The end of the road? Part 1 Cooktown to Hervey Bay.

Link to a few pictures here:

It’s January 2019 and we are safely ensconced at home in Melbourne, having arrived back here 10 days ago on December 22nd 2018 after spending 350 days and nights travelling around Australia and getting another small glimpse of this amazing country.

It has been a fair while since I last sat down to write and record some of our journey, and I have been reminded by a few people that I owe a last instalmentJ.

So, this is an “abridged” version of the last few weeks of our trip, we had posted some pictures along the way via Facebook and Polarsteps so hopefully people were aware we were moving down the east coast of Australia.

You may recall we had a quick trip down from the tip of Cape York Peninsula to Cooktown described in our last blog entry, and it felt like we had embarked upon the last leg of our adventures the moment we drove south from the tip. We have certainly seen some incredible and stunning places since Cape York but things were somewhat less adventurous although still spectacular from a scenery point of view.

Rough route from Cooktown in far North Queensland to Melbourne

Our journey home took us from Cooktown down the Bloomfield Track to Cape Tribulation, through the Daintree Region stopping only for Ice Cream and Tea leaves from the immaculate plantations there, across the Daintree River on the ferry and up into the tablelands above Port Douglas to Julatten and a small camp ground that became our base for a week.

We day tripped to Port Douglas twice, visited the Outer Great Barrier Reef Cairns, Karumba and Emerald Creek (for more ice creams, maybe the best of the trip), had our first real rain for five months before heading a little further south.

We drove to Atherton and stayed at Malanda Falls, visiting the nearby waterfalls at Millaa Millaa, swum in an extinct volcano crater at Lake Eacham, saw the slightly bonkers curtain fig tree and spent a day and half wandering around the historic village at Herberton (thanks Andy and Kath for the great tip) and visited Ravenshoe and bought local fruit and vegetables from the roadside.

After two weeks up in the Atherton tablelands we turned towards the coast once more, driving down through the Great Dividing Range skirting Tully Gorge and into town for some supplies before heading out to Murray Falls for a couple of days, enjoying the warm waters in the creek for a safe swim (no crocs) before heading to Blencoe Falls back up in the Kennedy Ranges and along a narrow winding mountain road littered with fallen trees and passing through areas of recent bushfire activity.

From Blencoe Falls it was back down to the coast road and into Cardwell before a short drive to the appropriately named Paradise Pools area along Crystal Creek, surely one of the most magical swimming spots of the whole trip. There are natural rock slides a little further up the creek, fun sliding down a granite rock face in the body shaped rock slideJ.

And then Townsville for a few days where a laptop was repaired, and we were tortured by some really, really, bad singing outside the famous fish and chip shop before having our faith restored by an amazing singer and guitarist in the Sunday Markets.

After Townsville it was off to Eungella National Park just above Mackay for a few days, then Mackay for a longer than expected stay (five daysL ) but we did fix the trailer suspension before eventually racing out of town to get to Hervey Bay and meet up with friends for a 5 night stay on Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island and a slice of paradise just off the Queensland coast.

Leaving Fraser we had another stay in Hervey Bay (a week or so) followed by a quick trip to the Bundaberg region and then turning south again to Tin Can Bay and Rainbow Beach.

From Tin Can Bay it was a short hop to Noosa (beautiful, busy, crowded and charging for parking L ), and then on to Binna Burra in Lamington National Park, an unspoilt part of the world a stone’s throw from Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

And then all downhill from there, literally and figuratively as we headed to the most easterly point on mainland Australia, Byron Bay, then off for some Sapphire fossicking at Tingha near Inverell before finally winding our way down to the Central Coast region just to the north of Sydney at Patonga Beach.

Amazingly there is still a camping and caravan site in the middle of Sydney at Lane Cove in the National Park which served as our base for three days to catch up with a few friends and relatives in Sydney. We managed a quick visit the Opera House, Luna Park and marvel at the Botanical Gardens before heading out of town and heading down the Hume highway for Melbourne and home.

There was one last overnight stop just on the Victorian side of the border at Lake Hume and one last weather trick up someone’s sleeve as our last night under canvas was greeted with howling winds threatening to send us and our tent swimming in the lake J - it was still blowing a gale in the morning and so we had to buy, rather than cook, our last meal on the road.

