For Becky’s ‘UP’ square, today, I’m featuring two views of the Undala lava tubes of Queensland; outside and inside the tubes.
The longest lava tubes in the world, they are formed (to give a lay explanation) when a huge mass of lava is on the move, but cooling as it runs. Subsequent lava flows add to it and run up the sides, eventually closing over the top to form a tube.
The last eruption was about 200 000 years ago.
Not so far from Cairns, they are well worth the visit.
The Atherton Tablelands, about 90km south west of Cairns, were probably our best-loved destination in 2020. Lush and green and, as they are at a high altitude, they provide Queenslanders in the tropics with a cool destination for steamy summers.
On our way inland from Ingham, we stopped at the Hinchinbrook Lookout which was pretty impressive. Hinchinbrook Island is huge and the waterways snake through the outlets and past the mainland prettily.
Hinchinbrook is the largest island national park in Australia and we noticed some unusual conservation practices in the area, like this over bridge, below, designed to give creatues like koalas a way over the highway and there was an underpass for those unable or unwilling to use the bridge.
Our lunch stop was the Tully train station, developed in about 1926 and with all the charm of an old Queenslander.
The way from here was winding but so varied that it was very interesting. Banana plantations joined sugar cane and avocadoes are appearing now, with the occasional mango. The Bonadio RV and Nature park (situated on a farm) was well-signed and the hardest part was finding and fitting in to a powered site. It was packed. They’ve set up an area where they feed the wildlife and we saw paddy melon kangaroos (see video below), brush turkeys, birdlife and possums. We went for a walk beside the creek, which is well worn, and enjoyed the cool breeze and platypus sightings. The stone curlews let out their baby-like wails at night.
There are so many things to see in Atherton and we packed it in so that we were out each day by 8 and returned about 4. I’ll give a quick photo summary of what we did/saw. Feel free to post any questions.
The Nerada Tea Company, making Australia’s only tea, has excellent devonshire tea, views of Mt. Bartle Frere (Queensland’s highest mountain) and well-known for easy sightings of tree kangaroos (they’re not everywhere, you know).
There are so many things to see and do and plenty of caravan parks, towns and free/cheap camping, but remember to check if there are conditions such as having your own ensuite, to qualify. The actual town of Atherton is quite large and we were able to get groceries, carparts, camping things, etc., there. We were near Yungaburra, which is a charming town with a supermarket, butcher, cafes, knick-knacks, etc. and many farms sell their goods at the roadside, with an honesty system (you put the money in a tin and they’ll collect it sometime in the day).
It wasn’t until our way out that we stopped at the Mareeba Information Centre and it had good historical displays, cafe and information.
The Mareeba Coffee Works, visited on our return loop, is a must-see and they deliver coffee anywhere in Australia for free. I can’t believe I didn’t take any photos as the place is quirky and delicious.
Undara Lava Tubes are not too far, but we saw them later, too, so you’ll have to wait for my post on that.
We would go to Atherton again, for sure. There were plenty of places we didn’t see or would see again. During late August the days were warm (not quite suitable for shorts) and the nights cold (had the quilt out).
Proud enough of its history to paint the walls with it, this quaint country town has a great feeling. Artistic, cultural and well-maintained, Ingham is a farming area, with sugar and dairy thriving in this tropical area.
Let’s start with a coffee, and there were a few choices, but we chose JK’s delicatessen. In Adelaide, that wouldn’t be an unusual name, but way out east it’s very unusal, as the first white settlers were predominantly from the UK and they have ‘milk bars’ and now cafes. A good selection of coffees, teas and vegan sweets and it was very large.
As we travelled, many people told us we had to stop in Ingham, as it had a strong Italian ‘flavour’ and this wasn’t a big draw card, but then we found the Mercer Lane Mosaic.
A project that was co-ordinated by Karen Venables, it involved about 2000 locals and visitors who created mosaics to represent the history and diversity of the Hinchinbrook Shire.
Local artist, Kate Carr, did most of them and they are mosaics because it’s quick to learn and represented a popular artform of Italy, from where the greater percentage of the population come (https://www.hinchinbrookway.com.au/do/mercer-lane). Merceer Lane is 50m of cultural celebration and commemoration. There are even columns with family history, which fascinated me and I thought every town should do it.
We made our way to an economical campsite, on a farm, set up and left the van so that we could explore Wallaman Falls.
It was a beautiful 50km drive through sugar cane and cattle farms to Girringun National Park.
The falls, Australia’s highest single drop waterfall, are impressive and after viewing from the top, we decided to do the walk to the bottom which was steep, but easy on the way down.
Alan clambered over rocks to get as close as possible to the Falls , but I stayed back, unsure of the path he had taken and cautious after seeing a black snake.
The walk back was pretty demanding, nearly all uphill and steep. The falls are about 250km high and all in all we were there about 2 hours, including lunch.
We made it back to our campsite, only to be told that we couldn’t stay because we didn’t have a shower in our van. We had thought self-contained meant having our own toilet, but we were told we had to have a shower, by council regs. and would have to leave. This may be a Queensland thing, but other travellers we spoke to had not heard of it. In fast-approaching dark we were eaten by mozzies as we packed and, in the dark, we headed for the town caravan park, which was very welcoming and had drive-through sites.
