Denyse and I are always looking for somewhere quiet and not too commercialised to use as a base when we travel, so we headed to Granite Gorge Nature Park in Mareeba, Qld, for a week. This caravan park sits atop the Great Dividing Range and, although you do not notice the climb from Mareeba, the views are wonderful. Granite Gorge Nature Park is an eco-park, only 14km from Mareeba. It reminded us of van parks we visited 30 years ago – quiet, with basic amenities, as well as a camp kitchen and a washing machine.
If you don’t have a caravan, there are self-contained cabins, safari cabins and a large unpowered camping area. The park is in a bush setting and the powered sites, most of which have water taps, are divided and shaded by pine trees. The park covers an area of 38ha, so there is plenty of room for everyone.
Campfires are allowed and some fire drums and fire places are supplied. I would advise bringing your own drinking water, although filtered tank water is available.
The owners intend to develop more walking tracks and powered sites, as this park is becoming quite popular with travellers. Dogs are welcome, but must be on a leash because of the wildlife. Kids will love the birds in aviaries here, including the talking galah.
The main attraction here, though, is Granite Gorge and the Mareeba rock wallabies. There are several walking tracks so make sure you take a copy of the trails map from reception.
The van park is at the entrance to Granite Gorge and your site fee includes the gorge entrance fee. The gorge is very scenic and several walks lead from the van park. You will find a swimming hole suitable for children and another, deeper, one near the weir. Granite Creek flows through huge granite boulders and bounces over small waterfalls and rich vegetation.
About 50m from the entrance you will find Wallaby Rock, a large sheet of granite where you will see a number of Mareeba rock wallabies. These animals have been fed here for many years and have become used to humans. They are a great attraction for young and old.
Less than 100m from our campsite, we found several lookouts with views towards Mareeba.
Birdwatchers will love this place as many varieties of birds call Granite Gorge home. We saw some we recognised and some that we had to look up in our bird books.
After the gorge, your next visit should be to the heritage museum and information centre. You could spend a couple of hours there as the museum is very comprehensive. There are many displays and buildings and the story of Mareeba is told, from early exploration and an old gun collection, to tobacco growing and present day crops of coffee, sugar cane and mangoes.
Denyse and I were just about ‘museumed out’ but we could not tear ourselves away from this place. Denyse’s ancestors were early settlers here and it was good to see both the Keegan and Pedersen families mentioned in the museum history.
There is no charge, but a donation is always accepted. This policy is rarely seen now, unfortunately, but it encourages visitors to have a cruise through the exhibits that interest them. Significant entrance fees can make you think twice about going in if you are not sure how interested you will be.
Mount Uncle Distillery is close to Granite Gorge and we headed there on the way home. Liqueurs and spirits are distilled here and it is the leading distillery in the area. There is free tastings, and there is also a modern tearooms/cafe on the premises.
If you are driving to Granite Gorge from the Walkamin end of Chewko Road, you will find fruit and veggie stalls. This is a prime agricultural area and we picked up delicious local bananas and avocados.
We then headed for the Skybury Coffee Plantation and the Australian Coffee Centre. This is Australia’s oldest plantation and largest coffee exporter. The stunning timber building overlooks Mareeba and a small pool at the bottom of the impressive granite rock it sits on. There are meals, light snacks, and many varieties of coffee for you to enjoy while taking in the marvellous views from the expansive open decks.
Tours of the plantation and drying process are available at set times and, while in the main building, you can visit other rooms where you can read about, see and taste samples and watch a video on the whole process. You can taste and buy many types of coffee as well as visit the gift shop. Denyse and I loved the chocolate covered coffee beans.
Hot air ballooning is very popular in Mareeba. The dry climate and lack of wind make for a great experience. There are adventure flights with NQ Warbirds and a good wartime aviation and military collection as well as microlight flights.
You could visit several wineries in the area and produce stalls on the highway. Don’t forget the markets on the second and fifth Saturdays of the month.
If you, like us, enjoy nature walks, visit
the Davies Creek falls or Emerald Creek falls. The Bicentennial Lakes are in town and are
a good place for a picnic and to feed the ducks. The Mareeba Golf Club is a good place to
We found plenty to do in the Mareeba area, and Granite Gorge Nature Park was a quiet, peaceful place to return to each day.
We visited the Mareeba Tropical Savannah and Wetland Reserve during our trip. Until a few years ago, excess water reaching the end of the irrigation channels ran out over vacant land and was wasted. The Wildlife Conservancy of Tropical Queensland saw an opportunity and built this wetland on 2000ha.
It consists of a series of lagoons and walking tracks, which now attracts more than 200 species of birds including emus, wallabies, kangaroos and other wildlife.
You can stay in safari cabins at Jabiru Safari Lodge or just visit for the day. There is a fee to walk the various trails and also to take a boat cruise of Clancy Lagoon. Cruises leave at sunset, sunrise and throughout the day.
We walked around Clancy Lagoon and also took the boat cruise. At the time, there were very few waterbirds, as there had been a lot of rain and other district watercourses were full.
There is 7km of graded dirt road to get to the entrance, and the last couple of kilometres are a bit narrow. There is turning room for vans at the end, though.
The interpretive centre houses a cafe overlooking Clancy’s Lagoon where you can buy local coffee and tea, snacks and lunches. It includes an aviary where a local conservation group is raising endangered Gouldian finches to release back into the wild at the wetlands.
It is wonderful to be able to see these very colourful birds at close range.
- Mareeba is about 65km west of Cairns, along the Kennedy Highway in northern Queensland. Granite Gorge Nature Park is a further 14km south-west of Mareeba.
- Mareeba Heritage Museum and Information Centre, 345 Byrnes Street, Mareeba, (07) 4092 5674, email@example.com, www.mareebaheritagecentre.com.au
- Mt Uncle Distillery, 1819 Chewko Road, Walkamin, (07) 4086 8008, www.mtuncle.com
- Mareeba Tropical Savannah and Wetland Reserve, Pickford Road, Biboohra via Mareeba, 1800 788 755, www.mareebawetlands.org
- Skybury Coffee Plantation and Australian Coffee Centre, 136 Ivicevic Road, Mareeba, (07) 4093 2190, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.skybury.com.au
- Both Mareeba and Atherton service the district and have vehicle dealerships, tyre dealers, a hospital, good shopping centres with supermarkets and cheap fuel.
Originally published in Caravan World #514, May/June 2013