Tully Gorge had been a blank spot on my mental map for far too long before I decided to visit it last month. All I knew – all that most people know – is that it attracts lots of (mostly young) tourists for white-water rafting. But I’ve been collecting waterfalls along the coast (e.g. Wallaman, Blencoe, Jourama, Behana and Murray) for some time and I had heard of the Tully Falls. And any gorge is worth a look – and I needed a break from the city.
A closer look at the map showed me that the Falls and the Gorge had to be two separate trips, since the Falls are only accessible from Ravenshoe and the Gorge is accessible only from the coast: the two roads both dead-end, one at the top of the falls and the other a couple of kilometres downstream from their foot. The possibility of including the Dalrymple Track in the trip made me opt for the Gorge this time; Jourama and Cardwell were entirely incidental.
So … drive to Tully and turn left, through the town and farmlands (sugar, cattle, and lots of bananas) before entering National Park (actually parks, plural: Koombooloomba NP on the western side of the road, Tully Gorge NP on the eastern side). From here on, the road follows the river quite closely, and I paused for a photo.
Some 40 kilometres from the highway there is a National Parks camping ground with (in true NP style) basic but well maintained facilities. Tucked in between the road and the river, it could easily accommodate dozens of vans and tents but only a few sites were occupied when I visited. Another few minutes’ drive up the road finds you at its end, at the power station which I’m sure is the reason the road is so good.
Kareeya Power Station and Cardstone Village
Tully is the wettest town in Australia so it’s no surprise that Kareeya power station is hydroelectric. The waters of the Tully River are held back in Koombaloomba Dam above the falls to take advantage of the height of the escarpment. The project was initiated in 1950, Kareeya (88 MW) was commissioned in 1957, and the Dam was completed in 1960 to enable Kareeya to operate continuously (see Wikipedia for more detail).
The power station car-park is the launching point for the commercial rafting operation and I saw them preparing for guests:
Cardstone Village was built halfway between the camping ground and the power station in 1954 to house construction and operational staff and their families. The buildings were removed in 1990 when Kareeya was fully automated and the site has been almost entirely reclaimed by the lush rainforest.
There are no significant walking tracks in or around the gorge so there isn’t a lot to do there, other than white-water rafting and kayaking, except wandering along the river and enjoying the rainforest and the rugged scenery. Which is, naturally, exactly what I did.