Monday, March 31, 2008

DAY 159 Tully to Mena Creek

pics: fish feeding, frog (!), hedge and sea view at Mission Beach, road between MB and El Arish, Cassowary, Mena Creek, Cassowary sign, Queenslander house, bananas, road between Tully and M Beach, Mission Beach (Blogger doesn't allow captions to pics as far as I can see!!)

DAY 159: Tully to Mena Creek
86 km at 15.9 km/hr
Mon 31st March 2008
Distance to date 9626 km (6016 miles)
Cloudy, warm

Weir5d how the pics upload completely out of order! From top to bottom they are:-
Yet another disturbed night - there’s a pattern setting in here isn't there!? - This was a couple arguing until the early hours in the nearest tent to me, then they made up and....well, I can’t really tell you the rest but it was just as noisy!! Nevertheless I felt OK this morning and was away for 0830 or so. After 5km on the Bruce Highway I turned right for Mission Beach, which the lady at the Tully VIC said was WELL worth spending 2 days at - should be good eh? This road had no shoulder for the most part but was pretty quiet - I had expected it to be as busy as the Airlie Beach road was. It was mostly more interesting bush with the occasional field of cattle so quite pleasant actually.
The sky was dark grey so places didn’t look quite as attractive, but no rain came today. The wind was fairly light too. I stopped at a little shopping complex just before MB and had an omelette and coffee, and a few doors away there was an internet place so I updated the blog. The library here in NQ seem to charge $5/hr and no uploads which is no use for my purposes. Afterwards I cycled the final 2km to MB itself but all I saw was a row of cafes near to the beach, and then I was back in open country again. I carried on for another km thinking there would be a larger town but no, that was it! I cycled back to see if I’d missed anything but no, I hadn't. It’s all about my expectations of course, and I should know that one should never assume anything - I’d got the message, somehow, that this was an interesting place, but as far as I could see it had few attributes other than the (deserted) beach of some 3km length. It looked badly in need of an injection of cash, for example to improve the gravel shoreside walk which was in poor condition. There was a sad, deserted feel to the place. I didn’t stay long and left town on the El Arish (Bruce Highway) road.
Some 6km along this road was a rainforest walk, so I stopped to have a look. You’ll gather from the pics that this is a Cassowary preservation area - they were almost wiped out here and are recovering but with only some 40 adult birds. The interpretation ‘rotunda’ was very good and around this building a score of trees had been planted which specifically aim to provide around-the-year fruits for the birds. Apparently they have big appetites and need some 3 sq km each to support this. I passed through this area and onto the walk itself, but didn’t get very far since there was a series of steps. There were some other people around and I didn’t want to leave the bike and my stuff unattended. I turned around and headed back, but as I passed the rotunda, there was an adult Cassowary stood looking at me! Brilliant - I’m lucky to have seen one given the small numbers. He eyed me warily and then carried on rooting around quite unconcerned - I had thought they were quite shy creatures. I watched for around 10 minutes, and then left him (or her) to root on in solitude. They are huge birds - flightless of course - this one was about 1.5m high and probably weighed around 35kg. It was yet another thrilling wild animal / bird encounter that I had hoped for on this trip - so much better than seeing them in a zoo! I haven't been at all disappointed in this respect.
With light heart I pedalled on for another 10km of Toblerone road before reaching El Arish, where I celebrated my sighting with a muffin and capaccino. I asked the cafe lady about topping up my water bottles and she asked if I wanted town or bore water - er, town water, because isn’t bore water often salty-tasting? Whereupon she took 2 glasses and took a sample of each for me to try, and I had to agree the bore water was OK, and of course should have no chlorine added.
Then another 7km north on the Bruce Highway to turn left for Silkwood and the Canecutter Way. I had prevaricated about whether to take this longer detour off the highway or just carry on, but I soon saw I’d made a good choice. It is a very quiet road, and I guess I saw only 6 cars in the next 90 minutes - BLISS! And the road was delightful - twisty, little hills, patches of dense rainforest, little hobby farms and a few larger sugar cane or banana farms. I’d definitely recommend this option for cyclists rather than the highway, even if it is longer. The road narrowed to single track at times but was in good condition.
It was getting a bit late and I had the idea to stay in a B&B I’d seen signposted, but when I went to ask I learnt that it was from $220/night - er, I don’t think so! Did she think I was on my honeymoon or something?
I was told however that there was a CP at Mena Creek some 35km after Silkwood, so that was OK. I expected to find a poky little cheap CP (no problem with that lol) but it was anything but that, and this was yet another surprise in a day full of ‘em. As I rode up to the office a guy, Mark, the owner, greeted and welcomed me. I could see there was more here than just a CP - there is a big waterfall on the property and some strange old buildings here too, but Mark explained the Paronella Park story over the next 10 minutes.
He bought this place 14 years ago after it had been abandoned for a long time. It was built by Jose Paronella, a forward-thinking Spaniard from the Barcelona area who had been inspired in his youth by Catalonian castles, and by the architect Gaudi in particular. He had seen this virgin forest land with waterfall and it suited his needs well, and he bought the land in 1929. Over the succeeding years he built a cottage for him and his wife; a movie theatre / ballroom; installed a hydro-electric scheme in the waterfall (the region’s first); tennis courts, and many other buildings, as well as designing walkways to line up with the falls to dramatic effect.
Anyway the $28 fee, although higher than I would usually pay, includes at least 2 guided tours of the place, so pretty good value actually. Mark is driven by the dream of completely restoring and enhancing the place, and he has clearly come a long way in this respect. There’s a smart modern cafe and outdoor deck too and delicious food. His enthusiasm (he conducted out evening tour tonight) is infectious, and he clearly loves what he does. The tour took us around the grounds getting glimpses of the nicely- (orange) backlit waterfall down an avenue of huge, straight Kourie trees; feeding hundreds of huge eels and other fish at the riverbank; examining the illuminated castle etc. All around us were Fireflies too, which I don’t think I’ve seen before - they fly around slowly a bit like mosquitos, lighting up for a couple of seconds like beacons - amazing. What I liked about the setup here was the genuine ecologically sound principles used in his approach - for example he wants to sell hydro power back to the grid - and the absence of the “lets make a quick buck” principle that shines through. And as a bonus there’s only me and an elderly Swiss couple here in the CP, so I expect a good, quiet night!!
What an enjoyable day, and I am over the next few days headed for the Atherton Tablelands with lots of forest, mountains and waterfalls and some wetlands to check out.

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