A video link appears at the bottom of this blog post.
On disembarking from the Magnetic Island ferry, we headed directly to Bowen, pausing only for necessities and roadwork. We stayed at the Bowen Arrow Motel. Now, who could resist it with a name like that?
More roadworks south of Bowen. One 20 km strip with 15 km at 60 kph and the other 5 at 80 kph. Traffic was not heavy, so the drive was pleasant. The skies were partly cloudy with enough sprinkles at Proserpine to kick the automatic wipers into action for a swish or two.
We used the Mackay Ring Road for the first time. It completely misses the city, leaving the Bruce (north bound) at the BP truck stop south of town, runs west for about 3 km and then turns north to re-join the Bruce near Farleigh sugar mill. Three km at 80 kph and 8 at 100 kph. Saves a bit of time and city traffic.
If you break a Bowen to Brisbane trip into three days travel, then Marlborough is where you end up on the first night. We have stayed there in the caravan, but never used the motel. It is dated, perhaps bit tired, but so are we. But we had a comfortable night and a good meal in the restaurant. There are also workers camps on site, so they get good patronage from camp occupants.
We stopped for lunch at Clairview. The caravan park has grown and is now called the BarraCrab Caravan Park and boasts a bistro and bar. But we ate our sandwiches seated in a picnic shelter overlooking the Coral Sea….with the tide out.
The final two days of our trip were just more driving but keeping daily distance to about 400 km. We did morning coffee at a pie cart at the south of Rockhampton.
We turned off at Fred Haig Dam, just north of Gin Gin. This dam holds back the waters of Lake Monduran. It supplies irrigation water to Bundaberg primary producers. We had spent a night there about 12 years ago. It has a good caravan park, built below the retaining wall and patronised by Barramundi fishermen.
We spent Saturday night at Childers in a pleasant motel on the southern end of town. Childers proved to be the start of cool wet weather. We had intermittent rain all the way home.
South of Maryborough, in fact south of Tiaro, a sign by the highway advises of a tourist drive through Bauple. We have both seen and ignored it many times. But this was the day that we finally succumbed to curiosity and took the drive.
Bauple is a small, old town but that is about all. Not much there but we did see a sign advising of a “bypass meeting” which suggests that the highway diversion around Gympie might just be diverting through Bauple. We didn’t stop for photos
It was too wet for a picnic morning coffee so we called at The Coffee Club at Gympie. This store of TCC has about the best range of cakes of any and seems to be a popular meeting place for Gympieites. It is always busy.
We arrived home at about 12.30 pm and got on with unpacking. Another successful trip under our belt, despite being interrupted.
Thanks, Ruth, for agreeing to being dragged around the bush again. I am never so happy as when I am driving down another remote country road, in pursuit of another bit of Australiana. Ruth knows that you can’t take the bush out of the boy. Even when he has become an old boy.
Note: A video link appears at the bottom of this blog post.
The ferry departed on time, turned in the limited width of Ross Creek and slowly made its way down the channel and out into the broader waters of Cleveland Bay. The harbour activities were on our right, including HMAS Adelaide, probably in port replenishing its supplies since it is a supply ship.
Reminder: Click on pictures to expand to full screen size.
Substantial work is under way to increase the size of Townsville Harbour. As we cruised past we could see where work has commenced to construct footings for a sea wall to enclose a large area which will ultimately be pumped dry and filled, to allow the building of wharves and freight handling facilities. I understand that the existing port is literally bursting at the seams.
On our first day on the island we took it easy, with a slow start, although I did take a walk out onto the west side breakwater which was just down the street in front of our resort complex. After coffee we crossed the island to Horseshoe Bay and stayed for lunch. We returned in stages, looking at items of interest, such bays and headlands and other features.
The ferry base is at Nelly Bay, near the southwest corner if the island. When you leave the ferry, if you drive to the left, you reach Picnic Bay, so named because in the early days Townsville residents would cross by boat to the nearest point on the island, for a picnic. It is a short drive. Just along Nelly Bay Beach, over a ridge and down to the town area, which is clustered around an hotel.
If you turn right from the ferry the road leads through Arcadia, then across the island to Horseshoe Bay. A national park occupies most of the island, which is in reality a huge pile of tree covered rocks with a coast which alternates between bays with sandy beaches divided by rocky promontories.
The population centres are more a series of small residential towns than an island of holiday resorts, although some high-quality holiday accommodation and higher priced residential units have been built in recent years. Most residents commute to Townsville to work via the SeaLink passenger ferry. Parking spaces are at a premium during the day anywhere within walking distance of the ferry terminal.
We went looking for sunsets in the late afternoon, but the sun sets behind mangrove covered shores on the largely inaccessible north-western corner of the island, making the exercise a bit difficult. At least that is where the sun set while we were there. We gave up and went back to our unit.
Because the island is mountainous there are not many easy walks, certainly not that lead to elevated lookouts. On the morning of our second day, with no other plans made, I decided to set out on a walk to the area of military installations from WWII days. The access road that visitors use to access the site is the one built during the war. It is a fairly easy walk to the site of the camp but when you get there you are confronted with a long flight of rough stone steps, that lead up to the gun platforms and lookout posts. The ammunition magazine is part way up.
The planners really did use the topography to advantage. There were two large guns, one placed higher than the other but placed to increase the arc of fire. There are two observation points for lookouts and signals, set on the highest rocks and a range finder to tell the guns how much powder they needed to reach the target. The construction would have been a huge challenge and I am glad that I was not one of the soldiers with the task of getting ammunition up to the guns.
There are Koalas on Magnetic Island and the walk to the fortress passes through some of their habitat. I saw two of them, but not very clearly. They were not at all keen to show their faces.
I was rather tired when I got back to the unit. My smart watch told me that I had climbed the equivalent of sixteen stories. So we had a quiet lunch and rested up, making a final visit to Horseshoe Bay later in the afternoon to enjoy an ice-cream, as we looked out over the blue water at the small boats on their moorings..
Just before lunch our attention was drawn to a Bush Stone-curlew family, parents and one young bird, who were making themselves at home in a garden bed under an ornamental tree. As we were having lunch, we looked out the door and there they were, looking in at us. More photos and they finally moved on. They are apparently regulars.
