Swimming in Lakes and Waterfalls
After a long day on the Great Barrier Reef we had a more gentle day pottering around our rainforest house. In the late evening we ventured out to Crystal Cascades, a beautiful nearby park formed around a river which dropped in a series of shallow waterfalls into swimming holes. We spent a little time in the water but not much as it was cold and the river bed was sharp rocks. Next day however we had some amazing swimming opportunities.
We set off early and went southwards, through Cairns and then down the Bruce Highway to Gordonvale. Here we turned onto the Gillies Highway which is essentially 40km of bends winding up a steep hill through the rainforest into the Great Dividing Range. After two km I was bored, after five I felt sick and started trying to smooth the bends out and after about thirty I had to stop for a short break. By the end of the road my arms were aching and my head spinning. On the other side of the Great Dividing Range the landscape changed. Before us were the Atherton Tablelands, Australia’s “tropical dairies”, for the land is no longer covered in trees but instead is lush green grazing land, perfect for keeping herds of cows. The hills in the Tablelands are gentle and the roads over them are excellent.
After the road levelled out we saw a sign for Lake Barrine, the first lake of the Crater Lakes National Park. We pulled into a car park and found a café with a paddle-steamer moored outside. The perfectly circular, tree fringed lake was completely still. The trees were not the tropical rainforest we had become used to but a more temperate woodland. There wasn’t much of interest to us here and the water didn’t look particularly inviting so we moved on.
As we got towards the town of Yungaburra we followed signs for “Curtain Fig Tree” and “Lake Tinaroo”. After about 10km on a little used farm road we came to the tree. I have to admit I wasn’t particularly interested but we went anyway and it was amazing. The “tree” was a huge collection of vines, 48m high and forming a canopy the size of two Olympic swimming pools. You could even walk inside. It was truly a wonder of nature.
We decided not to pursue Lake Tinaroo which was another 30km. Instead we headed towards Lake Eacham, our second Crater Lake. This one was much more interesting than Lake Barrine. The shore had several platforms for swimming. Just above one of these there was a group of people who appeared to be either rehearsing for a play or doing the most convoluted workout I have ever seen. We didn’t pay them much attention. After a quick walk where we viewed turtles swimming in the shallows and a water dragon basking on a submerged log we were in the beautifully clear and tranquil lake. I had to be careful to avoid too much sun but had a wonderfully relaxing swim in the warm but refreshing water. To swim in such a place was an absolute joy. We loved the view of the lake so much that we decided to stay for lunch. Still dripping we got our picnic out and sat on the shore taking in the beauty of this amazing national park.
We had to pull ourselves away as our afternoon was to be filled with more wonders. We drove off planning to see Yunagaburra but missed the turn and went towards Malanda instead. Here we saw the Malanda Falls which where a short drop of a wide waterfall into an artificial swimming pool. We felt they weren’t really worth stopping for so quickly continued onto the Millaa Millaa waterfall circuit which was our day’s true objective.
We got to Millaa Millaa and found that it was even more impressive than the guidebooks and tourist information had suggested. The first of the falls, Millaa Millaa itself, were an eighteen metre drop of water falling into a large deep pool. It took us seconds to get into the pool for our second swim of the day. The water was cool and clear. We loved our swim, especially discovering the immense force of the falls as we swam under the curtain they formed. I had to limit my time in the pool again due to my sunburn but I was so glad that I spent some time in there.
We drove on to the Second of the three falls on the circuit, Zillie Falls. This was a completely different experience. We walked down a hill for a couple of hundred metres and then in front of us was the top of an immense waterfall. The river ran right over the edge, which was only partially fenced off. We could see the edge of the rock and the upper part of the curtain, but not the depths to which it plunged with an impressive roar. We were not the only visitors here and we watched as a group of three people completely disregarded the safety notices and started clambering over the rocks in the fast moving river.
The final waterfall was Ellinjaa Falls. To reach this one we had to go down a hundred steps. When we reached the bottom we found a view similar to Millaa Millaa but the falls were shorter and the pool shallower. They were tree shrouded though and it was very pretty. We were getting very tired by this point and had a long drive home so we didn’t stay long.
We stopped briefly for a much needed coffee and cake at the Millaa Millaa Tearooms. The coffee was good but sadly the Tim Tam cheesecake and muffin that we had were very tasteless. The traffic home was heavy and we reached Cairns at rush-hour on a Friday night. The road was exceptionally pretty, with the towering splendour of Mt Bartle-Frere and Mt Bellenden, the first and second highest peaks in Queensland, lit with the late evening sun, towering above the sugar cane fields. We were too tired to take much in though and were very glad when we reached Redlynch.