Queensland

Camooweal

 

Camooweal, a stone’s throw from the Northern Territory border, is as far west as you can go in Queensland and still be in Queensland. We set off along the Barkly Highway one morning to visit this interesting outback town.

Along the Barkly Highway

The Barkly Highway stretches from Threeways Roadhouse, north of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory to Cloncurry in Western Queensland, a distance of approximately 762 kilometres (474 miles) and crosses the mighty Barkly Tablelands, an area of over 100,000 square kilometres (38,610 square miles) of golden grasslands and some of the biggest cattle stations in Australia. An early start saw us get away from Three­ways at about a quarter to 8 in the morning. We had a long day in front of us with 442 kilometres (274 miles) to the Queensland border and from there another 12 kilometres (7 miles) to Camooweal. With only one night in there, we wanted to get in early enough to have a look around.

A coffee break at the Barkly Homestead

Like all such roads in the outback, the Barkly Highway has some incredibly long, straight stretches of road. I can certainly see how easy it would be to nod off and, in fact, I did once or twice. We’d travelled almost 190 kilometres (118 miles) when we came to the Barkly Homestead Roadhouse, situated at the intersection of the Barkly and Tablelands Highways. The only roadhouse between the Stuart Highway and the Queensland border, the Barkly Homestead is a welcome sight. We stopped for a coffee break and to stretch our legs and after about a half hour were back on the road again. Along the highway from the roadhouse to the border there is nothing to see except the dusty red landscape; no towns, no houses, and very few people. 

Welcome to Queensland

A lonely stretch of road

We stopped at a lonely roadside rest area for lunch and it wasn’t until we were leaving that another vehicle pulled in. But by then we didn’t have far to go and we crossed over the border less than 90 minutes later. Of course, to me this was a photo opportunity that I wasn’t going to pass up and we stopped for a short while on the side of the road. Finally, with several photos in the camera, we were back on the road and arrived in Camooweal a few minutes later. Camooweal is the town that proudly declares itself as the ‘Gateway to the Northern Territory and Queensland’ and is reputed to have the longest main street in the world. At almost 200 kilometres (124 miles) long, it stretches from the border to Mt Isa. The highway between Camooweal and Mt Isa is known to the locals as “Tojo’s Highway” because it was built during World War II with American funds and was supposedly the link between the southern states and the “front line”.

Exploring Camooweal

We checked in to the Camooweal Roadhouse Caravan Park ([star][star][star_half]) and, after talking to the fellow running the place, decided to go and have a look at the national park. The Camooweal Caves National Park sounded interesting with its sink holes and caves and as it was already late in the day we knew we wouldn’t have too much time for exploring. I’d never seen a sink hole and a cave was where the bad guy always hid in the movies so I was quite looking forward to seeing the place.

One of the Nowranie Caves in Camooweal Caves National Park

Camooweal Caves National Park

This whole district is honeycombed with sink holes and caves, some dating back to the Cambrian period, around 500-million years ago. There are approximately 80 confirmed caves, the majority right there in the National Park, and an aerial study conducted in the 1970’s revealed possibly 67 more. The caves are not accessible to visitors but if you could descend some of the way into them and explore, I wonder what secrets these ancient landmarks would give up. What stories would they have to tell?

 

Another unsealed road! Oh joy!

The National Park is 13800 hectares (34100 acres) and is roughly 24 kilometres (15 miles) from town. Most of the way the road is unsealed but not rough and our passage was marked by the great plume of red dust that we left in our wake! I was glad that we didn’t have the van with us; I am so tired of cleaning dust out of every nook and cranny! There were definitely no worries about parking at the caves; our car was the only one there.

The caves

John and I walked over to, and around, one or two of the larger caves but there are plenty of warning signs advising people to stay away from the edge as it’s not safe. They were warnings that we definitely heeded. Some of these sink holes are 75 metres (approximately 250 feet) deep and you really don’t want to fall in one or have the edge crumble from under your feet. Something like that could totally spoil your evening for you! There are three major caves in the national park, the Great Nowranie Cave, Little Nowranie Cave, and Five O’Clock Cave. One or two others can be found in the Camooweal Town Reserve east of the town. 

Nowranie Waterhole

Nowranie Waterhole, a sparkling expanse of water!

On our way back to camp we stopped for a few moments at the Nowranie Waterhole, 14 kilometres (8½ miles) from the park entrance. There is a camping area beside the waterhole and a couple of campers were already set up for the night. But the waterhole itself was a revelation. Surrounded by leafy trees and with the banks covered in green grass, it was absolutely beautiful. The water sparkled in the late afternoon sun and it was perfect. We considered ourselves lucky to have seen it like this; the campers were telling us that the waterhole has water in it for only a few short weeks each year, just after the wet season, and that within a couple of months there won’t even be so much as a trickle in there.

First night bubbly with Two Tails

A frog in the shower! 

The sun was setting and we didn’t want to have to try to negotiate an unfamiliar track in the dark so we took our leave of the waterhole and made our way back to camp. Our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine was chilling nicely and we watched the sunset as we toasted a new caravan park in our first night ritual. It had been a long day and I was looking forward to a quiet evening and a nice hot shower. There’s something so relaxing about standing under the stream of hot water . . . that is until a big green tree frog landed at my feet! I don’t know who got the bigger fright, it or me! Needless to say, I figured if it wanted the shower so badly that it couldn’t wait for me to finish then it was welcome to it! Camooweal has a population of only 236 but even so, there’s still quite a lot to see and do. Given more time I would have liked to visit the Barkly Heritage Centre and Museum, where you can take a tour through the regions droving past, and the Riversleigh World Heritage Fossil Fields, the site of some of the most unique fossils in Australia. But it wasn’t to be this time. Perhaps next time . . .

 2009

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

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Charleville

 

The Warrego Highway to Charleville is a dead straight, fairly monotonous road and no speed limit as far as we knew. We learned early to get out of the way of those roadtrain-cattle trucks that came thundering along; I started to believe that some of those truck drivers were frustrated fighter pilots!

Charleville is a town with a long history

I was really looking forward to our stay in Charleville, a town I’d heard so much about when I was growing up. The history of this region dates back thousands of years with aboriginal people living in this area for generations. With its flat plains and mulga forests, it is a great habitat for wildlife and that meant good hunting. Charleville’s recent history began in 1847 when the first European explorers arrived and in 1865 several hundred acres was set aside for the township. It wasn’t until 1868 however that the town was surveyed and building commenced. Today, this great little outback town is a major community in Outback Queensland.

A favourite caravan park in Charleville

The day had started out sunny and warm but as we’d been travelling we’d been watching the clouds build up for some time and finally, when we were about 30 kilometres (18 miles) out of Charleville, the heavens opened up. Just great! We arrived early afternoon and checked in at the Bailey Bar Caravan Park ([star][star][star][star]) in King Street. The park is big and well laid out and they frequently offer some true outback entertainment in the winter months with a “happy hour” and a bush poet. It didn’t take long for us to set up camp but the rain kept tumbling down and our plans to visit Charleville’s “star” attraction, the Cosmos Centre, that evening were rapidly falling apart. With the heavy cloud and rain falling steadily, it didn’t look good and our spirits were just about as gloomy as the overcast. 

First night bubbly with Two Tails

A beer for Dad at the Hotel Charleville

When I was growing up my Dad used to talk about Charleville and particularly the Hotel Charleville and how much he would like to visit there. Sadly he passed away before he could do that but I thought I would like to go down and visit the hotel and so later that afternoon we drove into town, to the Hotel Charleville, to have a drink for Dad; I think he would have liked that. I was very surprised to find that we were the only one’s there, after all, it was a Friday evening and I really thought the place would have been crowded. Oh well, times change, I guess. 

Charleville Hotel

First night bubbly in Charleville

When we returned to camp we settled in for a quiet evening with dinner and our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine. With the rain still falling and the temperature having dropped dramatically, staying indoors was a good idea.

An early start

We weren’t late getting to bed that night but getting John up early is no easy task, even though he was the one who wanted to go shopping to buy a pair of jeans. Still, he groaned and complained and didn’t want to move until I explained to him that this is Outback Queensland; there’s no Saturday afternoon shopping here and if he wanted his jeans and, more importantly, if he wanted to eat that night, then we had to go shopping now! The rain was gone and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky on what promised to be a beautiful day as we set off for town.

Saturday morning shopping in Charleville

The hustle and bustle (!) of Saturday morning shopping in Charleville was an experience. We found a place to park without having to drive around for half an hour, there were no long lines at the store check-outs, almost everyone smiled and said “g’day”, total strangers would have a chat, and absolutely no one seemed to be in a hurry! It was like being on another planet and we loved every minute of it!

Vortex Rainmaking Guns

Rainmaking Guns? 

Our shopping done, it was time to do a little exploring and we set off for Graham Andrews Parkland to see Charleville’s famous Vortex Rainmaking Guns. Part of the fascinating history of Charleville, in 1902 the state was in the grip of a crippling drought and the desperation to produce rain led to a somewhat unique solution.  Queensland’s first Government Meteorologist, Mr. Clement Wragge, began experimenting with the Steiger Vortex Guns, designed to break up hail over vineyards in Italy. He had six of these guns made in the vain hope that they would produce rain.

Who pulled the trigger?

These vertical guns were placed throughout Charleville with their barrels pointing directly up into the sky.  They were charged with gunpowder and when they were fired the resulting explosion would change the atmospheric pressure and therefore produce rain. Well, that was the theory, anyway. History doesn’t record the name of the man who “pulled the trigger”, so to speak, or whether he survived the blast. Suffice to say, the experiment was a dismal failure and the drought continued for some time. Today, only two of the guns remain intact and they’re proudly preserved and displayed in the park. Mr. Wragge, however, was not forgotten for his efforts and he became the first person to name a cyclone in Australia. Initially he named them after politicians because he said they were both natural disasters and blowhards! 

Charleville Historical Museum

History comes to life at the Charleville Historical Museum

Our next stop was The Charleville Historical Museum. Historic House, which houses the museum, is the oldest permanent building in Charleville. It began its long life as a modern banking chambers and manager’s residence in 1888 and continued until 1942 when it was purchased as a private residence. It wasn’t until 1973 when the property was purchased by the Charleville and District Historical and Cultural Society that the museum was born. Over the years it has collected all manner of things from bric-a-brac to a fully operational 1923 Dennis Fire Engine. There is a Marshall Portable Steam Engine and a replica Cobb & Co coach as well as the original charge room from the local police station in the grounds. We spent some time looking at books, maps, and personal papers, including letters, that are more than 100 years old and these, alone, are quite valuable in terms of their historical significance. I read some pages of a diary that had belonged to a lady who called her husband “Mr. Carson” from the time they first met until the day she died. A different time, indeed. 

Charleville Town Hall complete with kangaroo in top hat

A story from the Dreamtime

The streets of Charleville have many carved statues that depict native animals in curiously human ways, for example, a kangaroo in a top hat. It’s different and contributes to the friendly and cheerful atmosphere in the town. The mosaics embedded in the footpaths (sidewalks) tell stories of the Dreamtime and how those animals came to be here. The culture of the Outback revolves very much around the Aboriginal people and one of my favourite Dreamtime stories tells of how the turtle got those markings on his back. It seems that Emu and Turtle were enemies and Emu was running away from Turtle but she needed to let her friends know where she was. She needed to draw a map and leave it in a place where Turtle would never see it and so she drew it on his back.

Fishing in Charleville? Oh yes!

It was while we were at the Museum that John struck up a conversation with one of the locals. Now, this man, who had absolutely no idea that he was standing on very thin ice, informed John that this was the weekend of the Annual Charleville Fishing Competition. And so, with John armed with bait and me with gritted teeth, that afternoon we spent a couple of hours on the banks of the Maranoa River, with the usual results I might add. There were several people there for the competition and the odd shout meant that somebody did catch something but the water was still very muddy from recent rains and I expect that any fish caught were soon thrown back in. 

The Cosmos Centre

The Cosmos Centre

But, for me, Charleville has but one attraction, the Cosmos Centre. And nothing was going to keep me from it. Located on the outskirts of town next to the Bureau of Meteorology and Charleville Airport, the unique design of the building is supposed to represent a spiral galaxy. We arrived for the night show with only a few minutes to spare before the start and the crowded parking lot meant it was definitely a full house. A moonless, cloudless night, it promised to be fantastic. 

Lost among the stars

We were escorted to the open air observatory and given a talk by a couple of the Astronomers there before they set up the digital telescopes for our first look at the skies. The unique location of the Cosmos Centre’s Observatory meant there was no unnecessary light from traffic or the town to dazzle us and spoil our night vision. And flash photography during the show was a definite no-no. The only dazzling was from those distant pinpoints of light above us. This was not a new experience for me by any stretch of the imagination but for John it was all new. Yes, he was a Galactic Virgin! He was amazed as he tracked in on objects never seen with the naked eye. The unimaginable distances were mind-boggling.

Diamonds scattered across the sky

With the guidance of the Astronomers we looked at an object called Orion’s Nursery where new stars are born and a nebula called a Globular Cluster where stars are dying. Another nebula called The Jewel Box has literally millions and millions of stars and they look like diamonds scattered across the sky. And then we had a look at our next door neighbour, the nearest star to us other than our own sun, Alpha Centauri, a mere 44 trillion kilometres away (don’t even ask me to work that out in miles!) Alpha is a binary system with two stars orbiting around each other. It takes 88 years to complete one orbit and there is only 3 billion kilometres between them. It would be cataclysmic if one of them wobbled! 

Telescopes at the Cosmos Centre ready for the night show (photo courtesy of Tourism Queensland)

Our celestial neighbours

Then we were looking in our own back yard at Jupiter and a couple of her moons, and Saturn in its 1-in-14 year configuration (side on like a dinner plate on its edge). The Astronomers finally turned our attention to the constellation of Scorpio, rather fitting as it is John’s star sign and it was while all eyes were turned to the heavens that we saw a brilliant shooting star. It was a perfect end to the evening and we couldn’t have asked for more. Our sixty minutes seem to have flown by and all too soon it was time to leave but the day show promised to be . . . well, if not as spectacular, at least close and on our way out we purchased tickets for the next day. The heavens had smiled on us, weather-wise, but sometime during the night the clouds rolled in and the rain started again.

It’s all out of this world!

It was late morning when we set off for the Cosmos Centre and the day show and the grey, dull day was the furthest thing from my mind. We spent several hours wandering around, and playing with, all the interactive displays and even got to hold a meteorite in our hands. The staff were very helpful and friendly, answering our questions with patience for they must have been asked the same questions by tourists every single day. Lunch time came and went with a quick snack in the café and the day wore on. I didn’t want to leave; there is so much to see and do here. But we couldn’t stay all day and John was starting to make grumbling noises about his head spinning from it all and so it was time to go.

Yabby races at the Bailey Bar!

The sky was still overcast when we left the Centre and returned to our camp. John had heard about Bailey Bar’s yabby races and was anxious to see for himself and maybe even have a bet on a race. Well, he didn’t have any better luck with a yabby than he did with a fishing rod but he had fun and it was all in aid of a good cause; all proceeds went to the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Our few days in Charleville had been magical but it was now time to move on and we spent the late afternoon and evening packing up the camp for an early start. The sun was attempting to peek through the clouds and it looked like the rain was clearing as we settled back for a quiet evening. Perhaps one day we’ll back. I hope so; there’s much more to Charleville than our few days allowed.

 2009

 

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

 

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Cloncurry

 

Known as the “Friendly Heart of the Great North West, Cloncurry is an area rich in minerals and history. Sitting on the crossroads of the Matilda Highway and the Overlander Way, its main indus­tries are copper and gold mining and cattle. Our visit here was only going to be a brief one, just one night, but we made sure we arrived early enough to do some exploring.

Australia’s own: RFDS and Qantas

The birthplace of the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the destination of the first QANTAS flight, Cloncurry has played a major part in shaping Australia’s identity. Copper was dis­covered in the region in 1867 and the Great Australia Mine still exists today. Each year in July the Rockhana Festival showcases local minerals and gems and for 3 days the dazzling display is available to see, perhaps to touch, and even to purchase. 

Exploring Cloncurry

After checking in at the Gilbert Park Tourist Village ([star][star][star][star_half]) we set off to see what there was to see in this charming little outback town, starting with the historic QANTAS han­gar at the Cloncurry airport. Located at the hangar are some commemorative monuments depicting some important events in Australia’s aviation history and I was looking forward to seeing them but the place was closed when we got there. The airport is, apparently, usually really busy with flights in from places such as Brisbane, Townsville, and Cairns, and is the base for a local mustering company. But not this day it seemed.

