Waterfalls for Days!
Inside the heart of Tropical North Queensland
You know how Mississippi is really difficult to spell? So is Wooroonooran National Park, where we spend several days exploring the countless picturesque waterfalls and dense rainforest. Spelling lesson aside, let's talk about the falls and adventures we had!
Whenever you Google search Cairns one of the stereotypical images that comes up is a bikini clad girl doing the hair flip with a gorgeous waterfall behind her. That waterfall is Millaa Millaa Falls, figurehead of the Tropical North! Tucked in the middle of cattle country where one would least expect it we followed the signs down the winding road until we arrived at the parking lot. Expecting a bit more of a hike, the short trail from the parking spot quickly spit us out onto a pavement balcony on the waters edge. Surrounded by a group of tourists, we all peered at the falls cascading down into the murky gray water. While the falls were pretty, the water left much to desire as it looked more like a farm run off pool. Not quite the crystal blue waters the pictures portrayed. We looked at each other questioningly whether we should take a dip.
Not wanting to miss the opportunity though, we slowly crept into the cold murky water. The scum covered bottom did little to ease our reticence as our feet slid over the rocky bottom, unable to steadily navigate through the opaque waters. Finally we could no longer touch and were forced to pick our feet up and swim towards the falls. Now don't get me wrong, the falls were nice but I'm sure if we had been there in the wet season after a heavy rainfall the water would have been much nicer. Arriving at the bottom of the falls, we looked up at the slick black basalt columns that formed the cliff face the water plummeted over. It's amazing to think that nature can form in such geometric shapes naturally. The columns of black rock almost seemed as if they had been purpose built in a concrete mould. swimming through the falls you you emerged into a cavern underneath an over hang where the falls began. The sound of the waterfall reverberated through the air and the outside elements were completely shut out as all you could hear was the roaring water and feel the coolness emanating off the rock face.
Returning to the real world we each stood in front of the falls and dunked our hair, trying to avoid getting water up our noses. Cliche hair flip complete we gladly got out of the cold water and dried off. No sooner did we step out of the water than a tour bus full of people pulled up and soon the falls became crowded and noisy. Cue our turn to climb back into Matilda and hit the road again. GPS point plotted we made our way towards Nandroya Falls. After about an hour of driving we soon found ourselves arriving at the GPS point and a small gravel parking lot.
We stepped out of the truck into the sticky tropical heat and peered around looking for any signs or trails to the falls. While researching the spot Nandroya falls looked to be quite large, and you would think a big waterfall would be easy to find. Well it took a quick dip in the swimming hole and lunch to finally spot the sign a couple hundred meters behind us marking the trailhead to the falls. Already the afternoon we decided we could quickly tackle the short 2.5 kilometer hike in, and man are we glad we did!
To start, the hike itself was incredible. An ominous warning sign of stinging trees started our hike and soon we were plunged into a narrow dirt trail in dense rainforest. Feeling like you were walking through your local botanical gardens we ducked and dodged tree branches, wary of the potential threat some of the local flora contained. We gradually climbed, following the winding contours of a large valley and dwarfed by towering trees with massive vines drooping from one tree to another. The sunlight glittered through the dense canopy and the air was heavy with humidity. Through the rustle of leaves we began to hear the hissing sound of running water that steadily got louder and louder. Before long we stepped out of the canopy into a fishbowl of rock and stone, dotted with green specks of trees and plants and split down the middle by a towering narrow waterfall that must have been 20 meters tall.
The water collected into a circular pond and then continued flowing downhill at another small water fall. Eager to get closer we hopped into the water and very quickly found the bottom untouchable. Swimming on our backs we looked up and felt like we were swimming in a crater. Like a cookie cutter of stone take out of the mountain the cliffs almost fully encircled us, isolating us from the surrounding rainforest and transporting us to a whole other place int he world. Our thoughts were disrupted as we approached the falls. Expecting to have to contend with a rocky bottom, we were pleasantly surprised when our feet were met with the soft sand of a sand bar directly underneath the falls. Standing waist deep directly underneath this massive falls I struggled to maintain my footing as I was pummeled with the water. You wouldn't think it, but water falling from 20 meters above hurts like hell. You know the high pressure setting on a garden hose? It was like that, except multiplied by 500 in size. Then factor in the wind that made the waterfall wander aimlessly about in small circles at its base. Experience had and back worn slightly raw, I retreated from the torrent of water.
