After seeing a multitude of extremely tempting photos of Windin Falls on Instagram, I couldn’t wait to go and observe its beauty for myself. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Windin falls is one of many stunning waterfalls in the Atherton Tablelands, Far North Queensland. Crystal clear water cascades down over rocks into several inviting pools, finishing in la piece de la resistance: a beautiful natural infinity pool with jaw-dropping views of the majestic mountains and down into the spectacular valley below. This is the Instagram spot that I’d seen and fallen in love with. To get there, you drive down the Old Cairns Track, park your car, and then hike 4.5km, which takes around 1 hour. I did my research and found that it was a pretty easy hike, so I set off without too much thought.
My partner, Conor, and I left home early to drive the 2 hours to the start of the walk. For the last few kilometres, we waved goodbye to the tarmac to embark down a dirt track, but this was no problem for our trusty Nissan Pathfinder.
We parked up and set off on our hike. It was a hot day and being high up was a little sweaty, but the walk was easy enough, despite being a little uneven and steep in places. It took us just over an hour to reach the falls, where we were greeted by the sound of rushing water. We climbed over a few rocks until we were just above the infamous infinity pool, and took a moment to catch our breath as we took in the sensational view of the mountains. We enjoyed a dip in the water, which was freezing although not entirely unwelcome after the walk up. It was slightly unnerving as the wind was causing the water to rush quickly over the edge of the cliff, and I certainly didn’t want to be taken with it!
As we took a seat on the rocks overlooking the pool, we settled down to eat our picnic lunch. We tucked into our sandwiches and were quite shocked to hear a faint noise that sounded alarmingly like distant thunder. Australia was actually experiencing a severe drought at the time, and it had hardly rained for three months, so we didn’t think too much of it, but decided to quickly finish our lunch and head back just in case. Although we didn’t really think that it was any cause for concern, we briefly discussed the fact that the first part of the walk back would be a little difficult and stressful in the rain, and that the car may struggle to get up the track in wet weather, as it would inevitable turn to slippery mud. With this in mind, we hurried away, spurred on by more faint sounds of thunder.
As we rushed onwards, going a fair bit faster than on the way there, the thunder became constant and grew louder, until it sounded like it was directly above us. At this point Conor pointed out that in the rainforest, beneath trees wouldn’t be a particularly safe place to be if lightening struck. We also grew increasingly concerned about what would happen if it rained. Conor kept calling back to me to ask if I was OK, and to say sorry for rushing us. I kept saying it was fine, and that I also wanted to get back as quickly as possible.
We were around halfway back when we saw something we had been dreading: a bolt of lightning, simultaneous with the ongoing thunder, signalling that the storm was directly above us. Although this was particularly unnerving, there was nothing we could do but hurry on. There was no time to slow down for the trickier parts of the track now; we just wanted to get back to the car.
We checked the time and realised that we had been going for about 40 minutes. As the walk there took just over an hour, and we had been walking much faster going back, we figured that we should be almost there. We passed parts of the track that I was sure were near the start, and we were hopeful that it wasn’t much further, as the thunder and lightning were rather pretty scary.
Unfortunately in the last 1km, came the thing that we hoped would never come. The heavens opened and heavy rainfall drowned us; the type of rain that gets you completely soaked through in just seconds. Our clothes were water-logged, our shoes were drenched, and even my backpack was sodden, leaving us questioning whether our phones would even work when we made it out. Suddenly the forest became a terrifying place to be, with the added anxiety of not knowing whether our car would make it up the track in these conditions.
In a state of panic, we began to run, desperate to be rid of the forest. I’m not a runner; I hate running, I’m not good at it, and I get out of breath very easily. Needless to say, I was incredibly uncomfortable in these conditions. Almost as soon as I had started running I slipped over, but there was no time to nurse my wounds – I just had to get up and keep on running. Conor too fell down a little further on – this slippery and uneven surface required much more care than we were able to give at this point. More difficult parts of the track, that I usually would have spent some time considering, simply had to be tackled head on without a second thought. Conor was now shouting back to me just to hurry, a distressed tone in his voice. I moved as quickly as I could, despite being out of breath, soaking wet, and worst of all absolutely terrified as the storm raged on above us.
We kept seeing parts of the track that we were sure were close to the start, but we’d turn a corner and see that, no, the end was not in sight. Despite not knowing if our car would even get us back to the road, all I wanted was to be out of the woods, but it seemed to go on forever, and I felt like it would never end.
Finally, after a gruelling trek and what felt like hours, I heard Conor call out to me from ahead, telling me that we were at the end – he could see the car. I have never been so relieved, and gave one last push to run the last little bit. Conor slipped on the wet mud as we approached the car, which made us even more concerned that the car wouldn’t make it up the track. As we flopped, exhausted and saturated, into the car we discussed other options – I suggested calling for help, however we didn’t expect our water-logged phones to work (they did), and we had no signal anyway. There were two more couples who we had left behind at the falls, one of which had a car that would be perfectly competent on even the most difficult of tracks, in the most treacherous conditions, so we figured that we could always wait for them and ask for help. Not the ideal solution, but an option.
By some miracle we were relieved that the car actually managed to weave up the slippery track without too much difficulty. Returning to tarmac was such a relief, yet we were both incredibly uncomfortable and exhausted. I couldn’t wait to have a warm shower and put on some dry clothes, but I reminded myself that not long ago I was hoping and praying just to be out of the woods and back in my car.
When we finally returned home, it felt odd to look at our stunning photos from the top, before it all went horrible wrong. At that point all I could think of was how traumatic the whole experience had been. My leg was cut and bruised more than I thought from my fall, and all I could do was relax on the sofa with a glass of wine and feel grateful that the horrendous ordeal was over.
I would still recommend the Windin falls hike, but would advise caution. Just because it hasn’t rained in three months, don’t assume that you won’t be caught in a storm!