The scenic route across the Atherton Tablelands to Cape York… and back to Mareeba!

By now you have probably realised I never take the short cut writing my blogs when there’s a scenic route!

Follow us as we travel the ‘Scenic Triangle’ from the Atherton Tablelands to Laura and Lakefield National Park on Cape York. We then across Battlecamp Road to Cooktown and from there the Bloomfield Track to Cape Tributlation, ‘The Daintree’ and Mossman where we head back to Mareeba on the Tablelands to begin our journey west!

If you remember from our last blog we set up camp on the rocky foreshore of the beautiful Little Mulgrave Creek on the ‘Catch a Burra’ road, with our good friends from Newcastle – Noela and Pete.

For 3 nights we enjoyed one anothers company around the campfire, relaxed by the creek with our books and explored the rocky edges and ancient trees along the creekside.

Now it was time to move on again and after marking ‘Little Mulgrave Creek’ on our map as a great camp we left the Mulgrave River behind at the foot of the Gillies Range and climbed the windy road up through the Little Mulgrave National Park and over the Great Dividing Range before turning west to descend to the Atherton Tableland.

There are 4 main roads up this range, Innisfail to Milla-Milla; Cairns to Mareeba; Mossman to Mount Molloy… and the road we were taking to Yungaburra.

The  ‘Gillies Range Road’ was originally known as the ‘Cairns Range Road’ and is renowned for its 263 corners and 800-metre elevation change in only 19-kilometres of road.

These 263 corners are well short of the 612 hairpin bends it once had when it was so narrow the traffic had to be controlled going both ways (one-way at a time) at gates that were only open for 90-minutes at a time! There are only signs at the bottom and top of the range now announcing the ‘Bottom Gate’ and ‘Top Gate’… which we whizzed past, not realising the significance at the time and missing a photo opportunity!

Today, there are 2 lanes of traffic flowing in both directions, but it is still quite a scary ride for some with one side of the road mostly made up of rock walls and the other a sheer drop allowing stunning views over the Mulgrave and Goldsborough valleys for the passenger!

Over the top the road passed Lake Barrine where a sign advertised a coffee shop and  boat cruise on the volcanic lake.

A little further on was Lake Eacham, a turtle haven with a great walk to a lookout and a very popular swimming spot for locals.

Lake Barrine and Lake Eacham are crater lakes dating back 10,000 years.

As we continued on, it was evident the high altitude and volcanic soil of this region made for a veritable smorgasbord everywhere we looked… from dairy cows, to more sugar cane, to tea and coffee plantations and everything in between. It was such pretty country we travelled through after rounding the top of the range.

Malanda, the centre of the dairy industry on the Tablelands, was 15-kilometres further on and a very scenic area of dairy country and rainforest patches.

Further south we passed the turnoff to Tinaroo Dam  where we had camped on a number of occasions and further on down the road we came to Yungaburra.

Lake Tinaroo is a great place to pull in to for a couple of days, a picturesque spot with many great camping sites that certainly gets our tick of approval… you just have to be careful of the ‘Giant White-Tailed Rat’, a disturbing creature that can chew through tents, vehicle cabling and other things with its sharp teeth and very strong jaws…

… and if it sounds a bit far fetched, well we actually met some people who had fallen victim to this little beast – but don’t be alarmed, with the bonnet of the car left ajar and a LED torch installed under the vital workings of your vehicle you should be able to keep them at bay!

Yungaburra is a beautiful little town of tree-lined streets with heritage-listed sites and shop fronts decorated with attractive flowering hanging baskets.

A roadhouse welcomed us as we drove in and on further investigation, we found a 1910 corner pub, lovely boutique shops and cafes, a platypus-viewing platform… 

… and a lovely little park where we stopped to have morning tea with Noela and Pete before farewelling them as we both headed off in different directions.

Just around the corner from Yungaburra, was the majestic ‘Curtain Fig’ estimated to be at least 500-years-old. At 50-metres high with a trunk circumference measuring 39-metres this breathtaking strangler fig has formed a curtain of aerial roots that drop around 15-metres to the forest floor, and it certainly was magnificent!

There seemed to be a a treasured memory around every corner after Yungaburra with the old heritage village and ‘tin mining’ town of Herberton not far along the road, and well worth a visit.

