Upon returning to Cairns from our adventures at the Great Barrier Reef, I realized I had worked up quite an appetite. Thankfully days 6-9 of the epic road trip took care of all of my cravings and then some.
After several days of frequent noshing on granola bars, fruit, and nuts, Brooke and I were ready to spice up our diet with a little variety. Numerous brochures hinted that Mareeba was the promised land of caffeine, so we woke up with full intentions to hit every coffee farm in route from Cairns to Mareeba. Little did we know that food would be the focal point of the next few days — though you won’t hear me complaining!
Before leaving Cairns we stopped at Hides Coffee Cafe for a real breakfast. I opted for the “Vegetarian” expecting a small portion of scrambled eggs with a few veggies. Instead, the plate came loaded with scrambled eggs, grilled mushrooms, sauteed spinach, avocado, a hashbrown, and two perfectly toasted and buttered pieces of multigrain bread. OJ and tea were included in the price. I savored every bite.
Our first stop was supposed to be Tichum Creek Coffee Farm. Mario’s farm boasts a variety of flavored coffees, and we had glanced at his brochure countless times in anticipation. Imagine our dismay when we finally arrived at our destination to find it closed. Closed!
We pressed on until we found Jaques Coffee Farm, hoping it would be half as good as we imagined Mario’s to be. We were not disappointed! My skinny cappuccino was crafted beautifully, and while this may sound funny, it had the BEST foam I have ever tasted. B.E.S.T. I could have consumed an entire cup of foam alone. Seriously.
From Jaques we quickly arrived in Mareeba, “Where the Rainforest Meets the Outback” and where there are “300 Sunny Days a Year”. First stop? Coffee Works!
For $19 you sample as many of 21 coffees, 4 teas, 3 coffee liquers, and 12 chocolates as you would like. I only managed to sample four coffees (1 Australian, 1 international, and 2 flavored) before a caffeine buzz stopped me in my tracks. That didn’t prevent me from sampling all 12 chocolates, however. They were just small pieces. Really. And to work off some of those calories and energy, we meandered through their “Coffee World”, the world’s largest collection of coffee and tea memoriblia.
Beyond fully caffeinated, we drove up the road for a visit and tasting at Golden Drop Mango Winery. On offer are dry, medium, sweet, and sparkling mango wines; mango port; and mango, lemon, lime, and mandarin cellos. There are several locations in addition to the one in Mareeba, so if I’m not convincing you to make Mareeba a stop, you can find Golden Drop in a few other nearby towns.
Our final stop of the day was nearby Granite Gorge, home to quite a few rock wallabies. We quickly pitched the tent, the pros that we are, and grabbed a bag of feed to share with our new friends.
As if the cute rock wallabies aren’t enough, Granite Gorge also offers a well-marked path to hike/boulder hop. It was the perfect match of ease and challenge for a great workout — one I’m sure my body appreciated after the day of food and drink I’d enjoyed!
The next day we hit the trail in search of Mt. Uncle’s Distillery for our coffee fix and a tasting of unique liqueurs. Guess what — closed! Determined to find a cuppa, we arrived at Peanut Place and sampled a wide variety of peanuts before enjoying another cappuccino. While I decided to buy a single serving bag of the salt and vinegar, butterscotch and caramel, and smokehouse peanuts, I opted not to give the kangaroo jerky a try.
At Humpy Nut World, I anticipated buying some of the gluten free goodies that the brochure promised were in stock. While there were GF items aplenty, nothing caught my attention. Other than the sign. How could you not stop here for a photo?!
Leaving nuts behind, we pressed on to Gallo Dairyland in search of cheese and chocolate. While I “only” chose a scone with jam and cream, I was so tempted to purchase a selection of chocolates. As interesting and unique as the flavor titles were, the chocolates themselves were even more beautiful to look at and I’m sure heaps better to taste.
With little need to buy lunch after a morning of snacks, we made tracks for Mission Beach where we planned to camp for the night. Along the way, I was absolutely blown away by the scenic drive. If you aren’t interested in any of the food or drink experiences I’ve mentioned so far, I insist on at least driving the route. The Atherton Tablelands area is simply stunning.
Just before arriving in Mission Beach, we made a quick stop at Murdering Point Winery. Who knew if the wine would be any good — the name is intriguing enough to warrant a visit! Thankfully Murdering Point exceeded expectations, and for the first time at a winery, I enjoyed everything I tried. I couldn’t help but purchase a bottle of the Supherb, made with jaboticaba, ginger and ginseng .
Since we had enjoyed another day of delicious stops, we arrived at South Mission Beach too late to visit Dunk Island or participate in any water activities. But we found the perfect way to spend the afternoon last moments of sunlight — lying on a beautiful beach with the best view of Dunk Island. If you’re Mission Beach bound, I highly recommend South Mission Beach over Mission Beach for the view!
We woke up Wednesday morning to a few drops of rain sneaking through the tent and onto our faces. It was the perfect alarm clock to kick off our first long day of driving — we had what Google Maps estimated to be an 8-hour trip ahead of us.
Gray skies and curvy roads dominated the day, breaking just in time for us to reach Bowen, which doubled as Darwin on the set of the film Australia. It’s also home of a giant mango, which I thought more resembled a dyed Easter egg We enjoyed a much needed pit stop and sampled the local mango sorbet. I practically inhaled it and could have easily ordered a second — it’s PURE mango and nothing else. Without doubt, that could easily be my breakfast or dessert every day.
Finally, after 7 hours of driving and another hour or so worth of driving breaks, we arrived in Mackay, the largest city we had seen since leaving Cairns. After setting up camp, we treated ourselves to dinner at Cactus Jacks. I was a little dubious about having Mexican again in Australia, as any American I meet says it’s highly disappointing. But wouldn’t you know, the “side salad” came complete with a hard taco shell and refried beans, and the carnitas quesadilla boasted a fantastic blend of pork, cheese, and jalapenos. I couldn’t have been more satisfied with the quality and price of the meal! (Note to Mexican food seekers: I can’t vouch for the rest of the menu! After all, the “salsa” on Brooke’s plate was actually marinara!)
We ended the day by popping by the kitchen area of our caravan park. Two Aussie guys from Hervey Bay quickly engaged us in conversation. When one learned we would be there in just two days, he offered to let us camp in his front yard. Ha!
The clearly marked “Finch Hatton Gorge” signs never led us to the gorge, and we arrived at the wrong time of day to see a platypus. However, food came to our rescue! The guided tours mentioned the “famous Pinnacle Pie“, so we found ourselves stopping at a tiny pub for a surprisingly delicious pie!
Eating your way through Queensland
I can’t think of a better way to enjoy Queensland after the fantastic trip to the reef than sampling local coffee, chocolates, nuts, and other goodies. With gorgeous scenery and even more fun food stops than those we experienced, the Atherton Tablelands area could be enjoyed at a more leisurely pace over the span of a couple of days! Satisfy nearly any foodie dream in Mareeba and the Tablelands…and come hungry!
Featured image by xb3 on Flickr, via Creative Commons