THE GREAT TROPICAL NORTH ROAD
Tropical North Queensland is one of the most sparsely populated regions of Australia – but also with some of the best trails. With bikes packed into a campervan, we connect the hotspots in the Great Tropical North Queensland Road Trip (with bikes).
Cairns, as we all know by now, has been the world’s Centre of mountain biking again and again. we headed there to see if we Could take that world with us on the road, paCking our bikes, bags, snaCks and pyjamas into a four-berth Campervan for a week-long road trip in searCh of north Queensland’s finest trails on the great tropiCal road trip (with bikes).
day one – smithfield and wangetti It’s a shaky start when we pull out of the Britz hire centre outside of Cairns. on our first sortie in the campervan, which we give the highly original nickname ‘Britzy’, we take up four parking spots at the smithfield shopping centre and need at least two people and three minutes for a blindspot check and lane change. It’s big enough for a reversing camera and thankfully one is fitted. We’re lucky, then, that our first stop is just a few minutes’ drive from our start point. the smithfield trails at James Cook University, soon-to-be home of the World Champs for the second time, are covered on pages 94-95 Places that rock. We choose an easy cross-country style loop, hoping to keep our bodies intact for the rest of the journey, and pile back into our mobile home for the next leg, eager to test Britzy on the great open road. We’re heading out on a gigantic loop, up north to Port douglas, then west and south to Atherton, ravenshoe, and finally to the coast near Innisfail before returning to Cairns. our mission is threefold: to enjoy Queensland’s finest and best-known trails; to explore some of her newest riding; and to spot a crocodile. It’s only an hour’s drive to Port douglas and barely midday when we pull off the Captain Cook highway at the abandoned croc farm opposite Wangetti beach. With overgrown, collapsing barbed-wire fences and washed-out concrete buildings, complete with faded interpretative signage, it’s the perfect place to shoot a budget zombie apocalypse film and emits a strange reptilian smell. Although we’ve been assured that ‘nah you won’t find any crocs in that creek’ we can’t help but notice that the signs across the road, and indeed all the way up the Captain Cook highway, would seem to indicate otherwise. We kit up and head up the steep four-wheel drive track that takes us away from the coast, and the apocalyptic croc farm, and into the old timber reserve beyond. It’s hot and humid, but after riding over undulating fire road for several minutes the tree cover becomes lusher, denser, and before long we emerge at hartley’s falls, a gorgeous waterhole surrounded by birdcalls and
dragonflies, and a log shaped like a crocodile, which we avoid anyway. We carry on a few more kilometres before we emerge at Flat Rock Falls, with clear pools etched into rock fed by water running off the tablelands to the west. We cool off our feet and freshen up for the ride back, enjoying views over the azure coastline before the final descent. the gas on, as well as the miniature exhaust fan, and while bench space is at a premium, there’s no problem whipping up a stir fry for two. We eat outside at the folding camp table and chairs that come stowed in the campervan’s rear hatch, and enjoy the company of sandflies and midges, who are stoically undeterred by our use of several citronella candles (provided) and lashings of bug repellent (our own). While we eat we listen to strange tropical birds celebrating the rapid tropical sunset, backed by the distant lapping of gentle ocean waves. planks over the seats to make a solid base, then covering the planks with cushions and linen. The table folds away and we stow it above the driver’s seat, never to use it again.
Day Two – The GreaT Barrier reef
We may be on a mountain biking odyssey but nobody leaves TNQ without visiting the Great Barrier Reef. Today we’re heading out to sea with tour operators Calypso Reef Cruises. That afternoon we pull into the relative luxury of the BIG4 Port Douglas, where we admit we’re a little intimidated by the cords, pipes, pumps, and switches garnishing Britzy’s sides, and head for the shower block instead of hooking up the water. We do give cooking a try. Britzy’s equipped with a tiny fridge, tiny microwave, tiny stove, tiny sink, and normal-sized pots and pans. We turn It’s about an hour-and-a-half voyage from Port Douglas to the first of the three reef stops we’ll make to snorkel or dive, so I’ve brought my laptop to catch up on work. Your Editor spends some time reading on the laptop and consequently The only thing that’s left to do is make the bed, a daily task achieved by shifting our bikes outside where we lock them up, removing the ‘dining table’ from the rear of the cabin, unfolding timber
Words: IMogen sMIth Photos: IMogen sMIth, tBs, MIke BleWItt, ttnQ