Undara to Granite Gorge, Atherton Tablelands 28 July to 4 August 2012

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August 6th 2012
Published: August 21st 2012
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We travelled along the Gregory Development Road and the road was 'sealed' all the way but still being developed with many single lane sections where you had to move off on to the gravel and sand if you met any oncoming vehicles - particularly the large road trains that speed past. Most of the locals do not like travelling along this road particularly those towing trailers and caravans - we were quite pleased we only had a little van to travel in. The journey from Charters Towers to Undara took four and half hours and all that time the only sign of human life was those in other vehicles, of which there were not that many and no-one overtook us (we were not travelling fast). We stopped at the Greenvale Roadhouse which was about half way for a welcome break and coffee.

As we travelled, large herds of cattle roamed all around the bush and into the road - so you had to stay alert. We passed a couple of unsealed roads leading we guessed to large cattle stations, although you could not see these from the highway. We came across numerous road kill particularly large kangaroos and also some cattle. It was quite unlucky for these animals as the roads were quiet, yet they seemed to get hit by someone........ Crows and Kites were always constantly hovering over a fresh kill and we also came across a massive Wedge Tail Eagle taking his fill. Most of the bush each side of the road was scrub land dotted with trees as far as the eye could see and these were intermingled with the lovely yellow wattle flower which was just coming into bloom. We crossed several creeks and billabongs and on one spotted a Black Necked Stork but by the time we managed to stop he had taken flight........ We stopped and collected some wood on the roadside (making sure there was no nasties in it) for a campfire later. Undara was in a National Park so you could not use any wood around the campsite and we were looking forward to drinks around a lovely campfire. It took for ages but we finally left the Greogry Development Road and turned on to the Savannah Way.

We at last arrived at Undara and were really impressed with the campsite and the welcome from the small shop and reception. We had plenty of space and all around us was open bushland with just the sound of the birds for company and later lots of kangaroos and wallabies. We also had are own pit fireplace complete with small barbecue which would be useful when it got dark and we had collected enough wood for our time here.

Undara Lava Tubes have been owned by the Collins family for six generations being the first white settlers into the area in 1862. Since then generations of the family have explored these strange formations beneath the land, now acclaimed as the longest lava tube systems in the world. The family worked the land and did not take much notice of the tubes in fact they were quite a menace as they lost numerous cattle down these strange large holes in the ground. Local aborigines would not go near them as they thought they contained demons. Now within the Undara Volcanic National Park the family have obtained a lease to run a tour company which was only opened to the public in 1990 launched by the famous David Attenborough.

It was 190,000 years ago when mother nature created one of the rarest volcanic phenomena on Earth, the Undara Lava Tubes on the Eastern edge of Tropical North Queensland’s vast Gulf Savannah region. This massive eruption caused lava to flow more than 90 kms to the north and over 160 kms to the north west. It is estimated that a lava flow this large could fill Sydney Harbour in 6 days.......and is the Earth’s longest lava flows from a single volcano in modern time. The lava tubes and caves were formed when rivers of lava confined to a valley crusted over and formed a roof. Insulated in its casing of solidified lava, the lava flow carried on for many tens of kilometres before draining out, leaving an empty tube of lava. Weaker sections of the roof of the tubes later collapsed to form caves and depressions. More than 50 caves have been found in the park.

We booked several tours to the Lava Tubes and after lunch set off on one of the many bush walks within the national park. Within minutes of starting the first walk we came across a lovely little wallaby eating a tasty bush and he did not seem bothered about us as we took several photos and watched him munching away. We later found out that there are many different kangaroos and wallabies in the park and this one was a Swamp Wallaby.

We followed a narrow track uphill to a lookout with huge granite boulders strewn across the bush. Once we were at the top you could see for miles in every direction a vast wilderness of bush. Paul then decided to try and pick up another walk so we had to scramble through tall grasses (I thought snakes) which came up to my head to find another track which finally joined the Swamp Track. All around here we saw huge numbers of large kangaroos and one with a baby joey sitting quite happily in the pouch. We were also rewarded with seeing a number of birds including a huge flock of Red Tailed Black Cockatoos which we had not seen before. These magnificent and noisy cockatoos travel to water in the morning and evening in large flocks. The male has scarlet panels in its tail and the female has yellow to orange panels so if you get close enough you can tell them apart.......

