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
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
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.
Jetstar flies direct to Cairns from most major Australian cities.
BIG4 Atherton Woodlands Tourist Park
Castaways Resort & Spa Mission Beach
Bike’n’Hike Adventure Tours
Mission Beach Bike Hire
The Tin Shed, Port Douglas
Villa Romana Cairns
Calypso Reef Cruises, Port Douglas
Historic Village Herberton
Charley’s Chocolate Factory
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway