Friday, 27 July 2018

Atherton Tablelands

One of the delights of my recent road trip with my sister was re-visiting places I'd been to a long time ago with my ex husband.  (I wonder, let's see if I can say it aloud - 47 years ago, a couple of lifetimes for some people!)  Anyway, back then it was a trip done his way, at breakneck speed, barely time to jump in and out of the car to look at anything.  No stopping to soak in the beauty of a place.  This time it was done my way, we were in no hurry, it was ridiculously relaxed.    

Back in the day I'd insisted on stopping for the kids and me to have a swim in Lake Barrine.  It had been in October, very hot and that was before aircon made travel a lot more comfortable.  It was a quick dip and we were on our way again.  This time round we sat on the deck of the little cafe overlooking the lake and indulged in the speciality of the house, tea and scones.   Ahh, the good life!
The garden around the little Cafe at Lake Barrine

 Moss covered stone wall in the carpark at Lake Barrine

We'd already done a little detour off the Gillies Highway that morning, just outside Yungaburra to see the Curtain Fig Tree which is one of the largest in North Queensland. It is called the Cathedral Fig Tree, and it is truly cathedral like in its proportions.

It's girth is 72 metres. If 40 people linked hand around the tree they wouldn't quite meet together.  The crown of the tree extends over 2,000 square metres, about the same size as 2 olympic size swimming pools.  Magnificent!

As you can imagine it is home to lots of different species of animals- and also lots of little biting insects.  So, for the sake of my bare lower legs we did not linger for long.

A little later in the day we did, however, spend a little time wandering around the lovely Malanda Falls. 

 Tricia creeping forward for a close up shot.

The picnic area at the falls, showing the height of flood water in 1967.  In the photos above we had walked down quite a few steps.  It sure can rain in this part of the world.

Monday, 23 July 2018


My sister and I had some debate about making the trip to Herberton when we were visiting the Atherton Tablelands.  She thought it was a long way to go to see nothing but I'd read about their museum and, really, it wasn't far from the other scenic spots.  I love it when I'm right!  It was so well worth the trip.  The Historic Village Museum is recognised as one of the best living museums in Australia.  

We really enjoyed strolling the streets with more than 50 buildings including the old time bank, telephone exchange, blacksmith shop, garage, dress shop, toy store, grocery store, butcher, pub, dentist, doctor, and jail.   Almost all the buildings are as they were originally constructed.  Regular maintenance keeps them sturdy and secure with things like modern lighting and steps installed for visitors safety, without losing any of the character of the place.

I think this was a miner's cottage.  
Imagine the heat inside that corrugated iron building in summer!

 Inside that building, we found a replica of our grandfather's farm hat.  He could well have left it there on his last day on the farm.

I shouldn't have been surprised to realize that memorabilia from my school days are now part of history.  Although, to be fair, I think The School Papers on display were a little before my time. 

Another blast from the past was the little sign about the grocer's broken biscuits.  They weren't just for children.  They were also for large families.  How often did I see an lb of broken biscuits on the list I took to Mr Bowes' grocery shop in Nudgee.  He would weigh them out and then throw in a handful extra for me to have on the way home.  He was such a kind man.  They would have to be carried carefully in their brown paper bag or I'd arrive home with biscuit crumbs and Mum would not be happy.

I liked the pretty display of dolls.  I don't think I ever saw such lovely dolls gowns.  Mind you, I can't remember having a doll but my best friend did.  Marie, was her name Antionette? 

 We crossed a sturdy and new looking suspension bridge to the railway station on the other side of Wild River.

I was taken with the little ambulance that had been modified to run along the railway line.

On that side of the bridge the exhibits were more rural - a farmhouse, tractor shed.  There was a children's playground which, to me, seemed to be a little far from most of the exhibits.  There was also an impressive pile of old junk.

Even the toilet facilities were in character.  Thankfully, internally they were of a modern variety.

Herberton is only a small town with a shrinking population (855 in the last census) but it can be very proud of its museum which is staffed by volunteers.  It was established in 1880 as a tin mining town.  At one stage it was the richest tin mining field in Australia and was home to 17 pubs, 2 local newspapers and a brewery. 

Several crops are grown in the area including avocados, lettuce, tomatoes, maize and pumpkins. Poultry and beef industries are also present

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Back to Cairns

Question.  How do I get rid of that white bit with the name of the place from my map?   Not much point posting a map if one third of it is covered.  I know so many clever people I'm sure one of you will have the answer.

We reluctantly left Cooktown and started our journey back down along the coast, with our accommodation for that night at Speewah, just outside Kuranda.  Kuranda is, to quote their own propaganda,  a  picturesque mountain retreat, 1,000 feet above and 25km northwest of Cairns. And crowded with tourists.  When we reached there we joined the throngs in the market place and found somewhere for a late lunch.  Probably the least impressive meal I ate in all the miles travelled.  In case I don't remember to mention it again, I was more than a little impressed with the quality of meals everywhere we ate all along the coast. 