We stopped in Atherton to stock up on groceries. There is a great Visitor Information Centre here to get a handle on what to do, and a walk around the main part of the town is always on our agenda when visiting this area. ‘The Crystal Cave’ is widely advertised as a massive collection by one man and is a wonderful little shop full of crystals, both large and small.

Leaving Atherton behind we continued on through countryside of lovely rolling hills and distant mountains.

Our plan was to set up camp at ‘Rocky Creek War Memorial Park’, a free camp we had stopped at on previous trips… but sadly this was not to be as it was now only open to self-contained vehicles with the amenities locked at night.

Rocky Creek War Memorial Park is of special significance to me and I love to wander around the many plaques remembering the people who fought for our country during World War II. My Dad did some of his army training here on the Tablelands.

Located only a few kilometres along the Kennedy Highway north of Tolga, the Rocky Creek Memorial Park is situated on the 2/2 Australian General Hospital, laundry and medical stores site. 

During World War II, the Tablelands area became the largest military base in Australia with camps at Tinaroo, Kairi, Atherton, Wongabel, Herberton, Wondecla, Ravenshoe and Mt.Garnet. 

Rocky Creek was the site of the largest military hospital in the Southern Hemisphere with a 3000-bed hospital which, treated over 60,000 patients from 1943 to 1945. 

The first plaques dedicated in the park occurred on VP Day (Victory in the Pacific) in 1995 and a special ‘Wall of Remembrance’ was erected in 2009. 

Every year, on the Sunday closest to VP Day, return soldiers, their families and descendants gather to remember ‘Victory in the Pacific’ and to take part in a dedication and unveiling ceremony. 

From here it was on to the Mareeba Rodeo Grounds where Carol and Cliff were camped, the couple we had met earlier on in our travels at a roadside stop. We spent a lovely evening with our friends and even had a beer with ‘Knobby Watson’ who holds the world record for walking around Australia.

Mareeba is a lovely little town well known for the ‘Mareeba Rodeo’, which was actually being held the following weekend… so consequently the grounds were a height of activity with events people setting up in the days prior.

Mareeba was first settled in 1877 and the name means ‘meeting of the waters’ – the Barron and the Granite Rivers.

Leaving the Tableland, the Mulligan Highway took us through relatively dry savannah grasslands to the old mining townships of Mount Molloy (copper and timber) and Mt Carbine (wolframite), the latter town named after a Melbourne Cup winner. We passed through Lakeland and continued towards the ‘Tip’, with our next destination the tiny town of Laura.

Passing through the small town of Mount Molloy we stopped to check out a free camp at Rifle Creek Roadside Stop as an option on our way back through in a week or so. This very busy roadside stop was packed with many travellers going to, or returning from Cooktown and Cape York. 

Continuing on we passed through open savannah woodland as we crossed over the Great Dividing Range once again, and another 110-kilometres on we came to the Palmer River Roadhouse.

Gold was discovered in the Palmer River in 1872 by William Hann but it was James Venture Mulligan who led an expedition into the area in 1873 and found large quantities of alluvial gold, which led to Queensland’s largest gold rush and Australia’s richest alluvial gold field.

With the goldfields and ‘Maytown’ (the centre for the goldfields) growing very quickly, and with the record output of gold in the area, the Queensland government responded quickly to Mulligan’s reports, and soon a party was dispatched to advise whether the Endeavour River to the north east of the goldfields would be a suitable site for a port to export the gold and bring in supplies for the goldfields… and so ‘Cooks Town’ was established on the southern bank of the river. Word of the gold quickly spread, and Cooks Town soon became a thriving community also, with prospectors arriving from around the world and by 1877 the population of Chinese miners peaked at 17,000.

Today, the Palmer River area and Cooktown as it has been renamed, are places of significant national heritage, both rich in the artefacts of early Chinese mining and lifestyle, and the relics of pioneer technology and settlement.

Next on our journey was Mount Carbine Roadhouse where we stopped to make lunch.

Mount Carbine was discovered at the end of the 19th Century and in the past has been a major tungsten producer.

It was founded after the discovery of extensive wolfram deposits in 1890 with the mines worked intermittently, subject to demand and world prices, until the 1980’s.

Lakeland was next on our map and lies in a natural basin formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago.

The fertile earth found in this part of the Laura River Valley provides a wealth of agriculture… including many banana plantations. 

It was just past Lakelands we passed a tow truck with a car on the trailer and towing a caravan and remembered just how hard the corrugations could be on vehicles on the Cape York Peninsular Development Road.

