Head for adventure in Far North Queensland

By Jeff Turnbull

Queensland's Barron River is a great location for a whitewater rush. Photo / Thinkstock
Queensland's Barron River is a great location for a whitewater rush. Photo / Thinkstock

There are three things you have to worry about when you go whitewater rafting in Far North Queensland - the logodiles, the rockadiles and the crocodiles.

Our raft guide/master Sean, from Raging Thunder, was only half joking - there are logs, there are rocks and occasionally, after big floods, there are crocodiles, freshwater crocs which, apparently, are nowhere near as dangerous or as big as the salties.

And they are cleared out before tourists are allowed back on the river.

So, with that reassurance, we continued on down the Barron River - 30 minutes north of Cairns - forward pedalling, back pedalling and all the while looking for the next whitewater rush as we tackled the grade 2 and grade 3 rapids.

When we cascaded over Cheese Churner, Sean got his new crew to manoeuvre the craft back under the lip of the gushing water and with thousands of litres of water pouring over us we all but disappeared under this mini-waterfall.

We even had a water fight with a boatload of Japanese rafters as they ricocheted down the river.

After that we deserved a break and we slid out of the rubber duckie into the flowing river and let it carry us down to calmer water.

To avoid the logodiles and rockadiles, the trick is to float on your back letting the current take you, and keep your toes where you can see them. As Sean said, dangle means mangle.

New Zealand has Queenstown as its adventure capital and FNQ, centred around Cairns and Port Douglas, is putting in its bid to be the Australian equivalent.

Cairns has the AJ Hackett bungy jump and, for the not-so-adventurous, jungle swing, while Port Douglas offers, among other things, quad biking, mountain bike riding, windsurfing and stand-up paddling. And you can throw in reef snorkelling if you count swimming with reef sharks as adventurous - I do.

Stand-up paddling expert Brett Wright of Windswell has, as his office, idyllic Four Mile Beach at Port Douglas where he gives classes in the sport, better known as "supping".

In an effort to cut down on the damage done by newbies on his fibreglass boards, usually from the paddle banging into the side rails, he also uses blow-up boards which can take all the knocks and bumps and still do the job. At the end of the day you just roll them up and stuff them in the back of the ute.

Then there's Thor Stovell of PD Bikeworks, an expert mountain biker, who has raced in the energy-sapping RRR (Rural, Rainforest and Reef) cross-country endurance mountain bike event. This is an event only for the superbly fit.

On my taste of the course, I had to bow out of the "Bump Track" leg, with terrain that would make a Sherpa think twice and which involved finding a way down a steep, rocky, clay track. After watching Thor tear down it, I concluded the slow way is the hard way.

Then, on the return journey the course veers onto Four Mile Beach which, by then, may as well have been Forty Mile Beach.

I probably got about half way, constantly changing gears to cope with the shifting sand but then had to admit defeat, dismount and walk the rest of the way back to the Port Douglas Surf Club. My legs had turned to jelly.

I've got a new respect for the athletes who take on this gruelling event.

The RRR is part of a celebration of sport - the Cairns Airport Adventure Festival - which this year runs from May 27 to June 4 and attracts entries from around the world.

It had its inaugural event in 2011, when its jewel in the crown, Ironman Cairns, which includes a 180km bike leg between Cairns and Port Douglas, drew 1200 competitors.

This year organisers are expecting to more than double that number as the race grows in popularity.

It finishes with a 42.4km marathon along the Cairns esplanade.

Last year the economic benefit to Cairns and the region was estimated at $7.5 million and they're hoping to double that this year.

What looks like a less painful event - but still a hard slog - is the 40km Great Barrier Reef Ocean Challenge on May 27.

I had the chance to ride with a women's team based at Yorkeys Knob Boating Club who train three times a week, starting at 6am, preparing for the Palm Cove to Port Douglas race.

For these middle-aged ladies, the oldest being close to 60, the sport is more about the camaraderie and exercise than the competition.

Many are refugees from the south and, working as a team on the water, they have made new friends while getting fit and losing weight.

One of the crew dropped 30kg in 12 months with the extra benefit that outrigging is a sport where you can sit down.

Just north of Port Douglas at Mossman, cattleman Gordon Pringle has turned the family 170-hectare Daintree Station homestead into a giant adventure park centred around a 600-seat amphitheatre featuring rodeos.

But our visit wasn't to see cowboys on bucking horses or drive the cattle on a muster, but to take on the hilly terrain on a quad bike.

Daintree Station hand Liam was assigned to lead our group and, after some instructions on how to ride these beasts, we were off.

The bikes handled anything the course threw at us - rivers, creeks, hills, mud tracks - great fun.

This is a pastime where you wear protective shoes, a helmet, goggles and old clothes, because you are going to get wet and you are going to get muddy.

If quad bikes are not your thing, there are also horses you can take out for a more relaxing experience.

IF YOU GO

Getting there: Port Douglas is 70kms north of Cairns along the Captain Cook Highway. Virgin Australia flies regularly from Australia's major capital cities to Cairns.

Staying there: During the Cairns Airport Adventure Festival Mantra Aqueous at Port Douglas has rooms from $136 per night with spa and from A$230 per night with the balcony leading to the swimming pool.

Playing there: White water raft at Raging Thunder costs around A$133 for a two-hour experience.

PD Bikeworks offers a standard beach cruiser bike from A$13 for two hours or A$20 for the day.

Australian Muster Experience's Jumble Rumble on quad bikes costs A$125 for two hours and comes with a guide.

You can hire a board at Windswell for $25 an hour or get a lesson for A$99 while finding out where the best places are for supping.

The writer was a guest of Tourism Queensland.

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n3 at 19 Apr 2014 17:33:44 Processing Time: 581ms