Atherton and Cairns

28th April – 7th May

We leave ‘the West’ now for the Atherton Tableland, but not before a dip in the hot mineral waters of Innot Springs. The water leaves the ground here at around 75°C. At the park there are 6 pools each with a controlled temperature ranging from cool to so hot just a few minutes in it is long enough! We moved between two medium temperature pools having a lovely rejuvenating soak.

With wrinkly skin we left the pools to view Millstream Falls about 30km up the road. These falls are the widest single-drop falls in Australia, flowing over the end of a basalt lava flow. A walk from the car park winds down to a viewing platform where, due to the big wet season the area has experienced, the falls are spectacular. 

Millstream Falls, Atherton Tablelands

We pass through Ravenshoe, the highest town on the Tableland to stay the night at a caravan park in Herberton. Herberton has a truly wonderful Historic Village where we spent several hours the next day. I’m not a great fan of these historic displays, but this one is not to be missed! 

Herberton Historical Village. School room. Don’t know that I’d do particularly well on this test.

The countryside has changed so much within the space of a day’s drive. From the eucalypt woodland savanna we’re now in full tropical rainforests, lush rolling hills with grass so high the cattle are nearly hidden and the most beautiful tropical plants – and it’s a lot cooler. Lake Barrine is one of two crater lakes, on the Tableland, Lake Eacham being the other. These two lakes were formed around 10 – 17,000 years ago when the earth’s magma contacted the ground water creating steam which blew the top off forming a crater which subsequently filled with water.
We’d planned to kayak around Barrine, but the weather is still a bit rainy at times and lovely and cool now, so instead we walked around them both, and may have had a coffee and something sticky to eat at the Tea House on Lake Barrine.

If it weren’t so windy we’d have kayaked around. Steve, on the walk around Lake Barrine.

We spent two nights at the Lakeside Caravan Park on Lake Tinnaroo and took the time to drive around visiting local attractions such as Nerada Tea Plantation, Gallo Dairy and Chocolate shop and the delightful town of Yungaburra.

Enjoying the perfect cuppa at the Nerada Tea plantation.

However being the beginning of a long weekend and Lake Tinnaroo being a favourite for the local water skiers, jet ski owners and just generally noisy boats, we were pleased to leave.

Our campsite on the banks of Lake Tinnaroo. Temporarily quiet, until tomorrow!

1st May: We descended to the coast via the Gillies Highway, a Highway famous for its 263 corners and 800m elevation change in just 19km. It was built in 1925 and I’m rather proud to say my grandfather was one of the surveyors for this road. The scenery was absolutely spectacular, unfortunately the lookouts were all on the ascending side of the road making it a bit dangerous for us to pull over to take our time enjoying it. 

Babinda Boulders is our destination today, but first the highly rated Josephine Falls near Mt Bartle Frere. In ‘usual’ conditions these falls provide an ideal natural waterslide – way too much water at the moment though.

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Enjoying the spectacular Josephine Falls

The Babinda Creek is a fast-flowing creek that winds its way through huge boulders forming large pools ideal for swimming. Still a bit overcast and cool for swimming but I did wade in and enjoy the refreshing waters here.

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Very beautiful, but very dangerous for swimming, at Babinda Boulders

There’s a nice-looking free camp here, but we decide to go back to Babinda where there’s a large free camp beside the river. Most memorable about this campsite is the rooster that crowed the wake-up alarm right outside my window from 4.45am for at least half an hour. I dare say I’m not the only camper who had visions of roast chicken!

2nd – 4th May: We’re now having a holiday in the middle of our trip – three nights at the Doubletree Hilton in Cairns! The hotel is fabulous, particularly the beautiful atrium with a pond with barramundi that swim through lush tropical plants. We are both impressed with Cairns – the Council has done a marvellous job with tropical plants everywhere, an excellent walkway/cycle way the length of the foreshore with sculptures, parks, impressive playgrounds and exercise stations and a beautiful swimming lagoon.