From Lakelands the road divided with the Mulligan Highway continuing on to Cooktown or the Peninsula Developmental Road to Laura.

Laura is situated on the only road north towards the tip of the peninsula and forms part of the northern apex of the ‘Scenic Triangle’ between Lakeland, Laura, Rinyirru -Lakefield National Park and Cooktown via Battle Camp Road… the road we were travelling.

It is only a small town with a population of just 80 people but it is surrounded by the largest collection of prehistoric rock art in the world, some open for public viewing. 

From Laura it was another hour through ‘Rinyirru -Lakefield National Park’ to ‘Old Laura Homestead’ where we planned to camp the night before crossing ‘Battlecamp Road’ to Cooktown.

After letting our tyres down to 28-psi we headed off on the 27-kilometre gravel road with our first water crossing not far along the track.

Rinyirru -Lakefield National Park is the second largest park in Queensland at 5,370 square kilometres and is a popular place for fishing and camping. 
This was our second trip through this park.

Click on this link to read of our Cape York adventures – Cape York here we come!

The park stretches from Princess Charlotte Bay in the north to the town of Laura and includes sections of the Normanby River, Morehead River and North Kennedy Rivers, as well as lakes, billabongs and wetlands with more than 100 permanent lagoons. 

There is only one main road (Lakefield Road) through this park, which is unsealed and impassable through much of the wet season causing the park to close.

It wasn’t long before we arrived at the Old Laura homestead but unfortunately we hadn’t booked a campsite and with there being only 2 (already taken), it was another 25-kilometres north to the New Laura Rangers Station where we had phone coverage. Online bookings are essential when travelling in this park.

A call to the National Parks soon confirmed both sites at Old Laura were booked with our only option ‘Horseshoe Lagoon’ 20-kilometres further on from the homestead along Battlecamp Road.  

Heading back along the track we had just come, we made our way south to Old Laura where we stopped to have a look around the old homestead and take some photos before heading to our allotted campsite further up the road.

Old Laura Homestead was built in the gold rush days back in the 1870s and remained a cattle station until it became part of the Lakefield National Park in 1978. It was one of the first cattle stations on Cape York peninsula and although a peaceful setting now beside the Laura River, I should imagine back in 1870s it was a very busy place with the cattle industry plus prospectors using the track leading to the homestead as an access to the goldfields.

Crossing the Laura River and passing the Old Laura campsites we continued on a further 20-kilometres before turning down a sandy track.

2-kilometres on we came to our allotted camp site at Horseshoe Lagoon where we set up camp just back from the Lagoon in a nice little clearing… all on our own!

This lovely site was home to lots of birdlife, butterflies and animal life and although signs warned of crocodiles and snakes, we were yet to see any… our only visitors were Jabirus, ducks swimming on the lily covered lagoon, little comb crested jacanas walking on top of the water lilies looking for insects and a couple of wallabies and wild pigs, that along with cattle had dug up the edges of the lagoon to make a muddy bog mire… and a few days later we found a hitch hiker (a frog) under the cover of our rooftop tent – but it jumped off somewhere in Cooktown never to be seen again!

There were no amenities at Horseshoe Lagoon so ‘Shaun the Shovel’ made a grand entrance again and stood proudly next to our ‘loo with a view’ ready to do his job!

We soon succumbed to a peaceful night around a blazing campfire (there is nothing quite like cooking on the campfire or having billy tea), then we were lulled to sleep by the pitta patter of rain on the canvas of our rooftop tent.

The next morning, we were greeted with a heavy mist that had descended over the lagoon making for a good photo opportunity.

As the mist lifted and the sun welcomed a new day the water lilies opened up one by one and spread their petals, 3 jabiru’s on the reedy banks took flight and ducks cruised in and out and skimmed across the lilies to a vacant patch of water.

We had certainly found some little gems to camp at over the past couple of weeks.

Packed up and ready to head on, our next destination was Cooktown via Battlecamp Road.

Birds of prey continually circle overhead looking for their next meal as we turned back on to the main road and one very fast black snake slid across the road, too quick for a photo.

The gravel road wound its way over the Great Diving Range leaving Rinyirru -Lakefield National Park behind and continued on through Battlecamp Station, the name-sake of the road, then on through Normanby Station. Only sections of the road near the stations and over the steep climbs and descents of the range were sealed, the rest was red dirt, corrugations and mud mires, a result of the recent rain.

