Not too much fara to Undara

It is only 2.5 hours drive (~200 km) south-west of Atherton and what better excuse than having a birthday to go and explore the Undara Volcanic National Park?! As always where national parks are concerned, QPWS do an interesting summary of the natural features and history of the park which you can find here (https://www.npsr.qld.gov.au/parks/undara-volcanic/culture.html)

Suffice to say, the park is geologically fascinating with its’ giant lava tubes and caves being what it is renowned for. For good reason the only way you can actually see these impressive tubes is by guided tour with a Savannah Guide. But it’s a national park, not private property - so you might be asking why people can’t just go into the tubes on their own for free???

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Well there’s really two main reasons. Firstly, let’s be blunt, you just can’t trust everyone to do the right thing – for example to not leave their litter around or deface the tubes with ‘Bazza was ere 2018’ etched into the rocks etc. Secondly, for safety reasons - some of the tubes are structurally unsound with risk of collapse and in certain weather conditions a number of tubes have carbon dioxide levels much higher than normal presenting a risk of asphyxiation in the stagnant air and relative high humidity (though some animals have adapted to those conditions!).

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The best thing about having a guide is that there’s sooooo much interesting interpretive information that you just wouldn’t get if there wasn’t someone there to tell you all about it and answer all manner of questions that come their way. Our guides for the 3 tours we did were Denis, Denis and Denis! While we had the same guide each time, the tours each went to different lava tubes and Denis was always friendly and approachable, had a great sense of humour and was extraordinarily knowledgeable.

The Wildlife at Sunset tour showcased the terrific range of macropods (Pretty Face Wallaby, Eastern Grey Kangaroos, Swamp Wallaby and Antilopine Walleroo); sunset with wine and cheese with a 360° view of the area; and then took us to view our first lava tube, home to a lot of Common Bent Wing Bats who were trying to avoid being dinner for the Brown Tree Snake (night tiger) that dangled down from the tree just at the entrance to the cave.

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The Active tour saw us clambering up and down basalt boulders into the lava tubes as we marvelled at the geological wonders and enjoyed the geology lesson Denis gave. Bats whizzed past our ears with their incredible echolocation (sonar navigation) as we went deeper into the lava tubes.

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On the Archway tour, with its’ easy boardwalks and staircases, we heard virtually the same environmental, geological and historical information as the Active tour, but we went into the biggest tubes we’d seen yet, one even still had a little water in it after the wet season rains – Denis told us that after Cyclone Yasi, guests swam in that tube and we found the footage he was talking about https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJhjl1B_-sI.

Not only was Denis a great guide he was good entertainment around the night campfire back at the Undara Lodge singing, playing the guitar and reciting Aussie poetry – a very multi-talented man!

Other than the 3 tours, we packed in as much exploring as possible into the 2 ½ days we were there. We spent the rest of the time exploring the existing 30km of trails around the lodge by bike - which was at times really hike-a-bike rather than ride-a-bike. It proved challenging but rewarding as we reached high points and took in the beautiful remote savannah landscapes. On the Rosella Plains trail (which I wouldn’t recommend riding but we did give it a red hot go), we had to stop multiple times to pull out those annoying (clever) grass seeds that wind their way through the socks and irritate the skin – we definitely recommend gaiters!!! There was plenty of birdlife to see in the area including: Kookaburra, Blue Faced Honey Eaters, Rainbow Lorikeets, Tawny Frogmouth, Crows, Galah, Pied Currawong, Brush Turkeys etc.

For the two nights we glamped in the swag tent village, they were odd little tents with single beds (to our disappointment there were no doubles) but certainly comfortable enough and the camp kitchen was very handy, clean and useful. The railway carriage accommodation looked very appealing from the outside - the whole place had a well-appointed and looked after feel and the staff we met were lovely.

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On our last day we did the short hike up to the Bluff for Sunrise, it was quite windy and a Black Kite put on a magnificent aerial display right above our heads as it played in the breeze – it was definitely enjoying itself while we were enjoying watching it! Then we ended our stay by doing the self-drive tour to Kalkani Crater where we had up close and personal experience with the Pretty Face Wallabies that live there and Pale Headed Rosellas… just delightful.

