Originally we’d planned to visit Chillagoe when we left Karumba via the Burketown Development road but it was closed due to flooding, hence the zigzagging across the Tablelands. Surprisingly, as we left the Tableland, we passed through rich agricultural lands with avocado, mango, banana, citrus, grapes and sugarcane, and other crops we didn’t recognise, stretching for many kilometres. Before long though we were back in cattle country.
Chillagoe has a population of a bit more than 200. It struck us as a tough little town, its residents having weathered many ups and downs as most mining towns have. Over the years huge deposits of silver, lead, zinc, gold, limestone and marble have been mined here. The lime stone and marble mines are still working, with a few small silver, lead and zinc operations continuing. Chillagoe lime has the sugarcane industry more or less cornered but unfortunately, while beautiful marble is mined here, most of it is sent overseas for treatment. Most of the marble in Parliament House came from Chillagoe.
But we’re here for the caves. Back around 400 million years ago the limestone laid down under shallow oceans was lifted, towering above the surrounding countryside where weathering and erosion and fluctuating groundwater levels slowly dissolved some of the limestone, creating caverns and passages, now rich with stalactites, stalagmites and flowstones. We visited three caves today with the ranger – Donna, Trezkinn and Royal Arch. All were outstanding, as was the infrastructure allowing us to view them without causing damage.
Between cave tours we walked out to the Balancing Rock. I’ve seen many Balancing Rocks, but this is a pretty good one, and the bush walk, after yesterday’s marathon effort, was good to keep the muscles moving.
Dinner at the Cockatoo Pub tonight, behind which we’re camped for 2 nights.
Before leaving Chillagoe this morning we drove out to the Archway caves, which are self-guided.
Other than the extraordinary, gothic-like appearance of the limestone karsts in which the caves form, we weren’t impressed with this section, nor game enough to go crawling into little spaces by ourselves with just a head torch.
Back through the savanna and the rich agricultural farms and orchards to the Tableland. On the way we dropped in to the Mount Uncle Distillery. A tasting board of spirits was set before us – a pleasant time was spent tasting them all, buying a couple of bottles, and then wandering their beautiful grounds, lush with tropical plants and vegetable gardens and lots of peacocks!
By the time we’d done that and made ourselves a cuppa we were sober enough to continue our journey to Malanda where we booked in to the caravan park. The Malanda Falls are beside the CP, but we weren’t that impressed, looking more like a weir than anything. A quiet night, other than for the curlews which seem to be at every campsite!
Still chasing waterfalls today we’re following the Waterfall Way to the southern Tablelands. First stop was Millaa Millaa Lookout, which promised amazing views out to Mt Bartle Frere and Bellenden Ker. However, this section is known as the “misty mountains’, hence no mountains seen, but the rolling countryside and magnificent valleys filled with rainforest was absolutely beautiful.
Next stop, Millaa Millaa Falls, the most-photographed falls in Australia. They are “perfect” falls, coming out of thick rainforest in one reasonably wide band of water and falling to a large pool below. Despite the cooler weather I had a swim here, swimming over to and behind the falls. A wonderful experience.
Next stop, Zillie Falls then on to Elinjaa Falls where there’s a steep path of about 500m to get to the base. It’s possible to swim here too.
By now it was lunchtime and the cafe at the biodynamic dairy at Mungalli was calling to us. A very filling cheese platter, followed by the best ice cream I’ve ever had (Espresso flavour) replenished our energy levels. The countryside is so pretty – hills, gullies, rainforest and the lushest grass you can imagine. It’s no wonder the dairy cows give such beautiful milk.
Continuing our meandering drive through the tiny town of Mungalli, which also has a waterfall, though more like steep rapids, we descended and descended until reaching Henrietta Campsite in Wooroonooran National Park. We’ve stayed at lots of National Parks over the years – they’re a credit to our country. This one has a large open area to kick a ball, an electric BBQ, covered tables, toilets and a shower (cold). The campsites are all nestled into the rainforest all around and beside Henrietta Creek. Most have bush walks or other activities. Here we decide to do the walk to Nandroya Falls, a return walk of about 7km. A couple of rock-hopping water crossings and a narrow path ascending and descending alongside the river gave us a bit of a workout. First we came to Silver Falls and finally Nandroya. These are a favourite of Steve’s as they fall spectacularly from a narrow gap in the sheer cliff face to the pool below, then from that they tumble down again over a wide cliff to the next level.
Back at camp we took our chairs down the steep little path to sit by the river contemplating life, the universe and everything, and hoping to spot a platypus. Alas no platypus, but we did get up close and personal with a few too many leeches! A quiet night anticipated with just us and one caravan.
We leave ‘the West’ now for the Atherton Tableland, but not before a dip in the hot mineral waters of Innot Springs. The water leaves the ground here at around 75°C. At the park there are 6 pools each with a controlled temperature ranging from cool to so hot just a few minutes in it is long enough! We moved between two medium temperature pools having a lovely rejuvenating soak.
With wrinkly skin we left the pools to view Millstream Falls about 30km up the road. These falls are the widest single-drop falls in Australia, flowing over the end of a basalt lava flow. A walk from the car park winds down to a viewing platform where, due to the big wet season the area has experienced, the falls are spectacular.
We pass through Ravenshoe, the highest town on the Tableland to stay the night at a caravan park in Herberton. Herberton has a truly wonderful Historic Village where we spent several hours the next day. I’m not a great fan of these historic displays, but this one is not to be missed!
The countryside has changed so much within the space of a day’s drive. From the eucalypt woodland savanna we’re now in full tropical rainforests, lush rolling hills with grass so high the cattle are nearly hidden and the most beautiful tropical plants – and it’s a lot cooler. Lake Barrine is one of two crater lakes, on the Tableland, Lake Eacham being the other. These two lakes were formed around 10 – 17,000 years ago when the earth’s magma contacted the ground water creating steam which blew the top off forming a crater which subsequently filled with water. We’d planned to kayak around Barrine, but the weather is still a bit rainy at times and lovely and cool now, so instead we walked around them both, and may have had a coffee and something sticky to eat at the Tea House on Lake Barrine.
