The Atherton Tablelands is the hinterland west of Cairns in tropical North Queensland, centred on the town of Atherton. We visited the area twice. The first visit was on a trip from picking up Dexter in Cairns, through Kuranda and Mareeba (one night), on the way north to Cooktown on 12 and 13 June. The second visit was immediately after Cooktown on our way south when we stayed four nights at Atherton from 18 June.
On Wednesday 12 June, we stopped briefly at Kuranda to pick up some groceries at the IGA. We visited Kuranda and its famous market way back on our honeymoon in 1991, and we remember taking a very scenic, historic train from Cairns up to Kuranda. There is now a cable car called the Skyrail, so it would be awesome to take the train from Cairns up the range in the morning and the cable car down in the afternoon. Kuranda is a place we would like to explore more in the future.
Our objective on that Wednesday was the Kerribee Rodeo Campground just outside Mareeba. We had to get there by 4:00 pm to catch the people who run it. This was a nice, big grassy area with many powered sites. There were good facilities, including a dump point, but drinking water was limited. It was surprising that there were several dozen RVs camped there. We spent our first night back in Matilda after a week in our motel room at Port Douglas.
On his morning walk on Thursday, Ian let Dexter off the lead to play ball, but when Dexter got the scent of kangaroos he had to go back on the lead. We are not confident that Dexter would obey us and not chase kangaroos if he was off lead.
We drove a little back to Mareeba and stopped at Elgas, where Ronnie the manager confirmed that one of our gas bottles was empty. He put 4 kg of gas in it for only $13—much cheaper than at Bowen where we last filled a gas bottle. Ronnie even installed the gas bottle back in its place—great service!
With at least one full gas bottle, we headed north to Cooktown, which is the subject of the previous two posts.
On our way back from Cooktown on Tuesday 18 June, we again stopped at Elgas in Mareeba to fill the other gas bottle. Ronnie was there and again looked after us well.
At Ronnie’s suggestion, we stopped at Coffee Works in the hope of trying and picking up some local coffee. It was late in the day, but we were able to squeeze in a coffee, tea, chocolate and liqueur tasting. There is an amazing museum on coffee. We wanted to get to our caravan park in Atherton before dark, so we could not linger, but this is really worth stopping at. We bought some local coffee and tea, two types of chocolates, and a bottle of luscious Cocoa Crème Liqueur before resuming our drive south.
We checked into the Atherton NRMA Big 4 Woodland Caravan Park, and were given a top spot—nice and level, easy to reverse into, and a long way from neighbours. We had kanga bangers on Cooktown sourdough rolls for dinner, and Ian enjoyed a Cassegrain 2018 Sangiovese. We noticed the significantly cooler weather compared to Cooktown.
On Wednesday, we had a very slow day, being a bit tired after our travelling from Cooktown. We planned the next few days. Ian took Dexter to an off-lead dog park across the road from the caravan park. It had lots of balls available, as well as an agility course, but it was very difficult to get Dexter to focus on the agility equipment. We played fetching the ball, soccer and tug-o-war. Ian also checked out a roadside stall that had red papayas. We made pumpkin risotto from dinner—another culinary success! We took the opportunity to work on our travel blog.
After a good night’s sleep, we felt a lot brighter on Thursday. We checked out the How Wang Chinese Temple, which was just 500 m away from the caravan park. For $10 we were given a guided tour of the temple and old Chinese village by Lucy, who is a retired local teacher. Dexter was made welcome by Lucy. The temple is the last remaining building of a Chinese village called Cedar Camp, which was the precursor of the town of Atherton. The temple was built in 1903. Most of the artefacts in the temple came from China. Most of the Chinese moved away in 1920, but the land was eventually bought by a group of Chinese families. In 1979, the land and building were donated to the National Trust of Queensland.
The temple has a connection with Hong Kong, which brought memories of our attempt to visit the Wong Tai Sin Temple there. Yang Liang Chieh was the bodyguard commander to the last Emperor of the Southern Song Dynasty in China (1127 to 1280 AD). When the army fled Kowloon, Yang remained to organise defences. He died before the attack, but was later ranked among the gods for his courage and given the title Hou Wang, which can be translated as Prince Marquis. So, he was regarded as a god like Wong Tai Sin. The Hou Wang Temple is generally considered to be a Daoist temple, with Confucian and Buddhist influences.
