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Tropical North Queensland

Image credit: Mark Daffey

Bikes, hikes and beaches in Tropical North Queensland

Expert mountain bikers aren’t the only ones who can enjoy Tropical North Queensland’s varied cycling trails, writes Mark Daffey.

It’s the week before Christmas. The Cairns region is sunning itself under blue skies and the forested confines of Davies Creek National Park are as dry as can be.

Temperatures along this coastal hinterland consistently creep above 30 degrees and even now, before 9am, there’s a dripping humidity that southerners like us take time to acclimatise to. Adding to the tropical vibe is the high-pitched chirruping chorus of countless unseen cicadas.

Steve Rankine, owner of Port Douglas-based cycle touring outfit Bike’n’Hike Adventure Tours, hoists our bikes off the back of his trailer. The one he hands to Finn, my nine-year- old son, is bigger than he’s used to and contains more gears than he knows what to do with. Finn isn’t perturbed though. Excited is a more apt description, and after several laps adjusting to the change around the car park outside the Davies Creek Trail Network, he declares himself raring to go.

My wife Michelle receives a dual-suspension monster dubbed ‘Death Adder’. Surprisingly, it’s the same as the one I’m given, except mine is nicknamed ‘Taipan’.

Steve and his youthful co-guide Sam Wood pick out a route from a trail map board erected outside the bike park entrance. Mountain bike tracks are colour-coded like ski trails, with green trails for beginners, blue for intermediate level riders, black for advanced, and double black diamond trails reserved for confident expert riders. How they’re determined depends on the type of obstacles they contain or how steep they’re pitched.

Ours is a 10-kilometre loop that’s shaded green all the way. It’s an ideal introductory ride and should be a doddle, even for relative novices like us. Clearly, though, Michelle hasn’t read the script, and we’ve barely pedalled 50 metres before she’s eating dirt after clipping a handlebar on a tree.

Image credit: Mark Daffey

Sam scoots on ahead and I try in vain to keep up. Finn’s doing really well immediately behind me, leaning into the curves like a pro and urging me forward whenever he’s in earshot. By the time we return to the car park, sweat is pouring down our brows and stinging our eyes. A cooling dip in nearby Lake Eacham sounds the perfect tonic but Finn is eager to go around again.

Activities for all

It’s the first of five days we spend cycling along mountain bike trails and on the beaches. It’s a tight itinerary where we spend a night in Port Douglas, Atherton, Mission Beach and Cairns. It sounds busy, but we’re really only getting a taste of each place. And we haven’t been one-dimensional in our planning either.

Rides are interspersed with a visit to Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures and a snorkelling excursion to the Low Isles, out of Port Douglas. We spend a few hours strolling through the Historic Village Herberton in the Atherton Tablelands. And in Mission Beach we join a morning tour learning about and tasting chocolate on a cocoa farm.

We’ve allowed just enough time to relax as well. The swimming pools in each of the hotels, resorts and caravan parks we stay in are godsends at the end of each day. And while travelling between Atherton and Mission Beach, we stop to swim in the plunge pool beneath Millaa Millaa Falls, and again at Josephine Falls on our way back to Cairns.

Spoiled for choice

But it’s the cycling we’re mainly here to sample. Mountain bikers and trail riders are spoiled for choice here, with dozens of options available courtesy of generous funding allowances by regional tourism bodies, local councils, bike clubs and retail stores.

From Port Douglas to Atherton, we hit the mountain bike trails at Davies Creek and Mareeba, and on the ant’s nest of tracks carved into the hills outside Atherton – the highlight of our week. On the Cassowary Coast we hire bikes so we can ride along the sand, and on forest trails and roads linking Mission Beach with Bingil Bay. On our last morning, we go behind James Cook University to tackle the trails at Smithfield Mountain Bike Park.

Our last activity before flying back home is less energetic, floating above Gondwana-era rainforests in one of Skyrail Rainforest Cableway’s glass-bottomed gondolas.

Mark Daffey travelled courtesy of Tourism Tropical North Queensland.

But wait, there’s more…

Looking for something else to do while you’re cycling in and around Cairns? Try these 5 activities.

1. Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures

Want to see the world’s second largest captive saltwater crocodile? Who wouldn’t? The problem is: he can’t see you. That’s because he’s blind. But this wily centenarian – all 5.3 metres and 1000 kilograms of him – still rules the roost. Ted is the bulkiest of 24 saltwater crocs you can see in the lagoon at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures. There’s at least as many freshwater crocs in another lagoon, as well as native marsupial and reptile enclosures. You can handle some, and even get your picture taken. As a spectacle though, nothing beats the sight of a full-grown salty launching itself out of the water at feeding time.

2. Low Isles reef cruise

Snorkelling over the Great Barrier Reef should be on everyone’s bucket list, right? One of the most accessible options is the 40-minute Low Isles cruise out of Port Douglas. Step aboard the Calypso for this three-hour excursion to two low-lying islands ringed by white sands and coral reefs. Underwater you’ll see green turtles, black-tip reef sharks, barracuda and batfish. Keep an eye out and you might even find Nemo.

3. Herberton Historical Village

Far North Queensland isn’t all coral reefs and rainforest. It also has its fair share of history and the best trip back in time is the Herberton Historical Village. The sheer number of exhibits in this recreated tin mining town is mindboggling. Kids can see toys their grandparents played with and classes they attended school in. There are classic car and tractor collections, dozers, steam engines and an early 20th-century fire truck. And they’ll love the interactive blacksmith demonstration.

4. Charley’s Chocolate Tours

Mmm… chocolate! Who doesn’t love it? Well, you can taste all kinds of life’s favourite sweet here, on a cocoa farm 10 minutes inland from Mission Beach. More than that though is the chance to learn how cocoa is grown and then made into chocolate. There are only a handful of farms like this in Australia, all in this same region. From seed to mouth… talk about fresh!

5. Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

Did you know that the rainforests inside the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area are some of the oldest in the world? And do you know that you can explore them from above? See towering Kauri pines and tree ferns on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway experience, soaring above the rainforest canopy in a glass-bottomed gondola. Stops along the 7.5-kilometre route from Smithfield to Kuranda take in canopy walkways and Barron Falls. Allow at least half a day.


Getting there
Jetstar flies direct to Cairns from most major Australian cities. BIG4 Atherton Woodlands Tourist Park
Castaways Resort & Spa Mission Beach
Mantra Trilogy Cairns

Bike’n’Hike Adventure Tours
Mission Beach Bike Hire

The Tin Shed, Port Douglas
Tolga Hotel
Villa Romana Cairns

Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures
Calypso Reef Cruises, Port Douglas
Historic Village Herberton
Charley’s Chocolate Factory
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

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