We spent two nights at the Lakeside Caravan Park on Lake Tinnaroo and took the time to drive around visiting local attractions such as Nerada Tea Plantation, Gallo Dairy and Chocolate shop and the delightful town of Yungaburra.
However being the beginning of a long weekend and Lake Tinnaroo being a favourite for the local water skiers, jet ski owners and just generally noisy boats, we were pleased to leave.
1st May: We descended to the coast via the Gillies Highway, a Highway famous for its 263 corners and 800m elevation change in just 19km. It was built in 1925 and I’m rather proud to say my grandfather was one of the surveyors for this road. The scenery was absolutely spectacular, unfortunately the lookouts were all on the ascending side of the road making it a bit dangerous for us to pull over to take our time enjoying it.
Babinda Boulders is our destination today, but first the highly rated Josephine Falls near Mt Bartle Frere. In ‘usual’ conditions these falls provide an ideal natural waterslide – way too much water at the moment though.
The Babinda Creek is a fast-flowing creek that winds its way through huge boulders forming large pools ideal for swimming. Still a bit overcast and cool for swimming but I did wade in and enjoy the refreshing waters here.
There’s a nice-looking free camp here, but we decide to go back to Babinda where there’s a large free camp beside the river. Most memorable about this campsite is the rooster that crowed the wake-up alarm right outside my window from 4.45am for at least half an hour. I dare say I’m not the only camper who had visions of roast chicken!
2nd – 4th May: We’re now having a holiday in the middle of our trip – three nights at the Doubletree Hilton in Cairns! The hotel is fabulous, particularly the beautiful atrium with a pond with barramundi that swim through lush tropical plants. We are both impressed with Cairns – the Council has done a marvellous job with tropical plants everywhere, an excellent walkway/cycle way the length of the foreshore with sculptures, parks, impressive playgrounds and exercise stations and a beautiful swimming lagoon.
On our last day we rode our bikes to the Botanic Gardens where the local and exotic tropical plants stunned us with their lushness and colours and variety. It’s such a large Gardens we’re pleased we rode our bikes, covering several kilometres within the gardens to visit all the areas.
We also had dinner with Philippa and Andrew, new friends we first met at Boodjamulla, then again in Karumba. And when we weren’t doing all these activities we swam in the hotel pool and spa, lazed poolside reading, or had a few drinks at the outdoor bar and restaurant.
We return to Atherton Tableland this time via the Kuranda Highway. On previous visits we’ve come up to Kuranda on the cable car and the train – both highly recommended, but this is the first time we’ve driven. Not quite as spectacular, but still a fabulous drive.
Kuranda … disappointing .. lots of shops closed and the feel was mass-produced tourist trinkets. After wandering around for a while, trying to give the place a chance, we drove out to Barron Falls Lookout. Wow those falls are amazing. A kilometre-long walkway took us to a couple of lookouts over the falls and down the range to the coast. Interestingly the river above the falls was dammed for hydroelectricity for a while in the early 20th century.
Moving on from here our campsite tonight turned out to be one of the best we’ve ever stayed in! Upper Davies Creek campsite in Dinden NP, site#2. We seemed to climb a long way on an unsealed road before reaching the campsite, but 4×4 only needed at the very end to get into the campsite. The next nearest camp was a long way away (and no one there anyway). The creek came down a small waterfall then over rapids before forming a large pool right beside where we were camped, leaving the pool via more rapids. It was stunningly beautiful.
A thoughtful previous camper left wood beside the fire pit where we cooked our dinner. Swimming was chilly and did involve a lot of resolve to fully submerge. Unfortunately we’d only booked one night here, but we stayed until quite late in the afternoon making the most of it before leaving.
Speewah campsite in Barron Gorge NP was also lovely – only 3 campsites, each on a well-formed pad with large grassy areas and a patch of natural bush between each site. On our first full day we set off to do some walking. Phew … that was more than we’d bargained for. The walk was through thick rainforest which was magnificent and a treat to be immersed in.
However it has rained a lot here recently and in quite a few places the track was in very poor repair, with many fallen trees and their multiple branches to scramble through. In one section a wide fire trail we were following was so badly washed out and eroded it’d be impossible to drive on it. There were 5 water crossings, two where we needed to wade through, rather than rock-hop over.
But of greatest difficulty were the many steep ascents and descents, not short ones either! Along the way Steve managed to pick up a few leeches and get caught in lawyer vine enough to draw blood, and I came face-to-face with many golden orb spiders whose massive sticky webs were built right across the track. These spiders from toe to toe would have been as big as my hand.
Our GPS told us we walked for 5.5 hours over 18km – I don’t know it was that far, but it was a tough walk however far it was. A chilly shower on return restored feeling to weary bodies!
For many, many years people have raved to us about how wonderful Lawn Hill Gorge is (Boodjamulla National Park), and finally, finally we’re going to see it for ourselves. From Mt Isa we headed north on the Camooweal Rd, another really bad road, to Miyumba camp, the southern-most camp in the National Park. The road was rocky, and when not rocky, it was corrugations, plus a few water crossings thrown in for good measure. We drove ‘according to conditions’ and arrived intact.
The final water crossing, just 100m short of our camp was over the Gregory River. It was flowing quite swiftly, about shin deep – no drama for Priscilla. Once camped (only ones there) we walked back to the river and had a lovely, cool, spa bath right there beside the road.
The night was magic – no lights, no moon and millions of stars from horizon to horizon. These are the nights we especially love.
14th – 17th April Boodjamulla NP
Next morning, continuing north, we stopped at the Riversleigh World Heritage site renown as a dinosaur fossil site. It’s very well presented and interesting with large fossils evident in the rocks along an 800m path.
