Recap: Riding the Gillies Highway, North Queensland, Australia

After reading Drew’s story on the Tail of the Dragon, seeing a facebook post referencing the statistics of the Gillies highway was too much of a coincidence to not start making plans to ride it.

A web/social media page, Unwind North Queensland, which creates travel packages inclusive of accommodation, touring and transfers posted an aerial photograph of the Gillies Highway near Cairns and it captured the imagination of many motorcycle and scooter pages, as I watched it be reposted again and again… And why wouldn’t it be, when the description accompanying the image was “Just outside of Cairns, Gillies Highway has 263 corners and 800 metres of elevation in just 11.8 miles (19 kilometres).

We are loving this shot by (IG) @doingdownunder”

US 129 “the Tail of the Dragon” which has 318 curves in 11 miles (17.7 kilometres), and is America’s number one motorcycle and sports car road. The similarities and statistics made the Gillies Highway more than worthy of putting on my bucket list and start making plans to ride It. If there was any doubt it was removed when Bike Me posted “It is a great ride. Can recommend.”
All sounding too good to be true, but when I started making enquiries with people in Cairns there was a bit more caution being added to the notion of being a good idea: “Watch for falling rotten trees, Very twisty!!! Be very careful to keep on your side of the centre line. Watch for crazy tourists; people are known to stop on the middle of a road, hit reverse and back track! Be careful!!!”. And more: “Go up the range so whatever you’re riding will need a bit of guts, That Gillies Range is a mongrel. It’s what’s coming the other way that’s a worry. Plenty of people ride it though. Nice once you get up the hill. Coming back up the A1 wouldn’t be too bad. Lots of trucks!!!”

Wow… Maybe this idea needed some more consideration, but it was not all bad reviews, ie: “Stop at the top of the range on the left at a coffee shop… brick… I’ll try to get its name.”

That was enough to re-read the Bike Me recommendation like Unwind North Queensland page and return to making plans to visit and ride.

The trickiest and generally most time consuming part of any travel tends to be finding and confirming rental scooters near the destination. So it was a relief to find Cairns Scooter & Bicycle Hire, not only had some larger capacity scooters available for hire, that they were able to confirm they were available to hire for the dates I was planning.

Cairns Scooter & Bicycle Hire is a local family operated business providing visitors with informative advice on places to visit and things to do when you hire a bicycle, scooter or motorcycle, things were on a roll… so time to get the flights and accommodation in Cairns booked and start getting into the detail of the adventure to Tropical Far North Queensland.

There was not much time to make plans, as mid-September is already the tail of the better time to travel the region. From October the milder conditions are replaced with higher humidity, more rain, and the chance of significant storms and cyclones increases. 
Cairns Monthly Averages
Month            High                      Low                         Precipitation (rain)
Sep                 79°F (26°C)           63°F (17°C)              0 in (1 cm)
Oct                 82°F (27°C)           67°F (19°C)              1 in (2 cm)
Nov                83°F (28°C)          70°F (21°C)               2 in (6 cm)
Dec                 84°F (28°C)          72°F (22°C)               5 in (14 cm)
Jan                 86°F (30°C)           73°F (22°C)               8 in (20 cm)
Feb                85°F (29°C)            72°F (22°C)              10 in (25 cm)

Fortunately there is a State public holiday the first weekend in October that would allow time to ride the Gillies Highway and visit some other attractions in the area. Rain typically falls overnight, making the days pleasant and enjoyable. 

So what will be riding ?

A pair of KYMCO Agility 16+ 200is, with sporty styling, larger 16 inch front and 14 inch rear wheels, front and rear disc brakes, and a fuel injected 163cc, four-stroke SOHC engine with 8.2 KW of power at 7500 RPM for the mountain ranges we will be climbing and hydraulic brakes with a 260 mm disc on the front and 240mm rear for descending the range, making it the perfect scoot for the roads planed. Adjustable twin rear shocks, a flat floor, a wide front fairing, lockable under seat storage, lockable glove box compartment, luggage hook and that they have top cases fitted providing lots of storage. The sealed 12V DC outlet for charging electronic devices adding to the load of great features.