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The beautiful pool area on the Cairns Esplanade

On our last day we rode our bikes to the Botanic Gardens where the local and exotic tropical plants stunned us with their lushness and colours and variety. It’s such a large Gardens we’re pleased we rode our bikes, covering several kilometres within the gardens to visit all the areas.

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The amazing plants at the Cairns Botanic Gardens

We also had dinner with Philippa and Andrew, new friends we first met at Boodjamulla, then again in Karumba. And when we weren’t doing all these activities we swam in the hotel pool and spa, lazed poolside reading, or had a few drinks at the outdoor bar and restaurant. 

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Enjoying sundowners at the cafe at Doubletree Hilton

5-7th May

We return to Atherton Tableland this time via the Kuranda Highway. On previous visits we’ve come up to Kuranda on the cable car and the train – both highly recommended, but this is the first time we’ve driven. Not quite as spectacular, but still a fabulous drive. 

Barron Falls – a spectacular waterfall near Kuranda

Kuranda … disappointing .. lots of shops closed and the feel was mass-produced tourist trinkets. After wandering around for a while, trying to give the place a chance, we drove out to Barron Falls Lookout. Wow those falls are amazing. A kilometre-long walkway took us to a couple of lookouts over the falls and down the range to the coast. Interestingly the river above the falls was dammed for hydroelectricity for a while in the early 20th century. 

A view down the valley, taken on our Barron Falls walk

Moving on from here our campsite tonight turned out to be one of the best we’ve ever stayed in! Upper Davies Creek campsite in Dinden NP, site#2. We seemed to climb a long way on an unsealed road before reaching the campsite, but 4×4 only needed at the very end to get into the campsite. The next nearest camp was a long way away (and no one there anyway). The creek came down a small waterfall then over rapids before forming a large pool right beside where we were camped, leaving the pool via more rapids. It was stunningly beautiful.

I swear this has to be the best campsite ever. Upper Davies Creek

A thoughtful previous camper left wood beside the fire pit where we cooked our dinner. Swimming was chilly and did involve a lot of resolve to fully submerge. Unfortunately we’d only booked one night here, but we stayed until quite late in the afternoon making the most of it before leaving. 

Enjoying a swim at Upper Davies Creek – our own private slice of heaven

Speewah campsite in Barron Gorge NP was also lovely – only 3 campsites, each on a well-formed pad with large grassy areas and a patch of natural bush between each site. On our first full day we set off to do some walking. Phew … that was more than we’d bargained for. The walk was through thick rainforest which was magnificent and a treat to be immersed in.

Beautiful rainforest walking at Speewah NP

However it has rained a lot here recently and in quite a few places the track was in very poor repair, with many fallen trees and their multiple branches to scramble through. In one section a wide fire trail we were following was so badly washed out and eroded it’d be impossible to drive on it. There were 5 water crossings, two where we needed to wade through, rather than rock-hop over.

And yet another water crossing on the Speewah walk

But of greatest difficulty were the many steep ascents and descents, not short ones either! Along the way Steve managed to pick up a few leeches and get caught in lawyer vine enough to draw blood, and I came face-to-face with many golden orb spiders whose massive sticky webs were built right across the track. These spiders from toe to toe would have been as big as my hand.

One of many giant Golden Orb spiders that formed their webs right across the track.

Our GPS told us we walked for 5.5 hours over 18km – I don’t know it was that far, but it was a tough walk however far it was. A chilly shower on return restored feeling to weary bodies! 

Home to Mt Isa

March 29th – April 13th

Well that wasn’t my most favourite departure. We’d not intended to leave for another week, however with the possibility of a COVID lockdown looming we decided to leave early, and not as well prepared as we’d hoped to be. It’s easy to self-isolate in a motorhome and to continue to follow the isolation rules.  Got away about 2pm, travelling only about 90km, up to the free camp at Kilcoy. Tuesday 30th we stopped for lunch in Kingaroy and a brisk walk along the rail trail before lodging for the night at Cerotodus, a lovely free camp near Monto where the old railway building and switching points provide an insight into travel as it was done. This is also the home of several free-range roosters who take their morning alarm duties seriously.

