Australia - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 315 (125)

Atherton

Monday 17th January (2005)

With a full day of driving around the Atherton Tablelands ahead of us today, we bid farewell to another hostel after polishing off breakfast and clearing our things back into their respective backpacks. The Atherton Tablelands is the name given to the region around the town of Atherton that is situated in the highlands of Queensland a couple of hundred Kilometres inland and south of Cairns. The whole region is rain forest country and we were quite likely going to encounter a lot of wet weather along the way.

It wasn’t raining (much) when we left so we decided to pick up on the waterfall circuit that we had to abandon yesterday. There are quite a few waterfalls and other interesting sights in and around the region and we knew that we were going to end up staying somewhere in the tablelands eventually, so we set off inland with no particular route planned but in the hope of passing as many points of interest along the way as we could.

The first detour off the main road we took was signposted as a scenic route and it looked suspiciously like it might be the first waterfall we were expecting to see. We have several maps with us but each and every one of them differs slightly from each other so we only have a vague idea at best of which direction we should be travelling. Our first little detour followed a five or six Kilometre circuit through a lot of nothingness before bringing us back to the main road again. If there was something of interest there, it was pretty well hidden in amongst the trees. Not to be deterred, however, we moved swiftly on and found the turnoff that we actually needed and this time it did, indeed, take us to our first waterfall. This one came complete with a teahouse that was perched part way over the creek so as to provide excellent viewing of the streaming water. This turned out to be the first of what would eventually be half dozen or more different waterfalls that we visited this afternoon. Some required a fair bit of exhaustive walking up and down trails deep in the forest to reach but all were worth the effort in the end. One of the falls we visited was the widest in Australia.

This entire region is extremely green and reminded us both very much of Ireland with the rolling hills of green as far as the eye could see. The scenery alone is very much worth the effort we put into driving all over the place throughout the day.

At one point, we saw a sign to a hot spring so we decided to follow it and see where it went. It was a fair way off our intended path but I was quite looking forward to sitting in a hot spring and relaxing after all the driving. When we got there, however, we were quite disappointed. The town of Innot consisted of about three buildings with one of them being an old and very run-down looking hotel that is situated next to a muddy creek. One of the barflies propping up the bar directed us to around the back ‘next to the shit-house’ where the hot springs were supposedly located. What we found was a pump and a concrete water tank that was oozing hot water into a very small pool connected to the flowing creek. The water that was pumping out was, indeed, very hot but the pool was no deeper than half a metre and the silt and mud at the bottom of it was stirred up so much when I walked in that it felt like I was wading in mud. The temperature of the flowing creek water was too cold to sit in and there really wasn’t any room to sit in the muddy pool next to the noisy pump so we decided to give up on the hot spring idea and left to re-join our waterfall circuit again instead.