Historic Qantas Hangar

A museum of the Outback

John Flynn Place is a museum dedicated to the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the man who started it, the bush clergyman Reverend John Flynn. The RFDS began on May 17, 1928 and is a crucial part of Outback life. The museum would, undoubtedly, be a fascinating look at life in the outback from the turn of the last century right up to today. There are many exhibitions including personal memorabilia and photographs of Flynn himself. The Fred McKay Art Gallery is also part of the museum and is named for the Rev. Fred McKay who, in the 1930’s in conjunction with the RFDS, began an aerial service delivering standard religious services (weddings, baptisms, and funerals) to out­lying areas. But today wasn’t our day and we missed the museum and gallery as well. Everything must close early here on a Friday! 

Mary Kathleen Memorial Park (photo courtesy of Tourism Queensland)

A ghost town memorial

An outdoor museum can be found at Mary Kathleen Memorial Park.  The memorial pays tribute to the town of Mary Kathleen, once a thriving mining community and now, an eerie ghost town. On display are many artefacts and relics from the town, including some original buildings. One of these buildings houses historical photographs and memo­rabilia from throughout the region and its prized possession is explorer Robert O’Hara Burke’s waterbottle. There are many things to see and do here but with only this day, and being late afternoon already, our options were definitely limited.

The Gidgee Gun

The local pub seemed to be the place everyone gravitated towards and it was here that we dis­covered the Gidgee Gun. An amazing piece of technology designed to help the local indigenous population in their hunting, this spear set with telescopic sights is a classic. Proudly displayed above the bar at the pub, it truly is one of a kind! 

The Gidgee Gun

The “Curry”

On our return to camp we opened our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine for our first night bubbly and then took a stroll over to have a look at Sunset Rock but the sun was setting and I didn’t feel like negotiating the track back after dark so we didn’t go too far. There’s a fascinating amount of history here that we didn’t get to see in our short visit, including the courthouse which is one of Cloncurry’s oldest buildings, and the post office, built in 1885.Known affectionately by the locals as “The Curry”, Cloncurry is a town I could come back to at some time and when we do we plan to stay a bit longer. Maybe we’ll see you there!

First night bubbly with Two Tails

2009

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

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Cunnamulla

Mention Cunnamulla and you automatically think of the Outback. Hundreds of kilometres of red dust and clear blue skies that stretch forever belie the thriving township that survives out here in this vast hot land. Situated in the mulga belt of South-West Queensland, the region supports the mulga tree, one of the acacia family, and is home to a diverse range of animals from mammals and reptiles to amphibians. Our

travels would take us to Cunnamulla this day and we’d been on the road for a little over two hours when we reached the town of Thargomindah where we decided to stop for a break. Thargomindah, from the Aboriginal word meaning “cloud of dust”, is a modern country town approximately 1000 kilometres (621 miles) west of Brisbane, and only a short distance, as the crow flies, from the historic Burke & Wills “Dig Tree” on Cooper Creek at Nappa Merrie Station. We filled up with fuel, had a coffee in the café, and were back on the road after about 30 minutes. The road was again long and straight in parts but at least we could see any animals that might have been along the sides. And there were quite a few, from sheep to kangaroos.

Graffiti with class

Caravan park in Cunnamulla

We arrived in Cunnamulla about mid-afternoon and settled in at the Jack Tonkin Cabins and Caravan Park ([star][star][star]). It’s a nice little park but the attitude in reception did little to make us feel welcome. That said, we set up camp and then went off to explore. Cunnamulla originated as a settlement in the 1860’s at the intersection of two major stock routes. The name is derived from the Aboriginal term meaning “long stretch of water” referring to the Warrego River which passes through the town.

Exploring Cunnamulla

We wandered down to the river and John even thought he might like to throw a line in, no doubt with the usual outcome, but then decided not to. The water was a coffee colour, most likely from the rain they’d had recently although one of the locals did mention that there is a lot of European carp in there and they tend to mess up the bottom and make the water muddy. So we continued on into the town itself and visited a park where there is a rotunda and a memorial to those who served in time of war. There’s also some quite interesting wall-art. Graffiti with class, no less!

The Cunnamulla Fella, part of the Australian legend

At the Cunnamulla Fella Centre we found the magnificent bronze statue to the “Cunnamulla Fella”. In the boom times of the 1950’s and 1960’s large properties in the area employed hundreds of young men who worked from sun up to sun down, 7 days a week, mustering sheep and cattle and breaking in horses. When they came to town the pubs would overflow and the young fellas could be seen squatting around the streets in a pose that became part of the Australian legend and even today conjures up nostalgic images of stockmen and days gone by. In 2005, a statue commemorating these fellas was erected in the main street and called the “Cunnamulla Fella” and they were immortal­ised in the song “Cunnamulla Fella” by the legendary Slim Dusty and the song’s composer, Stan Coster.

“Well I’m a scrubber, runner, and a breaker too, I live on damper and wallaby stew                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           I’ve got a big cattle dog and a staghound cross, I never saw a scrubber we couldn’t toss                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Cause I’m the fella from Cunnamulla, Yes I’m the Cunnamulla fella”

First night bubbly with Two Tails

Cunnamulla was home to some famous folk from history

The Cunnamulla Fella Centre houses the Regional Art Gallery and Museum as well as displays  such as the Artesian Time Tunnel which tells of the dinosaurs that roamed Australia millions of years ago, the history of opal mining in the area, and the Great Artesian Basin. The water that flows from the Basin is the lifeblood of the Outback. There’s a lot of history in this town and it was once home to Breaker Morant and Nancy Bird-Walton, two of our most famous historical figures, as well as one of our nation’s great pastoralists, James Tyson. But late on a Sunday afternoon very little is open and we, unfortunately, missed a great deal.

The Cunnamulla Fella

Our first night bubbly in Cunnamulla

We returned to camp for our first night bubbly and wandered into the gardens where all the flowers and shrubs were in bloom. It was a perfect way to end our brief visit here, relaxing in the garden with a bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine. Perhaps one day we’ll return to Cunnamulla when we have more time; I have a feeling there’s more to this town than meets the eye and it would be great to spend a few days here.

2009

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

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Gold Coast

 

Queensland’s fabulous Gold Coast is, arguably, Australia’s premier holiday region. With a wonderful year-round climate, beautiful beaches, and brilliant nightlife, this is the holiday destination of choice for a vast number of Aussies, us included. We arrived at the Radisson Palm Meadows Resort ([star][star][star][star]) on a Saturday in late May. Only a few days away from the start of winter and the days were still sunny and warm with temperatures in the mid-20’s, Celsius, every day. It couldn’t have been more perfect.

So much to see and do

There is a multitude of things to see and do on the Gold Coast with more than 50 attractions right in the heart of Surfers Paradise and we were certainly spoiled for choice but with only a few days here we knew there was absolutely no possibility of seeing it all. In fact, we probably wouldn’t even see a tenth of it. Not that we wouldn’t try. But we decided that a visit to the beach was an absolute must, as was one of the theme parks. A canal cruise and some shopping in Surfers Paradise were also on the list and we were determined to sample some of the nightlife. 

Coolangatta Beach

A walk on the sand

The beginning of the strip known as the Gold Coast starts at Coolangatta, right on the New South Wales/Queensland border and stretches all the way to Southport in the north. The long, unending stretch of sandy beaches that give the region its name, and the surprisingly warm water, enticed us the next morning to take an early walk along the sand at Coolangatta Beach. With cooler weather not too far off, there were many swimmers and surfers making the most of the sparkling morning.

The “locals” at Currumbin

Currumbin Beach, a little further north, has a great picnic area overlooking the beach. Again there were quite a lot of surfers but not much in the way of waves. The sand close to the water’s edge is hard and very easy to walk on and there were quite a few people taking advantage of it, as we did. It was as we were leaving that we had an encounter with a few of the “locals”. Of course we gave them right of way on the 

The “locals”

road, it was obvious that they definitely had no road sense! They just wandered around like Brown’s cows! And right there on the road they were sitting ducks for any drivers who might have been travelling a bit fast. John said if they didn’t move they’d be dead ducks! (puns intended).

A shop-a-holic’s paradise!

Shopping on the Gold Coast is an experience not to be missed. There are several different centres and we chose Cavill Avenue, in Surfers Paradise. The Circle On Cavill is a brand new shopping and leisure precinct boasting an open-air piazza and video-screen entertainment. With all those stores, John made sure his credit cards were firmly out of my reach! There was ‘live’ entertainment, in the form of buskers, performing for the crowds around the piazza and a concert screening on the video-screen. We mingled with the crowd watching the concert for a short while before going for a walk around this vibrant part of the city.

Cavill Avenue, Surfers Paradise

Daring sideshow rides in Surfers Paradise

Not far from there we stopped at a fun park where a very brave young lady did a bungy jump, and forgot that she was wearing a skirt, and some adventurous young fellows rode something called the Sling Shot, which I think just about put them into orbit! Traipsing around Surfers Paradise and the shopping precinct all day had left us exhausted and so, laden down with a “few” souvenirs for the grandkids, we headed back to the resort and settled down with our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine to celebrate our arrival. One glass was enough to have me nodding off and it wasn’t long before I was tucked up in bed. The nightlife would have to wait for another time! 

First night bubbly with Two Tails

A visit to a theme park is a must

Three of Australia’s best-known theme parks can be found on the Gold Coast and deciding which one to visit was not at all difficult. In previous holidays here we’d each been to Seaworld and Dreamworld and so that left Movie World. The Batwing Spaceshot was the first ride we saw when we walked through the gate – were we going on it? Not a chance! We left that for the somewhat more adventurous types but we stood and watched those brave enough to ride on a rapid 4.5g vertical launch to the top of a 60-metre (200-foot) tower followed by a drop into a terrifying negative g descent! More than one of the people on the ride walked away from it on knees turned to jelly! As I said, I’m not that adventurous!

Rollercoasters. Only for the young and adventurous!

The Superman Escape rollercoaster is another ride that is out of this world! 0 – 100kph (60 mph) in 2, yes 2, seconds!  For those who like their rides a little less exciting there are several in the Looney Tunes Village, including the Looney Tunes River Ride. Now that was more my style! Although when we reached the end there was the possibility of a ride over a waterfall that didn’t thrill me. Luckily that didn’t happen.

A comedy of errors!

The shows beckoned and we went to the Police Academy Stunt Show that had us rolling around in laughter. It was a comedy of errors about a jailbreak and had everything from cars and motorcycles, not to mention a hapless sidecar passenger, to an exploding helicopter! It was a half hour of side-splitting fun and easily the most popular show there! Another of the popular shows is the Shrek 3-D Spectacular where, with the aid of special glasses, we had the characters on the screen virtually sitting in our laps! Outside the Shrek Show we ran into Scooby Doo and he was happy to pose for the cameras.

The Superman Escape

Howdy, pardner!

After lunch it was off to Wild West Falls for some cowboy fun! There’s a saloon (not a real one!), the Sheriff’s office, the Wild West Log Ride, and the Undertakers Shop. It was all quite authentic and it certainly wasn’t hard to picture a couple of gunfighters advancing on each other in the main street, or a fight in the saloon, or the bad guy in the black hat being shot and falling off the roof. Or the wagons circling before the Indian attack! Or John Wayne riding into town. You’re right, I’ve seen too many western movies!

A drenching is the reward

The Log Ride looked interesting and I thought I might like to give it a go, until I saw what happened at the end! The “log” would wind its way through the mountain and end with a rapid ride down the waterfall! The occupants of said log becoming drenched in the process. Now if the weather had been really hot I might have been tempted but . . . John decided to try out the wares at Custom Caskets and judging by the amount of dirt in the bottom of it I’d say he wasn’t the first one that day and probably wouldn’t be the last!

Movieworld Parade

A parade of cartoon characters

It was time for the parade and we joined the crowd along Main Street and waited for our favourite characters to come into view. From Austin Powers to Cat Woman and Daffy Duck, they were all there. For us it was the perfect end to a perfect day.

A cruise on the canals

The Gold Coast is home to 270 kilometres of navigable waterways, the Broadwater Canal, and there is no more pleasant way to see this part of the region than from a boat. And so, the next day we cruised aboard the MV Jindalee of Broadwater Canal Cruises along the canals and seaways. The Seaway provides safe ocean access for vessels of all types and a deep-water port for container ships. In our 2-hour cruise we saw some of the most expensive real estate we’ve ever seen. Some absolutely beautiful homes, many with their own boat ramps or docks, and boats moored and even the odd one or two with their own heli-pads and helicopters. Our skipper gave us a running commentary on many of the places we saw as well as a bit of information about the canals themselves and the view of the Surfers Paradise skyline from the water was amazing.

Surfers Paradise skyline from the Broadwater

Reaching for the sky

The tallest building on the Gold Coast is the Q1. At 80 storeys it is also the tallest residential building in the world. We cruised past the “Love Shack”, a boat that needs no explanation, and the Floating Chapel, which is the venue of choice for many weddings and christenings. Complete with resident Minister, this chapel cruises the waterways on a daily basis. Broadwater Canal Cruises operates 3 2-hour cruises every day, morning, afternoon, and sunset, and provides morning and afternoon tea and a complimentary glass of champagne on the sunset cruise.  

Southport Bar

After our cruise we drove out along The Spit to a park overlooking the Southport Bar where we watched some fellows on surf skis and the boats coming and going while we had lunch. There were also people in the water swimming across the mouth. I thought that they were either very brave or very foolish, depending on whether or not they made it safely. 

Conrad Jupiters Casino (photo courtesy Gold Coast Tourism)

A visit to Jupiters

No visit to the Gold Coast is complete without sampling some of the nightlife and we took ourselves off to Conrad Jupiters Casino for dinner, entertainment, and, of course, a visit to the casino. Never having been that interested in gambling before, we were fascinated. We stayed for a while in the casino, watching others more than doing any gambling ourselves although that’s not to say we didn’t have a flutter but I was amazed at the amount of money being lost at the tables.

The show left us breathless!

The show currently playing was Zingara, the fantasy story of a gypsy queen and for a while we were transported to the Europe of old in “a journey filled with music, dance, illusion, acrobatics, and death-defying stunts” that left us breathless. Jupiters is on the Gold Coast Highway at Broadbeach and, believe me, you can’t miss it. It’s bounded on 3 sides by the canals so it’s almost an island unto itself. There are several restaurants and we decided on Zen, reputed to have the best Chinese anywhere on the Gold Coast. We certainly weren’t disappointed; I can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed Asian food so much.

Tamborine Mountain

The Gold Coast isn’t only about beautiful beaches and waterways. About an hours drive west of Surfers Paradise is the stunning Hinterland. An area of approximately 7,000 square kilometres (2700 square miles) includes mountain ranges, 7 national parks, and World Heritage rainforests. The Lamington National Park encloses Australia’s largest preserved stand of subtropical rainforest. Tamborine Mountain is a great place to stop for a picnic and to visit the many craft workshops, wineries, and galleries. And there are some spectacular views towards the Pacific Ocean and Mt Warning.

The view of the hinterland from Mt Tamborine

Chilly on the mountain

We stopped for a coffee break in the park and as soon as we got out of the car we were reminded that winter is just around the corner and we hastily donned our sweaters. In spite of the chill, it was lovely and I can imagine how beautiful it must be in the winter even though I doubt that they see snow in this area.

Glow little glow worm

Also in this region, Australia’s largest glow worm colony makes its home in the Natural Arch Cave where a spectacular waterfall cascades through the roof and into an icy pool. There are guided tours through the rainforests of the Springbrook Plateau into the Natural Arch to see the glow worms in their natural habitat. At Cedar Creek Winery we ventured into the artificial Glow Worm Cave. Glow worms of course, are best viewed at night but the conditions in these caves allow for viewing at any time. The idea for an artificial cave arose from concern over increased tourism in the Tamborine National Park at night and it has proved to be extremely popular with tourists.

Perfect all year round

The Gold Coast stretches from the New South Wales border in the south to Southport in the north, a distance of some 25 kilometres (15 miles). To coin a phrase, we barely scratched the surface of things to see and do here but we tried to fit in a good cross-section of the Coast. We had a fantastic few days and with the wonderful diversity of attractions and places to visit, and the perfect year-round climate, how could you not have a great holiday?

2007

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

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Hughenden

100 million years ago the Hughenden region was part of a great prehistoric inland sea. The giant Muttaburrasaurus roamed the shore and the skies were ruled by mighty Pterosaurs. Today, Hughenden embraces the spirit of the outback like no other place and there’s not a dinosaur in sight. Well, not a real one, anyway. We arrived in Hughenden just before lunch and checked into the Allen Terry Caravan Park ([star][star][star]). Then it was off to town for a look around.

Greeted by a dinosaur!

The first thing you see when you drive down the main street is Mutt the Muttaburra-saurus. A life-sized replica of the dinosaur that was discovered in this area holds pride of place at the town’s main intersection.  In the Flinders Discovery Centre there is a replica of the skeleton of the dinosaur, known as “Hughie”. The original bones were apparently too heavy to be housed here and are now in the Queensland Museum in Brisbane. This fibre-glass re-creation is most impressive and is an exact copy, right down to the smallest detail.

