22 Nov – Prosperine

The drive south from Townsville is through sugarcane, mango plantations and small towns with sugar mills puffing away in the distance. We drove through Bowen and stopped for lunch – the Flagstaff Hill visitor centre was worth the short drive out of town to see the expansive views across the Whitsundays.

Bowen

The centre and café were closed as the hilltop location saw them get smashed by Cyclone Debbie – the damage was evident in the bent ceiling fans on the verandah!

Bowen- Cyclone Debbie Damage

Down on the foreshore we found yet another free waterpark which – being a school day – was empty. A great place for lunch and some energy release.

bowen waterpark 1

We kept driving towards Proserpine and decided to see if there was camping in the state forest around the Proserpine Dam. A bit of a drive around proved to be fruitless and it was very windy around the exposed shoreline of the dam so we decided to stop in at a campground a few hundred metres back from the dam wall. We thought it would be a quiet little spot but instead there was a barra fishing comp on and it was full of people.

Bowen 2

Fortunately the fisher-folk were staying in the cabin accommodation and the nice couple running the show found us a nice grassy spot down the back near the river. The highlight was the endangered Proserpine Rock Wallabies which emerged from the scrub out in front of our tent at 5.30pm every evening. People would feed them vegetable leftovers and scraps which they grabbed before the bush turkeys came along.

Proserpine Rock Wallabies (2)

20-21 Nov – Charters Towers

A pretty easy drive out a couple of hours west and we reached Charters Towers with its impressive old buildings still dominating the town centre and the dry, dusty cattle stations dominating everything else. We looked at a campsite on the Burdekin River on the way into town but ended up heading out to a place named Anabranch which was basic but nice enough for a brief overnighter. A good addition to our bird list was the Squatter Pigeon which Amy spotted waddling around on the ground.

Bird- Charters Towers- Squatter Pigeon

Tower Hill is worth a visit to see the view across town and learn about some of the history of the area – another gold boom story which saw the town grow fast. The town had an important role in WWII as well and there are bunkers where ammunition was carefully stored. The visitor information centre was worth a drop in – if nothing else, for the air-conditioning!

Early the next morning we were out at the cattle saleyards for the weekly Wednesday auction. At first we looked completely out of place (Josh had suggested we go to the local Vinnies to grab some denim, blue check shirts and big hats so we might blend in!) but eventually we were just part of the crowd moving from pen to pen – being super-careful not to swat a fly or scratch a nose which would result in us droving the herd of cattle we just bought back to Korora!

Cattle sales 1

It was a great insight into the saleyard process and the quirks and eccentricities of both the auctioneers and the buyers who were bidding with only the slightest movement of their hand or nod of their head. One auctioneer had a go at one of the big meatworks buyers because he wouldn’t even make a movement to bid  – he reckoned as long as he was standing there staring at the auctioneer that meant he was still automatically bidding.

Cattle sales 2

We quickly learnt to not lean against the pens or else a rogue cow would charge at you – one beast with huge horns tried to stake everyone who was there.  The amazing thing for us was that technology hadn’t arrived here – everything was done with prices written on chalkboards, sales jotted down on paper and some paint stencilled on the cattle so they somehow knew which pen was going to which buyer – but it all seemed to work – they’d been doing it for a long time – one bloke working there was 81 years old and still was busily working away.

cattle sales 3

The manager of the saleyards spotted us while we were watching him stencil the cattle and he got us up on the walkways above the cattle and organised for us to watch the pens of cattle being split and weighed before being loaded back onto the trucks. We had a good chat to the people working there and you could see how much they enjoyed the work – except it gets very hot and dusty! We drove back down to Townsville and spent another night at Alligator Creek before hitting the road south.

Bird- Charters Towers

18-19 Nov – Townsville – Alligator Creek

The national park camping sites have been great for the last two weeks so after a brief stop in at one of the Townsville caravan parks (which we quickly decided was the most bland, uninviting place to stay in north Queensland) we decided to check out Bowling Green Bay National Park just to the south of Townsville and found a campground at Alligator Creek.

Alligator Creek Wallaby

There was one good shady spot and we booked that and set up camp. There were quite a few cars in the day use picnic area and we were hopeful that that meant the pictures we’d seen of beautiful stretches of water in the adjacent creek were true. The short walk to the swimming area ended in major disappointment. There was one grotty, stagnant puddle of water in an otherwise bone-dry creek bed – this was nothing like the brochure!!

