Atherton Tablelands

Last week Ontario got sent into a third lockdown. I’d like to forget that isn’t happening for a couple minutes, and maybe you would, too, so please enjoy this previously untold story of my final mini-trip in Australia: travelling solo through the tablelands.

After the Outback trip, I was headed back towards Cairns. I took a long-cut and went through the Atherton Tablelands, a highland region to the west that’s full of rainforests, agricultural lands, and – naturally my personal favourite – birds. I spent a few days there by myself, camping. A week later, I would be selling my beloved Subie, and it seemed a fitting way to end our journey together: camping alone in the woods, the way we’d started back in July.

I’d visited the tablelands a couple of times before on day trips, as well, when I was living in Cape Tribulation; from those visits and that final one, these were my favourite ten experiences. The highlights of the highlands, if you will…

  1. Paronella Park: built by a Spaniard in the 1930s who wanted a castle in the Queensland rainforest. The park initially boasted tennis courts, refreshment rooms, pavilions and an ice-cream parlour.

2. Paronella Park at nighttime. When you paid for a day admission, you were permitted to come back and take the night tour for free, as well as redeem a free night of camping! (you can bet I used both).

3. Taking the scenic railway from Cairns up to Kuranda….

4. … and taking the Skyrail, a gondola that carried you high above the rainforest canopy, back down to the city.

5. The beautiful birds! These photos were taken at Birdworld Kuranda, but I did see a lot of these pink-and-gray birds, Galahs, in the wild. (The pink-and-white bird, a Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo, I did not see in the wild – I was in the wrong region).

6. Being spontaneous. The tablelands offered lots of spontaneous little stops, from beautiful outlook points to banana stands.

7. The wind farms. This particular one was in Ravenshoe, and the 44 wind turbines provide enough power for 3,500 homes. I don’t know why I like looking at wind turbines – maybe they remind me of Dutch windmills.

8. The Curtain Fig & the Cathedral Fig. Two beautiful, massive fig trees in the tablelands. Also excellent places to spot some of the tableland’s incredible birdlife.

9. Did I mention the incredible birding already? The tablelands are a birding hot spot; over 300 bird species have been recorded in this one region. My favourite day in the tablelands was possibly when I took a coffee and spent three hours sitting in a bird hide on Hasties Swamp, logging one new lifer after another (lifers are birds that you’re seeing for the first time in your life). My favourite bird of the tablelands, however, would definitely be a Pied Monarch, spotted hanging out on the Curtain Fig. I even managed to get a (very poor quality, but identifiable!) photo of him:

Pied Monarch near the Curtain Fig.

10. My last night camping at the Platypus Campground (no platypus were seen).

After several days camping in the Tablelands, I drove back down into Cairns.

A week later, I found a buyer for Subie (and not gonna lie, it kind of felt like I was selling a beloved friend). Over five months, Subie and I had travelled 10 000kms together, from Sydney to Cape Tribulation (with a fair amount of zig-zagging along the way). For three months Subie was my home on wheels. I spent most of those nights sleeping in the back and watching the stars through the sunroof. And after my big road trip ended, and I was working in somewhat remote Cape Tribulation, Subie was my way of exploring and getting around. Subie was such a freedom car. (And writing that last line has me wondering if perhaps the company would be interested in sponsoring me…?)

I sold Subie, anyway, for just $200 less than I’d paid. From Cairns I flew to Sydney, where I had a couple of days at Richard’s and a really lovely farewell dinner (he treated me to Italian food and orange wine that could honestly deserve a blog post of its own, it was that good). And then… I boarded the plane back to Canada.

Being home now, and especially with COVID, I feel more grateful than ever to have had my travels. I’ve never regretted a single trip I’ve taken, but never more so than now. I am grateful I had those opportunities and eternally glad that I’ve said “yes” to them all, because with the uncertainty of the world now, who knows when I will be able to travel again or when the world will return to normal. That’s the biggest lesson that I’ve felt in these last few months being home, entirely influenced by my travels: Never put off doing what you really want to – because you don’t know when (or if) the opportunity will come again.

And enjoy the journey, from excitement to fear to joy.

Thanks for reading.


  1. Another great read! Very interesting travels! I am continually impressed with your courage to explore and camp all by yourself and to embrace all the wondrous beauties of this earth! Beautiful photos! What a beautiful continent! Your expressions of gratitude are inspiring to all of us… truly it is a gift to recognize and appreciate the goodness in one’s life. Keep on doing the great work you are doing and thank you for sharing your experiences with us!

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  2. This morning I happened by 4 black Cockatoos feeding on low branches at eye height. So majestic, they looked up at me for a minute. I didn’t have my camera ready though, and then they saw Copper, and flew to higher treetop.

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