Interrupted Journey – North Queensland 2022 – Part 2

Part 2 – North to Port Douglas via The Atherton Tablelands

Note: A video link appears at the bottom of this blog post.

Coral Princess lying off Airlie Beach.

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.

Balgal Beach. The view goes all the way to Magnetic Island and Townsville.

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.

Fisherman’s Landing at Balgal Beach. The restaurant overlooks the jetty where fishing boats dock.
The mountains northwest of Innisfail

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.

Zillie Falls on the Falls Circuit near Millaa Millaa.
Millaa Millaa Falls also in the Falls Circuit.
The mountain ranges viewed from Millaa Millaa Lookout.

 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.

Mining machinery and buildings at Herberton Mining Museum.

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.

Malanda Falls is located in parkland near the town.

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.

Malanda Café, our lunch location.

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.

Lake Eacham with bathers.
Reflections in Lake Eacham.
We passed through the attractive town of Yungaburra on our way to Tinaroo Dam.
Patient Cattle Egrets waiting for the cane harvest to move on.

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.

Rather spectacular water discharge from Lake Tinaroo.
Tinaroo Dam
Agricultural land, irrigated by water from Lake Tinaroo.

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 top section of Emerald Falls.
The memorial to Luke McDonald who lost his life in the waters of Emerald Creek
Emerald Creek below the falls and series of rapids.

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.

Magpie Geese near Mount Molloy on the Mulligan Highway.

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.

View north east from the highway above Mosman.
The coast towards Daintree National Park
Daintree River ferry that provides the road link to Cape Tribulation.

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.

Crocodile viewing cruises on the Daintree River.
Coral Princess awaiting its passengers.

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.

A view south from Flagstaff Hill at Port Douglas.

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.

Bush Stone-curlews at Hinchinbrook Resort at Cardwell.

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.

Cape York Adventure – Days 7 to 10

It is only about 45 km from the Crystal Creek camping area to Ingham, where we stopped to refuel, post some letters and refill a gas cylinder that had surprisingly run empty overnight. Surprising, because I thought that it was full. I had filled the second cylinder before we left home thinking that gave us two full. Oh well!

Hinchinbrook Island and Pasage

Hinchinbrook Island and Passage

Shortly after passing through Ingham, the road enters the mountains south of Cardwell. The road over the range has been realigned and as a bonus the roads authority has provided a magnificent lookout that alllows views over the southern end of the Hinchinbrook Passage. It provides a great view of this magnificent island.

You may recall that Cardwell was hit by a bad cyclone (was it Darcy?) a couple of years ago, doing immense damage to the resort and marina. From the road we could see boats at moorings next to houses but painted over sign boards at the front gate suggested that the resort and marina is not yet back into full operation. But grey nomads are supporting the town. Caravans were parked in great numbers in the large rest area and along the main street. We have done this part of the coast before, so we kept on driving.

Innisfail was our lunch stop and I got some extra exercise looking for a replacement filter for our water tap. Bunnings let me down. I had to go to the old traditional Mitre 10 store to get what I wanted.

We turned inland for the Atherton Tableland at Innisfail, arriving at our camp site at the Mareeba rodeo grounds at about 4.30 pm. This is a low cost basic site but ideal for an overnight stop. It is run by volunteers to raise funds for their annual rodeo and is conducted like a military operation. In no time we were in a site with power and water. There must have been at least 250 caravans there.

More fuel and perishable food purchase next morning before we headed north for the southern end of the Cape York Developmental Road that commences just north of Mt Molloy, 42 km into our journey. The only significant points of population before reaching Lakeland is Mt. Carbine, a small mining town and the Palmer River Roadhouse, sighted on the river from which it takes its name.

If you don’t turn left at Lakeland you will end up in Cooktown, but that was not the plan, so we turned. Last time we were on this road, about 5 years ago, it was only partly sealed with work under way. The unsealed sections were appalling. Now it is a first class highway, realigned to minimise flood impact, including a new bridge aver the Laura River in place of the former flood prone low level version. As a result, Laura looks more prosperous with a new motel and several caravans in storage while their owners visit the Cape.

Hann River Roadhouse

Hann River Roadhouse

We stopped for lunch under a shady grove. I took the opportunity to let about 25% of the air pressure out of the tyres. We knew that we had several hundred kilometres of corrugations ahead of us. They start where the bitumen stops about 5 km north of town.