Words by Liliana Williamson (April 2018)

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Tropical Lows & Single Track Closed…

They don’t call it the wet season in Tropical North Queensland for nothing. At the beginning of the year Lake Tinaroo was around 36% full... it started raining around the end of January and over the Easter long weekend it finally clocked over to 90% of its full supply level. That shows there’s been a whole lot of water falling in the region over the previous two months.

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Itching to ride the trails, locals and visitors alike had high hopes that our beloved Atherton Forest Mountain Bike Park (AFMTBP) would be open for business over Easter… but like other mountain bike parks in the region - Davies Creek, Smithfield and Townsville - were all closed.

To put it politely the AFMTBP sustained quite a few wounds as a result of recent rains. There was damage including to creek crossings, topsoil erosion, landslides and significant damage to the main fire road through the park. So, there’s a few reasons that it’s a good move to close the park to riders when it’s soaked including: the park has a better chance to retain the integrity of its trails, reducing additional erosion that may be caused by tyres and therefore trail maintenance required, unseen hazards such as rocks and debris hiding in murky water of the creek crossings, and rider safety. The small silver lining for mountain biking enthusiasts of the parks not being open is that not one bike had increased wear and tear from shredding wet and muddy tracks in Atherton this Easter.

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There are certainly reasons that the parks temporary closure is not so good for local businesses. Although Atherton isn’t solely thriving because of mountain biking, like Blue Derby in Tasmania does, there is a growing appreciation of the economic benefits that come with creating Atherton as a mountain biking destination. A lot of people understand the area’s potential, although there are still quite a few who are a little slow to catch on…

Early adopters such as Woodlands Caravan Park and Bike and Bird Accommodation have cleverly capitalised on their proximity to the park and the growing numbers of people taking up mountain biking as a hobby or their chosen sport. The closure of the park, while necessary, means they have less happy customers who may have driven up and stayed from further afield only to find they couldn’t ride the trails. We often see groups of riders enjoying their coffees after a ride at Gallery 5 café – there would’ve been less latte sipping mountain bikers at cafes.

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Do we have to just accept that mountain bike parks in tropics just can’t be relied on to be always open for business in the off season and even in the shoulder season? Or can the trails be built and maintained so they are able to withstand our tropical weather? This is a great question that we might just put to Ground Creations who are maintaining existing trails and building two new trails in the AFMTBP... At any rate, right now our world class trails are going to be in need of a lot of tender loving care.

While the AFMTBP might not be open all the time, there are so many other things to do on the Tablelands and TAG provide a number of adventurous activities.

In the wet season one of our favourite ride alternatives is to leave the red soil country behind for a day and head over the dividing range to the Watsonville area where there are wonderful riding options in the dry country. See our recent blog for more details and while you are on the website see what great bike, hike and kayak trips TAG offers. Words by Liliana Williamson (April 2018)

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Plan B - Riding in Wonderous Wongabel…

Our favourite MTB haunt, the Atherton Forest Mountain Bike Park, has been closed for riding since the heavy rains early in March… and looks like it won’t be reopened until Easter ☹. We’ve been simply itching to get out for a ride on the dirt and discovered that the local Wongabel State Forest provides some great rough and ready forestry roads to do just that!

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Wongabel has an interesting blend of flora… part of it is plantations with stands of hoop, impressive kauri and Caribbean pine and part of it is native Mabi forest. Mabi forest is incredibly special as less than 4% of the original distribution of this rainforest remains. Mabi forest is habitat of the rare Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroo and Mabi is the Aboriginal name for this mammal. You can find the Mabi forest type in only four places in the world: at Tolga Scrub; Haloran’s Hill; Curtain Fig Tree; and, Wongabel State Forest. Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services provide plenty of interesting background reading on the area here: https://www.npsr.qld.gov.au/parks/wongabel/culture.html.

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There’s about 10+km of good riding to be done in Wongabel. While the forestry tracks weren’t single track, they certainly hadn’t been recently graded which made them a lot of fun. They sometimes felt like single track because of the encroaching grass or weeds and while riding a circuit around the hoop pines it became a little technical as there was heaps of basalt boulders to navigate around (which seem to be the reason that this area wasn’t cleared and put under farmland way back when).

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There’s fauna to see there too. This time around we spotted a pademelon and heard plenty of birds as we flew down the track… and given that the mosquitoes were out in force following the recent rain, we didn’t stop anywhere for long or they would carry you away! This is a great hour ride that we definitely recommend if you need to get your fix.

Words by Liliana Williamson (March 2018)

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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)

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