Apart from the main building which was used to honour Hou Wang, other gods and ancestors, there is a community hall, a kitchen and a store. There is also a fascinating earth oven a short distance away—this was used to roast succulent pigs to feed large numbers of people attending major celebrations, for which the Chinese are generally renowned.
We lingered much longer at the Hou Wang Temple than we expected, so we had lunch at the adjacent Station Café. This appears to be an old railway station, and a train provides much of the seating. It was nice that Dexter was also welcome aboard the train, although he was not allowed on the timber veranda for some unexplained reason. Our curried pie (Ian) and chicken and mushroom pie (Katie) were made on the premises and were definitely First Class, while the coffee was beautifully hot.
We decided to go for a drive to nearby Herberton, which was an old tin mining area. We came across the Herberton Historic Village, and this became our third and last stop of the day. Also for the third time today, Dexter was welcome.
The historic village is a huge collection of buildings that have been brought together from all over the place to resemble an old town. We understand that there was a tin mine on the site, and there are some remnants of this. There is so much to see, you would need at least two days to see everything properly and have lunch at one of the old buildings. Ian has never seen so many old trucks, steam engines and cars. There is a huge working windmill that pumps water to a large tank.
We went into a library that was packed with old books. There were also boxes of records, and Ian pulled out one record at random. We had recently bought a T-shirt for Katie that depicts Star Wars Meets Abbey Road with four Stormtroopers on the pedestrian crossing. We could barely believe that this was an original Abbey Road album, and the record appeared to be in very good condition. Unfortunately, not for sale!
The afternoon was getting on, so we had little time to explore. We managed to speak with a guy who has restored and maintained a large amount of old printing equipment. We were impressed at the enormous amount of labour required to print a newspaper in the 1800s. We were told we could come back the next day, but we may drop in next time we are in the area.
All three of us had had a huge day, and dinner for Katie and Ian was a simple one of toast and jam, and a red papaya we bought from the roadside stall across the road.
After Dexter’s Friday morning constitutional, Ian bought coffees for a change from a van in the caravan park. The coffee was particularly good. The guy said he would be at Yungaburra Markets the next morning from 8:00 am, so that gave Ian the idea of making a small detour via Yungaburra on the way to Paronella Park. At Cooktown Caravan Park, we met a couple in a motorhome who were heading to Yungaburra, which they said was a particularly nice place to stay.
We had an easy day and looked after some chores and the travel blog. In the afternoon, Ian road the Trek mountain bike a total of 16 km along the Atherton Rail Trail to Tolga. This was an almost perfectly flat ride. Parking around Woolies was checked out during the ride.
After the ride, we drove into the Atherton CBD. At Pets to Pamper, we bought some frozen kangaroo tail for Dexter. We parked near Woolworths and did some substantial shopping. Back at camp, for dinner we had some mint and rosemary kebabs that we bought from a butcher outside Woolies, and pumpkin couscous. We realised that we were eating better on this camping trip than we usually do at home.
On Saturday, we were able to get away by 8:30 am by not having any coffee with breakfast. We found that Yungaburra is an RV Friendly town with marked RV parking along the road. However, after we parked, we found that the rest of the space assigned to RVs quickly filled up with conventional vehicles.
Yungaburra Markets are huge—definitely the largest we have seen for many years. After walking around the whole site, we failed to find our coffee guy from the Atherton caravan park. We ended up getting locally grown coffee from the Ulysses Coffee van. We have seen a few things marketed as Ulysses—this is a large blue butterfly that is common in tropical North Queensland and further north. The markets had abundant locally grown food, and we loaded up with zucchinis and bananas
We have been known to occasionally buy some art on our travels. On our trip to Venice in the mid 1990s, we bought a glass and gold artwork from Murano and were worried whether it would make it home in the post in one piece. More recently, we bought a large Aboriginal painting from Mowanjum near Derby in the Kimberleys, and we had similar worries. In both cases, our worries were unfounded, and we have this artwork proudly displayed in our home. We managed to avoid buying any paintings that were strongly marketed on our two cruises this year and last year, but at Yungaburra, Katie could not resist some copper art from Tony Batten the Copa Guy. She was particularly keen on two pieces that each included two mirrors, but Ian preferred a piece depicting a frog and G’day that he thought would look good in our entrance. There was some haggling, but we ended up walking away with all three pieces.
We dragged ourselves away from the Yungaburra Markets, although we could have stayed all morning, and headed south from the Atherton Tablelands for Mena Creek and Paronella Park.