Our last day in Chillagoe and we saw Bustards, Butcherbirds, Red Tail Black Cockatoos and Jude saw Bentwing, Sheath-tailed, Horseshoe and Pignose Bats in the cave. The trees around the caves and which resemble the candle tree of Namibia, are commonly known as Helicopter Trees, with a Latin name of jovocoptus americus, so named due to their spiralling falling leaves.
The Datto doesn’t like hills even without the van in tow and it was down to second in places on our run to the coast. We topped the rise at 639 above sea level on our way out of Chillagoe and coasted down to Dimbulah where we refuelled, did some shopping, and got directions for a back road to Atherton.
Well, we missed the road turnoff but upon backtracking found it and not long after found a lovely camp site on a pebbly beach on the Walsh River.
I had to do repairs to the Datto’s left hand tail light while Jude and Jeddah collected firewood. Bright moon caused sleep deprivation again. We rose around 6am the next morning and organised a hot shower by boiling the billy. Some clouds were to be see but no rain although roof of the truck was damp. We had a pleasant trip to Atherton and then the rain came down in buckets. Once in Atherton, we spent one and a half hours in the Crystal Caves display centre which is a fascinating place. One descends a staircase into caves below made of polystyrene foam into a fantasy world to view a magnificent display of crystals from all over the world. The highlight of the collection is the Star of Uruguay amethyst pictured below.
Then we made for Malanda but stopped at Gallo Cheese and Chocolates along the way to buy a supply of delicious cheeses. The rain got worse and the road seemed narrow.
We stopped at Malanda for look at Malanda Falls and to buy fridge magnets and milkshakes. Later on my shake went through me like a dose of salts. Then it was down the Palmerston Highway and the Great Dividing Range to Innisfail in wet and misty conditions. Downhill was OK but I would not like to be towing in the opposite direction! Old bus struggled on the hills and whizzed on the downhills. I used low range gears to safely take us down the slopes without having to touch the brakes. We stopped at Innisfail and whilst Jude did the shopping I washed the wet bulldust and muck off the old truck, right in front of the Police Station! We refuelled and made for Cowley Beach and got lost along the way.
Revisiting Cowley Beach after 15 years was a nice surprise. We remember the beach and the run down caravan park with great nostalgia and wondered what had changed in the intervening years. Well, new owners, amenities upgraded and lawns mowed made for a much improved park. The friendliness was still there and the new owners went out of their way to make us comfortable. Cowley Beach has not changed at all and we were given a site at absolute beachfront, which was great. It rained hard during the night but we had no leaks. Not like the first time we stayed here in 1995 when the old Viscount had buckets on the floor to catch the water. The surf roared all night.
We walked on the beach a number of times much to Jeddah’s delight and found a variety of flotsam and jetsam together with seed pods which we collected for our Secret Garden at home.
Our gas bottle was getting light and I decided to do a swap and go bottle change. The new bottle however was very loose in the holder and seemed too small I so exchanged it for another one, which fitted, thanks to the park owner. I found a coconut on the beach and spent some time prising it open and then drank the milk and ate some of the fruit. The rest we saved. Got some info from another traveller about free camping places out of the Camps 3 book and decided that we had better buy one of these books. All in all a very relaxing day. Awake at 2.30am. Heavy dew outside. Turned the electric fan off and closed some vents and windows. Time to do some computer work. Back to bed by 4.30am after letting Jeddah out for a sniff and a widdle. On the road by half past eight. We visited Kurramine Beach, Bingle Bay and then Clump Point Access to the latter was down a very narrow jungle road with little chance of passing. But we met no one.
Next place to visit was Mission Beach, Wonaling Beach and South Mission Beach. On the way out of the overcrowded beach areas to Tully, we saw a large male Cassowary walking along the roadside. Then we visited the Golden Boot at Tully and Jude bravely climbed to the top and got some great shots of the sugar mill in operation.
