We were a little unsure whether we’d done the wrong thing as we’d booked accommodation quite close together – a couple of hours drive to our next stay in Julatten and then a couple more to our treehouse in Tarzali. What we didn’t appreciate, is the diversity that makes up the Atherton Tablelands. It’s a myriad of markedly different microclimates – blatantly obvious as we drove along. So it turned out to be a blessing in disguise – whilst the accommodation places were geographically close together, the whole experience was totally different.
Climbing the hills
After crossing the Daintree River, we had a relatively short drive before hitting the town of Mossman after which we’d start heading inland. As we had plenty of time to spare, we took a detour or two along the way, reliving a trip we’d done to the area almost 10 years ago. We even drove to Silk Oaks Resort – where we’d stayed – only to meet up with a construction site. We knew it was undergoing renovation but it was quite confronting to see the state it’s in after remembering the secluded paradise that it was.
We still had time to waste, so we stopped at a little café in Mossman for a coffee – and boy, we were glad we had! It was one of the nicest piccolos we’ve had for a long time. We picked up some groceries at Woolworths before moving on.
The climb up from the coast into the hills was really steep, feeling even more so than the drive up to Kuranda from Trinity Beach. We only got behind one large vehicle, and for the most part he was travelling faster than us so we weren’t impacted.
Living in a gypsy wagon
Glenn was expecting us when we arrived at Sweetwater Lodge and hopped on his motorbike to lead us around to our home for the next two nights. When asked where we live, we sometimes answer that we’re gypsies, although that goes down less well than homeless or nomadic. But this time we could honestly say that we were staying in a Romany style gypsy wagon. A labour of love by Glenn, a joiner, the little home was beautifully set up alongside an outdoor kitchen, BBQ and fire pit. It was equipped with luxurious bedding, herbal teas, plunger coffee and even a hammock.
We spent a wonderful couple of days making the most of the large property that the wagon was planted on. The platypus hut down by the river was an easy stroll away and the walk along said river was a few kms of gravel path through the bush. Being near the river and what looked like wetlands in the rainy season, the birdlife was amazing. We enjoyed being woken up by the bird sounds emanating from the trees and the running water of the river.
Cooking was on a metal plate over a fire, so Walter had to think about dinner soon after 5pm if we wanted to eat by 7pm. Any later than that and the temperatures were starting to drop outside. He managed to cook up a storm – one night was perfectly cooked salmon followed by chicken kebabs the next night.
The days were temperatures in the high 20s, but the nights were hitting single figures. We didn’t rush to emerge from our plush duvet too early in the morning, particularly as the shower was outside.
Leaving the green plains around Julatten, we passed through the small village of Mt Molloy and were shocked at the sudden change in vegetation. Dry scrub, lots of which had been burned. It was more like what we’d seen in Outback Queensland. As we approached Mareeba, known for its coffee and chocolate, it was slightly greener although not lush. We stopped off at Coffee Works, a well-known coffee / chocolate place for a coffee in their café and to look around their gift shop. Unfortunately, Coffee World, their tasting experience was closed due to Covid. Probably better for the waistline!
The little town of Atherton turned out not to be not quite as little as we thought. We went into the Crystal Cave to look at their display – love the amethysts – before going into Atherton’s Coffee Works. This store was not anywhere near as big as the one in Mareeba and sadly, didn’t have a café. Fortunately, the lady working there was able to point us to the Crazy Cat Café up the road which served amazing coffee and reasonably priced home-made pies.
We popped into the Atherton Décor Centre to meet Sandra. She bought the store from a Brisbane friend of ours, Bonnie, almost 15 years ago. We were glad to hear that she hasn’t been too adversely impacted by Covid and the locals have been really great at supporting their businesses.
Having booked our Tarzali accommodation with little idea of what to expect, we were blown away at what we ended up with. What a blessing! A treehouse nestled in 100 acres of rainforest and attracting every kind of bird and creature one could imagine.
As one would expect these days, there are way too many brush turkeys, but we also spotted plenty of finches, parrots, doves and other birds, big and small. With a number of walking trails on the 100 acre property, we spent one of the days strolling among the trees and along the river checking out the wildlife. Whilst we didn’t see any platypus, we did spot a number of turtles of all sizes.
The most exiting had to be two very close encounters with the much maligned and elusive Cassowary – the bird every one wants to see but is scared of. The latter occurred just as we were standing watching turtles. Read more here: https://mitchell.news/2020/08/20/special-edition-day-of-the-cassowary/
Twin Peaks – Mt Baldy & Mt Yabi (pronounced yupee meaning possum)
As usual, we couldn’t resist finding a mountain in the area to summit, and this time we managed to kill two birds with one stone. We set off from our tree house early morning to the start of the hike just outside Atherton. The climb up to the summit of Mt Baldy was pretty steep – rather than follow the contours, they had built a concrete path almost straight up the side. The views of the Tablelands were great reward for the hard work and we even signed the visitor book.
As one would expect, we had to descend one mountain to get to the other – what goes down must go up – so we ventured along bush paths this time to connect with the path going up Yabi. This track was a lot more rugged and we preferred it. In our opinion, even though lower, the view from the summit of Yabi was better than Baldy. We’d recommend it if one were to have to choose.
Crater Lakes – Lake Barrine & Lake Eacham
After a quick coffee at Crazy Cats and purchase of some lunch supplies at Woolies, we took a drive out to the Crater Lakes National Park. Lake Barrine is a little harder to get to and apart from via the Teahouse, there is limited access to the water. With the teahouse opening limited hours currently – another Covid casualty – we were able to use their parking area, eat our lunch and wonder around to our hearts content.
Lake Eacham was on our way home. A little busier with people picnicking and lots of young people swimming – in spite of the freshwater crocodile living there. We enjoyed the 3km circuit walk of the lake – a nice cool afternoon stroll under the trees.
Trees & waterfalls
The Tablelands is overflowing with trees and waterfalls (no pun intended!). On the banks of Lake Eacham, we were dwarfed by two Kauri trees – 45m high, 6m girth. Not far from Tarzali, was a huge Curtain Fig Tree.
The name Malanda is synonymous throughout North Queensland with milk and cheese. The Malanda Falls, near the town, was pretty and a looked like a nice place for a swim.
The best waterfalls we saw was on our day out of the area when we took a drive along “Waterfall Way” to visit three different vertical streams of water – the Millaa Millaa, Zillie and Ellinjaa Falls. Apparently Millaa Millaa Falls is the most photographed waterfall in Australia, likely due to its classic structure. All were beautiful in their own unique way.
Having been amazed at the beauty of the region, we were sad to leave but looking forward to catching up with our friends in Townsville.