We were on the mid-day ferry back to Australia, so with check out at 10.00 am we had ample time for a leisurely brunch before we queued up to board the ferry. We stopped off at Scallywags Café, up the street a bit from our unit, for a very pleasant brunch. We even had some time left to read and watch the waters of Cleveland Bay, before boarding the ferry.
Note: A video link appears at the bottom of this blog post.
All along the highway from about Blackall, roadkill was attended by birds that I thought were a type of Kite and black Crows. Once I got a photo, I was able to identify them as Black Kites. Their appearance and behaviour, such as their swooping flight and that they were in flocks. I posted about Plumed Whistling Ducks and Crested Pigeons in the previous post. So that’s it for Birds at Longreach.
We departed Longreach early to reach Winton in good time as we had a drive of about two and a half hours after Winton, to reach our overnight stop at Hughenden.
The location of The Australian Age of Dinosaurs is on the Longreach side of Winton, so that helped. Part of the success of this attraction is the brilliant sighting on top of a jump up. The top is quite flat, probably a couple of hundred metres above the grassy plains of the grazing area. Huge rocks have broken away around the edge and moved a short distance to where they have become stable. All of the buildings are on the plateau, but some displays have been built on and among those huge rocks around the plateau rim.
We arrived about an hour ahead of our tour and presented ourselves at reception. We were given an earlier tour start. The session required a short trip on a shuttle to the Dinosaur Canyon Outpost. This part is relatively new. It is in a large fully enclosed building into which has been moved a large area of fossilised rock that was found in the lower country. It is part of an ancient swamp where Dinosaur footprints of various sizes have been frozen in time. The guide points out some differences between the footprints and what it is thought the creatures were doing at the time.
The displays that have been built among the rocks on the side of the jump up, are in this area.
About 50 km away on the Jundah Road south of Winton is the site of the dinosaur stampede. We saw it years ago and found it to be most interesting but inconvenient to get to, because of the condition of the road. So to have this display of similar footprints so easily accessible is a great convenience.
The next part of the tour required a drive or walk of about 500 metres to the laboratory, where the fossils are prepared for display or further research. We were taken through the detail if how digs for fossils are conducted and the fossils secured and brought back for further processing so that the item can be positively identified. Finally we watched as the workers used a variety of tools to remove foreign material without causing damage to the fossil.
Finally, we returned to the museum at the main building for a presentation of how the finished fossils are used to recreate the original creature, or part of a creature, using genuine parts or parts fabricated to replace the missing bit. These are displayed as models, a leg for example, and in photographs or sketches. There is an interesting display of parts that don’t fit with anything else but are genuine.
Since the café is in the same building as the museum, we had coffee and a sandwich and drove into Winton for a petrol refill at $2.02 per litre. But that now seems cheap compared to $2.15 that I saw on a pump at Redcliffe yesterday.
The drive to Hughenden is on sealed road except for the first 15 km that is currently a dirt side track running parallel with an almost completed new road. We stopped at the tiny town of Corfield for a break. This “town” boasted a pub and racetrack. The pub is now permanently closed but I am not sure about the racetrack. They used to conduct a “Corfield Cup” but a lot of those country events were cancelled during the Covid epidemic and have not restarted.
There are no real towns along this road, just one other notable locality, Stamford that has a school.
About 30 km short of Hughenden, we came across a group of Brolga. The Brolga were in a paddock about 30 km south of our destination. I was separated from the Brolgas by a 4 strand well maintained barbed wire fence, when I took some photos. They kept moving away until I reached the fence. Then they turned around and looked at me. I wonder if they knew that I could not get through the fence.
On our arrival at the caravan park in Hughenden, our doorstep was taken up by Rainbow Lorikeets being fed by a resident. Most flew away but some stayed to see if there was more food on offer.
About 10 km south of Hughenden is Mount Walker, named in memory of the leader of an expedition to find Bourke & Wills. It is about 450 metres above sea level but stands well above the surrounding terrain. It is part of two adjoining stations, the owners of which combined with the local council to install a road and visitor facilities. There are about six lookouts that face in all directions, each one providing panoramic views. We made it our first call of the morning, before heading east.
There are only small towns on this stretch of road, until we reached Charters Towers with its approximately 9,000 population. We did coffee at Torrens Creek and experienced the “excitement” of a 60-truck fertiliser train passing through.
A geological feature of some note, the White Mountain National Park, is a further 30 km. You need a 4WD to get into the park but some of its signature white stone is visible from a rest stop by the highway.
We continued amid little traffic to Charters Towers, where we arrived at about 1 pm. It was pleasing to see petrol at around $1.70 per litre.
After a restful afternoon and evening, we left next morning for Townsville and the ferry terminal, but went the long way. We drove north-west on the Gregory Highway until we reached a place called Basalt, where we turned east into the Hervey Range Road. We stopped to see a memorial to the completion of sealing the road. Hervey Range Road is part of the network of “beef roads” that criss-cross Northwest Queensland. This one takes beef to the processing works at Townsville.
We then crossed the Burdekin River and stopped at the Hervey Range Tea House. The day was Monday, and this is a weekend drive location for Townsville residents. The tea house is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but we knew that. There were no coffee stops available until we reached the suburbs of Townsville. Topped up with coffee and with some time to fil in before the departure of the ferry, we found a parking space in The Esplanade where we were able to see Magnetic Island and enjoy the beach, fresh air and sunshine. We caught our ferry with time to spare,
Note: A video link appears at the bottom of this blog post.
Over our many years of caravan travel we have passed through and stayed at Longreach many times. We have learned that if arriving from the East the first thing you will now see is the roof that shelters the aircraft at Qantas Founders Museum. The roof has not always been there. For the previous few years, the first sight was the tail of the Boeing 747. Prior to that it was probably the water tower at the roundabout, adjacent to the Longreach CBD.
Thursday 28th September was Qantas day. We had booked the Museum Tour for Ruth and I and the Aircraft Tour for me. All those steps! Then we were both booked to return in the evening for the Light Show. That left time for a nap in the afternoon.
The museum tour is confined to the original museum building and is all at ground level. It includes a Catalina Flying Boat in the grounds, a wide range of aircraft and vehicle models inside and the old workshop buildings that were the original Qantas Longreach hanger. Basically, it tells the story of the founding of Qantas and of its growth until 1934.
The story from 1934 to the era of the Jumbo Jet is told in the aircraft display, now housed under a huge canopy, a sort of hanger without walls. The Boeing 747 is so large that some of the other craft are under its wings. Three of them are accessed by permanent stairs to their side and rear doorways. The Douglas DC3 is small enough to be examined from the ground.
