Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit. She’s Canadian, and thus too nice to really rake me over the coals. But she made a great point: What do you do if you’re a vegetarian, but you want to try something exotic?
I can think of one incredible place where you can savor the strange whilst harming nary a cute, fuzzy creature …
Exotic Tastes in Rural Queensland
I first heard about the Cape Trib Exotic Fruit Farm in Darwin, Australia’s uninhibited party place and launching pad for serious Outback adventures. Though the tiny farm is thousands of miles away in Cape Tribulation, a tiny Queensland outpost, travelers were abuzz about it.
More impressively, they promised me that the black sapote was in season and on the menu at the farm. That meant that a two-year chase to eat the fabled “chocolate pudding fruit” was about to come to … um, fruition. And surely, there’d be other tasty items, too.
On the Road to Cape Tribulation
If you plan to visit, you’ll likely land in Cairns. And yes, you’ll need to rent a car. You have an hourlong driveÂ along a winding coastal road just to get to Port Douglas, which just gets you in range. And though it’s barely 50 miles from Port Douglas to Cape Trib, it’ll take close to two hours because of the twisting road – and you’ll need wait for a ferry to cross a river. Cape Trib is pretty much the end of the road. And much of it is beautiful rain forest.
The Garden of … Just About Everything
A friendly farm employee from Brazil sat about 10 guests around a table. She’d introduce each fruit and tell us a bit about its cultivation, history, uses and characteristics before slicing it up for us to sample. There were also pitchers of ice water to keep the palettes cleansed.
In addition to the black sapote, I also met the breadfruit, which lived up to its name with a very starchy, dry consistency – you can even use it much like a potato. Then came the dragonfruit, jakfruit, sapodilla star fruit, mangosteen, soursop and so many others that the variety was overwhelming. The selection varies by season.
Picking a favorite is difficult, but I’d give the nod to the soursop. Trust me, under its spiny skin is a fruit that tastes far more pleasant than it’s face-puckering name.Â The black sapote (whichÂ contains a monstrous load of Vitamin C) got beat in my taste test by its relative, the white sapote.Â Both versions have a consistency similar to a slightly dried-out avocado, and odd mixture of creamy and chalky. I also liked the black sapote fruit leather, which added a bit of coconut flavor.
After the tasting, we got a tour of the farmlands itself. It’s amazing a place so compact can grow so many diverse fruits and vegetables.
Worth the Trip?
It doesn’t matter if your an omnivore, a vegetarian, a veg-aquarium or a carpetfuzzatarian, this is a drive worth making. TheÂ scenery is unforgettable Â (stop in Mossman, the little sugarcane and railroad town).
And the fruit itself is spectacular. You’ll forget a lot of it if you don’t take notes and photos – because there’s just so much of it, not because it’s a dull experience. You will leave for the day topped off with every vitamin and mineral under the sun, so you can call it a day of really healthy travel eating.
For some time, I’ve chased an elusive fruit called the black sapote. It’s related to the persimmon, and I first encountered it in Mental Floss magazine, which also called it the chocolate pudding fruit. The magazine said it tasted like chocolate pudding. How could you not love that? I’ve scoured the Internet for any way to get a hold of them in Arizona, but could never succeed. The nearest was Mexico. I could try to grow my own, but that would take years. And my brown thumb would likely kill it. The only think I can grow is basil. But more on this later …
At the hotel, we were walking distance from a place called Four-Mile Beach. If you think that Sarah’s not gonna run that beach first thing in the morning, you’ve got another thing coming. I didn’t pack running shoes, so I just puttered around town a bit.
Anyway, Sarah came back and we went off in search of some breakfast and an idea of what we’d like to do with our day.
We rented a small motorboat ($30 for 90 minutes) and went up the nearby river system. It was fun to be at the tiller, but the scenery was only so-so. I had the most fun checking out all the old boats. I honestly didn’t spot any interesting wildlife.
I also thought about how nice it would be to live in Australia and just anchor a boat on the river, and maybe take it out into the ocean now and then. Ahhh…
Okay, now things are gonna get fun. We head up the road to Cape Tribulation. That’s where we’re going to the exotic fruit tasting. Orla told us this is a must, and she’s right.
It all happens at this organic fruit farm. Everybody gathers around a table while a staff member introduces every fruit, talks about its history and its used, cuts it up and lets everybody have a taste. There wasn’t a single fruit in the bunch I’d had before.
