A popular destination from Cairns, taking about 3 and 1/2 hours drive, from Mt Garnet to Undara Volcanic National Park is about an hour. Not realising this, we went on to set up at Mt Surprise, with the intention of returning for our booked afternoon tour. If you find yourself in a similar situation, go directly to Undara, as the Undara Experience Centre has a beautiful bistro, eating area, souvenir selection and waiting space where we could easily have spent the few hours before our tour and then gone on to Mt Surprise later. It would have saved the fuel, at any rate, even if we bought a drink or something. They also offer free tea and coffee, but it’s not of a standard that would have you going back for more.
The lava tubes were explored by one of the Collins family members, who used to take people there when they visited. Later, working with the Queensland government, a National Park was established on the Collins’ land and formal tours and trails have been set up, complete with information about how they formed. The Collins family run the Undara Experience, with whom we took a tour.
So, how did they form? About 200 000 years ago there was a huge volcanic eruption and the lava flow was so fast that, as it travelled along a river bed, the top cooled and formed a crust, while the lava underneath kept flowing on and out, until hollow tunnels were formed. They extend 90km in one direction and 160km in another, making them Australia’s longest lava tunnels and one of the longest in the world.
Over the years, a roof might collapse, forming arches or caves and allowing rare plants and creatures to flourish. Some plants are believed to be relatives of those from Gondwanaland.
Outside the caves, you can see birds and insects unique to the area, including the spider that weaves a net to catch falling prey. I can’t remember what they are called and can’t find the information, so if anyone knows, please send me a message.
We travelled far in to caves and learnt about what lives there and what drips from the ceiling. The formations and surfaces have asuch a fascinating variety of shape, colour and texture.
The Undara Experience has accommodation and there are many walking trails that you can do independently. We chose the only daytime tour available in Covid times, but there are usually several to choose from, including night treks.
If you are staying in Cairns, it’s about a 3 and 1/2 hour drive to Undara, so you might choose to stay there. Be sure to book before you go, as even in these restricted times, the tours filled quickly.
Definitely worth putting on your bucket list.
Safe travels. Take water, hat and insect repellant.
We travelled back to the Tablelands, stopping at The Coffee Works in Mareeba, after a recommendation.
What a lovely set-up with all sorts of nick knacks and plenty of coffee. We had the ‘house’ coffee, Black Mountain, and bought some for us and for a friend.
The drive to Ravenshoe, through the Atherton tablelands was pretty drizzly and foggy, but brought back good memories.
It wasn’t far to Innot Hot Springs in Savannah territory, and we parked beside the caravan park and took 20 steps into the reserve. The creek was very shallow nearby, but sure enough, the water was warm. I ventured a little further and found some warmer spots. Looking up, towards where it was deeper, I could see steam! I went over and carefully felt the water. It was quite hot.
Little islands of sand had formed and as I stepped between them, my foot sunk in and removed my rubber thong. It was VERY hot and I quickly retrieved my foot and footwear, wiser. Im sure I saw fish in there.
The bank was steep enough that you could sit on the side and dangle your feet in or, if you had come prepared as another couple had, go in for a soak. The reviews warned about how hot some patches were and they aren’t exaggerating, so be careful.
The drive to Mt Garnet BP (for free camping for the night) was short and we set up by the side of a deep creek (empty I think) with horses grazing on the steep banks. The camp is free, beside a BP service station, but they ask you to buy something from the shop, so hot chips for dinner it was!
Booked our Undara Experience for the next day and found the archways tour was the only one available and at limited times. This was, after all, the reason for coming this way. Read more about those in my next post, as the lava tubes were better than we expected and I’d ecommend them.
Cooktown is a pretty town, set on the banks of both the Coral Sea and the Endeavour River. It is in Far North Queensland and seen as one of those ‘last frontier’ places, from where adventurous people head into the wilderness to the north, hoping to make it to ‘The Top of the Cape’ (Cape York Peninsula). We left Port Douglas fairly early, for Cooktown, and so drove on roads that were new to us. We had expected lush rainforest, but instead got dry terrain, much like the Northern Territory. Then, a mountain would loom ahead and we’d have green foliage again, but gum trees for the most part. We met some people at the lookout, who had driven from Cape Tribulation and taken about 2 hours. They said it could be achieved, at that moment, with a 2WD. It pays to ask other travellers as you go, for the opportunity to increase your experiences.
As we got closer to Cooktown, cows appeared on the road more frequently and about 30km out is Black Mountain. If you didn’t know its name, you’d have no trouble remembering it, as there are about 3 moderate-sized hills that are made up of boulders, or rocks, that are jet black. It is a bit like hitting coal mountain. Apparently it is lichen.
There are few places to stop on this stretch, but Lakeside is worth the stop (not sure where the lake is, though). When we arrived at the campground, our site was backing on to a rainforest and things scuttled in there. There’s a note in the toilets, to turn off lights as lights attract bugs, bugs attract frogs and frogs attract snakes. Yippee.
