I was perusing my Travel Journal recently and read several entries from my round-the-world trip. Looking back, there were a handful of defining moments during that trip. One moment which I will never forget is the epiphany I experienced on the sands of Whitehaven Beach in Australia.
Another defining moment happened several weeks later while on a camping trip to the McLeod River. I briefly described this moment in my Travel Journal entry (below). What strikes me when I read that account is the frame of mind I was in: open, eager, positive and excited about the new insights I was picking up along the way. There’s a childish glee in my ‘voice’, like there was a candy store at every bend of the road. Since that trip, I’ve made it my objective to maintain that same frame of mind. With the challenges that life constantly throws at us, it’s sometimes difficult to do so. At times like these, I look to the people or things that inspire me… and I pick up my Travel Journal. Reading through the stories and having a chuckle or two, I realise that my Travel Journal isn’t only a collection of my travel experiences, it’s my personal source of inspiration.
Camping at the McLeod River
A page from my Travel Journal
On Monday morning, me and Bas, another guest at the B&B I was staying at, hopped into a giant 4-wheel-drive with Bob, our guide/driver/chef, for a camping adventure in the mountains northwest of Cairns (map) – I previously thought that we would head west over the Great Dividing Range to the Outback but instead we headed first north along the coast past Port Douglas then westwards and up into the mountains.
About 120 kilometers from Cairns, I had a quick glance at my mobile phone and it read “No Network Coverage”. Wow! I can’t remember the last time I was ever in a place with absolutely no mobile network coverage! Six months ago, I might have panicked a bit being disconnected from the ‘civilised’ world like this but I’m a changed person now (well, kind of) and I didn’t even blink an eye.
The McLeod River headlands
The scenery along the way was beautiful: first past the stunning coast, then along huge sugar cane plantations and hilly cattle country with the occasional farmhouse. As we cleared the mountains, the vegetation changed from tropical rainforest to a drier, shrubby forest type with many gum trees. After about two hours of driving, we turned off the main road and headed along a dirt road into real bush country. I was glad we were in a sturdy 4WD – it handled the steep road into the mountains and through various streams and dry, rocky riverbeds effortlessly. I loved the vegetation, mostly gum and grass trees and bottlebrush.
After about 45 minutes, we arrived at our camping site, a serene spot at the banks of the McLeod River – I was told that this is actually the McLeod River headlands and that the river is several hundred kilometers long and winds its way to the Gulf of Carpentaria. That spot was just magical: towering gum trees provided a cool shade while the river, with its pebble-strewn bed, was crystal clear. We took several gulps of water from the river and it tasted very sweet and fresh. I can’t remember the last time I was able to just cup my hands and take a mouthful of water straight from the river without being terribly ill later. Glorious stuff!
I set up my tent in a jiffy (my first try – it’s a lot easier than I thought it would be: knock the pins into the ground, connect some poles, roll out the canvas and clip it onto the frame – easy peasy!), then helped Bob and Bas collect some firewood. That was easy too. A few months before, the park caretaker orchestrated a controlled bush fire in this area so there was a lot of ready-made firewood just lying around!
After lunch, Bob took us out for a bushwalk along the river. Just one kilometer further was an absolutely magnificent spot: at this point, massive boulders that continue as far as the eye can see force the river to branch out into countless streams, creating hundreds of gushing rock pools, cascades and waterfalls. We went boulder-hopping and I found many crystal-clear pools: one I called the jacuzzi, another the bath-tub, and yet another the shoulder-massage spa.
We returned to the camp just before sunset and I helped light the campfire (my first time) – Bob and Bas laughed at me initially as I had some ‘ignition’ problems (the leaves just refused to burn) but as soon as I’d gotten over that hurdle (ok, I used up half a matchbox), we soon had a roaring fire going; more than sufficient to prepare that leg of lamb we brought with us! Bob cooked us a marvelous dinner; the lamb was exquisite and the Merlot that went with it was pretty stunning too! We had a long and lazy dinner, with some very interesting conversation topics, and looked up occasionally to admire the starry sky. I just loved it.
What a kookaburra sounds like
The next morning, we woke up to the sounds of singing birds – did you know that a kookaburra (yes, the one that sits in the old gum tree) makes a sound similar to an excited chimpanzee (I don’t know how many of you have seen an excited chimp but I hope you get the picture! When I was in Airlie Beach, I heard them and I commented to the owner of that backpacker place that there must be a lot of monkeys living in the trees behind the hostel. He first looked at me quizzically, then started laughing and said that those were in fact kookaburras, i.e. birds, not monkeys!…. Like I’m supposed to know that?!).
Anyway, back to when I woke up. I had another ‘first’ and this one wasn’t that much fun. I must say, I loved everything about this camping trip except for the ‘nature’s call’ aspect of it; you know, that call you have to heed, preferably behind some bush. Not a very pleasant thing, especially if you’re wary of snakes or spiders who usually hang out around bushes and dead leaves. Anyway, I got that safely out of the way and trudged back to the camp and there was breakfast: bacon, eggs and sausages. Delish! We wolfed it down in no time.
I felt so connected with the place and with myself
After breakfast, I made my way down to the waterfalls for another long and lazy dip in the pools. I looked around and took in the majesty of this place: the slender gum trees all around; the colours of the trees, the leaves and flowers, the water and the sky; the sounds of the birds and gurgling water; and the beautiful shapes of the boulders.
Lying there in one of the rock pools with absolutely no one around, I felt so connected with the place and with myself, and so free. An awesome, very spiritual experience I will not easily forget. I’m only into the second month of this trip and I already feel like I’ve come a long way, like I’m a changed person. It isn’t a new me, I don’t think, but perhaps a more enlightened version of the ‘old’ Keith. Whatever it is, I’m loving this new feeling!
It was quite a long time ago but I had a look at a map of the area and I remember Mt. Carbine (though I’m not sure if we passed it). In any case, we did use the Mulligan Road to get up there. I don’t know where we turned off. Hope you find this magical spot!
Thanks for posting about your experience – I was wondering if you could provide a bit more information of what road you took…is it the Mount Spurgeon road ? I live in Cairns and was hoping to explore a bit of more of this area.
Fantastic post and pictures. Truly epic.
Sounds amazing! You’ve described it beautifully – almost thought I was there for a second 🙁 But I’m not, I’m sat in an office in London. Ah well!
I love that even after so long you maintain the magic of traveling and having your own source of inspiration is crucial.
@Nancy & Shawn I agree food is best over an open fire. My favorite thanksgiving was when I went camping. Waiting for the food after gathering wood and making the fire made it taste so much better.
Awesome post and pics! That trip sounds amazing, you really know how to live it up.
We love an open fire too. Food always tastes better too.