Alligator Creek Seeds

The most amazing thing was that there were people actually in the water! We were disappointed and as we walked up higher to the lookout we also found out that the walking tracks were closed for a pest animal shooting program. The place was a bit rundown overall but, being 20 minutes from the middle of Townsville, it was a good base to explore from.

Alligator Creek Wallaby (2)

In Townsville we walked along the Strand foreshore area and spent some time looking around the Barracks area up on the headland which has some good information about the Japanese bombers who tried to inflict some damage over a couple of nights during WWII but were repelled with the bombs missing their targets. There’s some good audio that you can push a button and it plays – the best is probably the ABC reporter on live radio giving a blow by blow account of the planes coming in, the spotlights crisscrossing the sky, bombs being dropped but not hitting anything, and then eventually  the American fighter jets scrambling and having a spectacular dog-fight above the town.

Bird- Blue winged Kookaburra

The highlight for the boys was the waterpark where they spent hours playing while mum and dad sat in the shade looking out over the beautiful turquoise water to Magnetic Island and then cooked up a bbq on the foreshore.

Water park Moonta Bay

 

 

 

16-17 Nov – Paluma Range – Jourama Falls

We got back on the Bruce Highway and headed south towards Paluma Range. Our first detour was up the steep, winding road to Wallaman Falls which holds the title of the highest single-drop waterfall in Australia. The road was challenging enough but more cyclone damage has some major roadworks going on up there to stablise the road – some serious engineering, daring earthworks on the edge of the cliff and a flow of cement trucks. The views out on the drive up the mountain are spectacular but we’re here with a large smokey bushfire burning just across the valley and the views are through a haze.

Wallaman Falls !

Wallaman Falls was also viewed through the haze and with little water coming down the creek, the falls were pretty ordinary with what was coming over turning to a mist that you could only just see raining down in the pool at the bottom. The camping and picnic areas were really ordinary too and we were glad we hadn’t planned to stay up here. Instead we did the two short walks and on a clearer day with more water it would be a spectacular gorge and waterfall to appreciate.

Jourama Falls (2)

We wound our way back down the mountain and back through the herds of cattle that were grazing along the roadside (and standing in the middle of the road) and set a course for the beautiful Crystal Creek swimming holes. The first stop was Paradise Pool which is a large clear swimming hole which we managed to arrive at in a lull of visitors and swimmers. We had a float around to cool off and enjoyed the beautiful surroundings before the lull subsided and the place quickly filled with people for a hot Friday afternoon of beers and swimming.

Crystal Creek

We looked at the camping options here but it was the weekend and it was going to be hectic in the small campground. There are orchards adjoining the national park and an honesty stall had lots of different fruits – we went for their lychees which were delicious.

Crystal Creek-Fruit Stall

We opted to drive back to another section of the national park near Jourama Falls and found an empty campground which is another great spot. Open and grassy with shady trees and resident Noisy Pittas – we decided this was a great place to spend a night or two. The walk into the creek and the falls is easy to start with but then there’s a choice to either stop for a swim down near the creek or head up the steep track to the two lookouts near the waterfall. We decided to get to the lookouts first and then get down to the creek for a swim to cool off.

Definitely worthwhile and would be great in the wet when a good flow is surging over – but it still has a good enough flow to make it worth the walk. Down in the creek you can just wander along and find your own swimming hole. We had a nice one which the boys loved because the rocks were so slippery they could slide down into the water. The bonus at the campsite was a cold shower which was perfect to rinse off.

Jourama Falls

Further upstream of the Paradise Pool is the Rockslides which are amazing fun – we got there early and after a short walk reached the pools and natural waterslides which are surprisingly slippery. An adult would walk away a bit bruised and battered but the boys just kept going undeterred by the growing rips and tears in their shorts!

13-15 Nov – Abergowrie – Ingham

We departed Tully Gorge and pointed south down the highway. The Hinchinbrook area is very scenic – both the huge Hinchinbrook Island that is only just separated from the mainland by a narrow channel – as well as the lush mountain ranges in the background to the west. We stopped in  at the highway town of Cardwell which is right on the water. A stroll on the jetty was worthwhile as we saw a man catch a small hammerhead shark and even helped by taking a photo on his phone for him.

