QLD 2023, 26 May – 1 June: Atherton Tablelands (2)

Friday 26
It’s a lovely day, and Jen drops Arno at the Atherton golf course, and continues into the town to spend some time shopping and to visit a few art galleries; one of the local ‘Thursday Artists’, and another of an indigenous artist expressing his super colourful story of the Seven Sisters. The Seven Sisters are the cone-shaped mountains also called The Pinnacles of the Atherton Tablelands, near Yungaburra.

We meet up and enjoy a great lunch at a café called Gallery 5 in Atherton.

Saturday 27
Today is, as predicted, a sunny day and our planned rail trail bike tour day.  We do a quick load of washing to hang out before we head out with bikes on the car. The trail we plan on riding runs from Atherton north, via Tolga to Walkarnin.

It starts (for us at least) at the southern end of town, near the ‘Platypus Park’.  There is also the old Post Office Museum, and Chinatown and a Chinese Temple, but both are closed on Saturday.

However, we have coffee in a converted old (with open sides) train-carriage, part of a lovely café on the creek with a playground for the kids, and a bridge over the creek where platypuses either live, feed, or play, given the name of the park.

It’s a nice day, and we enjoy the trail along the Piebold Creek, and just north of Atherton along the paddocks. Unfortunately, after only 9km, just past Tolga, Jen gets a flat tire; and Arno returns back to get the car.

Jen walks back to Tolga’s old train station converted into museum and discovers that (aside from being a huge maize and peanuts farming) area, it was incredibly important during WWII.   It was ideal for jungle warfare training and recuperating as well as being close (via the extensive train network) to battlefronts (fighting the Japanese in the Pacific).

Rocky Creek near Tolga housed the largest military medical facilities in the southern hemisphere and was staffed with around 2000 nurses from around Australia.  There were around 2400 beds to accommodate all the wounded/sick (eg malaria from PNG) soldiers, some 30,000 patients were treated between 1942 and 1945.

Back at the camp, Arno fixes the tyre, and washes the bikes, even though they didn’t get much of a workout!

Jen makes use of the sun and breeze to do another load of laundry, and a last bit of shopping in Atherton.

Extremely pleased with our little washing machine as we haven’t had to use a camp machine at all.  This means never having to think about having coins for commercial machines, waiting around for one to be available, or for the machine to finish.  It’s a real luxury, which we never would have included in a specifically ordered van – we were just lucky this one already had one fitted as ordered by the dealer.

Out in the sunshine, Jen finally manages to upload the pictures to the blog that was ready for publication on Thursday night, but given the weak phone reception, it hadn’t been possible till now.

In the late afternoon we pack up as everything beautifully dry as we are leaving this place we’ve called home for the past 9 days.

As planned, we set off on Sunday mid-morning, and stop once again in Atherton to pick up a few forgotten items, we top up the fuel and drive a quiet stretch called Channel Road, that runs right along a manmade canal on the western side of the mountain range.  Atop of the mountains we pass a fairly large wind turbine (approximately 25) farm.  Once we turn west onto the main road connecting the tablelands to the outback, we once again are in sugarcane country.  We also encounter some white fluff along the side of the road, which we learnt last year is cotton.  We haven’t heard about that being grown here but as we head further west we also notice a lot of ant hills along the roadside again too, and the vegetation is quite different from the lush green Atherton tablelands.  We see fruit orchards (some mango, citrus).

We drive a few hours to get to the tiny (population 45 or so) town of Almaden and set up camp at our pre-booked(!) Caravan Park where there is only one other guest, who has been there for the past 12 months.  We have the pick of the lots obviously, and we end up poolside 😉 Jen has a swim as it’s a warm day (around 29 degrees), even though the locals don’t enter pool water after 1 May, claiming it too cold.  We do feel the drop in temperature as we sit around a fire from 4.30pm for a while, and chat with the caretakers and the permanent guest. We are told that that this morning it was 10 degrees at 5am, and we are fully prepared for night, as Jen has the extra blankets on standby.

It does not get as cold as the day before, but still definitely winter temperatures at around 12 degrees the next morning around 6am.

Monday 29
Arno prepares his camera and walking gear to head out for the last half hour drive to Chillagoe to do some cave tours.  Not being a fan of enclosed spaces, Jen stays behind, and does some laundry, yoga, and cuts the panels for the window dressing (ie fake curtains) she wants to make for the van with the material purchased on Friday in Atherton. 

She then grabs the bike to explore the town, and to have lunch at the local pub.  This turns out to be a bit of a joke, as the town is literally 200m around the bend, and consists of a pub, and a railway station, with not one person, bike or car in sight.  So she meets the one and only person (the publican) and to support the town at least a bit, she has a beer with all her non-existent friends.  It is a lovely sunny day, and the beer garden is pretty with lush, green planted palm trees and hanging and planted ferns.  She has a bit of a chat with the owner of the pub, who explains that the train comes once a week on a Wednesday from Cairns on its way to Forsayth.  The tourists disembark here in Almaden to either stay overnight (at pub or caravan park) and continue on the waiting train or stay a few more nights and hop on back on when it returns on Saturday. I am guessing Wednesday nights this town is pumping 😉.  The pub is literally across the street from the old little station.

Arno returns later very satisfied and happy with his day and with the photos he shot of the different caves, they definitely have been worth this side trip into the outback.

We close the day again around the fire, and today with a beautiful sunset.  Tomorrow we will return to the Tablelands, and then continue north.