Huge smiles on our faces we floated back to the shore, taking in as much of the scenery as possible. There are some spots that will are so unique they'll forever be engrained in your mind. Nandroya Falls will certainly be one of those spots that we'll remember forever. Not wanting to pull ourselves away, the threat of evening and the prospect of a dark walk back to the truck eventually swayed us into making our way back to the car park by. Agreeing wholeheartedly that Nandroya Falls was 10x better than Millaa Millaa we were so glad that we took on the hie and didn't miss such a spectacular site.
We finished out the day at our next camp thanks to WikiCamps. The camp was located in Babinda and operated as a rest area by the town. Maybe not as sheltered or remote as we would prefer we set up camp beside a couple vans and several large caravans that were all stopping over for the evening. Marking the perimeter of the campground was a wire fence with a big warning signs informing all that the fence was a feral pig containment line. We made dinner and reveled in the excitement of the day as I picked on the guitar doing mindless tunes. I never cease to be amazed at the weird stuff we see at camp and this site did not disappoint as a very regal looking peacock strutted confidently around the camp indifferent to a barking dog and the many cameras pointing at it.
The break of day heralded another day of exploration and more waterfalls. We started at Babinda Boulders, which was cool but in comparison to the natural falls we had just seen didn't quite hold our interest. More of a locals swimming hole we decided not to stay to late and instead head to Josephine falls. Made up of several levels of water flowing down a ravine Josephine Falls was more like a boulder scrambling playground. The water was clear and enticing beckoning everyone to forget their adult dramas and act like a kid for the day scrambling over huge rocks, jumping off cliffs, and sliding down natural slides. We slid into the water and reveled in the coolness that broke the days heat and humidity. Looking up towards the source of the waterfalls, you could see one huge waterfall cresting over the surrounding hills and then breaking into a cluster of smaller falls and swimming holes, all rapidly flowing out and towards the sea.
We scrambled up and over rocks and clambered on hanging vines that swung lazily from the gumtrees. We cannonballed off the rocks into the impossibly deep water and swam slowly using our feet to try and feel out hidden rocks below the surface. Through the cool water we swam underneath waterfalls and revelled in the natural showers, enjoying the reprieve from the heat and AC free truck. Holding super still with my legs on the ground I soon had a small horde of curious crayfish climbing over my legs, occasionally trying to take small bites out of my legs while Anna seemed to take amusement at watching me squirm. While full of people and busy, Josephine Falls was well worth the visit. The perfect swimming holes offered so many spots to dip and cool off and for the child in all of us slippery rocks proved to be endlessly amusing to splash down into the clear Aussie water.
The day seemed to fly by and soon we found ourselves checking our watches to find that it was just about time to leave and make our way to camp. This nights camp was a bit unique, another rest area that seemed a bit questionable when we first pulled in. In the grassy field there were several utes and trucks parked surrounded by a large group of people barbecuing and swimming in the river, along with quite a few rambunctious kids that ran about in circles screaming. While not one to judge, both of us were a bit shocked when one kid ran by us chasing his brother into the bush while smoking a cigarette and drinking a bottle of whiskey. While not totally unusual the thing that made this stand out was he must not have been more than 15! Surrounded by sugar cane plantations we had left the rainforest and were now in a small farming community. Soon after us a Land Cruiser pulled up and began setting up camp beside us. We felt relieved there was another set of campers here, and soon the questionable looks we shot each other turned into conversation and debate about whether the rowdy party would leave.
As dusk set in it seemed the rowdiness would continue. A few curious kids drifted towards our campsite, wanting to learn about where we were from and why we were in Australia. An invite to come by their party was politely declined, but we spent the evening chatting with the couple that had arrived in the Land Cruiser. Having themselves completed the full lap of the country, we were eager to hear stories and advice from them on places to visit and techniques to use while driving. Me being a car guy I was of course more than content to talk about the Land Cruiser and admire yet another truck that is all too rare in the States. We chatted late into the evening enjoying the company of other like minded travelers and getting excited as we heard about what amazing place still lie ahead.
Finding our conversations were soon being replaced by yawns we all climbed into our respective roof top tents. The next day had a lot in store and we were excited to go visit yet another unique place, but for now we were content to let ourselves sink (at least by a centimeter) into the mattress in our tent. Snuggled up together we were lulled asleep by the sound of scurrying bandicoots and the gently rustle of wind passing through the tall sugar cane stalks.
What did tomorrow bring: Paronella Park!