Due to the remoteness and given the phone carrier we use’s anticipated patchy cell phone coverage, I have taken the plunge and purchased a Personal Locator Beacon. I have been thinking for awhile that I should given my preference for the roads least travelled and a recent incident where an experienced motorcyclist left a popular road left me to wonder.
The victim was only found because another motorcyclist almost crashed on top of him. This was probably a wake up call to stop assuming if you are in difficulty you can get back to the road to flag someone down and get help/first aid. So will have something else to strap on when riding and secure when stopped… probably reasons it slipped down the priority list. It is a PLB-KTUI Personal Locator Beacon. The KTI SafetyAlert has a class-leading 10-year battery life, no additional charges post purchase, with location accuracy of down to 3.0 metres. The GPS receiver is coupled to a chip style antenna with that is resistant to detuning by nearby objects and exceeds the COSPAS-SARSAT requirements. Weight is 140g, and size 88mm x 64mm x 31mm.

How does it work? The first and most critical step is to register it, as a registered beacon allows AMSA Search and Rescue to phone your emergency contacts and look up important information to initiate a response as soon as possible. An unregistered beacon can cause a delay in the response.

A beacon owner must carry proof of registration during a safety equipment inspection, and can be fined if they cannot prove current beacon registration. (@AustralianMaritimeSafetyAuthority)

Day 01
The weather forecast had been for no rain then as the day for departure drew closer the forecast for Thursday and Friday changed to higher percentages of rain, and also more rain than in the previous forecasts.
This was later confirmed by friends that flew up in the morning and later during the taxi ride to the hotel.

Day 02
We had not packed any wet weather gear, so seeing the amount of rain and how much water was sitting around was not good. Went to bed dreaming of no rain, but awoke to the cold hard reality that not only had it continued to rain.

It had become harder and without the proper gear something we would be happy setting off into. Fortunately through unplanned circumstance friends were in the area with a hire car and offered to go the places we had planned in their car.

We met the Cairns Scooter and Bicycle hire to see if we could defer the start of our rental, and he was fine with the change given the weather. 

As we were there, we completed the rental agreements and photo ID, etc., to make it all as seamless process when we returned the next morning.

The drive down out of Cairns and down the Bruce highway toward the Cassowary Coast (LGA) was wet and we were thankful to be looking our the windows of the Holden Equinox instead of the visor of a helmet. A brief photo stop at the Frog on a Banana on our way to the Devil’s Pool or Babinda Boulders, which is a natural pool at the join of three streams among a group of boulders near Babinda, but the weather was clearing, so things were looking up and it had lifted enough to walk around the viewing areas and see a peacock with all it’s feathers out.

We had been out and about for a bit and following the exercise feeling a bit peckish thought we would stop for some morning tea at the Babinda bakery Wrong…… it had about about 30 people inside with more arriving which was going to take longer than we were prepared to wait. So some alternatives from the SPAR supermarket, along with some water and we were on our way to Innisfail, which is becoming recognised as one of the great Art Deco towns of Australia, with examples of French, Spanish, Italian, Moroccan and Anglo-Saxon Art deco designed facades along Edith and Rankin streets in the CBD.

Cyclones Larry and Yasi in 2006 and 2011 respectively, provided opportunities to clean-up and rebuild some of the town’s aging buildings.

The town has a long history of sugar cane farming and processing. The Italian community of Innisfail erected a Canecutters Memorial in 1959, to commemorate the contribution of Italian migrants to the sugar industry, both as labourers and farm owners.

Canecutters were made obsolete in the 1960s and 1970s, as they jobs were replaced by mechanisation of cane harvesting.

