Wanting to explore historic Cooktown to the north of Cairns, we drive via the scenic 33km off-road Bloomfield Track through the pristine Daintree forest. The track was the scene of major confrontation with conservationists in the 1980’s who opposed the development, however the track was completed within three weeks. We had hoped to turn off onto the Crebb Track, meant to be more challenging, but had found out the previous day that it was closed. Passing Port Douglas on route to Cape Tribulation the coastal track takes us all the way up to the small frontier town of Cooktown on the far north tropical Queensland coast.
The narrow winding roads remind us of Indonesia minus the potholes! We arrive at Alexandra lookout, where a short board walk through the forest leads us to scenic views over the bay. Driving past hundreds of sugar cane fields, we arrive in the tiny town of Mossman, and the Mossman gorge. We take a walk through and reach a sandy enclave which meets the rushing waters of the Mossman River; it’s filled with huge granite boulders which have been washed downhill following periods of heavy floods. Further along the track there are views of the Main Coast Range mountains.
Back on the road, we see the ‘4WD only’ sign past this point. A large waterway at Emmagen Creek awaits us as the gravelly road takes us over the Donovan range made up of a succession of steep hills.
We then come to the Cowie range and a particularly steep hill at an incline of more than 30% causes the car to struggle slightly, but once dropped into low range, everything is fine.
Next we cross Woobadda Creek which forms part of the Daintree Drainage Basin. With heavy rain the creek crossings can become treacherous but we are lucky that the weather is on our side today and have no problems traversing the creek.
Surrounded by dense overgrown forest, the narrow track briefly opens up. The trees lean towards each other to form an archway as we cruise through to Luana Creek. The track winds upwards around the corner coming down a steep hill on the other side. We see quite a few large 4×4 tour group vans on route filled with tourists.
20 minutes in and we seem to have passed all the steep hills and the countryside opens up taking us to a large lake at the foot of the cliff. We arrive in Wujal Wujal consisting of a few houses, a police station, a shop, and the end of the Bloomfield Track. We pass over the Bloomfield River crossing, a paved path across the river, also passing a couple of girls who are sitting on the low wall in the middle of the river. They don’t seem to be too worried about the crocodile warning signs posted on either side of the crossing! We find the track to be generally underwhelming as a 4×4 track, with a couple of shallow creek crossings and some steep hills; however the stunning scenery on route, including coastal beach views and unspoilt rainforest makes up for it!
After the welcome sign there is a ‘no alcohol’ sign with a warning of heavy fines for any perpetrators. The Kuku Yalanji people are thought to have existed here for thousands of years, the community set around the sacred waterfalls.
Passing the rural villages of Ayton and Rossville, we arrive at Black mountain which is covered in large shiny black granite boulders, stacked precariously on top of one another. The boulders were formed millions of years ago by magma which slowly solidified under the earth. The soil above eroded leaving the fractured boulders exposed at the top. The mountain is significant to the Kuku Yalanji people and is the focus of many Dreamtime stories. There is mystery surrounding the mountain as the area is renowned for people disappearing after venturing into the maze of passages and chambers within the mountain and the subsequent search parties also not returning.
Cooktown almost has a wild- west feel to it, with wide roads and old-fashioned store fronts. Many of the buildings date back to a century ago. Surprised that the local motels are full considering this was meant to be the ‘dead’ season, we find a reasonably priced guesthouse and stop to enquire. There’s no-one around, so we head to a nearby campsite. Unbelievably, they want the same amount as the guesthouse so decide to go back, having more luck this time.
Martin is eager to go fishing, so take a drive down to the wharf and while away some time fishing, before the sun goes down. There are crocodile warning signs all the way along the wall. Once the fishing rods are packed away, we drive to Grassy Hill lookout to watch the sun set over the Endeavour River, a spectacular view! James Cook himself climbed the hill many times to navigate a safe passage out for his ship.
After a hot and sticky night, we take a drive down to the picturesque harbour and Bicentennial Park to the Cook bronze statue and Cooks Pillar, a stone monolith marking the very place where Captain James Cook ran aground his ship, the ‘Endeavour’ near the mouth of the Endeavour River in 1770. He spent a few weeks here whilst fixing the damaged ship. They carried on their journey further north where they planted the Union Jack and claimed the whole of the eastern coast for Britain. It is tranquil, peaceful and unspoilt.