We'd stopped briefly in Mareeba along the way and had a pleasant stroll around the museum to stretch our legs.

I found the statue of the bull outside the museum much more impressive than anything I'd seen inside.

The weather that day was a little changeable.  Between low cloud and actual rain we couldn't see a thing from one lookout but at another the cloud lifted enough for us to get this view looking down towards Cairns.

The view from Wright's lookout at Kuranda was also a little murky.

But we stayed dry when we went for a walk to the Barron Falls Lookout.

The Barron Falls are probably the most famous waterfalls  in North Queensland, are visited by thousands of people each year but weren't all that impressive when we were there.  I guess you can't enjoy good weather and have waterfalls in full flow at the same time, can you?

We visited a supermarket to gather a few supplies so we wouldn't have to eat out that night and stock up on wine so we could watch the royal wedding in fine style.  We did stay awake long enough to see the nuptuals but were tucked up in bed long before the royal couple left the church.  So many hours on the road were starting to take its toll.

 Tricia, wine glass in hand, taking a stroll around Honeybee House grounds

 Honeybee House

But we did enjoy our little home for the night - the delightful Honeybee House, tucked under mighty rainforest trees, surrounded by lovely grounds.  

The next morning, a week after we'd first landed there, we continued on to Cairns, traffic and (for me) driving challenges.  We contacted our niece, Catherine and, after driving in circles a while, managed to meet up with her and, at my request, she took us to Yorkeys Knob. She chose the lunch venue, the Yacht Club.  Yes, Lee, I went to your old stomping ground, and very glad I am that I did.  Those who know her know that Lee is a foodie and I know she will forgive me for not noticing my surroundings all that much once I saw the "Bucket of Prawns" I had ordered.  Golly gosh, Lee.  They were the best prawns I've had in ... as far back as my memory goes. 

Yorkeys Knob Yacht Club

I'm a pretty hopeless tourist when it comes to cities.  I'm happiest away from crowds.  Although it was windy and overcast I enjoyed the stroll along the waterfront.  It was far too cold for the locals to be in the water, the temperature was probably in the low 20C, which, for them, is quite low when compared to the heat they get in summer.  The Esplanade Lagoon must be a very popular spot in warmer weather.  There's a 4,800 sq meter saltwater swimming lagoon, complete with sandy edges, lots of shady trees and landscaped gardens.

Across the road, towards the city, the cranes are competing with the palm trees for sky space.  There looks to be a lot of development going on.

I was delighted to see a Jabiru, Australia's largest wading bird and their only stork.  I don't think this one was fully grown and, to be honest, it did not look all that healthy.  Maybe it's just used to lots of people being nearby.   An adult stands 1.3m - 1.5 m with a 2.3m wingspan. 

The highlight of our Cairns stay for me was our trip over the Gillies Range to the Atherton Tableland.  It's described as "a chain of summits" and that sums it up nicely. There are 263 corners and 800m elevation change in only 19 km.

Most of my photos are a bit like this one below.  If I got a peek of a view I'd try to find somewhere to safely pull off the road and invariably, couldn't creep close enough to the edge of the mountain to get a decent shot.

My grandson will be arriving on Saturday to have some "Granny" time so I probably won't be back with more from our journey south for a week or so.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018


Off the beaten track, away from the mainstream tourist hustle and bustle, a place that captures the essence of tropical Australia, a place that retains something of a frontier town atmosphere and combines rich history and rugged scenery.  There are many ways to describe Cooktown but I can't think of any that really captures the spirit of the place.  

Thanks to a tip from Graham, I've remembered how to embed a map so you can see where it is. 

It's situated on the Great Barrier Reef between the Endeavour River and the Coral Sea and, thanks to its isolation, has remained untouched by the development and commercialisation that many other idyllic spots have been subjected to. 

The site of modern Cooktown was where Captain Cook, limping up the coast after his ship was seriously damaged on Endeavour Reef, found a safe place to  carry out repairs (in 1770).   The British crew spent seven weeks on the site repairing their ship, replenishing food and water supplies, and caring for their sick.  After a while Joseph Banks, the scientist with the expedition, met and spoke with the local aboriginal people and recorded about 50 native words, including the name of the animal that intrigued the visitors called gangurru.  He transcribed this as "Kangaru".  I had never heard that story before!

The first recorded sighting of kangaroos by Europeans was on Grassy Hill, which rises above the place where the ship was beached. Cook climbed this hill to work out a safe passage for the Endeavour to sail through the surrounding reefs, after it was repaired.   My sister, Tricia and I went up to the lookout twice to take in the 360 degree unobstructed views.  On both occasions Cooktown was earning its reputation as one of the windiest places in Australia and visibility was limited. 