An interesting stop on the way to Etty beach to see if we could spot any Cassowary that are known to hang around the beach…..these descendants of the dinosaur age call far North Queensland home, though their numbers are falling as though they have savage self defence skills they are no defence against vehicles. It is their mating season so there was multiple warnings that they are aggressive/ defensive at this time of year when males are looking to mate. The males incubate the eggs and raise the chicks till they are independent which Is about 10 months. We were in luck there was one there and apparently had enough exercise chasing tourists in the morning that it was quite compliant with our photography on a beautiful beach complete with tree swings and other rustic touches.

We did not want to push our luck and find out if it had a second wind.

So, we headed off to our next stop Paronella Park which opened in 1935, and has won numerous tourism awards and was listed as a National Trust in 1997. The park was the dream of José Paronella who arrived in Australia from Catalonia in Spain, in 1913. Through hard work, business ventures and providing loans was able to purchase the 13 acres of virgin scrub along Mena Creek in 1929 for £120 and started to build his pleasure gardens and reception centre for the enjoyment of the public. The park attracted people far and wide to enjoy movies, bands, dancing and the gardens, which include more than 7000 trees planted by José, including the magnificent Kauris lining Kauri Avenue. The Hydro Electric generating plant, commissioned in 1933, was the earliest in North Queensland, and supplied power to the entire Park.

During the war years it was well used by servicemen, but post war people’s taste in entertainment had changed and the parks popularity fell. A fire in the 70s resulted in it closing and going into disrepair as the elements and concrete cancer as a result of mica being in the sands used for the concrete making the it pores and allowing water swap in and corrode the reinforcing.

The current current owners will not restore the buildings, but are working to preserve them to ensure they are safe and can age gracefully – with the exception of the power station. After suffering years of neglect several cyclones and floods, it was possible to repair the original and reinstall it following a restoration project that commenced in In November 2009, the system once again provides all of the Park’s electricity requirements including true green power for two e-car charging stations in the car park. Paronella Park received the Eco Australia’s GECKO award for Ecotourism in 2011, for this work, and other environmentally focused initiatives

Our next and final stop was the Mamu Tropical Skywalk which is also owned and operated by Mark and Judy Evans. Cyclone Larry tore through this area in March 2006, opening the canopy in several places. The route of the 350 m long elevated walkway uses these natural openings to reduce the need for further clearing. The, walkway rises to 15 m above the ground level, and includes a 10m long cantilever and a 37m high 5 meter by 5 meter observation tower with two viewing decks, as it meanders through the canopy of tree canopy, providing some great views over the rain forest and across the valley, over the North Johnstone River gorge and surrounding rainforest-clad peaks.

The park takes it’s name from the Ma:Mu people, that are reconnecting with their culture in modern ways, while still respecting the old ways and are involved in rainforest restoration and conservation. At key points along the Forest walk there is information panels with images, words and artwork that represent important aspects of the Ma:Mu Aboriginal people’s culture.

Day 03

We were back at the scooter hire having woken to blue skies and mild weather for the Cairns area perfect for today’s plan ride up the Gillies range.

Raoul took the scooters out into the forecourt and went through a through pre-start check of the scooters lights indicators, horn etc., to ensure all was in working order on the two scooters, great practice that I have to admit becoming a bit complacent with, and according have ridden with blown tail light bulbs etc till someone told me, that a quick pre-start would have identified. But we were not done…… next was a rider competency demonstration to show him that were are competent riders, riding slowly in a loop to show scooter control before being given the green light to ride off into the distance.

We went back to the hotel to put in all our normal riding armour, plb, gps, disc locks etc before setting off to Gordonvale and the start of the Gillies highway.

