The Lakes District on the Tablelands.

Trip Start May 01, 2010
Trip End Oct 03, 2010

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Where I stayed
Discovery Holiday Park, Lake Tinaroo

Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Thursday, July 1, 2010


On the 1 July, the start of our third month of this trip, we drove out of Cairns, the 1 June we drove out of Alice Springs, and the 1 May we left Perth. Wondering now where we will be on 1 August, the Swiss National Day. Somewhere in Queensland as August would still be too cold further south. 
 We left fairly early in the morning as we planned to stop along the way. We were still caught up in the city traffic so couldn’t stop at the interesting fruit stall advertising bananas, sugar, pawpaws etc. Seeing it is sugar cane harvest time, they were probably selling sticks of sugar cane. We hadn’t seen any sugar cane for sale so far, so hopefully we will again when it is possible to stop and buy some to chew. Shortly after we left the built up area, we started on the fun zigzag drive for 16kms up to Kuranda going through “Wet Tropics World Heritage Area”. Great excitement when we twice drove under the Skyrail Cableway cars. As we had spent so many hours in Kuranda village the other day, we bypassed it by continuing on the main highway.
 On the right we drove passed an interesting sign which read “Park with Army Ducks”. Either they were displaying amphibian army vehicles or ducks on parade! Further on was another sign “Cairns Wildlife Park. Breakfast with Beasts” and a picture of a lion! Down the road from there we saw an old tank on the side of the road with a sign “War Museum”. This time the army had an old tank lying around and decided to stick it on the side of the road and call it a museum! To be fair, we did see down the turnoff a structure which might have contained other old military equipment.

Halfway between Cairns and Mareeba the vegetation changed as we drove through the Dinden Forest which was definitely not rainforest thus bringing us closer to the Atherton Tableland. The first sign of the Tableland were huge mango plantations. We are reminded again that everything is big in Queensland and the plantations in WA are very small in comparison
Eight kilometres before Mareeba we turned down a road to the Jaques Coffee Plantation - “Australia‘s Most Exciting Coffee Plantation. Home to over 85,000 Coffee Trees and Australia‘s  first Mechanical Harvester ”. Along the driveway was an amazing row of big termite hills which they had named ‘Ant-henge’ no doubt after Stonehenge!

During the tour it was interesting to learn that it is a family owned and run business. The Jaques family left their coffee plantation, which was in Arusha, Tanzania,  in 1978 to start the first coffee plantation in Australia since the original plantation, established in 1889, was destroyed by frost in 1920. With sheer persistence, they survived the 1986 recession after which their company went into liquidation and a few years later after replanting, they lost all their trees when the Queensland Government Agriculture Department sprayed chemicals over the whole area accidentally wiping out all their plantation. It is still uncertain what they were actually trying to eradicate. Undaunted, they replanted in new fields and have now a thriving coffee business. To protect their trees they have installed overhead irrigation, which they activate if the temperature drops to ‘frost levels‘. The family have only one full time employee but employ backpackers on a casual basis and have five working for them at the moment. They work in the mornings for full board and lodging and then in the afternoon they are free to go snorkelling and scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef which is fairly close by. After a specific number of weeks of work they are treated to a micro light flight over the area and a week on a Queensland island. Besides running the tours, the Plantation owners also have a coffee shop, café and give Micro light tours over the tablelands, lakes and mountain ranges. After a good Jaques cup of coffee we headed on towards our next destination. Now we are in the tablelands it is interesting to see all the varieties of fruit and vegetables in the fields, not only sugar cane which predominates further north. Hopefully Joel’s Avocados at $2/bag are good.

Before the turn off to Lake Tinaroo we stopped at the small town of Tolga where there isn’t much besides a Post Office and very busy Butcher where they cure their own ham and have a good selection of other meats. Also, in the middle of the main road, Tolga has interesting Totem poles, Aussie style, so they don’t just exist in Canada!