“Mutt” the Muttaburrasaurus

Big! But was he friendly?

Muttaburrasaurus wasn’t carnivorous but at 2 storeys high, 7 metres (23 feet) long, and weighing 40 tonnes (44 tons), he wouldn’t need to be. I wouldn’t like to meet him on a dark night . . . or even in the middle of the day! The history of Hughenden, the town, goes back to the late 1800’s but the prehistoric history is over a 100-million years. The first fossil to be discovered in this area was an Ichthyosaurus, found on the bed of the usually dry Flinders River in 1865. Over the years many more fragments of bone were recovered at various locations around Hughenden and in 1899 a piece of the jawbone of the giant Plesiosaur Kronosaurus was found. But it wasn’t until 1963 that fragments of the dinosaur Muttaburrasaurus were discovered near the town of, appropriately named, Muttaburra and even more fragments were found scattered, as recently as 1987, throughout the Hughenden area suggesting that the mighty Muttaburrasaurus may have had the widest range of any dinosaur in Australia.

Take a step back in time at the Flinders Discovery Centre

Making our way past “Hughie” we took a step back over millions of years as we viewed hundreds of

“Hughie”

fossils, each superbly displayed in a glass cabinet. We wandered through the displays and watched an amazing show that took us back over 500-million years to the formation of Porcupine Gorge, one of the area’s premier attractions.

Hughenden’s prehistoric past

The streets of Hughenden feature a series of sculptures from local artists, each one depicting something from the  prehistoric past with just a touch of the outback thrown in. All are made from junk metal and the Federation Rotunda in Brodie Street is constructed from two 6-metre (20-foot) windmills. Under the Rotunda’s curved roof is some original bush furniture. But we discovered, as with most of the small country towns we’ve been to, Hughenden seemed to close down on Saturday afternoon. By 1:00 the town was all but deserted. About the only place left open was the pub.

Porcupine Gorge 

We didn’t want to go into the pub and we didn’t feel like a drive out to Porcupine Gorge, approximately an hour away, but in hindsight we should have. Known as Australia’s “Little Grand Canyon”, it boasts a clear flowing creek, towering cliffs of brilliantly coloured sandstone, and dense vegetation which is in striking contrast to the dry, flat plains that surround it and with only this one afternoon here, not seeing Porcupine Gorge was a mistake. Porcupine Gorge National Park is a hidden canyon north of Hughenden. Carved out over time, it reveals layers of basalt and coloured sandstone and we were sorry to have missed it.

First night bubbly with Two Tails

Dinner in Hughenden

The township of Hughenden was established in 1876 and in 1887 the town began to grow as an important railhead for the Great Northern Railway. Today, Hughenden has a population of about 1200 and is surrounded by 4 national parks and a nature reserve. For our one and only night in Hughenden we decided on dinner at the Great Western Hotel. But before we left we toasted our arrival in Hughenden with our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine. Well, our meal at the hotel was enjoyable and the evening very pleasant but this is not a town with a great nightlife and so we returned to camp for a relatively quiet evening. Perhaps one day we’ll return here and when . . . if we do, Porcupine Gorge is an absolute must-see.

2009

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

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Karumba

Karumba, on the Gulf of Carpentaria, is one of those places that anyone with a yen for fishing just has to visit. It’s a long way from anywhere but I’m reliably told (by my other half)) that it’s worth it. The Burke Developmental Road, also known as the Matilda Highway, is a long, lonely stretch of road with precious little to break the monotony. It was almost a relief when we arrived in the tiny village of Quamby and although we didn’t stop there, at least we had something else to look at, if only for a few moments. We’d driven about 180 kilometres (112 miles) when we arrived at the Burke & Wills Roadhouse and decided to stop for a coffee.

A long and boring stretch of road

Named for the ill-fated expedition that first crossed the Australian continent from south to north in 1860-61, the roadhouse is a most welcome stop on the long journey to the top. If I was finding this particular stretch of road long and boring I can’t begin to imagine what Burke and Wills must have thought of it. The Burke Developmental Road is interesting, to say the least. Sealed all the way, it is, nevertheless, very narrow in parts, and I imagine that passing a vehicle travelling in the opposite direction would be an event all on its own. There were signs advising travellers that road trains used this road; now that would have been really interesting!

Lunch stop in Normanton

John was anxious to get back on the road so we didn’t stay long. Karumba is number 3 on his list of places that he simply has to see and now that he was this close . . . well, nothing could hold him back. For

Crocodilke warning

our lunch stop in Normanton we stopped beside the Norman River, close to the Normanton Wetlands. Normally this would be an idyllic place to stop for lunch but the overcast and the fact that the river was terribly muddy from recent rains made it all appear in shades of grey.

A tasty morsel

John was fascinated with the river and wandered down for a closer look, taking care to keep watch for the ever-present threat of estuarine (saltwater) crocodiles that inhabit this area. I told him to take particular care; he might be a tasty morsel but he’s my tasty morsel and not for some hungry crocodile. Normanton is about 70 kilometres (42 miles) from Karumba so we knew we didn’t have far to go. It started to rain while we were having lunch, not heavy but enough to annoy and continued to sprinkle for the last leg of the journey into Karumba.

There’s something enticing about Karumba

We checked in to the Karumba Point Tourist Park ([star][star][star][star_half]) and I certainly didn’t relish a wet few days in a town where, if you’re not into fishing, there isn’t a heck of a lot to do but the rain was all but stopped by the time we had our camp set up although the clouds remained. We drove into town to see what was what and discovered an unimpressive little town that looks like it’s simply been thrown together, and haphazardly at that. A sign on the main road that just about sums it up: “Welcome to Karumba – population small”. But there is something enticing about the place, especially if you’re an angler. It’s exotic but laid-back, a welcome retreat with a frontier style atmosphere.  They say that one deep breath of the air here and Karumba gets into your blood. That probably explains why some people come back year after year.

First night bubbly with Two Tails

Dinner and first night bubbly in Karumba

We went into the town to Ash’s Café for a fish and chip dinner that first night and took our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine with us to celebrate a first night in Karumba. John, especially, was excited to be here and was looking forward to some great fishing.

Relax on the beach in Karumba

The next day was one of those days with nothing planned and nothing much to do, other than a little housekeeping, and it gave us a chance to recharge our batteries, so to speak. It seemed to me that we’d been going almost constantly since leaving home over a month ago and it was time for a break. As I said before, there’s not a lot to do in Karumba except relax and that was what I wanted to do. John went down to the beach to do some fishing – with the usual results I might add – but just sitting on the beach in the peace and quiet, watching the water in the beautiful Gulf of Carpentaria, did wonders for him. He came back, if not quite a new man, at least refreshed. It’s reasonably safe to fish from the beach at this time of the year but I imagine it wouldn’t be a terribly smart thing to do in the wet season, given the saltwater crocodiles. The only downside was the overcast; we were hoping the clouds would clear but they were being perverse!

Industry in Karumba

Karumba, popularly known as the Outback by the Sea, is the only port on the Gulf of Carpentaria. It was first established as a telegraph station in the 1870’s and is home to an amazing array of wildlife, not the least of which is the saltwater crocodiles that are so abundant in the Top End. In the 1960’s and 1970’s the town became the centre for the Gulf fishing industry and today that industry, most notably prawn (shrimp) and barramundi fishing, earns over AUD$130 million a year. The fishing industry is all-pervading, even the police station has a boat outside it!

Sunset Tavern behind the trees

Did the croc order a beer?

Late this afternoon we drove down to the Sunset Tavern, a very well known Karumba watering hole. Overlooking the water, it is a perfect spot to enjoy a drink and escape from the heat. We weren’t the only ones who thought it was perfect, though. The locals were telling us about a visit from a huge saltwater crocodile last summer.  Apparently it made itself comfortable on the veranda and it took the Parks and Wildlife people quite some time to get it to leave! Not really the sort of thing you can shoo away with a broom, is it!

There is native wildlife in Karumba

After that we wandered over to the boat ramp at Karumba Point where we had a truly magnificent view out over the Gulf. The water seemed to stretch endlessly and disappeared over the horizon. We walked along the path through the Wetlands but other than a few rodents and one or two birds it was deserted of animal life. Not that I minded, animal life up here could be a snake or a crocodile just as easily as a kangaroo or brolga!

Fishing in the Gulf of Carpentaria

You can’t come to Karumba and not go fishing; it simply isn’t done. Even for a somewhat unenthusiastic angler like myself. And so the next morning we set off on a fishing excursion on the Gulf of Carpentaria aboard the Kathryn M. It was very early when we boarded, the sun was barely up. Apparently, so they tell me, this is the best time to catch fish. I wondered about that because John has been telling me for years that any time is the best time. A quick jaunt up the Norman River to set a few crab pots for the skipper and

The first salmon

then we were on our way out into the Gulf. Our skipper, Robert, has been operating a fishing charter service at Karumba for over 12 years so it stands to reason that he would know all the best spots to drop anchor. He did tell us, though, that we were a bit late for barramundi. They don’t like the cooler water very much and now that the water temperature was dropping with the coming winter our chances of catching one were approximately zero. But he did promise lots of other fish.

Let the fish catching begin!

There were other folks on board the boat with us and as soon as we stopped lines were cast and everyone settled down for a good days fishing. Well, the fishing wasn’t as good as we expected or were led to believe but it was better than Darwin. John caught the first fish, a nice big blue-nosed salmon, and over the course of the next 5 hours, there was a constant stream of fish being hauled in. Unfortunately most of them were catfish. We did, however, catch a lot of the fish they call the skippy, kind of like a Moreton Bay tailor, a couple of small black-tipped sharks, several more salmon, and one very deadly and extremely unhappy sea snake. The snake was returned to the water post haste and we ended up with enough fish to take care of our dinner table for several nights. Not bad for a morning’s fishing.

Gulf prawns for lunch. Yum.

We were back by about lunch time and went looking for somewhere to have a bite to eat. During World War II the RAAF constructed a boat ramp near the town centre. Some of the emergency crash pads and some metal rings that were used to secure the aircraft can still be seen at low tide. It was here at the boat ramp that we discovered Raptis & Sons. This, according to the locals, is the best place to buy freshly cooked Gulf prawns. Well the locals weren’t wrong. We’d had a great time on the Gulf and finished the morning sitting on the boat ramp happily munching on the best tasting and freshest prawns we’d ever eaten. Could the day get any better? Yes, it could.

The most beautiful sunsets in the world are at Karumba

Karumba is reputed to have the most beautiful sunsets in the world and we’d been told that we shouldn’t miss it. And so later that evening we sat on the beach, watching as the clouds cleared just enough. The sky turned pink and orange as the sun’s rays reflected off the water and we sat there until that great

Karumba sunset

glowing ball had dropped below the horizon and darkness engulfed us. It was almost magical.

A visit to a fish hatchery

The overcast skies were still with us and the wind was ripping through during the night but seemed to ease off about late morning. We wandered down into the town to have a look at the Barramundi Discovery Centre, the only hatchery in the world that breeds the Gulf strain of barramundi. Fish hatcheries are not my cup of tea and so I left the guys to it and went for a walk around the shops. Not that there was much to see but I needed the exercise.

Cruising the Gulf at sunset

This evening we set off on the Croc n Crab Sunset Cruise. Well, we didn’t see a croc, the only crab we saw was a dead one inside an abandoned crab pot, and the overcast almost took care of the sunset. However we still had a fantastic time. The food, such as it was, was terrific, the wine and beer flowed freely, our fellow passengers were a great bunch of people, and Mark and Julieanne, the owners/hosts were great. The food was not bad; we had a fish dish that had way too much vinegar for my liking but the others seemed to enjoy it, Gulf prawns of which there simply weren’t enough, and a tropical fruit platter. The clouds cleared slightly so that we were able to get some photos of the sunset but mostly the overcast seemed to be determined to stay. That was the only disappointing thing about the whole cruise which lasted 2 hours. It was dark when we got back and with little else to do we made our way back to camp. We’d had a fantastic time and left the boat with some souvenir wine glasses and a promise to return some day.

One BIG crocodile

The skies cleared to a glorious sunny morning as we said goodbye to Karumba and headed south. There was little traffic going our way and less than an hour later we were in Normanton. Driving down the main

As close as I ever want to get to the real thing!

street it was impossible to miss the Krys Savannah-King monument. This is a life-sized model of the largest crocodile ever caught. At 8.63 metres (28 feet 4 inches) long and with a girth of 4 metres (13 feet), it truly was a monster. It was shot on the Macarthur Bank of the Norman River, downstream from Normanton, in 1957 by Krystina Pawlowski, a professional crocodile hunter, and it is estimated that the creature weighed over 2 tons. The model is located in the LEW Henry Park, near the Council Chambers and I couldn’t resist climbing onto the back of it. It’s the closest I ever want to get to the real thing!

Normanton for barramundi

Normanton is proudly known as the “Barramundi Capital of the North” because the waters of the Norman River are so plentiful with fish and a huge statue of the fish in question can be found on the road out of

Normanton, the barramundi capital of Australia

town. We stopped long enough for fuel and a few photographs before we were back on the road and heading south. The road was littered with the carcases of dead kangaroos and wild pigs, victims of the night and fast moving vehicles, and we saw a lot of snakes, both dead and alive. We had heard at Karumba that this was the time when the snakes are on the move and judging by the number we saw, I’d have to agree. We stopped just north of Burke and Wills Roadhouse in a roadside rest area for lunch, taking our time over the break. There was some traffic heading north and we were pleased that we’d decided to make the trip early in the “season”; I had a feeling that the accommodation and campsites would be filling up fast now. As the tourist brochures proclaim, Karumba is a recreational fishing mecca. The Gulf of Carpentaria with its azure blue waters is at its most magnificent at sunset. And that’s only two of the many reasons to make the long trek to this stunning piece of paradise.

 2009

 

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

 

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Longreach

It’s flat, pretty bare country coming into Longreach. It’s so lonely a stretch of road that I wondered what it would be like driving along here at night. The word “dark” wouldn’t come close to describing it and the only light would be the brilliance of the stars overhead. Would we be able to see the lights of the town in the distance or would it be one of those places that sort of creep up on you?

Gateway to the Outback

If you’ve ever dreamt of visiting Australia’s heartland, Longreach is a great place to start. Proud to be the Custodian of Australian Heritage and known as the Gateway to the Outback, Longreach’s history dates back to the late 1800’s when a railway terminus was established. Following the completion of the rail link in 1892 the growth of the town accelerated and today the Regional Council covers an area of 40,638 square kilometres (15690 square miles) and has a population of 4700. Approximately 1200 kilometres (746 miles) from Brisbane by road, Longreach has a multitude of things to do and attractions that showcase our heritage.

Captain Starlight, one notorious bushranger!

We checked into the Discovery Holiday Park ([star][star][star][star]) on Thrush Road and after lunch set out to explore Starlight’s Lookout. The notorious bushranger Captain Starlight was rumoured to have had his hideout in these parts back in the 1800’s. There are countless stories about him and there is no way to tell now where the truth ends and legend begins. Suffice to say Starlight was quite famous as Longreach’s infamous cattle duffer (rustler) and his lookout was on the top of a hill, the only hill on an otherwise flat landscape, about 56 kilometres (35 miles) from present day Longreach. From the top you can see forever and, as the stories go, he could see the troopers coming long before they even got close.

Starlight’s Lookout is worth the trek!

The road out to the lookout is 45 kilometres (28 miles) of unsealed, overgrown, and pot-holed track. And that was the good part! When we finally arrived we discovered that there was no path to the top; it was a case of pick your way through the rocks! So it was an interesting trek to the top but the view was

View from Starlight’s Lookout

certainly worth it. Captain Starlight’s real name was Harry Readford and he became part of outback folklore in 1870 when, with two other men, he set out from ‘Bowen Downs Station’, a pastoral lease in this area, with approximately 1000 head of stolen cattle. They drove the cattle through mostly unexplored country into South Australia. On his return to the east he faced charges of cattle stealing but at his trial the jury, obviously charmed by the man, returned a verdict of not guilty, thus ending one of the most daring escapades of the time.

First night bubbly in Longreach

It was just on dusk when we returned to camp and settled in for our first night bubbly with our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine. The evening was quite pleasant and we sat outside for a while before a cool breeze sprang up and chased us indoors. This was our second visit to Longreach, having been here some 6 years previously when we were in our tenting phase. A few drops of rain had started to fall and I was glad we weren’t tenting now!

QANTAS, an awesome museum

We woke to a very chilly morning but, at least, the rain was gone and it didn’t take long for the day to warm up. The QANTAS Founders Museum was on our agenda for today and we set off just after breakfast for

First night bubbly with Two Tails

what promised to be an awesome day. This was not our first time at the museum and, most certainly, it won’t be our last. A lot of new exhibits have been added since our last visit and we were definitely going to see them all, from the Boeing 747 in the front parking lot to the photographic gallery in the Jo Shannon Discovery Centre.

