Jun 15 to Jul 3 Cooktown is as far north we can get in Queensland without travelling on dirt roads. Even so, we are still 2,150 Kms north of Brisbane and the average daily temperature here so far has been 26 degs, some 8 to 10 degs warmer than the Sunshine Coast.
Cooktown is a small town located at the mouth of the Endeavour River, on Cape York peninsula in far north Queensland. It is where Captain James Cook beached his ship, the Endeavour, for repairs in 1770. Cooktown’s population is approx 1,400. Both the town and Mount Cook (431 metres or 1,415 feet) which rises up behind the town were named after James Cook. It is the northernmost town on the east coast of Australia and was founded on 25 October 1873 as a supply port for the goldfields along the Palmer River. It was called ‘Cook’s Town’ until 1 June 1874.
We plan to stay in Cooktown for about 3 weeks so we choose a large camp site and get comfortable. There is a new addition to the camp – Siobhan has created a herb garden which has already contributed to the cuisine.
Bob spends a morning fishing with a local guide. Unfortunately, the weather denied the opportunity of bagging a Spanish Mackerel, so a FingerMark Bream offerred itself for a lovely fresh seafood dinner in its place.
The local Botanic Gardens have some fascinating plants. The local botanist is focussing on growing as many of the 200 plus original plants that Banks (the botanist on the Endeavour) took back to England with him. There is a small but challenging 9 hole golf course in Cooktown which provides us with some fun.
Jun 9 to 11 Next stop Atherton which is the main town on the Atherton Tablelands, inland from Cairns, famous for its fertile soils, dairy farming and wonderful scenery. On the way we stop at Millstream Falls which claims to be the widest single drop waterfall in Australia. Then we pass a wind farm just off the main highway.
After a pleasant round of golf at the local Atherton Golf Club, we head up to Lake Tinaroo, which has a bit of a story as to how it was named : James Mulligan was the first European explorer and prospector to visit the Atherton Tablelands in 1875. The area is named after another explorer, John Atherton who, it is reported, upon discovering alluvial tin deposits in the area, shouted ‘Tin, Harroo’ to his prospecting buddy, hence the name.
On the way we stop at 2 truly amazing and famous fig trees, the Curtain Fig and the Cathedral Fig. The Curtain Fig is one of the largest trees in Tropical North Queensland, located just out of Yungaburra. It is of the strangler fig species. Normally these figs germinate on top of another tree and try to grow roots into the ground. Once this important step is accomplished, the fig will grow vigorously, finally kill the hosting tree and then grow on independently. In this case, the hosting tree tilted towards the next one; the fig also grows around that one. Its curtain of aerial roots drops 15 metres (49 feet) to the ground. Although these figs kill their hosts, they basically feeds from the ground, unlike a parasitic plant which feeds from the sap of the host plant/tree.
Jun 5 to 9 A milestone occurred on the road from Charters Towers to Undara National Park : 100,000 Kms on the Toyota Landcruiser. We stopped for a while for it to get its breath back !!
For millions of years Undara was an active shield volcano. About 190,000 years ago there was a massive eruption and lava flowed more than 90 km to the north and over 160 km to the north-west. An estimated 23.3 km3 of lava flowed from the volcano at a rate of about 1000 m3 every second. A lava flow this large could fill Sydney Harbour in six days. It is thought that the lava flowed at a temperature of around 1200 °C.
The lava tubes and caves were formed when rivers of lava confined to a valley crusted over and formed a roof. Insulated in its casing of solidified lava, the lava flow carried on for many tens of kilometres before draining out, leaving an empty tube of lava. Weaker sections of the roof of the tubes later collapsed to form caves and depressions. More than 50 caves have been found in the park.
The Undara lava tube system is Australia’s longest, and one of the longest in the world. We explore some of the lava tubes and also meet some of the abundant wildlife. On one 4 hour trip we see 9 separate species of macropods (kangaroos, etc), including, eastern greys. wallaroos, pretty face or whiptail, Mareeba rock wallabies. A small bettong visits our camp fire one evening.