The gorge part of Boodjamulla is 55km north. A large commercial campsite at Adels Grove, just outside the NP, provides accommodation for the on-road vehicles and caravans and those who didn’t book early enough to get into the NP. The National Park campsite is 10 km down the road at the Gorge. The road was improved significantly.
Over the next 4 days we did a twilight walk up to Duwadarri Lookout completing the circuit via Indarri Falls, a walk to the Cascades, then back to walk to the Upper Gorge. These walks were lovely in places, stunning in others and difficult in parts, but well worthwhile. Another day we took the kayak up the river, marvelling at the stunning cliffs through which we paddled.
At Indarri Falls we ‘portered’ the kayak along the path to bypass it, then continued right up to the Upper Gorge where we found a fabulous landing spot at rapids where we stopped for lunch, a swim and a massage under the rapids. We were lucky to have the place to ourselves for more than an hour. On our last day we kayaked up to Indarri Falls then spent quite a few hours there, swimming, getting massaged by the falls, chatting to other kayakers, relaxing and staying cool.
We both enjoyed Boodjamulla, and while a longer stay wasn’t necessary, I wouldn’t mind coming back another time. The only thing that spoilt our visit was the weather – it’s very hot, 35/36° for the first 3 days, cool breeze on the last.
19th – 22nd April
We saw the Gulf of Carpentaria from the west in our Arnhem Land trip in 2019 and now, heading to Karumba I’m planning to get my feet wet in the eastern Gulf. But first the drive from Boodjamulla was pleasant on good unsealed roads, just a few small washouts and corrugations as we traversed the grass lands stopping for a coffee and a highly-touted muffin at Murray’s Place in Gregory. From here we headed north (on sealed roads) to Burke for a look around town, sitting in a park having lunch at the same time the ABC News that night informed us it was the hottest town in Queensland! Back south again to stay the night at Leichhardt Falls.
Leichhardt Falls, on the Leichhardt River is not much more than a puddle during the dry season, but at the moment the water is roaring over the falls. A croc was spotted just down from the base of the falls – no swimming! Watching the road trains navigate the long, single-lane bridge that crossed the river gave me an even greater respect for those drivers.
Not a long drive today. The road to Karumba is unsealed, but mostly pretty good. At Camp 119 we viewed the blazed trees and read the story of Burke and Wills most northerly campsite. They tried to walk further on to the coast, but as it was the wet season (crazy!!) it was too swampy to reach.
Another rest stop at Normanton proved interesting for not only the story of Krys, the largest crocodile ever, but also the Information Centre told the story of the beef industry here and the important role of the native stockmen.
A cruise on into Karumba was easy driving before we found our campsite at Ronnies and settled in. First point of call was to buy prawns for our lunch.
Karumba exists to service the commercial prawning trawlers, the commercial barramundi fishers, to a lesser extent the export of zinc from Century mine and, of course, tourism. The prawning industry started in the early 1960’s when a wealthy businessman managed to talk the CSIRO into jointly funding an exploration in the Gulf and the highly sought-after banana prawns were found in abundance.
The purpose of the Barramundi Discovery Centre is to maintain the stocks of barramundi by breeding them to fingerling size then releasing back into the wild. It was begun some years ago by the local commercial fishermen who saw the need to protect the barramundi from over-fishing. Smart move! The Centre was recommended to us by other travellers and I must say it is really interesting and not to be missed, though the tour at $50 each, was overpriced.
Karumba has been recognised for their efforts to maintain a sustainable seafood industry. Well done Karumba.
While here we did a sunset cruise (so so) and enjoyed meals at the End Of the Road restaurant one night and the Sunset Tavern another – seafood meals, of course, while sipping cocktails and watching magnificent sunsets.
Road closure due to flooding changed our route of departure to the sealed section of the Savannah Way – traversing rich grasslands once more.
22nd – 23rd April
The highlight of a night at Gilbert River West (free camp, no facilities) was seeing the foaming waters of the river in flood, not far beneath the long one-lane bridge.
Next morning we moseyed on into Georgetown to stay at the CP, the power giving our batteries a boost. A walk around town left us with the impression of a small town with plenty of pride.
24th – 25th April
On towards Cobbold Gorge over unsealed roads in pretty good condition with just a few shallow water crossings. On the way a cuppa stop at Forsayth and a wander around town found this town to be as impressive as Georgetown with its beautiful, restored buildings and well-tended parks.
I was very excited to get to Cobbold Gorge – the photos I’d seen of the gorge were stunning and it didn’t disappoint. The beauty of the narrow gorge (only about 2 meters wide in some places) was only discovered a few years ago by the current owners of Robin Hood Station, the cattle station it is in.
A LOT of private/public funding has gone into developing the tourist facility here which includes a large reception area with souvenirs, a small grocery stocking basics, a large open-air restaurant beside the pool which has a swim-up bar, a function hall as well as very well laid-out RV and camping areas.
Apart from the Gorge itself there’s a large dam with free kayaks, several bush walks and mountain bike trails (BYO bike) and some four-wheel drive tracks to points of interest and the gem fields (agate mostly).
On our first afternoon, after settling in, we did an 8km walk up to a lookout, then back for a swim and cocktail at the swim-up bar.
The Gorge is several kilometres away from the resort and only accessible on tours in an effort to maintain its pristine condition. We did the boat tour next morning. The guide was particularly good sharing historical, geological and botanical knowledge with us. The boat, an open punt, has a silent electric motor.
It was a stunning experience with the walls of the gorge towering up beside us, close enough in places to touch both sides at the same time, while we glided silently along. Back at the start we then walked up onto the huge sandstone rock that encloses the gorge, crossing over the gorge on a glass bridge.