There are three tours of the aircraft museum. The one that I did takes visitors through the aircraft, with a very informative guide to explain what you are looking at and relate to you the history. The next is more expensive. It is for smaller groups and includes the opportunity to climb onto spaces normally only accessed by the crew and allows you to sit in the pilot’s chair and stand out on the wing for a photo. Then there is an evening sound and light show, where the Qantas story is projected onto the mostly white fuselages of the three larger aircraft.
On display is the Douglas DC3, the Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation, The Boeing 707 and the Boeing 747 Jumbo.
The Boeing 707 is an interesting exhibit. It was purchased by Qantas and joined the international fleet. When it was retired at the end of its passenger carrying life it was acquired by a business that converted it into a five star flying hotel suite. It later became a luxury charter aircraft used on one occasion by Micheal Jackson, during a tour. It was finally retired to an open field in the south of England.
Someone connected with the museum heard about this aircraft and recognised its historical significance. It was purchased and restored to flying order by a team of volunteers who travelled to England for several months to complete the task. It then flew to Longreach to join the fledgling museum fleet. I remember when it arrived.
The light show is particularly well done. Visitors sit or stand on a concrete area between the aircraft. Seating is on high stools. Just grab one if you get tired of standing. As the program is projected onto the sides of three aircraft it is necessary to be a bit mobile.
On the morning aircraft tour, one of the tour members was a retired Qantas Boeing 747 captain, who was able to add to the information provided by the guide from his personal experience.
On Friday morning, five days after leaving home, we made an early start to head back to Ilfracombe where we turned south to Isisford. About 20 km south of Ilfracombe, at a rest stop, we drove a few hundred extra metres to an area where stone pitching had been used to retain and divert water into a dam. The work is over one hundred years old and may have been carried out by Chinese workers, although the skills were probably brought from England.
Stone pitching is building structures from natural stone without mortar to hold the stones in place. So, each stone is held in place by those around it. The structure is particularly useful in sandy soil where running water quickly washes earthen structures away.
When we were in this area back in caravanning days, we spent a couple of nights in the riverside camp at Isisford, on the Barcoo River. There was an excellent museum there with a display of the ancient forebears of the Crocodile. It had an excellent cafe /coffee shop for such a small and remote place. The cafe is in the museum building, which partly explains why it exists in such a small and remote community.
On that occasion we had morning coffee at the van before going into town. We said that it would be nice to go back. And so, we did. Sadly, some of the fossils that were on display have been moved elsewhere. Probably to another museum where more people visit.
Roadside flowers were in abundance, particularly towards Isisford. The grass is a brilliant green. The Barcoo has been in minor flood three times this year, so there is a lot of water, on its way to Lake Eyre. The Barcoo and Thompson Rivers join near Windorah to form Cooper Creek which feeds the lake, if there is enough water to travel that far.
We returned to Ilfracombe and visited the Wellshot Centre. The building was the police station in the town but was converted to a museum to display items from nearby (we passed it on the way to Isisford) Wellshot Station. Wellshot Station was one of the first stations in the area. It was developed with Scottish money and Australian know how.
Ilfracombe has a “Mile of Machinery” as a memorial to the pioneers. It stretches along the north side of the highway for most of the length of the main street. I took a walk along most of it. Included is an example of the ubiquitous Ferguson 35 tractor. I learned to drive on one.
We returned to Longreach for a pie and coffee before returning to our unit for a nap. Late afternoon we went out looking for a sunset but tonight it was rather ordinary. The sunset the previous evening looked to be a beauty, but we were occupied at the Qantas sound and light show.
In the waning afternoon light, I found some Plumed Whistling Ducks at a waterhole at the north of town. I was trying to get closer for a better shot when they took off. Above the ducks, on the power lines, some Crested Pigeons were sunning themselves and looking a bit surprised. But they just sat and didn’t move.
We returned to the cabin for our final night at Longreach. Tomorrow we are off hunting Dinosaurs.
Note: Two video links appears at the bottom of this blog post.
Please note the video link at the foot of this post to the Carnival of Flowers.
We set off on the morning of Monday 26th September to complete our Covid interrupted tour. Instead of going back to Townsville to start where we left off, we travelled inland via Toowoomba and took the opportunity to visit the Carnival of Flowers as we passed through, spending our first night at Chinchilla.
The flowers at Toowoomba were up to the normal high standard. As our visit was late in the carnival, most of the additional activities had finished. The flowers and a few food vans parked down the back was all that remained of the festive area. But we were there to see the flowers and were well satisfied with the offerings on display. The greatest challenge was to take a photo of a flower bed without an Asian tourist in the foreground having their photo taken.
We drove on to Dalby for lunch having skipped morning coffee. In planning I had identified some likely bird locations to try before reaching our overnight stop at Chinchilla. I had no luck until Chinchilla Weir where we found greatly improved camping conditions from those we remembered from our previous visit. And we found a flock of Apostle Birds. I believe these birds are so named because of their practice of flocking in groups of about a dozen. Water was cascading over the weir.
Friday saw us headed for Morven, a very small town where the Landsborough Highway branches from the Warrego Highway. It leads to Longreach as the major town in that direction. This piece of road is also known as the Matilda Way, but that is more for promotional purposes that accurate geography.
We checked for birds at Gill Weir, south of Miles and Judd’s Lagoon, south of the highway, closer to Roma. All that we found in both places was overflowing weirs and long term bush campers, most of which were in their highly equipped caravans. Rising water levels inundate water bird feeding grounds and I imagine, causes the birds paddle harder to stay in the same place. The birds are not silly. Thy go somewhere else.
Roadside, just before Dulacca out towards Roma, we came upon a memorial to the railway fettlers and the women who supported them while building the western railway line from Miles to Dulacca in 1978-79. In those days families had to travel with their breadwinners if they wanted to see them. No FIFO in those days.
After morning coffee at Roma’s Big Rig, we had a look at Roma Bush Gardens, located just off the highway past the town centre. Walking around the lake was restricted by flooding but I did see some Mallards and an Australian Darter, drying its wings in the morning sunshine after fishing excursion.
