Wet Season Weekend Warriors

When it’s the wet season in the wet tropics, the dry savannah country calls. Last weekend four of us enjoyed a 28km mountain bike ride which took us through a historic landscape with rolling hills and creek crossings, Irvinebank to Irvinebank... Peter reminded us that there was a great blog on the old TAG website about a trip that he and Trixie guided in April 2011 out this way. We dug it out of the archives and it’s a gem so worth re-publishing here…


Stannary Hills Savannah Cycle

We were looking for a 40km loop in the dry back country close to the Tablelands and having heard about Stannary Hills a group of cyclists decided to check it out last weekend; what a find!! Less than an hour west lies a multitude of back road biking opportunities in a remote outback type environment defined by Australiana mining camps and history which reveals the story of the pioneers of this country.

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We started the ride at Watsonville – the settlement with the windmill in the middle of the road!!, and headed toward Irvinebank before turning off onto the well marked Stannary Hills Road. We were pleasantly surprised at the good condition of the gravel road as it had recently been graded and rolled making for a firm, level surface. The countryside has never looked better after one of the best rainfall seasons on record; creeks were running strongly and herbage and trees were a flourishing verdant green.


About 6km along Stannary Hills Road we took a right and headed north through beautiful rolling hills, perfect for cycling. The support bus was waiting for us at Stannary Hills Pioneer Cemetery and we had a walk through the small enclosure and quickly appreciated the sacrifices made by the hardy early settlers. After a welcome smoko we continued north to the site of the former Stannary Hills mining settlement which sits on top of a knoll and offers excellent views of the surrounding ranges.

Stannary Hills historic site.jpg

After tin was discovered in the region in the 1880’s Stannary Hills developed into a sizable township expanding to 725 souls by 1906. Records show that at its peak there were 8 hotels, a number of stores, a hospital, two butchers, two bakers and a teacher.

In 1902 a two foot gauge tramway was built from Stannary Hills to the Cairns-Chillagoe railway, following the Eureka Creek valley and joining the railway at Boonmoo to the north. The tramway lowered the costs of transporting tin out of Stannary Hills and in 1907 it was extended south to Irvinebank’s tin mines, making Stannary Hills and Irvinebank a major base-metal region. Ref; Centre for the Government of Queensland, 2011.

Today most of this former infrastructure has disappeared and a few stone middens, mining overburden and artefacts are all that remain of the township.

We heard that parts of the former railway alignment are accessible and that one can get from Stannary to Dimbulah via Boonmoo but that’s another day and perhaps another story.

We backtracked to Stannary Hills Road and enjoyed the freedom of a wide, gently undulating road under a brilliant blue sky before reaching Montalbion on the Irvinebank to Petford Road. An easy 6 km had us back in Irvinebank for a snack and drink by 12.30am.

A most enjoyable day with excellent cycling, beautiful fauna and abundant opportunities to appreciate our history.

Words by Peter Tuck (April 2011)

Dunked on Dunk!

You might call us nuts, you’d probably be right, but we needed to scope out a solid contingency plan for TAG’s Cassowary Coast Sea Kayak adventure in the event of inclement weather, and the only time of the year we can really do that kind of stuff is in the off season – SUMMER! Adventuring in the coastal waters of the tropics in summer is precarious at the best of times. Humidity can be absurdly uncomfortable, cooling off in the water is not appealing as there are lots more stingers (box jellyfish) around, and rain, intense storms and cyclones are far more probable.


So yes, really it’s a silly time of the year to be out exploring… but we had some intelligence from an experienced kayaking friend that Dunk Island might be a good plan B and we went anyway. Dunk Island is largely national park, however there is a sizable chunk of freehold land where the remains of what was a 5 star resort still stands, a somewhat charming yet run-down - though still functional - camping area exists, and a beachside bar. Dunk Island resort was pretty well shaken apart when Cyclone Yasi came through in 2011… Clearly the insurance company didn’t cover a rebuild as all but 4 buildings you can see from the beach stand still incomplete and deserted. These buildings are beset with serious structural damage including sections of roofs bent backwards, windows and doors broken or simply not there… all open to the vagaries of the weather.


Our crossing from Mission Beach took us about an hour and 40 mins. We had a little look at the picturesque Purtaboi Island and viewed some of the island's birdlife from our kayak - this is an important shore bird rookery and landing between October to March is not allowed. Hungry we then pushed on to Dunk Island to enjoy lunch at the closed Sunset Beachside Bar where there were a ghostly array of chairs, enough to seat more than 50 people - but we were the only ones there. Later we learnt that the bar is sometimes open on weekends for the locals who motor over for a social time.