Navigated our way out of town and on to the Bruce Highway which is 80 km/hr most of the way other than a relatively short section of divided carriageway signposted 100km/ hr but as it was dual lane it allowed any vehicles that had built up to go past as with a head wind the Kymcos were not getting much above 80km/ hr. We stopped at a traffic light together where a sign pointed to Gordonvale to our left and my wife asked if we should be going that direction, but I assured her we were going the right way and when the light changed I took off

Shortly after the Tom Tom rider started reinforcing we were on the correct road by warning me to get ready to turn right in 800m When I arrived at the turn it looked like the opposing driver wanted to play chicken running the amber, but in the end we both braked late and waited for the light then when it changed off I went around the corner past a building that caught my attention and seemly not that much further a round about chuffed through that and then looked back to confirm the second scooter was in the mirrors but it wasn’t.

Ohhh, not good… stop insight of the round about and waited… no second scooter, waited for some cars to go past confirming at least one change of lights still no second scooter. Hmm, turn around and retrace to the traffic light nope, ride back to where I had been waiting… nope… cannot afford to keep moving around so shut the engine down after parking and try the phone. After some enquires as to what took me so long, found out the scooter had taken off from where we had been talking then lost drive and stopped. Engine runs and revs, but no drive- probably a broken belt 😞

So back to find her and call the hire shop to report the breakdown.

In the circumstance you do not really know what the next steps are or how they will react to the news, thankfully a conversation I had not had till Saturday, but was pleasantly surprised by his reaction. There was no are you with road service, etc., he straight away offered either the Suzuki Intruder or Honda Shadow as alternative rides that he would bring to where we had stopped so we could continue with our plans. Obviously I would have preferred a replacement scooter but as these are the only greater than 50cc in his fleet, one of the motorcycles would do. Having the Vespa P range means I am not out of touch with riding a manual transmission, so this was a welcome offer and after arranging for someone to pick him and the broken scooter up he was soon arriving with the Suzuki Intruder. We moved our stuff over and continued our way. Raoul was going to wait for pick up, then once back at his shop change the belt.

On our way again and now watching the now round mirrors as much as the road, as I did not want a repeat of lost rider. Around the roundabout for a final time and on to the start of the Gillies highway. It did not disappoint as after following a river for a bit to with some open road and corners to limber up before the corners stacked up on one another going up the range.

All different radius and corners length, many of them correctly cambered to make it a joy to ride, with occasional intermissions to keep the scooter in sight and some sight seeing stops.

Loving it, but then signs warning how long till the end of the twisties start to appear and the sobering sight of a truck and trailer roll over, before it ends and on the Atherton table land.

 

I rode past a sign to the Cathedral tree, which is a 500-year-old strangler tree in Danbulla State Forest, that had not popped up in any of my pre-ride research. We stopped and agreed to go have a look so turned around to ride back to the turn and out to the tree. Not an unpleasant ride, and the tree was more than worth the trip to see it.

The information boards and maps however confirmed we needed to ride back to the Gillies highway as continuing was going to ride around the opposite side of the lake to the other stops we had planned. Once back on the highway did not have to go much further before the road signs to lake Barrine which is a crater lake formed by volcanic eruptions over 17,000 years ago. Local Aboriginals called the Lake Barany and their stories about the eruption of Lake Barrine describe the forest at the time as ‘open scrub’. A subsequent study of pollen records from the lake’s sediments confirms this view, suggesting the rainforest formed on the tableland only around 7600 years ago.

The lake has an average depth of 65 m, and is only filled by rainwater having no streams or springs feeding in to it. The waterside tea house [where we had Devonshire tea overlooking the lake with fish visible in the water below our balcony) was a very pleasant stop and opportunity for those who don’t enjoy twisty roads as much to recover. Time marching on, it was time to move to Lake Eacham which is also a crater lake formed at the same time and of similar depth, though not as large. It has a disability ramp that looked more like a boat ramp and terraces that have taken away the shallows were fish and turtles apparently use to hang around for hand feeding in the past.