We had come to realise that when we see wet tyre tracks on the road there is a river crossing coming up and sure enough the Normanby River was our next water crossing, with a great free campsite on the opposite bank.

We passed the turnoff to Cape Flattery then stopped at Isabella Falls to stretch our legs and after a short trek to the base of the falls we opted against a swim as it was so crowded. It was school holiday time in almost every state in Australia and there seemed to be lots of people on the road.

On the move again, the drive across the top of the falls was really nothing more than a shallow creek crossing with water flowing across the road then dropping down over rocks and falling around 3-metres before flowing on.

Eventually we came to the crossroads. One road led to Cooktown and the other Hope Vale and Elim Beach where we had camped on a previous trip.

Hope Vale is an aboriginal community and only a 30-minute drive further on along a gravel road and through beautiful silica sand dunes is Elim Beach (permit required), the Coloured Sands and Cape Bedford.

Click on this link to read of our previous Cape York adventures – Cape York here we come!

From the crossroads we made our way to Cooktown passing the Endeavour Falls Tourist Park and skirting the mangrove frontage of the Endeavour River.

We had been told of a free camp at the racecourse but it proved not an option for us  as you had to be totally self-contained including grey water tank.

There are a few private ‘farm stays camp’ on the way into Cooktown and a few caravan parks around town but we always choose to stay at the Cooktown Caravan Park on the road south out of town as they have all we need to recharge our batteries.

It was here we met with a lone cyclist – welcome to our blog Jan Paul from Switzerland. Paul had just ridden the Bloomfield Track and was heading for Battlecamp Road, on to Laura then down to the Undara Caves before crossing to Winton, down to Alice and across the Great Central Road into Western Australia.

For those that are unfamiliar with the geography of Australia, Cooktown is at the mouth of the Endeavour River on the Cape York Peninsula in far North Queensland.

Both the town and Mount Cook (431 metres) which rises up behind the town were named after the famouns explorer, James Cook. 

This is where, in 1770, James Cook beached his ship for repairs and the site where 2 vastly different cultures came together.

Unbeknown to Cook at the time, the local Aboriginal Guugu Yimithirr tribe cautiously watched the crippled ship ‘His Majesty’s Bark Endeavour’ limp into the mouth of their river (which they called ‘Wahalumbaal’) seeking a safe harbour after sustaining serious damage to its wooden hull on the Endeavour Reef, south of Cooktown. 

Diary entries in the local museum written by the captain of the Endeavour, Lieutenant James Cook, said ‘… it was happy for us that a place of refuge was at hand; for we soon found that the ship would not work, and it is remarkable that in the whole course of our voyage we had seen no place that our present circumstances could have afforded us the same relief’. 

Cook and his crew spent 7-weeks at this site repairing their ship, replenishing food and water supplies, and caring for their sick… with only 1 skirmish with the locals after he refused to share the turtles he kept on the Endeavour, resulting in the Aboriginals setting fire to the grass around Cook’s camp twice and killing a suckling pig.

This resulted in Cook wounding 1 of the Aboriginals with a musket while the others then fled. Cook and his men followed and caught up with the offenders on a rocky bar where a little old man emerged from the group seeking peace thus resulting in the first recorded reconciliation between Europeans and Indigenous Australians ever… now an important historic event! The site near near Furneaux Street is now known as ‘Reconciliation Rocks’.

Accompanying Cook on the expedition was also well-known scientist, Joseph Banks, and Swedish naturalist Daniel Solander, who collected, preserved and documented over 200 new species of plants. The young artist Sydney Parkinson illustrated the specimens and he was the first British artist to portray Aboriginal people from direct observation and the first recorded sighting of a kangaroo by Europeans was on Grassy Hill, which rises above the place where the ship was beached.

Cook named the river the ‘Endeavour’ after his ship, and, as they sailed north, he hoisted the flag known as the ‘Queen Anne Jack’ and claimed possession of the whole eastern coast of Australia for Britain. He named Cape York Peninsula after the then-Duke of York, hence the song we all knew as kids …‘The Grand Old Duke of York’. 

It wasn’t for another 100-years before Cooktown was founded on 25 October 1873 as a supply port for the goldfields along the Palmer River and was originally called ‘Cook’s Town’.

