Chasing Waterfalls in the Atherton Table Lands

Chasing Waterfalls in the Atherton Table Lands

Platypuses aren’t the easiest things to spot, you’ve got to watch for the rustling of lilly pads and follow the water’s ripples. Discern a slick wet back within the murky shadows of the pond and you’ve got the mysterious creature. Not that you can see much detail as they blend so well into the ponds where they forage.


Tarzali Lakes – Platypus spotting


Tarzali Lakes guarantee platypus sightings amongst their assortment of man-made and naturally dammed off ponds and lakes. For $8.50 a guide took us to the bottom lakes and instructed us on how to spot the supposedly shy creatures and then left a group of 5 of us to our own devices. Cast an expansive gaze over the entire lake, focusing on nothing in particular, until a fluttering in the periphery of your vision snatches your attention; that’s how Ollie and I spotted them. They’re cute at first but once you’ve got the knack you see so many, so quickly the novelty wears off fast.  So we dozed on the bank, with a possum chirping his annoyance at our intrusion on his privacy. We’d not driven too far out of Cairns yet, and with the rental car under Ollie’s name he didn’t want me to drive, so I had no excuse to be sleepy, but the spongy grass and baking sun were just too tempting.




Lake Eacham


The Atherton Table Lands are famous for their waterfalls and crater lakes, crystal clear for meters and meters. Tangled, thick cables of roots reach out into the water, scrabbling for a hold and making the lake sides treacherously slippery in places. Queensland’s reliable sun illuminates everything below, penetrating deep into the lake. It’s like floating in a void, waiting for some giant to pull the plug out and suck you down a humongous granite plug hole.


Despite the sun, the water is icy and the little flitting fish weren’t our only companions; a fresh-water croc lurked somewhere in the shadows.  Everywhere we had been in Australia, the message from locals, Facebook and the ever present signs was “keep away from water and swamps”. I couldn’t quite believe in the friendliness of my fresh-water friend after the reputation of his salt water cousins. Yes, you’re encouraged to give him a little space; human might not to be to its taste, but I didn’t fancy testing those grouchy jaws! You’d have seen him coming in that clear water at least!




Curtain Fig Tree


Lake Eacham and Curtain Fig Tree beingtourist hot spots it was unsurprising that we met the same group who’d been swimming in the chilly lake again at the tree. Hanging back slightly, we heard how the fig seed is dropped into the thick forest canopy. Nestled into the crook of a branch, it begins to wind its tendrils groundwards, encircling the tree’s trunk in an embrace that becomes suffocatingly tight. The fig sucks the life from the original tree until it rots away leaving a hollow cage of fig tendrils which continue to grow until a mammoth fig remains, bigger than most houses and fascinatingly intricate where the individual vines have woven a completely self sufficient maze.




Millaa Milla Falls


It’s not just travelers and tourists who are attracted to these wild mountain lands; Herbal Essences came in search of the perfect water for silky soft hair, and Peter Andre to serenade his mysterious girl. Millaa Milla Falls definitely had a touch up for it’s TV appearance though. The muddy water wasn’t calling to anyone to venture in though. Cascading into its sunken clearing, the sun doesn’t reach the water for long enough to impart any real warmth. I took to the damp poolside grass for a half hearted sunbathe instead. I’ve been spoilt for waterfalls, after the turquoise pools of Thailand’s Erawan Falls and the rough-around-the-edges, raw geographic beauty of the falls in the Grampians and the Blue Mountains; I’ve got high standards.


The Tablelands rumble away from the roads you drive, in magnificent yet gentle undulations velveted by soft grasses. Thunder must roll through the valleys, grumbling up their slopes during a storm, the resounding footsteps of the giants who roamed this place in the dreamtime. It could be a model, painted and placed together with infinite patience and care, the landscape looks that perfect. We pulled up by the side of the road, opposite a point where the trees had been felled in a clear run to the bottom of the valley. A light haze of forest fire smoke had sunk into the valley so that our view down to the river, hundreds of meters below, was lightly overexposed compared to its frame of vivid leaves, dripping pools of shadow onto the trees which had escaped the cull. No photo could do justice to the scale of the landscape before us; the river would have been over an hour’s walk below us and I couldn’t have navigated myself to the peak opposite through the thick forest. The tourist in me tried to capture it on camera, but the landscapes of wild Australia aren’t meant to be reduced to a snapshot, they demand to be experienced, commanding all the sense.




Josephine Falls


The car was sticky with our damp clothes in the back and no aircon. Between us and Cairns, one last spot had been circled on our map by the guy who rented us the car; Josephine falls. Turning off the highway home, we headed into the jigsaw of overlapping mountains in search of a last refreshing plunge before the caking dust of Cairns. The Falls is a 10 minute walk into the jungle’s hillside and I’d headed out in just my bikini, leaving my clothes in the car. The sweat was dripping and my thighs started chaffing pretty quickly.


It was about 4.30pm, with the sun slipped well past midway the water had lost its midday heat and refreshed our salty bodies. Brain sufficiently relaxed from its overheated buzz, I couldn’t get rid of the nagging thought that I’d got my flight time wrong for later that night. I was due to fly to Perth to meet my sister for our imminent road trip.


Leaving Ollie in the pool, I dried off and padded far enough back down the path to get signal and check my emails. I could feel the cold sweat creep on as my eticket loaded, the flight was four hours earlier than I thought. Meaning I flew in 3 hours time and we were a good two hour drive from Cairns, on the opposite side to the airport and without my rucksack. Sprinting back I shouted for Ollie to grab his stuff and get back to the car. Always the drama queen, my tears had already started to well and the hysterics begun. The run back was incredibly uncomfortable with bare chaffed legs and a very unsupportive bikini top!




Somehow Ollie managed to make the 2 hour 20 minutes journey heroically, in under 2 hours, all the while trying to cheer me up, slumped and sobbing beside him. A pitstop at the hostel to collect my rucksack and he was throwing me out at the curb of Departures. 45 minutes till take off, I just made it through check in, ridded myself of my hefty rucksack and joined the queue for Burger King. I patted myself down and my purse containing my ID, my bank cards, English and Australian, was nowhere to be found.  And I’m about to head to an airport, an hour out of Perth, a city where I know no-one to rush to my rescue. Panic once more! But Ollie came through again; picking up the phone, he found my purse in the back of the car and met me back at the departures curb. Thank god Cairns airport is so small you can go backwards through security!


I left my knight in a speeding car for the second time and made it onto my plane at the last call. Traveling has definitely made me lax when it comes to transport arrangements. When Livi and I landed in India two years ago, our trains for the upcoming two months were all booked, timings, stops and hotel-to-station tuk tuk times carefully documented. Hannah of the past was at least 3 hours early for every flight, but the Hannah of today got an extra few hours chasing waterfalls and still made the plane!



1 thought on “Chasing Waterfalls in the Atherton Table Lands”

  • Fantastic writing Hannah once again. You really have a talent. I was there with you at all the pools – feeling the heat on my skin, diving into the icy water – then looked up to see lashing rain and raging wind through the steamed up window!

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