East Coast Australia 6 – Tropical Waterfalls in the Atherton Tablelands

Following on from our epic USA road trip in 2011, my girlfriend and I are currently in Australia on an even bigger adventure travelling this incredible country.


I needed my dive fix so after leaving the New Horizon, so we went swimming again in the Airlie Beach lagoon before I had a didgeridoo lesson which came free with our boat trip. It was very funny and difficult – the skill of circular breathing is something I would need a lot more practice at in order to play consistently without stopping to breathe. That night, Storm and the New Horizon crew came out with us in town. Those boys live on the boat for something crazy like twelve days a fortnight but they are an awesome bunch and know how to work hard and play hard.

Townsville was our next stop after our tenth Greyhound bus trip and quite frankly, it didn’t match our previous experiences. The hostel was very motel like and was nothing like the tropical splendour of the last two hostels. The place itself is pretty much what you would expect for somewhere that is essentially called “Town Town”. It’s as if they looked around for a distinguishing feature to describe the town and all they could come up with was that it was a town. You can see why. There is a nice enough bridge, noisy Galahs, pretty harbour and walk-through water fountain and it is a perfect base for people visiting nearby Magnetic Island, but that is about it. It’s similar to Newcastle further down the coast, really.


We began our fifth week in Australia by boarding our eleventh and final East Coast greyhound bus to Cairns, which took us through stunning tropical plains, grasslands and mountain ranges. Contrasting this, we arrived in Cairns to a whole village green full of folk doing mass Zumba! We met our friends from Fraser Island and partied at the Woolshed, a favourite drinking spot with backpackers where everyone dances on the tables!

In Cairns it was more evident than anywhere else that the Aboriginals do not acknowledge the whites, which feels quite odd, as if they are living parallel but completely separate lives. For much of the twentieth century, Aborigine children were taken from their parents and forced to have zero contact with them. The Australian government believed it was for their own good and that the mothers would simply forget about their offspring. Astonishingly, this practice continued until the 1970s. These days, Aboriginal people live 20 years less than their white counterparts and there is still a lot of prejudice. Previous governments banished them to northern cities so that they were “not our problem”, hence we witnessed more aboriginal people the further north we travelled on our trip. Alcoholism and drugs are big issues – apparently Aborigine bodily systems struggle to process alcohol. In all ways of measuring quality of life, they are anything from 2% to 20% worse off than white people. Successive governments have tried to address this in standard ways that have worked in similar situations in other countries and have given land back to the Aboriginal people, but this has achieved virtually nothing. It is almost as if their society has been forcefully broken beyond repair and now all that can be done is to continue trying for equality, fighting the all too common prejudices and hope for the best. The sad truth is that nobody seems to have the answer.

Cairns has a great location close to Atherton Tablelands and the Daintree Rainforest and each morning trips to both locations run around town picking tourists up from their hostels. The first trip we did was to Atherton Tablelands, a beautiful mountain range fringing Cairns, with Captain Matty’s Barefoot Tours. Our tour guide was an awesome crazy dude called Gilly who was far more awake than any of us given that it was Sunday morning and table dancing had been on the menu the night before. In what can only be described as a hippy bus, we wound our way up a twisty mountain pass to the Tablelands.

Our first stop was the beautiful Lake Eacham, a volcanic crater lake. Gilly made us a fantastic tea and tropical breakfast and we all started to feel a little bit more awake. The next destination was Mt Hippopame (pronounced “Hip-pop-am-mee”; when we realised this it could be described as an epiphany at Hippopame, which is quite an amusing thing to say – hippop-hooray!) We saw Dinner Falls and dropped rocks from a great height into “The Crater”, an incredible volcanic hole formed from gases exploding through weak granite. Duckweed covers the surface and little crustaceans live underwater, where the hole curves under the rock. It’s quite an amazing geography lesson just to look at.

We swam in Dinner Falls and all had our photo taken jumping in the pool and romantically sitting on the rocks as couples. After two stop offs at stunning lookout points, we drove to lunch at the wonderful Milla Milla Pub, a cosy rural establishment with the feel of a real old school outback pub. The publican was larger than life – a no nonsense kind of guy with enough sense of humour to squirt Jodes with a water pistol from the bar for quite a while before she realised what was going on! The Australia vs South Africa test match was on the television in the corner whilst we enjoyed a great steak sandwich and free beer, included in our tour price!

Next up was the beautiful Milla Milla Falls, where Peter Andre’s video to Mysterious Girl was filmed. We swam across very chilly water to the famous waterfall, which looked like nothing from the far side where you get in, but when you got to it was a wall of noisy, oh-so-powerful water that felt like hail. You couldn’t just duck under the onslaught of water either because there were rocks not far below the surface, which also made it super slippery. The only way through was to brave a few seconds of walking through water which had fallen a colossal distance in vast quantities, smashing onto your back and hammering off the water either side of you. If you’ve ever complained that your shower pressure was too low, a trip through the Milla Milla would ensure you never moaned again. The sheer volume per second of water hitting you makes you breathless and hurt; we were stunned to hear from Gilly that Queensland’s wet season rain is often like that for maybe 72 hours straight, making it almost unbearable to be outside.

The view from below the falls looking up is majestic and completely worth it once you are trapped between a wall of rock and a wall of water smashing down (rock and a hard place, literally). We swam back to the edge of the pool and took more pictures, romantic couple ones and ones where the girls flicked their hair Mysterious Girl style (had to be done). It was a fairly long drive to our next stop, Josephine Falls, but completely worth it. The top pool was closed as it was dangerous (“there have been deaths”, read the sign), but we swam in the bottom pool. It was fantastic and the only place I have been where you get to slide down the falls. It was so much fun sliding on your bum down the rocks into the pool that we did it twice whilst Gilly of course took pictures.

We chilled on the rocks and then walked back through the incredible tropical rainforest. It was lush, exciting, vibrant, noisy, scary and above all else just alive. We were all feeling pretty alive too after diving in waterfall pools – it really is the best feeling ever.

There was more tropical fruit in our afternoon tea courtesy of Gilly – coconuts, chocolate pudding fruits, you name it. Then it was back to Cairns to check out the night markets and get some rest before our Daintree Rainforest tour the next day.

Next time, we jump 14,000 feet from the heavens…


4 thoughts on “East Coast Australia 6 – Tropical Waterfalls in the Atherton Tablelands

  1. Pingback: Highlights of 2012 | Places and Races

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