Caldwell Jetty

The information centre was great with very helpful friendly staff who weren’t trying to sell skydiving or island cruises like many of the visitor information centres seem to be focused on these days. Their best tip was the local op-shop that has lots of books for 50c so we stopped in to those very nice folk and picked up four books to keep us going – Lach’s choices were “Hiding Out” by Elizabeth Laird and “Come Danger, Come Darkness” by Ruth Park. Amy tried to pay the $2 but the 50c book deal is actually 50c for as many books as you carry away with you. If you are ever passing through it’s worth a stop in to browse the books and grab a 20c jaffle maker or 10c toaster while you’re there.

Tyto Wetland

The highway winds up and over the Cardwell Range with a spectacular lookout just off the road. The main lookout that most people hop out of their cars for is terrible with huge powerlines right in the centre of the view but make sure you do the short 100 metre walk to a higher lookout which is much better with uninterrupted views across the turquoise waters, dense mangrove creeks and main channel of Hinchinbrook Island.

Hinchinbrook View (2)

The climate or at least the weather conditions seem to change instantly as you travel over the range. It definitely feels like we are leaving the wet tropics behind. We decided to head out to the Broadwater campground in Abergowrie State Forest to base ourselves for a few days. Another pleasant drive through the sugarcane farms with the green hills as the backdrop. The cane harvest is in full swing here too and it pays to be alert for the cool little cane trains which criss-cross the roads – the major roads have flashing lights at the train crossings but the smaller country roads are where you need to be on the lookout as the small locomotives come trundling along with 10 or 20 cages full of cane trailing along behind. The funniest was in the hustling, bustling little town of Ingham where the cane trains honk their way through the main streets with everyone expected to give way – cane is king around here!

Sugar Cane Train

Abergowrie State Forest was quite obviously trashed by a cyclone with just about all of the pine plantation which you drive through on the way out to the campground having been flattened. It turns out the area was in the eye of Cyclone Yasi in 2011 and there are some amazing photos of the destruction which the national parks people have put up on the information boards. The campground is looking great now – but there was some serious chainsawing required and there are photos of the army setting up camp here to spend days clearing the mess of fallen trees and damaged boardwalks. There’s a beautiful creek which has a top swimming hole complete with a small platform and ladder for access.

Broadwater Swimming

The downside was the occurrence of Bullrout stonefish which have spines that inflict extreme pain if stepped on – they occur in many coastal streams but for some reason there were multiple warning signs here and we wore sandshoes while swimming to minimize the chance of an unwanted encounter. Cam and Josh spotted the unmistakable ripple of a platypus early one morning and as it swam closer towards them it was sure to be a great photo – a great photo of a turtle as it turned out – you know, foggy morning, mist rising off the water, just waking up etc!

Broadwaater Turtle

The turtle was one of about ten residents that swam to the swimming platform as soon as anyone arrived – hoping for a feed. The campground was empty except for one other couple who started out miles away and then the next morning moved right over near us – acres of open grassy camping and we ended up 30 metres away from each other! But they were quiet, just wanted the same shady spot we had and we ended up being able to have a good chat (except the bloke spoke no English at all) and shared maps and information on places to go and spots to camp. There’s a short walk along a fairly new (rebuilt post-Yasi) boardwalk and there’s a great fig tree which attracts lots of birds.

We used the camp as a base to explore the Ingham region (really it was just taking Josh for a drive so he could go train-spotting for cane trains – Amy is trying to get it through to him that being a cane train driver is not a sensible career change). We poked in at all the little beachside villages along the coast Lucinda, Taylor’s beach and Forest Beach.

We had a fish burger and chips at the small Lucinda store which has views out to Hinchinbrook Island and along the massive jetty that gets the sugar out to the waiting ships – this is a serious jetty at 5.6km long – it disappears out to sea!

Lucinda Jetty

In town the visitor information centre is also the entrance to the Tyto Wetlands which are a great mix of wetlands, raised boardwalks, and trails through different habitats with lots of birds and turtles.

Back at the campground, the highlight was the Noisy Pittas which hopped around the camp – they would be a metre away from our tent in the mornings and it was pretty cool to watch them get about their day flashing their spectacular colours – yellows and reds and greens. The campground gets a big thumbs up from us – heaps of space, nice swimming, good facilities with gas bbqs, water taps spread around and a cold shower to cool off as well.