Australia’s first air services

QANTAS, the airline, was founded by Hudson Fysh, Paul McGinness, and Fergus McMaster in 1920 in Winton and moved to Longreach in 1921. The first air services between Charleville and Cloncurry in Queensland began in 1922. In those early years they ran with only 2 aircraft and at that stage they weren’t carrying passengers; it was strictly mail and the odd bit of freight. Things have certainly changed over the last 90-odd years. The original Qantas hangar is now part of the museum and is heritage listed; it is a fascinating reminder that Qantas is the only airline to manufacture its own aircraft. The museum contains a full-sized replica of the AVRO 504K bi-plane, the first Qantas aircraft as well as historic memorabilia and photographs. Inside the museum proper there are some models, perfect replicas in fact, of early Qantas planes and they are suspended from the ceiling on a revolving carriageway. They include an Armstrong Whitworth FK8, a De Havilland DH50, and a De Havilland DH86.

Reverse parked?

Jumbo!

The 747 is, of course, the major draw. Parked out front, that distinctive red kangaroo tail dominates the skyline. The jet, “City of Bunbury” is a Boeing 747-200 and touring this behemoth of the skies would definitely be the highlight of my visit here. Where else in the world can you tour a fully equipped, operational 747 jumbo jet? And, of course, there’s nowhere else in the world where you get to share the parking lot with a 747. I would love to have seen that reverse park!

A fascinating tour of the jet

Our boarding passes were the tickets we’d purchased for the tour and a group of about 25 people were assembled for the start. It was absolutely fascinating; we were shown everything from the engines to the flight deck. Even the controls were explained to us. There is another tour, the Wing Walk Tour where a small group of 4 or 5 people is taken out onto the wing of the jumbo. It includes a visit to the navigational computer bay and you even get to sit in the captain’s seat in the cockpit. Unfortunately this tour was booked out and not just for this day but for some days ahead. I can understand that.

Qantas’ first jet, a Boeing 707

Boeing 707-138

Parked right beside the jumbo now is the very first passenger jet that QANTAS ever owned, the very first one sold outside the USA. The Boeing 707-138 “City of Canberra”, only recently arrived at the museum, was discovered at an aircraft graveyard in England and lovingly restored by a team of volunteers. I remember my parents taking us to see it when it first arrived in Sydney back in 1959; the crowds were phenomenal and I never imagined that I would one   day be standing aboard this legendary craft.

The stuff of late-night movies

Outside on the lawns sits an original Qantas DC3, circa 1942 and we went aboard for a look around. There was no guided tour with this one for a couple of reasons. The plane is quite small; no way would 25 people and a guide fit inside this one, the cabin was totally gutted with only the cockpit still mainly intact, and, as any connoisseur of late-night movies can tell you, on the ground, the nose of the aircraft is at a steep incline. It was a struggle to climb up to the cockpit. Still, she was quite a sight and looks every bit as good as when she was flown by “Qantas Empire Airways”.

The Brisbane mail-run 

In the original Qantas hangar, there is a replica of the DH61, as built by Qantas in 1930. The first Brisbane mail run plane, it was also used on the Darwin sector of the London mail run. On our earlier visit I’d managed to get a photo of John sitting inside but now it’s off limits to the general public. Inside the theatrette we watched a video recording of the story of the restoration of the 707 and another showing the

DC3

landing of the 747 at Longreach. The runway at Longreach airport is not very long and we learned that the pilot had attempted to land the jumbo, on the flight simulator, many many times and each time he had crashed the plane and so the actual landing was an amazing feat. The whole town turned out to watch. Next year the museum hopes to take delivery of a Lockheed Constellation; now that should be fascinating.

Brilliant photographic display

The Jo Shannon Discovery Centre houses a spectacular photographic gallery. Some of the most exciting photographs of the Australian landscape that we’d ever seen were in this gallery. There were also a number of photographs of various Qantas aircraft through the years and these were on loan from the estate of a former senior Captain, a man who had flown every plane in the fleet and had attained the position of Chief Pilot.

Lunch at the museum

After our tours of the museum, the galleries, and the aircraft, some lunch in McGinness’ Restaurant, and some time in the gift shop, before we knew it, the day was over. It’s very easy to spend a whole day there. We’ll be back, we hope, many more times.

Sunset and Stars

The day was a little overcast but still warm and after much discussion we decided this afternoon to take a

John in the DH61

tour aboard the Thomson Belle on the Billabong Boat Cruises Sunset and Stars Dinner Cruise. The Thomson Belle is an old style paddle wheeler cruising the Thomson River. This was our second time aboard, having cruised here on our previous visit but nothing had changed. Norm Salisbury, the owner and operator, is still the same ebullient and gregarious fellow he’s always been and his crew were great. I was looking forward to seeing the sunset over the river and to enjoying the Drovers style meal around the campfire later but unfortunately we had no control over the weather. The overcast put paid to the sunset and the same could be said for the stars. It was a little disappointing to say the least.

A drover’s dinner

But we cruised along this magical expanse of water in the outback, sipping white wine and nibbling on cheese and crackers, and generally enjoying the company of our fellow travellers. Dinner around the campfire was especially good although Norm continually joked about what was actually in the stew. There were several foreign tourists among the passengers and they were looking distinctly worried as the meal was served!

And entertainment, too!

During and after dinner we were entertained by some of the members of the crew. There was a fellow there who was singing a few

The Thomson Belle

genuine Aussie folk songs and we all sang along with him. The boat skipper, Graham, also sang a few songs, but by far the best was Milton the bush poet. He had us rolling in the dust with laughter but his poem “The Wrong Way Down Memory Lane”, about his Dad’s battle with dementia, reduced more than a few of us to tears. It was a terrific evening in spite of the cloud cover. We had a very pleasant cruise down the Thomson River, a meal that Norm said was edible and the rest of us thought was great, and brilliant entertainment. It was a night we’ll long remember.

A tribute to the men and women of the Outback

Our plans for the next day had been made long before we arrived in Longreach. After a leisurely morning we wended our way to the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame, a brilliant tribute to the men and women of the Outback. It was the brainchild of the legendary RM Williams and the late Hugh Sawrey, two men who shared a dream of preserving this country’s rural heritage. The Hall of Fame houses displays showing traditional artefacts, thousands of historical photographs, and audiovisual and interactive displays, all of it blended with stories of the outback and its people.

The iconic water cart

In the beginning . . . 

The story begins with the Aboriginal people about 40,000 years ago and takes us through the British settlement and colonisation, right up to today, the 21stcentury. It celebrates the stockman from those early days on horseback to mustering cattle with helicopters, from travelling the countryside in a Cobb & Co coach, to four-wheel-drive transport, and the explorers who mapped this vast land on foot over weeks, months, and even years, to today’s satellite technology. The Australian stockman was born in those early days and has developed into a distinctiveness that sets him apart from the American cowboy and the Mexican gaucho and makes him a unique part of our heritage.

Water, a precious commodity

We wandered through the many displays, all the time learning more about this great country of ours. We saw the Furphy, which I believe was a water tank on wheels, an absolute necessity in the harsh, hot, dry outback. Water is the most precious of resources and the single most important commodity in the outback. It had to be transported to properties until they could tap the bore water that lies under the plains. The Aboriginal people had, of course, been doing this since time immemorial but the white man had to learn and many of them perished in their efforts.

The peddler’s cart

So much history for such a young country!

The Hall of Fame also has on display a fully restored Peddlers Cart. Merchants would travel from town to town, property to property, selling their wares from these carts and their arrival was usually greeted with a lot of excitement. They didn’t exactly have a department store just down the road in those days! In the early years there were more sheep than cattle in the outback, in fact sheep first came to Australia with the First Fleet in 1788 and it has been said that Australia was built on the sheep’s back. The Hall of Fame has a magnificent display depicting sheep farming here and is well worth your time to have a look at it. For over 3½ hours we strolled through the galleries and then stopped for a late lunch in the cafeteria before heading back to camp armed with the knowledge that of all we learned today about Australia, we still have much to learn.

A quiet evening

And after a long day like this one a quiet evening was just what we needed and we settled in for an early night knowing that tomorrow would be another busy day. But the caravan park was hosting a sausage sizzle, the bar was open, and there was entertainment to boot so our early night was not as early as planned. We had a fantastic time and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. By about 9:00 though it was getting too cold to sit outside and, like many of those present, we called it a night.

A gallop through the scrub

Longreach is what you think a country town should be and the Station Store of Kinnon & Co is one of those places straight out of a western movie. From boots and a wide variety of leather goods to shirts, hats, and jeans, if you want to look the part, this is the place to come. And to really experience the outback atmosphere you can take a gallop through the “scrub” aboard an authentic Cobb & Co coach.

Our Cobb & Co coach

“Smoko”

We rolled up for our ride on the coach a little before 9:00 and were presented with a typical morning tea or “smoko” as would have been done in the days when this was the only form of travel apart from walking. The tea, in teapots and not with teabags, was served in china teacups along with fresh scones and homemade raspberry jam with real, fresh whipped cream. It was delicious and thoroughly dripping with everything not good for you!

Cobb & Co was really like this!

Not long after we’d finished we boarded the coach for our ride.This particular coach has been faithfully restored, down to the minutest detail. About the only concession to the modern era were the headphones that we donned so that we could clearly hear our driver’s commentary. The coach was pulled by 4 beautiful horses, and yes, someone did comment that it was a 4hp vehicle, and our driver, Richard Kinnon, started off at a very sedate pace until we were out of the town proper before letting the horses run for our gallop through the bush on roads that could have come straight out of the 1920’s. Along the way we passed by an old, very old, Coolibah (eucalyptus) tree that had seen the likes of Banjo Patterson (1864-1941) and Henry Lawson (1867-1922) pass by and most likely was more than 200 years old.

A pole runner

We saw big red kangaroos (the only ones that are nomadic, the rest are territorial) and emus. Both native to Australia, they are the only two creatures in the world that can’t walk backwards. That is why they are

Coolibah Tree

depicted on our Coat of Arms, denoting a country that is only moving forward. We galloped over the Commons which is common land where landowners can graze up to 4 head of cattle or sheep for no charge and it was at this point that we were introduced to our pole runner, Emma. The pole runner, known in America as riding shotgun, had the job of running along the pole in the rigging to pick up the reins if the driver should drop one so that the horses didn’t break their stride. Whether Richard dropped one on purpose or not, we’ll never know but Emma certainly showed that she knows her job. It’s not something I would ever do! Our ride ended with another sedate walk along the main street. In Australia horse-drawn vehicles have right-of-way on all roads. As Richard pointed out, they don’t have ABS brakes.

A real Aussie movie!

On our return to the Station Store we were treated to a screening of that classic Australian movie “Smiley Gets A Gun” and a few songs from a bush balladeer.  Afterwards I was happy to indulge in some retail therapy at the Store before making our way back to camp. It was time to start packing up ready for an early

Back from our ride

start in the morning on the next leg of our adventure. It’s easy to get to Longreach; there’s the train, the Spirit of the Outback, that comes twice a week, Qantas has daily flights,, of course, coaches, from McCafferty’s not Cobb & Co, have daily services, and even though Longreach is almost 1200 kilometres (nearly 750 miles) from Brisbane, it is serviced by fully sealed highways, making a road trip a pleasure. But however you get there, you will find a thriving outback community and a great big outback welcome. And when you return home you will want to come back again and again.

2009

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

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Noccundra

John has a list of places he absolutely has to see and number 4 on that list is the town of Noccundra in Outback Queensland. It’s a tiny little spot on the map that could be mistaken for a dirty mark on the paper. But he was determined that we were going there and, as he was doing the driving, I couldn’t argue. Well, I could but I’d just be wasting my breath. And so, we took the Diamantina Developmental Road from Charleville in Queensland’s southwest to Quilpie, passing through the village of Cooladdi on the way. The long straight stretches of road are amazing and the land is so flat you can see forever.

Take a break in Quilpie

We stopped for fuel in Quilpie and then took our time with coffee on a well deserved break. The clouds were gone, the sky was clear, and the temperature was climbing. Quilpie is where the railway line ends and I guess once you get here you’ve really reached the end of the line! We were soon on our way again and it wasn’t long before we passed through the little town of Eromanga.

We were a long way from the ocean at Eromanga!

Eromanga’s only claim to fame is that it is further from the ocean than any other town in Australia. There is a monument to the opal miners in Opolopolis Park but we didn’t stop to see it. A pity because we were to learn later that the monument is, fittingly, inlaid with opal. Eromanga and the surrounding district are home to many of Queensland’s oil and gas fields and the town even has its own oil refinery. The oil and gas basin here produces about 1½ million barrels of oil each year. About halfway between Eromanga and Noccundra we stopped on the side of the road for lunch. A more lonely and desolate stretch of road you’ll never find. We hadn’t seen another car on the road for a couple of hours. It was eerily quiet, spooky almost, and I was anxious to get going.

On 427,000 acres!

We finally arrived in Noccundra, population 4, around 2:00 and attempted to check into the Noccundra Hotel Caravan Park ([star][star][star_half]). I say ‘attempted’ because there are only 2 powered sites in this caravan park and they were already both occupied. But, as the man said, there’s 427,000 acres of unpowered sites to choose from and we could go and set up anywhere we liked. It was while setting up camp we were treated to the sight of a light aircraft taxiing up to the front of the pub. The passengers boarded and the plane taxied around to the runway at the back and took off. Where else in the world . . .

Over 400,000 acres of unpowered sites!

They get lost out here!

The historic Noccundra Hotel was built in 1882 and is all that remains of the town of Noccundra so if you’re planning on a big night out here your choices are definitely limited. The Noccundra Waterhole on the Wilson River is just opposite the hotel and a monument to the ill-fated Hume Expedition of 1874, when Andrew Hume led an expedition in search of survivors of the Leichhardt Expedition, is located in the hotel grounds. It sounds almost comical, doesn’t it? I wonder if they sent another expedition to find the two that were lost.

Down at the Noccundra Waterhole on the Wilson River

After camp was set up John and I drove down to the waterhole. What a charming little spot. There’s lots of green grass and shade trees and the waterhole was full with the overflow from the river. There were a few campers there and the river looked beautiful but it is basic bush camping, at best, and definitely not for me. And so we returned to camp and our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine and one of the most glorious sunsets we had ever seen.

A dining experience in Noccundra

For dinner tonight we had two choices, the pub or nothing. So after the barest minimum of deliberation we decided on the pub and that was . . . different. I did ask for a menu but was told not to bother because roast

First night bubbly with Two Tails

was all they had. Roast would do fine, I said. I was told that it was a combination of roast beef and roast pork but I strongly suspect that there may have been a little roo, emu, and/or dingo thrown in too. Whatever, it was delicious. And the wine list? The choice was red or white. Enough said.

Friendly company

Of course, the place was full with guys from the oil fields who had flown in that afternoon, and parked their planes at the front door, and they’d been drinking pretty much since they arrived so they would have eaten anything! The only ones from that crowd who weren’t drinking were their pilots, as you’d expect, and they were happy to sit and chat with us.

The night sky, an amazing spectacle

What a super brilliant night! Noccundra might not be 5-star, it’s not really even 1-star, but when the sun goes down it’s 500-billion-star! And I mean that literally! So magnificent and so very beautiful and it was still breathtakingly beautiful at 5:00 in the morning! If you’ve ever wondered what the night sky really looks like in the outback you have to come to Noccundra.

Service to the door!

We had a fair way to go the next day but the fellows from the oil fields were getting ready to leave and we

I wonder if the have valet parking?

didn’t want to miss the spectacle of the planes at the front door of the pub. I knew that no one would seriously believe us so I intended to get lots of photographs and we weren’t disappointed in any way. Two planes taxied around to the front, the passengers boarded and they were off. Absolutely amazing. The sheer novelty of seeing aircraft at the front door of the hotel was terrific but we were to learn that we were a bit of a novelty ourselves.

Strange campsite

We chose to set up our camp in an area where no-one has ever camped before and the locals were still shaking their heads over it when we left. Most people prefer to camp down by the river but I rather like the idea of being near amenities, even if I did have to cross the road to use the bathroom! Noccundra had not been my first choice for somewhere to visit; it was John who wanted to see the place. But when all was said and done I was actually sorry to leave. The people were immensely friendly and our van site, although unusual, was great. The only thing I was concerned about was if a road train had come through in the night but that didn’t happen and I strongly suspect that it was unlikely to; there’s nothing past Noccundra and the road ends a few kilometres further on. This is the place where you can really get away from it all and I thoroughly recommend it!

2009

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

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Queen Mary Falls

Summer. It’s hot, the beaches are crowded, the traffic horrendous. And the humidity is a killer. We wanted to go away for a break but really did not want to face the heat and the crowds. When John suggested Queen Mary Falls my first thought was “where?” 209 kilometres (130 miles) southwest of Brisbane, on the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range, it is one of Queensland’s nicest little secrets. Low humidity, no crowds, no traffic, and lots of peace and quiet; I was won over before we’d even hitched up the caravan!

