Twin Falls – Jardine River National Park, Cape York
Almost 90 years have passed since the first car reached the tip of Cape York, but off-roaders still struggle to navigate the rutted, washed-out track that leads to my favourite waterhole beneath Twin Falls. Despite taking up to 25 patient minutes to tackle the 10km detour along the Old Telegraph Track into Jardine River National Park, all is forgotten once you are finally floating in the clear, spring-fed pool beneath Twin Falls, dangling dusty red feet in the current.
This sublime swimming hole would shine anywhere in the state,
but it’s a rarity in a region where most waterways are the domain of dominant estuarine crocodiles. From the camping areas, short walking trails lead to the Saucepan, Eliot Falls and two tiers of irresistible pools beneath Twin Falls. After a quiet night, we returned to Twin Falls at dawn, surprised by the warmth of the water that seeps year-round through sandstone bedrock into Canal and Eliot Creeks before they join forces to swell the Jardine, Queensland’s largest perennial river.
With a rich Indigenous and European history, this string of falls known as Yaranjangu was the last traditional warring place of the Atambaya and Angkamuthi peoples. Today, this unexpected, forested oasis is a peaceful spot for travellers keen to unwind, with big campsites tucked into bushy nooks and good facilities close by that include toilets with wheelchair access, drinking water, picnic tables and fire pits (no generators).
Essentials: The turnoff to Eliot and Twin Falls is signposted off the Bamaga Road, 119km north of Bramwell Junction. Head to www.nprsr.qld.gov.au or phone 13 74 68 to reserve one of the enormous, caravan-friendly sites well in advance as there is no mobile coverage in the area ($5.95/person or $23.80/famly). Visit during the mild, dry season from May through October and get up-to-date road condition reports at www.cook.qld.gov.au.
Wallaby Creek: Home Rule Rainforest Lodge, Rossville
Beneath the misty flanks of Mount Finlay, Wallaby Creek cascades untouched over the magnificent, multi-tiered Home Rules Falls, thundering into a whirlpooling cauldron and dropping through narrow chutes before rushing away into World Heritage-listed rainforest.
Slowing its pace to fill deep, wide, see-through pools, Wallaby Creek twists and tunnels through a lush forest canopy, past the shady camps at Home Rule Rainforest Lodge, a magnificent private campground with five-star scenery at budget prices. Here you can grab a tyre tube and drift in the current, paddle a canoe or snorkel in some of the clearest freshwater on earth.
Away from Wallaby Creek, a 40-minute walking trail leads upstream to the falls themselves and the invigorating spa pools that fill beneath its rugged rockface. A more adventurous hike for seasoned bushwalkers ends eight hours later on the bleached, palm-fringed shores of remote Cedar Bay in Ngalba Bulal National Park, a haven for cassowaries and rare Bennetts tree kangaroos.
Essentials: Home Rule Rainforest Lodge is located in Rossville, 53km south of Cooktown or about 4 hours drive north of Cairns. There’s a licensed bar and communal kitchen, and campsites cost $10/adult, $5/child over 5 years and there are basic cabins too ($35/adult, $25/child). For bookings phone (07) 4060 3925. Don’t Miss: Wallaby Creek Festival 2016, September 30 to October 2.
Crystal Cascades – Redlynch Valley, Cairns
The closest waterhole to the Cairns CBD, this magnificent little waterway is my go-to swimming spot when I need a rainforest fix and a cool, refreshing dip. Following butterflies flitting overhead, stroll the easy walking trail upstream and into the forest to discover increasingly secluded swimming holes along Upper Freshwater Creek.
These remain chilly in the middle of summer and positively deserted before the day warms up! Famous for its pretty cascades and short falls, the creek drops and slides through a narrow, steep valley overhung with fig trees and draped with intricate vines that shade the scene.
If you’re not content to swim and float in the deep, clear pools, you can shred your boardshorts on the smooth granite slides, or find a rope swing and get some air.
