Far North Queensland – the phrase doesn’t suggest being wrapped in layers of wool. But that’s exactly what I’m wearing as I sit with a hot tea at the retro-orange of my caravan table to write the next northern adventure instalment.
Granted it’s 6am and high in the hills outside Cairns but still it seems the big freeze has extended its icy tendrils all the way up the great divide. We’re not the only ones in shock – ‘positively Arctic mate’- is the word on the street.
Our caravan now has a name – Wendy. She’s in good company up here, the highway thick with vans. Only there are two stark differences between the others and us. While Wendy is significantly older than most, we are significantly younger. We’ve unwittingly stumbled into the pilgrimage of the grey nomads heading north in winter.
It’s a subculture all of its own I’m discovering. A stopover in Bowen at the Whitsundays had us squashed up alongside one another like a horizontal apartment block, and treated to Elvis Presley and Kenny Rodgers in the amenities. Still, there’s great village spirit and sharing of noodle salad recipes. It’s like a travelling festival of sorts, and one that values living close to the outdoors. I can see the appeal.
One night in a caravan park was enough though, and we headed for the hills to stay at a friend’s acreage just outside Kuranda.
Upon entering the kitchen of ‘Fairyland House’ I immediately sensed something was missing, but it took a few moments to work out what – cooking equipment. There was no stove, oven, kettle, toaster or even pots and pans. The fridge and cupboards were full though – of tropical fruit. What did I expect at a raw vegan retreat centre?
Zalan, the founder, greets us warmly. Eating only raw plant food since 1993, at almost seventy he could probably outrun most people half his age.
He ushers us to a dinner table laid out with a veritable raw feast. A multi-coloured salad of finely chopped vegetables, apple, herbs and greens sprinkled with sprouted buckwheat and quinoa; fennel and ruby grapefruit salad, dehydrated patties of grated vegetables and blended seeds, mixed coloured cherry tomatoes and mint, blended dips made from avocado, chilli, citrus, greens and rosemary; platters of enormous lettuce leaves for wraps. Even without oil or salt the taste was sensational.
Dessert was an array of seasonal fruits including papaya, soursop, custard apple, longan, rockmelon, citrus, grapes, and a bowl of ‘ice-cream’ – blended frozen strawberries and banana topped with passionfruit and grated fresh coconut.
I tasted my first durian – a spiky looking football which I discovered delivers the same hit as a shot of coffee. The rare canistel (or yellow sapote) was another delectable first, and we saved the seed for planting.
The chocolate cravings still lingered though until presented with a black sapote, otherwise known as the ‘chocolate pudding’ fruit and just as delicious.
Fruit is also the menu for a mid-morning breakfast in smoothie form, followed by a platter of fruits for lunch.
Fruit-tree planting is the main game on the newly established retreat centre, and the year round growing season means the jackfruit and paw paw and banana plantations are well on their way.
After some gardening help I venture in to the rainforest in search of the elusive curlew – the source of the piercing strangled birdcall I heard at dawn. I find instead the beautiful Barron River, which runs through the nearby World Heritage listed Barron National Park.
My dip in the deep green waters was not quite the balmy ocean swims I was expecting up here, but less croc infested. I hope.