We made our way in to town where there was a water park, as it isn’t safe to swim in the sea here. First stop the Botanic Gardens, which has examples of the type of plant samples collected by Banks and Cook but is quite small.
On to Cook’s Lookout at Grassy Hill, one of the best lookouts we both thought we’d ever seen. It’s probably a good time to mention that the area got it’s name from when Captain Cook beached his ship here for repairs in 1770. The lookout takes in a 360 degree view of the area, which I tried to recreate, taking a small turn each time.
Having awoken early the next day, we set off to find Trevethan Falls, that were supposedly 13.5 km out of town. We drove about 30km to the turnoff and then had a 4WD adventure, trying to get there. When the road/track became very rough and demanding, with no end in sight, we decided to turn around and head to the beach at Mt Amos. We didn’t find that, either, and hit private property, so turned back once more. Locals we asked had never heard of the falls, so…
Now was the time to hit the markets, which were collections of produce and trash, or fundraising efforts with a strong local feel, and we walked the foreshore, seeing the monuments and Milbi Wall, a mosaic retelling of the history of the area, by the first nations people.
There were also people fishing and everyone keeping well back from the water – crocodile warnings everywhere. Cooktown really established itself on the map when, in 1873, tens of thousands of people from around the world landed here in search of gold and the port became the State’s busiest.
One of those last minute decisions saw us heading for Mount Cook, late in the day to do the 6km return walk up to the lookout. In fact, there are two lookouts, and the first is quite easy to reach, with gently raising paths, lined with trees and shrubs. It is also lined with spider webs, I discovered, or it was until I decided to wear all of them. We made the first section quite easily but the path was littered with leaves and even though we had good trekking sandals, I was anticipating a slippery walk home, when the increased slope would be downward.
The second section was definitely more difficult, with a constant upward climb, although not the steepest I have done. When we finally made it to the main lookout, it was quite a relief and the strong breeze was refreshing. Another traveller at the campground said that he found the really strong winds at the top made him feel like superman. So, either he’s been on the kryptonite or it is windier in the morning (when he went). Definitely do the walk if you visit here, as it is pretty and the view at the end is stunning. But don’t leave it until late in the day. The advice when you get there is to allow 2 hours and that you should be of reasonable fitness. It took us about 1 ¼ hours, but we were moving pretty fast, as walks go.
Isabella Falls was first on our list for the day. It is a short drive from town and very close to the road.
From here the plan was to go to Hope Vale to see some Indigenous art and on the Elim Beach, where there are coloured sands. Hope Vale was poorly sign-posted and the road just ended, leaving us to drive uncertainly around the community. Feeling that this was intrusive, we headed back but saw a sign for Endevour Falls and pulled in to the Tourist park , behind which, after a 2 minute walk we made our way to the small but pretty falls behind the park. It is a very attractive park, 20 minutes out of Cooktown, with shady sites and well-maintained.
Why not visit Keating’s Lagoon? Only a short way out of Cooktown, we went to the birdwatchers paradise and spied keenly for the object of our visit.
Cooktown is known as a windy city, so when you hear the ‘waves’ of wind tearing through the park at night, fear not. There is quite a bit to do, so that while you reach for the furthest point you can attempt in Queensland, there are a few spots before you turn around or press on. Usually there are plenty of international tourists, but we met only three while there and a handful of Australians who weren’t in lockdown.
Safe travels. Water, hat and sunscreen (and a jacket for the evenings).
From our base in Port Douglas, we drove to the upper Daintree Rainforest, which began with a short ferry ride over the Daintree River, at a cost of $31 a car (return). Despite having decided to drive all the way through to Cape Tribulation before going to any of the attractions on side roads, we did stop at the first lookout and try to get a clear shot of the vista.
At the Cape we did a walk to Kulki (gool-gee), the name given by the traditional owners, the Eastern Kuku Yalanji. It is a short walk to the beach, although you can’t swim here, due to crocodiles. We weren’t going to walk on the beach, but saw about 12 people walking back from the other end, so thought we might as well. Silly, really, considering that crocodiles will sit and watch people patiently, waiting for the time to be right. The appearance, shortly after entering the sand, of not one but three park rangers, eased my mind, although they said it was fine to walk on the beach, but definitely don’t swim there, as there is a resident croc who inhabits the waters, usually swimming to find food.
It was quite a lovely spot, and seeing huge, old mango trees at the water’s edge was extraordinary. We next stopped at Dubuji Boardwalk, which means place of spirits in Kuku Yalanji. It is a mangrove walk and the name fits, as it is quite eerie.
The information taught us a lot about the foods in the forest, for animals and birds, and we saw a lot of colorful fungi. A big feature are the fan palms and it was an easy ring route.