Then on to Hull Heads where we decided to camp for the night. It cost $12.50 and has toilets and hot showers and absolute river frontage. Our next door neighbours there were an elderly Swiss couple travelling Australia and when they saw that we were from South Australia they said that they were going to a small village near Port Pirie called Peterborough as their youngest son was a Rotary Exchange Student there in 1991. Small world! We did some beach walks but were in the van early in the evening as the Sandflies gave us curry even though we covered ourselves with Desert Dwellers Creme! Drunks nearby carried on till about 8pm and singers with guitar sang great songs filtering through the bush behind us till about 9pm. Couldn’t get to sleep and it ended up being a long night. Jeddah and I were at the beach at 6am walking through a heavy dew with everything around us being wet. We packed up and got on the road by 7.30am after hot showers, water top up and wheel pumped up. We had a good look at Tully Heads and then drove on to Cardwell where we had Fetta cheese pies for smoko. Jeddah would not eat her usual morning tea biscuits but liked pieces of pie instead. We made it over the Hinchinbrook Jump-up in second gear stopping for a photo at the top. The Datto’s speedometer turned over to 400,000 kilometres a short while after the descent and we sang Happy Birthday. Then we went and met a business acquaintance in Ingham and had a cuppa and a snack with him and a good yarn. Called in at Goodyear Tyres at Ingham after that to enquire about tyres but at $385 each it was not a viable proposition for us.
We were looking at our RACQ paper map out past Mount Fox National Park to Hervey’s Range Road which then would take us to the Gregory Development Road and on eventually on to Fletcher Creek where we had camped many years ago. We had hoped that the road would be following through a valley. At first the road was good narrow bitumen winding its way through cane fields. Then it became a very formed gravel road as we neared the mountains. I had engaged 4×4 but as we started the ascent the road reverted back to bitumen and so I disengaged the hubs so as to avoid differential wind-up. What followed was nine kilometres of switchbacks rising from close to zero sea level to 800 metres. I had the truck in Low Range third gear for most of the way and on the final pinches in second gear and hoping that another vehicle did not come to meet us on this very narrow road! The engine temperature reached 90 degrees and at a lookout near the top we let it cool down for five minutes. The tropical Rainforest was just magnificent.
At Michael Creek locality it was back to good gravel road, which eventually deteriorated to a washed out road. We were on top of the range now and out of the tropical jungle and into heavily wooded forest. Still, we saw lots of very tame Brahman Cattle around. Also saw a large feral Boar. The road then took us to Hidden Valley locality and a camp spot as marked on our map. A large gathering of young people however, were at the campsite and no space was left for us. We kept on driving. Heading south the road turned into a track which was quite corrugated in places and soon after we entered Zig Zag Station mineral lease with a plethora of signs warning people off. At one stage we saw a lone bushwalker. He was a young fella with a German accent with no hat and no water, who had got lost on a hike. I told him that it was about six kilometres back to his camp along the track. I asked belatedly if he wanted water but he had put his earphones in again and could not hear me as he strode up the track. Soon after a voice called me up on the radio and it was a bloke in a ute trying to past. I stopped him and asked if the road got through to Hervey’s Range road and he confirmed that we would soon get to a T junction, turn left and then be on a mining road. When we arrived at the junction we met a huge wide gravel road which had a better surface that most bitumen roads in Queensland! This road was good with some weird one-way (in both direction) bridges across creeks. Then we made it to Hervey’s Range Development Road, the Gregory Development Road and eventually we arrived at Fletcher Creek at 6.15pm. The place was packed with about 80 vans and RV’s but we found a reasonable spot as far from the road as possible and set up camp. Trucks made a noise on purpose using exhaust brakes on a flat road and snoring partners through the night saw me get up at 3.30am to do some writing. It was overcast at first then sunny the next morning and then very overcast again. So we decided to go to Charters Towers to buy a new set of tyres as the old Eldorados had come to the end of their life. We visited the information centre, bought books including Camps 5 (at last!), food, and a new set of Maxxis Bravo tyres. Then we had a roast chicken counter lunch at the Waverly Hotel and then it was 42km back to camp to do washing, battery charging, reading and snoozing. The next day Jude painted and I started reading my book, Source of the Nile by Sir Richard Burton, an explorer dating back to the 1850‘s. Jeddah stayed with Jude at the painting site near the creek. She was sleeping close to the embankment and rolled over in her sleep into the creek. What an embarrassed looking dog!!! Later we gave her a bath as she was becoming a tad smelly. She was not impressed with two dunkings in one day! Jude did a lovely painting of Fletcher Creek, which is still running at this time of the year. After lunch we did more reading and tried a snooze but Jeddah barked at passers-by and circumvented that.
