Survivor II: The Secret Of Blencoe Falls

Story by Jeff Lancaster and Photography by Mal Lancaster

Copyright © On The Road Magazine 2001. Any unauthorised use, copying or mirroring is prohibited.

We’ve found the beautiful spot where most of the TV show was filmed.  And we tell you how to get there.

The narrow road twisted and spiralled up the ramparts of the Kirrima Range. Behind, drenched in January sunshine, lay Queensland’s Kennedy Valley; ahead beckoned the hazy, tumbled ridges of Mount Garnet.

With the Toyota LandCruiser in second gear, we patiently swung around each hairpin turn as we drove up toward the crest of the range. Other cars, crawling cautiously below us, seemed toy-like and remote. Beyond and far below I caught glimpses of the coastline and Hinchinbrook Island.

On the mountain wallscyribidium orchids were in flower. Far away, at the head of the range, giant gum trees and sweet-smelling pines clung to the peaks and concealed the road ahead in a beautiful disappearing act. The air cooled deliciously as we climbed. The sunlight splintered the rainforest canopy and ignited the foliage in flames of brilliant green.

The falls made famous on the show

By the time we reached the beginning of the dirt track, Mal and I had passed only one vehicle – a truck, loaded with timber, travelling toward the coast. After nearly three hours we reached a road sign – of sorts. Imbedded in a gum tree, like a deformed artificial limb, was a sign that read: “Blencoe Falls”.

Dropping several hundred feet to the river below, Blencoe Falls is spectacular. The three-hour drive only seems worth the effort when you’re standing on the peak of the falls gazing out to the valley below. Garlanded by rocks clothed in little green jackets of moss, the cobalt pools at the base of the falls are shrouded in a permanent mist of spray that creates dozens of tiny rainbows that disappear and reappear in a blink of the eye.

 

The entire landscape is somewhat primitive, with the rainforest below glossed in low-lying cloud like a scene from Jurassic Park. I half expected to see a Muttabuttasaurus come strutting through the forest; though the only real prehistoric animal out this way is the crocodile and, according to local Darryl Marshall, you’d be pretty unlucky to run into one anywhere upriver from the falls.

The top of the falls - site of the 'tribal council'

“You might see a freshwater croc,” said Marshall, almost matter-of-factly. “But you definitely won’t see a saltie up this way. Maybe back down river, on the lower side of the falls.” Marshall said in the 15 years he’d been fishing and camping near Blencoe he’d never encountered a crocodile – saltwater or freshwater. Comforting stuff.

After two hours checking out the falls, Mal and I travelled about one kilometre south where we set up camp and kicked back by the river. At the close of day it grew quiet. The river’s fluid skin turned from cobalt to coal, and the dark shadows spread and mingled until they were all one and the night had fallen.

Then the huge world of the wilderness changed. It became something of sound, rather than of sight. We lay back in our camp chairs, rested our eyes, and listened to the world that we had been watching. The hush that followed sundown was broken by cicadas in the trees and above the bush. Their incessant whirr formed a background to all other sounds coming from out on the plain, some far, some near, and whether from beast or bird, difficult to distinguish. Many we recognised – the staccato call of a kookaburra, the dull moan of a goanna, and the cough-like bark of a kangaroo. This was nature’s nocturnal choir, and we had the best seats in the house.

 

Blencoe Falls is perfect for fishing, swimming and adventure activities like hiking, kayaking, and mountain-biking. Which no doubt explains why Mark Burnett, the creator of the American television series Survivor chose this region for the Australian sequel to the show.

Burnett first travelled to these parts in 1997 as part of his Eco-Challenge series. In fact, it was at the suggestion of Dan Foley, a mountain-biking whiz from Cairns – who helped Burnett with the 1997 Eco-Challenge – that Mal and I decided to travel to Blencoe Falls.

Hiking through the forrest.

“The Herbert River region is just awesome,” said Foley. “Blencoe Falls is great for swimming and the mountainous area around Blencoe Creek is fantastic for mountain-biking. It’s one of the best kept secrets in Queensland.”

Truer words were never spoken. Though with the international success of Survivor, one gets the impression that this little secret is about to be revealed to the world.

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While this part of the Australian Outback is rugged, it is far from remote. The Herbert River region is less than 180km from Cairns and Townsville – two of the most popular tourist destinations in Queensland.

The site used for filming is on the fringe of several state forests and national parks that are visited by thousands of tourists each year. The footage used in the television series includes film of truly remote Australian locations like Kakadu, the Kimberleys, Arnhem Land and the Gulf of Carpentaria – all easily identifiable to anyone who has ever ventured to the real Outback.

Additionally, the  majority of the filming of the “survivors” and their respective camp sites is achieved by using close-in or tight filming techniques, giving the impression -–with the aid of other footage – that the location is truly remote and hostile.

At all times during filming of the series, which took place in October and November 2000, there were no fewer than 400 support crew only a few kilometres from the “Survivor” sites.

The support crew included medical staff, chefs, security and dozens of magicians from the movie world capable of conjuring up surreal images of desolation, hostility and – the essential ingredient of any television series – drama.

The beauty, though, is all real. As for the crocodile that appears regularly in the show, ever notice how it is always in either of two locations – on a rock in the river or sunning itself on the riverbank. Who knows, maybe it’s another paid extra? Keep your eye out for a special guest appearance in Crocodile Dundee 3.

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Fact File

From Cairns, travel south to Kennedy, about 20km north of Cardwell. At Kennedy, turn right into Kennedy Creek Road – stop at the Kennedy Store for recent information on Blencoe Falls. Follow Kennedy Creek Road for approximately six kilometres, then turn right onto the Kirrima Range/Mount Garnet Road. Blencoe Falls is about 58km from this turn-off. 

The road conditions are generally good, with the first half of the journey being on a semi-sealed surface, and the second half on gravel. A 4WD vehicle is advisable for the trip. Take care when driving along the range as there are numerous blind corners and the road is quite narrow. 

There are several good camping spots less than one kilometre from the falls. Take plenty of water for the drive. For more information contact Tourism Tropical North on (07) 4051 3588. Our map is from Hema’s Road Atlas, contact (07) 3340 0000 for stockists.

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Copyright © On The Road Magazine 2001. Any unauthorised use, copying or mirroring is prohibited.