The wheel thing

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 April, 2006, 12:00am

I've long known that tropical north Queensland is one of Australia's best adventure and nature-based tourism destinations, but I've just found a new way of seeing it.

I'm riding pillion with Cairns Motorcycle Tours, a new outfit with a passion for showing visitors the best of the area by bike - because only on a bike can you revel in this natural feast for all the senses, with the bonus of an adrenalin-high ride thrown in.

My two-day trip takes me north from Cairns to Port Douglas on the Captain Cook Highway, Australia's most beguiling coastal road. The outlook is especially lush from my perch on the back of a purring Harley-Davidson as we glide through snug tunnels of rainforest, complete with an entourage of chattering parrots. To the left are snatched glimpses of soaring rainforest-smothered peaks; to the right, blinding Coral Sea views. These amazing vistas come complete with matching heady aromas - fruit-heavy mango trees and blossoms, and a salty ocean tang.

The two days give you a 'total immersion' tropical north Queensland experience: the likes of swimming and snorkelling in clear freshwater streams, and ascending the twisting Rex Range and Gillies Highways from dense, moist lowland rainforest to cool, high cloud rainforest.

As we hit the tops of the mountain ranges, knotted roads open onto the wide horizons of the Cairns Highlands. We snake around the Millaa Millaa waterfall circuit before plunging down the Palmerston Highway on a dream ride of great sweeping bends hemmed in by rich greenery.

Down to the lush coastal lowlands now, below the highest mountain flanks in Australia - the teeming green Bellenden Ker and Bartle Frere ranges. These goliaths tower over us as we call into the small sugar town of Babinda for afternoon tea, enjoying hearty Australian hospitality while recounting the day's ride.

From here we barrel along the remaining 60km of the route on the Bruce Highway to Cairns, with yet more rainforest expanses on both sides.

At the end of the jaunt I felt more connected with the environment than usual - and so did my Japanese riding buddy Miyako, who found it more fun than skydiving.

Tour bikes range wildly in character, from the carefree, loping Harley-Davidson cruisers to the fiery Latin Aprilia Tuonos. Riders and pillion passengers are free to swap bikes throughout the day, providing an ever-varying riding perspective to match the kaleidoscopic scenery. Rider-mounted passenger grab handles are provided for the security of pillion riders, making the experience safe and enjoyable. Rides range as far north as Cooktown and as far south as Townsville. Also on offer are half-day rainforest and coast 'tasters', as well as adventures lasting several days that take you to hidden swimming holes and secluded hideaways.

All rides take in gourmet cafes and restaurants, and overnight stays incorporate properties such as the luxurious Silky Oaks Lodge beside the Mossman River, and the canvas roofs, outdoor showers and billion-star nights in Mareeba Wetlands' new 'plush digs in the bush' accommodation.

Cairns Motorcycle Tours and Hire; e-mail bikes@biking or go to