Saturday, April 05, 2008

DAY 162: Day 1 off Lake Eacham

50 km at 14.0 km/hr

Thurs 3rd April 2008

Distance to date 9788 km (6117 miles)

Last night was perfectly peaceful yet I couldn’t get to sleep easily. Probably too much coffee; must cut back, none today. I had breakfast of bread and the delicious Buderim’s Mango and Ginger Jam and set off for Malanda to raid the ATM. On the way I stopped at Winfield Park where Platypuses are regularly seen in a particular spot where the river runs smoothly, as reported in a local guide. I lurked in the bushes for a while (they are very shy creatures) but didn’t see any - I think dawn and dusk are the best times as with birds.

ATM duly relieved of money I did some shopping in the Spar then wolfed down a pie at the excellent bakery, before riding down to the waterfall area where there is a 1km rainforest walking track. It started at the turtle viewing platform and there were indeed half a dozen turtles swimming about and, it appeared to me, looking up at me in expectation of food. The resident Catbird (it really does sound like a cat yowling) gave voice too, probably for the same reason - the guide says it likes to be fed! Whatever happened to hunting for your own food guys? The rainforest walk was very good; many trees were named although there are SO many varieties that I have given up trying to learn them, and the Eastern Whip Birds were whipcracking away - the male whipcracks and if the female is interested she immediately gives two rapid return cries, and it sounded like several boys were getting lucky! I had a good look for Tree Kangaroos but no joy. The walk was predictably ‘jungly’ with twisted vines and roots filling every available space. The big cyclone in March 2006 destroyed a lot of the biggest trees but new ones are shooting up to take their place; competition for light is so hot. The main trees have bare trunks with all the leaves at the top grabbing the sun. And it was getting sunny after early morning showers - hooray!

I’d probably bought too much shopping having disregarded the fact that I had 13km to haul it back, and it was very hilly as usual. There is no flat land in the Atherton Tablelands. Back at camp I disgorged my load into the fridge, had a leisurely cuppa and then set off again in the other direction for Lake Barrine.

Lake Barrine is another volcanic crater lake similar to Lake Eacham and around 12km away. These lakes are similar to the Blue Lake in Mount Gambier in South Australia that I visited what seems like ages ago, and were formed when molten rock rose up into the groundwater which causes an explosion, hurling rock all over the place. The effect of this happening time and time again is to create a huge hole at this point - the crater lake. Both these ones are around 80m deep. There were more very steep hills on the way but traffic was light. On arrival I couldn’t resist a Devonshire Tea at the nice cafe, and I quizzed the lady who made them about where I might be going wrong with my efforts at scones, and the only thing we could think of was that I’d be better using gas than electric. But I digress again.

There is a tourist boat that sails around the lake a few times a day and it was just leaving at 3 as I was setting off on the 5km circular walking track. Early on there are two huge Kauri Pines side by side (pic) - these are such solid and massive trees, and photographs don’t do them justice; you can’t fit them all in the frame of course. These ones must have been 65m high. A few 100m further on there was suddenly movement all around me as I passed over a short boardwalk - dozens of little animals something like fat rats with Pinnochio noses - and I believe these are Musky Kangaroo Rats, marsupials of course. They repeatedly ran to and fro in apparent confusion, much to my delight. I think I managed a pic of one at a distance. The whole 5km of track was excellent for cycling on, although one is not supposed to, however I only saw 3 other people and I took great care at bends etc. - And in fact it continually wound around and dipped and rose, through darker and then lighter corridors in the dense forest. The sun dappled the path giving rise to infinite combinations and shades of green and brown, utterly delightful. Rides such as this are so enjoyable to me; I really love being in this dense rainforest environment. I stopped regularly and just watched and listened for a few minutes - there were several more bird calls I didn’t recognise. Occasionally the lake glimmered and shimmered through a gap in the trees. I surprisingly came upon a Scottish couple on holiday from Loch Katrine who were walking around the lake, and we had a blather for a while. They had just been watching a snake which I just missed.

I continued on rolling through the green tunnel via a few more Curtain Figs and their thousands of rooty tentacles until I finally arrived back at the cafe and public road, and reluctantly left this beautiful place.

I took a longer route back to the CP taking in some single-track roads through still-hilly countryside on the edge of the (Crater Lakes) National Park, and was surprised that I had clocked 50km on a supposed rest day!

.....To more mundane things like doing a pile of washing and getting it out on the line - a sunny day is forecast again for tomorrow so it will dry OK. I feel quite tired after lack of sleep last night so after dinner (bacon and zuchini rolls with rolls fried in olive oil) and a couple of phone calls it’ll be an early night. I’m staying here a third night - don’t wanna leave lol, and will upload in the morning - internet at the CP is only $2 for as long as you like; everything here is such good value.

DAY 161: Millaa Millaa to Lake Eacham

45 km at 14.5 km/hr

Weds 2nd April 2008

Distance to date 9738 km (6086 miles)

Lovely and quiet last night apart from the pitter-patter on the roof lol, however by the time I’d eaten breakfast and spent 75 minutes on the internet at the CP office it had stopped, and there was even a glimpse of the big yellow thing (what’s it called again?).