This is where I find the elusive “chocolate pudding fruit.” I didn’t find it to be that, exactly. It had a very, very slight cocoa flavor and a texture like a somewhat dry avocado. Apparently, the little suckers are also loaded with so much Vitamin C that they make an orange look like a potato. Breadfruit, mangosteen, white sapote and star fruit are also pretty cool. I might be skipping some, because we ate A LOT of fruit.
We grabbed a rather unspectacular dinner before heading out for a nighttime nature walk in the Daintree Rainforest. It was kind of cool, and we saw a few cute sleeping birds, an occasional lizard and a really big damn jungle rat. But honestly, this was pretty unspectacular. I’d skip it. It was two hours of trying to be quiet, hoping to see a rather small animal.
We caught the last ferry across the river, and were soon back in our cool hotel in Port Douglas.
Wednesday, Aug. 29
We headed out for the Atherton tablelands. This would be a lot of wandering and hoping to see something cool. We planned to be spontaneous.
For about the umpteenth time, the low density of people amazed me. We’d drive for miles without seeing another car. Our first stop was the Mareeba Wetlands. It seemed kind of a long drive down the road (which is just before the town of Mareeba if you’re coming from Port Douglas), even though it’s only four miles. That’s probably because I had to coddle a wimpy little Corolla down a graveled road that our Subaru would eat for breakfast. There’s a visitors center, and you have to pay an entry fee. But that gets you water, maps, bathrooms and a friendly staff!
The walking itself was pretty easy. There was a lot of grassland, plus a few lagoons. We were out there for hours, and we saw a lot of smaller termite mounds, but we also ran into a few clusters of kangaroos!. They’re so fast, and it’s almost like they’re invisible. Seen from a distance, they almost look like a termite mound … until they start running.
Next up was The Coffee Works. Sarah and I decided not to take the tour since we didn’t see a point in throwing down $25 a person – we’ve been to Costa Rica, and we know how coffee works. We were more interested in getting stuff to take home to other people who like coffee – and for ourselves! The Highland Pearls were our favorite. And they make some mean desserts there, too … but stay away from those dreaded ANZAC cookies. Not just here, but anywhere!
Throughout this whole day, there was intermittent rain. One hour, the sun is shining. Then, it’s pissing down. Kind of nice, really, and we were prepared.
At Mareeba, it was sunny. By the time we got to Atherton, it was pissing down! We stopped at a few places like The Crystal Cavern…it’s a gem store with a fake cave. Totally not really worth the visit. But I got a cool Qantas Wallabies shirt and had a great talk with the store staff about the State of Origins series. I was really starting to get this whole rugby thing!
From there, we decided to push onto Yungaburra, where Sarah had scored a room for the night at On The Wallaby. Now, this is a somewhat drafty and super-chummy but ridiculously cute backpackers hostel. It ain’t quiet, cute or luxurious. But I defy you to not have fun there. Yeah, you’ll have to bundle up hardcore in the cool weather, and you can’t lock your room and thus can’t leave your valuables in there.
But you can hold a rather docile, even friendly snake and get great directions to everything.
The first place we wanted to see was the viewing area for the platypuses. They come out at dusk, so you have a narrow opportunity to see one. We crept around the creek for about 30 minutes before spotting one, and each glimpse was fleeting: There was a lot of foliage in the way, and we were expecting something the size of a beaver … but no! The platypus is really a rather small creature, no bigger than a chihuahua! We also saw a tree kangaroo, but it was too dark by this time to get a good photo. So, then … back to the hostel!
By the way of the Wild Mountain Cellar and Distillery, of course. They make a rather fine selection of wines there, but the standout was The Ruins, a wonderful port that is nearly life-altering. Apparently, the grapes were growing when there was a huge bush fire. The smoke permeated the grapes, and you can taste it in the port. It has a very heavy alcohol smell, and you wouldn’t think it would be good. But it’s actually really spectacular. The label is also great … the tagline for the distillery is “The True Taste of the Australian Bush.” We still giggle a lot over that. We took a bottle of that home and shared it with some of our friends.
Afterward, we ambled to a local jeweler that was next door. They did amazing work with opal. Sarah picked up a really awesome pair of opal earrings. I wish I could remember the name of the place; the good news is, you can find it just a few steps away from the Wild Mountain Cellar and Distillery.
We were kind of in a pickle about dinner after that. There’s really not much in Yungaburra, so we decided to join the rest of the backpackers for the communal (and cheap) hostel dinner. Pretty healthy stuff … lots of vegetables, some steak, mashed potatoes – everything you need!
It was plenty chilly, so I decided to shower in the morning. We closed every possible window in our room and dove under the blankets.