We had a hot solar shower in the pterodactyl which refreshed us both. Later in the afternoon two vans pulled in either side of us and started up their generators. This pissed us off big time and although we were in the beginning of cooking tea we packed up and left, making for the Basalt Wall road a short distance away and also away from the constant noise of campers in exchange for the quiet of the bush. Tomorrow we will have new adventures. The Kookaburras serenaded us at sunset as we sipped our red wine.
Once back in Charters Towers the following morning and a refuel, we drove along the road to Townsville and called in to the Marcossan, free campsite, near the Burdekin Railway Bridge. I drove down a grassy track to a dead end and had to make a seven point turn to get the rig around facing the way we came again.
Luckily the van is only relatively small and easy to turn around. Other places along the river looked unexciting and the ablution block stank, so we decided that this place was no good to our liking. We returned to the main road and at Mingela we turned south after having smoko in front of the local pub. The next town was Ravenswood, a historic mining town with quaint buildings and an olde-world look about it. There is a new operational mine nearby. The Showgrounds caters for campers in an oval fashion but it did not appeal to us and we pressed on to Burdekin Falls Dam. The countryside is heavily wooded with grasslands interspersed in between. Brahman-cross cattle range the bush. At the dam we drove around to look at all aspects of it and including the Lookout Platform and we also drove below the spillway to see the falls and the road to the south.
Then we made for the caravan park which is the only commercial facility at the dam and pulled up next to a camp with a Nissan the same colour as ours. Our neighbours were into fishing and had a car topper and outboard and I was absolutely amazed at all the gear they carried. The weather was spitting rain and it was not much better the following day. We had lots of chats with our neighbours about this and that.
Our next drive and we took the road south from Burdekin Falls Dam. The weather fined up. The first 20km along the Collinsville Road was up and down with some quite sharp dips. I found a Landcruiser which had rolled over the edge of a jump-up. It looked quite recent. Put my shoes on to scramble down the hill to see if there was anybody in it but there was no sign of anyone or bloodstains so we assumed all was OK. The engine was cold. It was obviously a station vehicle judging by the tray. There was also a motorbike on the back albeit a tad squashed. The road to the Collinsville turnoff was basically 40kmh stuff. I had let the tyres down to 28psi to smooth the ride out. From the Collinsville turnoff to Mt Connell the road was slightly better with less dips and a smoother surface. Mt Connell is an old mining town, now pretty much derelict. I asked about bitumen at the Mt Connell Roadhouse, if you could call it that and received a blank stare. No, there wasn’t any bitumen on the road towards Nebo. So off we went. There was bitumen for about a kilometre and then a good gravel road for around 105km. Lots of mining activity out there. The bitumen started again near the Burton Coal Mine and very soon we were at Lake Elphinstone free camp. There were about 20 camps. Lots of Jetski activities and boats and canoes, with kids having lots of fun. A V8 ski boat with kids in tow and with doof-doof music blaring also cruised the lake annoying some people. The amenities block was a bit sad but there was water on tap and also rainwater in a tank. After setting up camp we discovered that the caravan water pump hose had broken at the tank outlet and that we had lost all of our water. The plastic must have gone brittle. Much fiddling with and breaking more bits and getting cranky ensued, but it was repaired with epoxy within an hour and later it was holding water again. The radio aerial holder was also broken so that was repaired as well.
Our camp is right on the water and in a Kookaburra zone. There are also Hardhead Ducks with seven ducklings, Pacific Black Ducks, Grey Teal ducks, Darters, Honeyeaters, Magpies, Butcherbirds, Peewees, Lorikeets, Galahs, Cotton Pygmy Geese, Australian Shoveller duck and the inevitable Crows. The countryside was quite pretty on the way to Lake Elphinstone, with stands of eucalypt trees and grasslands. Quite a bit of traffic went past up until around 8pm and then it quietened down until around 4.30am again. The days were quite nice at Lake Elphinstone, which is a locality and not a town as marked on our maps. Wood was scarce for fires. And sandflies got active after dark. Jeddah and I went for a walk in the long grass to look for more wood but came away with only a few sticks, We stayed there for five days just taking things easy. Managed to do some repairs to the caravan stove whilst in camp as the framework supporting the stove had come adrift no doubt due to the corrugations on some of the roads we have traversed to date. For the rest Judith painted some scenes and even sold a painting to a local whilst I sat and read, did some bird-watching and spent my time moving the solar panel around. The last day at Lake Elphinstone turned cold. Friends from Darwin who were on holidays in Queensland, called in and had tea with us. The cold day had turned into a bitterly cold day with a very thick mist covering the valley.
