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Blog 32: Queensland - Atherton to Townsville

The Atherton Tableland is a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful part of the country. Rolling green hills, sprinkled with remnant rainforest, waterfalls everywhere, dozens of small towns, each with their own character and charm.

Early morning on Monday saw us at the top of Hallorans Hill, gazing out eastward through sculpture installations towards fields of cane and cattle.

From there we returned to Yungaburra, a delightful little town of crafty shops, green gardened cafes and chill vibes. We wandered about inhaling the comforting smell of musty old bookshops and spotting pink decorations in aid of McGrath Foundation fundraising everywhere.

From there it was an unsuccessful journey towards a stand of Red Cedars we heard about (the track would have been fine for Gary, but the hire Corolla has significantly less ground clearance). Some back roads meandering and we made it to Lake Eacham for a picnic lunch.

Another Crater Lake, this one is home to a solitary freshwater crocodile and many turtles.

We rounded out Monday with a visit to the Tolga Woodworks to see some truly stunning local craftsmanship and craftswomanship. They even had a couple of artists in residence working in the space. Adam really really really (had to drag him away) really dug the work of a guy called Rob Mian who was doing some powerful stuff with the ideas of light and psychological/emotional realms/textures/realities. Visceral and thought provoking.

Tuesday morning we parted ways for a little. We wandered into town while the rentals were off checking out Lake Tinaroo.

Our main activity for the morning was exploring The Crystal Caves. Ruth was super excited (and so was I) as she is super interested in crystals and stuff. Adam thinks they are awesome too. We paid our admission and entered a constructed cave wonderland where the proprietor Rene has collected different mineral crystals from all over the world and installed them into artificial polyurethane cave walls for you to find, see and touch. A visual and tactile wonderland, including sections with fossils, phosphorescent crystals, minerals and an abundance of wonder. Even the worlds largest amethyst geode "The Queen of Uruguay."

After exploring the cave Ruth got to crack open a geode using a giant rock-cracker. She was the first person in 40 million years to see the quartz and chyrophase inside the volcanic rock sphere. Cool.

The worlds largest amethyst geode "The Queen of Uruguay."

Choosing a geode to crack open

The cracking of the geode

Full of pretty crystals.

We wandered along the main street for a coffee before reuniting with Barry and Pauline at a cute little warehouse-turned-cafe called Petals and Pinecones. The decor was cool and the food was tasty. Adam resisted the urge to go impulse shopping in Super Cheap Auto next door.

With wheels again we tripped north to Mareeba to see the Coffee Works - a bit to late in the day for the full experience at the place, but we did pick up some locally grown coffee beans for when our current supply runs out.

The next day dawned misty and grey - time to get moving. We packed up Gary, convoyed up, did our radio checks and hit the road south. We wound our way through misty and drizzly (but still beautiful and lush and green) mountain corners to arrive at Mount Hypipamee National Park.

What a great spot! A short meander took us to The Crater, an mind melting hole in the ground that is quite impossible to capture on camera. 50 metres below the rim, the dead volcano tube descends a further 70 m underwater into the rock. The sheltered cylinder of water is very well protected and insulated - a constant 17.2 to 17.6 degrees Celsius all year round. There is apparently some really interesting evolutionary biology in the lake, if you are into rappelling followed by zero visibility scuba.

Around the corner and down a slope was the enchanting Dinner Falls, where, for the first time in a long time - Geocache number 33! A tranquil spot indeed. A short hike back up the hill and it was time for morning tea.

From Mount Hypipiamee we continued south to the lookout at Windy Hill - the two photos below are from our first visit and this visit - spot the difference!

The foggy view
The view last week with blue skies.

We drove through Ravenshoe (Queenslands highest town) and got oriented (not lost, just exploring the town, honest) then out to Millstream Falls, just past town. A sweeping curtain of water (Australia's widest falls) over volcanic rock. A picnic lunch, a stop in town for supplies and coffee, then we headed towards Tully Gorge to find the Bed and Breakfast Pauline and Barry had booked.

Coffee at the Octopi Gardens in Ravenshoe - a cafe meets opshop

A winding drive and a steep gravel driveway took us into a bamboo and hoop pine wonderland, encircling a pond fed by a natural spring. The owners were nice enough to let us set up our tent next to the guest cottage for no extra charge (Legends!). We watched turtles swimming in the pond and went flower foraging in the afternoon light.

The next morning we were lucky enough to see our first wild platypus in the pond! We did a lot of searching in Tasmania and never saw one. This one was small, apparently they are much bigger in Tasmania. But still super interesting the see him or her duck diving, torpedoing along and pausing occasionally to stare at us on the bank. The turtles were out again and some ducks came past to join the parade of life. Clean air, the creaking music of bamboo waving in the wind and the smell of life all around. Glorious.

That day a waterfall trio near Millaa Millaa was on the itinerary. Barry piloted us along twisting roads through the fog, the clouds making rain sprinkles on the windshield. First stop: Millaa Millaa Falls.

Unreal. This waterfall is too perfectly proportioned, too stereotypical in every way. The flow is a nice even curtain. The ratio of fall to width is pleasing to the eye. The pool below is swimmable. The curtain of greenery and the odd flash of blue sky frames the water just so. It looks like a staged film set waterfall... but it is actually natural.

Millaa Millaa

Next up on the loop, around single lane bends, with hillside vistas to the north over the rolling green hills of the tableland, the odd farmhouse perched on a summit, cows about the place, was Zillie Falls. Just off the road, we didn't brake the rain slick muddy descent to get a proper view, but we did make friends with some roadside cows.


Finally we got to Ellinjaa Falls. A serene grove with graceful cathedral like arches of water descending. You could spend a whole day here in contemplation.


Next up was a little misadventure. We went together to Mungalli Dairy for lunch. Adam asserted that it would be fine, we can do non-vegan place visits with the non-vegan inlaws... but then a combination of hangry and buyers regret manifested in a bit of sullen-ness when we got into the place. They did their best to satisfy our vegan predilections, and we had probably the tastiest version of rabbit food salad either of us has ever had. But still, there must be a joke-in-bad-taste somewhere that begins "Two vegans walk into a dairy..." Chalk this one up to experience.

We returned to Ravenshoe the other way. Super twisty-turny, often single lane roads shaved some distance but no time off our trip back. The Old Palmerston Highway would be a great ride for any motorcyclists reading...

That night we had the log fire going, the sounds of the peaceful forest and the creaking of the bamboo to soothe us to sleep again.

Friday it was time to return to Cairns. We finally got a(nother) clear view on Windy Hill and Barry and Pauline got to see the wind farm sprawling across the fields. We wound down to Millaa Millaa again (via a lookout with actual visibility this time, and another Geocache!) and saw an epic 800 year old tree log, a recent cyclone victim, but still of a diameter larger than a man. We scored a couple of free kumquats from the front of the general store, then continued down the mountains to the coast again.

Lunch was spent at the Babinda Boulders, a rainforest haven with interesting water carved granite sculptural stones in the river bed. A picturesque area, the people of Babinda and the surrounding countryside seem to invest a lot of care in their properties, everything looks very well kept.

Stunning green water at Babinda Boulders

Babinda Boulders

Babinda Boulders

We returned to David and Julies for a final night to say thank you for their generous hospitality, insightful conversation and delicious mandarins. Ruth made a delicious vegan Spaghetti Bolognese as a thank you.