On the road again . . . 

The Queen Mary Falls National Park is an area of stunning rainforest and magnificent waterfalls, the perfect place for rest and relaxation and to re-charge your batteries in a natural bush setting with an abundance of native bird life. So we packed up the caravan, loaded young son, Sean, his new pet mouse, and our little dog, BJ, into the car and set off to escape the heat and humidity of the coast and explore this wonderland of beauty on our northern doorstep.

A hot and steamy trip

We set off at 6:00 in the morning and already it was hot and steamy. Our journey took us through Gloucester and Walcha, where we stopped for a late breakfast and to let BJ do what little dogs have to do, and then it was on to Glen Innes, one of the major communities of the Northern New England region of New South Wales. We found what was probably the only bit of shade around at a park beside the road and stopped there for lunch. BJ found it all very interesting, to say the least, and was quite happy to have a run after being couped up in the car for several hours. The mouse also made a brief appearance for some fresh air. Refreshed and replenished after lunch, we continued on our way towards Tenterfield, birthplace of the late entertainer Peter Allen. There is a significant portion of Australia’s natural history to be found in Tenterfield but exploring this interesting little town would have to wait for another time.

Triceratops at Ballendean

Dinosaurs at Ballendean

Not long after leaving Tenterfield behind we crossed over the border into Queensland. Crossing the border we gained an hour because of the time difference and as far as Sean was concerned, it was lunchtime again. We stopped for a coffee and, for Sean, a snack (where does he put it all!) at the border and then later we had what the bus companies call a “comfort stop” in Ballandean where we met the resident dinosaur, Triceratops. Made from a papier maché type substance, it held pride of place in a small park near the railway station. John and Sean wanted a walk around and to stretch their legs and we took BJ for a little walk. He wandered around, and under, the dinosaur but it was all too much, I think, and he soon wandered back to the car. Ballandean is where Queensland’s first commercially grown grapes were first harvested. Then, in 1970, the wine industry came along and the rest is history. Today, there are some 52 vineyards in and around Ballandean.

A caravan park at Queen Mary Falls

Back on the road we set off for Warwick, the rodeo capital of Queensland, and then on to Killarney, some 34 kilometres (21 miles) southeast of Warwick. In Killarney we crossed the Condamine River and then it was only another 11 kilometres (7 miles) to Queen Mary Falls Caravan Park ([star][star][star]) just across the road from the Queen Mary Falls National Park. It was late afternoon when we arrived and with our choice of campsite and we opted for one reasonably close to the amenities. All the sites are grassed and quite big, and there are plenty of shade trees around. Well, our annex went up, followed by Sean’s tent, and by then a breeze that sprung up to mute the heat of the day a little. So, with the camp all set up and the awning rolled out we settled down with a glass of wine and a soft drink for Sean while we watched the sunset. We had been warned that even in the summer the evenings could be cool here and this one certainly was that. It’s summer, it’s hot! So, who packs a sweater? John, of course, and Sean and I shivered. It wasn’t long before we adjourned to the annex for dinner and after such a long day we were soon in bed, lulled to sleep by the soft sounds of the insects and birds all around us.

Daggs Falls

Browns Falls is dog-friendly, too

Our first morning was absolutely sparkling, the sun shining through the trees and not a cloud in the sky. Perfect. And hot. We didn’t expect this kind of heat here but there was no humidity so it wasn’t too bad. But little dogs need to do what little dogs need to do and so we drove down to the Browns Falls picnic ground, only a few short kilometres back towards Killarney. This is the only place close to the national park where BJ can run leash-free. The falls are a 20-minute walk entailing a creek crossing and lots of rock hopping. The road bridge over the creek was built in 1934 and is possibly the earliest curved bridge built in Queensland.

Yabbies in the creek

We let BJ run and play for a while and he enjoyed rolling in the grass. John and Sean discovered that there were yabbies (freshwater crayfish) in the creek and made plans to come back later and catch some. Oh joy! A little further on up the mountain is Daggs Falls and we stopped there for a while, taking the short walk to the first viewing platform for a photograph. There are several other walking tracks, including a couple that go right to the falls. This is a very popular picnic area with its barbecue facilities and amenities. And there is an abundance of bird life. It was cooler among the trees and the whole place was alive with the calls of all the different birds. The temperature was still climbing and I did wonder just how hot it could get here!

Fog at Carr’s Lookout

The park had started to fill up by the time we got back, there were caravans and camper trailers all over the place but we got the feeling that most of them were only here for the overnight stop before continuing on with their journey. A shame really because there is so much to see here and it’s all beautiful. After lunch we drove up Spring Creek Road to Carr’s Lookout. We’d been told that the view from there was outstanding but heavy fog rolled in and we could hardly see each other, much less any thing else! And so we returned to camp a little disappointed but what can you do about the weather?  It was only later that we really had a reason to complain about the weather.

The thunder rolled and the lightning lit up the sky!

Sitting under the awning we watched the storm clouds roll in. We could hear the thunder rolling in the distance and it was getting closer. A few flashes of lightning lit up the sky and we beat a hasty retreat to the shelter of our annex. And then the rain started. The thunder and the lightning raged overhead and the rain poured down unrelentingly. The wind picked up and even though we were in a reasonably sheltered place it was still very strong. It was the start of a wild old night and I wasn’t too sure about letting Sean sleep in his tent. But the “I’m 15 years old, stop treating me like a child” wail saw me agreeing, reluctantly, to him sleeping out there. There was also the thought that the mouse would have to share the caravan with us and BJ. That was a huge factor in my agreement! All I can say is it’s a good thing BJ is a dog and not a cat!

The storm raged on

But worse was to come because the power went out. We were lucky, we had camp lights and a gas stove, but others in the park didn’t fare so well. I think, for some, it was going to be a long night. We were woken just after midnight by the unmistakable sound of a tree branch coming down. A big tree branch. But it was well away from the camping area and no one was hurt by it. It really was a wild old night and we learned the next morning just how bad the storm had been. Killarney had been hit very hard with houses unroofed, trees uprooted, and even a shipping container blown over on its side! The power station had been hit by lightning, that explained the power loss, but worse than that, we had no water. Queen Mary Falls Caravan Park uses an electric pump for its water supply. No power meant no pump. And no pump meant no water. No drinking water, no showers, no flushing toilets, nothing. Our caravan’s water tank was full so for drinking water and enough for personal hygiene we were ok but the only toilet facilities available were those in the National Park. Not the best of situations but we were promised that the power would be back on in a few hours.

On the road through Condamine Gorge

River crossings in the Condamine Gorge

John wanted to do the Condamine Gorge 14 River Crossing where the Condamine River twists and turns so much that when you drive through the gorge you actually cross it 14 times! We’d been advised that under normal conditions the crossings were relatively shallow but after last night’s storm we expected that the river would be up a little. We set off down Spring Creek Road towards Boonah until we reached Condamine Gorge Road. The sign proclaimed “Dry Weather Access Only for 2wd Vehicles”. The skies were still very overcast and I thought we might be in for some more rain but we turned onto the road and started down the track, stopping about a kilometre in for a photo.

But the river was mostly dry!

The track was very winding and in some places a little rough but the Landrover handled it quite well. It was also narrow and it would have been interesting if we’d met another car coming the other way! For any

One of the river crossings

newcomers to off-road trips who want to try river crossings this track is great. It’s not difficult and the actual river crossings are easy unless there has been a lot of rain. In the pioneer days bullock teams hauled the timber logs along this road. Back then there were 15 river crossings but one is off the main track now and each one of them is named. We were a little disappointed with the river crossings that day and I certainly needn’t have worried about the rain. There had been precious little rain to speak of in recent months and the river was mostly dry. The previous night’s rain, heavy as it was, made that once mighty river little more than a puddle in some places. Still, we pressed on and along the way passed a few places that would have been good for a picnic. Nice, grassy areas right on the riverbank.

Our brave guard dog

We did stop for a quick coffee before continuing on to the next crossing. It was very peaceful and there were some birds calling although I’m not sure what sort of birds they were. BJ enjoyed a little run until he came to something he wasn’t expecting. Neither were we for that matter; a small wallaby jumped up in the bushes and my brave little guard dog ran and hid behind John’s legs!

Up to the summit of Mt Colliery

We continued on from there and crossed the river a few more times. We were almost to the end of the track and the road was starting to get a little wider. It was also almost lunchtime, as Sean kept reminding us, and so we decided to go on back to camp. There was still no power when we arrived and it appeared that it would be some time before it was restored and so after a quick bite to eat we took off for Killarney where our first stop would be the public restrooms! From Killarney we drove north out to the little town of Tannymorel and from there started our climb up Mt. Colliery towards Sunday Plains. It was absolutely beautiful countryside all around us as we bumped our way along the road and it wasn’t long before we reach what we took to be the summit.

The view over Killarney

A magnificent pine forest overlooking Killarney

The view out over Killarney was outstanding, even if it was still overcast without a hint of sunshine. The little town of Killarney in the distance made us realise just how high up we had come but the view was breathtaking. It was also quite cool up there so we didn’t linger. John wanted to see where the road would take us so we continued on until we came to a magnificent pine forest. The gate was open and, as an open gate is an open invitation to an off-roader like John, we decided to have a drive through the trees. The pine trees, all in straight lines like sentries, towered over us, their magnificent foliage such a marvellous deep green. There were warning signs about the logging and we kept an eye out for the trucks but saw none. John stopped the car and we went for a little walk, enjoying the soft carpet of pine needles beneath our shoes. For some reason we spoke in hushed voices and even BJ seemed to sense that there was a reverence about this place. And the fragrance of the pines was all around us, wafting delicately on the breeze. It truly had an impact on our senses and even now, if I close my eyes, I can feel those pine needles and smell their perfume, and be transported once again to that tranquil place.

Dinner by torchlight!

We were leaving the pine forest when a thick bank of low cloud rolled in making it hard to see the road. It was starting to get late anyway so we decided to head back to camp. The power still hadn’t been restored but we were assured that they were working on it. Luckily the national park restrooms were just across the road. We sat down to dinner by torchlight and it wasn’t until almost 9:00 that night that the power came back on, some 24 hours after it had first gone out. We immediately made a beeline for the amenities but it seemed that everyone else in the park had the same idea and there was quite a line for the showers. So it was very late that night when we finally fell into bed; the wind was blowing hard but it didn’t bother us and we were soon deep in the land of nod.

A roll in the grass

The morning dawned bright and sunny with only a few wispy white clouds overhead and the temperature

Queen Mary Falls

starting to climb. What a glorious morning! The birds in the trees were all in full song and the air smelled fresh and clean. It’s amazing what a bit of rain can do. After breakfast we again drove down to Browns Falls picnic ground to let BJ have a run with Sean; he loves to roll in the grass (BJ not Sean) but we’d planned a walk through the rainforest and a visit to the mighty Queen Mary Falls today so we didn’t stay too long there. Queen Mary Falls is inside the national park so BJ couldn’t come with us. It was decided that John and Sean would make the trek to the Falls while I waited at camp and then John and I would go this afternoon.

Swimming in Queen Mary Falls

The day had become quite hot and when the boys returned, about lunchtime, they were dripping wet. But how they got wet was the big question. There are no swimming pools close by and, as we’d seen the day before, the Condamine River is not deep enough for swimming. Well, it seems that they left the path and climbed over the rocks at the base of the falls and stood under the waterfall! It must be a boy thing!

Queen Mary Falls

We had a quick bite to eat and John and I set off for the national park and the centrepiece of this beautiful rainforest, the Queen Mary Falls. The path was steep in some parts, slippery in others but, on the whole, quite easy to navigate and it didn’t take us long to reach the bottom. This pocket of rainforest on the valley floor is a sharp contrast to the eucalypt forests on the upper slopes of the mountain range. Spring Creek winds its way through the park before plunging over the 40-metre (131-foot) drop that is Queen Mary Falls. The water flows all year round but the lack of any decent rain has reduced the volume considerably. The Falls are, of course, named for Queen Mary. It is said that she visited here as a child, was brought here on horseback. However, there is no evidence to support this story but, then again, there is nothing to disprove it either.

Definitely a boy thing!

At the bottom of the path there is a little bridge where the water from the falls flows on its way and as soon as John sat down and took off his shoes and socks I knew exactly what he was going to do. Sure enough

Should you be there?

he scrambled over the rocks to stand under the Falls. I shook my head in bewilderment at his antics but the weather was hot and, if truth be told, I was envious and more than a little disappointed that I couldn’t join him! We now had to begin our upward climb. There were some seats strategically placed along the way for those who need them. It may only be a short climb but it is steep. The complete circuit is only 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) but we weren’t in any hurry and it was really quite pleasant in the rainforest. We’d been told to keep an eye out for wildlife but the only things we saw were lizards and skinks. The falls are quite spectacular when the area has had its normal amount of rain but the drought has meant that they are not quite as majestic as they usually are.

Feeding the birds at Queen Mary Falls

We continued our walk up to the top and soon were back at the park entrance. There seemed to be an awful lot of birds around the front entrance of the caravan park and we soon found out why. Native birds, particularly the Australian King Parrot and Crimson Rosella, can be hand-fed here. There were a lot of children trying to entice the birds onto their shoulders with food. The birds were calling and screeching and mixed with the laughter and squeals from the kids the noise was deafening.

The Yabby Hunt!

John and Sean decided to go and catch yabbies this afternoon so I took the opportunity to take BJ for a walk around the picnic ground at Browns Falls. The boys looked like they were settled in for quite a while and every now and then a shout would go up that meant they’d caught another one! Finally BJ had worn himself out and I reminded the boys that it was getting late. They’d had fun and caught a half dozen

Sean and yabby

or so yabbies. It had been a good afternoon for all of us. Except the yabbies, that is.

More Falls

We woke the next morning to overcast skies and cool winds; it looked like rain wasn’t too far off. We’d wanted to see Teviot Falls and then drive down the mountain today but if it was raining we wouldn’t be seeing much. But it looked like it might clear so we took the chance and off we went. We set off up Spring Creek Road towards the Condamine River Gorge and followed the narrow and winding road through to Teviot Falls. On the way we stopped to have a look at Wilson’s Peak with its rather unusual knob on top. Most of the view was shrouded in low cloud but it did clear slightly for a while. The best place to view Teviot Falls is at a 90° right angle bend in the road and we pulled off onto the road shoulder. This was as close as we could get to the falls. We’ve been told that there is a path around the top but it crosses private property. Again, there wasn’t much water and we could see at the bottom of the falls the rocks that are usually submerged.

I don’t like this road!

In the distance was a small town shrouded in cloud but I think the boys were more interested in the road to get there! We had no idea what town it was but that’s where the road would take us so we set off down a particularly steep descent. The sign at the top said that trucks, buses, caravans, and trailers were prohibited on this road. And it didn’t take us long to figure out why. The road was almost vertical (slight

Teviot Falls

exaggeration there . . .  but only slight) and it twisted and turned and wound around sharp corners all the way to the bottom. John and Sean were having a great time but I was hanging on for dear life! It was only a 40-kph (25-mph) speed limit and John certainly didn’t exceed it but it was still way too fast for me! Then the inevitable happened. There is always one fruitcake isn’t there. About halfway down we caught up to . . .  you guessed it . . . a car towing a big caravan! How he got around some of those corners just amazed me and I’m sure he came close to losing his mirrors a few times. There was no way we could get past him so we sat behind him as he rode his brake pedal down the incline. Finally we reached a place where he could pull over and we scooted past him but the smell of burning brake pads stayed in our nostrils for quite a while after.

State to state!

At the bottom we came to a few scattered farms and little else. The road had come to a T-intersection and, with no signposts to guide us we flipped a coin to decide whether we turned left or right. The right won. It was beautiful countryside, a lot of cattle around, and huge fields of lush green grass, but still no signposts. Finally we saw a farmer in his tractor so we stopped to ask where we were. Well, at some point we had actually crossed over the border and we were in New South Wales! The farmer told us which way to go, we thanked him, and were on our way again. We have no idea when we went back over the border into Queensland but it was when we saw the rabbit sign that we knew we were there. In this part of Queensland there has been a plague of rabbits and so it is now against the law to keep them, even as pets. We stopped along the road to let BJ have a run and to have our picnic lunch and then continued on to the place they call The Head. There was a fine sprinkle of rain falling but we decided to go on and see where this road would take us.

A rainforest retreat

Well, we ended up on the Condamine River Road where we’d done the river crossings but just after the 4thcrossing we found Adjinbilly Road leading to the Adjinbilly Rainforest Retreat. The Retreat is an eco-

Wilsons Peak

friendly resort set in the spectacular Condamine Gorge. Several cabins are set in the rainforest and unless you know exactly where to look, you can’t see them. There is no electricity there, only 12-volt lighting and gas hot water, fridge, and stove. The perfect place if you want to literally get away from it all! We spoke briefly to the caretaker before having a drive around the area and he told us that this part of the Condamine River is a habitat for platypus and that if we were lucky we might see one. Well, unfortunately we weren’t that lucky although, believe me, we did look.