On the road to Lake Tinaroo it was pleasing to see cows munching their way through fields of lush green grass again. We hadn’t seen any for quite a while as they are obviously not into exploring rainforests or snorkelling on the reef. Just can’t really picture a cow in a wetsuit with goggles and snorkel!

At midday we arrived at the Discovery Caravan Park just across the road from the Lake Tinaroo. Another pretty park with lots of trees and birds singing but the most difficult one to park the van so far. The site was particularly narrow and hard to park parallel to the concrete slab without wrapping the caravan around the thick tree trunk that separated us from the next site. After many unsuccessful attempts, the manager parked the caravan for us. Soon we were comfortable and enjoying a ham sandwich using the ham purchased from the Tolga Butcher. It tasted just as delicious as the Christmas ham on the bone made by our local butcher.
 The tree canopies here are not as thick or as high as those in the rainforest so the lovely lorikeets and rosellas are easily visible. 
There is also an attractive swimming pool with a big rock waterfall. The water was a good temperature and easy to get into so I was able to complete the usual eight laps without being rudely interrupted by a python like I was at Innot Hot Springs. Our new neighbours have just arrived from Karumba with their boat after spending two months fishing there. They have spent many winters in Karumba and told us that, because of the heavy monsoon rains and cyclones earlier in the year, there is not nearly as many brolgas and jabirus as in previous years. This neighbour reminds us of Ronnie Corbett - all we need now is Terry Dunn to make up the ‘Two Ronnies’!
The abundance of birds in the caravan park is great, but we can do without their poo that covers the car. One can only imagine what the top of the caravan looks like parked directly underneath  big tree branches. The birds on those branches weren’t choosey where they tossed the seeds pips after eating the berries above us. Every now and then we heard a loud ping as another bounced off our roof.
Here we seem to be out of the touristy areas with mainly Queenslanders on holiday with their families and the usual bunch of Aussie Grey Nomads. We can hear the children’s happy shrieks coming from the pool and bouncing pillow area in the evening. This seems to be the place where the Cairns people come for cooler weather similar to people from Perth who escape to the South West. First thing in the morning we hear the vehicles towing their boats out of the caravan park and later in the morning they are sitting outside their caravan’s cleaning their catch of red claw which they catch in their pots. The Avocado farmer said that the fisherman come and get the overripe avos from him as bait for the Red Claw - a type of yabbie/crayfish.

The lake is safe for swimming and in a few areas of the lake we saw children having a great time splashing around in the water. It is a beautiful recreational lake, just as we remember Lake McIlwaine used to be and during the day we watched a family on the lake having great fun in a speed boat with the children water skiing behind.
This is the first time for quite a while that we have experienced cool evenings and we woke in the morning to lovely gentle rain falling on the caravan. It felt so fresh after all the warm humidity we have experienced in the last couple of weeks. Despite the drizzle (which soon cleared for the day), we set off on a ‘Self Drive Circuit Tour’ around Lake Tinaroo advertised as a ‘Dam Good Drive. (Back and Beyond Tinaroo Dam)’. “This large body of water has been created courtesy of a large dam blocking the Barron River. The dam, built in 1959, supplies drinking water to the local residents and is the primary source of irrigation for farmers throughout the Atherton Tablelands.”

We enjoyed our drive around the lake on the unsealed road but we ended up with a muddy brown car. Part of the lake reminded us of Lake Kariba with the tall dead trees sticking out the water and the fishing boats out on the lake. Our first stop was the Fongon bay which is a long narrow peninsula jutting out into the Lake. The road sign says that the road is not recommended for caravans, but there were still quite a few caravans in the campsite. It was at Fongon that we already noticed how muddy our vehicle was after just that first section of dirt road despite efforts to drive slowly to keep it clean. Besides the campers, the road is used for the pine forest logging trucks. Back on the main road we stopped at Lake Euramoo.