Later we sat around our campfire and were defrosting a couple of steaks when a Pied Currawong (large black and white bird) swooped in and took it, luckily he dropped it on the track and it was wrapped in cling film - otherwise we would have gone hungry! One of the guides told us later that the Currawong is a real pest and you should not leave anything out, they even got inside the guide’s accommodation block and grabbed anything they could find including bread hot out of the toaster.......These noisy birds can live for over 20 years in the wild and certainly had cottoned on to us humans, as soon as a car started its engine they realised someone was leaving and arrived in numbers to swoop down on the site and eat anything that was left behind. Other birds we saw in the park including the Pale Headed Rosella which looked similar to the Eastern Blue Rosella, Rainbow Lorikeets, Lemon Bellied Flycatcher, Laughing Kookabuura (they woke us each morning), Blue-faced Honeyeater and in abundance the Noisy Friarbird.

As we sat and ate our supper around the open fire we were joined by a Rufous Bettong which is the largest of the Rat Kangaroos but really sweet more like a baby kangaroo than a rat (he came back each evening)! Later we walked across to one of the evening lectures around a campfire and the talk that evening was on Planets and Stars which Paul found very interesting and I did to in parts and learned a lot more about the planets than I had known before - will not go into detail though as not an expert yet! We met up with a Dutch couple that we had previously met at Cape Hillsborough and had a long chat with them - its strange out of all the hundreds of campsite how you run into the same people.

We set off on our first tour to see the Lava Tubes which was to be a four hour trip and after a short bus ride and walk along a track we came to a huge cavern deep in a gully in the undergrowth - where we had to scramble down amongst the lava rocks. Luckily they had placed a rope down which you could hang on to. At the bottom we entered our first tube and were impressed at the size and shape - a little bit like being in an egg shaped tunnel. Little micro-bats were clinging to the roof top and a few cane toads were hopping around amongst quite a number of animal bones - the unlucky ones that had literally fallen through the earth floor. The walls and ceilings were a multitude of colours from deep reds to white and grey and as you looked up you wondered how safe the ceiling was..... We walked through the tube and once you got away from the entrance it was pitch black apart. Luckily we all had torches, although ours was not that bright. We walked around the tubes for a while spotted lots more bats before we finally saw daylight coming through from another entrance where we scrambled back up more strewn volcanic rocks. These would once have been the roof top and they are unsure why some of the roofs have collapsed whilst others have not. We later went into another tube with was like a huge cavern but the roof had blocked going deep into this tube so we had to return by the same entrance. The floor was partially covered in rain water which the guide said would gradually dry out before the next rainy season came around again. We enjoyed this trip which was very different to anything we had seen before and well worth the long journey to get here and even met up with the Dutch couple again.

The next day we covered a number of the bush walks although we were unable to get to one which ran along the swamp edge as water was blocking the path so we doubled back and continued onto the Pioneer Track where the trail followed the old telegraph line that was built in 1870. Interpretive signage outlined how these brave pioneers put up these lines using the timber that was readily available. In some places you could still see the existing poles with the conductors on the top. The track ended at the Heritage, a replica pioneer dwelling like the one where the first Collins had lived in when they came to these lands all those years ago. All around these bush walks we saw many different types of kangaroos, wallabies and wallaroos including; The Eastern Grey Kangaroo, Mareeba Rock Wallaby, The Swamp Wallaby, Pretty Face or Whiptail Wallaby and the Common Wallaroo. These large, stocky wallaroos have shaggy, grey fur and a noticeably bare, black nose. Not forgetting the lovely little Bettong who kept us company around our campfire each night.

On our last evening we had booked a Wildlife at Sunset Tour with one of the local Savannah Guides and as we drove through the Undara National Park we saw many of the different types of kangaroos and wallabies coming out to feed at dusk. We walked up a rocky outcrop where there were tremendous views all around and we sat watching the sun set over the savannah with champagne and cheese. We then headed to Barkers Knob and walked in the pitch black towards the entrance of Barkers Cave and could smell something not quite nice! As we turned the corner and saw the entrance of the cave we were bombarded with hundreds of bats making their way out to feed and only just missing us. Several of the ‘ladies’ ducked and a couple froze - the caves were home to the tiny insect eating Microbats. They also host the incredibly venomous brown snakes that eat the bats but luckily we did not encounter any of these, although in the pitch black it was a little bit scary so I just got as close to Paul as I could - I was really glad that I had a hat though but Paul had forgotten his but I being the loving wife gave him mine - I had a hood on my jacket though!

We had to walk down into the cave in the dark so we wouldn't scare the bats away - I think it was more the other way around! Chris our guide gave us a count to three and we all took photos of the darkness, hoping to capture the bats with our flashes. The second and third time he did it, I managed to capture a bat but was disappointed with the outcome though - I think you need to be an expert to capture these speedy little critters. Bakers Cave is a major nursery site for the large bent-wing bat, the eastern cave bat, the northern horseshoe bat and the common sheathtail bat. It is estimated to house about 80,000 of these little mammals during the maternity period, one of the largest colonies in north Queensland. It was a really awesome experience watching these creatures emerge from the cave - it was like being in the middle of a David Attenborough nature film. As we drove back to the campsite in the dark Chris our guide had to be carefully as the kangaroos kept leaping across our path, he said that it would be better without his lights on as the lights dazzled the animals and hence they ran across the roads. I think it was safer for us though that he kept his lights on.........