Magnificent views from Carr’s Lookout

And so, we came to our last day at Queen Mary Falls. The rain had cleared and the winds had dropped but there were still a few clouds. We didn’t want to go too far afield this day so decided to have another look at Carrs Lookout and hope there was no fog this time. It wasn’t until mid-afternoon that we drove up Spring Creek Road to the lookout and by that time there was a lot of low cloud over the mountains. The view from the lookout takes in the entire Head Valley with Wilson’s Peak, Mt Superbus, and Mt Barney in the distance. We parked the car at the top of the road near the Spring Creek Café and walked down to Carrs Lookout.

Mt Superbus

There is a plaque at the lookout with a little of the history of the area. One particular item stood out. “On April 8th, 1955 an RAAF Lincoln crashed on Mt Superbus. The plane had been on a mercy dash from Townsville to Brisbane with a sick baby. All 11 on board were killed and the only survivor was a dog. It went on to mention that it took several days for rescuers to reach the crash site because of the rough terrain. A little further on from the lookout are the Moss Gardens. These are trees draped in different types of moss and the rocks are carpeted with green moss. We thought we might go and have a look but it started to rain and that dampened our enthusiasm (pun intended). And so it was back to camp but by the time we got there the rain was coming down in buckets. It wasn’t the best end to our break at Queen Mary Falls but, in spite of the inclement weather, we’d still had a great time. We found Queen Mary Falls to be a delightful surprise and we’re sure you will too.

2006

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

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Rainbow Beach

Isn’t it strange how a spur-of-the-moment decision can change everything. Rainbow Beach was not in the plan at all. We had intended to stay somewhere else but that fell through and then a signpost on the side of the road changed our whole trip. It might be off the main highway but what an astoundingly marvellous place Rainbow Beach turned out to be. We checked into the Rainbow Beach Holiday Village ([star][star][star][star]) right

in the centre of town and set about exploring this marvellous seaside town known as the Gateway to Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world located just off the Queensland coast.

30 kilometres of beach!

The town sits at the northern end of the Great Sandy National Park and the beach, the last surfing beach before the Great Barrier Reef, stretches for 30 kilometres (18½ miles) from Double Island Point in the south to Inskip Point in the north. On the Esplanade overlooking the beach is the propeller from a large cargo ship, The “Cherry Venture” that ran aground in 1973. The 1451 tonne (1600 ton) empty cargo vessel floundered in heavy seas with swells estimated to be up to 12 metres (40 feet) high, and wind gusts up to 120 kilometres (75 miles) per hour. The ship’s anchor cable parted and the Cherry Venture was unwillingly beached.

Fishing in Rainbow Beach

In the afternoon of our arrival we took a little drive out to Inskip Point so that John could do some fishing and drove down onto the beach but the breeze, light as it was, was still quite cool. The fishing proved to be interesting; there were lots of bites and he did reel in one or two but they were so tiny as to be hardly worth a mention. The barges for Fraser Island leave from Inskip Point and, unfortunately, time didn’t permit us to visit the island on this trip but it definitely is high on our list for a return visit.

Propeller from the Cherry Venture

The Coloured Sands

The next day we did some exploring starting with a drive down onto the beach. We’d been warned about the rocks on the beach and about the tides. You can only drive on the beach at low tide. When the tide comes in it completely covers all the rocks and many a car has been wrecked and had to be towed out after not heeding the tide warnings. The office at the caravan park has a wall of pictures of battered, wrecked, and drowned cars, one even complete with caravan! But down on the beach we drove all the way around to the headland looking at the cliffs of the spectacular coloured sands. The legend of the coloured sands is well known in these parts:

Way back in the dream-time lived on the banks of the Noosa River a beautiful aboriginal maiden named Murrawar, who fell in love with the Rainbow who came to visit her every evening in the sky.

The Coloured Sands

She would clap her hands and sing to this lovely rainbow. One day Burwilla, a bad man from a distant tribe, stole Murrawar for his slave wife, often beating her cruelly and making her do all his work while he sat in the shade admiring his terrible killing boomerang. This boomerang was bigger than the biggest tree and full of evil spirits. One day Murrawar ran away and as she hurried along near the beach, which was then all flat, she looked back and saw Burwilla’s boomerang coming to kill her. Calling out for help she fell to the ground too frightened to run. Suddenly she heard a loud noise in the sky and saw her faithful Rainbow racing towards her across the sea. The wicked Boomerang attacked the brave Rainbow and they met with a roar like thunder, killing the Boomerang instantly and shattering the Rainbow into many small pieces. Alas, the poor sick and shattered Rainbow lay on the beach to die, and is still there with all its colours forming the hills along the beach.” (reprinted from Noosa Tourist Guide, 2003)

Moonscape

The hills of the coloured sands resemble a “moonscape” with their ragged edges and craggy

A “moonscape”

outcroppings and the colours are forever changing, the sands themselves forever shifting with wind and the forces of erosion. Some of these hills are 200 metres (approximately 650 feet) high with as many as 72 different colours produced by combinations of iron oxide and colouring from the vegetation.

The tide was turning

We drove along the beach to Double Island Point and could go no further, we’d literally reached the end of the beach and so, keeping a wary eye on the time, we retraced our tracks. There were a lot of vehicles on the beach, some a little more reckless than most, and the odd one or two heading out to the point. The tide was just beginning to turn and so we made our way back to camp for a quiet evening. Not that it was THAT quiet; the surf club next door to the holiday park had live music and entertainment until the wee small hours of the morning.

Aground!

After a less than restful night we explored the odd off-road track in the area and found one that took us down to Teewah Beach where the remains of the Cherry Venture can be found. I wanted to see this boat and so we bounced our way along what can only be described as a fire trail and finally exited onto the beach. What a fascinating sight! There she sat in all her glory, after 30 years. Over the years vandals and graffiti artists had had their go at the wreck and she’d been spray-painted with various slogans. Of course

The Cherry Venture with hotdog stand

she was roped off and entry was strictly forbidden because it was considered too dangerous but that didn’t stop some of the more foolhardy ones from climbing up on her. The Cherry Venture was still a majestic sight and not the years, the weather, or the vandals could take that away from her.

But now gone forever!

Sadly, the Cherry Venture is no more. In 2006 it was decided that the wreck would be demolished because of the dangers it posed, including exposed asbestos in the engine room. In early 2007 she was broken up and removed some 34 years after coming to rest there. But on the day we were there some enterprising fellow had actually set up his hotdog and souvenir stand beside the remains of this once mighty vessel. How could we come here and not partake of a hotdog? It was while we were eating lunch that the army arrived complete with their “ducks”, which are six-wheeled amphibious trucks. They were having some sort of training exercises and we watched for a while but it was all a bit too gung ho for me so we made our way back along the track and back to camp. Of course, we could have gone on the road but, as John said, where’s the fun in that?

The Lookout

There are many things to see and do in Rainbow Beach from bushwalking where you can step straight into the national park and trek through ancient palm groves and dense rainforest, to the Carlo Sand Blow,

The view from the lookout

and a number of freshwater lakes but to me no holiday in Rainbow Beach would be complete without a visit to the lookout. We drove up the hill and parked in a small parking area. There was a path that was, supposedly, a slight upward incline for 900 metres (2953 feet) to the lookout. Well, if this was their idea of “slight” I would have hated to see a steep one!! Then again, I’m not exactly marathon material, either! There were all sorts of ferns and native bushes and trees along the path and it was all quite rain-forest-y and really pleasant. And the view from the top made that climb worthwhile. It just took your breath away and I felt like we could see to the other side of the world.

Footprints! Man Friday?

We were standing on a wooden platform but it was obvious by the many footprints in the sand that most people were happy to climb higher for an even better view. Me, I was more than content to stay right where I was! The sand was soft, the kind of sand that made walking a chore. We couldn’t see any people so they must have gone over the dune to the other side. The sun was beginning to set and clouds were rolling in and it started to sprinkle rain as we walked back to the car. The dampness added to my mood because I knew we were leaving Rainbow Beach in the morning and that we may never come back. But those spectacular coloured sands will live in our memories forever and we most certainly will never forget it.

2003

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

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Richmond

Richmond, the fossil capital of Australia. Known as the “Oasis in the Outback, the township boasts outstanding gardens filled with bougainvilleas,native trees, and shrubs, the man-made Lake Fred Tritton, and the award-winning Kronosaurus Korner Fossil Centre, one of the star attractions on Australia’s Dinosaur Trail. The whole area was once an inland sea and some of the best marine

fossils in the world have been found in this region.

Right on the lake

We arrived on a sunny, autumn morning and checked into the Lakeview Caravan Park ([star][star][star][star_half]). Overlooking the lake, of course, and situated beside the golf course, the park is located within easy walking distance of just about everything in town. We settled in to the park and with camp set up we decided to explore Richmond’s newest attraction.

Watersports of all kinds on Lake Fred Tritton

Lake Fred Tritton was awarded the National Best Overall Project and the Recreational Infrastructure Project in 2004. With a 1.2 kilometre (¾ mile) circumference and a maximum depth of 8 metres (26 feet), it is set up for all kinds of watersports from swimming and fishing to sailing, water skiing, and jet skis, and is surrounded by the Bush Tucker Garden, an area filled with native trees and shrubs. With picnic facilities, including free electric barbecues, a couple of jetties and a boardwalk, it’s the perfect place to spend a lazy day. After dark, a stroll around the walking track reveals the heavens in all their splendour, as the tourist brochures say, it is an absolute kaleidoscope of stars inthe brilliant outback sky.

It was good for a laugh!

Fishing in Richmond

We’d been told that the lake was stocked with a variety of fish including barramundi, grunter, and yellow fin so John thought he might like to throw in a line and the result, while not the usual offering, at least gave us a good laugh. So I left John with his fishing rod and set off for a walk around the lake. There are sandy beaches and playground facilities and it’s obvious that all the awards this project garnered were well deserved.

First night bubbly with Two Tails

First night bubbly in Richmond

As the sun was setting we sat out under one of the beautiful old trees in the park and enjoyed our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine to celebrate our first night in a new place. The sky was beautiful and I would have happily stayed all night if it had not been for the cool breeze that sprang up.

Dinosaurs once swam here!

The next morning we set off for Kronosaurus Korner, Richmond’s museum dedicated to prehistoric marine reptiles. What a fascinating and interesting place this is. From the life-sized 12.2-metre (40-foot) replica of Kronosaurus Queenslandicus that greets you out front to the 400 exhibits dating back to the Cretaceous period between 98 and 114 million years ago, the museum will keep you enthralled and quite possibly infect you with “fossil fever” for which the only cure is to pick up a map from the reception desk and head on out to one of the region’s designated  fossicking sites.

A seaside holiday resort . . . for dinosaurs

It’s hard to imagine a time when dinosaurs roamed here. Today, Richmond is 500 kilometres (310 miles) from the sea but one hundred million years ago it was a seaside holiday resort for dinosaurs. A remarkable number of fossils of marine creatures have been found in this area, including the world’s only complete 4.25 metre (14 feet) skeleton of a pliosaur discovered in 1989, and the remarkably intact and complete fossil of Minmi, an armoured dinosaur known as an ankylosaur. Both of these are around one hundred million years old.

Kronosaurus Korner

This fellow was BIG and savage

There are fossilised remains of the Kronosaurus Queenslandicus, the biggest and most savage marine reptile ever discovered; it would even go after an allosaurus, cousin to T-Rex. One of the exhibits shows the fossilised tip of Kronosaurus’ snout. At 54 centimetres (21 inches), this fragment is only the very tip of the snout, in front of the nostrils. The complete skull would be more than 2 metres (6½ feet) long. This thing could make those big crocodiles we saw in Darwin run away and hide!

It’s amazing what they farm here!

The displays offered personalised commentary and it was through this that we learned about the discovery of the pliosaur. Found by a farmer in 1989, at first it was believed that there were only a few bone fragments but it soon came to light that what he had indeed found was the complete skeleton. Scientists believe that the pliosaur’s body sank to the bottom of the sea shortly after death and that being submerged helped to preserve the skeleton.

Moon Rocks

After wandering around the museum for a few hours we decided on a coffee break in the Moon Rocks café,

Pliosaur fossil

named for the unique rocks found in the Richmond shire. Moon Rocks are limestone creations and can vary in size from a golf ball to something weighing several tonnes. There are quite a lot of them placed around the lake. Some of these rocks have been found with fossilised remnants of fish, foliage, and shells imbedded in them. We wandered around the town for a while after leaving the museum.

There is more recent history in Richmond, too

Along the main road is the Cambridge Downs Heritage Display Centre, a replica of an 1860 homestead constructed from local flagstone rock. The original house was built in the 1880’s.

Cambridge Downs Heritage Centre

Explorers first travelled through this area in 1862 but it wasn’t until the gold rush of the 1880’s that Richmond was born. The town began its existence as a way-point for Cobb & Co Coaches. Today it has a population of about 800 permanent residents and literally thousands of tourists stop here every year using the town as a base for exploring the Dinosaur Trail. Of all the hundreds and possibly thousands of dinosaurs that roamed here only a handful of fossils have been found and it is widely believed that there are still a lot out there. So, what are you waiting for? Go get that map and get out to a fossicking site. Who knows, you just might unearth another dinosaur!

2009

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

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Roma

Roma, Capital of the Western Downs, as the publicity goes, is the centre of Queensland’s oil and gas exploration. It is also the service centre for much of western Queensland and although it is a modern country town it does boast some impressive heritage buildings, includ­ing the Roma Court House, opened in 1901.

The original court house was the scene, in 1873, of the trial of the infamous bushranger Captain Starlight.

A nice caravan park in Roma

We arrived in this colourful frontier town in Queensland’s southwest shortly before lunchtime on a sunny autumn day and rolled up to the front gate of the Villa Tourist Park ([star][star][star][star_half]).  It’s roomy and well laid out with lots of grass and open spaces, and nice ameni­ties. We set about  getting the camp organised before heading into town for some shopping and a bite to eat. The manager at the tourist park had recommended a café called Rogues of Roma and so we stopped in there for some lunch before hitting the shops for some serious souvenir hunting.

Roma Courthouse (courtesy QLD Justice Dept.)

Bottle Trees

We wandered down towards the river and in Heroes Avenue we found the Largest Bottle Tree. The bottle trees were planted to comme-morate local soldiers who had died in World War I and this particular one had been transplanted to this location in the 1920’s. Its girth is 8.9 metres (approximately 30 feet). As John said, that’s a lot of firewood!

Right next door to a winery! 

The Romavilla Winery, Queensland’s oldest winery, established in 1863, is right next door to the tourist park and later that afternoon we decided to go and have a look. I suppose I was expecting one of those upmarket wineries so I was a little disappointed

Roma’s largest bottle tree (oh, and John)

when we first arrived. In spite of the fact that Romavilla Wines have won awards from all over the world, I thought that their presentation left a little to be desired – that was until I got inside. The  building itself looked to be in need of a little work but inside there was a small reception and tasting area, and the rest was obviously a working winery. The marketing strategy of wineries in the Hunter or Barossa Valley’s wasn’t in evidence here but I imagine they thought the wines would speak for themselves. And speak they did! In fact, they shouted! It wasn’t hard to see how they could have won so many international and domestic awards and we were glad that our camp was right next door because after tasting so many of these fine wines there was no way we could have driven anywhere!

Romavilla Wines (courtesy Western Downs Holidays)

Informative conversation with fellow campers

We stayed for about an hour and when we finally left there were a few bottles of red and a bottle of port tucked under our arms, and a promise to return some day. Our campsite was situated at the back of the grounds, close to the camp kitchen and this evening we met a couple of guys, Telstra linesmen/technicians, who were working on lines throughout Outback Queensland. They told us many stories about their time in the outback, the places they’d stayed and worked in, snakes and other assorted unwelcome guests they’d had the misfortune to come across in their travels, and the condition of some of the roads. The information was duly filed away for future reference and, no doubt, will prove to be invaluable on our next and subsequent trips.

Party time!

That night there was a party across the road from the tourist park. It was a very loud party that went on long into the night, and there was one screeching voice that could probably have blistered concrete. It made

Entrance to the Big Rig

getting to sleep a challenge but the party animals gave up their noise in the wee small hours and we finally got to sleep. So it was a late start the next day and almost midday when we set off to see the Big Rig and to do the tour. Oil was discovered here at a place called Hospital Hill in 1900 and the Big Rig is a living memorial to Australia’s oil and gas industry.

A fascinating tour

It was not something that I’d particularly wanted to see but, as John said, when in Roma . . .  (sic). As it turned out the whole thing was fascinating, learning about the oil and gas exploration, seeing actual machinery that was used, and using the interactive displays. Who would have thought that drilling for oil and gas could be such a complicated process; they make it look so easy in the movies! It was definitely a couple of hours and a few dollars well spent.

