By Aidan Goldstraw
Walking up the beach, it seems like this is the closest to paradise you’re likely to get this side of the pearly gates. Then you see the lurid poster and cupboard with its container of vinegar.
It reminds you that out there, in the gentle, warm lapping waves of North Queensland’s coastal waters are enough stinging jellyfishes to land a whole nation in hospital. The vinegar is there to administer basic first aid to the screaming, squirming victim.
Welcome to Australia - the land where nearly everything is dangerous.
Yet you can’t help falling in love with Northern Queensland, especially Cairns (pictured), its main city (a description which would be laughable elsewhere). Cairns has a raffish, slighty run-down bohemian air about it.
Cairns has yet to totally fall victim to the dominance of global big business which has permeated other parts of the country. Standing on the end of its modest pier, you really do get the feeling of being on the edge of civilisation.
This pier is also your gateway to one of the world’s most iconic and beautiful places - the Great Barrier Reef. Tours depart daily to a boat-sized pontoon permanently moored above the reef.
From here you can dive (the reef must be the best place on earth for your first taste of scuba), view the stunning corals from the confines of a semi-submersible or content yourself with a mixture of sunbathing and snorkelling. While you try not to think of the jellyfish. Or the sharks.
Of course, staying on dry land in Australia is no passport to safety. There’s all those snakes and spiders to consider.
And on a journey through the Daintree rainforest to Cape Tribulation, I learn of another danger.
The cassowary (pictured) is a rarely-seen emu-sized bird which inhabits the denser areas of the Daintree. Agressively territorial, the cassowary has a razor-sharp talon on its middle toe which it has been known to use to disembowel humans. What other country has a bird that’s lethal to humans, for crying out loud?
If you can forget the dangers for a moment, there’s no denying the beauty of the Daintree. You really feel that civilisation has been left far behind, as your four-wheel-drive gamely struggles over bump after bump on the rough trail up to Cape Tribulation beach (pictured).
The toll on your buttocks is worth it in the end. The sandy expanse heading towards the horizon is stunning and will bring out the Robinson Crusoe in everyone.
Just don’t walk too close to the water’s edge. Not so many years ago, a latter-day Crusoe was doing just that when a huge estuarine crocodile sprung out of the surf and dragged him into the water. His body was never found.
Let’s be careful out there.