It appeared to be a popular enough swimming hole, even with the warning notice that freshwater crocs have been sighted in the lake. Our next stop would be Malanda falls, which has a large car park and information centre, and from the web browser descriptions things were looking up, but did not really prepare us for what it looked like. There is a nice aboriginal mosaic near the carpark and paths down to the waterfall

– but once you arrive you see that Malanda falls have the roadway in the background when looking from the base of the falls. There is swimming pool at the foot of the falls, which has concrete surrounds with a downstream levee wall letting some water through to the continuation of the river.

Given the number of things that can hurt you in the coastal area along the Cassowary coast and Coastal rivers, this would be a fantastic place to come and have a mud free swim with plenty of shade. Time was ticking away and with the change over from scooter to bike we had to change our plans and drop either Miaa Miaa falls or the Mount Hypipamee crater.
Whilst being a little under whelmed and saying “is this it?” someone else who was sitting near by answered and said “yes it is” , as she had been thinking the same thing. Conversation followed which confirmed that Miaa Miaa was also a bit more commercial and her tip if looking for a more natural setting would be the crater and diner falls. Other than some road works it was a relatively short ride over to the crater which has a 400 m walk to the crater (which techo talk is a diatreme or volcanic pipe, with this being the only example of this feature in North Queensland ) with a viewing and platform and information boards explaining it was created by a massive gas explosion.

The fifty-eight metres sheer granite rock walls opposite the platform through which the gas exploded are impressive, which frame a 70 metre deep lake at their base which is covered with a green layer of native water weed.

A little way down the path from the viewing platform was a trial leading down we assumed to dinner falls. Which apparently (unconfirmed) got it’s name Dinner Falls got its name for its three tiers—entree, main and dessert.
The webpage description of this was “An alternative route back to the car park from the crater, this track leads to Dinner Falls, a series of cascades in the headwaters of the Barron River. The track surface is uneven with exposed rocks and roots and can be slippery when wet. Some sections are reasonably steep. This circuit can be walked in either direction” Well I guess it did leave a little to the imagination – but the reality of walking it was that It had more gnarly roots rocks and bumps than the haunted forest Snow White tried to run through. If your ankles were a bit stiff, you will have mobilised the joints by the time you reach the falls; if not being careful where you put your feet. But it is worth it, the H.S.E. department must not have visited here recently, so the trial is next to the river with access to below the falls without the fences and barriers, that all the more recently upgraded parks have. The trial up the hill was a little less of a challenge and we were back in the car park again, ready to start the return journey via the Curtain tree near Yungaburra.

It was a partial back track to turn off, but the roads are quiet and in good condition. We arrived at the tree car park which was dominated by a stretched Hummer with bridal tape over the bonnet. The tree is worth the visit and with the sun rapidly setting provided some great natural light to illuminate the tree and give the vines a bit more depth.

We found the bridal party in Yungaburra at the pub which is a pretty little town that appropriately enough’s name translates to Meeting Place in local indigenous dialect. Yungaburra has the highest portion of heritage-listed buildings of all regional centres in Queensland which thankfully includes a fuel stop, as we were both getting down in our tanks refilled the scooter and bike before recharging ourselves at Kimmi’s café.

The ride down the mountain on the Gillies highway was great weaving in and out of corners not really many cars in either direction do we were free to set our own speeds and if we did get any cars there is enough places to let them past than hold them up, though I believe in a car you would need an empty or cast iron stomach to not loose your lunch if you tried to test how fast your guardian angel can fly. We stopped off at the river after the twisties. We did not stay long as the sun sets seemingly different here; where it spends some time setting, then sort of goes “that is close enough” and drops the last bit to the horizon.

Followed the boardwalk till we found a nice pizzeria with live music filtering through from the place next door, a great way to end the day.

