Not to be outdone, PAUL HANSFORD rages the wild rivers of the Atherton Tablelands

I’ve done some pretty weird and wonderful things in my time in Australia, but going for a canoe trip in a flooded rainforest with only the moon for light has got to top it all.

A moonlight paddle sounded like a good idea from the warmth of the hostel common room, but sitting out in the pitch black on Lake Tinaroo, oar in one hand, torch in other, I was having second thoughts. All that was missing was a toothless local playing “Duelling Banjos” from the lake’s edge.

If truth be told, the night-time canoe is one of the best activities I’ve done in a long time. Lake Tinaroo was a rainforest that was flooded around 50 years ago, and all that’s left are the remains of the dead trees still poking out of the water. As you negotiate your boat through the branches, hundreds of cormorants, darters and swamp hens fly from branch to branch, the noise of their flapping wings adding to the eeriness of the night.

At times, it was hard to know what to look at – the cotton wool-like mist rolling over the lake, the remains of the giant fig trees that dotted the route, or a night sky that was so clear, you could easily make out the Milky Way and Southern Cross.

Lake Tinaroo is in the[Atherton Tablelands], about two hours west of[Cairns], in the lush, green hinterlands that seem a million miles away from the reef and beaches of the region.

Highlights of the region include a rainforest walk, mountain biking around Crater Lakes National Park, a refreshing dip in the stunning Millaa Millaa Falls, a daytime canoe in Lake Tinaroo and a bit of platypus-spotting at sundown.

The Tablelands are a welcome break from the madness of Cairns and a real eye opener to how the landscape of this beautiful country can change in just a few hours. Just watch out for those banjo-playing locals.