Saturday, October 6, 2012

Atherton Tablelands

Rob drove us all over the Atherton Tablelands today, starting from the low coastal canefields south of Cairns, running alongside the Bellenden Kerr Range and Mt Bartle Frere, the highest mountain in Queensland, through tropical rainforests, mountain gorges, crater lakes, rich dairy country, waterfalls, country towns and villages and peanut, coffee and mango farms.  The only thing we couldn't find were the tobacco farms which Atherton used to be most well known for.

We drove south and then inland for around an hour and a quarter before making our first stop at the Mungalli Creek Bio-Dynamic Dairy in the rich dairy country south-east of Millaa Millaa.  We enjoyed great coffees and scones, jam and cream - all made at the dairy from these very contented looking herds of Friesian cows. Rob looked very disappointed that I wouldn't let him help me finish my serving of scones. 

We drove on a little further to the tiny Mungalli Village which was the site for the three day "Tribal Daze" Festival.  It looked to be in its early stages but the road into the camping area was already churned up in knee deep mud.  The mud and the rain and the general air of decorative unpreparedness of all the young things gathering in this little damp hollow to celebrate being "tribally dazed" gave every indication of it being a very successful festival. We were so glad we weren't part of it!!!

Instead we were driving on to the gorgeous Millaa Millaa Falls, which we were able to enjoy despite the by now steady rain.

And then driving north past Malanda and Lake Eacham and on to Lake Barrine, a 10,000 year old freshwater crater lake in the rainforest, formed as a result of long ago volcanic activity.  It's only a 5km circuit to walk around the lake but the weather wasn't very encouraging for us to do that today

Instead we admired the colourful garden established around the lakeside teahouse (especially these native orchids).......

And completed the much shorter walk in the rainforest adjacent to the garden.  We were struck by this pair of mature (over 50 years old) bull kauri trees - both around 45 metres tall and with 6 metre circumference trunks. Rob visited this same area over 40 years ago (on a driving holiday with his brother) and he was musing that this pair of trees would have been growing there then.  They have certainly grown much taller and much much crustier than him in the years since then.

From Lake Barrine we headed west again through Yungaburra, taking a peek at the southern rim of the expansive Lake Tinaroo from a lakeside park on the outskirts of this small hamlet.

Back through Yungaburra, heading towards the township of Atherton we turn left off the Gillies Highway and quickly find the Curtain Fig Tree, easily accessed in a small remaining stand of basalt based rainforest.  It's quite breathtaking in scale and impact - the most extreme example we've seen in the past week of the way these climbing figs can overtake and dominate their host trees.

We drive on through Atherton, then Mareeba (lots of mango orchards there but too early to be ripe yet) and soon enough we're at Kuranda and back on territory familiar from our drive yesterday.  We're back in Cairns around 4.30pm, leaving enough time to unwind after all the sightseeing and then to walk to the Esplanade for a wonderful seafood meal at Splash Seafood Restaurant.

Today was a wonderful opportunity to see the range and variety of landscapes (first time for me) in this region......but it is very evident that there's not a lot wealth in this region.  There are lots of individual ventures that are catering to the tourists coming inland from the coastal resorts but most of them look very under capitalised.  There needs to be much more emphasis on local food and less on river cruises and fishing (and bloody markets)!

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