Day 04
Two pretty full days after a red eye flight, so the alarm was set a bit later Sunday morning, as the Scooter shop did not open till 9:00am. We arrived a little early in case Raoul also did, to change the bike back to a scooter. He arrived rolled out some stock to let the scooter out and we were on our way. It was good to be back on the scooter, weaving our way through the back streets till turning on to the Captain Cook highway to breakfast at Yorky’s Knob. The scooter had not lost any top speed and was keeping pace with traffic up to the roundabout where we exited and rolled off the throttle a little now off the highway. The Yorky’s Knob sign was coming into view when it started to hesitate, smoke and then no drive. Damn it had blown a belt again. My wife pulled in behind and said bits of belt started to fall out before seeing smoke. On the side of the road again.

The motorcycle community did not care to know, as all the passing bikes passed. Whether adventure bikes, street bikes or cruisers none of them wanted to know anything about the scooters stopped on the side of the road. A Duncan powersports ute turning from the side road near where we had stopped asked if we were ok, but that was it, every other car or bike put the can’t see you blinkers on.

It was a relief that when we called the scooter shop he was once again prepared to close up and ride the Suzuki out, then wait for his mate to come out  to take him back. No more belts in stock, so the scooter will be off the road till a new one comes in.
Breakfast at Café Yorkeys was great, a busy café in the shopping centre, offering great service and well cooked and presented food.

It was a quick look at and walk around the beach and beach side reserve before going back to the Captain Cook Hwy/State Route 44, before turning on to the The Kennedy Highway/ National Route 1 to the Kunandra Village.

This is a bit different to the Gillies as the corners are a bit more open, not quite as many one after the other and the best bit was that to my recollection they were all cambered the correct way with many angled enough for the bike to almost steer itself up the hill.

There is a lookout along the way that provides a great view of the coast.  I could make out a few other features before reading the plaque to confirm.

After the lookout we continued to the Barron Falls/Kuranda turn off and into a town that looked like one of the lands in Disneyland, with the rail station and cable station together then a segregated walkway into town which was a collection of tourism and food and then the butterfly and koala parks where we would be the following day for the transfer to Rainfall station. So a quick ride through familiarisation before visiting Barron Gorge to see the waterfall.


Queensland has had one of it’s drier winters so it was more a rock face than waterfall on the day we were visiting, there was some water being released from the dam above, I don’t think there was any water near the hydro power station further downstream, but impressive to see without time constraints to reboard the train. You could see the cable car’s Barron falls walkways on the opposite side of the river, which confirmed no need to get off when riding the cable down the mountain. We went to the look out, before going back to the highway and continuing our journey.

The distance from here to Mareeba is not long – about 39km but not overly interesting scenery. Contrary to the information we had prior arriving we were finding most drivers were being very courteous, giving plenty of room and not crowding when any opportunities to overtake presented themselves, quite content to travel a little under the speed limit which is where we had to be to stay within the capabilities of the scooter. Even the cars that built up behind were not trying to kill themselves overtaking 10 cars at a time. We repaid the courtesy and at the earliest opportunities pulled over into the mouth of a side street or where ever would could to let any bank up of cars go through. An ice creamery’s signs started to appear giving some warning of it’s location, but I had the red hot tip to visit the coffee works in Mareeba, so we continued on to the service station and refueled.

The sign posting to the coffee works was easy to follow and leads you off into the industrial estate as you enter the city to their factories that have been renovated into some lovely spaces of gifts, souvenirs, BBQ, chocolate shop, coffee processing and roasting etc and a garden side café. Having passed up the opportunity to visit the ice creamery when I saw they had Tiramuso Gelato in the freezer the thought of a Devonshire tea went.

A check of the time and we were will behind schedule to make all the planned stops, so finished up and continued on.

