Posts Tagged ‘Food Trail’

Tolga.. the little hamlet with more.

Friday, May 8th, 2009

Ever since our first visit to the Atherton Tablelands, I have been intrigued by the tiny hamlet of Tolga, between Mareeba and Atherton. Growing from a Cobb and Co. staging post at nearby Rocky Creek, Tolga became the centre of both the local peanut industry and the Chinese community’s market gardens. Yes, this area has a rich and largely untold Chinese heritage, as you will discover at Hou Wang Temple and Atherton Chinatown.

Originally called Martintown, Tolga was renamed when the railway from Mareeba reached it. ‘Tolga’ means ‘red mud’ in the local Aboriginal language. It’s no New York or London, let’s be honest. You could almost blink and miss it if you were driving too fast, and many passing tourists would wonder where the population of 1500 are all hiding.

There’s not much to Tolga at first glance; a woodworks gallery, a couple of local shops, the iconic roadside fruit stall known as The Humpy and a little further up the road a gigantic peanut by another fruit stall, this one long-vacant. But in the two years we have been living in Cairns (yes, time flies when you’re having fun!) the giant peanut has been given a new lease on life - and a new body - as ‘The Peanut Place’,  The Humpy is now home to ‘Nutworld’ , and Tolga Woodworks now serves delicious snacks and meals in their ‘Gallery Cafe’. Tolga is now a compulsory stop on the popular Atherton Tablelands ‘Food Trail’.

As you leave Tolga heading south,  a short strecth of rainforest - noticably different to the surrounding pasture and woodlands - shrouds the Kennedy Highway. This is known as the Tolga Scrub, and holds significance as one of the last remaining fragments of the critically endangered Mabi rainforest on the Atherton Tablelands. Once covering vast areas of the Tablelands north and west of Malanda, 98% of Mabi rainforest has been lost to clearing, and several endemic plant species are now listed as ‘critically endangered’.

Mabi is characterised by the presence of scattered, mainly deciduous emergent trees up to 45m tall, heavy leaf fall during times of moisture stress and a well-developed shrub layer. It is the most drought resistant type of rainforest in Australia. The Tolga Scrub is critical habitat for flying foxes. Spectacled flying foxes are usually at the Tolga Scrub, though the numbers will vary throughout the year, being least in winter. It is a very important maternity camp for them, and is sometimes the only maternity camp on the Tablelands. Census counts in November usually report about 5000 to 10000. The total count for Spectacleds in the Wet Tropics is about 180,000

The Little Red flying foxes (Pteropus scapulatus) are sometimes at Tolga, and often in large numbers compared to the Spectacleds. They rarely use Tolga as a maternity camp, but often arrive when the young are flying, around September. The numbers will sometimes build up by the end of the year to be over a million (estimate only), but they are usually gone again by March when the wet season sets in. Little Reds can do significant damage to the forest if they hang in the weaker mid-canopy trees. This damage is the result of their characteristic behaviour of hanging in ‘bunches’ - the branches cannot take the weight and often bend until they break. This damage will repair itself, unlike the damage being done by the cockatoos that results in the death of the tree. However the Little Reds are sometimes camped in large numbers and do no damage, by camping in the larger trees and hanging apart from each other, rather than in bunches. This seems to happen late in the year, just before mating season.

 Tolga Bat Hospital

The Tolga Scrub is a vital part of the local ecosystem, and a refreshing landmark as one explores the Tablelands. But as soon as you have the opportunity to think “hmm… this rainforest seems a bit out of place” you have suddenly emerged into open woodland and cleared pasture. Incredibly, the Tolga Scrub is no more than two kilometres long and only a hundred metres wide!

You can see from this aerial view of the Tolga Scrub that it is completely isolated from other areas of rainforest and is bordered by farmland. The Tolga Scrub survived Cyclone Larry with only moderate damage, but this unique ecosystem faces a number of threats, not the least of which is internal fragmentation as animals and plant seeds have problems getting across the road which (quite bizarrely) disects this narrow sliver of irreplacebale Mabi rainforest.

We stopped to stock up at The Peanut Place (one bag of chilli and lime peanuts and one of honey and ginger peanuts) and then discovered that we were lucky enough to have arrived in Tolga on Market Day. You’d think we would have known in advance, since we have put together a comprehensive Tropical North Queensland Events Calendar, especially documenting every market in the region, and marking them on an interactive map! But the Tolga Markets was a pleasant surprise, and we were amazed at the size and breadth of this indoor/outdoor country market. There was everything from plants to books, stamps and coins, clothes, antiques and collectibles, arts and crafts, fruit and vegetables, and an unusual variety of foods and sweets.