As mentioned earlier in the blog, with the goldrush of the 1870s came an influx in the Chinese community of many thousands to the area. This population soon overflowed into the town itself and it was estimated there were around 7,000 people in the goldrush area and about 4,000 permanent residents in Cooktown by 1880. Many Chinese originally came as prospectors but they soon played an important role in the early days of Cooktown establishing market gardens and supplying the town and the goldfields with fruit, vegetables and rice. Others opened shops. 

Cooktown boasted a large number of hotels and guest houses, 47 licensed pubs in 1874 with the number dropping to 27 by the beginning of 1880; bakeries, a brewery, a soft drink factory, dressmakers and milliners, a brick works, cabinet maker, 2 newspapers and a number of illegal grog shops and several brothels.

There still remained cultural misunderstandings with the Aboriginal people and there was often conflict between them and the new settlers resulting in entire tribes being wiped out in an unfair struggle as European settlement spread over Cape York Peninsula. 

I have just read a great book ‘The Secret Fate of Mary Watson’ by Judy Johnson taken from the diary of Mary Watson (the original document is held in John Oxley Library, Brisbane) and it explores the life of one woman who lived in Cooktown at the time of the goldrush and on an island off the coast – Lizard Island, where she tests her wits in a dangerous environment surrounded by Aboriginals, Chinamen, secrets, French and German spies and smugglers in and around this corrupt, semi-lawless ‘Far North Queensland’ town.

Transport was an ongoing problem for the new settlers also and often took many weeks, more during and after a wet season when tracks were flooded and bridges were washed away and although a railway line from Cooktown to Maytown, was planned it didn’t eventuate past Laura with the 67-miles (108-kilometre) section of line taking 5-years to build. By that time the gold was petering out and the number of people living in the area started dwindling, so the Queensland Government refused further funding for the venture. 

In spite of this, the train proved to be a lifeline for the Peninsula people connecting the hinterland to Cooktown, from where one could catch a boat to Cairns and other southern ports. The line was closed in 1961 after the Peninsula Development Road was built connecting Cooktown and other Peninsula communities with Cairns and the Atherton Tableland to the south. 

In 1881, a bridge over the Endeavour River was completed, which opened up the richer pastoral lands of the Endeavour and McIvor River valleys. Tin was found in the Annan River area, south of Cooktown, in 1884. 

By 1940, little evidence of Cooktown or Maytown’s interesting past remained… then came World War II and Cooktown became an important base for the war effort.

The civilian population were encouraged to evacuate and by 1942 the vast majority had left, with the Aboriginal people of the Lutheran missions at Hope Vale and Bloomfield forcibly removed – most being taken south to Woorabinda with some elderly people sent to Palm Island, many dying when moved from their traditional lands. They were not allowed to return to their homelands until 1949, well after the war had ended but many Aboriginal and white families never returned. 

The senior missionary, Pastor Schwartz (known as Muni to the local people), was arrested and placed in internment as he were suspected as being an enemy sympathiser.

Some 20,000 Australian and American troops were stationed in and around Cooktown at the time and the very busy airfield played a key role in the crucial Battle of the Coral Sea. The last military unit, the 27th Operational Base Squadron of the RAAF, ceased operations in Cooktown in April 1946. 

Cooktown has seen its fair share of disasters with fires and cyclones but it was in 1949 when a cyclone devastated the town that its population declined even further… then came the closure of the rail link to Laura in 1961 and it wasn’t until the opening of the  ‘Peninsula Development Road’ to the south that the population of only a few began to climb again and has more recently grown in importance to become a popular tourist destination.

Today it is one of the few larger towns on the Cape York Peninsula.

Cooktown is a great town to walk around, or in our case ride. Statues and very informative information boards are located at intervals along the boulevard.

The James Cook statue marks the site of the re-enactment of Cooks landing. This re-enactment takes place in June during the Queen’s birthday celebrations every year and commemorates Cook’s landing on 17 June 1770. 

The canon that dates back to 1881 and was installed to protect Cooktown from a Russian invasion and is fired once a year at the time of the re-enactment. 

Mick the miners statue is in memory of the 1873 Palmer River Gold Rush.

A stroll through the local cemetery gives an insight into the history of the gold mining community and the hardships of the time…

… and the Botanic gardens, established in 1878 are certainly worth a visit as is the Cooktown Museum to read and learn of the areas interesting history… in fact we were so encapsulated we could have spent a day reading the interactive boards.