And then we were home. Home, through the Melbourne traffic on the Saturday afternoon before Christmas, to our house, to the end of a trip and I would have to say we weren’t ready.

The chalkboard at home

The slightly longer version of getting back to Melbourne - Part 1.

Cooktown was a quick re-supply stop but interrupted with incredible views and sunsets, some lack lustre fishing and a reminder of some significant local history.

We had a day or two thinking about the return to Cairns and places to visit and a quick visit to local markets where everyone got attacked by the local sand flies chomping your legs while you were examining the local fresh fruit and crafts.

(Capt. Cook ran aground in 1770 )

Sunset from the Cooktown lookout

From Cooktown we again ventured off the beaten path down the Bloomfield Track, past the Lion’s Den Hotel once again to enjoy a quick lunch and watch in awe as the local camel was fed watermelons.

How do you feed watermelons to a camel? Simple…. Throw whole melons (3) over the fence and they splinter as they land providing a feast for a Thirsty CamelJ. Leaving the Lion’s Den behind we mooched down the track towards Cape Tribulation, the road seemed worse than we remembered from just a couple of weeks earlier, corrugations and pot holes had grown exponentially worse now we were heading home. The road was still as steep and narrow, winding through the ranges and down to Cape Trib, but so much better than another 300kms of tarmac that was our other option. We again camped at the same campground as before, enjoying the grassy sites, good shade and access to the beach.

It was only to be a quick overnight stop before heading down through the Daintree forests to visit a few local attractions before heading across the ferry for the last time. We stopped to complete a short boardwalk through the rainforest, marvelling again at how the rainforest is in constant rejuvenation as leaves, branches and trees fall to the ground, are returned to the earth as nourishment for the next cycle of growth and everything is competing to find a patch of sunlight in the understorey.

We then found the Daintree Tea Plantation, bought some tea and honey and watched as the tea harvester was in action along the neat, almost manicured rows of tea bushes. Then onward to the Daintree Ice Cream Company, handmade ice creams using tropical fruits grown on the property, delicious. I know we ate more than we should but it seemed a fitting way to end this part of the journey.

Wattle Seed, Banana, Davidson's Plum, Black Sapote and Soursop to name a few flavours

Across the Daintree River ferry and back towards civilisation, we had a late lunch at Wonga Beach before continuing past Mossman and then taking the mountain road up to a small campground at Julatten.

This was to become our base for the next week or so as we caught up on some schoolwork with the girls, relaxed in the small garden setting of the park and visited some of the attractions in the area.

One day we ventured down to Cairns to collect some long overdue posted items, then returned via the market town of Karumba where the girls convinced Helen and I to buy them small Opal pendants, and I took the scenic way back to the campground that just happened to pass the Emerald Creek Ice Cream company where we all had really, really delicious ice-creams and a real iced coffee for me.

Port Douglas was only 30 minutes away and our friends Michael, Vicki and Katie were camped there waiting to get their Prado sorted, so we spent another day catching up with them and enjoy the views and beaches. And it started to rain, the first real rain we had seen in a long time and this was to become a theme as we continued down the east coast, summer was coming and so were the summer storms.

The view from Port Douglas lookout

While at Port Douglas we realised we should take advantage of its proximity and visit the Great Barrier Reef, so another day disappeared visiting Agincourt Reef in the Outer Reef system about 90 minutes boat ride out to sea. The day promised much, and there is no doubt it is the most spectacular reef system on the planet, but Sophie only managed 15 minutes snorkelling so that also became the length of my time in the water

Giant Trevally on the prowl at Agincourt Reef

The semi-submersible glass sided boats proved to be a winner though and we managed good views of the reef, fish, turtles, dolphins and rays as we took a couple of tours away from the main pontoon. All too soon it was time to return to Port Douglas where we again caught up with our friends for coffee & ice cream and waited out the inevitable afternoon rainstorm, all we could do was hope the tent back at our campsite stayed upright and water tight.

Another day was spent doing schoolwork in the morning followed by a trip to Mossman Gorge, a world heritage area just 20 minutes away from our campground. Helen and I had visited back in 2004 and really enjoyed walking through the rainforest before swimming in the crystal clear creek amongst granite boulders strewn idly around by the forces of nature.