The initial plan was to ride up from Cairns along the beaches then turn inland and come back along the rode from Mount Molloy to Mareeba on the Mulligan Highway/State Route 81. So glad we turned the direction of the days ride around as it is boring and long and boring, signs of fires near the road, which I was thinking could have been controlled burns, but then when we rode past a partially burnt avocado plantation it probably was an uncontrolled fire which we seem to have in the news daily while waiting for more rain… then back to boring again… Watching the road side distance poles to know how much more road left when what looked to be a mirage appeared to our left… swampy ground near the road then a lake to the horizon, it is real not an imaginary lake, Big Mitchell Creek Reserve is next to the Mulligan Highway and what we were looking at was Southedge Dam, also known as Quaids Dam (or Mitchell Lakes). Things were looking up, at full supply level the dam has a storage capacity of 129000ML and covers an area of 3,290 ha. It was constructed and owned by Southedge Daintree Pastoral Company and has remained unused since its construction in 1986.
We arrived in Mount Malloy which has a small median divided main street with a huge pub – the National Hotel at one end with and a couple of cafes at the other. Mount Molloy is a historic mining and timber town which explains the remnants of the JM Johnston’s sawmill machinery on a rise near the highway as you enter town, but what is not as readily visible is that is has a war memorial for the battle of Long Tan, behind the Memorial Hall

The “Battle of Long Tan Cross”. The signage explains: “On 18 August 1966, D company 6RAR, under the command of MAJ Harry Smith, set out to patrol an area North East of Nui Dat Base, Vietnam. The base had come under heavy mortar and recoilless rifle attack the previous night. At 1540h, in a rubber plantation, 11 platoon engaged the enemy; a force later estimated to outnumber them 20 to 1.
“The detail of the ensuing four hours of unrelenting fierce fire fight, under an atrocious tropical downpour, has been immortalised in military history. MAJ Smith’s skilful leadership enabled a decimated 11 Platoon to link with 10 and 12 Platoons around Company Headquarters to hold the line. Supported by pin-point accurate artillery from batteries at Nui Dat Base and an ammunition resupply by 9 Squadron RAAF Hueys (Iroquois helicopters) flying in dreadful and hazardous conditions, D Company defeated a far superior force. Eighteen Australians were killed in action, eleven of whom were national servicemen.
“A concrete cross was erected on the battlefield by 6RAR in 1969 in memory of the fallen. At war’s end, this was removed, however local villagers erected the current cross in the mid 80s; in dimensions, this cross is an exact replica. The original cross is displayed in the Dong Nai Museum in Bien Hoa City, Vietnam.”

A rest and refreshment under the umbrellas of the Mount Molloy licensed Mexican/Australian cafe & take away, before moving on to the next and more interesting section of road enroute to Mossman Gorge.
Of particular note is the section between Julatten and Shannonvale, which is a nice twisty section of road with the Mossman Mount Molloy Road Lookout (between the Transmission Lines) a brief intermission

before they get a little closer and tighter before arriving at the Mossman visitor/training centre, which was the vision of a Kuku Yalanji elder to protect the environment, share local culture and traditions and create training and career paths in tourism and hospitality. 90% of the centres employees are Aboriginal. The shuttle bus took us from here up to the path to the Mossman river, which given the mild conditions and low chance of flash flooding with no sign of rain to change the river conditions, many people were having a dip in the river. We went to the boardwalk and the continued to Rex Creek Suspension bridge before heading back toward Cairns.

The plans to visit and spend some time in Port Douglas had to parked as the sun was getting lower on the horizon and there would still be time to see the stack stones at Wangetti Beach just north of Palm Cove. Parking was very very limited in the area as it is not an ‘official’ tourist stop nor lookout spot.

It is only possible to stop here with some level of safely if you are traveling from Port Douglas to Cairns – as there is only a very very narrow strip of ‘parking’ on the beach side, before stopping at Ellis beach bar and grill for dinner. A good and reasonably priced selection on offer overlooking the road and beach opposite was a great place to stop and relax a bit with friends before they went to Port Douglas and our return to Cairns. The sun was setting, so time to get a move on with the intention of being on the outskirts and into divided carriage way before the sun did it’s final plummet from the sky.