That afternoon we’d signed up for the SUP tour. If this morning’s tour was stunning, the SUP induced awe. This morning’s boat held 14 people, plus the guide and while everyone was quiet, just soaking it all in, the guide, naturally talked a fair bit. With the SUP there were only 7 of us and we all headed off separately, so Steve and I were able to enjoy the gorge more or less alone. It was every bit as wonderful as I’d hoped – and I didn’t fall in!
26th – 27th April
Leaving Cobbold Gorge we did one of their 4-wheel drive trips up to the Quartz Blow – a hill of beautiful white quartz which gave us views across to the horizon all around.
We’d asked around about the road through to Einasleigh and been rewarded with a shrug and “it’s OK”, so off we went, and it was “OK” – some bitumen, some corrugations, some washouts – OK. What we failed to ask about was the road from Einasleigh to the Gregory Developmental Rd! The Einasleigh River was over the causeway and flowing pretty fast.
As all good 4x4ers who don’t want to walk a river crossing do, we parked to the side and made ourselves some lunch and a cuppa. Sure enough 3 vehicles came down and we watched them cross, noted where it was washed out, noted their track and safely followed on.
Kalkani Crater, a very typical cone-shaped hill with a perfectly round rim that drops away into the middle was a great little walk on our way to the Undara Experience, the resort set up at the Lava Tubes.
Undara Experience, the accommodation associated with the lava tubes, was moderately busy as a music festival had just finished yesterday. It’s quite a resort here with lots of units, and heaps of powered and unpowered camping, a large open air cafe / restaurant, pool … you get the idea.
“The lava tubes and caves were formed when rivers of lava confined to a valley crusted over and formed a roof. Insulated in its casing of solidified lava, the lava flow carried on for tens of kilometres before draining out, leaving an empty tube of lava. Weaker sections of the roof of the tubes later collapsed to form caves and depressions. More than 70 caves have been found in the park.” (Text from NP literature) The lava flowed more than 90km to the north and 160km to the north-west at a rate of 1,000m3 per second!
Access to the caves is restricted to approved scientists, speleologists and guided tours. The area has received 3 times its usual annual rainfall in the last few months and the caves have been full of water, a rare event. We had the amazing experience of walking through the caves on the walkways with crystal clear, chilly water up to our shins.
There are several bush walks starting from the camping ground, the longest being the Rosella Trail at about 14km. This trail took us to several lookouts from which we could trace the track of collapsed tubes by the bright green vegetation that grows in the protected stream bed.
Situated amongst the stunning ancient landscape of Nitmiluk National Park, the 62 km Jatbula Trail follows the route travelled by generations of Jawoyn people, from Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) to Leliyn (Edith Falls) – a traditional song line. The local indigenous people, the Jawoyn, named the area of the gorge Nitmiluk (pronounced Nit-mi-look) meaning ‘place of cicadas’. The trail was named after Jawoyn Traditional Owner Peter Jatbula who was instrumental in securing land rights for his people and who walked the route of the trail with his family.
The Jatbula is walked as a one-way trail with walkers limited to no more than 15 leaving per day, the trail to be completed over 5 or 6 days. Walkers must be fully self-sufficient as there is no access to the trail other than at the beginning and the end. It’s booked out almost as soon as the places are released online, hence Trish has organised our little group of 4 to be doing it through a trekking company, Gecko Trekking and Canoeing.
Yesterday Steve and Nigel left on their epic drive to Darwin via Birdsville. I’ll see them in Darwin on the 28th. Today I flew to a very warm Darwin and met up with my walking buddies, Trish, Sarah and Wendy. We’re staying at the Hotel On Mitchell – self-contained apartments – well located and appointed.
After packing and repacking our backpacks and discussing at length what we should leave behind, ie rain jacket, rain cover for backpack, puff jacket – “it will not rain” the tour company lady assured us – we went down to Cullen Beach to watch the sunset and partake of a seafood smorgasbord.
Bob the driver for Gecko Trekking and Canoeing company picked us up at 7am and we joined David, Belinda and Emma who’ll be sharing our exciting adventure for the next 6 days. (ie 7 walkers plus our guide, Travis).
Firstly though a drive from Darwin to Katherine, stopping at Adelaide River for a coffee and to view Jock the Croc, a 5 metre stuffed crocodile, and the buffalo from the Crocodile Dundee movie.
A cultural experience awaited us a local Jawoyn man played the didgeridoo for us …
then guided us on spear throwing using a woomera, lighting a fire using two sticks and traditional painting using a reed. It was a lot of fun, but I wasn’t a success at any of them.
In Katherine a relaxing 2-hour cruise between the majestic towering cliffs and crystal clear waters of Katherine Gorge gave us a taste of the adventure to come.
Back to Mick’s property (owner of Gecko) to set up our first camp. Hmm took a bit to remember how to blow up the mattress, etc, but I got there. I’d mentioned I was eating predominantly Paleo and they’d bought in a whole box of Paleo dehydrated food for me. Wow! That was pretty decent of them. However dinner tonight was the tenderest steaks and salad. Delicious.
The temperature dropped rapidly as the sun set and we turned in early to get warm. Several of us, including me, decided to sleep without a tent or insect screen. Lying in bed watching the stars is amazing. Earlier Travis, our tour guide, pointed out the Dark Emu, some constellations and planets and set up a telescope for us. As for being warm though – not so much. I put on my thermals and was still cold. A very restless night ensued.
23rd – 27th July
Walk Day 1: Nitmiluk to Biddlecombe Cascades – 10km
An early start and a lesson on how to pack my backpack quickly and efficiently from Mick himself was useful. All the food and cooking equipment for the 5 days was divvied up between us. My backpack weighed in at about 14kg, including 3 litres of water. I was very pleased with the fit of my new backpack, tolerating the weight well, and continued to for the duration of the walk. Excitedly we began the trail with a boat ride over the Katherine River before we began walking in earnest.