We take a walk around town before heading back to Cairns.
A detour brings us to the scenic Wujal Wujal waterfalls, the highlight of the Bloomfield Track, driving on muddy tracks bypassing road-works and yellow-clad men holding stop/slow signs. The only car in the designated parking area, we pull up and clamber over the rocky footpath. Reaching a sandy enclave by the river, we are rewarded by the beautiful falls, the force of the water is so strong that it is loud even from a distance of around 100m away. A climb up over some large rocks takes us closer to the foot of the falls. This particular fall is the only one allowed for public viewing, the other larger falls reserved for female aboriginal people only.
Back on the road, a police car is speeding towards us in the opposite direction and then we spot a kangaroo bouncing and slipping all over the road a few metres ahead, trying desperately to get away! The police car does eventually slow down as we pass, but it’s a pretty strange sight!
11th -12th November
We arrive back in Cairns, where our first stop is ARB again to have another look at the suspension, it’s still sagging at the rear. In the end, the only recommendation is to have airbags fitted to lift the rear due to the weight. We decide to give it a miss for now and consider the options on our route towards Brisbane.
13th November Mareeba Wetlands
We leave Cairns and head towards the Mareeba Wetlands Park, which we had passed a few weeks previously along the Savannah Way. The wooded deck visitor centre area sits on the edge of Clancy’s Lagoon, one of a system of eight man-made lagoons making up the reserve.
We decide to take a guided boat cruise down the giant water lily covered lagoon and spot cranes, jabirus, pygymy-geese and fantastic comb-crested jacana also known as lotus birds.
They have really long toes, adapted for life on floating vegetation in tropical wetlands. To be honest, we were expecting more from the wetlands, although it was a nice setting.
A quick stop at Coffee Works is next which has a cafe and a variety of coffee flavours from around the world to try before setting off to find Emerald Creek falls. Driving up through the forested mountains, the directional signs for the falls abruptly stop. Not wanting to get lost, we turn back and head on to Atherton and the Woodlands tourist park where we set up camp for the night.
14th November Atherton Tablelands
Atherton was the first town built on the tablelands and is regarded as the capital of the region. The fertile plateau of the tablelands is attributed to the volcanic origins of the lands which are covered with lush green fields and cascading waterfalls. There are signs everywhere for Atherton’s claim to fame as Australia’s tidiest town!
A noise from outside wakes me in the middle of the night, it sounds like something from a horror movie, a low deep growling coming from no more than a few metres away. I wake Martin up, and he immediately grabs his knife and torch. The sound stops then starts again. We both look at each other in silence. We think it may be a dingo, a wild dog….Martin opens the door and shines the torch outside. The animal’s eyes shine red. Walking along the branches of a tree next to our tent, it stops to munch on some fruit. What is it??!! It’s a tree kangaroo, a large furry body with a long tail, powerful hind-legs and pointed ears. They are clumsy on the floor, but agile in the trees, and are also expert leapers. It’s not scared away by us at all, instead rustling its way through the treetops for the rest of the night, keeping us awake!
In the morning, as we’re having breakfast in camp, we get a visit, this time from a wallaby. It’s different from others we had previously seen, larger and with a black stripe down its face. It hops along oblivious of us, coming along the path from the forest and straight through the campsite. Just a normal day on the tablelands!
We set off for Hallorans Hill, located on a dormant volcano and the highest point in Atherton, for a scenic patchwork farmland view over the tablelands. A short drive brings us to the village of Yungaburra, famous for its award winning restaurants and cafes. Skipping the out-of-budget cuisine, we instead take a short walk along a boardwalk through the forest which brings us to Curtain Fig, a 500 year old strangler fig tree with aerial roots that drop 15 metres to the ground.
A few kilometres south and we are at Malanda Falls, a small falls with a pool supposedly home to platypuses, but we don’t spot any. However we do see a couple of Australian brush turkeys. We ask for directions to Peterson Creek walk but the guy at the information desk is insistent that the walk here is much better, and it is only that the other is advertised more that it is more popular! Taking his word for it and with no directions for the other walk anyway, we leave the visitor centre to take the rainforest trek, avoiding the heart-shaped stinging tree leaves which line the pathway. Walking through we start to wonder if he was right and hope it doesn’t start to rain.
