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Cycling the GDR: Cairns to Charters Towers

Simon Parker's picture
The GDR route through Queensland. Cycle Traveller

Two quite divergent themes ran through the next leg of our trip, which had us covering 951km in 13 days from Cairns through to Charters Towers. The first is the staggering diversity in landscapes we passed through. From the sugar cane-laden flats of the coast, up through the rainforest clad mountains and into the dry interior of the Queensland Outback – this leg of The GDR is a smorgasbord of experiences.

From Cairns we managed to craft a route that mazed its way through quiet back ways that dissected cane fields and pockets of primary rainforest, and into small towns, some of which barely manage to pop their roofs above the lush surrounds.

Then it was upwards into the pristine blue sky, a steady graft up some steep slopes that separate the coast with the Atherton Tablelands. The slower pace gave us ample time to soak up the views, which included the state's highest mountain, Bartle Frere, at 1622 metres. We eventually topped out at just over 1,000 metres on a quiet back road, cars few and far between.

Heading into the Outback from Ravenshoe. Cycle TravellerIt was into the Outback we then rode, with hot, dry conditions the norm. Locals tell us a few below average rainfalls during the previous two wet seasons have left them precariously placed this year, a point emphasised to us by grassless lands inhabited by bone-thin cattle. Almost everywhere else on this trip cattle have run from us, unsure of what these Lycra-wearing cyclists with the butterfly handlebars are... recently however we've had them surge towards us, what we surmise is their desperate hope that we're bringing feed for them. The forlorn look on their face as we peddle away can be heartbreaking but is an acknowledgement of the boom, bust cycle of Australia's extreme climate.

Although the ground was crispy dry, drinking water was still available in all of the towns and roadhouses we visited, a combination of rain water or bore water. But conditions were teetering. One of the roadhouses has started to fret about their supply, drawn from a natural spring, with their neighbour upstream having just run dry. In the past week their spring water has started to run brown – nothing our hardened guts couldn't handle although we did drop in some of my water purification tablets just to be on the safe side. It was a concerning sign and we like everyone else hope this coming 'wet season' actually brings some rain.

Undara lava tubes of the GDR bicycle touring route. Cycle TravellerThe second theme may initially appear more obtuse to you, that of lava. Lots of lava. Ok, so this lava flowed approximately 190,000 years ago but it's influence on the scenery remains obvious to this day. This includes Big Millstream waterfall – the widest waterfall in Australia – which cascades over a columnar basalt lava flow. And then there's the vast vesicular basalt Savannah plains near Undara Volcanic National Park, which in turn holds one of the most unique natural features you'll have the pleasure of experiencing on the entire GDR route: lava tubes. In this instance the lava tubes, which are quite literally long, large tunnels completely encrusted with lava, were part of what's believed to be longest lava flow in the world at 163km. Standing inside these ancient tunnels was one of those memorable experiences that stays with you long after the adventure is over.

All through this landscape is interspersed pockets of semi-evergreen rainforest, and from time to time explosions of yellow from flowering kapok trees, the latter of which can get to more than 150 feet in height.

Undara, which means 'long way' in local indigenous language, is a great spot to spend a few days, with a variety of walks and tours available from a well serviced yet relaxed resort. The free coffee in particular was a real hit for these cyclists.

A section of the GDR heading towards Charters Towers. Cycle Traveller

Wildlife continues to abound – or bound, as is the case with the numerous kangaroos we spot each day as they scramble up and away from their shady resting spots along our path. One highlight was two large brolgas lapping up water from the Clarke River, their cries as they took flight a new sound to us. Another was a wedge-tail eagle we caught by surprise; its shock at being caught out was matched by our own at its sheer size and wing span, something we savoured from just metres away.

Then there was Stinky, the cat that belongs to the owners of Bluewater Springs Roadhouse. Stinky, a dark grey female cat, was dumped as a kitten at the roadhouse and taken in by the owners. At the time, her poor diet had given her the ability to clear a room, and a truck driver's name for her stuck. As she sauntered around our legs meowing vigorously, one of the owners, Melissa, shared with us the story about this little cat's amazing ability to wrangle snakes. Deadly snakes. Snakes you don't want to come across unless they're securely behind an inch of glass. I kid you not, this cat, which has survived numerous snake bites including that of the normally deadly King Brown, has the ability to not only alert the owners of a snake's presence, but to corral them until the owners arrive at the scene. Just this week this included a deadly taipan, llittle Stinky never letting the snake get out of her sight, even as it tried to bite her over and over again. A dance of death if ever I'd heard one.

Yes, feral cats (not that Stinky was feral) can be extremely destructive in terms of killing native wildlife, but in this case I'd be more than happy to have a cat like Stinky around. Particularly now that her diet has improved.

We're now in Charters Towers, Queensland. The next leg of our trip sees us enter one of the largest mining regions in Australia. Thank you for reading this blog, and I look forward to updating you again on our travels in a few weeks' time.

Images from top: 1. Cycling through the Atherton Tablelands. 2. Heading into the Queensland Outback from Ravenshoe. 3. Inside the entrance to a lava tube. 4. Cycling towards Charters Toers on the GDR.

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