Part of Hann River's Zoo

Part of Hann River’s Zoo

I had some idea of what to expect. The first 10 km or so was quite rough and had to be taken with care but the road then improved to a point where 60 to 65 kph was comfortable, so we made good progress. The terrain varies between flat and hilly. The best sections of road are generally across flat country with the hilly sections not as good. There are many creek crossings, mostly in pronounced dips in the road, almost all of which are sign posted. Both entry to and exit from dips tend to be badly corrugated and although most of the dips have asphalt or concrete at the bottom it is not always well aligned so caution is necessary. The result is that mush of the traffic jams its breaks on at the last minute and then accelerates out of the dip thus adding to the size of the corrugations.

Historic Musgrave Station. Another oasis on a ling dry road

Historic Musgrave Station. Another oasis on a ling dry road

Every 30 km or so there are what are called passing opportunities. They are stretches of asphalt, full road width, from 5 to 10 km in length which give some respite from the dirt road. But most motorists don’t wait for the sealed strip. They come rocketing out of your cloud of dust, pass and pull in front of you and smother you in their dust. And then there are the road trains. They are something else again!

Distances from Musgrave on a fuel storage tank.

Distances from Musgrave on a fuel storage tank.

We did 75 km of unsealed road with about three sealed sections to bring us to the Hann River Roadhouse, where we spent our first night along the Cape Road. We joined about a dozen other camps, spread over the slight slope to the river. The roadhouse provides fuel, food and liquid refreshment, as well as accommodation to the travelling public. Facilities are basic but adequate. We enjoyed a comfortable night, after dining on two of their more than adequate hamburgers.

Coen's Exchange Hotel is frequently referred to as the Sexchange Hotel. Note the sign on the roof

Coen’s Exchange Hotel is frequently referred to as the Sexchange Hotel. Note the sign on the roof

There was more of the same next day. We stopped at Musgrave Station, the next road house along, for a bit of a look. It has a museum that tells the story of the overland telegraph, which we will investigate when we stop there over night on our return journey. Then on to Coen which is

Coen's main street

Coen’s main street

the third most substantial settlement on the Cape (after Weipa and Bamaga) for fuel, lunch and some communication. The town has Telstra internet coverage. We then travelled on a further 60 km to Archer River Roadhouse as our overnight stop, making about 230 km for the day.

Archer River Roadhouse

Archer River Roadhouse

Archer River is a more modern establishment that Hann River, but provides the same services and charges about the same prices. Like Hann River, it sits on a hill above the river. Flood level markings on the amenities block indicate the amount

Relaxing after a hard day on the road in the Archer River

Relaxing after a hard day on the road in the Archer River

of water that rushes down these rivers during a cyclone.

Archer River is a very pretty spot with the greatly reduced water flow of the dry season winding its way through extensive sand banks, to pass under the bridge in the

The Archer River winds through sand banks

The Archer River winds through sand banks

causeway, on its way to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Some travellers camp on the sand and unfortunately too many mark their stay with litter. Dinner in the van that night.


The Archer River Causeway

The Archer River Causeway

They have some decent floods around here

They have some decent floods around here

We were pleased that this vehicle headed out about 15 hours ahead of us

We were pleased that this vehicle headed out about 15 hours ahead of us

We started the next day a bit apprehensively, as we had been given a report in Coen that the road to Weipa was particularly bad. But the report was largely unfounded. There is a bad patch of about 10 km around 60 km out of Weipa, but the graders are working on it.

Morning coffee stop on the Cape York Developmental Road about 100 km east of Weipa

Morning coffee stop on the Cape York Developmental Road about 100 km east of Weipa

The rest is quite good and we did the 200 km in just over 4 hours, including two substantial stops.

We were greeted to Weipa by a closed boom gate and red lights and sat for a couple of minutes while one a huge dump truck made its slow passage

Ant  archetecture

Ant architecture

along the haul road bearing a load of bauxite to the processing plant where it will be processed for shipment to an alumina plant in Australia or overseas.

We are now ensconced in the Weipa camping grounds among a throng of campers, all doing what we are doing. Participating in their very own Cape York Adventure.