|Travelling Australia - Journal 2013
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22 July 2013
Mount Surprise to Atherton
Today was surprisingly cloudy and cool (air temperature was 23°C at 9:30) as we departed Mount Surprise on the Gulf Developmental Road bound for Atherton on the Atherton Tableland.
The Gulf Developmental Road was two lanes of bitumen for the 55 kilometres from Mount Surprise to the intersection with the Kennedy Developmental Road running from the Atherton Tableland to Charters Towers. Traffic was light, the road in long straight stretches through woodland of mainly eucalyptus trees but without a lower layer of undergrowth for much of the way. A few small herds of cattle were seen; the spire-like termite nests which have dominated the scenery for weeks faded away.
While driving along the road it appears fairly level with only minor ups and downs but the GPS shows a steady climb from 465 metres elevation at Mount Surprise to 808 metres elevation at the intersection with the Kennedy Developmental Road. This climb of more than 300 metres takes place without any obvious hills; the only indication of increasing elevation was the GPS readings showing increasing elevation, confirmed by high fuel consumption caused either by a hill or a head wind (and there weren't any signs of a headwind at that stage).
The Kennedy Developmental Road (recently renamed the Kennedy Highway which sounds like a better road but really doesn't make any difference to the road) is two lanes of bitumen from the intersection with the Gulf Road until the Atherton Tableland; the sign advising of single lanes ahead appears to be left from before the latest rebuild or upgrade. Before we reached the Ravenshoe turn-off we passed three places where the road narrowed to one and half lanes at bridges. The road is fairly hilly; it doesn't get any higher than 800 metres but varies between about 650 and 780 metres.
There are few signs of settlement along the road except for the small settlements of Mount Garnet and Innot Hot Springs, the latter promoting itself as the gateway to the Tableland.
After passing through Innot Hot Springs, we stopped for lunch at the Archer Creek rest area which already had ten or fifteen caravans neatly reverse-parked along one side with space for at least that many more. From Archer Creek the road enters the area more often associated with the Atherton Tableland when it passes turn-offs to Millstream waterfalls then passes the turn-off to Ravenshoe.
Roadside vegetation changed as we approached Ravenshoe although the differences tended to be localised; scattered eucalyptus trees were replaced in parts by a thick covering of large trees with creepers and undergrowth. Termite mound re-appeared but they were broad and rounded; entirely different to the spires seen earlier. The wind increased noticeably but the trees along the road were dense enough to provide shelter.
The road also changed as we got onto the main part of the Atherton Tableland. The Kennedy Highway passes Ravenshoe then swings north towards the town of Atherton. About here it passes through one of the oldest wind farms in Australia set in green paddocks grazing dairy cattle. The green colour of growing grass dominating the Tableland was a sharp contrast for us after driving thousands of kilometres where green grass was unusual. The road from Ravenshoe to our destination at Atherton was variable. Some parts had a good, wide, surface and were well routed; even when they were hilly driving was not difficult. Other sections had a degraded surface, too often with sharp bends; they were closer in standard to country back roads than to a main highway serving a productive agricultural and tourist region.
Our speed on the lengthy sections of hills and curves was quite slow; since overtaking lanes were unknown, and there was no space to pull over so others could overtake, we had a permanent tail of five or six vehicles following close behind.
At Atherton we turned into the selected caravan park and checked in for a week. The plan was to use Atherton as a central base for visiting various places on the Tableland.