Travelling Australia - Journal 2013
23-28 July 2013

Atherton visit
Weather was an important factor during our stay in Atherton. On most days some rain fell for at least some of the time; usually this was not much more than heavy mist but on the 27th it rained properly nearly all day. At the other extreme, the 24th was mostly sunny and fairly warm. Days were usually cloudy. Night time temperatures were about 14°C and daytime was in the low twenties by the afternoon.

As planned, we used Atherton as a base for day trips to surrounding places and drove to Milanda, Ravenshoe, Mareeba and Yungaburra on different days as well as looking at some features around Atherton. Atherton has a good range of shops and was a good place to catch up on shopping. The Atherton Tableland is a major tourist attraction; caravan parks appeared nearly full and Information Centres were busy. Caravans were often seen on the roads and in towns, but there was not an obviously large number.

Atherton is in the middle of a rural area and the town is surrounded by varied agricultural activity. Dairy and beef cattle graze in some paddocks while there may be sugar cane in the next. One dead and dry crop about two metres high had us guessing for a while until we found out from local residents that it was maize grown for livestock which is allowed to die before being harvested by cutting off just above the ground. Often we couldn't identify crops growing in other paddocks although we did recognise potatoes.

Near Atherton we visited businesses selling strawberries and peanuts (grown locally) as well as coffee/chocolate/cheese businesses; there was a strong tourist industry element in their businesses. On the other hand the Malanda Dairy Farm was the continuation of an industry which began in the early days of clearing and settling the Tableland. A very interesting dairy museum in Malanda describes the early days of dairy farming on the Tableland and the way the industry has changed.

At Malanda we visited a tea plantation more out of curiosity and a desire to see tea growing than anything else.

At Mareeba we visited two coffee businesses. One (Coffee Works) in Mareeba itself, displayed coffee and provided samples of a range of Australian and foreign coffee lines, while the other (Jaques), eight kilometres out of town, was a coffee plantation where visitors drove past rows of plants to get to the visitor centre. Each had its strength; in fact, they complemented each other.

Coffee Works included a museum called Coffee World displaying a remarkable number of coffee roasters and percolaters from the past 150 to 200 years as well as describing the history of coffee (as much of it as is reliably known). Audio guides and signs provided a vast amount of information on coffee, how it has spread around the world, and how it has been prepared at different times in different places. Much of the current debate about the best way to prepare coffee appears a continuation of decades, or even centuries, of trial and error. We were intrigued to find that one of the earliest known methods of preparing coffee was to pour hot water over coffee grounds.

Most of the original vegetation on the Tablelands was cleared many years ago in the early years of settlement and is now farmland but some original vegetation has been retained. One of the most famous is the Curtain Fig tree formed by a fig tree growing aerial roots down to the ground forming a curtain. This is now a national park.

Tablelands is well-known for bird-spotting with a double-storey bird hide at Hastie Swamp with car parking at the back. Water birds appear to have accepted the hide, although whether they would have been so accepting if much noise was being made in the hide is unknown.

Throughout our time on the Atherton Tableland we were favourably impressed by the brown roadside signs indicating tourist attractions. They were well located, and carefully situated, to point visitors to attractions without becoming intrusive.

Atherton Tableland - page 2
milanda falls Millanda Waterfall
sugar cane Sugar cane near Mareeba.
termite nest Termite nests on the Tableland have a different shape: - they are much broader and flatter than the spires commonly seen in other parts of tropical Australia.
Atherton Tableland - page 3
coffee beans Coffee beans at Jaques Plantation near Mareeba
crop spraying Crop spraying near Tinaroo dam.
curtain fig The curtain fig tree near Atherton. This strangler fig germinated in the crown of another tree then grew aerial roots vertically downward to the ground.more.
Atherton Tableland - page 4
whistling ducks Plumed Whistling Ducks near the Hasties Swamp bird hide.
tea plantation Tea growing at the Nerada tea plantation near Millanda. Lines in the crop are where machinery runs.