With new wheels, we were ready to move onto the next leg of the journey, north of Mossman, to another help exchange. We took our time driving up from Cairns, often stopping to admire the scenic coastal road where the narrow pavement hugged the rainforest to the left and brilliant ocean to the right.
Home in the Rainforest
The roads to Wynne and Bruce’s were equally as narrow but comprised of dirt instead of tar as well as chickens on the road rather than cars.
We pulled into their yard after driving a few lonely kilometers away from the “main” road. With no phone reception, we thought it might be a lonely and quiet week, but we were mistaken.
Bruce and Wynne hail from the big cities — Melbourne and Sydney, respectively — but obviously are not city dweller material. They relocated to this rural area almost two decades ago and built a simple open air tin house on their 20-acre property. They share the land with pythons, seasonal birds, reptiles, toads, a private creek, garden, and of course, Sugar, their energetic deaf dog. The birds chirped throughout the day and Sugar barked at grass, so it was peaceful, but not quiet.
Their bills are minimal because they mostly rely on solar energy. When the panels don’t catch enough rays for the day, they use the diesel-fueled generator as a backup. Water is sourced from the freshwater creek and rainwater is collected for drinking. We became ultra conscious about our energy and water usage, not wanting to deplete their resources.
The first few days were rather quiet as there wasn’t much work to do. We created some mulch in the flower bed and helped around the house. For the first three evenings, we went to their neighbors’ homes for dinner parties. Even though their homes seem so isolated in the rainforest, it is anything but lonely. The neighbors are close and rely on each other, especially when being stranded due to flooding in the wet season. Neighborhood gossip also seems to replace TV shows as entertainment.Most of them have traveled extensively themselves and so were very welcoming to us.
Wynne runs her small business, Flowers by Wynne, from the house. She has a great deal of knowledge about all things plants and animals. One task as a florist is regularly delivering and arranging flowers for fancy vacation homes and restaurant/cafes in the upscale tourist town of Port Douglas. We joined her in the deliveries and got to take a peek of the $1,500 AUD per night vacation homes.
Wynne uses some flowers from her own property garden, but most of her plants are sourced from elsewhere. We accompanied her in picking flowers and leaves from an incredible farm, which also happens to be open to tourists. The Wyanbeel Arboretum is a magical chunk of land that’s painted with mindboggling works of nature. Wynne worked on that farm for years in the yesteryear, so she navigated the land with ease. She pointed out the magenta bananas, hairy flowers, towering palm leaves, and itty bitty pineapples. I was enamored with the array of leaves. Deep reds, neon pink, mysterious purple. It was leaf heaven!
For weddings, she orders flowers wholesale since roses do not grow well in the tropical north. The freezer at the wholesaler was full of happy plants, including some clown-like rainbow dyed flowers!
With a house full of flowers, the madness began. Wynne put us to work with various tasks such as getting rid of rose thorns and flower leaves, depetaling old roses for the flower girl, snipping flower stems, and placing them in buckets. There must have been a thousand flowers adorning her home. Every once in a while, I’d lean in to inhale the delicate fragrances.
I watched Wynne create bouquets and buttonholes. Transforming raw thorny flowers to a tightly arranged bouquet was more time consuming than I had imagined. Wynne surely has a keen eye and talent for such tedious creations. Great care was put into each bouquet. Those brides are lucky to have hired such a detail-oriented florist!
Adam and I made garlands and leaf chandeliers by lining up twigs and carefully wiring them together. The end product turned out looking pretty magical if I say so myself.
When all of the decorations and bouquets were ready, we loaded up on wedding day. First, we delivered bouquets to the bridal party. They were usually tucked away in a nice hotel room. A bridesmaid, wearing an oriental silk robe, would open the door and then lead us to the similarly clothed bridal party and bride, who was in the midst of getting her hair done. The girls would squeal and take photos of the flowers.
Then, we’d shoot over to the reception venue to decorate. We arranged carnations, stock, freesia, roses, succulents, etc. into twine-wrapped mason jars and place them accordingly.