We took our lunch break at Neil Turner Weir, a water storage on the Maranoa River near Mitchell. Mitchell is probably best known for its therapeutic artesian spars. We have used the camping area at the weir on several occasions but had not seen the dam overflowing before. It reminded us that so much of our travel through Australia’s outback occurred during the drought years.
The Pick-a-Box Motel was our resting place for the night. The motel is a small group of newish iron-clad cabins near to and managed by the Morven Hotel, recently rebuilt following a fire. The only excitement in town was a Royal Flying Doctor Service caravan in the shape of an aircraft fuselage, parked in the street outside.
So, from Morven on Wednesday morning, we turned north-west on the Landsborough Highway. First stop was a call at the first town, Augathella, a distance of about 90 km. The town is quite old and has been supporting the local agricultural community since its founding in 1883. Like many outback towns, it has upgraded its visitor facilities for grey nomads. Artists have painted pictures on its water tower, art silo fashion.
Next, about the same distance further north-west, we arrived at Tambo, another pioneering town (1868) with good visitor facilities. We paused for morning coffee beside the small dam at the entrance of the tow. By the lake there is an information sign providing details of the many water birds to be found in the area. There were very few on display for us, although small birds such as Noisy Miners were busy in the tree.
Continuing, we crossed the Barcoo River and arrived at Blackall, which was built on the banks of that stream. Major Thomas Mitchell explored this part of Australia in 1846. The town developed in the 1860s as an agricultural service centre. Again, it has good tourist facilities. It is surrounded by vast expanses of open naturally grassed pasture, as is much of this area. We had been driving through it all morning.
The next town along this highway is Barcaldine, but about 45 km before that we turned off to the left and drove the 16 km of dirt station road to look at Lara Wetlands. This is a camping area that almost surrounds a large waterhole filled with dead trees, so is probably the result of a dam. Lara Station is an operating cattle station. They run the camping ground in conjunction with the station. There are reported to be 164 species of birds identified in the area. But there is no power and only one cabin. Interesting spot, all the same.
As we drove into the Lara Station, Ruth saw a large grey bird at the edge of the trees. I stopped and got some good photos of a Brolga. It was wandering up and down and seemed quite settled but as I turned back to the car, I heard the whoomp whoomp whoomp of large wings as the Brolga took to flight. I turned just in time to snap it disappearing behind some brush. Not a very good photo, sadly.
We refuelled at Barcaldine, paying for the first time just over $2 per litre for unleaded petrol. At Barcaldine the highway turns left and west through Ilfracombe to Longreach. Scattered cloud meant that the western sun was not too much of a problem. We had travelled quite a distance in pursuit of the setting sun since leaving Brisbane, so the days were ending quite a bit later.
We were able to get a booking at the Woolshed Restaurant at Longreach Tourist Park, where we had a cabin. Last time we were here they were booked out. They were again but we had booked in time. An excellent meal even if the entertainment was a bit loud.
While at Longreach we returned to Ilfracombe and also drove south to Isisford. That drive is covered in the next blog post.
Part 2 –North to Port Douglas via The Atherton Tablelands
Note: A video link appears at the bottom of this blog post.
When you have a view like we did at Airlie Beach, the first thing that you do when you get up of a morning is open the blinds. We opened our blinds on Sunday morning and there in the middle of our view was the Coral Princes, in port for a visit. Our friends Jim and Frances Weir were on board, but we were gone by the time that they come ashore.
Sunday was one of making distance up the coast. Our Sunday night overnight stop was at Innisfail. The sun shone on us all day. We struck some low-lying fog both on land and over the bay as we approached Bowen, making slower progress than we had hoped as we coped with the long slow kilometres of roadworks. Almost the entire length of road from where we entered the highway just north of Proserpine to Bowen, was limited to 60 and 40 kph with a few areas of 80 kph.
The run for the rest of the distance to Innisfail was much better, but still with a lot of areas of road works. We bypassed Townsville on the convenient ring road, as you do now, but called in a Balgal Beach. near Rollingstone. We knew where we could get near the beach for lunch, from previous visits.
We had a quiet night in Innisfail. The motel was right in town but quiet. All we wanted was somewhere to eat and sleep.
A cap of cloud was sitting on the top of that mass of mountains to our north as we left Innisfail. The mountain ranges inland from the coast are home to Queensland’s two highest mountains, Bartle Frere at 1,611 metres and Bellenden Ker which reaches a height of 1,593. At those heights they and the surrounding ranges rise well above the Atherton Tablelands, to which they provide a backdrop to the east.
The drive from Innisfail ascends some steep grades but on a good road. When you reach the edge of the Tableland the height gain from the coast is obvious. The first town is Millaa Millaa, but first you will see signs that point to a drive that leads you past four waterfalls, before returning you to the main road. We have done this drive before but did it again before stopping for coffee at the park in the main street. The town has a couple of good café/coffee shops as well.
We then crossed to Herberton to look at the tin mining museum. Soon after you leave the town of Millaa Millaa, you reach a steep ascent. Just before the summit, a left-hand turn takes you to a lookout which, unsurprisingly is named Millaa Millaa Lookout. Equally predictably the lookout provides fine views back over Millaa Millaa and the ranges nearer to the coast. We were greeted on our arrival by some domestic hens.
There is much to see at the Herberton Museum, particularly for those with an interest in old machinery and historic mines. You could spend quite some time there if that were the direction in which your interests lay.
We then turned back to the east to Malanda. We wanted to lunch at Gallo Dairyland but research had shown them to be a Wednesday to Sunday operation, which seems to be quite common in areas that are within an easy weekend drive of major population centres.
So, after visiting Malanda Falls we lunched at a café in town before making a return visit to Lake Eacham, where some hardy souls were swimming and sun baking. It is a beautiful location and wasn’t all that cold but not my idea of swimming weather.
We had seen a large flock of Cattle Egrets (the little white Egrets that are often found where cattle are grazing) back nearer to Innisfail. They were waiting for a cane farmer to finish harvesting a field. Some were near to the road, but all took off and flew to the top of a hill overlooking the cane fields when we stopped. Newly cut cane must produce good eating grounds for them. We saw the same phenomenon at a couple more cane harvesting sites the following day, but other harvest sites had no birds at all.
To complete the day, we drove to Tinaroo Dam, where operators were discharging quantities of water, no doubt to the delight of tourists who see it flowing down the Baron Falls as they look down from the Kuranda train or the cable Skyway. There is plenty more where that is coming from. The dam is near to full.
