words simon thomsen photography thomas wielecki · the indigenous heritage remains strong and...

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tablelands dinner’s on the With its Indigenous heritage, historic hamlets, lush rainforest, abundant wildlife and tempting tropical produce, the Atherton Tablelands has much to offer the latter-day explorer. WORDS SIMON THOMSEN PHOTOGRAPHY THOMAS WIELECKI DECEMBER 2013 QANTAS 83 Coffee country: Skybury Tropical Plantation, Mareeba

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  • tablelandsdinner’s on the

    With its Indigenous heritage, historic hamlets, lush rainforest, abundant wildlife and tempting tropical produce, the Atherton Tablelands has much to off er the latter-day explorer.


    DECEMBER 201 3 Q A N TA S 8 3

    Coffee country: Skybury Tropical Plantation, Mareeba


    The Great Barrier Reef grabs the attention of most visitors to Cairns, but turn your attention west and you’ll fi nd the Atherton Tablelands, an area of dramatic beauty and World Heritage-listed national parks. It’s blessed with crater lakes, lush rainforests, pretty waterfalls and abundant wildlife. The Indigenous heritage remains strong and it’s also an important food bowl, with tropical fruits such as mango, papaya and banana, as well as crops such as peanuts, coff ee, tea, sugarcane and macadamia nuts. Prime dairy country, it has seen a rise in cheesemakers in the past decade. The Tablelands is birdwatching heaven, with some 327 species to spot and several bird hides built across the region. To the north, the Tablelands spills down to the Daintree region, croc country and the enticing restaurants of Port Douglas.

    EATThe Royal Hotel46 Grace Street, Herberton.(07) 4096 2231. royalhotelherberton.com.auThis graciously classic two-storey 1880 hotel lays claim to being one of Queensland’s oldest continually licensed pubs. The publican and chef Paul Watson knocks up decent pub grub for the beer garden – chicken parmigiana, beer-battered barramundi, rump steaks, pork chops and burgers, chips and salad for lunch. Tarzali Lakes Smokehouse CafeLot 3 Millaa Malanda Road, Malanda. (07) 4097 271. tarzalilakes.comPeter Whiddett’s aquaculture farm is stocked with perch, barramundi and red claw yabbies. While away a few hours fishing in the dams with the kids, but the really exciting moment is spotting platypus and turtles in the nearby creek, which is surprisingly easy. Whiddett’s wife, Yuwadee, makes

    excellent Thai fish cakes, spring rolls and fish dishes such as yabby curry, as well as traditional fish and chips. Take away a range of smoked products from eel and ham to barramundi, plus sausages, bushfood-flavoured chicken and even crocodile “bacon”, made by butcher Dave Hoffman, as well as fresh fish and yabbies. Lake Barrine TeahouseGillies Highway, Yungaburra.(07) 4095 3847. lakebarrine.com.auDelicious Devonshire teas and light lunches in this 1930s lakeside cottage. Plus lake cruises and an abundance of bird life. Origin Espresso21 Warner Street, Port Douglas.(07) 4099 4586. originespresso.com A blackboard declaring “Price can vary due to customer attitude” hints at a wicked streak in these serious young hipster coffee roasters, who make cold-drip coffees and espresso hits. Little to eat beyond a few sweet snacks. ❯

    Sugarcane near Mt Uncle Distillery; opposite (from left) top: papaya tree at Skybury Tropical Plantation; The Peanut Place; Port Douglas; middle: macadamias; Mossman River; Lake Eacham; bottom: Mungalli Creek Bio-Dynamic Dairy; Rusty’s Market, Cairns; between Atherton and Mareeba









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    Mungalli Creek Bio-Dynamic Dairy 254 Brooks Road, Millaa Millaa.(07) 4097 2232. mungallicreekdairy.com.auThis biodynamic farm, 4km off Palmerston Highway, is next to the world’s oldest Heritage-listed rainforest and looks across to Queensland’s highest peak, Mount Bartle Frere. The Watson family has run a mixed herd here for 50 years and makes milk, yoghurt and cheese. The Watsons have converted the old farmhouse into a factory, teahouse and regional-produce store. Lunch on a cheese plate with local condiments, then spanikopita, lasagne or a three-cheese pie, before cheesecake. The impressive Mungalli Falls is a short drive away. Harrison’s Restaurant & Bar22 Wharf Street, Port Douglas.(07) 4099 4011. harrisonsrestaurant.com.auEnglishman Spencer Patrick learned his trade under celebrity chef Marco Pierre White in the 1990s, and the food is European slick, as is his smartly casual, outdoorsy restaurant. Think malted scallops with sweetbreads, gingerbread, pickled raisins and radish – with prices to match. The