The next morning we left Undara headed for a walk within the National Park which was down an unsealed road but the guides at the campsite has said that the campervan should be OK. We wanted to do the Kalkani Crater Rim Walk as we had seen the crater from many lookouts.

So we hiked to the top of the hill and after a while arrived at the rim itself. We had expected to see a huge hollow in the centre but it was all covered in very green grass and tall trees. The walk took about an hour around the rim and we were rewarded with wonderful views out over the flat Savannah. We had good 360 degree views all around and a bird's eye view of the tubes in the landscape. Far below you could make out the line of the lava tubes as the foliage was greener and you could also make out where the tube had collapsed. Many years ago drovers had walked up this same crater looking for watering holes and had thought that these depression were indeed watering holes and of course were disappointed when all they were then to them was a hole in the ground. It was a good hike and a lot of climbing and walking, but well worth the effort.

We continued on stopping at Innot Hot Springs and walked along the creek where the water was steaming hot - we were going to soak our feet but the temperatures were far to high. We stopped at Ravenshoe as well before walking out to the Millstream Falls which are the widest falls in Queensland. We then drove out to The Crator and Dinner Falls. We noticed a huge Mahogany tree with the trunk covered in white flowers. A detailed sign said that clusters of flowers and fruit are borne from the trunk of the Yellow Mahogany and this structure feature is called Cauliflory and occurs in a number of rainforest trees.

We noticed we were passing Hastie Swamp, we had called in here last year and had seen dozens of the colourful Whistling Ducks so we thought we would visit again to see what was about on the lakeside. The unsealed road had deteriorated quite badly and was riven with potholes but we made it to the lookout. Hastie Swamp has an excellent bird hide where you can view some of the most illusive migratory birds in their natural surrounds, we noticed the Whistling Ducks again but they were not in such great numbers as the year before. On the way back to the highway we noticed a huge flock of Brolgas or Sirus Cranes on a freshly ploughed field and set off to check what they were, we walked for ages and they were not getting any closer - it was then we realised that the birds were also walking but away from us.........We got some distant views and think they were Sirus Cranes but were not sure.

We arrived in Atherton and booked into a Big 4 campsite and decided to go on another walk (we seem to have done plenty of walking lately so can enjoy a few drinks before bedtime!). We did not have any details on the walk but followed a track which gradually climbed through thick bush with high grasses rubbing against ones legs and it was getting dark we continued uphill for ages and were rewarded with views of Atherton but these were slightly marred by the huge trees that dwarfed our view. It was now time to return to the campsite - luckily it was much easier going down hill.

The next morning we headed back from where we had come but only about 20 kms to Herberton as we wanted to visit the Mining Museum and Herberton Historical Village and needed some time to do this. After chatting to the volunteers who run the Visitor Centre and Museum we wandered around and were impressed with the display which not only included information on the tin mining in the area but also lots about the township and people who have lived here. Outside the museum were the start of several walks and we headed off on a ‘short one’ (we had done so much walking the day before) which took us passed three main mineshafts that contributed to the tin ore production which for decades was the anchor of the economy of Herberton. The walk took us passed Prospectors Gully which was where the discovery of tin ore was made in April 1880. Beside the creek was the original Gully Shaft but this was now collapsed and full of water. The winding gear above the shaft was powered by a horse whim and there were several mining relics nearby left as they were all those years ago. We continued along the track to where the ‘waste’ from the mined stone was left in huge piles and little white flowers were blossoming all around the old mining site. They were called Paper Daisys which I think are related to Helichrysum or the Everlasting Flower which my father used to grow in our house in Corsham, Wiltshire and we used to make dried flower displays for the home. They were in abundance here due to the heavily mineralized area but were all with white petals. Herberton has developed a unique assemblage of native flora including the native bottlebrush and also the larger trees include turpentines, lemon scented gums and bloodwoods as well as the Xanthorreas (grass trees) which dot the hill sides. Further along the trail there were more open mine shafts covered in safety grids which we walked across and Paul dropped a couple of stones down to see how deep the mine was - it was deep. It was not until we rounded the corner and read the noticeboard about the shaft that it said ‘do not venture out onto the metal wire‘ - oh dear the sign was in the wrong place (we are fine though). We saw many artifacts from the mining era and all of which are heritage listed and date from the 1880s - some of this equipment are the only examples of their kind in Australia so well worth preserving. We spent ages wandering around this unique township situated so high up in the Atherton Tablelands and surrounded by lovely rolling hills with hills and mountains all around.

