Top North Queensland is synonymous with beaches and coral reefs, but there is another side if you take the time travel inland. Rainforests; Thousands of kilometers cover Queensland’s coast, with the Daintree being the most famous. But it’s the rainforest outside of Townsville that is really special and it’s not just because of the animals that call the rivers home.
Into the Paluma Range
The enormous area of the Wet Tropics of Queensland, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is often overlooked by visitors to the country. But take the time to explore even a tiny part of the tropical rainforest that encompasses over 849,420 hectares of coastline and you’ll be sure to find some hidden treasures.
That was my goal was when I headed into the Paluma Range National Park, considered the southern gateway to the Wet Tropics. Just 27km outside of Townsville, the National Park is considered to be the oldest continually living rainforest in the world.
Most of the group travelling with Hidden Valley Tours were arriving by train into the city, so after meeting we had a few hours to explore Townsville before driving around the city, and up Castle Hill, for a quick tour before heading out.
The ride is scenic. Twisting roads and tree-lined paths line the roads, and Ross – our guide – was a wealth of information about almost any topic you asked him about.
Pulling over, we arrived at Little Crystal Creek Bridge, a local watering hole perfect for swimming, camping and picnicking. A group of teens were there when we arrived, swimming in the waters, with one girl perched reflectively on a rock.
The Roman-style bridge of Little Crystal Creek Bridge and much of Mount Spec Road was created during the 1930’s, Australia’s depression era. Many of the roads were hand-blasted and chiselled, so they seem narrow pretty narrow, but they still today snake their way through the rainforest.
Our home for the night was at Hidden Valley Cabins. The comfortable family run business has cabins for each guest, providing privacy and comfort on the property. On site, the facilities include a restaurant, bar, BBQ, entertainment area (including a pool table and TV!) and – of course – a pool!
I really liked the personal atmosphere of the business, and not just the small number of guests meaning they can get to know everyone. It’s a true family business – Ian and Bonnie manage the property and Ross assists with running tours! There’s also Gundi, the resident dog, who will love you if you throw a stick for him. But it’s the neighbours you’ll really want to meet.
Searching for the elusive platypus!
It’s incredibly rare you’ll spot platypus’ in the wild. In fact, in my 25 years of living in Australia I hadn’t seen one.
I was lucky enough to be the only one heading out that night so we took the van down the road to check some of Ross’ platypus spotting locations.
My only training at spotting this elusive animal was to remain very quiet – platypus’ are incredibly sensitive to noises when they’re on top of the water for fear of being a meal.
It wasn’t long before Ross spotted the telltale signs of bubbles darting around the water – he’d spotted a platypus! Walking down a track on the side of the bridge crossing Running River we waited for it to surface again.
There, in the middle of the creek a long brown creature with a curious beak swam around before quickly duck diving back into the depths of the river.
The Northern platypus is much smaller – and in turn, can be harder to spot – than their southern relatives in Tasmania who are around three times the size.
After watching it surface a few more times, and realising it wasn’t likely to come closer to the side of the river, Ross wanted to take me further along the river and see if we could spot one a little closer.
While I crouched in the bushes, near where we saw bubbles surfacing, Ross prowled along the waterfront quietly in search of more.
As he neared me he animatedly gestured towards my feet – a platypus – and he fumbled with his camera to take a photo. While he got the shot, I didn’t even see it!
Walking between platypus spotting sites it was hard not to appreciate the outback at sunset. Cows slowly munched on leaves, the sunlight filtered through the white gum trees standing proudly amongst the scrub and shades of green and yellow seemed to be present across the landscape.
It’s called the golden hour for good reason.
Of course, with every good sunset night does fall. That meant the end of the platypus tour and back to Hidden Valley for a family-style meal and a good nights sleep in my cabin in the rainforest.
I was sad to say goodbye to Hidden Valley Cabin‘s and Goondi the next morning. After a few throws of the stick, he tired of running after it and preferred to just gnaw at it, and I needed to head off to explore another side of the rainforest – the towns!
Quaint and Historic Paluma
The Paluma Rainforest is known for it’s quaint towns and tea and craft rooms, and so I wanted to see some of the local work.
Paluma Pottery stood out, and not just for the HUGE kiln that took up much of the properties front yard. For one day a year the kiln runs for 24-hours non-stop at a very precise temperature to ensure the pottery ends up the correct finish. Run by Paluma local, Len Cook, he said that the efforts exhausted him but it was worth it when he saw the finished works.
Walking into Lens studio and store, ornate pieces of pottery or tools furnished every wall. The pieces were beautiful, filled with earthy tones and ornate patterns. Judging by the purchases made by the group, teapots were the favourites.
After a quick lunch stop at Lake Paluma, we took one of the short walking tracks just outside the town so Ross could show us “something special”. As the track turned into park views of the islands just off the coast – Magnetic Island and Great Palm Island – came into view and seemed to float in the blue space where water and air met.
While the rest of the tour went on, I headed back towards Townsville… after a trip to local favourite Frosty Mango for a fresh sorbet, of course!
One full-day and night in the Paluma is not enough to see all of its secrets but it’s enough to have you wanting to come back to explore this valley hidden in plain sight.
Let me know in the comments
Which do you prefer – a city break or a country adventure?
Planning a trip to Top North Queensland? Check out these posts
Hidden Valley Tours
Phone: (07) 4770 8088 or 1800 466 509
A contact form can also on their website.
You can stay at Hidden Valley Cabins as part of a group or independently. Cabins start at around AU$150 p/night.
Hidden Valley run a number of tours and activities at the property including the Platypus Safari, Night Safari and tour of the North Queensland Highland. More information can be found here.
Phone service is pretty minimal at the cabin but there is WiFi available.
The property is Eco-certified and runs on 100% renewable energy.
My trip to Townsville and the Paluma Range was arranged by
Tourism & Events Queensland and Tourism Townsville North Queensland.
All thoughts and opinions are, as always, my own.