    nearby Italian eatery Buccini (buccini.com.au) opens early. SeabeanWharf & Warner Streets, Port Douglas. (07) 4099 5558. seabean.com.auThis bright, breezy boathouse-like dinner spot takes inspiration from Spain, with familiar tapas followed by Catalan fish stew, paella and piri piri chicken with cous cous. The crème brûlée in a coconut is a local legend and the restaurant is open from 3pm for those in need of post-siesta sangria. Australian Coffee CentreSkybury Tropical Plantation136 Ivicevic Road, Mareeba.(07) 4093 2190. skybury.com.auThe MacLaughlin family is Australia’s leading coffee bean

    exporter. Their Australian Coffee Centre has great views over the plantation and a cafe serving snacks and lunch. The gift shop sells coffee, coffee-related paraphernalia and souvenirs. Regular plantation tours – it also grows red papaya and lady finger bananas – include a visit to the processing factory and a coffee cupping (tasting) class. The Junction Cafe1/5 Front Street, Mossman.(07) 4098 3398.Cane trains chug past this cute retro cafe where the hipster dial is set at 1950. Excellent coffee, tea in old china cups, straightforward wraps, sandwiches and burgers – but the real fun is blackboard specials such as slow-cooked pork belly, green pawpaw and calamari salad; and house-smoked ocean

    trout with orange, fennel and a tamarind dressing. Emerald Creek Ice-Creamery3950 Kennedy Highway, Mareeba.(07) 4093 3373. emeraldcreek.com.auRum and raisin is the best seller among nearly 30 different flavours of ice-cream and sorbet, but the adventurous might like to try bush flavours such as wattleseed or wild plum and elderberry. It’s hard to go past the house-made apple pie with ice-cream or a banana split with macadamias SHOPCloud Nine GuitarsShop 7/11 Beor Street, Craiglie. (07) 4099 1682. cloudnineguitars.com.au Lisa Sophocleous and Mark O’Brien use local rainforest timbers to produce their beautiful custom instruments. They also run courses on guitar making. Tolga Woodworks Gallery89-91 Kennedy Highway, Tolga.(07) 4095 4488. tolgawoodworks.com.auFrom cheeseboards to chopsticks, spinning tops, bowls, timber sculptures, clocks and tables, this brings the best out of rainforest timbers. The cheapest, easiest ❯




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    Buccini: porcini and mushroom risotto balls with taleggio (left and below)

    Seabean: crèma Catalana served in a half-coconut

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    option is to take home a cross-cut round of a rare timber, such as red cedar, to polish and turn into a cutting board. There is also a cafe. The Peanut PlaceKennedy Highway, Tolga. (07) 4095 5333. thepeanutplace.com.auThis yellow-brick roadside shed has several flavoured peanuts – butterscotch and caramel or honey and ginger, anyone? – as well as peanut products, from butter to oil, plus ice-cream. It’s a handy road-trip snack stop.

    Mt Uncle Distillery1819 Chewko Road, Walkamin.(07) 4086 8008. mtuncle.comA distillery with a reputation for vodka, whisky, white rum, gin flavoured with Australian botanicals, and banana and coffee liqueurs. Its Bridges Cafe serves wood-fired pizzas and lunches, and more than 50 teas. Nerada Tea933 Glen Allyn Road, Malanda. (07) 4096 8328. neradatea.com.auIn the 1950s, Indian-born doctor

    Allan Maruff bought land in the Nerada valley and transplanted seedlings here. Nerada tea has been in supermarkets for 40 years. After a factory tour, enjoy a cuppa and plantation views. Janbal Gallery5 Johnston Road, Mossman.(07) 4099 5599. janbalgallery.com.au Brian “Binna” Swindley is an Indigenous artist, inheriting his talent from his late mother, Shirley “Janbal” Swindley, after whom the gallery is named. He sells his own works, plus art and jewellery by others, and offers art classes. Gallo DairylandMalanda-Atherton Road, East Barron. (07) 4095 2388. gallodairyland.com.auGiovanni Gallo settled here from Italy in the 1920s. Seven years ago, his dairy farming descendants opened this mix of working dairy, cheesery, chocolate shop and cafe. Amid a wide range of European cheese styles, they also produce a lactose-free range, including a Greek yoghurt.