We then drove on to Atherton and checked into our motel. It was a shorter and easier day. We travelled just over 200 km. Yesterday was a little over 600 km.
We departed Atherton on the morning of Tuesday 16th August, heading for Mareeba initially but with Port Douglas as our end-of-day goal. We turned east at Mareeba to drive to Emerald Falls. The facilities at the car park suggest that it is quite popular with visitors.
The walk to the falls is a little under a kilometre one way and quite easy until the last couple of hundred metres, when a series of well-built stone steps lead to the lookout and a rougher path to the foot of the falls. Visitors are reminded of the perils of mountain streams by a memorial, built by the side of the track, to a young man who perished in the stream. Being conscious that we were there on our own and that I am not as young as I once was, I gave the walk away when the top of the falls were in sight. Thy are partly obscured by vegetation. But a great spot for a picnic and walk.
We returned to Mareeba to revisit Coffee Works, a local success story, for morning coffee, before continuing north on the Mulligan Highway. We had intended to call into the nature reserve at Lake Mitchell, but the gate was closed, and the track did not look very inviting. We drove on. The highway runs beside a wetlands area that is part of the dam. There we found a Great Eastern Egret and a flock of Magpie Geese, both feeding in the pools. There was also a Pelican, but out of camera range.
We passed through Mount Molloy and took the right hand turn towards the coast and Mossman. There are two lookouts as the road begins its decline to the coast. Both give excellent views of Mossman and the coast to the Daintree River and to the ranges of the national park. We lunched at Daintree Village and photographed some Straw-necked Ibis in the park, before driving down to the Daintree River ferry. The crocodile tours along the Daintree River were doing a great trade, boosted by visitors from Coral Princess.
As we approached Port Douglas, we could see the Coral Princess anchored off the port. We called our passenger friends, but they were still on a day tour near Daintree. They are probably thankful that they missed us as I, at least, was incubating Covid at the time.
We had two nights at the Ramada Resort at Port Douglas. Since we had been through the area a number of times on previous trips we had decided on a quiet day. We checked out Four Mile Beach and spent time in the town area, We had visited the famous Flagstaff Hill Lookout, with its views along the beach to Cairns, the previous afternoon. We finished the day with room service dinner, a bit later than planned because the hotel lost our order.
We made a pre-breakfast start from Port Douglas next morning, as we had a 400+ km drive to catch the ferry at Townsville, to cross to Magnetic Island. We breakfasted at North Cairns and continued south. We diverted at Cardwell into the cyclone damaged Hinchinbrook Resort. There we found that most houses seem to have been repaired and reoccupied, but the marina, which was the centrepiece of the resort, remains in ruins, so there is no real resort anymore. But I did spy a pair of Bush Stone-curlews in the shade of a shrub on the rather broad media strip and got some photos. I had not previously photographed this bird. So, another “lifer” on my list.
I wasn’t feeling particularly well from the start of the day, so before we joined the queue for the Magnetic Island vehicle ferry, I decided to do a test for Covid-19. I returned a positive test so that was effectively the end of this trip.
Getting home was not a great amount of fun but with a highlight. We reached Proserpine at dusk and as the sun set, we were enveloped in a radiance of colour that reached across the sky from East to West and in front of us to behind us as well. The colour was a golden purple that faded as night fell. I was too intent on getting home to stop for a photo, but I now regret not doing so. But I do wonder if the camera would have done the colours justice.
The rest of the trip was to have taken us not only to Magnetic Island but then to Mackay and through the coal fields of the Bowen Basin to Emerald, Longreach and Winton. We are hopeful of completing the trip around the end of September.
Note: A video covering the material in this post can be found at the foot of this blog post.
We left Phillip Island amid showers sweeping across Westernport Bay and the adjoining coastal plains. Our route lead along the South Gippsland Highway, Monash Freeway, skirting around the city to reach the Tullamarine Freeway and finally to the Hume Highway. We were headed to Bright to see if Autumn had yet reached the area, famous for its Autumn colours.
We only took necessary breaks, arriving in Bright in the late afternoon. Our motel backed onto lawns that run down to the path that runs along Ovens River. We look our afternoon tea to the lawn and were joined by some Parrots.
The Liquid Amber trees were turning nicely but the Poplars and other deciduous trees had only just started to put on their show.
We left town next morning via Yackandandah, a nearby town also known for its colours, but it seemed to be running later than Bright.
We were bound for Hume Dam on the Murray River to see what it looked when when full. Excess water was being released to a huge roar, in sufficient quantities to fill the river down stream to the top of its banks. When we came through there on our way home from Tasmania two years ago the water level was well below the spillway and further up stream, cattle were grazing on river flats that had been exposed for years but now are inundated by the water in the dam.
We made our way to the Hume Highway and continued on to Goulburn for the night.
Heavy rain was forecast for the recently flooded North Coast of NSW so we decided to cross the Blue Mountains and make our way home inland. But first we wanted to see the recently overflowing Warragamba Dam. Warragamba was not far off our track.
We thought that refreshments might be available at the visitor center at the dam, but no such luck. We did our tourist thing under increasingly threatening skies. Walking back from an observation point I took a wrong turn and came upon a pair of Rosellas. Then a Wonga Pigeon landed on stairs behind me, the first of this type that I had seen.
Soon, after departing the dam, the sky opened and stayed that way. As we approached the Great Western Highway, traffic congestion was becoming an issue so a quick change of plans and we were on the highway heading west. With the rain still falling and a stop becoming necessary, we found a convergent McDonald’s and stopped for lunch. Back on the road the rain continued to well on the way to Mudgee, our next overnight stop.
Mudgee is a week end town, thriving on visitors from the coast, so they have their weekend on Monday and Tuesday. We were there on Monday night and found most restaurants were closed. The Chinese restaurant at the Gold Club was recommended. They served excellent food in huge quantities. We only eat half the food served to us but were able to take the leftovers. They were sufficient for dinner the following night.
Next morning, we had passed through Gulgong and Dunedoo when a phone call from last night’s motel advised that I had left my binoculars behind. So, after returning the necessary 85 kilometres, we had coffee and started again. We left Mudgee, this time by the Ulan Road, then through Binnaway so saw some new country. Lunch at Coonabarabran and a stop for the last night at Moree to rest and deal with leftover Chinese food.