The Suzuki started no problem… But the Kymco was totally dead, not even a flicker of life. I immediately blamed the interlock on the side stand as a potential cause and after manipulating it up and down a few times we had some lights, but before anyone could hit the start button it lost power again. Damn… this was not what expected as it had been riding faultlessly for two days. Some more lever squeezing stand manipulation and frustration till decision was made to call Raoul and ask if this has happened before and if so if there is a trick to getting it going? He picked up and went through a similar check list of options as us, but said their scooters don’t have isolation or kill switches and to his knowledge can be started on the side stand, so we were back to being picked up. Vin who is more mechanically minded than me, wanted to have a look in the battery compartment to see if the leads were snug, so I asked the bar if they had any tools, as they have a couple of notice boards of motorcycle event flyers seemed reasonable to think they might have some basic tools… In luck they do, and we were able to undo the four screws holding the cover on under the seat and see as Vin had suspected that they had become loose.
A quick wiggle and snug down of the retaining screw on the battery poles and it came back to life, Called Raoul to let him know we were right again, returned the tools to the bar and we were on our way to top up the tanks ready to return them to Cairns Bicycle and Scooter hire. After the fuel stop, the Kymco was dead again…. No drama, at least we knew what to do this time. Quickly unscrewed the four retaining screws and wiggled the wires back into life and we were back on the road looking for the Captain Cook statue. It was a little further up the road, but no way we were turning the Kymco off again, so left it running while taking a picture. With hindsight it may have been putting the scooter on and off the centre stand as it was not a terribly smooth action, which was jerking the scooter around getting it on and off the stand. The  scooter that only been making Cameos apperances on our trip had already had it’s centre stand removed and think next time you see this one, it also will only offer the side stand as the only option. The scooter and Motorcycle were returned without any further drama ending some fantastic riding.

Obviously the plan was to both ride scooters, but unfortunately that could not happen, but Cairns Bicycle and Scooter hire’s response to the unexpected was exceptional.

We were able to complete all our planned rides, see most of what we planned to see and not that bothered about missing the things we dropped. Happy to recommend them to anyone planning a visit.

They are constantly reviewing their fleet and adjusting accordingly. Apparently the Kymco 50ccs were not up to the task of being rentals, which have been replaced by Honda City 50cc.

They did try renting some Honda Groms, but found too many people wanted to attempt to be stunt riders on them – and it was getting expensive repairing the damage from when they found they could not.

I believe they are looking at Scomadi scooters as potential additions/replacements for the Kymcos, as they are finding more International riders are licensed for 125cc than 163cc.

I will watch their facebook page to see when or what they decide.

Day 05
A day of being a more conventional tourist. A bus pick up from the hotel after breakfast from a café along Marlin Parade transferred us to Freshwater Station and mocktails while waiting for the train to arrive. The train has vintage open window carriages and winds it’s way up the mountain taking in the sights and slowing at the more spectacular views. Seeing we probably will not repeat the journey on a train (happy to ride again) opted for the Gold class treatment which was exactly that: snacks and beers sitting in a comfy lounge chair was well worth it. The train stopped at Barron Falls before terminating at Kuranda where you had the choice of to walk or take a shuttle up to town.

We would be transferring to Rainforest station, which is a short distance away which has a small zoo, and nature park with native Australian animals, including crocodiles, wombats, dingoes, and the cassowary, with the options to hand feed kangaroos or have your photo taken cuddling a koala. This was followed with a guided tour through the rainforest on both land and water in Army Ducks, then the Pamagirri Aboriginal Experience. A traditional dance performance and guided Dreamtime Walk with boomerang throwing, spear-throwing and didgeridoo playing, before taking the bus back to board the Sky rail back down the hill and transfer to the hotel.

A full day with a bit of time for dinner along the esplanade before going to the airport and our flight home.

Want to know more – I found this after the trip. A pretty good resource for a future visit.
https://parks.des.qld.gov.au/parks/tablelands/pdf/atherton-tland-journey-guide.pdf

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