Mighty rainforest mountains, deep ravines, rare plants and animals, and a lookout which leaves you feeling humbled by nature – that’s what awaits you at Tully Gorge National Park, in the Tablelands section. It’s a long drive but a short walk, and this national park and its scenery will stay with you forever.
The shaded River Walk is a 1.4km return track, which is graded as moderate.
The Tully Gorge National Park lookout is right by the car park, providing views down the gorge and to the ‘missing’ waterfall (more on this below). However, if you’ve done any research at all, you’ve probably seen photographs of a different lookout. One with an infinity rockpool, and backdrop of deeply gouged gorge and mighty mountains. This second one is off the end of the River Walk and you visit at your own risk. NB: The official signage on site recommends you stay behind the safety fence at all times – ‘your safety is our concern, but your responsibility’.
“This is definitely one of the most dramatic and beautiful views in the area. It’s also beyond the safety fence, and as per the Queensland Government’s Parks and Forests signage ‘your safety is our concern, but your responsibility’. So how do you get there? At the end of the River Walk there is an obvious track leading you on to the rocks. You should definitely take care and pay attention in this area. It was dry when we visited. I would not visit / walk if the rocks are wet, as they would probably be slippery and as such, very dangerous.” – Julie Johnston
The River Walk is a moderately graded track which has boardwalks, bridges and some unsurfaced sections. It’s an easy 1.4km return trail which takes you through a few different types of vegetation including vine forest, brush box, pendas, climbing palms, pandanus and more. Keep your eyes peeled for the small but beautiful white flowers of the Schelhammera multiflora, a small rainforest lily endemic to the area, and many other fruits and flowers. On our visit we saw the iridescent, almost metallic, blue fruits of the Delarbrea michieana (also known as the Blue Nun) and a range of lichens and fungus, small and large.
In addition to the diversity of plants, there was an abundance of animals. The natural soundtrack of our River Walk was provided by the many unseen cicadas, ants scurried around the ground, and we even spotted a Boyd’s Forest Dragon clinging to a small tree beside the trail. Meantime in the car park, there were many white moths and an impressive male Cairns Birdwing butterfly.
So, back to the story of the ‘missing’ waterfall. What you do see from the ‘first’ (and official) Tully Gorge National Park lookout, is a sheer 293 metre rockface with very little water running down it. Once upon a time, this waterfall was considered one the most impressive on the Australian continent. However, in the 1950s the electricity needs of the region were increasing, and it was decided to harness the power of the Tully River to generate hydro-electric power.
Originally developed as the Tully Falls Power Station and commissioned in 1957, Kareeya Hydro – as it is now known – is an 88MW facility, making it larger than the Barron Gorge facility. Water is captured and confined in the Koombooloomba Dam, before being released and captured at the Tully Falls Weir and transported underground to the Kareeya Hydroelectric Power Station. The result is the largely dry rockface you see during most visits and a ‘missing’ waterfall. However, during the summer months there is sometimes sufficient water to flood the river system and return the falls to their former glory, albeit briefly.
The captured water is released back to the Tully River and you can book rafting tours.
The Tully Gorge National Park has two sections, the Tully section and the Atherton Tablelands section. The Atherton Tablelands section is where we visited and where the Gorge Lookout and River Walk are located. This is 25km south of Ravenshoe and around 700m above sea level. The road to get there, Tully Falls Road, is a combination of sealed and unsealed, but you should be able to access it in a standard 2WD or 4WD vehicle. The drive from Ravenshoe takes around 30 minutes. There is car parking and basic toilet facilities on site. The River Walk is 1.4km return and we recommend good shoes (non-slip shoes, not thongs), pack some insect repellent and remember to take water.
© I Love Cairns 2023