The plan was to do the last leg of the journey via the Gore Highway to Toowoomba and then the Warrego Highway to Brisbane but as we left Goondiwindi a roadside sign advised that the Gore Highway was closed. So on through continuing rain with a stop at Warwick and arrived home mid afternoon.
Eighteen days and a bit over 5,000 kilometres with average weather and escalating petrol prices. But we saw all of the relatives that were planned and respects paid at two grave sites. In all a successful trip.
Note: A video covering the material in this post can be found at the foot of this blog post.
On 23rd November 2021 I lost both my eldest brother, Ivan, and my brother-in-law Colin, my only sister Aileen’s husband. Colin passed in the morning, Ivan in the early evening. Ivan was in the northern suburbs of Newcastle and Colin at Moe in Victoria’s West Gippsland region. There was no connection in their deaths, just one of life’s coincidences.
Covid-19 was at its high point, with borders closed in some states but not in others. We could have travelled to NSW, possibly to Victoria, but we would not have been permitted back into Queensland. We faced a real travel ban. So we had to provide our condolences and the support that we so much wanted to give by phone call, email and text message. We decided that as soon as possible after borders opened, we would travel south to visit grieving relatives and graves.
The opportunity came in March. With borders open and three vaccinations completed we headed south on 12th March, just four days after what would have been Ivan’s 88th birthday celebration.
Our intention had been to first spend a couple of days with friends in Ballina, but they had been evacuated a few days before due to flooding of the Richmond River, which had closed the Pacific Highway from Ballina to south of Grafton. Their home was not inundated, and they returned to it after a couple of days, but a visit was not practical so soon after the floods, so we opted for the New England Highway.
Our first family call was to Marjorie, my sister-in-law, who requires constant care and who had gone into respite care in a retirement home in Bulahdelah, which is located about an hour north of her home in Newcastle. You will possible have read of Bulahdelah in the pages of these blogs. It is the town near which I spent the first 15 years of my life and where I met Ruth, my wife of almost 60 years. Ruth, of course, has been part of all the travels covered by the mobilesheathers.com blogs.
We spent the first night in Armidale. On day two we drove south to Uralla and there turned to join the Oxley Highway at Walcha, to reach the coast again. When we travel for almost any reason we are touring and taking in sights and points of interest along the way. We had been hoping for some early Autumn colours in the roadside trees so were a bit disappointed by the lack of colour, but the area had not progressed far into Autumn but it was very green from recent rain.
But just east of Walcha the Apsley Falls were at their thundering best. On our previous visit, back in our caravanning days, the drought was it its height and there was not even a trickle of water on the falls, just a pool of brackish water at the bottom. Viewing facilities at the falls are excellent. Ruth was able to make her way to the main viewing deck and was able to see as much as I could. There are some good walks at the falls, but time did not permit. We had appointments to keep.
We paused for lunch at Wauchope and made it to our motel at Forster, at the mouth of Wallace Lake, in good time. Time to fit in a walk! So, with camera in hand, I set off for the bridge that spans the lake at a narrow point between Forster and neighbouring Tuncurry. The bridge is about one kilometre long with a hump on each end to allow boats to pass underneath.
An area south of Forster, Tiona, was a favourite holiday destination during my childhood, as it offered a range of options for my fishing loving Father. There were two ways of getting there from where we lived back then. If we came via Tuncurry the car and trailer (containing our camping equipment) would be loaded onto a small punt which was pulled through the meandering channel to the other side. Now the sand bars that shaped the channel carry the pylon foundations that support the bridge.
The bridge provides a scenic vantage point for both towns, Wallace Lake, and the entry to the lake from the ocean. Ever watchful for sea birds I noticed an Eastern Osprey making long sweeps over the lake in search of dinner, or perhaps a late lunch. After several failed attempts, it landed on a bridge street light and remained on its perch as I walked past taking photos of it. A call at the ocean beach and it was time to return to the motel for dinner.
The easiest route from Forster to our next call at the retirement home at Bulahdelah was to fallow the Pacific Highway but a more interesting way was to leave the highway south of Coollongolook and followed The Wootton Way to where it re-joins the highway just north of Bulahdelah. This detour took us past a school that I attended for a couple of years during primary school and past the property on which I and my family lived for about 5 years prior to moving to Victoria when I was 15.
The school is now a community centre and the town much smaller than it was 70 plus years ago. The road is sealed as, for a time, it was the Pacific Highway. Further on we drove through magnificent stands of white-trunked trees, typical of the area. Further on we came to the property where our house stood near the road. The house was moved shortly after we vacated. New owners built further back on the property, behind the tree line and have operated a farm stay business for many years.
We arrived at the nursing home in good time next morning to complete the Covid safety procedure before visiting sister-in-law Marjorie. We found her in good spirits despite having been told a few days previously that the nursing home was to close thus causing uncertainty about her future. We stayed for morning coffee and lunch before making our way further south. Happily, Marjorie’s future accommodation arrangements were settled a few days later when her two daughters completed arrangements for her to take up residence on the top floor of a facility near Lake Macquarie in Newcastle, where she will have views of the lake as well as, we hope, good care.
We stayed two nights at Warners Bay, our motel overlooking the northern end of Lake Macquarie. Ivan is buried at Lake Macquarie Memorial Park at Ryhope, just a few hundred metres off the Pacific Motorway, south of Newcastle. A very convenient location for paying our respects during future trips south.
We met Ivan’s two daughters with their respective spouses at the park. They showed us to the grave site, already almost covered with grass. The plaques are under way and should be in place when next we call. The grave is in a pleasant area on the side of a gently sloping hillside. The entire garden area appears to be well kept and will continue to be so. We left the cemetery and drove to the sports club in Toronto where we lingered over coffee with nieces and nephews that we rarely see.
The afternoon was fine and sunny so we parked, and I took a walk on the path provided between Warners Bay and Speirs Point. It is not always possible to keep up my walking schedule when we are travelling, so such opportunities are not to be missed. As a bonus there were birds to photograph, including a White-necked Heron, a first sighting for me.
Next morning, Tuesday, we took the short drive to the home of Ruth’s elders sister Judy and her husband Alan, at West Wallsend. Judy has mobility problems but maintains a positive attitude which is most demonstrated by her determination to keep travelling. So over lunch we discussed, as well as family, travel plans and experiences. Visit over, we headed for Sydney.