The next morning we went to the TYTO wetlands, named after an endangered owl of the area. The wetlands are home to over 200 birds, and we thought we’d get a peaceful walk in before travelling on.
It is a very picturesque park and the paths are lovely and level. However, from the birdwatching gazebo, top right, above, I took a shot of what I thought was a log. As we continued, we saw a sign that said there’d been recent crocodile sightings, and we joked about whether my log was actually a croc, as you do.
Well, every rustle in the grass, interspersed by long tunnels of flattened reeds, had us jumping nervously. We decided to head back to the car and, as we travelled along, I put on my glasses and went through the photos. You’ve probably guessed by now…
Across the river had been no log.
Travel safe, take water, hat and your glasses. Ingham is well worth a visit.
While travelling in the Atherton Tablelands, Queensland, everyone you meet asks, “Have you seen a cassowary? How about a tree kangaroo?”
Quite unique, and yet found in this specific region, we were lucky enough to see both.
For today’s entry into Becky’s ‘kind’ squares, I’ll include the cassowary. The tree kangaroo was much more shy and could only be captured properly on video – which I can’t seem to get square.
As tall as an emu and just as aggressive, the striking bird can be seen wandering across roadways but can be quick to disappear into thick brush. At other times it can take forever to cross, and as an endangered species all motorists stop for it.
This one was slow enough, but wouldn’t turn around as I got close. So you just get to admire it’s glossy plumage.
Mackay, pronounced Mack-eye, is about half way along the coast of Queensland, and referred to as both northern and central, as a result. It is a huge sugar-producing area, responsible for about a third of the country’s total sugar. For people who come from a much drier state, the sight of the green fields is wonderful, and when they are set alight at night it’s impressive, if the smell of smoke takes a while to ignore.
The very specific farm equipment, too, was fascinating and we didn’t mind when we had to stop and wait while a train went through.
However, when you search things to do in Mackay, the return list is quite brief. Fortunatley, the Botanical Gardens is mentoined, so we stopped there en route to our next destination.
The small carpark shouldn’t put you off, as the many ways in, via attractive walking paths, herald plenty of street parking. The entrance is wide and clearly signed, and sunny enough to bring in some local pythons. I wouldn’t have noticed them if people weren’t walking around, casually pointing them out. It appears that they are very common in people’s yards up here.
You can enter via the cafe and opt for a tour or go straight through to the information board, looking out over the wetlands and letting you know that the Gardens are still in a developmental stage.
There are two main directions to take, left or right, and we took the right, only to find there were further choices as we went along. Many people were using the paths for exercise and arriving from outside the Gardens. It wouldn’t matter which way you went, as the gardens are very pretty and accessible.
There’s a variety of birdlife and plants and the path is easy and accessible for wheelchairs.
A very pleasant place to visit and lots of shade, but always take a hat and water.
Recommendations are constantly made, when you are on the road, about good, cheap places to stay. One such suggestion we received was for Cape Palmerston. We were told it was beautiful and, as part of Queensland’s national parks, the rate to camp is $6.50pp/night. It was unforgettable.
How hard could it be? The road to Palmerston was dirt off the highway, which was now sugar cane country, but reviews were good and nothing to indicate any special skills or vans, apart from ‘recommended with a 4WD’. So off the highway we ventured and tentatively followed signs until the final turn-off, where we saw two people inflating their tyres. Uh-oh. We stopped and had a conversation, during which they advised driving over the hill, keeping well to the left, following in others’ tracks, unless we could ride their rise, stay well away from the water, watch the tide so we did’t get caught in quicksand (did she say ‘quicksand’?) and we should make it to the first camp. Stay there.
It would be accurate to say we had some reservations and the woman suggested some sand driving would stand us in good stead. Over the rise we drove and saw some other cars, to either side, well back from the beach. We decided to have lunch and then head back where we had come, then forward in our journey, but when one couple came over and said they were moving on and we could have their spot for a camp…well, we moved in.
I’m still uncertain that Queensland Parks intended this spot for a camp, but I got online and paid our fee, and soon we were exploring the beach.
The tide was about 40 m out from our camp and receding. We had taken maybe 30 steps when a movement on the sand caught my eye. Crabs! But no ordinary crabs; these were travelling forward (not sideways) and carrying bulbous blue heads/bodies .
If we approached them, they stopped and spun themselves under the sand in a second. They travelled in groups, alone, in a line and in any direction. The sand was alive!
The entertainment having lasted a good hour, we explored some more and found very unusual jellyfish nested in the sand (waiting for unsuspecting tucker?)
then tucked into dinner. As the sun set, our neighbours fished at the water’s edge, our cameras s clicked and we noticed the waters beginning to return towards us. No cause for alarm, the signs of last night’s high tide were at least a metre from our door. And the others were in a tent, further forward, so any cries of alarm would alert us in time.
Sunrise was lovely and, although we had both spent some of the night listening to waves lap near our door, we awoke high and dry. A little trouble with midgies, which were also new to us.
Plenty of cars had taken to the sand trail the day before, during the late afternoon and early evening, speeding off in other people’s tracks or on their rise, way off to the point, where we hoped they avoided the quicksand and made it around to the first campsite.
An unforgettable experience, nonetheless. Sorry Queensland National Parks if we took a liberty. Cape Palmerston is for the more adventurous and experienced and by all accounts is excellent for fishing and beaching.