Splash, Bike, Hike in Tropical North Queensland
This post originally appeared on Flight Centre AU
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last century, you’d be aware that Tropical North Queensland is rather attractive, writes Fiona Harper.
Drop dead gorgeous, you might say.
Those two famous icons, the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest, stood front and centre when the photogenic genes were distributed, but it’s not all about their looks.
The place oozes lush, lavish, mysterious forests just begging to be explored. Even if you’ve only a passing interest in the evolution of earthly plant life, the Wet Tropics forests between Townsville and Cooktown are mind-blowing.
Then there’s that reef. With so many stats and facts bandied around, most of us don’t really care how many species of fish, hard corals, molluscs and their cohorts inhabit the reef. All we really want to know is how to embrace our own piece of paradise, clutching it close to our hearts.
Celebrated World Heritage media tarts and their red carpet appearances aside, the region boasts an almost embarrassing amount of natural treasures.
Whether hiking, rock hopping, mountain biking or forest strolling here’s a couple of ideas to whet your appetite.
Waterfalls & waterholes
Seriously, who doesn’t get a thrill from watching the raw power of a stream of water tumbling over rocks? If the stream happens to cut a swathe through lush rainforest, even better.
The Barron Falls in full flood are one of the most spectacular in the Tropical North. The Barron River falls 250 metres from the Atherton Tablelands down to the coastal plain, eventually dispersing into the Coral Sea.
In the interim it winds through one of Australia’s highest rainfall regions, picking up momentum before plunging dramatically through Barron Gorge.
View the falls by driving or walking to the look-out from Kuranda. Or, better still, take the historic Kuranda Scenic Railway between Cairns and Kuranda, which stops at the Barron Falls look-out after passing beneath Stoney Creek Falls.
Other falls worth a mention are the three-tiered Josephine Falls, fed by Queensland’s highest mountain, Mount Bartle Frere (1,622 metres) and the nearby Babinda Boulders.
Thanks to an average rainfall exceeding 4.5 metres, the attraction here is a series of boulder-lined pools of the clearest mountain water you’re likely to experience. Beware, though: the water is chilly!
Roll those wheels
With a dominant mountainous landscape, it’s no surprise that wider Cairns area is a Mecca for mountain bikers. It helps, too, that the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup deems the Smithfield Trails sufficiently awesome to hold world-class events there.
The park will host the World Championships in 2017, which has riders across the globe salivating in anticipation. In between times, newbies through to hardcore bikers will find superbly marked and maintained trails just minutes from downtown Cairns.
The Atherton Tablelands Mountain Bike Park trail head starts conveniently just behind the Barron Valley Hotel. Bike riding is thirsty work!
The park itself has a mix of easy dirt roads, exhilarating single track, heartbreak hills and rocky creek crossings. Nearby there’s more trail networks at Mareeba and Davies Creek.
With an elevation of almost 1,000 metres the Tablelands offer stunning scenery along with a coolish temperate climate and low humidity. At the right time of the year, waterfalls and streams offer enticing diversions for sweaty, mud-caked riders.
Down on the coast there’s splendid off-road trail networks around Port Douglas and the Daintree region, including the famous Bump Track. With a brake-cooking dizzying vertical descent, this is not a trail for nervous riders.
Lace up your hiking boots
Hikers and trail runners (and campers!) are spoilt for choice too. Queensland Parks & Wildlife have almost 180 mainland parks as well as 27 island national parks under their charter.
While some (like Raine Island) are off limits to all but scientists, most are open for multiple uses. The aforementioned Bump Track is a popular hike, particularly when combined with a side trip down an unmarked trail to a rock pool at the top of the Mowbray Falls.
From Cairns you’ll find a network of easily accessible hiking trails such as the Douglas and Smiths Track. It’s actually possible to hike all the way to Kuranda on marked forest trails.
The distance is around 15 miles, but it’s a strenuous hike up a steep ascent. Peel off to the left before the summit to Glacier Rock for extraordinary views over the city and Coral Sea.
The Goldsborough Valley is home to another challenging hike. The 12-mile Goldfield Trail follows an historic trail, climbing over a saddle between Queensland’s two highest peaks.
Nearby is Walsh’s Pyramid (922 metres), obviously named and pretty hard to miss. Each year hardy mountain men and women take on the gruelling challenge of the Great Pyramid Race, though hikers are welcome to take the trail to the summit any time.
The Mamu Tropical Skywalk is as easy stroll for forest lovers though it’s probably going to freak out vertigo sufferers. Cantilevered walkways are suspended up to 15 metres above the forest floor and provide a fascinating insight into Wet Tropics rainforest.