Looking down over the town

The lighthouse on Grassy Hill

Cooktown itself was founded just over 100 years after Cook's visit when gold was discovered nearby in 1873 as a supply port for the goldfields at Palmer River.  Within a month 400 people had arrived; in six months, at the height of the gold rush, some accounts say there were 15,000, with 12,000 of those being Chinese. Others say 30,000 with 18,000 Chinese. Either way there were so many inhabitant that everyone thought that Cooktown was going to be the next capital of northern Australia.  Then it was virtually wiped out by two large cyclones and the economic depression. Now, the population in the 2016 census was 2,631 and that, would you believe, makes it one of the few large towns in the Cape York Peninsula.  

It's  coming back to life now boasting  world class game fishing, its stunning coral reef, picturesque scenery and rich Aboriginal culture.  

Oh, and while I think of it, I learned why Cape York Peninsula was so named.  Cook had named the river "Endeavour" after his ship, and the reef which crippled his ship was given the same name.  Then, as he sailed away north, he hoisted the flag and claimed possession of the whole eastern coast of Australia for Britain.  I doubt if he told the locals of his intention.  He named Cape York Peninsula after the then Duke of York and Albany.  Yes, The Grand Old Duke of York himself.  Love those stories!  

When all the gold started coming into town, the bankers followed soon after and by 1874 had built the first bank adjacent to the current site of the Westpac Bank. 

Cooktown was to become the second busiest port in Australia. It had a two and a half mile main street with more than 60 pub licences and almost as many brothels.

And then, of course, religion arrived.  Many souls to be saved.  The Catholic church built a magnificent three storey brick and iron lace girls school which now functions as the James Cook Muiseum. In World War II, the building was used as a U.S. command post and the Sisters of Mercy were evacuated, never to return. The building fell into disrepair until 1970, when it was restored to its former glory and reopened by the Queen as the James Cook Museum and is regarded as the best regional museum outside any capital city in Australia. 

It's a wonderful museum.  There's a fascinating collection of Captain Cook's memorabilia, documents and records and it also showcases collections featuring  the regions maritime, mining, indigenous and Chinese history.

View from the verandah of the museum
The streets of Cooktown are wide and, while we were there, mostly free of traffic. 

On one side are impressive historic buildings - a reminder of days gone by - and on the other side is parkland with a variety of memorials.  In total there are six Cook Memorials but this one, the most impressive, built in 1887, is the only one I photographed. 

It stands near a cannon which was brought to Cooktown in 1885 to repulse a possible Russian invasion.   So convinced was everyone that the invasion was imminent that the Cooktown Council sent a telegram to the State Premier requesting a supply of arms, ammunition and a competent officer to take charge and lead the locals against the invasion.  The cannon, which had been cast in Scotland in 1803, was duly sent with 3 cannonballs, 2 rifles and an officer.   It is still fired once a year during the Cooktown Discovery Festival.  Love those stories!  Sorry, I've already said that!

Trish giving the cannon the once over.

We spent one morning strolling around the Botanical Gardens.   The tropical setting is tranquil with huge trees, many varieties I was not familiar with. The hugest mango tree I've seen is towering above one of the pathways. A few orchids were sighted but for me it was mainly about the trees - and the tranquility.  The cafe was a popular spot and provided an excellent lunch.

In the afternoon we discovered the cemetery and headed to the oldest section.

In the back corner was this sad little grave.  Who was Rob I wonder?  Did no-one really know his full name?  Obviously someone cared enough to put a marker there for him.  I threw on a couple of extra sticks.  I got the feeling Rob wouldn't have wanted flowers.

In the newer section was this classic.  Obviously the last resting place of a "bit of a character".

This is reputed to be one of the town's two swimming beaches. Pretty sure this one is Finch Bay, close to town with vehicle access and a small car park.  It is partly protected from the winds by high, densely vegetated headlands. Alligator Creek crosses the centre of the beach.  (How many Alligator Creeks are there in Queensland I wonder.  I can name three.  Weird, when there are no alligators and so many crocodiles!)  The car park is beside the creek, with a short walk to the beach. Maybe it was one of the swimming beaches because there was definitely a crocodile warning sign at the entrance to the beach.  I made sure Trish was armed with a brolly before we ventured down to the beach!

We dined each night at the Bowls Club which provided a courtesy bus to and from their establishment, giving me a break from driving.  I believe there are quite a few excellent restaurants in Cooktown but the Bowls Club had been recommended to us by a man in Port Douglas and I'd definitely recommend it to anyone visiting the area.  The beer was cheap and the food first class. 

The sun cover over the bowling green

down by Fisherman's Wharf 

Cooktown, you didn't disappoint.  I'm so glad I got to see you.