After a quick trip into Cairns to pick up mail we headed for the hills again. Having not spent much time in the Atherton Highlands we chose to explore a little deeper this time and took the steepest, most windy road available. Well it wasn’t planned that way! The direct road from Cairns to the highlands rose over 900m snaking its way up from Gordonvale to Yungaburra. The glimpses back towards the sea were amazing however I needed to watch the road carefully to avoid mishap. We sneaked a peak at Lake Barrine but with sleeping kids in the back we pressed on to Millaa Millaa which was our planned base for a few days.
Hoping to spot a few new birds I got up early to explore the neighbourhood and spotted two Lumholtz tree kangaroos, about 500m down the road on the edge of the village. The long dangling tails were a giveaway and the beautiful animals resembling oversize teddy bears even put on their best poses for me.
We drove the waterfall circuit that incorporates Millaa Millaa falls, supposedly the most photographed falls in Australia, Zillie and Elinjaa falls too.
The forests surrounding nearby Lake Eacham were alive with new birdsong and I was lucky enough to find tooth-billed bowerbirds and spotted catbirds, the former having a very untidy bower made of overturned leaves in a scraped area. The Lake itself is a a crater lake formed from the explosive reaction of magma meeting the water table. Steep sides descend up to 65m into the deepest part of the lake and the old established rainforest make an interesting bush walk, past, even through, at times, large fig trees whose roots and buttresses clasp on to the sides of the crater.
We also saw the 500 year old Curtain Fig, whose root system appears to cascade from the skies. We revisited Mount Hypipamee National Park to see the Crater Lake that we’d missed previously. This crater was formed by a volcanic gas explosion, the granite walls today being sheer and some 70m across. The lake lies almost 60m below the rim and is 70m deep. This park often has cassowary sightings but not when we visit.
We visited a couple of dairies, the Gallo Dairyland one proving to be the favourite. The cheese and chocolate tastings proved irresistible and we came home clutching an array of mouth-watering produce. The tea farm was a bit of a disappointment as the factory was being cleaned and the tea-room didn’t offer any tastings. We did spot another tree kangaroo though there.
There was so much to do we extended our stay, and even as we left we had to explore the Millaa Millaa museum before leaving. Behind the museum is the trunk of an almost 900 year old Kauri pine that fell in a storm in 2003. The timber industry thrived here for many years and the museum is full of artefacts from those times.
The Atherton Tablelands provided a much more interesting experience than the coastal commercialised tourism, offering so much variety of things to do. Once again it felt like we had barely scratched the surface, but were busy from the moment we arrived. All downtime back at camp was spent catching up with schoolwork but the few days we were there felt like we had achieved a lot.