Walk Day 2: Biddlecombe Cascades to Crystal Falls 12km
While the trail is not noted for its hilliness nevertheless there are still some reasonable hills to climb. Here we got a good view of the surrounding countryside. Not many trees in this section.
Today we see the first of the rock art along this trail. These art works are protected under an overhanging rock.
Another view of the trail and countryside we walked through. The disparity in walking speed was beginning to become a problem to me as I was frequently dropped and walked alone. Being at the back of the group I was concerned I’d be injured or bitten by a snake and no one would notice until it was too late. (Note that I was more than 10 years older than the next oldest on this walk!)
Our drinking water (we began every day with 3 litres each) was sourced from the creeks and pools where we camped. We didn’t treat it and no one had tummy troubles from it. And it did taste really good!
Walk Day 3: Crystal Falls to 17 Mile Falls – 10km
We leave our packs behind on the path and scramble down into the Amphitheatre where the flora becomes more tropical and lush and there’s a long wall of indigenous rock art.
Walk Day 4: 17 Mile Rocks to Sandy Billabong 16km
A longer walk today so we set off early with view to arriving at the campsite before the temperatures get too hot this afternoon. I don’t know what the temperature was, but I’d guess it was never less than 30°C once the sun got up. Evenings were cool to chilly.
My issues with being dropped by the others continued. However the group seemed to stop every 20 mins or so for a rest and a drink, which is when I’d catch them. Not needing to stop to rest so often I continued walking expecting to be passed, but they never did – too much stopping for me! This did mean that I walked the majority of the last 3 days on my own, which was disappointing as I’d wanted to share the walk with my friends, but it was safer for me than being behind on my own. The upside was that the trail felt a lot more spiritual now with just the sounds of the birds and the wind in the trees as I walked. Beautiful!
As I was walking alone by now interestingly I found this section of the walk a little creepy – like I was being watched. I’m sure a Jawoyn elder would tell me that I was, by one of their spirits.
Walk Day 5: Sandy Billabong to Leliyn (Edith Falls) 15 km
Our last walking day took us through long grass, a few creeks including Edith River South and a swamp to negotiate before stopping at Sweetwater Pool for a break.
Sweetwater provides another campsite, but campers not doing the full walk can also access it from the Leliyn. Hence there were day trippers here and a few people camped.
It’s only 4.5 km to Leliyn which, after a lovely cooling swim here, we walked on to – finishing the trail. Funnily enough, while most tourists consider Leliyn to be a fabulous pool, we walkers had experienced so much better that we didn’t even bother having a swim here.
The 3-hr drive back to Darwin in the minibus seemed to take forever for our exhausted little troupe. We spent tonight at the same motel before Wendy, Sarah and Trish flew home and I continued my travels to Arnhem Land with Steve.
With our newly repaired tender in tow and all provisioned up we headed for Palm Bay on Long Island. It was one of the best sails we’ve had having a good 10kn wind behind us and the tide with us we flew along at upwards of 5kn at times. Ray was on the tiller; we sat back and enjoyed the islands as they floated by.
Running with the wind on our way to Long Island. Magic sailing.
The entrance to Palm Bay is via a narrow, dredged channel to a small ‘lagoon’ within the rocks and coral. Here there are 4 mooring buoys. It took us a while and a phone call to reception to finally see the small red and green buoys that delineate the channel. We picked up a mooring buoy then went ashore and brought back one of the stern lines they provide. This will prevent us from swinging as the tide and wind change, hitting the reef, and also keeps us bow to the swell, ensuring a calm night.
Steve rowing ashore. Note the stern line from Top Shelf to the shore.
Times are changing on the islands. Our guide book said a mooring fee ($50/night) would cover the resort facilities including pool, showers, etc. Not so anymore – that’s an extra $25 each … bit much to pay for a swim and shower. Palm Bay resort is a pretty resort with small individual burés set in lush tropical gardens facing the beach. It’s all self-catering, with a nicely appointed kitchen and large open dining room for the guests to use.
Palm Bay bures.
Today was a day of walking! We planned to walk the southern walks from Palm Bay first, then to Happy Bay, the resort just north of Palm Bay where we’d rest a while at the beachside cocktail bar we remembered from our last visit here, before continuing with the northern walks. It started so well as we walked along well-shaded tracks covered with a rich carpet of leaves to Sandy Bay, Fish Bay, Pandanus Bay and finally to the Happy Bay resort. This is where it all went wrong – it’s closed! Another ‘ghost resort’. We walked on, unsatiated, completing the island circuit, all up 15.5km. While there were no great peaks to assault with astounding views as we’ve experienced before, it was nevertheless an enjoyable walk around the island.
The islands are interlaced with these wonderful walks, and rarely do we ever meet anyone else out there doing it. They don’t know what they’re missing.
For more photos of our stay on Long Island CLICK HERE
Suitable anchorages for the persistent northerly winds are limited. We decided to cross the channel again and take our chances at some of the places we still want to see despite the winds. Today’s sail was quite long, but again very enjoyable for most of it. To quote the Skipper, ‘it got a little frisky there for a while’. We were close hauled all the way from Long Island up to Macona Inlet on Hook Island where we’ve anchored.
Decided to stay today and explore Macona Inlet in the tender. I must say I think this is one of the best anchorages in the Whitsundays. It has several lovely sandy beaches to explore and swim from, is well protected from all winds except a direct southerly, and the surrounding hillside is beautiful, covered in trees of so many different colours. And it’s not generally as popular as the other protected anchorages.
The guide book said you could catch fish here without requiring much skill. We duly baited our hooks and tossed the lines out, then sat reading – undisturbed. Obviously a greater skill required then we possess.
We were hit by storms tonight – lots of rain and lightning and wind. The anchor held without giving an inch and we had no problems. It soon passed and we slept well.
Off to Hill Inlet today on the eastern side of Whitsunday Island. But first we had to pass through Hook Passage. I remember many years ago visiting the Hook Island Underwater Observatory which was here in Hook Passage – but it’s now closed; apparently competition from the high speed catamarans which take tourists out to the reef for the real deal was too great. Pity, I really enjoyed it.
