Interrupted Journey – North Queensland 2022 – Part 3

Heading for Dinosaur Country

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.

A thin sheet of water over the face of Chinchilla Weir as the water flows towards the Murray River.

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.

A thin sheet of water over the face of Chinchilla Weir as the water flows towards the Murray River.
Recently germinated crops line the roadside in this part of the Darling Downs.
Boonagara, reached just before Chinchilla, built a public hall to commemorate success in using a grub to defeat cactus infestation.
Gil Weir is located just west of the Leichardt Highway, south of Miles

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.

Memorial to fettlers wives near Dulacca
The informative plaque that is part of the memorial.

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.

Australian Darter, drying off following a fishing session.

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.

Neil Turner Weir on the Maranoa River at Mitchell was overflowing. We have not seen this in several visits.

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 at Morven
A Royal Flying Doctor Promotional Van Parked Outside The Motel.

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.

The Ellangawan Hotel bears Augathella’s original name.
The list of local water birds at Tambo. Most on the list were conspicuous by their absence.

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 Barcoo River at the Landsborough Highway crossing.
An Eastern Great Egret perched in a tree over the Barcoo River.
Blackall main street is the highway.
Part of the billabong and camping area at Lara Wetlands

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.

A Brolga by the road as we drove into Lara Wetlands.

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.

The Brolga landing in the brush by the roadside.

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.

The deck at the Woolshed Restaurant at Longreach.

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.

Interrupted Journey – North Queensland 2022 – Part 2

Part 2 – North to Port Douglas via The Atherton Tablelands

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.

Birds at Deception Bay

A gathering of Gulls on an exposed sand bank

Last Wednesday was a sunny day and quite pleasant notwithstanding the cool breeze from the South West. But the shore line at Deception Bay is sheltered with winds from that direction. With the tide ebbing it was likely that wading birds would be there to take advantage of the drying floor of the bay, the exposed area increasing as the tide receded.

Deception Bay is deceptive. At high tide it appears to be a body of deep water but any but the most shallow draft vessel that moves outside of the dredged channel into Newport Waterways will soon learn of its deceptive nature. So while limiting for boats it is a great feed area for birds.

The first bird I saw as we drove along The Esplanade was a brown and white bird in the water, just off shore. I parked, grabbed the camera and walked towards it, but before I could get near to it someone buzzed it with a drone. It took off and vanished over the trees to the south.

Eastern Great Egret

As the tide ebbed further, more birds came in. Smaller birds included Silver Gulls, Gull-billed Terns, Pied Stilts and Bar-tailed Godwits. Larger birds were represented by Egrets, both Great and Intermediate and White-faced Herons. This was by first opportunity to get a close look and a photo of the White-faced Heron.

Intermediate Egret
Eastern Great Egret
Eastern Great Egret
A group of Bar-taited Godwits
Brahminy Kite
Inbound Australian Pelican