We were to have spent two nights with our daughter Briony at her Erskinville home, but she had come down with a non-Covid virus that we did not want to catch. A quick change of arrangements took us to the Travelodge at Bankstown, a bit of an experience as it is also the Bankstown Sports Club. Temporary club membership was bestowed upon us so that we could use the facilities of the club.
On our second night with Briony we had planned to meet Ruth’s youngest sister Dorothy (Dot) for dinner. So, a quad became a threesome at the NEM Riverwood Vietnamese restaurant, for good food and a good old family catch up.
To fill in the intervening day we revisited old stamping grounds from the first period of joint residence in Sydney during the time of my appointment to East Coast Transport at Botany. We started with morning coffee at Cronulla, right on the water on a lovely sunny morning. We then drove past Miranda Fair, where we used to do our shopping and stopped for a look at our former residence at 4 Tulong Place, Kirrawee. This house was built on top a couple of huge boulders, with views over the Royal National Park. Every time I see this house, I wish that we still lived there.
Next, we drove into the Royal National Park to the town of Bundeena on the southern shore of Port Hacking. This was to have been our lunch location but, after a largish morning coffee we were just not ready for more food. After looking around Bundeena we returned to the road through the park that leads to its southern coast entrance at Otford. At this point you will find one of the best scenic lookouts in Sydney. Otford lookout has an elevated viewing platform, heaps of parking space, a kiosk and views over the coast and from Sea Cliff Bridge to Port Kembla. We had a snack there before driving back through Stanwell Tops and Waterfall to Bankstown and dinner.
The following morning, we left Sydney early and drove to Bowral in the Southern Highlands of NSW, to call on Ruth’s youngest brother Wallace and his wife Ginny. Wallace is in advanced stages of a degenerative disease (similar to Parkinson’s disease) so our visits are relatively short. We joined them for lunch and family news. These calls are always sad and happy events because you never know if each one will be the last.
Our destination for the night was Canberra. We were joined for breakfast next morning by grandson Jeremy who now works in the National Capital. The remainder of the day was spent driving via the Monaro Highway to its junction with the Princes Highway at Cann River. Then the run through the East Gippsland mountains and Orbost brought us to Lakes Entrance for the night.
There is always bird life at Lake Entrance, so the long lens got some use that evening and again on my walk next morning. Swans and Pelicans predominate, but there are many others. After leaving Lakes Entrance we detoured to Metung for morning coffee, lunched in Traralgon and arrived at our accommodation in Trafalgar in time to unpack and go out to find some dinner.
At breakfast, I confirmed with my niece that a left turn back at the main road, the Old Hume Highway, would take us through Camden and Picton. I used to know that road well until it changed its character completely, when multiple suburbs were built along it and it ceased to be the Hume Highway. But I forgot the second left turn at Narellan town centre. We were crossing Peter Brock Drive at Oran Park before I realised my mistake.
We turned and allowed Google Maps to guide us over several country roads, including one called Sheather Lane, until we reached Camden. The Old Hume Highway then lead us over The Razorback to Picton, where we stopped for coffee. The wrong turn had cost us time, so the quickest route, out to the motorway and directly to Bowral, was needed to bring us to our destination on schedule. We didn’t want to be late for lunch.
The next call was very much of the reason for the trip. Ruth’s youngest brother lives with his wife in the beautiful eastern suburbs of Bowral, in the NSW Southern Highlands. Wallace and Virginia (Wall & Jinny) have lived in Bowral for many years. As time passed they bought the block in a then new area to the east of the town and built a nice house around which they have laid out beautiful gardens.
Sadly Wall is in advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease. Jinny is his devoted carer these days. We spent a night with them and left next morning. We had as pleasant a time together as circumstanced would allow. It was pretty good.
Not only is Jinny a keen gardener but loves birds. Local birds know it as a good place for a regular feed. The current favourite is a Crimson Rosella that sits on Jinny’s thumb and eats out of the palm of her hand. Kookaburras call and laugh and other Australian native birds in the vicinity drop in.
For a couple of days we had been watching wet weather approach from the south. As we departed Bowral on that Saturday morning, it was clear that we were heading towards the front of the change. We reached Goulburn in slight drizzle. After coffee we took the Crookwell Road to the north, heading for a lunch stop at Bathurst. Beyond Crookwell the road passes through several kilometres of mountains, resulting in steep winding roads. It was on this section of road that the weather caught up with us. Heavy rain and gusty winds added to the challenge but there was not much other traffic.
Approaching Bathurst, we attempted to take a drive around the Mount Panorama circuit. It was not to be. From the foot of the serious mountains until the outskirts of Bathurst, road side signs warned of cycling activity in the area. We discovered that the centre for this Lycra clad event was the straight and buildings of the Mount Panorama racing circuit. Spectators were driving into parking areas and barriers protracted the track.
From Bathurst we drove through intermittent rain to Orange, Wellington and finally Dubbo, where we spent the night. The next day we followed the Newell Highway to Coonabarabran where we turned for Gunnedah. We enjoyed views of lush green Western Plains, so different to the drought conditions of recent trips. The grasshopper plague, part of which spread itself over the front of the car, was less welcome. We progressed under sunny skies having temporarily left the rain behind. It really was a pleasant drive. Morning coffee was taken at Coonabarabran and lunch at Gunnedah.
We joined the New England Highway at Moonbi after skirting to the north of Tamworth. This is quite a good alternative if you want to avoid Tamworth and interesting scenery, as the road runs through the collection of huge boulders known as the Moonbi Gap. A short side trip took us to the summit of Moonbi Hill. From there we drove to Armidale for the night.
Sunday 14th April dawned in Armidale with blue skies overhead but heavy cloud to the south west. We could have kept to the New England Highway by continuing north, but we figured that we could make it along the Waterfall Way and check out the area after recent rain, before more rain fell. So off we went.
There is a lot to see along this road but we stuck to waterfalls. The first call was at falls that we had not previously visited. About 20 km east of Armidale you turn to the right into Old Hillgrove Road, which starts as a narrow sealed road but quickly changes to corrugated gravel. The road leads down a hill, over an old wooden bridge over Bakers Creek and up the other side to a small car park hidden behind trees. A rough bush path leads to a surprisingly elaborate timber viewing platform that provides good views of the falls. It is a good spot and worth the roughish road.