Another once thriving tourist attraction now closed: Hook Island Underway Observatory.
Hook Passage is another of the Whitsunday passages where you have to get wind and tide just so and our planning was good. The tidal flow tore us along at over 5 knots with not much wind to speak of. However the timing also coincided with the tourist boats passing through which added some drama, particularly coping with their wake.
Rapidly closing on us, in Hook Passage.
To view a few photos of our trip to Hill Inlet CLICK HERE.
Due to lack of wind and a contrary tide as we headed south we motored all the way to Hill Inlet arriving about 2 and a half hours after full tide. This stunning inlet which is the northern boundary of Whitehaven Beach is very shallow – too shallow for keel yachts, but perfect for trailer sailers and catamarans. Sensibly you’d enter this narrow Inlet on the full tide, or at least a rising tide in case of running aground, but we didn’t have those options so in we went anyway. We wound up the keel and pulled the rudder up half way and I took up position standing at the bow trying to spot the deepest channel, waving the directions frantically to Steve. By good luck we didn’t run aground and anchored in a couple of meters of water on the southern side.
This is Hill Inlet. Not my photo – taken from a greater height than I could manage. Here you can see the size of the Inlet and the shifting sands we had to negotiate. Not complaining – top anchorage.
This was a fairly long trip today – about 15nm of motoring which isn’t relaxing.
Late afternoon we went for a walk along Whitehaven beach. Whitehaven is 7km of pure white sand and is officially rated as one of the top 5 beaches in the World. The sand is 98% silica and very fine and soft. This amazing beach is a bit of an enigma as locally there are no quartz rocks from which it could have been formed. Naturally it’s a major tourist attraction of the area drawing several hundred visitors a day, mostly to the southern section. Being part of a National Park it is entirely unspoilt by development, looking the same today as it did to the Ngaro aboriginal communities over the centuries. And credit to all concerned it recently was awarded the ‘Cleanest Beach in Australia’, well-deserved too from our observations.
By late afternoon the day trippers are all gone and the yachties today are elsewhere, Whitehaven being a poor anchorage in northerly conditions. We could hardly believe our good fortune – arguably the best beach in the entire world and Steve and I had it entirely to ourselves to walk. Surreal.
Aerial photo of Whitehaven looking north towards Hill Inlet. This is the stretch Steve and I walked. Again, not my photo.
South easterlies are forecast to arrive today. Rather than stay in Hill Inlet where we only have one opportunity a day to leave and therefore risk having to leave at a time when winds don’t suit us, we decided to move on today. But first a little sightseeing and some housework.
On the headland between Hill Inlet and Tongue Bay, the next bay north, National Parks has built a walking path to a lookout with magnificent views over the Inlet and Whitehaven. We took to the tender before breakfast to beat the crowds, enjoyed the views and photo opportunities then got caught in quite a long, heavy downpour. We were drenched!
Selfie from lookout overlooking Hill Inlet and Whitehaven Beach.
Back at Top Shelf and now pushed for time we motored into shallower water and hopped overboard with snorkels and masks and our hull-cleaning equipment to give her another clean. Growth on the hull happens so quickly in these tropical waters. Hill Inlet has the same beautiful white silica sand as Whitehaven. The water is crystal clear over this lovely soft sand – it was quite visually striking and made hull-cleaning a pleasant pastime.
By the time we’d finished it was once more a couple of hours after high tide and we had to leave – still no breakfast. I repeated my demented arm-waving act standing on the bow and led us safely out to choppy waters. Fortunately not far to go – just to the southern end of Whitehaven – with southerly winds expected it’s now a good anchorage.
We managed to slip ourselves into the perfect location with the best protection on this magnificent beach and ate our breakfast at midday. Then we sat back and watched the comings and goings! Boats of every size everywhere, seaplanes flying in and out and even 5 identical helicopters arrived together and landed in formation on the beach.
Panorama of a few of the tourists at Whitehaven. Bit wonky as Top Shelf wouldn’t stay still for me. If you have very good eyesight you may be able to see 5 red helicopters on the beach.
By 4.30pm they’d all gone leaving us and 3 other yachts in peace for the night. We put out a stern anchor to the beach to prevent any rolling from the swell, cooked a delicious meal then sat in the cockpit for hours listening to beautiful music, staring at the sky, counting the shooting stars and sipping a chilled semillon. I hope this evening will remain in my memory for many years to come.
To see our photos from Hill Inlet and Whitehaven CLICK HERE.
I loved it so much here at Whitehaven that I momentarily considered suggesting to Steve that we stay here another night – then I remembered the tourists!! No, they didn’t fit into my idea of tranquility, and sure enough by 8.15am there were already 3 seaplanes landed, disgorging tourists onto my beach. Time to leave.
Our morning constitutional on Whitehaven Beach, before the tourists arrive.
This time it’s Solway Pass, between Whitsunday and Hazelwood islands, to be traversed, but we’re getting pretty good at these narrow passes now. Even so with all conditions on our side, and motoring, the swirling waters swept us off course a few times. Once through up went the sails for a gentle, pleasant sail northwards through Fitzalan Pass to Henning Island where we picked up a buoy. Just short of Henning we had a near-catastrophe. We were running with the wind, which means the mainsail was nearly at right angles to the boat Steve, on the tiller, looked down to start the motor in preparation for mooring when the wind suddenly flipped the sail right across the boat to the other side where I was in the process of sitting back up after leaning over the side to rinse a bucket. It hit the top of my head – if I’d been any higher up we both shudder to think of the consequences. Accidents happen in split seconds.