    Shannonvale Tropical Fruit Winery417 Shannonvale Road, Mossman.(07) 4098 4000. shannonvalewine.com.auThe old farmhouse setting in lush forest suggests the local moonshiner, but Tony and Trudi Woodall create dry-style table wines from passionfruit, mango, jaboticaba, ginger and lychee, plus ports from kaffir lime, sapote, mangosteen and cocoa beans. Golden Pride Winery227 Bilwon Road, Biboohra. (07) 4093 2750.The late Charlie Nastasi was an innovator, converting his tobacco farm to mangoes in the 1970s, becoming one of Australia’s biggest growers with 17,500 trees. In 1999, he launched his mango wine. Wander through the packing shed to the tasting room, where his children continue his legacy, producing dry, medium and sweet mango wines, a sparkling, port and “cello” liqueur (also citrus and dragonfruit cello liqueurs).

    SEE & DOHerberton Spy & Camera Museum49 Grace Street, Herberton.(07) 4096 2092. spycameramuseum.com.auWould-be 007s and shutterbugs will enjoy photographer Michael Petersen’s collection of cameras and spy gear, including Soviet buttonhole cameras. His personal tour brings it all to life. Hastie’s Swampnprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/hasties-swampThis wetland 4km from Atherton has a two-storey bird hide and is home to 220-plus species of birds, from whistling ducks to stilts, cranes and kingfishers. Wedgetails and sea eagles soar overhead while frogs add to the din. Atherton Chinatown Museum & Hou Wang Temple86 Herberton Road, Atherton.(07) 4091 6945. houwang.org.auIn the late 1800s, a post-gold rush

    Chinatown, based around cedar cutting and farming peanuts, maize and lychees, emerged on the outskirts of Atherton. This unique 110-year-old temple, now a National Trust property, was restored a decade ago and the museum tells the region’s fraught Asian history. Open Wed-Sun. Malanda Falls Visitor Centre & Conservation ParkMalanda-Atherton Road, Malanda. (07) 4096 6957. malandafalls.comThe new visitor centre explains the Indigenous, pioneer, volcanic

    and rainforest histories of the region, while outside the Johnston River tumbles over an ancient basalt lava flow to form this waterfall and popular swimming hole. Go for a walk to find tree kangaroos in the rainforest (look for the square scats or “bush chocolates”). Aboriginal elder Ernie Raymont and his grandson, Drew, run 60-minute guided walks from the centre. Tolga Bat Hospital134 Carrington Road, near Atherton. (07) 4091 2683.Flying foxes are the bees of the rainforest, pollinating plants, but

    struggle with habitat loss. The hospital cares for four species, plus tube-nosed and micro-bats. The afternoon visiting time coincides with feeding, and seeing them up close, their curiosity and intelligence is apparent. Open daily June-September, 3-6pm; bookings essential at other times. Lake EachamCrater Lakes National Park, Lake Eacham Road. nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/lake-eachamEacham is a 66m-deep crater lake and extraordinarily clear, making it a popular dive spot as well as attracting swimmers, canoeists,

    bushwalkers and birdwatchers. A 3km loop takes you around the lake rim and there’s a 1.4km children’s walk. Curtain Fig TreeFig Tree Road, near Yungaburra.nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/curtain-fig An awe-inspiring 500-year-old freak-of-nature fig tree, which looks like it belongs in a Tolkien tale, this monster has aerial roots dropping 15m from the sky, creating a curtain spanning 40m. Mossman Gorge Centre (07) 4099 7000. mossmangorge.com.au This Heritage-listed rainforest is now a sleek Indigenous-run attraction with a cafe serving bush tucker-flavoured dishes, an art gallery and regular shuttle buses to the gorge. Don’t forget swimmers to splash among the jungle perch and saw-shelled turtles in the cool, crystal-clear Mossman River. Interpretive signs make a self-guided walk easy, plus there are regular, Indigenous-led Dreamtime walks. Daintree VillageStop in this small village, a spur off the highway that ends beside the river, to have your photo taken beside the large, silver Big Barra, try a barramundi burger or pie (there are croc versions) or buy ❯ MA








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    Spy & Camera Museum, Herberton; Tolga Woodworks Gallery (top left); Atherton Chinatown Museum & Hou Wang Temple (above and left)

    Curtain fig tree; mangosteens at Shannonvale Tropical Fruit Winery (inset)