Bird- Broadwater (3)

10-12 Nov – Tully Gorge

There was some heavier rain overnight and a few of the backpackers in the flimsy little tents that they get given got soaked – we had tried to be helpful by lending them our mallet to get the pegs into the hard ground but that doesn’t solve the problem of their tent not being waterproof in any way. We had another swim and hit the road.

Mission Beach- Umbrella Palm

We passed through Innisfail for some shopping and headed for Tully Gorge. The campground is a pretty large open grassy areas with a few nooks in amongst the rainforest. There’s an outdoor shower with walls but no roof and the cold water is the perfect temperature to refresh. The swimming situation is a bit confusing – a lot of warnings and signs about estuarine crocodiles but then tour groups come for whitewater rafting and snorkeling and don’t seem to be concerned. We decided to find a nice section of rapids with big rocks and just enough of water for a dip (but not enough for a croc to be hiding).

Tully Gorge (3)

From near our tent site, a short walk wound through the rainforest with the focus on butterflies – every 100metres would be another information sign talking about a different butterfly and it’s ecology. We’ve been seeing so many butterflies lately that it was a good overview of all the different species.

Tully Gorge (4)

Who would have thought that it might rain overnight while we are staying at the wettest point in Australia? This place absolutely cops the precipitation so we were lucky to get away with some drizzle. We did a day trip down to the coast but found a good back road that took us across to Murray Falls first.

Tully Gorge (6)

This was a great little drive through a very disused road that eventually popped out into the huge banana farms mixed with sugar cane and cattle grazing properties. But the bananas are just on a different scale – there’s semi-trailer after semi-trailer coming out full of bananas. Murray Falls is nice – no swimming except for downstream, beautiful campground and nice lookouts only a short stroll along the boardwalk.

 

We got down to the coast and visited Mission Beach – South Mission Beach was probably the pick of the real estate with some nice beachfront houses with their infinity pools overlooking the water. We stopped and had lunch in the main strip of Mission Beach which you could tell would be a happening place many nights a week with small cafes, bars and restaurants. We stopped in at the main Cassowary conservation headquarters – Community for Coastal and Cassowary Conservation or “C4” – and had a good look through their information about all the work they are doing for the big birds.

Tully Gorge (2)

One small walk we did through a beautiful palm forest even had a Cassowary-proof enclosure for people to have their picnics without being harassed by Cassowaries – we got excited that we might get another sighting but it wasn’t to be. There are lots of official roadsigns regarding Cassowaries, where they cross, telling people to slow down, to not stop or get out of their cars. But the great thing was the homemade signs that people put out to get people to slow down or to let drivers know there was has been recent Cassowary activity in the area – they are very fond of their Cassowaries around here!

Mission Beach- Cam found the eggs!

We poured our emergency spare 20litres of diesel into the fuel tank and emptied out a couple of jerry cans of water that we’d also stashed away up the back of the ute in case of need – we tried to justify that we were just freeing up some weight but the reality is we are entering the final six weeks of our trip with less chance of us needing back-up supplies.

Tully Gorge Camp

9 Nov – Babinda Boulders

We wound our way down the mountains to the lowlands of Innisfail where the sugarcane started again. We headed up the highway to Babinda hoping for a swim at The Boulders which is a great Creekside recreation area.

Babinda Boulders- swimming hole

The main swimming hole is nice and refreshing and there are some walks that take you to some spectacular lookouts over the gorges and waterfalls which were pretty tame at the moment but would be raging when the rains and storms come.

Babinda Boulders (3)

We camped at a small free camping area within walking distance of the creek and there was also a good playground for the boys to have some fun on as well. For some reason we broke one of our rules of not staying in these highly promoted, easy-access, free-camping sites and the area quickly went from about six campers to about 25.

Babinda Boulders (2)

The permanent residents were the bush stone curlews, this time instead of eggs mum and dad were looking after a (very cute) baby curlew which seemed to be hanging around our camp. It was great for the boys to see.

For all our dislike of backpackers and their disrespectful , space-invading and loud behaviour, it was Australian campers who managed to ruin the whole camp for everyone – two blokes in a commodore – absolute loonies who looked like they’d just escaped from jail. We couldn’t pack up fast enough and we weren’t the only ones who were glad to be leaving the next morning!

Babinda Boulders