THE GREAT TROP­I­CAL NORTH ROAD

Australian Mountain Bike - - Contents -

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

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