The creek’s cool, pebbly banks are favourite picnic spots where jungle perch inch slowly forward to nibble your toes and tease for a share of your snacks. Popular on the weekends after about 10am, Crystal Cascades is easily accessed, you can always score a parking spot and there are toilets, barbecues and picnic shelters on site.
Essentials: Crystal Cascades is located about 17km from the CBD, at the head of the valley at Redlynch.
The Bend – Coen, Cape York
For off-road adventurers destined to stand on the northern most tip of Australia, the tiny community of Coen provides essential supplies and a bit of a breather en route. There’s well-priced fuel, basic groceries, cold ales and pub meals, but best of all, a breezy riverside camp on the shady banks of the Coen River where you can soak in deep, sandy pools to the chorus of gangs of sulphur-crested cockatoos screeching from the treetops.
Wade and swim upstream to discover more and more glorious waterholes, and before the sun goes down, set a couple of yabby pots so you can breakfast on a fresh catch of cherabin. Perfectly safe for swimming and providing a chilly kick-start to any winter’s day, the Coen River flows year-round and waterholes at The Bend are free from crocodiles of any kind.
While the camp provides just the basics (a toilet and rubbish bins), it’s location is ideal for those travelling between Lakeland (310km south) and Weipa (260km north) or adventuring into nearby Oyala Thumotang National Park (CYPAL), a rugged, remote patch of wilderness accessed 25km north of Coen.
While on the Cape, don’t miss the Weipa Fishing Classic, Cooktown Discovery Festival, Laura Dance Festival, Laura Rodeo and Races (all held in June), the Bramwell Cup Bush Carnival (July), Weipa’s Bull Ride (August) or Seisia’s Pirates Regatta or Fishing Comp, held in September and October respectively.
Essentials: The Bend is located 3km north of Coen on the Peninsula Development Road, which opens for travel at the end of the wet season, usually in May after the graders have pushed through. Camping is free, pets are permitted and there are no time limits on stays. Pick up treated drinking water in Coen before heading to camp. Visit www.cook.qld.gov.au for road reports and www.tourismcapeyork.com for travel ideas.
Mossman Gorge – Daintree National Park, Mossman
From the rugged, uninhabited slopes of the Mount Carbine and Mount Windsor Tablelands, Mossman River beats a hasty retreat to the Coral Sea, plunging through dense rainforest and carving its sheer granite gorge.
Giant boulders tossed aside by the water’s turbulent wet season flow litter its banks, and where the river eventually loses vigour, schools of hungry jungle perch gather in the deep, clear pools. It’s these ice-cold swimming holes that entice a steady stream of tourists into this pristine corner of traditional Kuku Yalanji land, protected as part of Daintree National Park.
Shuttle buses from the park’s interpretive centre provide the only access into the gorge, although once there, you are free to track the ubitquitous Ulysses butterflies throught the rainforest or go snorkelling with freshwater turtles and platypuses that inhabit the park’s waterholes (head upstream far from frolicking swimmers for the best experience). The jungle perch don’t seem to mind the crowds and provide great amusement for snorkellers.
Along the River Circuit trail, a lookout provides a clear view of the peak the Kuku Yalanji call Manjal Dimbi meaning mountain holding back. The rock represents Kubirri who forever protects the people by confining the evil spirit Wurrumbu to The Bluff high above Mossman River. Across the Rex Creek suspension bridge, the longer Rainforest Circuit (2.4km/45 minutes return) will inspire solitude-seekers.
Despite being fairly crowded once the daily influx of tourists arrives mid-morning, Mossman Gorge is well worth enjoying, especially on a rainy day when showers deter the masses. If you are chasing solitude, visit before 10am or after 3pm.
Essentials: Mossman Gorge is located 80km north of Cairns, a 5km detour out of Mossman. Shuttle buses run every 15 minutes from 8am to 5.15pm and tickets cost $8.90/adult, $4.45/child (5-`5yrs) or $22.25/family, valid for one day. There are toilets, picnic tables, water and bins on site, but no camping is allowed. Find out more at www.nprsr.qld.gov.au or www.mossmangorge.com.au.