A charming sugar milling town which lays claim to the rather dubious privilege of being the place where the dreaded cane toad was introduced to Australia. In June 1935, 102 cane toads were released near Gordonvale in the misguided belief that they would wipe out pests which were damaging the local sugar cane crops.
Location: 24 km south of Cairns.
Places of interest: Walsh’s Pyramid Hill (volcanic core); Orchid Valley; Frankland Group National Park; Behana Gorge; Edward River Crocodile Park; localities of Fishery Falls, Deeral.
‘The Mulgrave Rambler’ was a tourist train that operated from the Mulgrave Mill museum and visitor’s centre along cane tramway routes. Unfortunately the Mulgrave Rambler was discontinued in 1996. No. 4 Nelson is normally stored in a shed within the Mulgrave Mill yard.
Origin of name: the town was originally called Nelson but it was later changed to Gordonvale to honour a local pioneer, John Gordon.
Brief history: Sugar cane processing started with the Pyramid Mill (1882) on the Mulgrave River, about 6 km upstream from Gordonvale. At Edmonton, the Melbourne biscuit maker, Thomas Swallow, started the Hambledon mill in 1882. The Mulgrave Central mill (1896) at Gordonvale and the Babinda mill (1915) were the other two which survived. Initially, railway construction in the shire was not of great benefit. The first line was directed at inland mining centres around the Atherton Tableland. In 1897 the Cairns divisional board financed a line to Gordonvale’s central mill, and by 1910 extended the line in stages to Babinda. The line was incorporated into the North Coast line in 1912.
Walsh’s Pyramid is a natural phenomenon that is one of the most distinctive landmarks for the small sugar-farming town of Gordonvale. Walsh’s Pyramid is popular for hiking. The mountain is 922 metres tall, and quite steep so you need to be fit and healthy to make the climb. For experienced hikers, the ascent and descent can take approximately 3 hours. Allow for longer if you are not an avid hiker or if you are taking kids with you. (Expect complaining about sore legs, and when are we going to be at the top & after about 1 hour). Please be aware the base of the mountain is private property. Park your car in a discreet location that doesn’t block the dirt road used by the cane farmer.
The vegetation on the mountain is heavy, consisting mainly of Australian scrub. Rocks feature heavily, so if it is raining you’ll need to be careful not to slip. Take plenty of water with you and make sure to apply sunscreen regularly. The scenery from the top of the pyramid is spectacular and takes in 360-degree views it makes the climb worth all the effort.
Every year in August, a Pyramid Race takes place where hundreds of competitors run up the hill and back again. This is reserved for masochistically fit people who like pain, but if you think you might like to give it a go there is $5000 up for grabs.
Russell Island, Frankland Islands Group
Frankland Islands National Park covers five islands about 10km offshore from the mouth of the Russell and Mulgrave rivers at Russell Heads, about 45km south-east of Cairns. All the islands are popular for their relatively untouched rainforest, mangroves and surrounding reefs. A colony of spectacled flying-foxes roosts on Russell Island, while manta rays and sea turtles have been spotted in nearby waters. Travellers can go out with a tour operator and enjoy a guided nature trail on Normanby Island, or comb the shores at low tide to see intriguing ocean treasures washed up by the sea. Snorkel or dive and enjoy the underwater wonders of the Great Barrier Reef.
Featuring outcrops of weathered and eroded green and white metamorphic rock, the islands are part of the coastal mountain range which was separated from the mainland by a rise in sea level 6000 years ago. The vegetation on the islands is varied and includes patches of lush rainforest, coastal plant communities and mangrove swamps. The islands support a large array of bird life including numerous seabirds as well as pied imperial-pigeons, fruit doves, varied honeyeaters and white-breasted woodswallows. The fringing reefs surrounding the islands are home to a diversity of reef life including both hard and soft corals.
Access to the islands is by private boat from either the Mulgrave or Russell river boat ramps. Sandbars at the mouth of Mutchero Inlet at Russell Heads makes crossing the shallow river mouth tide-dependent check tide times before you go. Frankland Islands Cruises depart daily from the Deeral landing on the banks of the Mulgrave River to carry day passengers to Normanby Island. They operate a bus link from Cairns to Deeral.