ATHERTON TO LAKE TINAROO
This area played a crucial role during World War II, and there are numerous historic sites that will take you through Australia's history at that time. The region is also a good place to spot some of the country's most fabulous birds. Lake Tinaroo is a top destination for families and keen fishers alike, and sleepy little Tolga holds one of the most popular markets on the Tablelands.
ATHERTONAtherton, with a population of 6,000, as you may imagine by the name, is the hub of the Atherton Tableland region, also known as the Cairns Highlands. From Atherton you can travel north to Mareeba and Chillagoe, south east to the Waterfall Circuit, north east to Lake Tinaroo, south west to historic Herberton, and south to Ravenshoe and beyond.
Atherton is a prosperous and bustling country town, with attractive parks and gardens, built on the side of an extinct volcano called Halloran's Hill. It is surrounded by several small hills known as the Seven Sisters, also cinder cones from ancient volcanoes. The Seven Sisters can be seen from various points around the Tablelands, but Halloran's Hill lookout, with barbecues and playground, is one of the best vantage points for panoramic views across the highlands and as far as the volcanic ranges in the distance. The lookout is just on the outskirts of Atherton.
Atherton was home to a thriving Chinese community from the 1880's into the early 1900's. Initially attracted by the newly discovered deposits of gold - Australia was known as 'New Gold Mountain' among the Chinese - many stayed after the gold ran out, and turned to timber cutting or market gardening. But the Chinese community suffered an upheaval after World War I, when the local government ruled that 'All lands at present being leased to Asiatics in the Atherton, Tolga, Kairi area be resumed for soldier settlement'. Chinese Australians were summarily evicted from their farming leases, and many moved away. By 1930, Chinatown was almost deserted. The remains of Atherton's Chinatown can be seen a short drive out of town on the Herberton Road, at the restored Hou Wang Temple. This was used as a place of worship until the 1970's, but is now owned by the National Trust.
A little futher along the road to Herberton is Hasties Swamp National Park, a definite favourite for birdwatchers. From the two storey Nyleta Wetlands Bird Hide, you should have no trouble spotting some of the 220 species of birds that have been recorded here, including Whistling Ducks, Magpie Geese and Sarus Cranes.
The word 'Tolga' comes from the Aboriginal word for 'red mud', and there is a small township nearby of the same name. The township of Tolga was originally called Martintown, and grew out of a Cobb and Co. staging post at Rocky Creek. With the outbreak of World War II, the region became a training centre and staging base for Allied forces. In fact, the Cairns Highlands, as the Atherton Tablelands are also known as, housed the largest military base in Australia, with up to 300,000 troops based here between 1943 and 1945. Outside Tolga, on the Kennedy Highway, a Memorial Park has been established on the site of what was the largest field hospital in the southern hemisphere. An estimated 60,000 patients were treated here.
With a population of around 1,000, Tolga is a charmingly authentic Tablelands farming town, largely unaffected by tourism. The rich red volcanic soils have shaped the town's industries; cattle, maize, macadamias, peanuts, sugar cane, mangoes and avocados. With its historic buildings and shady trees, Tolga is an attractive place to stop for a stroll. The small town also hosts the second most popular markets on the Tablelands, on the first Sunday of the month.
The quirkily named Bones Knob Lookout - an old volcano - overlooks the western mountains of the Great Dividing Range and the slopes of Halloran's Hill towards Atherton.
Just a short drive east of Tolga, via the tiny township of Kairi, is Lake Tinaroo, created back in the 1950's by the damming of the Barron River. More than 545 square kilometres of land was FLOODED by the dam, but today the lake provides over 200,000 megalitres of irrigation water for the region's crops. It also serves as a nature playground for outside visitors and Cairns locals alike. Lake Tinaroo is surrounded by over 200 kilometres of shoreline taking in state forest, the scenic Danbulla Forest Drive and abundant bushwalking trails.
Tinaroo township is a tiny settlement that sits on the edge of the lake. There is a sandy beach there, and a pontoon on the lake. Visitors can also use the grassy lakeside picnic and barbecue areas, and children's playground.
Spectacular Lake Tinaroo is ideal for swimming, waterskiing, jet skiing, canoeing, sailing, birdwatching (more than 300 species of birds inhabit the area around Lake Tinaroo, including Brolgas, Rainbow Lorikeets, Pygmy Geese, Cockatoos, Kingfishers & Jacana "Jesus" birds...) and of course fishing! The lake is home to record size Barramundi and the fresh water crayfish known as Redclaw, a local delicacy. Other fish caught in the area are Mangrove Hack and Black Bream. With no closed season, this is the place to go if you are a fishing enthusiast. Lake Tinaroo is RE-STOCKED annually with barramundi, and fishing permits are required. Permits cost about $8 per week for a couple, anybody under 18 will have it for free and it can be obtained from shops near Lake Tinaroo. Boats can be also be hired from Tinaroo township.
Camping is allowed only at the designated Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service campgrounds, where basic facilities include picnic tables, barbecues, toilets and tap water. Permits are required. Generators are not allowed in the camping areas, nor are dogs. Firewood can be purchased at the nearby caravan park or Kairi service station.
DANBULLA FOREST DRIVE
The Danbulla Forest, surrounding a large part of the lake, covers 8,000 hectares and offers plenty of secluded coves, beaches and bays where the rainforest stretches down to shoreline. Starting at the Tinaroo Dam spillway, just north of Tinaroo township, visitors can enjoy the scenic Danbulla Forest Drive, winding around the lake through rainforest and plantations of pine and eucalypt trees, until it meets the highway just north of Lake Barrine. Although the drive is only 28 kilometres, you should allow at least an hour, as the road is unsealed, and there is so much to see and do along the way...
* At Platypus Rocks lookout, you may want to stop and enjoy the views over the lake and Tablelands.
* Between Downfall Creek and Kauri Creek camping areas, there is a 2.6 kilometre walking track. Allow between two and three hours for the return hike.
* Kauri Creek - From the Kauri Creek picnic area, you can walk the Kauri Creek circuit, five kilometres, it will take you 2-2.5 hours return.
* At Lake Euramoo, another crater lake, you can enjoy views from a specially built viewing platform, 600 metres from the carpark.
* The Chimneys is a great place to have a picnic. The Chimneys are the remains of an early 20th century settlement. A shelter shed, gas barbecues and toilets are provided.
* Mobo Creek Crater - The mysterious Mobo Crater has a circuit track of 600 metres. Allow 30 minutes.
* Cathedral Fig Tree - Along Boar Pocket Road, there's a 150 metre boardwalk to the magnificent 800 year old Cathedral Fig Tree, towering 50 metres high.