Bicycle Fish Home Page

Australian Bicycle Camping Fact Sheets

:| * PO Box 3331 Rundle Mall SA 5000 Australia


Cairns & Atherton Tableland, North Queensland, 1997

By Grace Newhaven


DISCLAIMER : this fact sheet was first compiled in 1997. Some information and contacts may have changed since then! However, looking at some of the other (largely anecdotal) information available on the www, I reckon itís still well above average!



This fact sheet is intended to provide background information for bicycle camping in the Cairns region of North Queensland. The region is a highly developed conventional tourist destination, and general tourist and promotional information is readily available from mainstream sources elsewhere. This article assumes the reader has, or will have, access to those sources.



Sunmap TouristMap - Cardwell to Pt Douglas 1:250 000 ( Qld Dept of Lands) Readily available in the region. About A$7.00. NB that the RACQ has no useful regional map of the area.


Cairns Bicycle User Group . ( ) includes some cycle touring information on its web page.



The weather in July/August was very mild during the day, with some hot days. Nights were cool to cold on the Tableland, mild on the coast. Warm clothes and rainwear are essential for the Tableland. Rain in the "dry season" was infrequent but unpredictable. Sunlight was about 12 hours from 0600 to 1800. Gradients are sometimes steep.


There are lots of bikes in Cairns city, mostly cheap MTB's and a few old ten speeds. We saw a few interesting home made trailers. There were also a lot of hire bikes being ridden by tourists and overseas students. There are many medium security parking installations in the CBD, good if you have a good lock. We were surprised that only 50% or so of the cyclists wore helmets, even though it's supposed to be compulsory everywhere in Australia. There are several friendly up-market bike shops, but - as usual in Australia - they had little touring equipment and no touring printed information. Top grade bike panniers for sale at Adventure Equipment(tel 070 31 2669), a quality camping store.



There is a network of bike paths and on-road bike lanes across the city, extending as far as Palm Cove, but with very poor signage and little continuity for the out of town traveller. Coming in to the city from the North was particularly unpleasant around the airport perimeter. The city has a "roundabout" traffic system, with the usual problems for cyclists particularly when left turning traffic sweeps very fast down the freeway style exits, menacing the cyclist in the left lane. Peak hour traffic was awful.


Note the steep scenic road behind Cairns, turning off Reservoir Road - should be a good view.


Outside Cairns, most bitumen roads had a useful sealed shoulder. One notable exception was the road north from Palm Cove, which we decided was too dangerous to cycle - the first time we can remember where we wouldn't cycle, in many years of bike touring! Motorists were generally considerate, though some will cross double lines to pass a cyclist -they just can't wait ! There were lots of very heavy trucks on most main roads - be prepared to drop off to the unsealed verge very quickly if necessary ; we were thankful for our mirrors and1.75 - 1.90tyres when this happened.


The steep Kuranda road was hard but far from impossible, though you could take the scenic train (student concession available) with your bike ( $7.00 more). We came down the Gillies Highway - 19 km down ! It was "one way" traffic in the 1930's. The Lake Tinaroo loop was busy and dusty on the weekend, but very pleasant during the week. Last shop is in the caravan park at the dam village.


Particularly pleasant roads were the scenic route from Ravenshoe to Millaa Millaa, and the back road from Millaa Millaa to Crater National Park. The unsealed road from Emerald Creek to the highway near Tolga was rough but rewarding. The unsealed track from Kuranda N towards Mossman is said to be quite possible with wide tyres.



Most shops seemed to be open 6 days. EFTPOS is almost universal, sometimes witha small fee for "cash out" (beware of damage to your card from the old style "slider" machines ! ) In Cairns, there is a "Franklins" store at Earlville shopping centre, with good quality non-perishable foods at discount prices. "Real Foods" ( 116 Collins Avenue Edgehill tel 070 321 791)is a good whole food store selling un-packaged quantities of honey, dried fruit etc - try the dried jackfruit ! "Regeneration" at Smithfield was also helpful with whole foods. There was good bread at "Beethoven's " bakery in Grafton Street, with several Asian food stores, and the "Rusty's Market" ( Fri/Sat/Sun) nearby. The"Bakehaus" near Woolworths has great bread, cheaper at closing time.


There was another good wholefood shop in Ravenshoe (tel 070 976 260), with a helpful, cyclist aware owner.The "Big Peanut" store just N ofTolga had a useful selection of dried fruits and nuts - the dried tomatoes were both delicious and better value than the fresh ones.