That set the tone for the next few hours. The wind got up and made the Henning Island mooring uncomfortable, not that my headache and I had any interest in exploring. We dropped the mooring buoy and headed to Beach 25 (yep, that’s its name) just across the passage and a bit closer to Hamilton Island where we want to go tomorrow for reprovisioning. It was a hasty move as we were both still stressed from the ‘incident’ and it wasn’t until we were half way there that I took a good look at the chart – dangerous reef and very shallow water all around it. Sh*t! We carefully navigated in, anchored, then decided it was too swelly and potentially shallow here too, so moved again to Gulnare Inlet. Took the short-cut through a very narrow channel of ‘a bit deeper’ water between rocks and reefs before negotiating our way into this beautifully protected and calm, but very shallow at dead low tide (which it now was) inlet.
Once safely anchored the remaining alcoholhic beverages on board disappeared rapidly, but we did enjoy a beautiful evening.
Had a lousy sleep last night – we may have been out of the current, but we were so shallow that the swell became waves under us. At low tide it was like being on a roller coaster – maybe not that bad, but for a couple of hours until the tide came in a bit we were miserable campers..
Decided to move on to Thomas Island. This is in the Lindeman Islands National Parks group.
To make the most of the ESE winds we came up the eastern side of Thomas. The seas were choppy, and while we made really good time, averaging 4.5kn, it wasn’t a pleasant sail. Just off the northern tip of Thomas Is there’s a small island, Dead Dog Island and just off that a huge rock called Fairlight Rock. Our route went between them. The book did say to watch out for ‘overfalls’ when the current is maximum, which it was … We went through the gap very fast! The swell was about 2 – 3 meters, breaking waves to the side of us, and we were being swept towards the rock. Fortunately just before we entered the pass Steve put the motor on and made sure we had control. We were relieved when that was behind us.
Our journey finished at ‘Naked Lady Beach’ ( true, that is its name). Around low tide we went ashore with oyster knife and bucket. Tonight for dinner I had four dozen black-lip oysters gently sautéed in coconut oil with a dash of tamari – heaven!
The very pretty Naked Lady Beach on Thomas Island.
For an hour or so around low tide the boat rolled very uncomfortably – unfortunately this was just before dawn, so we both started the day less perky than usual. Fortunately it only got better from there on.
The book mentioned you could walk across the island from Naked Lady Beach. This little bay has to be the prettiest we’ve seen, and that’s saying a lot. We found the path and followed it through mangroves, melaleucas, grass trees and finally coming out to a tiny, rocky bay with a pumice-stone beach. It was so picturesque. Thoughtful previous visitors had constructed a driftwood lean-to giving great shade. They must have been builders – it was so well constructed using only driftwood and rocks. We sat in the shade under it for a while watching the crystal clear water lapping the rocks with the brilliant turquoise ocean beyond. It was pretty close to a spiritual experience.
Time to meditate, at our secret bay.
This driftwood lean-to was fabulous to sit in the shade and look at the ocean.
To view more photos from our time at Thomas Island CLICK HERE.
Back to the boat we had some lunch and got ready to sail, catching the ebbing tide north again. Burning Point on Shaw Island was our destination. The sailing started very slowly with light winds, so light we motor-sailed for half an hour. Once we changed direction and cleared the island we made good time just sailing. A change of wind direction though meant our chosen anchorage wasn’t the best. A quick look at the book and we decided on Plantation Bay on Lindeman Island instead – good decision! It’s a very calm anchorage – no rocking and rolling. There’s just us and a catamaran here.
Full moon tonight – always spectacular when viewed from the cockpit of a yacht.
Quiet day today with only snorkelling just before low tide planned. The channel between Brampton and Carlisle has a central reef. I donned my stinger suit (a sight to behold!), Steve put on his wetsuit and off we went in the tender. The tide was so low we needed to go around Pelican Island to get to the channel. Steve’s snorkelling gear was a new purchase but took no time at all to get used to it. There was a lot of reedy sea grass growing, apparently smothering some of the coral bommies. We found a few not so badly affected and enjoyed seeing a few fish, some pretty corals, lots of sea slugs and quite a few sea urchins. A pleasant snorkel, but nothing to write home about.
Today we ‘do’ the walks.
Despite the circuit track apparently being closed indefinitely due to lack of maintenance we continued on. There were a couple of places where we had to scramble under or over fallen trees, but on the whole it was a well-constructed track that hadn’t suffered much from the neglect. We checked out Oyster and Dinghy Bays on the southern side for future reference, being anchorages in a northerly and climbed to Brampton Peak. All up a walk of around 14km.
We both voted it to be one of the best we’ve ever done. It had everything – thick rainforest, glades of lime-green strappy calves tongue, maidenhair ferns in the gullies, grass trees covering the slopes and beautiful big old hoop pines which are favoured by the screeching sulphur-crested cockatoos, standing sentinel over the southern bays.
Dinghy Bay, Brampton Island. Taken during our bushwalk on the Circuit Track.
But the real highlight of the walk was the butterflies – thousands of blue tiger butterflies all around us as we walked. We could have been walking through a butterfly enclosure there were so many of them.
Blue tiger butterflies. There were clouds of these pretty butterflies surrounding us on our walk.
The climb to the peak was tough – a few hundred meters up over 2 km with lots of switchbacks. The views from the two lookouts were worth the effort – and we got enough internet cover to speak with our children.
The passage between Brampton and Carlisle at low tide. Taken from Brampton Peak. Note the disused airport runway.
At sundowners Ken and Ingrid from the ‘trailer tri’ On the Wing came over and shared stories about anchorages and boats.
To see more photos from this beautiful island and our walk CLICK HERE.
We motored out of Mackay Harbour this morning at 6.30am – we left early to get as much assistance from the ebbing tide as we could. The winds were so light to start with that we motor-sailed for the first hour – quite a change from yesterday’s winds. Our track took us parallel to the coast passing Slade Pt, Dolphin Heads, Cape Hillsborough, Smally’s Beach, Seaforth. These are all locations we know well from our years living in Mackay and camping with the children.
