Cycle Australia's Atherton Tableland
|Tropical bliss: The Milla Millaa Waterfall, a respite in the Atherton Tablelands (PhotoDisc)|
Host to the 1996 World Mountain Bike Championships, Cairns takes its bike trails seriously, but in the intense beauty of the tropical rainforest, a biker's common complaint is the equally intense heat. Fortunately for those hoping to challenge the Australian landscape, without passing out while doing so, the stunning (and naturally air-conditioned) Atherton Tableland lies just over 30 miles from Cairns, a distance that makes for a solid, scenic ride in itself. At 3,280 feet above sea level, Atherton is a treasured Queensland oasis and one of UNESCO's Wet Tropics World Heritage Areas. A collection of lush vistas, waterfalls, winding creeks, and quiet glens, the area offers a much-needed escape from the crowds that flood into Cairns to seek an audience with the Great Barrier Reef.
Mountain biking is by far the most exhilarating way to explore Atherton Tableland. Two-wheeling it will let you appreciate this rainforest landscape of cascading falls and clear-water lakes at your own pace. There are a ridiculous amount of biking and hiking trails to choose from. Bike rental agencies should be able to advise you accordingly, or you can arrange for a guided tour of the Tableland with a regional outfitter. If you opt for a little road cycling along the undulating Gillies Highway, stop on the way at the bizarre curtain fig, whose gnarled roots, true to its name, have grown into a dense curtain that hangs to the ground. You can also explore the Tableland via the Kuranda Scenic Railway, an antique train built in 1891 that dips through 15 tunnels and around 100 curves, or aboard Skyrail, the world's longest gondola that gives impressive views of the rainforest canopy and green farmlands that sweep out to the ocean.
All roads into the Atherton Tableland lead to Kuranda, a tourist-heavy town as popular for its Koori culture as its spectacular vistas. Smaller towns like Malanda and the farming village of Mareeba speckle the landscape; about 15 miles south of Malanda, hidden in the rainforest, is one of the Tableland's stunning highlights: Millaa Millaa, the gateway to a waterfall circuit that leads past spectacular swimming holes and six cascading waterfalls. When at Yungaburra, another small and inviting heritage village, be sure to pedal to Lake Eacham. No rivers feed this lake, which sits in the crater of an ancient volcano; it's replenished by rainwater and offers a gloriously wet respite for the saddle-weary, with tree kangaroos, water dragons, and abundant avian species in the surrounding rainforest to keep you company. Nearby, Danbulla State Forest, which starts at Lake Barrine and circles Lake Tinaroo, offers the expected Aussie outdoor trappings: campgrounds and obscenely beautiful hiking routes, as well as pine plantations and eucalyptus forests.
Most mountain bike outfitters set out from Cairns. Contact Dan's Mountain Biking (0740330128) for more details.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication