Matilda has her big test I took her almost 1000 metres into the clouds of Paluma Range. It will be 18 kilometres of steep, narrow, winding road, I hope her transplants can stand the pressure…
The destination is the small, historic village of Paluma, nestled at the top of the Paluma Range, in the lush, tropical rainforest of the wet tropics region. (click on link to learn more about this area)
The road twists and turns but is not as steep as I feared and good old Matilda takes it in her stride or should I say wheel turn and does it in style, top gear all the way.
On the way up I stop at Little Crystal Creek. A popular swimming hole and also famous for the heritage listed, masonry stone arched bridge built-in the depression years at the same time as the road was put through. All built with pick and shovel and manual labour.
Three young German tourists were loving the water, but I watched horrified as they did back flips into the creek.
As we turn a corner, almost at the top, we suddenly come into low cloud shrouding the top of the range in wispy, mist-like strands that envelope us in another dimension. Carefully I negotiate the last few bends and when I see a sign pointing to McClellands lookout I pull into the car park and find a shady spot to leave Matilda to recuperate while I take a walk to the lookout. It is a total white-out. I am above the clouds.
The 3 kilometre walk through the rainforest is a magical journey. Vines and strangler figs clutch and clamber around and through the rainforest trees as they fade into the mist. Standing still I can hear the drip of water and the rustle of leaves, bird song spirals through the air and the staccato call of the whip bird reverberates over-head.
The track has been badly eroded by recent rainfall and floods and I pass a group of 4 Aboriginal rangers repairing it. They had a sad story of this government putting off all the admin staff creating confusion among the workers with no one to coördinate them.
Back in Matilda I stop in the sleepy little village of Paluma, population 20. I am lucky, today is the day volunteers open the community hall and display a historic collection of photos depicting the history of this interesting hamlet in the hills. From tin mining to logging then during world war 2 fifty American troops manned a secret radar post in the area.
Terry the volunteer manning the display advised me to drive further along the road to see the stand of eucalyptus grandis. It just capped off a perfect day of exploration in this unique world heritage listed rainforest.
To stand among these towering giants, on your own, is an overwhelming feeling of appreciation of the pure breathtaking beauty of nature. The air is still and filled with the song of birds.
It is now time to head back down the mountain.
I feel like a rally driver. I could feel the tension in my shoulders and arms, the complete attention on the road as it swoops and swirls round bend after bend. An occasional glimpse from the corner of my eye at the descending landscape. A silent prayer that no approaching driver is inconsiderately driving too wide around the on coming corners.
Finally we pop out onto the Bruce Highway and into the slow-moving streams of traffic as they crawl through the road works.
After the peaceful, cool, relaxed atmosphere of the mountain I can feel the heat and humidity building, so decide to pull into Toomulla Beach, a free camp spot right on the beach front and away from the sound and smell of the highway.
My confidence in Matilda is fully restored so now we can head south for home….