21-22 June: An introduction to the delights of the Atherton Tablelands

Author: Mr A

Location: Cooktown to Mareeba then Atherton

Thursday: For the first time since we left Sydney in March, I pointed our nose south. Cooktown would be as far north as we would go on this trip, saving the raw beauty and corrugations of Cape York for another time.

So on the drive from Cooktown to Mareeba we were mostly retracing our steps, and was nearly the last drive we would ever do. The sides of the valley narrowed and steepened right to the little bit of hard shoulder, and Catherine suddenly shouts out “COW!!!!!”

There it was right on the hard shoulder, looking all wide eyed and about to bolt in front of us, as it had nowhere else to go. Coming the other way was a huge road train. It is moments like this that make outback touring so…..interesting. I swerved out a bit, the sway control kicked in and kept me from fishtailing, and the road train answered with a big horn, he had nowhere to go either. Somehow the three of us managed to all pass each other without touching. Jeez that was close.

I tend to drive around 80-85km/hour on most roads. If I had been going any faster I think this blog would have come to an untimely end. I will continue to drive below the speed limit with an eye in the rear view camera and move over as soon as I safely can let other vehicles past.Mareeba didn’t tempt us in to town, and it had a very uninspiring campsite as well, so after the using the time to clean sheets, clothes, truck and Zone we decided to head off to Atherton, the main town up here on the tablelands.

Friday: We decided to divert on the way, to check out Australia’s “Distillery of the year”. I was intrigued. The sun had yet to strike the yard arm, so some may say a trifle early for strong liqueur, but what the heck.

The Mount Uncle Distillery sits in the middle of a banana plantation, and a farm that grows most of the ingredients for their products. They distill a range of spirits and liqueurs, so we decided to taste the vodka, two of the gins and the whiskey. Did you know that gin is vodka with juniper added? We didn’t! And these guys are adding a range of other locally grown botanicals such as mint and myrtle. They were all delicious, we would have brought some whiskey but at $170 for the cheapest…..pass.

We were told by the lady presenting them that they made a whiskey from a single barrel which has just one won “a double gold medal in Melbourne, competing against over 150 others”. I was intrigued so tried to check on their website – apart from a bunch of typos and repeated content there was no reference to the award.

A Google search revealed a Facebook video with no content whatsoever. If you are going to ask customers to pay $500 for a bottle of something, you would expect a bit of collateral to be available. But no…apparently a Chinese actor walked in last month and brought 14 bottles! Perhaps he was taken with the name – “The BBC ” – full name “The Big Black Cock”.Moving on, we called in at our first fruit and veggie shop on the tablelands. If you’re not au fait with the area then you should know it is famous for its basalt soils and temperate climate that encourages an incredible range of produce. Almost everything seems to grow up here!

Anyway, we sampled locally gown macadamias, peanuts and chocolates and came away with a goody bag containing not one fruit or vegetable…..because we had found out a local market was on tomorrow.

After much debate, we had decided to go for a Big 4 caravan park in Atherton. We aren’t usually a big fan of these places but this one is an absolute cracker. We have a huge grassy site looking onto a forest, with birds everywhere, clean facilities and a nearby rail train into town (which of course we had to explore)….….And then…we spot another Zone parked by us. So we all introduce ourselves and it turns out the Zoner (Ken, owner of #101) was someone I had already previously messaged to meet up in Cairns, as I had seen he had just picked up his van.

Drinks were called for, and much comparing of notes. Every time we meet another Zoner they always turn out to be lovely people. What is about the product or company that attracts such likeable people? To be honest we haven’t met many people on the road around happy hours that we would go out of our way to see again. But Zoners…always good 🙂

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