23 Aug 2017

You mightn't think that being the wettest place in Australia is something to shout about, but the cane town of Tully is owning this dubious honour. This sodden spot, and the endless rainforest that comes with the territory, was the final of three stops on our Tropical Trails exploration.

Looking up the valley into Tully Gorge as the sun dips over the bananas. #queensland

Tully lies just a couple of hours south of Cairns, but it’s a world apart. The only nightclub here is the monthly gathering of the bridge club. Surrounded by an incoming tide of green, the town chomps back at the cane fields, feeding the bustling refinery that in turns feeds the blood sugar levels of Australia. It’s also the gateway to the incredible Tully Gorge and its impenetrable, stunning rainforest, which is what we’d come to experience.

Cassowaries: elusive and vaguely terrifying.

This whole region is often called the Cassowary Coast in honour of the slightly terrifying, prehistoric looking flightless bird that roams the rainforests of the region. Despite bumper stickers and roadside warnings galore telling me to Look Out, Cassowaries About, I’ve never seen one, but it’s a nice name for the place all the same.

Not the sunrise we were hoping for!

We decided to kick off our time here with a sunrise pedal on the hard-packed, majestic sweep of Mission Beach, hoping for one of Queensland’s trademark killer sunrises. But Tully’s weather was blowing eastward today, clouds and drizzle scuttling along the coast. With the sun refusing to honour its part of the get-up-early-get-good-photos bargain, we headed inland to Tully and the gorge beyond.

Mission Beach is totally hard-packed, meaning it’s actually perfect for a waters’ edge cruise.

Our trip to Tully was all about finding a different kind of riding experience – we’d had the flow trail of Smithfield, the vintage downhill of Kuranda and the classic Bump Track – but the wilderness around here serves up slight rawer kind of mountain biking.

There’s not a lot of information about the riding around here; the purpose built mountain bike trails of Atherton, Smithfield and Davies Creek tend to get the limelight, and so searching out some solid intel on where to mountain bike in the Tully region took a bit of investigating. After a couple of emails and phone calls, some Strava sleuthing and a bit of time on Google, I’d settled on a ride; Ryan and I would take the H-Road to Elizabeth-Grant Falls, which we’d been promised were a spectacular and underrated sight.

Driving into the gorge, the banana plantations and cattle paddocks are slowly squeezed by the narrowing walls of green, until the road is soon running right along the river’s edge. It was here we pulled off into the dirt and unloaded the bikes; we knew we had about a 10km pedal in each direction to reach the falls, but beyond that we were in the dark.

Just another ridiculously cool tree in the rainforest.

The greasy clay fireroad seemed to have had little recent traffic, which made it all the more surprising when the road came to a stop in a campground, currently attended only by two fellas wearing blue singlets and footy shorts, harbouring four cases of beer between them. “Mate, we come here every year for a weekend,” one of them croaked, “enjoy the peace and quiet, a bit of a reunion.” And to get super drunk too, by the looks of it. Apparently another couple of mates would soon be arriving to give them a hand with the grog.

After crossing the river, the trail becomes wilder.

From here on, across the river, the ride began take on a different tone. The jungle came in closer, and any sign of traffic, either foot, bike or 4WD, totally disappeared. Thick strands of Wait-a-While vine kept you looking ahead, and the gloop of the red clay began to build up on our tyres till the tread disappeared entirely. Around us, the jungle continued to press in thicker and thicker, thousands of textures and shades of green, so alive you could almost feel it breathing.

Jungle textures.

Apparently, somewhere up ahead, lay the falls, but at the moment any sight or sound of them was swallowed up by the rainforest, leaving us alone with the noise of a grinding drivetrain and the occasional ‘too-whip’ bird call in the trees. Every so often a particularly incredible tree would catch our eye, and we’d stop to take a photo of it, before noticing another even more stunning specimen right next to it, and then another, and then another. Every step off the track into the forest brought something new and incredible to look at, you could spend a lifetime here, seeking out the secrets of the jungle.

The trail narrowed again, slippery roots coming to the surface, demanding attention be given to the patch of dirt just a couple of metres ahead, which is what made it all the more incredible when we popped out suddenly into a tiny clearing. “Oh shit!” laughed Ryan, and that was just about the only way to put it; somehow we’d made it right to the edge of steep gorge, and we were now looking across the expanse to the 300m cascade of the Elizabeth Grant Falls. The contrast between the green tunnel vision of the past hour and the sudden expansive movement and noise of the falls was a seriously dramatic.

Out of the green tunnel. Elizabeth Grant Falls, from across the gorge.

This was the pay-off, and I’ve got to say it was easily as rewarding as railing a perfect corner, or blasting a descent after grinding up a long climb. Once again, I was reminded that it’s these kind of experiences that are really at the heart of what mountain biking is all about – your bike is a doorway to places and things that just wouldn’t be on the radar otherwise.  And up here in the Tropical North, the potential is endless. Embrace the jungle, get off the beaten track, you’ll never regret it.

For more info on the mountain biking in Tropical North Queensland, check out the Ride Cairns site right here.