The wind eventually settled into a gentle 10kn southeasterly accompanied by a 1/2 to 1 metre swell. The sailing was quite comfortable despite the occasional annoying jibe caused by the following wind. We breakfasted and snacked as we sailed, finally dropping anchor in a nice protected bay on the western side of Outer Newry Island. The 26nm trip took us 7 hours averaging 3.6kn. Two dolphins met us at the entrance to the bay and followed us to our anchorage – a lovely welcome after a long day.
A peaceful anchorage. Top Shelf in the foreground.
We went ashore in the tender to do the walk to the other side of the island. Outer Newry Island is one of 9 islands in this National Park. As with most of the National Parks we’ve visited the facilities, while basic, are very good. The walk was only 400m one way and led us first to a picnic area with a fisherman’s hut that has been there for 30-odd years, in good repair and still well used. From there it led through eucalypts and flowering grass trees to a stony-beach bay on the ocean side.
Denise after walking across Outer Newry Island.
A nearly full water tank beside the fisherman’s hut was cause for celebration! Fresh water is very precious when sailing so Steve returned after our walk to fill the solar shower for a nice hot, fresh-water shower tomorrow.
Who says you don’t get exercise when boating?
The forecast for tonight is calm – as I write this the boat is gently rocking. I’m anticipating an excellent night’s sleep.
To view the photos from today CLICK HERE.
It rained last night, at times quite heavily. We were snug and dry in the rooftop tent, but it meant we had a wet tent to pack up – and the ground was muddy! Anyway after brekkie we packed up, went for another walk along the beach, then drove back a couple of K to do the Marrja Botanical walk.
When you’re up this way be sure you do this excellent walk.
Sheltered from above by the fan palm. Excellent boardwalk with lots of informational signage.
This was truly fascinating as it took us from rainforest, across Oliver Creek and immediately we were in mangroves. I didn’t realise there were so many different types of mangrove. The explanatory signs along the boardwalk made it a very interesting walk. Well done National Parks!
On to Cape Tribulation, where the rainforest meets the sea – stunning scenery.
The Bloomfield Track begins just north of Cape Trib. The road follows an ancient aboriginal walking track and has quite a chequered history as environmentalists fought to have its construction stopped for fear of the effect it would have on the coral reef just off the coast. Nevertheless it went ahead and became infamous as a slippery dirt road with very steep ascents, descents and creek crossings – a challenge for 4WD enthusiasts. So it was with some trepidation that we began this section.
The beginning of the Bloomfield Track is the beginning of many kilometers of dirt roads over the next few weeks.
It wasn’t long before the tyre pressures were reduced and the car put into low lock. We’d timed the creek crossing for low tide when the creek would be lowest but with a firm rocky bottom it wasn’t too much of a challenge. No argument, the ascents and descents were very steep, but the worst ones had been concreted which helped. It took some expertise to drive it, but I reckon we’ve been on worse.
It wasn’t long before we came to our first river crossing; the first of many.
The bitumen began at Wujal Wujal where we stopped to look in the community art gallery and to have some lunch. A diversion to the Bloomfield Falls was well worth it – thunderous falls into a big, wide river – very picturesque.
The Bloomfield Falls – breathtaking! I can’t imagine what they’d be like in the wet season.
Not much further on we arrived at our destination for the night – The Lions Den Hotel – an historic and quite quirky hotel that has camping behind it. Dinner of barramundi and chips in the pub tonight.
Enjoying a well-earnt drink at The Lions Den bar.
To see other photos from our lovely drive today CLICK HERE.
Mother’s Day! If I can’t be with my beautiful children today (which I can’t) then here is the next best place to be. The weather is perfect and the river looks magic. High tide isn’t until about midday, so we had the morning to fill in. We went for a lovely walk, about 5K, to the end of the breakwater and back again. Nothing quite means sailing more than dolphins frolicking in the waves – and they were there aplenty, if not very photogenic!
Lovely views of the Yamba boat harbour on our walk out to the breakwater.
Mid-morning we rigged – hmmm bit rusty – thankfully Steve thinks out every step carefully as we go and the mast went up without a hitch. The boat ramp was pretty average – no ramp pontoon, and no easy place to pull her ashore once in the water (so we can board) makes life difficult. However we managed and pulled her over to a nearby jetty where we tied her up before heading to the marina coffee shop for a well-deserved coffee.
Then off we set! Yay – on the water again! Not far to go today – 2.25 nm to be exact, which took us all of 50 minutes motoring. There’s an artificial ‘wall’ in the middle of the river which is only just above water level – you have to be on the ball following the navigation aids and charts to go between the two towns.
Iluka is another fishing village, as is Yamba. The fishing trawlers were all moored over in one section of the marina, with the yachts anchored randomly within the marina walls. However, for we lucky ones who can pull up our keel, there’s a nice new pontoon with mooring available for at least 6 vessels in about 1 meter of water. I love being able to just step off the boat!
Moored securely for the night at Iluka
The biggest surprise was the pirate ship anchored in front of us as we came in! Turns out it is the Notorious, a replica of a 15th century caravel which has been handcrafted over 10 years by its owners. The builder was inspired by the legend (or history) of a sunken Portugese ship which had been visible until the mid 18th century off the coast in Victoria near where he lives.
The caravel, Notorious.
As it was still early afternoon we went for another walk around the foreshore along the river. Lovely homes, lovely parks, great caravan park with river frontage and a fabulous walkway – a credit to the local council. There’s also a World Heritage Listed walk around the headland which takes about 3 hours return, but after our walk this morning we weren’t up for it – next time!
Back to Top Shelf, cook a BBQ for dinner on our Magma BBQ which is attached to the back of the boat and then off to bed for an early night.
BBQ at sunset. Iluka
This fabulous protected harbour at Iluka is just perfect for us. Top Shelf is on the pontoon. Notorious, the caravel, is anchored inside the walls.