Climbing the drilling platform

Great displays

There are several displays of trucks and equipment scattered around the grounds and we wandered around for a couple of hours, inspecting the drilling platforms and trucks. We walked around them, through them, and, in some cases, over them.  I, particularly, found the history of the oil and gas industry interesting.  Five wells were drilled on Hospital Hill in the years between 1906 and 1929, with the express purpose of finding oil and so much oil and gas was found that a plant to manufacture motor fuel was built between 1929 and 1931. Several of these original wells have now been utilised as town water bores.

A very interesting afternoon!

After leaving the Big Rig we went on into town to do a little more souvenir shopping and that’s when our after­noon became more interesting than we’d expected. We parked the car in the parking lot at the

Inspecting a Hazard Support Truck

supermarket and wandered into the shops. We weren’t there long and it was on our return that things livened up. John reversed the car from the parking spot and as we went to drive off something on the ground caught his eye. It was about 1.5m (5 feet) long, thin, and caramel-coloured. Yes, a snake. And not a very happy one at that.

One very upset snake!

The parking lot was full of cars and people, there was a crowd of people over near the shops, and the snake was definitely heading in their general direction. This could get interesting. Country folks tend to take things like this in their stride and no one seemed too bothered by it all but we were curious as to what type of snake it was. Just because it was brown didn’t necessarily mean it was one of the deadly “Brown Snake” family and for those of you who don’t know, the “Brown Snake” is the second deadliest snake in Australia. It is also very aggressive, nasty, and decidedly un­friendly, and those are its good points! They can “jump”, too. Apparently the brown snake can coil itself up so tightly that it springs forward, giving the impression of a “jump”. Terrific! Somebody said it was a Mulga Snake; I’d never heard of a Mulga and neither had John but by now said snake was starting to get really irritated, raising its head in what we took to be an attack mode, and, we think, generally getting ready to strike at anything. Everyone was giving it a wide berth and we decided it was time to beat a hasty retreat.

How to really tick off a snake without really trying!

Then some bright spark thought he’d run over it but missed its body and ran over the tail. Well, that snake was now totally ticked off and it shot up under the nearest car, wrapped itself around the axle and there it stayed. No one was going to try and get it out; when those things get mad, they stay mad! It wasn’t too long before a National Parks and Wildlife snake handler arrived and so we left to continue our shopping. We

The Duckpond

learned later, via the internet, that the Mulga is actually a King Brown, the nastiest of the “Brown Snake” family. I imagine the snake handler probably relocated the horrible thing to somewhere free of people. Snake handler? Now that’s a job I wouldn’t have for all the money in the world!

Duck Pond

While driving around town we discovered Roma’s famous Duck Pond. This is a favourite picnic spot in Roma; an artificial pond developed as part of the flood manage­ment plan. It has attracted a lot of domestic ducks and semi-domestic local waterfowl since its completion. At the time of our visit the water in the pond was a muddy brown colour because of recent heavy rains and, unfortunately, there wasn’t a bird in sight when we arrived.

Historic Roma

There’s much more to Roma than oil and gas (or snakes and ducks for that matter). For instance, St Paul’s Anglican Church is constructed of concrete blocks made on-site during the Great War and some of

St Paul’s Anglican Church (courtesy Queensland Holidays)

the stained glass windows date back to 1875. Roma’s history dates back to 1846 when Sir Thomas Mitchell and his party travelled up the Balonne River to an area he initially named Fitzroy Downs and in 1847 Ludwig Leichhardt, arguably Australia’s best known explorer travelled west from there to the present site of Roma.

A Fountain of Youth

To the west of Roma is the town of Mitchell. At 87 kilometres (54 miles) it’s close enough for a day trip and we decided we’d pay a visit to this charming little town. There are many towns in Queensland that claim to be the Gateway to the Outback but only Mitchell can lay claim to its very own Fountain of Youth. Mitchell’s most famous attraction is the Great Artesian Spa and no visit here is complete without sampling the restorative properties of this warm, mineralised, artesian water. We took the plunge, literally, and it proved to be one of the most relaxing and invigorating hours of our whole trip. The water comes from the Great Artesian Basin, underlying approximately one fifth of Australia. The bore brings water to the surface from more than a kilometre (.6 of a mile) underground and some of this water is believed to be about 2 million years old.

Keniff Courthouse, Mitchell

A courthouse with an oil well!

We visited the Kenniff Court House after lunch and learned a little of the local history, particularly the story of the Kenniff brothers, the last of Queensland’s bush­rangers. I found the whole court house fascinating; there aren’t too many court houses in the world with an oil derrick in the front garden! We returned to Roma late in the day and started packing up the camp. Our few days here had been far too short but it was time to move on.  Roma is conveniently located at the intersection of the Warrego and Carnarvon Highways and is a perfect base for exploring the region. The Carnarvon Highway is known as the Great Inland Way and stretches over 2000 kilometres (1243 miles) from Dubbo in the New South Wales central west to Cairns in Queensland’s far north.

2003

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

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St George

St George. In spite of its name, and its association with fire-breathing monsters, there was not a dragon in sight on either of our visits here, although I did hear the odd dubious remark around our campsite from time to time! The town actually got its name when the explorer Sir Thomas Mitchell crossed the Balonne River and landed on this site on St. George’s Day, April 23rd,in 1846. On our first visit, back in 2003, we were tenting and were so impressed with our stay that we decided to return.

Dig your own bait!

A few things had changed this time, not the least of which was the “Wormpatch”. Back then, when John had asked where was the best place to buy bait for fishing, he was told that he had to dig for his own in the Wormpatch. But this time we couldn’t find it and I strongly suspect that it is now a park or part of a housing estate. Yes, St George has grown remarkably in six years and the district now has a population of around 4000 people.

1920’s Nostalgia

Another of the changes here is at the St George Hotel. I remember our visit to the bistro for lunch and what a great place it turned out to be. The bistro was reminiscent of the old hotel foyers of the 1920’s. You know the kind, lots of potted palms, ceiling fans turning slowly, a couple of high-back cane chairs in the corner. I almost expected Peter Lorre or Sidney Greenstreet to walk in, dressed in a white suit, fedora in hand. It was that kind of place.

Everything changes

But, sadly, a change of ownership has meant changes in the bistro. The ceiling fans have been replaced

John in “The Wormpatch”

by air conditioning, there’s not a potted palm in sight, and the chairs are functional steel and plastic. Who says progress is for the better! We arrived in St George on our second visit after a 4-hour drive from Cunnamulla that included stops for animals on the road, approximately 295 kilometres (183 miles) west of here. Some of those animals took their own sweet time in getting out of the way, too, but it wasn’t long before we were pulling into the driveway of the Pelican’s Rest Tourist Park ([star][star][star][star][star_half]) where we’d stayed on our first visit.

Well, almost everything

The tourist park hadn’t changed; still the same great folks running the place, plenty of grass and roomy van sites, and lovely amenities. We wandered off down to the Visitor Information Centre to pick up some brochures and while there we picked up a bottle or two of Dragon’s Breath Sauce. This super-hot sauce makes Tabasco mild by comparison and where else, I ask you, would you expect to find such a throat-burning concoction but in a place called St George!

A western winery

But there was one place that I particularly wanted to visit during our stay. Riversands Winery is about 2

First night bubbly with Two Tails

kilometres (a little over a mile) from town. It is Queensland’s most western winery and is located on the banks of the Balonne River. Lunch in the gardens and a stroll along the river bank was what I wanted and I wasn’t disappointed. It was a perfect afternoon after the long drive this morning. Returning to camp late in the afternoon, we settled in for a quiet evening, our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine chilling nicely for our first night ritual, a couple of steaks sizzling on the barbecue, and some pleasant conversation with our camping neighbours. Does it get any better than this?

Cobb & Co in Surat

St George is a great base from which to explore the region and the little town of Surat is definitely worth some exploration. Only 115 kilometres (71 miles) from St George, it’s a sleepy little village nestled on the banks of the Balonne River and only an hour or so drive north. We arrived in Surat and stopped for a coffee before visiting the Cobb & Co Changing Station. This is a museum dedicated to the days of old and is actually the former site of the depot where the coach drivers would change horses. Hence the name.

Big fish and history, Surat has it all

There’s a tank inside the museum that holds the biggest Murray Cod that I have ever seen, not that I’ve seen one before but, as fish go, this was the granddaddy! However, our guide did point out that it isn’t the biggest one that’s ever been caught in these parts. I found the whole museum fascinating with its many historical artefacts, pictures, and stories; I could happily have stayed there all day. The displays of mining equipment from the early days of oil and gas exploration were remarkable and there were even newspapers from over the last hundred years or so right up until today including some interesting articles on a recent gas explosion that had almost been a major disaster in the town. In another part of the museum there was a huge display on the old Cobb & Co coaches that carried passengers and freight in this area as recently as the 1930’s and a fully restored coach that was almost a hundred years old.

Fully restored Cobb & Co coach

A perfect display of balance

Behind the Changing Station is the Balonne River Gallery where local artists display their works in various exhibitions. The exhibition that we saw during our visit was called “Understorey” by local artist Victoria Arthur. Ms Arthur described her work as “A collection of sculptural pieces in clay– incorporating a variety of forms, techniques, and styles, unified by their multistorey construction, reflecting the idea that there is usually more than one layer, or level, to a structure; more than one side to a story, and always more than one way of looking at things.” John and I were entranced by the exhibition but disappointed that photography was not allowed. An arch of sandstone rocks was just one of her pieces and it was as perfect a display of balance as either of us had ever seen. The intricate detail must have taken her years and a lot of patience to complete. We were almost too scared to breathe around these sculptures as each single piece was secured in place only by the next piece. As I said, perfect balance, and one wrong move, a bump against a table, a slam of the door, could have seen it all come crashing down!

Fishing in St George

But soon it was time to leave and so we made our way back to St George where the Beardmore Dam

One that didn’t get away!

beckoned. The dam, completed in 1972, holds more than 81000 megalitres (several billion gallons) of water and is one of the best fishing spots in St George, or so the locals say. After all, St George is the fishing capital of inland Queensland.

Mud fish?

Well, John threw in his line and I got comfortable with a good book but, as I was discovering painfully, even in the late afternoon in May the Queensland sun has a bite to it. I could feel myself burning and so beat a hasty retreat to the car. Not for long, however, because then John caught his first fish. I don’t know what sort of fish it was but the water was so muddy from the recent rains that there was no way he was keeping it so back in it went. Two or three more followed the same way until finally he caught a Yellowbelly which, I believe, is a golden perch. It also lived to see another day.

A popular picnic place in St George

Not long after that we left the dam and drove to the other side of town to the Jack Taylor Weir. Now this is a popular place with its boat ramps, parks, and amenities, and a lot of people were enjoying late afternoon picnics by the river. The weir is a mass concrete construction about 5.8 metres (19 feet) high and contains a pump station that provides St George’s main irrigation channel. In the landscaped gardens adjacent to the weir is a cairn commemorating the crossing of the Balonne River by Sir Thomas Mitchell. Today, the

Balonne River

crossing is via the Andrew Nixon Bridge. Completed in 1953, it replaced the original timber bridge that had been built in 1890 by Andrew Nixon, the original owner of the largest property in the shire.

Morning tea at Riversands

Another visit to Riversands was on the cards before we left St George and so the next day, our last here, we drove out to the winery. We spent some time talking with the manager there and learning a little of the history of Riversands and about the names of some of their wines and then enjoyed a sumptuous morning tea in the garden before a stroll down to the river. St George is located in southwestern

The grounds at Riversands Wines

Queensland not far from the New South Wales border and is the administrative centre for the Shire of Balonne. Our second visit here had come to an end and it was time to say farewell to this pretty little town. From the purple and white flowered bauhinias lining Victoria Street to the brilliant display of jacaranda trees, St George really is a beautiful town and one well worth seeing. Both our visits here have been great and we were sorry to be leaving again so soon. But, who knows, perhaps one day we’ll be back. I certainly hope so.

2009

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

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Sunshine Coast

Queensland’s beautiful Sunshine Coast lies approximately 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Brisbane, stretching along the coast from Caloundra in the south to Rainbow Beach in the north, and out through the hinterland, but with its laidback lifestyle it is truly a world away from the hectic pace of today’s city life.  Our visit to the Coast had been planned for some time and what better place to stay than Maroochydore, right in the very centre of the

Sunshine Coast. Blessed with 25 kilometres (more than 15 miles) of sun-swept beaches and sitting on the Maroochy River, it was perfect.

A roadside rest area for the night

We left home on a sunny and very warm Saturday morning and turned north along the Pacific Highway. There was hardly any traffic and we certainly made good time as we headed for an overnight rest stop in the Woodburn area in northern New South Wales. Our first choice turned out to be more than just a rest stop. New Italy Rest Area is quite a commercial stop with a café and an Aboriginal museum. It wasn’t quite to our taste so we continued on to the next one only to miss it entirely as it is on the other side of the road and there are no signs as you approach. Oh well, there was nothing for it but to continue on to our third and final choice just past the town of Wardell. Well, talk about impressed! There was plenty of room, easy parking, picnic tables, and very clean, odour-free amenities. Not bad for a roadside rest stop. It was right beside the highway but I, for one, don’t care for secluded when you’re a long way from anywhere!

Arriving in Maroochydore

We had a good night, in spite of the constant traffic noise, and set off in high spirits the next morning. It wasn’t long before we passed Brisbane and crossed over the magnificent Gateway Bridge. Now, I’m a Sydney girl and Sydney Harbour is the most beautiful harbour in the world but Brisbane’s Gateway Bridge leaves the Sydney Harbour Bridge looking like a relic consigned to the past – or a poor relation, at least! Our accommodation in Maroochydore was at the Alex Beach Tourist Park ([star][star][star][star]) at Alexandra Headland and we arrived in the early afternoon. The park is big and comfortable and has a very inviting-looking swimming pool. The day was hot and very humid and it was very hard to resist that pool!

First night bubbly with Two Tails

A quick look around

After camp was set up we wandered off into the town to have a look around and for John to check out the best fishing spots. I made sure there was a chicken shop close by. And then we headed back to the park and settled in with our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine to celebrate our first night in a new caravan/tourist park. Later that night we were woken by a huge thunderclap, some brilliant flashes of lightning, and one torrential downpour. Unfortunately it didn’t cool things down much and it was still hot and humid the next morning.

Off to explore the Sunshine Coast

The day started out fine and sunny but by 8 o’clock the clouds had rolled in, the wind came up, and the rain came down! It certainly put the mockers on our plans to visit Australia Zoo but the best laid plans sometimes need a little re-arranging and so we piled into the car and set off for the Sunshine Castle at Bli Bli.

A castle with a dinosaur

This Norman-style castle has all the medieval additions you would expect including moat, drawbridge, battlements, and tower. It even has a dungeon. So, I was a little surprised to see a dinosaur on the battlements. I kid you not, a dinosaur. I guess the fire-breathing dragon must have been on a day off! We didn’t go into the castle as John wanted to visit the Big Pineapple at Nambour so you can imagine how,

Sunshine Castle at Bli Bli (note the dinosaur!)

after driving all the way down there, we discovered that it was closed for renovations. The centrepiece of the Sunshine Plantation, the Big Pineapple had been on our list of must-sees since our first visit there back in 2003.

Ride the Ginger Train

Never mind, there is a lot more to see and do on the Sunshine Coast and our next stop was at the Ginger Factory at Yandina. The home of Buderim Ginger is the largest ginger factory in the world and is a very impressive tourist attraction as well. From the café where we had one of the best cups of coffee we’d ever tasted, to the 110-year-old Ginger Train that takes visitors on rides throughout the complex, including the outstanding gardens, to the cruise called “Overboard”, Panny’s Chocolate Factory, and Superbee Honey Production, the Ginger Factory is fantastic. We wandered around the various displays and exhibitions for a couple of hours but when John found his way into the chocolate factory it looked like we could be there a whole lot longer! Especially when he found out about the free samples!

A visit to the Nut Factory 

I wandered off and left him alone. There was a display showing the history of Buderim Ginger and I wanted to have a look but if it didn’t involve free samples of chocolate John wasn’t interested. Finally I dragged him away and we went across the road to Nutworks, a macadamia nut processing factory.  There were no

The Ginger Train

demonstrations on at that time but we did learn a little about the history of this unique Australian nut (no, not the one I’m married to!) The indigenous tribes of Australia’s east coast would gather the seeds of the ‘Kindal Kindal’ rainforest tree. These trees were discovered by two European botanists in 1853 and they gave the trees and the nuts their name.

