To me, a tropical beach has always meant somewhere to laze about in a bikini, stirring only occasionally to splash in the water or to reach into my bag for a snack. This morning though, the stretch of Cooya Beach on which I’m standing with a group of other eager visitors is a hunting ground and if we don’t learn how to hit a stationary coconut with a bamboo spear we won’t be eating anything – snack-sized or otherwise.
It might sound like an episode of Survivor, but spear practice marks the beginning of the Kuku Yalanji Coastal Beach and Mangrove Walk, led by Linc Walker, a Kuku Yalanji Bama man whose father’s family has lived in the area for generations.
The availability of the tours, led by Linc and his brother Brandon, depends on tides and seasons. Their main aim is to introduce visitors to the beach, mangrove and coastal ecosystems of the region, which is nestled between the resorts of Port Douglas and the World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest.
Spears aloft and alert, we wade through water so warm it could be a natural spa. Ahead of us, Linc suddenly reaches into the water for a tiny puffer fish so calm it doesn’t bother with the usual defensive move of inflating itself.
“They’ve got quite used to us out here,” says Linc, holding it out for us to see before releasing it. The fish swims languidly on the spot as if to prove his point, even letting me pat it before we move on.
Less adorable is the stingray one of the men on the tour manages to spear. Linc holds it in the water, carefully removing the lethal barb in its tail before setting it free. “Steve Irwin was killed by one of these not far from here,” he reminds us, adding that we should try to make a bit of noise so that stingrays will get out of our way.
Mud crabs are a different kettle of fish, so to speak. Any splashing on our part sends them scuttling under clouds of sand and seaweed.
“Looks like you’ll have to be a vegetarian today,” Linc jokes as my I miss yet another one despite frantic dance moves to try to spear it without stabbing my own feet.
Fortunately, other holidaymakers are better co-ordinated, and by the end of the two-hour walk Linc is carrying a bucket full of the crabs.
Back at his mum’s house, we’re treated to freshly baked damper and muffins before hoeing into the catch of the day. As we crack the boiled crab shells and bite into their dense flesh flavoured with chilli and vinegar, Linc continues his show-and-tell session with the aid of tusks, shells, seedpods and carapaces strewn across a table.
He adds the stingray barb to the collection, explaining that it is used in traditional spears.
Given today’s performance, I don’t think I’m ready to use one of those just yet but I’ll certainly be back to try catching lunch next time I’m in this very special part of our country.
● Coastal Beach & Mangrove Walk. Cost: Adults $75, children 4-14 $45. Visit: kycht.com.au
Got an appetite for adventure? Try these Port Douglas day trips:
Cape Trib Farms \ If you haven’t tried sapote, soursop or sapodilla, head to the exotic fruit-tasting at this farm on the edge of the Daintree.
Jungle Surfing \ Fly through the trees with the greatest of ease in the world’s oldest rainforest on this zip-lining tour.
Green Island \ Snorkel with sea turtles or simply soak up the sun on this tiny coral cay in the Great Barrier Reef.
Leeyong Soo was a guest of Thala Beach Lodge (thalabeach.com.au) and The Pullman Reef Hotel Casino (pullmanhotels.com).