TROPICAL WITH A TWIST
Underneath the lush bush and flowing waterfalls of the Atherton Tablelands lies a quirky region with a lot of history!
WORDS BY BOB BOWERS, PHOTOGRAPHY BY BOB AND PHYLLIS BOWERS
Atherton Tabelands – where to start? Atherton Tablelands Tourism describe it as “Lush rolling hills, vast green fields, abundant wildlife, rugged bushland, tropical waterfalls, impressive lakes, rich history and friendly hospitality.” Covering several hundred square kilometres between 500 and 1000 metres above sea level there is a lot to take in. A few days won’t scratch the surface, a few weeks, just enough. Many come for months. No wonder!
As Phyllis and I had just spent time exploring Cape Tribulation our plan of attack was to come up the range from Mossman to Mareeba, gradually move south and descend along the Palmerson Highway to Innisfail. Along the way, as well as visiting the iconic destinations, we sought out many lesser visited, spectacular and unique places.
After a visit to the Golden Drop Mango Winery, one of many wineries, we set up camp at the low cost Mareeba Rodeo Grounds. First impression was that we had driven into an RV convention. More than 120 rigs occupied the grounds. Mareeba, once a major tobacco producer is now a coffee epicentre. The Mareeba Information Centre is a must to get the local ‘low down’. Inside there is an added bonus – access to the new Mareeba Heritage Museum is free! There’s more than an acre of excellent displays including aboriginal history, early settlement, WWI, health, education, transport and local industries including the tobacco industry. Interactive displays and many whimsical touches add to the interest and intrigue.
East of Mareeba along the Kennedy Highway is Emerald Creek Falls, Emerald Creek Ice-Creamery, Davis Creek Falls and Kuranda. Both falls are accessed along several kilometres of gravel road off the highway and have picnic facilities, spectacular falls lookouts and safe swimming. The icecreamery serves up exotic flavoured creamy ice-cream. This is the way icecream should taste. Not ice-cream but ice-CREAM. The quaint village shops and markets of Kuranda, approximately 37km from Mareeba, are a magnet for hoards of tourists. Twelve kilometres west of Mareeba along Chewko Road is Granite Gorge – a brilliant little gem in the Tableland’s crown. The best way to be immersed in its ambience is to camp in the parks’ bush style camping ground with communal camp kitchens and campfire area. Best of all, the camping fee includes entry to the awesome gorge walks and swimming areas. There is nothing else like it on the Tablelands. The massive weird shaped granite boulders, sparkling little creeks, dinosaur foot prints and the adorably tiny Mareeba Rock Wallabies captivate for hours. Day done! Back at camp, relax around a glowing campfire.
Our next town destination was Atherton via the Danbulla Drive, around Lake Tinaroo then through Yungaburra. Our camp at the Kauri Creek Camping Area was only metres from the lake. It is a beautiful, grassy and tranquil spot to relax. Most come for the fishing but it is ideal for canoeing or kayaking, short walks and swimming. A steep longer walk, Kauri Creek Circuit, takes about three hours, requiring good fitness and wading across creeks. Before Yungaburra are two icons of the Tablelands: Lake Barrine and Lake Eacham. These pristine blue volcanic lakes are a tourist magnet. The 1890s village of Yungaburra with a “cooler than Cairns” slogan has 18 heritage listed buildings and is the largest National Trust village in Queensland. Historic shopfronts line the lanes, charming cafes invite, while arts and craft galleries impress visitors who stroll the footpaths, browsing for something different.
At Atherton there’re many attractions but, for us, The Crystal Caves was the most interesting and there is no need to do their advertised tour to be dazzled. The large selection of fossils, gems, crystals and unique jewellery in the shop is a tour in its self. They specialise in the sparkling purple beauty of natures amethysts. Brilliant!
West now to Herberton for a history lesson and ‘time travel’ into the late 1800s. We set up at the Wild River Caravan Park. There’s no other park like it anywhere! It’s delightfully quirky. Get this! It has; a full size Indian tee pee and totem poles; a galvanized cabin with half a car with a potato sack seat through the wall; a Punch and Judy theatre; a large carved finger sign; two empty railway carriages; strangely carved chairs and the dump point is a real porcelain loo!
The main attraction at Herberton is the Historic Village. Tickets last for three days. We had to go back a second time to take in everything. It is world class! All of the fifty or so buildings, except for the Tin Pannikin Pub, are from Herberton’s foundation years. Walking through, visitors are given a sense of being in a real township with completely stocked chemist, garage, school, bank, grocery store, printery, frock saloon, toy shop and much more. A suspension bridge across the river goes to a mining camp, tractor restoration, sawmill and railway siding. Every Sunday between 10am and 3pm the Tinlander Train runs the four kilometres from Herberton Railway Station through a tunnel, across a high timber bridge to the Heritage Village siding, then back. This delightful little train shouldn’t be missed.
Our next destination was Malanda via Mt Hypipamee National Parks’ Dinner Falls and The Crater. The Crater is viewed from a platform that looks down the sheer granite walls to the algae covered water 60m below. The floor of the crater is a further 60m below the water surface. This place is really eerie, even ‘spooky,’ when there are misty overcast conditions. The Malanda Caravan Park is set adjacent to the Malanda Falls and swimming hole. The Malanda area is where kangaroos climb trees and is a primary dairy and tea producing district. Every visitor wants to see a cute dark face of the Lumholtz’s Tree Kangaroo in the wild but they are difficult to spot high in the tree canopy. We heard on the grape vine that if we went to the Nerada Tea Plantation Visitor Centre there would be an excellent chance to spot one. They live in the trees that line the perimeter. With lots of visitors’ eyes, once one person finds one everybody knows. Sure enough there was one right next to the visitor centre curled up on a branch. Phyllis and I were stoked!
MILLAA MILLAA AND HENRIETTA CREEK
Time to relocate further south at Millaa Millaa which is aboriginal for ‘plenty water’. There are six falls within 10km radius. The three most visited are along a 15km circuit just east. Two of the most picturesque on the Tablelands are here – Millaa Millaa Falls, the most photographed rainforest falls in Australia and Ellinjaa Falls. While at Millaa Millaa we decided to drive west to Ravenshoe, Queensland’s highest town (930m) for the day. In 2000 a wind farm was established on Windy Hill to generate power for 3500 homes. Nearby is Millstream Falls said to be the widest single drop falls in Australia. During WWII battalion campsites were constructed here for 1000 men.
Our final destination before Innisfail was the Henrietta Creek Campground on the Palmerson Highway in the Wooroonooran National Park, located 22km from Millaa Millaa, for our last fix of four more waterfalls and a hike down to North Johnstone River. On the way we detoured along Brookes Road to the Mungalli Creek Bio-Dynamic Dairy for some fabulous award winning yoghurt. This small dairy produces some of the finest Biodynamic dairy products in Australia including cheeses, milk and yoghurt. Yum!
Planning a northern escape? Come on up to Atherton Tablelands. It’s “cooler than Cairns”, “pretty as a picture” and deserves a stay of weeks not days. As we found out, there are a lot more fascinating destinations up there than the usual tourist haunts and the Tablelands icons.