We continued to the other side of the town where the Herberton Historic Village was located. We thought the entrance fee was a bit pricy at $25 dollars (we did get a concession ticket though at $22 dollars each) but still on the high side - but it was really worth it. You could sit in a schoolhouse, stand at a bar of the pub and enjoy a cuppa or lunch (we had caramel slices topped with marshmallow - lovely) or wander around numerous fully restored houses. The historic village is more than a vintage precinct it is a unique history of the beginnings of Australia and you could spend the whole day and not see a fraction of this living museum. The area features more than 50 original buildings, each housing an extensive display of artifacts and memorabilia. With quirky Australian collectables, olden day machinery, vintage vehicles and thousand of genuine antique items. There were may highlights including The School House, The Coach House, Day’s Garage, The Pioneer Wing with a huge military display (Paul could have still been there if I did not drag him out) but we finally ended up at the fully restored Bakerville Hotel which was now the ‘tea room’ where we devoured the sticky caramel slices. Most of the buildings had been brought here fully in tact from their original locations (including the Hotel) and what a excellent historical museum it was. As we wandered around we chatted to a local chap who was working in one of the museum garages restoring an old 1933 Continental Flyer to full working order - he had a long way to go though...... The Continental Motor Company an American based company only produced cars for a couple of years from 1933 to 1934 when it then concentrated on Aircraft Engine Manufacture.

We later stocked up on our supplies and headed north to Granite Gorge which we knew was miles from any shops or facilities. This is the only campsite that we knew from our previous travels and had spent four glorious days in the gorge last year and was one of our favourite places in the Atherton Tablelands and indeed in Queensland. We arrived at the gorge to much activity with police, ambulances, helicopters and firemen and wondered what was going on. Apparently a lady had gone out to look at the Rock Wallabies that live on the rocks in the gorge and then decided to tackle one of the walks over the huge granite boulders. Unfortunately she did not have on the right shoes and she fell down into a gully hitting her head. The helicopter had to winch her out and it took quite a while for them to be able to do this with the helicopter circling overhead until it was safe to go in to winch her out. The helicopter hovered precariously over the huge grey granite boulders as the winch-men did their excellent work and luckily the casualty was hoisted up on a stretcher to safety (it was like watching real life movie).

Paddy the owner of the site said that we could have our same campsite near the massive granite black boulders and away from the main park that we had last year - she said that she had kept it for us and had moved off another van that was parked there before we arrived!!!! We knew that the Rock Wallabies came down to this spot only at night and were hoping that they would join us again around our campfire the same as last year. We walked around the gorge collecting some firewood and sat in our favourite spot overlooking the river and watched the world go by........... Later Paul went off to chat to Paddy and booked four nights - as last year we did not want to move on from this peaceful location.

That night and each evening we were in Granite Gorge the Rock Wallabies arrived just like clockwork as we were eating our supper around the campfire. They sat around the campfire with us and enjoyed anything that you gave them but we were only feeding them fruit - Paul’s favourite apples actually........they turned their noses up at cucumber though........

We wanted to walk to the bottom of the gorge as we had done last year although it had been quite difficult getting around the huge granite boulders then but we had managed to do it. We asked Paddy and she said she would not recommend it as one area had been changed by the floods and was strewn with large rocks and trees and difficult to pass. We decided to give it a try though and she said if we were not back she would call the emergency services as she had the day before - I hope not....... So we set off (with the right footwear and gear I might add). It was OK for a while but it did get quite difficult in one area, however they had nailed in a couple of hand grips into the rock and we were able to scramble around this with hands and feet (and sometimes with the bottom giving support). We had to be careful though as it was quite easy to slide down into one of the crevices where the water was following in torrents and disappeared before coming out further down the gorge. We made it however and arrived at Whale Rock the end of the trail and sat and watched the water flowing out at the other end of the gorge before heading back to the campsite. The next day we decided to be a bit adventurous and tackle the gorge walk in reverse which was quite interesting but a big achievement when we got to the end........We met Yola and John from New South Wales at our favourite spot overlooking a large rock and Granite Creek by the small weir and they joined us later at our van for a yarn. They said they were looking for someone to house sit for them at their farm in the Snowy Mountains as they intend to start travelling around Australia more so it looks like we might be back....................

We spent most days at Granite Gorge not doing a lot but walking around the gorge and swimming in the clear blue creek with only the rock wallabies, birds and the odd fresh water turtle for company - just bliss - we will try and drag ourselves away sometime as we have a deadline to meet in Cairns - so maybe we will see you there...........

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