A beautiful campsite at the old Cerotodus railway station, beside the Burnett River

Wednesday 31st begins our new adventure in earnest, or so I thought, as we camp at Munall Campground at Blackdown National Park. A beautiful flat road through rolling green hills with cattle, emus, brolgas and kangaroos doesn’t prepare you for the very steep, winding ascent of Blackdown Range.

Blackdown National Park looms in front of us.

The views for the passenger are spectacular looking down over the cliff edges, but the driver who dares not shift his gaze sees nothing but a narrow, steep, twisting gravel road in the best parts, a little bitumen added to the worst parts. 

A narrow, winding road took us up the mountain to Blackdown NP

We paused at the top to take in the view from Yaddamen Dhina and do the 4km walk to the gorgeous waterfalls at Goodela.

Magnificent views down the valley from Yaddamen Dhina, Blackdown NP

Small falls tumble into a pretty pool that continues downward over smoothe rocks and then into oblivion.

The small pool was enticing for a swim, but it’s after 4 now and we’ve yet to cover the 8 unsealed kilometres to our campsite. 

Thursday 1st – 4th April. Not an April Fools Day joke, unfortunately. Steve spent a sleepless night coughing, and woke with a sore throat. In view of having Covid-19 in our home area before we left we decided we should get tested, so down the mountain we drove. The small town of Blackwater was the nearest place offering this service, but not till 3pm. Blackwater is OK – it’s known as the Coal Capital of Queensland and has an apparently world class mining museum to see – not that we saw it, being responsible citizens we were self-isolating. 

After the swabs were taken we drove on to the free camp in Emerald, between the railway line and the highway(!), but right beside their magnificent Botanical Gardens. Nothing to report now for 3 days as we continued to self-isolate until we finally got the all-clear on Easter Sunday afternoon! (No photos – we didn’t do anything!)

Free to travel at last we headed to the caravan park at Alpha. But first a break at Bogantungan. The name derives from the aboriginal words “bogan” meaning grass and “tungan” meaning tree.

In February 1960 Bogantungun was the site of the Medway Train Disaster, one of Queensland’s worst train accidents. As the train passed over the flooded Medway Creek just west of town the bridge collapsed. 4 passengers and 3 crew were killed, with 43 injured.

Alpha is known for its murals and its fossilised wood sculptures. And also a bull sculpture made out of barbed wire. All were very good. 

The magnificent barbed wire bull at Alpha.

At Barcaldine we viewed the left-wing Tree of Knowledge (again), then the architecture of the right-wing Masonic Hall. Built in 1901 of timber and corrugated iron, they ‘did up’ the facade to replicate stone-work. 

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The iconic Masonic Hall at Barcaldine. Built in 1901 is iron-clad with an imitation-stone front wall. it was decorated to appear as if it were made of stone blocks, and adorned with columns, friezes, semi circular windows and a porch.

We also spent a little time reading about the Great Shearer’s Strike of 1891. There’s a very good display and sculptures explaining the reason for it and the outcome.

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5th – 7th April. Apparently it rained a lot at Lara Wetlands last night. Oblivious to this we drove in over 13km of flooded dirt roads. It was still water, so not dangerous. Two vans came in after us before they closed the road to entry.

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The road in to Lara Wetland – bit wet!

We’re here for 3 nights – by our last day we were the only campers. So peaceful for a normally very popular camp.

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Our campsite at a very quiet Lara Wetland

Lara Wetland is a large shallow lake fed by a century-old artesian bore on a 15,000 acre working cattle station. The starkly white dead ghost gums in the lake provide homes and hunting vantage spots for the many, many birds that live here. 

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Lara Wetland, from the kayak.

Kayaking, soaking in the hot artesian pool, walking, birdwatching and relaxing filled our days. 

Steve soaking in the artesian pool at Lara Wetland.
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Brolgas at Lara Wetland – can you see the chicks?

8th – 9th April Leaving Lara Wetland today the road is now open, though there’s still water over the road and it’s been cut up quite a bit by the departing vehicles. We headed north to Aramac where the chap at the Council told us a section of the unsealed road on the 200km long Lake Dunn Sculpture Trail is closed. No problem, it’s a circuit so we went the opposite direction. 

