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.

West, Centre & Flinders – Days 33 to 35 – Alice Springs & Rain

Our intention has been to spend just one night at Alice Springs. Now it seems that we are to be here for a week. The main issue has been the uncertainty of weather predictions. We abandoned plans to take the van into the ranges to the east and west of the town in favour of setting up in a central location and doing day trips. Saturday was to have been very windy and it was to start raining on Sunday, continuing into Monday. The strong winds did not eventuate and the rain has been deferred until Tuesday and Thursday. Patience is called for!

And to demonstrate meteorological variability we had a minimum of 3 C on Saturday and a maximum of about 32 C yesterday.

The original telegraph and post office in Alice Springs

The original telegraph station and post office in Alice Springs

Having passed two historic telegraph stations on the way south, we thought we should take a closer look at the restored station at Alice. The buildings were initially well built and have been carefully restored. A restoration of the original office environment, in the original office, has been well done, including sound effects of messages being transmitted by Morse code. Residential buildings have been fitted with furniture of the period and a school room is functional. School children are able to stay overnight, playing the roles of original characters.

Samples of original and replacement telegraph poles

Samples of original and replacement telegraph poles

The tour guide’s spiel covered the explorations of John McDowell Stuart, who made no less than six trips into the area. The telegraph line was built along the route of his final exploration, under the supervision of Charles Todd. The line was built with poles cut locally as they progressed, but termites proved the folly of that option, so the timber posts were soon replaced with telescopic tubular steel posts.

Where I got my warm inner glow

Where I got my warm inner glow

The spiel also included a section on the “Stolen Generation” and included several highly contestable claims. One of the buildings has been used to set up a display on the subject. I guess it gives some visitors a warm inner glow. I achieved my warm inner glow from a cup of coffee and an excellent vanilla slice at the Trail Station coffee shop that also acts as the gateway to the Telegraph Station.

The telegraph line was an important step in Australia’s development as it linked to the newly laid cable under the Timor Sea and ended our communication isolation from the world, particularly from England.

The grave of Rev John Flynn outside Alice Springs. The stone came from The Devils Marbles near Tennant Creek

The grave of Rev John Flynn outside Alice Springs. The stone came from The Devils Marbles near Tennant Creek

In the afternoon we drove out to the near west McDonnell Ranges, pausing at the grave of Rev. John Flynn, and then took another look at Simpsons Gap. There was water in the gap, as usual, and a cool breeze was blowing through.



Simpsons Gap

The performer in the Gap

We could hear an pleasant vocal sound, not words but a musical tone, from a pure clear female voice, accompanied by a slow drum beat, coming from the gap. As we walked in we could see a young woman, positioned to gain the advantage of the acoustics of the gap. It was a pleasant accompaniment to viewing such spectacular scenery


Simpsons Gap

Simpsons Gap

We then headed further out Larapinta Drive and drove the northern section of the Owen Springs Track that leads through historical relics and geographical features to the Stuart Highway. The first cattle station in the Northern Territory was established at Owen Springs. Ruins of station buildings remain. It was getting late in the day so we turned back sooner that we had hoped, so didn’t get to see them. The consolation was that we drove back beside the long stone capped mountain ranges, displayed to advantage in the light of the afternoon sun.

The Bluff at the foot of Trephina Gorge

The Bluff at the foot of Trephina Gorge

We returned, yesterday, to one of our favourite places on the East MacDonnell ranges. Trephina Gorge is yet another gap in the range through which a stream passes, on its way to the desert. The Ross Highway runs between red stone capped mountains and passes at least three other gaps through which streams flow when there is rain. The best known of the gaps are Emily and Jessie Gaps. The other main feature of interest is Corroboree Rock, a striking rock formation where, you guessed it, corroborees were held.

The tallest Ghost gum

The tallest Ghost gum

Trephina Gorge has been cut by the passage of water through red rock that now direct its flow. At least that is the case when it is flowing, which it was not doing yesterday. After exiting the gorge the stream passes at the foot of a huge mound of red stone named The Bluff. From there it makes its way out of the mountains to join those other streams that dissipate into the desert. The gorge also contains the largest Ghost gum in Australia.

Corroboree Rock

Corroboree Rock

There was a final touch of drama as we travelled home. While driving on the gravel road out of the gorge we noticed a continuous trail of fluid. So we were not surprised, just after rejoining the Ross Highway, to see a vehicle stopped part way off the road, with a couple of other vehicles nearby. The fluid trail on the road was transmission fluid. They had damaged something important.

The beauty of the East McDonnell Ranges

The beauty of the East McDonnell Ranges

The vehicle was an aged Ford Maverick and its occupants were a couple of French back packers whose English was inadequate, to say the least. Neither we nor the other vehicles that stopped were able to agree any assistance with them as they preferred to wait for some folk who they had met in the Gorge who were travelling a distance behind them. We can only hope that it worked out for them.

We have been into town on two or three occasions. It is unchanged from last time. Out of town locals wander the streets and seem to be the taxi companies best customers. Security is everywhere, particularly where there are liquor stores. But the commercial centre seems busy and a parking space can be hard to find.

At the caravan park there is an endless procession of arrivals and departures. One night stopovers are common, as visitors restock and head for the scenic areas to the east and west. Much as we had intended. It is hard to detect the colour of some vehicles through the coating of mud that they carry. I suspect that they have come in off the Tanami Track that has had rain in recent days.

So now we wait on the weather. I will deal with that in the next post.