Markets with locally grown fresh and dried fruits and vegetables, and some prepared foods, are held in the region on the following roster :

Saturdays : 1 Atherton/ 2 Mareeba/ 3 Malanda/ 4 Yungaburra

Sundays :†† 1Tolga/ 2 Archer's Creek & Kairi / 3 Herberton/ 4 Ravenshoe. †††††


If you're travelling to the deep interior, you might consider a food parcel from Cairns to a post restante address - prices are reasonable at the Post Office, and the cost of supplies escalates when you leave the city as fast as the choice and quality declines.



Sites in Cairns were often booked out by early afternoon, so calling ahead to book is advisable.There are several campsites in the city. We ended our trip at Coconut Caravan Resortat Woree(Tel ???? ),a "five star" location, good value at A$18.50 double, with a clean, well lit kitchen, and a fridge - great for a cook up ! The freeway-like road down to city centre is good by bike. Other sites were cheaper but less attractive.


In the interior, most towns have at least one campsite with tent site prices around A$8.00 to A$10.00 dble. Many sites have permanent residents. All are overrun with4 WD's full of lazy tourists -who'll patronise you endlessly if you're a cyclist.The Queensland Forest and National Parks Services both provide cheap, simple but high quality camp sites within many oftheir reserves. The Sunmap summarises this information, mostly accurately.Both organisations produce useful and comprehensiveregional listings of their sites. (contact local offices of each agency in Cairns and Atherton or HQ's in Brisbane)


There are several quality camping shops in Cairns, and plenty of downmarket ones.


"Freecamping" in the dense rainforest seemed as if it would be uncomfortable, and there arerisksofleeches, ticks and snakes




Atherton : large s/market, several pubs, good bakery. Two campsites, one up-market, one bleak. "Atherton Backpackers" was clean, good kitchen, no camping. Gem caves in Main Street are artificial( A$8.00). Restored steam railway.


Freshwater : N of Cairns city. Two noisy caravan parks, better to go on to Redlynch.


Herberton : extensive but jumbled collection of old buildings andmuseum items, A$10.00. Pub, store etc. .


Kairi : tiny town, pub, small shop.


Kuranda: s/market, pubs, YHA (pleasant but no camping ), un-signposted camping ground 1 Km. Market overrated.


Malanda : Dairy town. All services. Gigantic pub, unsympathetically renovated. Excessive use of commercial signs inmain street. The milk factory supplies the longest dairy delivery in the world - to Darwin NT ! Otherwise unmemorable.


Millaa Millaa : attractive camping ground. Pub, s/market etc. Name means " Rain Rain". Busy, narrowroad to Malanda, try the unsealed route via the Crater Park. Good lookout nearby.


Palm Cove : cheap, friendly , crowded municipal camp site, which doesn't advertise itselfanywhere ! Fast foods, cafes, but no real food stores. Too many cars !Beach nearby not too crowded. 2km walk to "free" Ellis Beach on the Highway.


Ravenshoe : two caravan/tentparks of differing quality. Good whole food shop. Interesting local interpretive / visitor centre. Two supermarkets. Highest town in Queensland. Maybe the coldest ?


Redlynch : just N of Cairns. Pleasantly quiet, clean and friendly campsite ( despite appearances !)at Crystal Valley Village $10.00dbl. 200 m to pub, store etc. Good for a first/last night if leaving from airport. There's a second camping ground further out towards the cascades.


Yungaburra : Heritage village, groceries, pub etc. " On The Wallaby " ( tel 070 510 889 ??? ) is an excellent, purpose built, backpackerswith dorm beds, or ( better !) camping in the yard for $8.00 pp. Clean, friendly. A good base camp. Good idea to phone ahead .NB this building was built with the intention that it never lock up - interesting design feature !



Further information :

The Traveller's Guide to N Queensland : Cairns & SurroundsPaul Curtis PO Box 618 Kuranda Q 4872.Envirobook Sydney

Bicycle Touring In AustraliaLeigh Hemmings - detailed route description (available in public libraries)


"Freewheeling " Magazine ( refer your bicycle advocacy group's library )

# 01, p 22 - cycle touringthe Atherton region. A little dated, but still very useful . (1978)

# 25, p 25 -N of Cairns (1984)

# 38, p 44 -sagged tour of the Tableland (1986)

# 39, p 40-Daintree region(1987)

# 45, p 43- unsealed route from Mt Garnet to Cardwell (1987)


Australian CyclistMagazine

18:3:54 (1994) is a modest backgrounder to North Queensland

18:5:46 describes the journey through Cape York

Cycle Touring & Campaigning Magazine (August 1996) - Cape York ( reprint of AC article , above)