The Sculpture Trail sculptures, 40 of them with more being added, have all been created out of junk by a local artist, Milynda Rogers. We stopped at each sculpture, some very good, others OK.

Lake Dunn Sculptures

This western section of the trail is a sealed road through rich grasslands where the cattle are chubby and we had to pause to allow emus and kangaroos to cross the road. Tonight we’re camped about half way around the sculpture circuit at Lake Dunn, a large lake where fishing, water skiing and birdwatching are the main activities. Not a favourite camp – too busy with camp spots alongside the road. 

Stockman and dog. Lake Dunn Sculptures

Rumour amongst the campers has the unsealed remaining sections of the road open now so we left very early to complete the sculpture trail. As well as the sculptures on the trail there’s a Healing Circle, apparently joined spiritually to only 5 other places around the world, and interesting history at Gray Stones where passengers from the Cobb and Co coaches running in the late 19th and early 20th centuries carved their names into the sandstone when they paused here for a rest. 

Names scratched into the sandstone go back to the late 1800s from the Cobb and Co passengers. Lake Dunn Sculptures

At Alice Ck water covered a good 100m of the road, reaching to Steve’s knee height at its deepest. As the surface was firm we drove on through without a problem. 

9th – 10th April: Porcupine Gorge, north of Hughenden, is our destination tonight. It was a very long drive through very flat, lush grasslands. One 25km section between Aramac and Torrens Creek was unsealed – a very rough, corrugated section! 

The Porcupine River has formed a long, deep gorge through this flat country which is now protected by the national park. We’re camped at the Pyramid campground for two nights allowing us to do some walking in the gorge. It’s quite a steep track down roughly-made stone steps to the bottom of the Gorge, followed, of course, by the corresponding climb up the track in what is now very hot weather. Many of our fellow campers balked at going down. However with the promise of a swim in the cool refreshing waters of the river we headed down. The swim was delightful.

Enjoying a well-deserved swim in Porcupine Gorge.

Late afternoon, near sunset when the heat had gone out of the day, we walked along the ridge to see the length of the gorge from above. 

The Gorge. Porcupine Gorge.

11th April Julia Creek (Happy wedding anniversary Laura and Stu)

Pat and Dick gave us a ‘heads up’ to book ASAP for the sunset time slot for the ‘artesian baths’ at the Julia Creek CP – a difficult task as the CP wouldn’t answer their phone. Anyway we did score the last booking and had a lovely hour or so soaking in the baths, snacking on our grazing platter and sipping sparkling wine. 

Enjoying the view, a soak and a wee drop or two. Julia Creek

12th April (our 46th wedding anniversary)

First stop today was Cloncurry where we had a cuppa at the painted water tower overlooking town, then stopped to view the Burke and Wills plaque showing where they passed through on their south to north exploration. A little further along a memorial to our First Australians was quite poignant – too poignant for some as it had been defaced.

Our campsite for tonight is the abandoned site of Mary Kathleen. Mary Kathleen was an architect-designed ‘model’ town with homes, a post office, cinema, sports ovals, a school, banks and a community store built in 1956 to service a uranium mine. When mining finally finished in 1982 the infrastructure of the town was completely removed and the mine site rehabilitated. Nothing remains here now except the cement slabs of the buildings, the mine tailings and a huge hole in the ground half-filled with water.

Our campsite at the ghost town of Mary Kathleen. We’re camped on the slab that used to be the Post Office.

Camping is free and was quite pleasant – a dry stream bed lined with beautiful ghost gums cast lots of shade as did the trees planted around the town, while contented cows wandered freely keeping the grass trimmed.

A beautiful, quiet evening at Mary Kathleen

We drove over a really terrible road up to look at the view from the hill above, but had had enough of dodging huge potholes and rocks to bother going on to see the mine site some 6km from town. 

Still heading west we stopped at Mt Isa for fuel and to restock the larder before the next stage of our big adventure.