From Bakers Creek Fall you can continue on Old Hillgrove Road to the historic mining town of Hillgrove, returning to the Waterfall Way via Stockton Road, that is now the main access to Hillgrove. We retraced our steps to Waterfall Way, having visited Hillgrove on a previous journey.
Next up was the Wollomombi Falls. Just a few kilometres along the Waterfall Way the turn again is to the right. A sealed road leads for about a kilometre, through a farm, into the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park. It is then only a few hundred metres to the day visitors’ area located on the edge of the gorge. The falls can be viewed through the trees at the edge of the picnic area, but a better view is had by taking a short walk to a commodious viewing platform.
The falls, which are on the Wollomombi River, are a spectacular 150 to 230 metre drop into Wollomombi Gorge. The elevation of the top of the falls above sea level is 907 meters.
At our last visit there was no water at all so it was great to see the falls flowing. Just downstream of the falls the Wollomombi River joins the Chandler River which empty into other rivers until the water reaches the Macleay River which flows through Kempsey and enters the Pacific Ocean at South West Rocks.
Not far along the highway, a turn to the left leads over a rise to the village of Wollomombi, where the general store provided acceptable coffee and with morning nibbles or lunch. It was too early for lunch so we nibbled with our coffee.
Ebor is the next waterfall stop along the road but to get there you pass the turn on the right that leads to the magnificent views of Point Lookout and a trout hatchery that offers smoked trout. Today the views would probably be of clouds and fog. On the left you pass the Cathedral Rock National park and the road to Guyra. Ebor falls are to the left before you reach the town. Views of the cascades in this impressive river are unfortunately marred by wire mesh barricades. As is so often the case, NSW authorities find it easier to erect a fence instead of maintaining tourist facilities. This is a very odd approach at a time when they are spending big on advertising programs to entice tourists to holiday in their own state. But we don’t do public tourist facility maintenance very well anywhere in Australia.
From Ebor we drove the undulating plateaux to Dorrigo where we headed to the Canopy Café at the Dorrigo National Park, for lunch. We took the mandatory walk along the Skywalk Lookout before returning to the car. As we returned to the highway the first sprinkles hit the windscreen but the deluge waited until we had descended the mountain to Urunga before it started. By the time we reached Coffs Harbour almost all of the deceased grasshoppers that had spread themselves over the front of the car were washed away.
We stayed two nights at Coffs, in a small apartment a little to the north of the main area, with glimpses of the ocean. The heavy rain experienced over night withdrew sufficiently for us to visit the lookout on the mountain behind Coffs Harbour and to drive to Sawtell where we had lunch in a pleasant cafe in the main street. We checked out the observation points in the area before returning north along the road nearest the coast. Just a quick look in at the harbour area and back to the unit as the rain became serious again.
The trip ended with the drive home from Coffs Harbour the next day. We had been away for exactly two weeks.
Our destination for the day was Mount Annan, near Liverpool, south of Sydney. Tollways with 80kph speed limits now bypass Sydney. You don’t see a single traffic light until after turning off the Hume Highway at Campbelltown. With a mid afternoon ETA we had time to spare, so stayed east of the Newcastle bypass highway, travelling down the Old Pacific Highway until we turned further east to join the real coast road at Budgewoi.
Most of our drive was familiar, but not all. We had intended to do a run into Caves Beach, just south of Swansea, but missed the turn in the new (to me) road arrangements south of the bridge over the entrance to Lake Macquarie. But we did take a run into Catherine Hill Bay. I wanted to see the old coal loading jetty, last viewed during an inshore tack when sailing a newly acquired yacht from Sydney to Brisbane, many years ago.
This was a coal mining area, of course. As you approach the beach and jetty, you pass through streets lined by old miner’s cottages, many under renovation, probably reaching seven figure valuations as a result. We parked above the beach so that I could walk down a sandy ramp to the ocean’s edge to take some photos.
We re-joined the highway via the southern access to the town, passing new houses, including large homes with ocean views and a new subdivision, down in a valley, with no views at all. At Doyalson we turned in again to the coast, driving through Budgewoi, over the bridge that spans the narrow waterway that joins Lake Munmorah and Lake Budgewoi. We then travelled through Toukley and Noraville to The Entrance which we made our morning coffee and photo stop.
As we had approached The Entrance we both noticed water birds in Tuggerah Lake. With morning coffee done, we returned the couple of kilometres to where we had seen the birds. I fitted my long lens and took a number of photos, including some with which I was reasonably happy.
Retracing our steps, we drove through The Entrance to Long Jetty, on the eastern shore of Tuggerah Lake. Long Jetty is both a suburb and a long jetty. I had heard of it in both forms and driven through the suburb a number of times. Today we called to visit.
The jetty is intended for foot traffic, with a hand rail on one side. The timber deck is about a metre above the water. On the outer end of the jetty I could see a group of water birds, sitting on the rail. My bird lens was not attached to the camera but the smaller one would do. But on the spur of the moment I forgot to change the camera settings from general sightseeing to bird photography. The result was photos of less quality than they could have been. We live and, hopefully, learn and remember in the future.
We continued south, keeping as near to the ocean as possible, turning east for a better view of the coast whenever the opportunity presented. Then we came to Terrigal and I realised that I had never been there. I was impressed. We drove through town to the bay where the launching ramp is located and where views are to be had over the bay, back to the residential and commercial development of the town centre. This location provided views of magnificent sea cliff top houses, the kind that dreams are made of.
After a viewing and photo stop we drove around point Kurrawyba with its two headlands and then via the Scenic Highway to eventually reach Woy Woy. There we did some necessary shopping and returned to the Pacific Motorway near Gosford to continue south. So after crossing the Hawkesbury River and reaching Hornsby we were taken underground for a long sweep to the west on the M7 until we swung back east to the Hume Motorway at Casula. It was then a quick and easy drive to Mount Annan, our destination.
There we caught up with Ruth’s youngest sister Dorothy (Dot) and her family, including newly minted grandson Max. We also caught up with Max’s mum Deahna, our niece Madison, Madison’s fiancé Josh and Dot’s other half, Peter. Max’s dad had work commitments.
After much talking and taking of refreshments, Peter took to the barbeque to produce the protein to accompany the other portions of the meal, previously prepared. With a libation or two we all enjoyed a very pleasant evening, called to an earlier close than might otherwise have been the case by our hosts need to make early departures for work the following morning.