Part 27: Atherton Tablelands

As well as going on the reef tour I couldn’t help myself and booking another tour to explore more of beautiful Cairns. The second tour explored the Atherton Tablelands, and it turned out to be one of my favourite tours of the whole holiday (Of course the reef is in it’s own league)! The day started with an early wake up followed by a taxi drive to Cairns city to meet with the tour and get picked up! I was a little nervous about the day, as this day would be spent by myself (Shawnee and Max finally made it out on the reef this day) on an intimate small mini-bus. Unlike the reef tour, where being social and talking was impossible in water, this day’s fun would rely a lot more on my ability to make friends! However, it turned out to be no problem, everyone was SUPER friendly and easy to get along with! I particularly made friends with a chatty American guy called Mike and a super sweet girl from Switzerland called Jasmin! In addition to those two, there was a slightly shy, but lovely couple from Colombia, a hilarious group of Danes, two German girls, a nonchalant Australian and quiet couple of girls from Switzerland. The whole bus was well travelled and everyone had been all over the world, some being travelling for months and months across several continents. I could proudly boast however that I had driven the whole East Coast of Australia to get here, and earn respect from my travelling companions. It was so cool meeting people like them who were so driven to see the world, and I enjoyed listening to all their stories and their admiration of people and places across the globe!

Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

 

We drove for an hour from Cairns inland towards the the tablelands where we started climbing up the mountains. As the scenery whizzed by it changed from dry eucalyptus forest to tropical rainforest, and when we reached the top we stopped to look out on the magnificent green view. We continued onwards and the dense rainforest changed to a flat open tableland of patchwork rainforest and fields with cows. On route Roger, our super lovely tour guide, told us extensively about the history of the area, the sugar cane industry and the ancient tropical rainforest in this area, including the Daintree Rainforest. These rainforests are among some of the most unique and important in the world. The rainforests in the Cairns and Northern region are warm, humid and rainy, and have remained so for millions of years, even after the rest of the Australian continent got arid and dry after having thrived under similar conditions. The constant conditions around Cairns allowed the area to be one of the last remaining refuge for these rainforests. As the conditions didn’t change for millions of years many species could continue to survive without much adaptive change. The rainforests around Cairns therefore contain species of plant that have retained their ancestor’s primitive characteristics, some for hundreds of millions of years. This was only discovered in the 1970s when a farmer sent an unknown fruit that was killing his livestock to be analyzed by botanists, who to their great shock discovered that it was a living fossil of something they thought had been extinct for millions of years. Following this discovery of what was to be known as the “idiot fruit” the botanists went to the region and discovered a whole bunch of other “living fossil” plants and discovered how ancient and important the forests were!

Our first stop was the impressive cathedral fig tree! This tree is over 500 year old tree and towered above us. It’s presence in the forest was un-denyingly royal, like it was the king of all. Romour has it that the tree has such a magical presence that the creator of the tree in Avator used this tree as his inspiration. I could definitely see the resemblance!

Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

We carried onwards to our next destination, a crater lake lake called lake Barrine. This lake was formed 10 000 years ago by an volcanic erruption creating a massive crater which was eventually filled with rainwater. Roger took us for a rainforest walk around the lake where we learned about the “Wait-a-while” vine that get’s it’s name for having such amazing clinging ability from it’s hooks that if it catches onto your clothes you have to wait.. a.. while.. to get it off! We also saw and learned about the towering bull kauris (Agathis microstachya), a rare ancient broad-leafed conifer, specific to the Atherton Tablelands as they can only survive between altitudes of 600 to 1000m in humid, hot and rainy conditions. We saw the nests of the orange footed scrub fowl and touched a snake skin found on the track.

Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

For lunch we stopped at another crater lake called Lake Eacham, where we dived into a feast of bread rolls, salad and bread spreads and toppings. After lunch we had some time to admire the beautiful lake and have a swim, so we quickly jumped into the fresh blue rainwater and splashed around! We also made some time to spot saw-shelled turtles, who interestingly breath through their bottoms underwater!