Meet Linda Rowe at the local Croc Shop and Visitor Information Centre. This lady has a remarkable story to tell in a book that will entertain you from start to finish!

Buy her book for only $19.95 at the Croc Shop in Cooktown and read all about her extraordinary Cape York Peninsula adventures when she and her husband explored the Cape York Wilderness, a wilderness that many of us have only seen in recent years.

They opened the first Croc Shop at Cape York and for 9 years had close encounters unpredictable visitors, crocodiles, man eating snakes and learned to live alongside Aboriginals and station owners in incredible conditions in untouched areas of one of Australia’s ‘last great frontiers’.

We rode our bikes the long, steep, windy road to the top of Grassy Hill, the same hill Cook climbed to work out a safe passage for the Endeavour to sail through the surrounding reefs, after it was repaired.

From the Lighthouse Lookout we had incredible views of Cooktown, the Endeavour River and the Coral sea.

Further afield we visited Finches Beach where it was nice to stretch our legs after a long ride and feel the sand between our toes even if we couldn’t swim – those allusive crocs again!

Mt Cook was a very steep climb but well worth the trek just for the views of the Great Barrier Reef and the surrounding area….

… and after 3-days of exploring Cooktown our journey began again as we headed along the Mulligan Highway crossing the Annan River, which forms a boundary of the Annan National Park.

Just 15-kilometres south of Cooktown we detoured 10-kilometres down another gravel road through Yuka-Bala-Muliku Land Trust Aboriginal Land to Archer point on the coast, where we found some great free campsites, albeit a bit windy.

A permit is required to camp here and can be obtained from the Visitor Information Centre in Cooktown – while you are visiting catch up with Linda and check out her book!

It was low tide when we arrived showing areas of mangroves, rocks and big rock pools and although the coastal campsites were beautiful, they stood victim to the elements. Other campsites were tucked away near the mangroves under lots of shady trees but were just a little too close to croc country for us, especially when there were signs advising of a recent croc sighting in the area!

Further along the track a lighthouse stood way up on a hill where we were privy to fantastic views down over the coast and the campsites and out to sea over the Hope Islands, the Great Barrier reef and down the coast to Cape Tribulation… and we could just make out cargo ships in the distance.

Next stop was the lookout at Black Mountain, an enormous mountain formed of gigantic black granite boulders.

On first appearance, the mountain range looks like a giant dump truck had unloaded many tons of boulders in a pile but it actually came about 260 million years ago when molten rock (magma) slowly solidified deep below the earth’s surface forming a body of hard granite rock. An unusual pattern then occurred in the granite, which led to fracturing. The top of the fractured granite was gradually exposed as softer land surfaces above were eroded away. Water penetrated through the network of fractures extending through the solid granite rock and then chemical reactions reduced the hard minerals to soft clay. These clays were easily removed by erosion, leaving isolated rectangular blocks – the solid rock between the fractures. The edges and corners of these rectangular blocks were progressively weathered to form round boulders.

The solid granite core of the mountain now lies beneath a layer of jumbled grey boulders which are home to the Black Mountain skink, geckos, boulder frogs and Godman’s rock wallabies. 

This area is of strong cultural significance to the local Aboriginal people thus not allowing people past the viewing area. It also carries mythological significance for non-Aboriginal locals and over the years several tales have emerged of people and livestock heading to Black Mountain, never to be seen again, earning it the nickname ‘Mountain of Death’. 

From here our trip would take us south onto the Bloomfield Track, which leads to Cape Tribulation and the Daintree.

There are many adventures to be had in northern Queensland and for us this not so challenging 30-kilometre 4WD track provides a scenic coastal route along a partially sealed track between Cooktown and Cape Tribulation that passes over the sometimes steep Donovan and Cowie Ranges, across the Bloomfield River, and passes through a few natural creek crossings… a nice alternative to the black tar!

The track stretches between the Aboriginal community of Wujal Wujal and Cape Tribulation… but in order to reach it we must also pass the famous Lions Den Hotel , a very old pub built in 1875 with lots of character, then the small communities of Helenvale, Rossville, Ayton and Bloomfield.

The Lions Den Pub has been running since 1875 and has a small shop, campsite and a swimming hole out the back. The interior walls are covered in scribble from when miners (that mined tin from the mountain across the road) used to write their earnings on the wall to keep track of what they had and how much they could afford to drink.