Tuesday 30
We head back the way we came, but instead of returning south toward Atherton, we continue east and then north towards Mareeba, where we have a stop.  This town is one of the larger in the Atherton Tablelands and quite spread out.  We visit the tourist information centre which, apart from supplying local information, it also houses a large cultural heritage museum and café.  Jen wants to do the museum and pays the $5 entry and Arno decides to have a coffee at the café and wait for Jen.  He ends up having to pay entry as he cannot access the café without going through the museum, so that is an expensive coffee he has!

The museum is very interesting and includes the huge thriving tobacco growing industry here.  Never knew how huge the tobacco leaves are, and how they are cured, or the labour required for all this!  But most of all, it is almost unfathomable to know how important this all was, given what we now know about the dangers of smoking. 

Coffee too, is a big business in the region, and still a thriving one.  The museum also has a great video of the building/operation of the Tinaroo dam and interviews with many people who were/are involved with the workings of it.  It was built in the 1950s to dam the Barron River for (tobacco) irrigation and to supplement the Barron Gorge Hydro Electricity station.  A few towns were flooded during the build, and Kulara was the last town to go. All the residents were relocated to Yungabarra and other surrounding towns.

Some dam statistics that would have belonged in our previous blog when we visited the spill 10 days ago:

The concrete wall is 42 metres high and 533 metres long. The maximum water depth is 41.8 metres. The volume is approximately 75% of the Sydney harbour.

We proceed to the ‘coffee works’.  Apart from being a chain of shops everything relating to coffee, the Mareeba ‘coffee works’ seems to be its flagship and has a museum attached.  Most of the collectibles on display once belonged to a passionate coffee connoisseur and collector of global coffee matters.  These were gifted by him to the couple who started this museum to complement their collection.  It is truly an incredible assortment of very old to reasonably new pots, grinders, machines, percolators and coffee cultures from countries all around the world; and anything else that could be slightly connected to coffee. We spent a great hour enjoying this exhibition and the videos presented with humour.

On we move to the next stop, just north of Mareeba, as we follow the mango orchards…   We have a mango wine tasting and love the dessert wine.  Interesting that as long as there is plenty of alcohol, any fruit can be used to create wine…!

We arrive at a tiny (almost) roadside caravan park high in the mountains, about 13km as the crow flies to the coast.. Our van is too wide to fit in the first spot, so we move to the next.  We plan on staying here for 3 nights as rain is forecast for the next day and we want to have at least one good day.

Wed 31 May
It is dry when we awake, and we set off to Port Douglas, half an hour away.  Arno is prepared to have a round of golf, and Jen wants to spend the day just wandering around the town, with its many boutiques and cafes and waterfronts (one side beach, the other park).

Arno can get in at The Mirage Country Club where he is expected to do his 18 holes within a certain time, and therefore must take a buggy (something he generally doesn’t rent, as he likes to get his steps in).

The weather is perfect.  Jen hits Tommy Bahama up first and then all other shops to find gifts for the grandkids (this time bikinis are on the wish list and of course always toys for Zac) as well as an early or late birthday present for Sam.

After golf we head back to Tommy Bahama for Arno this time 😉.  We enjoy the waterfronts, and an early dinner at a restaurant overlooking the water and sunset colours.

Thursday 1 June
It is raining today but we have booked the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway which departs just north of Cairns, about an hour’s drive.  We get there just on 9am.

The cable car stops high up into the mountains first for a nice short boardwalk in the rain forest and also to change onto the next track to go further up.  We have booked a ‘diamond view’ ticket, which means we get a car that has a glass bottom.  It is really nice, however the glass has been scratched quite a bit, so not suitable for pictures straight down.

We ‘fly’ over the Barron Falls, which are truly spectacular and the view unbelievable! At the stop, the staff member asks if we want to get out, but she does admit the view we just had really was perfect, especially since the Tinaroo Dam has just spilt (as we witnessed!!) and hence created the enormous waterflow.  We opt to keep going; we can still do it on the return if we have sufficient time.  We head to Kuranda, the famous hippie-ish town in FQN.  We then spend a good few hours here wandering around the historic markets (closed in the 80s), the newer markets, and all street shops.  We have lunch in one of the pubs, and Arno heads back to stop off to do the walk to the view from land of the Barron Falls.  Jen visits a few more shops before heading back in the cable car where Arno joins up again on the way back to the car.

On the drive home we make a stop at Palm Cove and have a drink on one of the (very few open!) terraces, along the esplanade lined with only Palm trees. We’ve had a great day, and the weather was perfect for this outing, our last day on the Far North Queensland coast.  We anticipate the next time we see the ocean to be in Townsville in a few weeks’ time.

Port Douglas Golf Course (stay away from the water…crocs about)
Port Douglas
Port Douglas
5 Mile beach (Rex lookout) south of Port Douglas
Skyrail to Kuranda
Barron falls from Cable car
Barron Falls
Above the Barron River
Barron River
Palm Cove

Area explored in this post (zoom out to see location in relation to Sydney): https://goo.gl/maps/d2sUQiRKRrXuLBA49

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One thought on “QLD 2023, 26 May – 1 June: Atherton Tablelands (2)

  1. Geweldig genieten is dat voor jullie en wij achterblijvers genieten mee
    Mooie foto’s, zeker die van de grotten zijn prachtig
    Geniet verder van je reis, ik kijk uit naar.het verslag
    Groetjes Ton

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