We returned back into the tablelands and up towards the small town of Atherton, stopping at waterfalls and other sites of interest along the way. By now, we’d seen about six or more waterfalls, visited a wind farm, admired the view from a couple of lookout points and collected a small truck load of leaflets and brochures from a few information offices along the way. As we made our way up towards Atherton, Sandy was perusing one of the maps and decided we were going to stop at something called ‘The Crater’. Essentially, it’s a huge hole in the ground some one hundred and eighty meters deep that is the remnants of a volcanic eruption many millions of years ago. As was the case in and around the Mission Beach area, we keep seeing signs warning us of the presence of Cassowaries as we drove around but we are still yet to see one for ourselves. The truth is that we’d be extremely fortunate to see one in the wild since there are so few of them left. One of the signs we passed in Mission Beach said something about there being just forty-eight of the huge, flightless birds left in that area. We arrived at the car park for the crater and parked in front of another huge sign warning of the dangers of bumping into a Cassowary. This one went into much more detail and whereas all the other road signs we’ve seen were for the protection of the bird, this one went into great detail about how dangerous they can be to us and how best to protect ourselves if we were ‘unfortunate’ enough to bump into one. They apparently have huge claws and can jump at you with both feet and pretty much rip you to shreds using their huge claws. The path leading from the car park to the crater led into the forest and I was suddenly acutely concerned for our well-being – what with the potentially very dangerous wild Cassowaries wandering around in the underbrush waiting to rip me to shreds. I was now no longer sure if it would be good or bad fortune to bump into one. Anyway, just inside the forest, a wooden footbridge crossed one of the very many creeks that traverse this region and we were half way across when I spotted something just ahead and off to one side. I could scarcely believe it; a Cassowary was standing there large as life looking right at us. It stood about one and a half meters tall and looked something like a black emu with a blue neck and what looked like the head of a turkey. I froze for a brief moment and we both slowly edged back from it across the bridge. The sign in the car park described what to do if confronted with a Cassowary in the wild. The directions given were very similar to those that you might follow if confronted with a bear in the wild. Without running away from it, you have to slowly back away and, should it follow, try to put a solid object such as a tree between it and you. If it was looking like it might come at you even after doing that, you had to wave something in front of you such as a towel, backpack, t-shirt or whatever. It wasn't moving, even though it was looking directly at us, but even so, all I could think about was how we were going to escape from it. We continued to move backwards over the bridge until I thought we were at a safe distance where we could at least make a break for the car if necessary. I have no idea how fast a Cassowary can run and I didn’t want to find out by means of trying to outrun one. When we reached what seemed like a comfortable and safe distance, I went for my camera and tried to get some decent shots of it. It was by now slowly meandering around and nibbling at berries and nuts on the forest floor but seemed to always be keeping an eye on us. This stand-of went on for what seemed like ages when I noticed another tourist emerging from path leading into the forest. I grabbed his attention and pointed eagerly towards the Cassowary. ‘Oh, don’t worry about him,’ he said ‘he’s fairly tame and timid.’ He then proceeded to walk straight past the bird without a care in the world. Suddenly, I felt really stupid. He went on to tell me that they are only really considered dangerous if they feel threatened of if they are with young. With somewhat of a second wind, we got a bit closer to take some more photos of the beautiful beast. I guess we can consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have seen a real, live, Cassowary in the wild after all – even if this one wasn’t the dangerous, life-threatening beast we were so worried about. The huge cylinder shaped crater that we then went on to admire was absolutely spectacular and quite awe inspiring but it will be the Cassowary that we saw in the wild that will be what we will remember most from that particular encounter.

We moved on from the crater and started to think about where we were going to station ourselves for the next couple of days. I’m not sure that there are enough things left here in this region to sustain us in one spot for two days on end but we will remain in the same place for at least a couple of days anyway. We’ve learned that two days in the same place is the minimum amount of time required to prevent travel fatigue and burnout. We stopped at another information office and, yet again, stocked up on another tonne of brochures for attractions and accommodation options. We were giving some consideration to spending a couple of nights at a nice place and pampering ourselves a bit but we soon shook that idea off when we found out how much this was going to cost us. The guidebook was not being particularly good to us with regards to accommodation options and those that we did try to call ahead to all seemed to be just outside of our budget range anyway. Running out of time and options, we instead decided to head into Atherton itself and simply cruise around looking for a backpacker hostel. We’ve seen a fair few in the various towns we’ve passed through so even though the guidebook had no listings for accommodation of any kind in Atherton, I had high hopes that something might turn up.

The strategy paid off when we ran into a place called Atherton Traveller’s Lodge. As backpacker’s hostels go, this is a pretty good one. There is a huge open plan kitchen and living area that is very well stocked and extremely clean and tidy. The owners, a woman from Sydney with her Dutch husband and two year old son, all live on site and share the same kitchen facilities as all the other guests. At AU$45 (€28) per night for a double room, the only down sides are that there is no ensuite bathroom and no air-conditioning (a fact that eluded me until after we had paid in advance and moved into the room I might add). Still, the whole place has a very nice atmosphere about it and we will be very comfortable here for the next couple of days. If anything, it just goes to show how not relying on the guidebook can often be just what the doctor ordered.

Having found a place to stay with full kitchen facilities, we next found the nearest supermarket and stocked up on food for the next couple of days' worth of meals. In an effort to try to cut down on the need to spend more money on a pub lunch each day, we also bought several large halves or quarters of fruit (watermelon, pineapple, papaya, etc.) to make up some mixed fruit salads (we can put all of that down to Lisa rubbing off on me during last night’s little online chat session). The trip to the supermarket was yet again a raging success with just AU$20 (€12,20) being rung up at the cash register.

Back at the hostel, it was my turn to cook and I rustled up some schnitzel and homemade chips, which all went down a treat. The tiring day on the road took its toll on Sandy, who nipped off to bed relatively early, which allowed me to catch up on some of my laptop chores such as writing up the past couple of day’s events and sorting out the photos from both cameras. Yes, we are well and truly back on the travelling road again.

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