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    a souvenir. Daintree Timber Gallery (daintreetimber gallery.com) sells red cedar and mango wood bowls, vases and salad servers, and handpainted saws. Daintree River Cruise2914 Mossman-Daintree Road, Daintree. (07) 4098 6115. daintreerivercruisecentre.com.au The Lafferty family has run these hour-long, eco-certified cruises for 25 years, know crocs by name and where to find them, and spot and explain local birds. Guests can get surprisingly close to those big reptiles and perhaps also see baby crocs and the odd feral pig. DAYTRIPSChillagoe-Mungana Caves National Parknprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/chillagoe-cavesRangers lead guided tours of Royal Arch, Donna and Trezkinn caves thrice-daily. Nearby are the century-old Chillagoe smelter ruins plus two small Indigenous rock-art sites. Herberton Historic Village6 Broadway, Herberton.(07) 4096 2002. herbertonhistoricvillage.com.auA remarkable outdoor museum with 50 buildings dating back to the 1840s, from a crude miner’s hut to the town’s original 1880s

    school, 1890s pub and 1905 police lock-up. Amid antique machinery, cars and bikes is a collection of John Deere tractors. See the Herberton feature at Travel Insider http://travelinsider.qantas.com.au/living_in_the_past_see_do_herberton_australia.htm Daintree Discovery CentreCape Tribulation & Tulip Oak Roads, Cow Bay. (07) 4098 9171. daintree-rec.com.auAn educational introduction to the rainforest, with a 23m canopy tower, a mid-level aerial walk, self-guided audio tours (one for children aged 5-9) plus bush tucker tours, an interpretive centre and cafe. There’s a good chance of spotting a cassowary, as there is on the (free) 700m Jindalba boardwalk down the road. Stop at Walu Wugirriga lookout for views back to Port Douglas and where the Daintree River meets the sea. Kurandakuranda.orgThis hippie-tinged rainforest village, 25km from Cairns and 380m above sea level, is famed for its markets and how you get there – the equally spectacular Skyrail cable car or scenic railway (or you can drive). Nowadays it’s a tourist town geared to daytrippers, but the nearby walking trails are a rewarding experience. For airfares to Queensland call Qantas on 13 13 13 or visit qantas.com

    STAYHerberton Heritage Cottage2 Perkins Street, Herberton.0427 962 670. herbertonheritagecottage.com.auThe century-old former post office is now a guesthouse with two ensuite rooms and shared kitchen. Free laundry, internet and generous breakfast with seasonal fruit add value. From $155. QT Port Douglas87-109 Port Douglas Road, Port Douglas. (07) 4099 8900. qtportdouglas.com.auRydges has revamped its 170 rooms into the funky, colourful designer QT brand. Lounge by the lagoon-style pool, pamper at the day spa or cycle to town on a complimentary bike. From $240. Rose Gums Wilderness RetreatLands Road (via Lake Eacham), Atherton Tablelands. (07) 4096 8360. rosegums.com.au Nine secluded, self-contained treehouses on a rainforest property, each with spa bath, wood fire, balcony and kitchen. There is a BYO restaurant serving hearty dinners, such as twice-cooked lamb shoulder and chermoula chicken, followed by rhubarb, apple and raspberry

    crumble. Go for long walks to see platypus, swim, admire towering rose gums and relax. Watching the parrots descend for the morning feed is noisy excitement, especially when a python joins in, but even more thrilling is spotting a musky rat-kangaroo. From $297. Jabiru Safari Lodge142 Pickford Road, Biboohra.(07) 4039 1969. jabirusafarilodge.com.au Glamping meets twitching at this manmade nature reserve. Mareeba Tropical Savanna and Wetland Reserve (mareebawetlands.org) is a birdwatching paradise with endangered Gouldian finches, brolgas, ospreys, jacanas, magpie geese and 200 other species. At the safari-style tented lodge, take a 30-minute dinghy or canoe cruise on the lagoon, or go for a dawn/sunset drive amid the termite mounds to see dingoes, wallabies and kangaroos. Emus wait by the front door of the visitor centre, which is transformed into an open-air dining room in the evening. Telescopes on the balcony help spot the wildlife, and after dinner, enjoy a campfire, tall stories and the stars over a glass of red wine. Visitors are welcome to use the facilities and cafe during the day. From $109.

    QT Port Douglas: barbecue chicken pizza with Spanish onion, barbecue sauce, mozzarella cheese and coriander (above); welcome wagon (right)