Speewah Circuit, QLD
Walking along ancient trails, Catherine Lawson discovers a wonderland of waterfalls, rock pools and wildlife.
The rumble of planes leaving Cairns International Airport reminds us that we have only just escaped the big smoke. But step inside this protected pocket of rainforest in Barron Gorge National Park, and the real world could be a million miles away.
To the north, tourists ride the controversial Sky Rail up the Kuranda Range from Cairns to watch the Barron River plunge 265 m over the falls through Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. But just 10 km away, the trails that radiate from Speewah camp ground see very little foot traffic.
In seasons past, local Djabugandgi Bama people walked these Djabugay tracks in search of seasonal foods and to trade with other tribes along the Coral Sea coastline. When gold was discovered on the Hodgkinson Goldfields west of Cairns in the late 1870s, two explorers - Douglas and Smith - blazed trails up the range to link the mines with the coastal port. Parts of these routes followed existing Aboriginal pathways and today, a circuit trail links these two historic tracks, providing a shady hike through rainforest, along dry eucalypt ridgelines and across clear, cool streams.
It’s a good idea to wear boots on this hike and plenty of insect repellent to deter ticks and leeches.
From the Speewah camp ground, set out along the Djina-wu trail, an easy path that crosses two seasonal streams via bridges, and undulates up and down for 765m. At the first track junction, head right along Smiths Track, then steeply ascend a spur for 1.4km to a T-junction with an old logging road. Watch out for wait-a-while in this section. Turn left, pass through the National Park’s gate and enjoy an easy, gradual, 1.1km descent along the broad track to arrive at Cadaji Corner after 20 minutes.
2. At Cadaji Corner, Smiths Track narrows and veers off to the left but, to complete the circuit, stay on the logging track (now renamed Yalbogie Track), as it winds beneath giant tree ferns on the descent to Fern Creek (950m away). A moss-covered timber trunk, a remnant of the region’s logging days, lies across the pretty stream. Cross the creek and climb up and around Yalbogie Hill. At the next signposted junction, leave the logging trail and make a swift descent along a narrow, rainforested trail to reach a huge kauri pine, unmissable beside the track.
3. Beyond the kauri, the trail descends to Stoney Creek, a picturesque snack spot. Just upstream of the crossing, small cascades fill a clear, broad pool, deep enough for a swim. Here, the rocks are stained green with lichens and mosses, and butterflies flit amongst the fig trees. An orange marker indicates the route beyond the creek. Rock hop across, climb the steep hill, then descend around a tree fall (look for the orange marker). Cross a small stream, then make a stiff ascent to Toby’s Lookout. Although overgrown, the lookout provides glimpses of the Coral Sea and Glacier Rock across Stoney Creek Gorge.
4. From the lookout, follow the grassy, ridgeline west beneath casuarina trees, keeping an eye out for snakes. Near the end of the ridge, the trail zigzags back down a steep, narrow path to the confluence of Stoney and Fern Creeks. Just 100m downstream is Stoney Creek Falls – a short drop over a steep granite lip to a swimming hole below.
5. Across the creeks, the trail leads directly up a spur above the falls, levelling out after 15 to 20 minutes at the junction with the Gandal Wandun Track. Turn right here for an easier stroll through older forest where stout trees growing on the steep western edge of the trail have escaped the old loggers’ saws. After 25 minutes, the trail arrives at a junction with the Douglas Track.
6. Turn left onto the Douglas Track and head for home. The trail dips to cross two thin, clear streams, then climbs up and levels out for a gentle stroll back to the campground, 2.8km away. Watch for cassowaries here as piles of ancient, old and fresh scat suggest the trail passes through the territory of at least one bird. After 40 minutes, rejoin the Djina-wu trail and the camp ground is reached within minutes.
Fact file: Speewah Circuit, Qld
Distance: 13 km.
Time: 4 hours.
Start/Finish: Speewah camp ground.
Nearest Town: Kuranda.
Best Season: March to November.
Maps: Sunmap 1:25,000 topo; 8064-32 (Redlynch).
Accommodation: Speewah camp ground has self-registration campsites ($4.50 a person a night) with free gas barbecues, water and a cold shower. Kuranda and Cairns have all other accommodation options.
Getting there: Follow the Captain Cook Highway north of Cairns to Smithfield, turn left up the range to Kuranda, then follow the Kennedy Highway towards Mareeba for 6 km. Turn left on to Speewah Road, and after 3.2 km, left again on to Stoney Creek Road. Beyond the bridge, turn left on to Smiths Track (Road) and continue to the camp ground.
Terrain: A mixture of rough, steep trails and broad logging tracks.
Food/Drink: Fuel, supplies and meals are available at Kuranda (10 km away) or at the Speewah Tavern, 5 km from the camp ground.
More info: Website