We picked up a couple of giant passionfruit, two delicious pawpaws (papayas) and a few avocados; Shepherd variety. I carefully selected some slightly soft and some still hard so they would ripen in sequence. Once back home, Maria promptly selected the hardest of the lot and - struggling - cut it in half with a sharp knife. She is saving the two halves in the fridge, refusing to believe that it will not ripen now that it has been cut in half.

From Tolga, we continued through Atherton to Ravenshoe via the highest road in Queenslandd, then on to Millaa Millaa, where we and visited the picture perfect Millaa Millaa Falls, and dined at The Falls Teahouse, one of our all time favourites for their comfortable, relaxed ‘country style’ dining atmosphere and their freshly home made foods. I can almost never resist their rump steak pies, and this time chose to enjoy it as a ‘pie floater’, resting on a bed of mushy peas and drizzled with brown gravy. *drool*

Maria chose the fettucine carbonara, which was rich and creamy and generously laden with so much bacon that I had to help Maria finish it.

Waterfalls, cheese, chocolate and wine… is this paradise?

Saturday, July 21st, 2007

Some of you might suspect that we’ve been showing an unfair degeree of favouritism towards the ATHERTON TABLELANDS, and you’d be pretty right. The Cairns Highlands - as they’re also known - have always been a personal favourite of mine, and Maria is sharing my enthusiasm for exploring this varied and diverse region.

We are planning a road trip to COOKTOWN, and also an extended tour around the NORTHERN OUTBACK, but when we found ourselves with a free day on Friday, we were off to the Tablelands again. This time, we were bound for the the southern towns of the Tablelands, the rolling green hills, the dairy farms, lush rainforests and waterfalls of MALANDA, MILLAA MILLAA and YUNGABURRA.

Neither member of the expedition was keen to retrace our windy path from three days earlier up the range from Gordonvale, so we followed the Bruce Highway further south to INNISFAIL before turning inland to our first destination, Millaa Millaa. I was especially excited to be visiting the Tablelands’ premier independent dairy; I had read about Mungalli Creek Bio-Dynamic Dairy when I first started researching the region, and since then I have seen their products in shops almost everywhere I go. Our ATHERTON TABLELANDS FOOD TRAIL page has been receiving a great response, but so far about half the venues are coffee plantations or fruit wineries. We were keen to get a dairy on board to provide a better balance.

But Mungalli Creek is more than just a dairy. Set on a ridge with sweeping views to the distant mountains, the working dairy is fronted by their ‘Out Of The Whey’ Teahouse. On entering, we were immediately greeted by the aroma of a medley of farm fresh food baking. Neither of us were hungry, but we couldn’t resist the free ‘cheese sampler’, a selection of their famed cheeses and delicious flavoured quarks. After a chat with Michelle, the owner, we continued on our tour. There was still so much to see.

Maria sampling some of Mungalli Creek Dairy's delicious cheeses. The view from Mungalli Creek Dairy.

This part of the Tablelands is nothing short of spectacular, and it’s no surprise that the local ‘Waterfall Circuit’ is such a popular destination. There are a number of beautiful waterfalls within a fifteen kilometre drive, but we didn’t have time to visit them all. We did stop for a quick photo opportunity at the most famous falls, Millaa Millaa Falls, which are probably the most photographed waterfalls in Tropical North Queensland. You can see why, the setting is nothing short of idyllic.

Maria and me at the gorgeous Millaa Millaa Falls. The wildlife signs are there for a very good reason, and locals don't appreciate them being removed.

At the end of the Waterfall Circuit (or at the beginning if you’re coming the other way) you will find The Falls Teahouse. We dropped in to check it out, and were surprised to learn that they also offer Bed and Breakfast accommodation. We were invited to take a look at the rooms, and both of us were very impressed. The rooms, while fairly simple, were decorated with period furniture and fittings, and had a genuine old world charm. I couldn’t leave without sampling one of their home baked rump steak pies, straight from the oven. Now five bucks might seem like a lot for a humble meat pie, but I guarantee that by the time you finish one, you will wonder how they make it so good for the price. A far cry from the average sloppy mince pie, this fella was packed with huge chunks of lean rump steak.