This is a natural volcanic lake called a Maar with no rivers coming in or out of the lake.   By the lake stand two chimneys, all that remain from the houses of the original loggers in the area who were ex servicemen given land in this area, after the First World War.

The native pine growing around here is the Kauri Butt Pine. The vegetation through the day was very varied with some forest similar to those in the SW of WA, then some areas of pine plantation and further on we were back in rain forest. There is a strip of World Heritage Rainforest down the eastern side of the Lake. At Mobo Creek Crater at 600m we enjoyed a very pleasant walk around the crater rim in the Rainforest. It was a lovely short walk with lower temperature and humidity making it easier than our previous walks in the Mossman Gorge or the Daintree Rainforest. Growing around the volcano crater are some beautiful ferns which looked so lovely peering out of the mist above the water’s edge. Every so often through the day while we were walking near the many streams we looked for platypus, but they are eluding us as the cassawary did in the Daintree. Leaving the dirt road behind us and back on the sealed road we came to the huge Cathedral Fig Tree. 

This tree is enormous with a girth of 60m and a canopy of 20,000 square metres. It is a ‘mighty big fig tree’! The other cars in the car park had come up on the sealed road so were nice and clean, after one look at our car, they were convinced it wasn’t worth going further on through the Danbulla Forest Drive. Back on the road heading south we were now out of the rainforest and into hilly green open pasture with beautiful brown cows grazing. We saw a track to Gillies Lookout leading up a hill and off we went through two gates. The four kilometre track was rough and narrow and worth the fun drive and just as well, as we saw nothing from the lookout except mist and a few yellow butterflies. The steep track winding down the hill reminded Mike of when he drove in an army vehicle in the Zambezi valley, with a similar type of landscape. Not long before we were back to the temperamental gate which kept swinging back on me, and then on to a sealed road towards Lake Barrine. This is a 10,000 year old freshwater lake with a busy tea room serving ‘multi award-winning Lake Barrine Devonshire teas.’ Margaret had to have a devonshire tea in this cosy tea room with a wood fire, but Mike had a BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato) toasted sandwich and coffee.
Lake Barrine is world famous for it’s informative and relaxing rainforest and wildlife cruises but with the mist and rain clouds hovering above the water it didn’t seem the best time for a cruise. The rain held off for us while we went another few kilometres and stopped at Lake Eacham. “The famous crater lake has pristine blue water that is perfect for swimming…and has shady picnic areas …. and a huge grassy area ideal for sun baking.” It wasn’t actually cold and lots of children were enjoying swimming there and even when it started to drizzle they weren’t going to get any wetter, but no one was ‘sun baking’!
At the southern most tip of our Lakes District circuit drive we went through the rural town of Malanda which “sits in one of the wettest areas of the Atherton Tablelands.” The reason for Malanda’s existence is to support the 190 local dairy farmers in the Tropical North Queensland’s dairy industry. Not far from Malanda is the Gallo Dairyland where we had stopped previously and bought some delicious Tilsit cheese. We parked again in the same spot but instead of the attraction of seeing the cows coming in for milking, we got out of the car and smelt Switzerland! Adjacent to the carpark was a pile of manure (wish I knew how to spell the Swiss word) waiting to be spread onto the fields.  As we enjoy our next lot of Tilsit cheese the memory of the Swiss farm smell will linger with us! A few kilometres before we arrived back at the caravan park we stopped at an avocado farm and bought a big bag of very yummy avos. We sat and enjoyed some of these with salt, pepper and vinegar during the afternoon which gave Mike the energy to wash our muddy car. We could see what good rich red soil there is in this district from the newly ploughed fields along the roadside.

On our last day in the Tablelands we headed into Atherton to the monthly Saturday market and stocked up on papaws, pineapples, bananas and other fruit and vegies before we leave on Sunday. One last real coffee and biscuits made by local youth from the area and back to the caravan park to bring the laundry in before it rains.
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