Atherton Tablelands

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Atherton Tablelands

Afterwards we drove to Milla Milla falls, one of the most famous waterfalls in the Cairns region! Rumour has it that shampoo commercials for companies like Herbal Essences have used these waterfalls for videos, but since I have been back and done a little google search I haven’t found much proof! Either way, it was still a spectacular waterfall. We swam in the waters and we all had a go at doing the “water fall hair flip” pose whilst Roger took photos! Now, if you Google “Milla Milla falls hair flip” you can see how it is actually supposed to be done, and if you see bellow our (Jasmin, Mike and I’s) attempt was not as glamorous (also ignore my chubby stomach…. BLERH)! Lots of laughs and fun though! Jasmin and I decided we wanted to go behind the fall and so we clambered our way behind the thundering wall of falling water and sat ourselves carefully down on the slippery rocks. As we sat on the rocks, one of the most colourful beetles I have seen in my life (unidentified) appeared on my knee. I wasn’t expecting to see much wildlife on those rocks, considering the pounding water and harsh conditions, so it was a pleasant surprise to see this little fella. Eventually we got out of the waters and dried, and I watched the Azure Kingfisher dive for catfish in the river running from the waterfall. To my surprise there were more freshwater turtles in this river too!

Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

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Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

We were not quite done with waterfalls yet and headed onward to Hypipamee national park to swim in the Dinner falls. On route we stopped at a viewing point to look across the green tablelands and take a group picture of the gang! Although the view was of course very picturesque and pretty, Roger reminded us that in a way it’s quite sad when only a couple of hundred years ago all of the landscape we were looking out over used to be ancient rainforest.

Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

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Our last destination was at Dinner Falls, which was my favourite spot of the day. We pretty much had the spot to ourselves, which lay in the middle of dense rainforest. The walk to the fall and pools took us in more beautiful rainforest, and were told about the amazing creatures that call this place home, including the arboreal Lumholtz’s-tree kangaroo, the striped possum and the cassowary. Yes, a kangaroo adapted to living in trees! Interestingly this species of kangaroo was first named after it was described by a Norwegian explorer called Carl Sofus Lumholtz in 1883! These creatures are mostly nocturnal or active at dusk, so unsurprisingly we didn’t see any. It was still very cool to have been in their habitat though, and to know they were around was exciting!

lumholtz-s-tree-kangaroo-mrw001357

Copyright: Martin Willis

We were also told about some interesting yellow mahogany trees (Dysoxylum parasiticum) that displayed an unusual thing called cauliflory. Cauliflory is a term used for when the tree grows flowers and fruit from it’s trunk and older branches instead of high in the canopy like most other species. This is a very clever adaptive strategy, as it means it has less competition with other trees for pollinators in that feeding zone as the flowers and fruits are in the middle of the forest, instead on the ground or in the canopy. This placement means it can increase the number of pollinators and seed dispersers visiting the tree! Studies have also shown that this strategy promotes a great relationship between bats and those particular trees, as the bats can eat the fruits and pollinate the flowers on the exposed bark without getting injured and tangled with the denser network of branches in the canopy.

Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

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Atherton Tablelands

Suddenly the dreamy day of waterfalls, rainforest and new friends was over and we were heading back across the tablelands towards Cairns. We dropped some of the gang off at the company’s cabin, who were doing a two day tour and staying the night. The cabin was so beautiful and cosy, with wooden walls, a resident dog and a fireplace! The lucky few staying were going on a night kayak tour too, to do some wildlife spotting, which sounded amazing (because as we know, most of Australia’s wildlife only comes out at night). The rest of us returned to the bus where we set off over the mountains, leaving the cool tableland weather and re-entered into the the tropical-humid coastal region of Cairns. On route we sang at the top of our voices to cheesy ABBA music and eighties rock!

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