A little further north on the road to Tarzali, I was delighted to find a new addition for our BIG THINGS page, a gleaming nine metre high fish. This is the entrance to Tarzali Lakes Fishing and Leisure Park, North Queensland’s number oen fishing park. Tarzali lakes is famous for the local freshwater crayfish known as Redclaw, and in fact has produced the two largest Redclaw ever, at 800 and 900 grams! Another interesting discovery at Tarzali lakes is that they offer ‘No see, no fee’ platypus viewing tours. That is to say, if you don’t spot one of the normally elusive monotremes, you don’t pay for the tour. And you can’t get much fairere than that!

In Tarzali, we dropped in to Hillside Eden Gardens, a popular cafe with beautiful tropical gardens. Hillside Eden is becoming an increasingly popular venue for garden weddings, and the owner seemed keen to be part of Cairns Unlimited’s WEDDINGS section.

The big fish at Tarzali Lakes Fishing and Leisure Park. Maria in front of the Curtain Fig Tree.

Just up the road is Australia’s largest tea plantation, where we thoroughly enjoyed a strong cup of Nerada tea in their new tearoom and visitors centre. But there was one other attraction that had my interest. What was missing on our Food Trail page? We had tea plantations, coffee plantations, dairy products, home made icecreams, gelatos and sorbets, fresh seafood, fruit wines and liqueurs…

Neatly trimmed tea plantation, on the Atherton Tablelands. Neatly trimmed tea plantation, on the Atherton Tablelands.

Well, we had been hearing rumours about a newly opened cheese and chocolate factory, and apparently we were headed in the right direction. Gallo Dairyland it’s called, and it wasn’t long before we saw their driveway. Little did we know that we were actually gatecrashing their official opening! But the owner Johnny Gallo didn’t seem to mind. he took the time to chat with us, although we did leave without being invited to sample any of their delicious range of chocolates or cheeses

Next time, Johnny… okay?

We hadn’t intended to drive so far north, but had been lured by the prospect of chocolate. While we were in the neighbourhood, we figured we might as well scoot across to YUNGABURRA and catch up with the folk from Wild Mountain Cellars Winery and Distillery. After all, too much TROPICAL FRUIT WINE is never enough!!

But I can’t spend all day writing about our adventures. It’s time to start planning our next jaunt around the countryside. I’ll sign off with a farewell from Malanda, home to the largest all-timber building in the southern hemisphere, and Australia’s oldest operating picture theatre, complete with canvas ‘potato sack’ seats.

Malanda Hotel, the largest all-timber building in the southern hemisphere. Australia's oldest operating picture theatre, complete with canvas 'potato sack' seats.

Giant snakes, giant peanuts, underground museums, and more fruit wine… all in a day’s work!

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

While we wait for Optus to get their collective head out of their bum and hook us up with the broadband that we applied for almost three weeks ago, we’re taking the opportunity to explore the region a little more, and of course tell the local businesspeople about Cairns Unlimited.

Yesterday’s jaunt took us to the rainforest village of KURANDA, and onwards once again to the very pleasant ATHERTON TABLELANDS. Our focus was on the region’s increasingly popular FOOD AND WINE TOURISM, but we stopped to chat to anyone and everyone who might be interested to advertise on Cairns Unlimited.

Maria made friends with a python at Australia Venom Zoo, in Kuranda, while I found a friend a little further down the road near Tolga, on the way to ATHERTON. Maria says she can notice a family resemblance, whatever that means.

If you’re not familiar with Australia’s mysterious passion for ‘Big Things’, you might want to pay a quick visit to our BIG THINGS page.

Then, in Atherton, we did a little car hunting. Maria found one she liked, but it was a bit understated for my taste. And next thing we knew, we were headed underground!

Our last stop for the day was YUNGABURRA, a lovely little historic village in the central Atherton Tablelands. By that time, it was getting quite cool (the Tablelands are considerably colder than Cairns), many of the businesses had closed for the day, and we were tired. Maria said that Yungaburra was probably the nicest town she has visited so far. Sorry we don’t have any pics, but you can be sure we’ll be back there soon. The drive back to the coast left us both feeling a bit carsick, as we twisted and turned our way down the seemingly neverending mountain range. I’m sure it’s a lovely scenic drive during the daytime, but it’s not a drive we’ll be repeating any time soon.

Back in Cairns, we had one more stop before we could call it a day. At the city’s bustling NIGHT MARKETS, we wanted to have a chat with Kirstie, from Cairns Tropical Wines. Kirstie sells wines from nine of the region’s best TROPICAL FRUIT WINERIES, all in one convenient location, right on Cairns’s busy ESPLANADE. And best of all… you can try before you buy!

So while I was drinking all of Kirstie’s delicious wines, Maria took off for a free hand treatment. i reckon I got the best end of that deal, but she was happy so that’s all that matters…