It is north to Yungaburra and the twin volcanic crater lakes of Lake Eacham and Barrine. Both lakes have walking tracks around their edges but neither of us fancy doing any more walking today, so we just admire them from the sidelines!
Further north we come to the Cathedral Fig, in an isolated part of the forest, in fact there is no-one else here. Mobo Creek Crater is located further along the track. The path leading down to the crater is blocked with a sign saying due to recent flooding and the washing away of parts of the track, making it unsafe, it is closed. We head back to base managing to cook dinner before darkness is upon us. The tree kangaroo makes a return visit in the night…
15th November Waterfall Circuit
Today we leave Atherton and start the waterfall circuit, first heading down to Mount Hypipamee National Park, about 20km south. A high walking trail takes us to Dinner Falls. At the start of the trail, there are warning signs that recent sightings have been made of an aggressive cassowary in the area and to exercise caution when walking to the falls! A narrow rocky path surrounded by forest with steep drops down the banks leads us to the falls and flowing river.
As we are the only ones here, we take in the falls, and head up around to the crater. Arriving at the viewing platform, we find an impressive crater, an 138m drop with sheer cliffs to a green pool covered in a layer of silt and seaweed. The crater was created 3 million years ago from a massive explosion caused by magma and gases escaping through fractured granite at the surface, which also sent volcanic bombs across the landscape.
Next we head to the town of Ravenshoe; at 930m it is the highest town in Queensland, and are continually reminded of that fact passing numerous signs placed along the road! The area is lush and green, It is also home to the widest falls in Australia, Millstream Falls, walking the incline to reach the view point. It is picturesque, and we seem to be a lot higher than the top of the falls, watching them plunge over the edge of black rock, it’s just a shame we can’t get a bit closer to them.
Winding through the green hilly countryside dotted with windmills and dairy cows, we head back north and back onto the waterfall circuit. Along one country lane a peacock is standing in the middle of the road but unfortunately it’s camera shy as it runs away when we come closer.
Heading east towards the town of Milla Milla at 873m above sea level, we follow the signs for Souita falls, which takes us down deserted back lanes through farmland. The main sign is camouflaged well so we miss the turn off and come back around, only to find that the path has been blocked and is not suitable for walking.
The town of Milla Milla is next and its namesake waterfall, also the largest and most popular on the circuit. The falls are certainly pretty but the busloads of backpackers somehow seem to detract from its potential!
By now we have reached waterfall overload point, but decide as the others are near, we would carry on and besides when would we ever have the chance again!
A few steps to Zillie falls takes us up to a platform where the relatively small falls flow beneath us into a creek flowing off into the forest.
The rocky Ellinjaa falls is another 2.4 km down the road, this time we have a further walk through a path cut into the forest but it takes us right to the foot of the falls and get so close we can feel the spray.
We drive towards the coast and the small farming town of Innisfail where we stop at a local campsite. It’s really quiet and virtually have the whole place to ourselves, surrounded by green grass and palm trees. It seems it is a little too quiet so we put the TV aerial up and watch the news!
Leaving Innisfail on the Bruce Highway, we can’t resist a detour to Murdering Point winery for a taste of their exotic fruit wines. They have sweet and dry versions of each flavour, and try out lychee, mango, pineapple, mulberry and mocha Bailey flavours.
We head down to Kurrimine Beach renowned for its golden sands, enjoying having the whole beach to ourselves.
We check out the information centre for some advice on local fishing spots; however an hour later we are still waiting to talk to someone and decide to push on.
We head to Wallaman falls in Ingham, reputedly the largest sheer drop waterfall in Australia. The LP states there is a drop of 304m but the sign outside the falls clearly states 268 metres.
The route to the falls is long and winding, a steep climb to the top of the mountain taking 20 minutes each way. It is worth the effort as there is a stunning drop over sheer cliffs to the valley and pool below which almost looks like a crater, definitely the most impressive of all the falls we had seen so far. Just to the right there is a camping ground which we consider staying in for the night, but it looks more like a car park so decide to give it a miss and carry on driving.