An unexpected sign after leaving here had us stop at Madja Boardwalk. Madja means jungle or rainforest, and the place holds spiritual significance for the traditional owners. At this spot, the walk is quite dark and the environment, once again, is mangrove. Although short, there are information boards along the walk, plenty of added examples of colourful fungi, and it ends at a vast expanse that I think is the end of either Noah or Oliver Creek, or both.
The last walk was Jindalba and we chose the shorter, 700m track. This had a lot of classic rainforest, with ferns, streams and very unusual birds hooting and whistling overhead. As we hot into our car, a bright flash of wings had us look up to see a wompoo fruit dove, or two in fact, sitting in their nest above our car. Hard camera shots, I have to say.
The Daintree is said to be the oldest tropical rainforest in the world (https://australia.com) and if I had to choose upper or lower, I think I’d say lower, just because it’s more accessible from major towns. The large areas of swamp in the upper Daintree are bleak but incredibly important to the rest of the world’s ecological health.
Why not see them both? If you have a 4WD you could take the infamous Bloomfield track to Cooktown. Try to get information from other travellers who have done it very recently, before attempting this, especially if you have little or no 4WD experience. We were told, once in Cooktown, that there was so little water we could have crossd but not without an offroad van.
Safe travels. Take water, hat and sunscreen. Ask around if you are unsure and don’t pat the crocodiles.
The road to Mossman Gorge from the BIG4 Glangarry caravan park is very good and it took about 20 minutes. We arrived at the visitor center and had to perform some COVID-19 tasks before heading in to the souvenir and information centre, procuring some souvenirs after hard decisions. Many of the items are designed or made by local first nations people and the money raised is ethically distributed.
We took the shuttle into the Gorge, happy to support the Indigenous enterprise of running the Centre and maintain the National Park. They run every 15 minutes and cost $10.50 pp.
The gorge is in the Daintree Rainforest, which is 120 million years old. Unbelievable. So beautiful, and even though its another rainforest, its quite different from those of the Atherton tablelands. This is the third time we have been to the Gorge, and each of the other times we went in the water at the swimming hole. However, today there was a warning and the water was churned and dark, running swiftly over rocks. We also had a close call with wildlife, as a wild boar was ferreting close to the path and we rushed past, hoping it wouldn’t pursue us.
There are two walks you can do and we did the longer, 2.4km one, that had small offshoots to it and were there a total of 3.5 hours, including the coffee we had at the end, once the shuttle had returned us.
This is unmissable, with beauty and wonder at every turn.
Take a hat, water and sunscreen. Maybe your camera, too. Only leave footprints!
There is something about the stretch of water ribboning your drive that is uplifting. We had taken this road a number of times before, but with development it had altered. The day was overcast, and a soft rain would set in from time to time, as ahead a tall mountain was topped with clouds and the water to our right reflected the dull hue of the sky. Somehow it maintained a degree of turquoise, which lessened the threat of the waves rolling right in, to the edge of the road. At some stages, as far as we could see, the water was at our side, round tight bends and narrow, rocky ways.
At last our speed increased and the road straightened, revealing sugar cane on either side and greater rainforest vegetation. We were early, so headed in to Port Douglas and were thrilled to find the same casual ambience, the mix of one-off and practical shops and, there must be a heaven – the markets.
So many wonderful wares that are made by the seller and fresh fruit, balms and one proprietor assuring a customer that his black garlic product would cure her hearing loss. We bought wisely for the most part, then headed to a bruncheon spot and walked the town, with its heritage buildings, sought-after wedding venues and foliage bright enough to doubt it was real.
Big4 Glengarry Park is a 10 minute drive from Port Douglas and beautifully maintained. The sites are large and there were plenty of amenities, except working washing machines, but everyone seemed to manage this. The water activities on offer were perfect for the weather and despite the park being almost full, we didn’t ever feel crowded. This branch of parks are really suited to families and we like that atmosphere.
Once again, stone curlews wailed in the evening, through the night and in the early morning. A nearby camper was visited each day by a family of 3 and they said they had seen the offspring from birth until this, 4 weeks later.
Exploring the town, we walked Four Mile Beach and felt as if we walked the entirety, up and back. Oddly enough, after a refreshing dip, we saw a lookout up the side of the headland and decided to not only do that, but continue what was, in fact, O’Halloran Hill walk and continue along the coast until we reached the park near where the markets were on Saturday.
Excellent views from this walk, back down the beach,
out across the ocean and then to the bay.
The whole place is pretty accessible on foot and on the last trip I walked past the old train station and inlet, only to leanr later that crocs often venture on the road, too. I’m not sure if it’s true, but enough visitors to the region have been gobbled up, for me to have a healthy caution.
We found a funky lunch bar and had vegan icecream at the icecreamery (3 choices!!!!).
Visit here before it loses it’s charm and beauty. So many things are close by if the town isn’t enough for you. We overheard our neighbours saying they come here every year since retiring 11 years ago and always find something new to see. You might, too.
Safe travels. Carry water, your hat and sunscreen and wear your bathers/togs/swimsuit everywhere.