York Peninsula, Australia's northern-most tip, eventually leads to the Torres Strait and then Papua New Guinea.
|Its largest urban centre, Cooktown, was also Australia's first European settlement. Much of this coastline reminds me of the region around the river Nile. The coast is lush, perhaps more so than anywhere on the planet, but venture inland and the greenery transforms into the harsh and arid environment that Australia is famous for. Rolling down Cooktown's main street is akin to a Cob & Co arrival. We have left the dry interior behind us; tumbleweeds are swapped for palms burgeoning in the thirty-knot barrage. Locals don cowboy hats, and slung fishing rods crowd the public jetty that hovers over a crocodile haven, the Endeavour River. A Steve Irwin legacy ? a crocodile tracking programme ? has radio collars glued to the back of twelve of the Endeavour River's finest.
So, an opportune point to introduce the idea of getting into the water. Just south of town (according to the bush telegraph) was a 4x4 track that leads to a sweeping inlet called Walker Bay. So, bleary eyed from a night of being buffeted by the breeze, we wasted no time the following day. After a short burst of ploughing through the secret garden of sandy tracks, a vast beach of driftwood and confused white caps opened up before us. We pushed on through the well-worn ruts of sand and soon spotted the relative sanctuary of the Annan river mouth. If you time the tide well you'll find a lovely stretch of flat water behind a sandbar that shields off the aggressive chop. Our timing, however, was out. Confronting your fears takes on a new and thoroughly relentless meaning in this region.
If you want to kite in warmth and with regularity in Australia between the months of May and September, then the far north is your only real option?but there is a trade-of
A body drag in these waters is on a par with a session on a shrink's couch; concentrate on the board? get back to the board? get on the board? get the hell out of there! And as for the walk of shame, here it's just a nice, relaxing break! Until now we had never ventured further north than the Sunshine Coast and I had no idea that the Australian mainland possessed beaches of the kind of beauty I had thought were reserved for more remote South Pacific islands. There truly is some stunning coastline up here, far too many spots to mention and far too beautiful to let a few of nature's most venomous and ferocious creatures deter you. If you still have reservations, speak to a lifeguard.
They are only too willing to get you up to speed with reliable information. On a lighter note, I was curious about the bottles of blue vinegar positioned prominently at most beach access points. The vinegar I understood - to nullify the effect of jellyfish toxin ? but why blue? The lifeguard took great delight in enlightening me; 'We had to put dye in it to stop people knockin' it off for their fish and chips!' I digress? back to Cooktown and never more had I longed to spectate than when we passed our third crocodile warning sign. As the kit was unwound, assembled and pumped we struck a compromise; we'll draw straws and whoever wins gets to take the pictures. The prevailing southeast breeze had lifted to a solid thirty knots, and with Perry struggling to keep his feet on the ground I take solace in my victory - one that I would have fabricated if required.
As he enjoys a two hour ride - more above the water than on it - I figure that my 'croc test dummy' surviving such a sweet session must have scared everything off by now, although it was a logic still unproven. So outward bound I went, but not without a safety net; my trusty board leash. Despite it all, if you imagine every session set before swaying palms and sun- renched beaches you might come halfway to understanding why people continue to kite here. We eventually pulled the plug on our Cooktown safari in favour of returning to the espressos of Port Douglas. Indeed Port's local crew are typical of the kiting communities in this area. Despite the weight and sometimes ignorance of the transient kiting population, they remain welcoming and fearless by example. Although Cooktown is wonderful for its extreme nature and has an isolation alongside its underwater treachery, it did leave me longing for some of that friendly localism found further south.
Certainly missing was the camaraderie - but who am I kidding? Where crocodile fodder is concerned, I take comfort in safety in numbers; a couple more kiters on the water surely only tips the scales in my favour? THE FAR NORTH QUEENSLAND FACT FILE: AREA: Townsville (approx. 1500 kms north of Brisbane) to the tip of Cape York WINDY SEASON: May to September, 15-25 knots prevailing from the southeast STINGER SEASON: November to May (a stinger suit is a must during this period)
This column is in issue #29