Back down the hill, we have great views over the rainforest and farmlands below making our way to the noorla resort in town, but arrive to find a hotel and no campsite.
So it’s onwards to Balgal beach, one of Townsville’s northern beaches and a free-camp spot. Arriving just as the light has nearly completely faded, we hurriedly set the tent up in the dark. The wind picks up and later the rain starts, we hope the tent can take the battering!
Balgal beach is famous for defence patrols in WWII, troops stationed nearby to survey the coast line as a Japanese invasion threatened. Waking up to a cool breeze and swaying palms on the beach is fantastic.
Our neighbour is Barry from Tasmania who has been travelling around Australia for the past year, a fishing enthusiast. A relaxing day fishing and reading is in store. It’s a short stroll to the creek where a pool of calm water runs into the ocean.
Whilst Barry from Tasmania has a green turtle on the end of his rod and is struggling to pull him/her up onto the shore Martin catches an estuarine cod! The turtle runs out of energy and is eventually pulled out of the water. Barry poses for a photo and fortunately releases him, to live another day.
Even here at the mouth of the wide Rollingstone creek we are not safe as estuarine crocodiles have been seen in the tidal rivers along the beach. Later we have a swim in the wavy, cold water within the netted enclosure, protecting us from the stingers. The day is rounded off with an ice cold mocha cream and a huge portion of mackerel and chips at the Fishermans Landing, yum!
We head to Townsville for a days shopping, turning up just as Anaconda is having its sale, so we end up with a car full of new camping gear. We pull in to a roadside camp site just on the outskirts of town.
19th November Airlie Beach
On our way out of Townsville at 9 in the morning, we are pulled over by the cops who are doing spot breathalyser checks, wanting to catch all the hung-over people and early starters! Passing small towns along the way we push on to the Whitsunday coast and Airlie Beach. We decide to relax for the day in a peaceful and picturesque camp site filled with palms and pink blossom trees, complete with a huge contingent of ducks wandering around, before exploring the area tomorrow. They even have an outdoor cinema but as they’re showing ‘Cars’ we decide to give it a miss, we’re probably a bit old for it!
After breakfast, we drive to Airlie beach and take a walk around town. Coming from England, it’s a strange thing being continually asked for my bag to be checked after walking out of every store, and not something we had experienced in the previous 32 countries!! ! It’s pretty demeaning, although at least they don’t follow you around the store, which happened occasionally in Asia, and was also really annoying. Next time, I will say no and see what happens for the hell of it!
Anyway… Airlie beach is the jumping off point for the Whitsunday islands. The town seems to be packed with teenagers, the outdoor lagoon area is crammed. The actual beach is deserted, with just a few moored ships. We take a walk through the market area, seeing a lot of merchandise from Indonesia, but at three times the price. Thousands of school leavers are descending on the Gold Coast for schoolies, a massive end of school days event, but it looks like you need a pass to get in. A lot of hotels are either booked out or have increased their prices. Probably great for school leavers, not so much for everyone else!
22nd November Emerald
We drive to the Central Highlands and the country town of Emerald, gateway to the sapphire gem fields, one of the world’s largest and richest gem fields. Pulling in at the visitor centre, a large Van Gogh ‘sunflower’ replica in the field behind it, we get some information on fossicking and are advised to go to Pat’s Gems. So off we go to fossick in the town of Sapphire 40km west of Emerald.
The gem fields in this area are renowned for their large and rare sapphires. Buying a bag of wash, strangely we are asked if we will be taking it home with us (does anyone actually do this?) or need to be shown how to mine it. We opt for the latter, basically immerse the sieve-like tray in water, moving it in a circular motion to get the smaller stones in the middle along with any resident sapphires. This keeps the larger stones on the outside. Working outside, this is not easy work with the sun beating down us, it is beginning to get very hot! It is quite hard to distinguish the small sapphires from the other stones but generally they should have a glass like surface rather than a dull one. Having probably discarded some without realising it and having gone through the whole bag of ‘wash’ we hand our findings over.
With a head torch on, the lady sorts through the stones, selecting the small shiny sapphires. We had managed to find a couple of cutting stones and other ornamental ones worth around $80.
On our way back to Emerald, we had hoped to go on an underground mine tour, but can’t find the turn-off so carry on south to the remote Carnarvon Gorge.
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