Athertonnes of Waterfalls

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

With just over a week until Kirsty arrived and I could finally leave Cairns, the only somewhat close frontier I could really travel was the nearby Atherton Tablelands, renouned for its hot air balloons and most importantly, waterfalls. I had met someone on my dive of the Great Barrier Reef that was likewise interested, a girl from Finland named Anni, so it was that I had much-needed company for the journey. I first killed a couple days in Cairns just getting adjusted to land again (and not having to latch doors open and shut) and getting all my photos and so on up to date. Thursday morning, I arrived at Inn the Tropics at 10AM to pick up Anni. After a few stops for Mackers, petrol, and groceries, we were heading off on an all-day trek to Kuranda, almost 30km away.

No, nothing ill befell us en route. At least not yet (I've got to maintain SOME suspense to keep you reading, don't I?). But rather, we found the road there had lots of little delights along the way. Our first stop of note were the Crystal Cascades. Sounds beautiful, right? Well, we thought so, and so we stopped in and started walking. The track wound along a stream and then banked sharply uphill. Thinking we were going to be treated to a lookout of a bunch of waterfalls that were really clear (say, Crystal Cascades) we trekked and trekked as the trail faded and faded. Points were so steep that we weren't even able to scramble up easily and finally, when scrambling the loose dirt was too much and I slid back down about 10m, we turned around. The trail was no easier down than up and more than once we weren't sure which way the trail even went, but we found our way back down and walked along the stream instead. THIS was much better reward for our effort. A beautiful waterfall and rockpools that called to our sweaty and dirty souls. Three locals were just leaving and gave us a tip about a place called Behana Gorge and we had it to ourselves for a bit. Very nice.

We did finally make it to Kurunda late afternoon and have a look around, but most things were closed. We used the picnic facilities to very slowly make some pasta with spinach and a veggie burger since Anni had some kicking around. We made our way to the campsite and set up Dave's tent, which was not quite what I was expecting. Mostly, there was no rain fly or anything, and it was definitely not called the rainforest to make it sound pretty. Luckily a fellow camper had a spare tent and actually let us use it for the night - and lucky thing, it poured almost the whole night through. A little Swedish girl and her dad were around the campfire too, and she was pretty cute and insisted that we roast marshmallows with her. Well, if I have to, I have to. It was a pretty friendly campground and we enjoyed our stay there. We looked around the next morning but it was basically a tourist trap. Still, fresh rock candy being made and sampled, so worth it for me. Then we set of towards Mareeba. There wasn't much for stops other than some crater lakes, notably Lake Eachan for lunch. We ran into some guys that were supposed to have gone skydiving except for the weather, so they were dressed in Superman/Batman suits and touring around instead. Hilarious! Anni and I got some photos with them and we looked around the beautiful lake. Very pristine and even on a cloudy day it was gorgeous. Plus, there were turtles just swimming around. We stayed the night in Ravenshoe where we went for a walk and rented Lion King and Pan's Labyrinth. Unfortunately, Lion King didn't rip to my computer properly, so we only saw Pan's which I thought was quite exceptional.

The next day was pretty busy. We woke up and within the hour were checking out an old volcanic crater and waterfall. The weather was still pretty poor, so we decided that today we'd head inland to the Undara Lava Tubes and hope for a better waterfall day tomorrow. We stopped for lunch somewhere quite poor and neither of us felt terrific afterwards, but at least we stumbled on a triceratops warning sign. On the way to the outback, we passed Millstream Falls, which is the widest waterfall in Australia, and is quite pretty. Then, the road out. One lane and when you pass oncoming traffic, you both move onto the dusty shoulder with one wheel still on the road so you stay in control. It was a nice drive regardless, and it felt good to get back to the outback, if only because the weather dried up pretty quickly. And this meant we could finally use Dave's tent. There was no moon that night and so we had some great star viewing and an interesting conversation before going to sleep early as we were on an 8AM tour of the lava tubes the next morning.

The lava tubes were pretty cool and huge, but I don't think the tour was worth the $40. Still, it was something to see and I've seen it, so for the folks keeping score back home, check that one off my todo list. Lava tubes. Check. We drove back at about 10:30 and luckily we had beautiful weather. The locals were even surprised. See, every time I'd been in the area, mist and rain and misery. Today? Tropical paradise. We saw a LOT of waterfalls, probably about 12 in total. They were all nice, but my favourites were probably Millaa Millaa (the falls, not the very-nearly-dead town) and Tchupala Falls. The countryside itself was very much like New Zealand as well, so all in all it was a beautiful day and we saw a LOT. We also stopped somewhere for delicious cheesecake (ahem, Kirsty) and yogurt and so on. And we were back on the coast in Innisfail before dusk. We stayed at a really grotty hostel that night that I was sure we'd have bedbugs or something from, but close inspection revealed we were probably safe. It was a banana pickers' hostel and I think we got the temporary beds, the main building was decent. Plus free laundry and internet. Pretty nice besides the rooms.

Finally, the next day we made our way back to Cairns, stopping and finding Behana Gorge after a few setbacks. It was quite a long walk to get there, but once we did we had lots of rock pools to choose from and the place to ourselves. It's pretty unknown even to locals, apparently. The only locals we passed (leaving as we were coming) were heading back having given up - it was their first time there and they'd only just heard of it two months prior. They want to make a quarry out of it which would be a shame, I like it just how it is. I went for a swim in the waterfalls and we got some sun and left at about 4:00 for the car again. Anni and I parted ways and I checked back into Gilligans for a few nights until Kirsty arrives on Thursday. Which, it happens, is later this evening. Then a few days here and we're heading down to Gold Coast again. Apparently, Bianca and Frank may be coming up to meet us, but nothing is known quite yet. Either way, it's going to be a fun couple of weeks and now I should probably go get things sorted out for that. See you in a few!

Atherton Tablelands Photos

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