We looked at the 9 campsites with paths that go nowhere except into trees which had grown over them. There are a lot of coconut palms dripping with yummy coconuts (which we annoyingly couldn’t reach though there were plenty of older ones on the ground) so we made sure we didn’t and set up our tent under one of them. Our afternoon exploratory paddle took us out to two small islands nearby (Mung Um Gnackum Island and Kumboola Island) where we saw lots of sea life including schools of fish, stingrays and a few reef sharks. We noticed the clouds building and the sky put on a terrific display that we thoroughly enjoyed – ahhh we love our other office!


Upon cracking a coconut and watching the sunset from the jetty, before heading off to have an early night, we saw on the distant horizon some lightening but thought if it brings us some rain that would be a great relief from the incredibly sticky, hot, still evening we’d been experiencing.


At around midnight the wind sprang up and gradually got fiercer and fiercer… so much so that we wondered whether we might be about to experience a tropical cyclone. We had to drop our tent so the poles didn’t break with the force of the wind and the tarp-shelter we’d set up was jeopardised with two guy lines snapping and others coming loose flapping around in the wind… then we were in for a dunking! The rain came, drenched we dragged our sorry excuse for a tent with all our gear in it to the closest shelter and waited out the rain… WOW we certainly felt alive, our hearts beating rapidly in our chests! After it all calmed down we put the tarp-shelter back together, set up our tent again and managed to get back to sleep – a little cooler (and not to mention damper) than before…

At 5:15am the alarm went so as though we had a full nights’ rest, we got up ate breakfast and did the walk up to Mount Kootaloo lookout, Dunk’s highest peak. Then onto the circuit track to Coconut Beach with its incredible giant and gnarly old Beach Calophyllum trees and big beach boulders. We collected coconuts on our way back to camp before packing up and heading back to Mission Beach.


Our visit to Dunk Island was short, but exciting! And, we happily took home many ideas about how Dunk Island could be used as a great contingency plan for our Cassowary Coast Sea Kayak adventure.

Words by Liliana Williamson (March 2018)


Finding Windin Falls…

Windin Falls had come up in conversations a few times with different people recently, apparently they are quite impressive. We were intrigued to see them for ourselves and as we’d seen a photo of mountain bikers at the falls we figured we must be able to ride there. With a morning free we left home, where it was dry… and arrived at Lamins lookout where it was definitely wet. It had dawned on us that while we had remembered the hard boiled eggs, we forgot our raincoats… We were dubious about getting out of the car but our motto is generally to ignore what the weather is doing and go anyway!


We enjoyed a terrific ~7.5km descent down the picturesque Gourka Rd - with Rainforest on one side and farmlands on the other - complete with mud flecked backsides we could see there was more down to come – woohoo! But… we thought we better stop and check the rough instructions we had only to realise we should’ve turned off 7km earlier… So the speedy descent turned into a rather slow assent back up, but with a couple of eggs down the hatch it was no problemO!


From the Old Cairns Track where we turned off we had a lot of downhill again yah! We came to the fork in the road described by the mud map, to the left was private property and to the right we found a hefty metal gate. We figured that this gate must be a Queensland Parks & Wildlife Services gate to keep 4WDs out, it didn’t say no mountain bikes so we lifted our bikes over it and rode on.


The track narrowed considerably and got quite technical and slippery in some parts – it was so much fun on our capable bikes, we were looking for a tree with a marker which is supposed to be the start of the track to the falls. We pressed on for quite a way, but we were running out of time as we had English country dancing to get to… so we turned around at a high point. Later, when we described where we turned around to our mate who’s been to Windin Falls before it sounds like we were VERY close!


It’s awesome to go down… but it’s always in the back of the mind that we are going to have to go back up that again. Obviously the return journey was always going to be a lot slower, but you see much more so it can be as enjoyable in it’s own way and on this occasion we were amply rewarded. First we saw a most curious Cassowary scat that stood up like the Leaning tower of Pisa, then not long after we were lucky to see a magnificent male Cassowary and his not 1, not 2 but 3 chicks! The stunning Cairns Birdwing butterfly also made an appearance fluttering on by… Ahhhh, we love the Wet Tropics!

After 2.5 hours in the rain, we were well and truly soaked through and a little browner in parts than we were when we left… so getting back to the car, we wiped the mud off as best we could – donned our dancing clothes and went to Malanda.

So, while we didn’t find Windin Falls, we are determined to find it next time round. We’ll make it part of a much bigger adventure that will take us down the Old Cairns Track to Kearney’s Flats Camp ground on the Mulgrave River… that definitely won’t be just a morning ride!

Words by Liliana Williamson (February 2018)