So I departed the park with glad heart and renewed vigour and didn’t care about the wet clothes (still very damp from yesterday), but within 20 minutes it was drizzling again - that fine but wet stuff (cloud?) that you always get in mountainous areas...who cares though? Well, it’s a nuisance at least because I can’t see behind properly due to wet glasses and mirror. I have to wear the former otherwise my eyes sting from the deluge of polluted spray thrown up from 110 km/hr lorries.

The road continued upwards for the first 2km north of Millaa Millaa and finally topped out at 920m. From here on it was Giant Toblerone territory - you know those £10 Mega-Toblerones sometimes received as Christmas presents? - It was on that scale, descend at 8% and down 100m then ascend at 8% for 100m - times 10. It was pretty hard work but assisted a little by a strongish southerly tailwind.

I arrived in Malanda by 1130 and celebrated with 2 Cornish pasties and a rock cake - delicious and fresh from the town bakery - and chatting to a couple from Cairns. This was to be a very sociable day actually, hence the lack of km, but as it happened this left me in exactly the right place at the end of the afternoon.

Just outside Malanda (an unspoilt and pleasant town) on the Atherton road are the Malanda Falls and VIC next door. The falls are nice but not as spectacular as Mena Creek’s although the setting is beautiful, even on a grey day. There is a good little display at the VIC about the flora and fauna of the area, particularly the rare Lumholt’s Tree Kangaroo which is found around here. The ladies in there were terrific as usual, so knowledgeable and very helpful. I learnt a lot about cycling routes too, including a warning about the dangers of the road to Gordonvale which I want to take. It seems there is an 18km section with no shoulder and nowhere to pull off, with a bit of a drop on that side too.

A few km further to Atherton I realised I’d taken the wrong one of 2 roads to Atherton - I wanted to call at Yungaburra as I’d heard nice comments about it, so when I came to a connecting road on the right I turned off. This 6km link road to Y also has some interest in that the Atherton Tableland’s most famous tree is along the way. This is the Curtain Fig and it’s truly amazing - the pics don’t really do it justice as it is so big. The curtain forms after a shoot up in a branch grows down to the ground, and then more shoots follow suit until there are 100’s of eventually thick shoots which in this case pulled the tree over to one side. There’s a nice boardwalk out to and beyond the tree too, and there were quite a few people there - hence a long explanation of what I was doing had to be recounted.

Some time later I landed in Yungaburra and again I was very impressed with the place - very smart and tidy in an old-fashioned way with nice cafes and a great bookshop. I tried again here to get a second-hand Oz birdie book and they actually had a suitable one. The lady gave me a few dollars for my little bird book so I was well satisfied, and then she made us capaccinos and we got talking about many interesting things. She asked for my web address so I’ll try not to embarass her but what a lovely and interesting young woman! Her and hubby are managing the shop for his mother who is ill unfortunately, and she is cataloguing (sp?) all the books to put on the internet. I left feeling rejuvenated; some people just have that effect on one. I didn’t even ask for her name so maybe she will let me know for the record?

Some 3km up the Gordonvale road was a left turn for a CP at Lake Eacham, and as it was nearing 4 I decided to go for it. The road to it off the highway was the densest tropical rainforest I’ve seen so far - every square metre packed with trees and plants - most of it appeared inpenetrable, and many of the trees were 50m in height so the road was quite dark. Lots of strange bird calls and small birds of indistinct origin darting to and fro, lots of rustling in the bush. It was another place where I cycled slowly to hopefully take it all in - this is my kind of territory, wall to wall trees and wildlife. I stopped at the scenic viewpoint on the banks of the 1000m or so wide Lake Eacham (which is part of the Crater Lake NP) and again got chatting to a couple from Perth who were about to house-sit for 3 months in Yungaburra.

I eventually arrived at the CP and what a little gem! Tucked away on the edge of the NP among huge trees and the tallest bamboo clumps I’ve ever seen (see pic). Apparently you never get wet under these, I guess the rainwater is conducted down the stems and doesn’t drip? It was only $13 and there’s a full camp kitchen and loads of logs to put on the kitchen fire. And from what I can see there’s not another soul staying here!

Before dinner I went exploring and found a walking track, that could be cycled around too as there are no steps, running for 3km around Lake Eacham. This was just magical - wild, dense and dark forest burbling with birdcall and with occasional flashes of mirror-calm water on the lake. There were some steep bits on the gravelly path but I didn’t have to get off, however I stopped occasionally just to absorb all the ‘jungly’ noises and strange smells both sweet and not so sweet. Brush Turkeys seemed to be everywhere, these are a bird with little fear of man. Various types of fish were swimming in the lake. This hours excursion was another experience of Oz that will stay with me, although I expect to see much more of this ‘proper’ rainforest between here and Cooktown, so the next couple of weeks are going to be interesting.

Back at the ranch I showered and did some washing which I hung in the rustic camper’s kitchen, before lighting a log fire in the big hearth and getting diiner, which tonight comprised some fresh French stick from the Malanda bakery with silverside, baby tomatoes and garlic - delicious...and 3 cups of tea.

I’ve decided to stay here at least another day as there is much to see in the nature line. There’s a folder in the kitchen with lots of places to go to see Tree Kangaroos, Platypus, Turtles, Cranes, Brolgas and lots more - all within an hour’s cycle ride. And the caravan park is a delight too. I’ll have to ride the 10km into Malanda though to get some cash as I only have $3 left - I forgot to do this this morning.

Sorry about the sideways pics - I'm on an unfamiliar laptop with different software, so don't know how to rotate them.