The unofficial capital of the Sunshine Coast

The day was dragging on and we wanted to get to Noosa Heads for lunch so we said goodbye to Yandina, the ginger and the nuts and set off for the unofficial capital of the Sunshine Coast. There is nowhere else in Australia quite like Noosa Heads. It has everything from pristine beaches, tropical rainforests, a stunning hinterland, rivers and lakes, and is home to Queensland’s chic-est mall. The town has certainly changed since our last visit here in 1981. There used to be a house made entirely of empty beer bottles and somewhere I have a photograph of the kids standing in front of it. The house no longer exists but we learned that it was only in the last 5 years that it was demolished. If they ever want to build it again I don’t think there will be any shortage of volunteers to empty the bottles!

Lunch in Noosa Heads

The beachfront Hastings Street is located on the shores of Laguna Bay and is a pedestrian-friendly boulevard. We wandered along the street looking for somewhere to have lunch. It shouldn’t have been that difficult but the problem was that we were spoilt for choice! There are literally hundreds of eateries ranging

In Noosa Heads National Park

from small cafés and bakeries to 5-star restaurants in Noosa Heads and every one of them inviting. Finally we settled on a bakery where we enjoyed a light lunch before going for a walk to the beach and then up into the national park.

A walk through the national park

The Noosa Heads National Park is only a 15-minute walk from Hastings Street, and like all national parks, is stunning. The coastal walkway winds through some spectacular rainforest and the views are outstanding. We followed the walkway for some distance before heading back to the car. We would have been happy to walk further but the odd shower of rain didn’t make for a pleasant stroll. The strong southerly wind was making conditions very unpleasant and so we decided to make our way back down the coast to Maroochydore.

Old Woman’s Island

Along the way we passed through Peregian Beach, Coolum, and Marcoola before making a brief stop at Mudjimba. John had stayed there with his parents many (many) years ago and wanted to see it again. Just offshore is a small island that the local Aboriginal tribe called Mudjimba, meaning Old Woman’s Island. The ex-HMAS Brisbane, one of Australia’s most distinguished warships, was scuttled 5 kilometres (3 miles) offshore of Mudjimba and lies at a depth of 27 metres (approximately 89 feet). The Brisbane saw

Mudjimba (Old Woman’s Island)

service in Vietnam in 1969 and in 1971, and in Kuwait in 1991. The wreck is now an impressive artificial reef and a terrific dive site. Not that diving is my thing, I might add; I need a boat hull or at least very thick glass between me and the sharks that live in the ocean!

Australia Zoo

The next day dawned with persistent showers and strong gusts of wind but the forecast said ‘clearing conditions’ so we took a chance and set off for the town of Beerwah and a visit to Australia Zoo. By the time we arrived the weather had cleared and the temperature had begun a rapid upward climb. Now this was Queensland! And what a brilliant place the zoo is!

Steve Irwin’s legacy

The brain-child of the late Steve Irwin, it’s a wonderful tribute to him and a credit to his widow, Terri, who has continued his work since his untimely death in 2006. Established in 1970 by the Irwin family and known then as the Beerwah Reptile Park, Australia Zoo was born in 1992 when Steve and Terri Irwin took over as managers. Its original 4 acres (1.62 hectares) has expanded to over 70 acres (over 28 hectares) and is Australia’s number one tourist attraction (Australian Tourism Awards 2008). We arrived at a little after 10:00 and, along with hordes of children on school field trips, made our way into the zoo. The rainforest-like design features animals in enclosures that closely resemble their natural habitat. From the rhinoceros iguanas at the front entrance through to kangaroos, koalas, Tasmanian devils, and, of course, crocodiles, the whole zoo is simply amazing.

The Crocoseum

Australia Zoo entrance

At the Crocoseum we were treated to a display from native birds, learned what not to do with a snake (I always thought running the other way was a good idea), and how not to get eaten by a saltwater crocodile. We moved on after the show to the dingoes and saw some baby Tasmanian devils (so cute but not really house-trained), and then visited the crocodile pens where we watched a very brave man feeding saltwater crocs (one false move and he could have been dinner!), saw freshwater crocodiles and even American alligators.

The last of the dinosaurs

By now it was late in the day and John wanted to see the snakes before we bid goodbye to Australia Zoo and so we wandered through the reptile

Croc feeding

cave. Personally I could have done without that, we see enough of those things where we live. But then I wanted one more look at the crocodiles before we left. They truly are the last of the dinosaurs and have been around for about 240 million years.

A ship memorial

The next morning we visited the HMAS Brisbane memorial. The mast from the ship is located on the bluff of Alexandra Headland, a short distance from Maroochydore. It was dedicated in August 2006. The views from the Headland are stunning and we enjoyed a walk around the park.

Sailing on the Maroochy River

On the way back to camp John wanted to check out potential fishing spots and we drove over to the Maroochy River at Cotton Tree where he got into a conversation with some locals and they told him the best places to go. I must admit, I thought it all looked promising but my attention was drawn to the kite-surfers. I was fascinated; how do they do that? The Maroochydore Sailing Club was having a regatta on the river and that was fun to watch for a while. The little sailing boats were going in all directions almost like

That’s a lot of luggage!

the Keystone Cops! Not quite Sydney-Hobart material!

A cruise to Caloundra Heads

The next day was one of those days that Queenslanders brag about. Not a cloud in the sky and the temperature climbing rapidly. The waterways of the Sunshine Coast are spectacular and we set off from Pelican Waters near Caloundra for a morning cruise out to Bribie Island aboard the Caloundra Cruises vessel Riverlight III. Bribie Island is one of 3 major sand islands that hug the Queensland coastline. It is 34 kilometres (21 miles) long and 8 kilometres (5 miles) wide at its widest point. Most of the island is national park but there are some residential properties at the southern end.

A passage named by Matthew Flinders

The day was absolutely sparkling as we cruised out through Pumicestone Passage. The Passage was discovered and named in 1799 by Matthew Flinders when, during a brief exploration of the area, he found rocks resembling pumice. We cruised past Bribie Island National Park and skirted Tripcony Bight Conservation Zone, a part of the Moreton Bay Marine Park, before moving on to Caloundra Heads. Caloundra is the southern-most point of the Sunshine Coast and there is an inactive lighthouse at the heads. On our way back to Pelican Waters we had views to the Glasshouse Mountains in the distance. The 12 mountains are the cores of extinct volcanoes that formed approximately 27 million years ago. They were discovered and named in 1770 by Captain James Cook, their conical tops reminding him of the glass furnaces in England.

Caloundra Heads

The Ettamogah Pub

When we arrived back from our cruise it was lunch time and one place I definitely wanted to visit was the Ettamogah Pub. Now, I know that there are Ettamogah’s (or should that be Ettamogi?) all over Australia but we had never been into one. It was a situation I intended to rectify. The Ettamogah Pub originally appeared in a cartoon published in the Australasian Post from 1960 to 1998 and the first real pub was built in Albury in 1987. This particular one was built in 1989 and is the largest of the many Ettamogah’s around Australia. Ettamogah is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘place of good drink’. John was fascinated with the truck parked on the roof and legend says that this 1927 Chevy from a property in Roma in south-western Queensland, was washed up there in the flood of 1991 and no one could be bothered to drive it down! Right.

Ettamogah Pub

Australiana at its best

Our lunch was great, even if there was enough to feed a family of four for a week, and we had fun reading all the cartoons around the walls but John was a little disappointed that they had sold out of Ettamogah Beer. The Ettamogah Pub is so Aussie; its style, the furniture, the people, and, especially, the humour. It really is Australiana at its best!

A walk underwater

After such a huge lunch we really needed a walk but the sun was fierce and I was already starting to burn. So what better place could there be to have a walk and yet stay indoors than Underwater World at Mooloolaba. All I can say about it is ‘fantastic’! The exhibits were stunning, from the ‘Weird and Wonderful’ where I stood inside a replica jawbone from a prehistoric shark, the Megalodon, the largest shark ever found that lived around 25 million years ago, to the ‘Fresh and Freaky’ that included the nasties of our river systems, even a freshwater crocodile. There was ‘Billabongs and Backyards’, ‘Crawly Creatures’, and ‘Otter Empire’ but my favourite was ‘Sharks Alive’.

Inside the jaws of a prehistoric Megalodon

Surrounded by sharks!

There is a moving walkway through the aquarium tunnel but also a pathway to walk on. There were sharks, stingrays, and all manner of marine creatures swimming around and over us as we walked through the tunnels. We learned that there are 9 different types of sharks here including the great white and the infamous bull shark. There was a hammerhead shark in a separate bubble-like tank; he was a new addition and still too aggressive to be put in with the others yet. The divers were saying that the only one that causes them any concern is the bull shark; it’s nasty and extremely aggressive, and that’s on a good day! Like a great white on steroids!

Amazing seals

We finished off our visit to Underwater World with a stop at ‘Seal Island’ for the show. The two seals had us in stitches with their antics but the poor “volunteer” from the audience ended up being pushed into the water with them. I think -hope – it was all part of the show. By now it was quite late and we were almost the last people out the door. It was time to go back to camp after what had been a very long but truly fantastic day.

The show at Seal Island

Fishing on the Sunshine Coast

And so, in my exhausted state, I was only too happy to agree that it was time John went fishing. We came all the way to the Sunshine Coast and he hadn’t even so much as taken the fishing rods out. It became very windy during the night and a few drops of rain fell in the wee hours; it didn’t look good for the fishing expedition. But the weather cleared to a fine, hot day although it was a pity that the wind didn’t go away as well. Still, we set off for Cotton Tree after breakfast hoping that conditions would get better. We settled in under the shade of a big old tree on the banks of the Maroochy River and John cast his line. But the wind was playing havoc with everything and he couldn’t get so much as a nibble. About the only thing he caught that day was a dose of sunburn but he persevered, determined to catch something, anything, on this beautiful Sunshine Coast. He finally gave up late in the afternoon and decided that we should go back to camp. Poor John, he looked so disappointed that I didn’t have the heart to make any comments although I’m sure he expected them.

A surf carnival!

So we’d now come to our last day. We had nothing in particular planned for this day but I did mention that a person can’t come to the Sunshine Coast and NOT go to the beach. Quite simply, it’s just not done! We walked down to Alex Beach this morning and took ourselves for a stroll along the sand. The water was warm and the sand was very easy to walk on. I have always hated trying to walk in soft sand but this was great. We passed the Alex Beach Surf Club and the lifeguard tower and sat for a while to watch the surf carnival. There were a lot of people on the beach, walking or just sunbathing, children building monster sand castles, and swimmers and surfers in the water but the surf carnival held our attention for a while. The competitors, bronzed Aussies one and all, hardly looked like they were raising a sweat.

Surf carnival at Alex Beach

A swim is a must-do

After a while we returned to the access path and then continued on in the other direction. The beaches here are fantastic. There are literally kilometres of white sand and the water is such a deep shade of blue, it’s absolutely stunning. We left the beach and started waling back to camp but the day was hot and humid and the tourist park’s pool looked very inviting. Swimming is another “must-do” for the Sunshine Coast and we made excellent use of the pool and park’s facilities. It really was the perfect end to our holiday.

Dining out in Maroochydore

That evening we walked over to Cotton Tree for dinner at the Bullockies Steak and Seafood Restaurant. Subtle lighting and a pleasant atmosphere greeted us as soon as we walked in the door. The whole place was great. From the staff, who were friendly and helpful, to the terrific food, and live entertainment that wasn’t bad, we had a great night. The Sunshine Coast is one place that we will certainly come back to sometime. We haven’t been even remotely disappointed by any part of our time here, even the lack of fish didn’t really put a dampener on our stay. Well, they could have had some Ettamogah Beer!

2011

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

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Town of 1770

On May 24, 1770, Lieutenant James Cook R.N. and the crew of HM Bark Endeavour set foot on Australian soil, for the second time. The Town of Seventeen Seventy in Queensland is built on the site of that landing. Originally known as Round Hill, the name was changed in 1970 to commemorate the bicentennial of that landing. Located on a brilliant stretch of sun-drenched sub-tropical

coastline, it is the northern most surf beach on the east coast of Australia and is one of only three places on the east coast where you can experience a sunset over water.

Campground in the Town of 1770

There are many camp-grounds in 1770 but several people had told us that the one to stay at was the one right at the end of the road and so we checked in to the 1770 Camping Grounds ([star][star][star]). Well, it was dusty and dirty and, at first glance, not nearly as nice as some that we’d stayed at, and the best site we could find was right below the road to the lookout. We hoped it wouldn’t be too busy there at night. But the lack of grass and the fine blackish sand that covered the ground turned out to be minor inconveniences; this campground is right on the beach and when the tide came in the whole place became picture postcard perfect. We couldn’t have got a better place to camp if we’d ordered it!

A walk on the sand

We’d arrived at about a quarter to four and by the time the camp was set up it was just starting to get dark. But that didn’t stop us from taking a walk on the beach, feeling the sand between our toes, testing the water which, incidentally, was freezing, and breathing in the fresh salt air. Could Heaven be any better than this?

To infinity in a sailboat (and yes, there is a boat there!)

Exploring the Town of 1770

Nearby is the town of Agnes Water and this is rapidly becoming the holiday mecca for this region of Queensland’s coast with a large part of it is covered with million dollar properties. We went for a little drive to this nearby town the next morning and after only a short while we knew that one day soon the town of Agnes Water will be big and we were glad that we had the chance to visit before that happens.

Water of deepest blue

Later we walked up to the lookout and what a spectacular view! For 360° it was absolutely out-standing! The water was so blue and clear and it stretched endlessly. In the distance we could see the sails of a boat that looked to be sailing into infinity. There is a memorial cairn at the lookout commemorating James Cook’s landing and we learned that if we had been there the previous week we would have been right in the middle of the 1770 Festival where the community holds an annual re-enactment of that historic landing.

Fishing in 1770

We returned to camp and John started throwing around a few broad hints about fishing. There are several really good fishing spots along the beach and there was just no way he was going to come all the way to

The view from the lookout

1770 and not fish! So after lunch that day we picked up the fishing rods and off we went to a nice, open little beach that was almost deserted. John cast his line and I settled in for a relaxing afternoon on the sand but the sun was pretty fierce and I could feel myself burning so it was off to the shade for me. But John was having a great time on the beach catching fish after fish. The only problem was that they were all undersize and he had to throw them back. If you’ve ever wondered where Neptune’s Nursery is, well wonder no more because it’s right here at 1770!! But that wasn’t stopping John, he was having a ball.

 

LARC

It was while he was standing on the beach that the LARC (Lighter Amphibious Resupply Cargo) vessel came in. There are 2 of them and they are operated by 1770 Environmental Tours. These large pink … are they boats or buses? Well anyway, we were fascinated and a I just had to have a ride on one of them!! Plans were made and we packed up the fishing gear and went to the marina to see if we could get on the LARC but they were booked out for that day. However, the next day’s sunset cruise had seats available. Perfect. While at the marina we also looked at the Lady Musgrave Island tours and the Great Barrier Reef tour that takes in the protected Fitzroy Reef Lagoon. The Town of 1770 is the closest point to access the Southern Great Barrier Reef but a lack of time for us meant those tours would have to wait until the next time we come this way.

Captain Cook memorial cairn

A sunset cruise

The next day dawned warm and humid and we had a late start. It was a day to spend some time on the beach and then John did some fishing off the rocks this afternoon but didn’t even get so much as a bite. Later in the afternoon a cool change moved in just to remind us that it was winter. By the time we were ready to set off for our sunset cruise on the LARC the weather was overcast, windy, and cold!

Accompanied by dolphins

We still enjoyed our cruise even if we didn’t see much of the sunset. But I wouldn’t have wanted to be the type who gets seasick, the swell was making our trip very interesting! Up and down, up and down … no, not a bit seasick! And a pod of dolphins joined us, swimming alongside for a short while. They are such beautiful creatures, very graceful and serene. They were jumping out of the water and doing all those amazing things that dolphins are famous for, unfortunately a little too quick for my camera (or me for that matter!) We stopped on one of the sandbars for a few minutes before the return journey. It’s amazing that when the tide is in this whole little “island” is completely submerged.

Not a pleasant night to be had

It was dark by the time we got back and we decided on fish and chips for dinner before heading back to the camp. I would have liked to have sat on the beach with our dinner but the breeze was particularly cold and so we hurried back to the shelter, such as it is, of our tent. We’d been lucky, weather-wise, so far and we

LARC on the sandbar

weren’t going to let a little rain spoil it for us now. Famous last words as it turned out. We were pleased to discover in the morning that the tent doesn’t leak. It rained heavily throughout the night and the fine dust of the campsite became fine mud; it made packing up interesting and messy! At least the rain had stopped by the time we were ready to take the tent down and not long after we were packed the sun came out for what turned out to be another glorious day. But it was time to say goodbye to 1770 and move on to our next stop. That old tourist blurb of Queensland being beautiful one day and perfect the next is true. In fact I think they had 1770 in mind when they thought it up. The Town of 1770, where the surf meets the reef, is a paradise just waiting to be explored. So, what are you waiting for?

2003

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

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