Located 26 kilometres south of Cooktown, Helenvale is a small community on the edge of the Black Mountain National Park.

Ayton, situated on beautiful Weary Bay was the first town we passed through.

Originally, established as a service centre for a burgeoning sugar plantation in 1882, Ayton was Northern Queensland’s first sugar mill with a narrow-gauged rail line linking old Ayton wharf.

Meanwhile, Ayton also thrived and employed hundreds of English, Chinese, Italian, Japanese and local Kuku Yalanji workers when the timber industry of ‘red gold’ or Red Cedar as it is otherwise known began in 1890.

Horse teams dragged logs to a riverbank chute then rafts were floated downstream and taken by vessel to Townsville with the wood ending up at the gold rich city of Charters Towers, lining the floors of wealthy miner’s mansions. 

Today there are only a a few homes scattered through the bush. 

Just before Wujal Wujal we pulled in at the boat ramp to check and see if the resident croc that has always been there on previous travels was still basking on the sandy bank on the opposite side, and sure enough there he was!

At the Aboriginal community of Wujal Wujal, the first point of interest is Wujal Wujal Falls. There are several important waterfalls for the local indigenous community in this community but general access is only provided to one of the falls, as the others are believed to be sacred sites for women only.

We had visited the falls on a previous trip so this time we drove straight through Wujal Wujal crossing the new bridge across the Bloomfield River.

A stop at Cowie Beach is well worth the detour just to see the amazing beach that offers incredible views out across a few isolated mangroves that stand in s isolation to the coral reef lying just offshore.

For most of the unsealed track we crossed a few dry creek beds, some very steep sections over the Donavan Range with the only descent river crossing not far from Cape Tribulation where we were welcomed by a few onlookers.

By the time we reached Cape Tribulation it had began to rain quite steadily and the temperature had dropped somewhat so we decided, having camped here a couple of times before and visiting many of the sights, we would make our way to the ferry and hopefully make Mt Molloy to camp by nightfall.

From Cape Tribulation through the Daintree National Park there are a few beach and rainforest walks and 3- 4 campgrounds, cruises, the Bat House, the Butterfly and Insect House, an ice cream factory (an ice-cream was $7.50 each), and a tea plantation to name a few but we found everything is expensive here because of all the tourists.

For more information on the Daintree and Cape Country read our blog – Cape York here we come!

Our ride across the  Daintree River on the ferry was $14 dollars then after a short drive through sugarcane country we came to Mossman where we turned on to the narrow and windy Mossman-Mount Molloy Road and made tracks for Mount Molloy and Rifle Creek Roadside Stop, our free camp for the night.

Mossman Gorge. Mossman Gorge lies within the world heritage-listed Daintree National Park where the Mossman river flows over huge granite rocks that line the gorge creating a crystal-clear freshwater swimming hole and along both sides of the gorge the rainforest rises up to the mountain tops. This gorge has been home to the Kuku Yalanji people for many thousands of years and their Dreamtime stories are closely connected to this landscape.

Mossman Gorge is at the southernmost end of the Daintree Rainforest and is ancient and pristine. The Gorge is free to enter but you do need to purchase a pass to catch the shuttle bus into the heart of the Mossman Gorge at a cost of $9.10 for a return ticket… or you can walk the 2 kilometres.

At the top there is a lovely waterhole to swim in and a circuit track along a pretty easy-going walk that winds through spectacular scenery and affords great views of mountain tops, lush rainforest and hidden water holes just perfect for a dip.  

The Kennedy Highway out of Mossman heading to Mt Molloy and the Tablelands, although only 33-kilometres from Mossman, was slow going as it was fairly twisty and steep.

Just 1-kilometre north of Mount Molloy we arrived at Rifle Creek Rest Area, an extremely popular spot that straddles Rifle Creek… and it soon filled up quickly after we arrived – we were just in time to find a spot to tuck ourselves into for the night!

The facilities were great and there were even cold showers… and all they ask is a donation to help with the upkeep.

For those not keen on a cold shower, the pub in town offers hot showers for a small fee.

Our journey from here will head across the ‘Wheelbarrow Way’ to Chilligoe, then over the Bourke Development Road to Karumba.

The greatest part of our Aussie Outback adventure is the amazing sights along the way… so strap yourself in and come travel with us – the road ahead is packed full of suprises!

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