When the fourth wedding was finally done with, we were a little tired. Understandably, Wynne was exhausted. We grabbed some drinks and tapas at a nearby restaurant before heading home to cook, eat chocolate, and watch mindless TV.
Cooking with Wynne
Wynne is a woman of many talents, one being the art of cooking. Throughout the week, she’d whip up fantastic dinners. Savory pies, quiche, mashed sweet potatoes, decadent chocolate cake, and perfectly paired salads. Perhaps my favorite dish was the Tom Kha Gai soup, her comfort food.
To fetch ingredients, we went for a tour through her garden in the dark evening. I held the flashlight as she gathered kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, chilies, and dug up some galangal root. Along with chicken, coconut milk, vegetables, lime, palm sugar and mushrooms, she whipped up a fantastic soup that I devoured. Wholesome with a hint of pungency, sweet, and spicy. Perhaps it tasted even better knowing half of the ingredients came right from the garden.
Sweet Chili Sauce
On a slow rainy day, Adam and I took on the task of preparing dangerously hot habaneros to make Wynne’s famous sweet chili sauce. Double gloved, we sliced and got rid of the firey seeds of what seemed to be hundreds of peppers from the garden. It took nearly two hours. The spicy fumes could almost be tasted in the air. Next, Wynne simmered the peppers together with vinegar, sugar, and salt for a good while before blending and pouring into ten mason jars. She gifts the sauce to lucky people, us included! It’s sweet, but not too sweet, and has a nice kick of spiciness to it. Much more powerful than the Sriracha chili sauce.
Daintree Rainforest & Cape Tribulation
When the madness of weddings ended, we went off to explore the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation areas. Once we took the ferry ($26 AUD round trip) over the Daintree River, we navigated the narrow roads through the oldest rainforest in the world. We stopped at every marked walking trail, each one unique. Perhaps my favorite spots are Cow Bay and the Marrja Boardwalk with mangroves giving a spooky vibe.
We were also lucky enough to spot a cassowary on the side of the road! Supposedly, it is a rare occurrence to see one of the 2,000 that exist. The giant birds only live in northeastern Australia and Papua New Guinea. We were shocked to see how big the birds really are.
Wynne estimates she hosted a thousand backpackers over the years, but we were her first Americans! We learned a lot through our conversations and explorations around the area. I will forever have a deeper appreciation for small businesses and florists!
Highlights of the Mossman/Whyanbeel/Daintree Areas
Marrdja Boardwalk – There are several trails to walk through the rainforest and we went to nearly every one of them. This one, however, stood out as the most unique because of the eerie mangroves. We also spotted a cassowary along the road!
Mossman Gorge – Beautiful clear waters for a refreshing swim. Once you park, you can either walk 2km to the gorge or buy a ticket for the shuttle ($9 AUD round trip). Bring sunscreen and a bathing suit! I highly recommend walking on the 2.4km loop track. Go past the pools where everyone stops and go over the Rex Bridge. You’ll find some secret swimming holes with barely anyone there!
Daintree Ice Cream Company – While you’re driving along, pull over for a treat! Fresh local fruits are grown right there in the farm. Flavors are switched out whenever they run out. $6 AUD will buy you a cup with four flavors – plenty to share with someone. We had coconut, tart plum, black sapote (tasted like chocolate!), and wattleseed.
Cow Bay – This isolated bliss of a bay is a few kilometers from the main roads leading up to Cape Tribulation. It is worth a stopover for a picnic and a dip. The waters are impossibly blue and there are barely any people there. What I loved most was rock and leaf hunting! A treasure of unique rocks.
Whyanbeel Arboretum – We only know about this gem because Wynne took us there to collect plants. Locals call it Peter’s Farm. This unique farm showcases some of the most insane works of Mother Earth that can grow in tropical north Queensland. It is definitely off the beaten track and not visited by tourists, but he does run farm tours ($20 AUD). Highly recommend checking it out. Call 07 4098 7583.
After a week with Wynne, we headed inland in the Atherton Tablelands region for yet another help exchange with a unique man in a circular house on top of a hill. We were surrounded by the rainforest, cows, and volcanoes. Stay tuned!