Our next journey took us further south to Dawson River free camp seven kilometres west of Moura. We had arranged to meet our long time market friends at this place as they were camped there as well. Our journey took us along the road to The Junction, past the town of Nebo and then south down the Fitzroy Development road. We bypassed the town of Middlemount before reaching Dingo on the Capricorn Highway. There was nowhere to stop along the Fitzroy Development Road except for truck turnouts and we wanted to have a cuppa. Eventually I spied a gravel pit and drove in. It had rained the night before and the ground consisted of damp clay, which made movement outside very tacky. Jeddah managed to get her paws full of clay and we had to wash then with warm water much to her disgust! Before Duaringa the Fitzroy Development Road did a dog-leg south again and we went that way. The last 20 km was gravel road before we joined up with the Dawson Highway at Bauhinia Downs. That road must be the worst stretch of bitumen in Australia with bumps and potholes everywhere! The Dawson River free campsite is covered with black soil and after a light shower of rain made for a very muddy and tacky encounter. We had a good time however, with our friends. Generator noise is still a problem at these campsites and a bloke with a particularly noisy one was told off by someone else in a loud voice. The generator went quiet it was relatively peaceful after that.
The next day we passed through the towns of Moura and Biloela. These towns have grown exponentially due to mining activity in the region. We visited Mount Scoria, which used to be called the Singing Mountain. When we visited it last in 1996, you could play a tune on the rhiolite rocks sticking out of the surface at the apex of the hill. Now the place is a conservation park with signs everywhere and a local aboriginal interpretation of the area and no mention of the sound qualities of the mount.
We followed back roads from there to get back to the Burnett Hwy. At Monto I enquired after the road to Gin Gin and Bundaberg via Mount Perry and found out that there was a newly built and sealed road going that way, as the alternative route via Biggenden and Childers was around 100 km further. We stopped for a break at Ceradotus free campsite at the Burnett River crossing and then took the road to Gin Gin and Bundaberg via Mount Perry. There were a few steep pinches that required shifting down to second gear but nothing too serious. We stayed with friends on the outskirts of Bundaberg for a few days. Our journey further south took us to Burrum Heads, Toogoom, Hervey Bay and Maryborough before we crossed the Bruce Highway again to join up with the Wide Bay Highway. We were not impressed with the coastal development of the Hervey Bay area. Everything looked so artificial to us. We visited friends at Wondai and stayed there for two nights. We picked up the Brisbane Valley Highway out of Nanango and drove down the ranges across the Wivenhoe Dam barrage to visit friends on the slopes of Mount Stradbroke near Fernvale. Their property lies quite high on the slopes of the mount and I had to resort to low range gears to drag the van up the hill. The view from their veranda is quite spectacular. Still heading south we drove the Scenic Rim route from Marburg to Boonah and Rathdowney where we stopped over with friends.
They kindly agreed to store our van for a few days while we drove to Tweed Heads to attend to some family business. We took the Lion Road across the ranges and through the Border Ranges National Park which was quite spectacular. New bridges have been built on the Queensland side of the ranges but the road from the border crossing to Kyogle and Murwillumbah leaves a lot to be desired with uneven and bumpy surfaces. The drive is very spectacular however and as we drove it on a Sunday it was popular with bikers swinging their way through the numerous twists, turns and hairpin bends. Along the way the Border Railway Loop is visible from a lookout where you can see part of the figure 8 loop through some tunnels which gives trains an easier gradient climb across the ranges.
Once in the hub of the Tweed the traffic turned to frantic and we longed to get back to the bush and its quieter ways.