This time however it was a different experience, the place had been “improved” as the number of visitors had grown over the years and although the forest and creeks were much the same, there were a huge number of people around and it felt like being back on the bus/coach tour circuit. There is a balance between protecting the things people come to see and commercialising the crap out of nature, I am not convinced Mossman Gorge has got it right and I don’t think I would go back again, there are quieter, different places to visit without the crowds and souvenirs/trinkets/junk.

Our campground hosts had told us of a creek where the Julatten locals go to swim in the summer months, we ventured down for a look and thoroughly enjoyed a few hours in the creek with just a couple of other people there, crystal clear waters, a rope swing for the girls and peace and quiet for us.

local Julatten swimming spot

We hadn’t really planned to spend a week based in Julatten but it had been a relaxing time and slightly away from the madding crowds so had worked for us, the girls caught up with their schoolwork but it was time to shift down to the southern end of the Atherton Tablelands.

It was only a short drive down through Atherton to our next campground at Malanda, stopping in at the Peanut Place to learn about peanut production on the tablelands before visiting the slightly bonkers but quite amazing Curtain Fig Tree. There are a number of these trees in the area but the one just outside Atherton is the most famous and is as fascinating today as when in I first visited in 1990.

Malanda Falls - fun swimming with platypus next to the campsite

Malanda is home to a small waterfall, just a couple of hundred metres from our campsite and a creek with platypus swimming around delighting anyone and everyone without fail. There is something almost mystical about these peculiar creatures but to see them in the wild is a joy.

We caught up with our friends (Ingrid, David and family) so spent a few days locally exploring the other waterfalls in the area at Millaa Millaa, Ravenshoe, Millstream and then swimming in the extinct volcano crater at Lake Eacham and also enjoying a campfire in the evening as the children ran happily around the wide grass expanse of the campground and fed/watched the small animal farm endlessly.

A real highlight was a day trip to the historic village at Herbertown, the Jacarandas were in bloom providing the most gorgeous of backdrops to the lush green lawns and perfectly restored White House.

The children enjoyed going to class in the old school buildings and I became teacher for moment, trying to explain the old imperial monetary and weights system in use before decimalisation. Mind boggling stuff.

The village was full of fascinating things for everyone, the old adage of something for everyone was never more true. I found an old garage full of cars, bikes and trucks from almost a hundred years back and way out in the back paddock found a range of old working trucks, a Leyland Hippo, a number of Ford Blitz trucks and various other trucks ingrained in the history of post war Australian off road travel.

It brought back memories of a book I read years ago about Tom Kruse the Outback Mailman, delivering mail for over 20 years along the Birdsville track in his trusty old trucks and a star in the 1954 film “Back of Beyond”.

There was another attraction in the historic village that caught our attention, a working blacksmith making wrought iron tools and explaining the process as he went, a real craftsman and fortunately with a young man as his apprentice following in his path and learning a dying trade. We stood and watched for an hour or more as he made a small tool to lift the lid of cast iron camp ovens, and decided there and then that we must have the one he just made. Unfortunately so did our travelling companions and there had been someone the day before also struck by the craftsmanship used in its making. It was almost a game of paper rock scissors to see who was going it, all I can say is it is sitting in our truck as I sit and type this but our friends didn’t go empty handed either, the small shop on site had one other example so we all went home happy and still friends.

Our campground at Malanda, plenty of space for children to run

A final campfire at Malanda and next morning David and Ingrid were heading to Cairns and continuing their adventure, and we were heading south to Murray Falls as we continued to work our way down the coast towards a pre-booked “holiday” on Fraser Island with friends driving up from Sydney.

We were pleasantly surprised by the open, spacious campground at Murray Falls, there were a few other people around as it was the weekend (we didn’t really register these things) and we were close to Innisfail and Tully. (The races must have been on in Innisfail as the town was full of people "dressed to impress" on a warm Saturday afternoon.)

Swimming hole at Murray Falls

The girls swam in the creek, found a rope swing and new friends to play with and we all enjoyed the quiet nature around us. We stayed a couple of days, the creek being the best place to cool down as the days were getting warmer. I walked to the top of the falls to admire the view and also really enjoyed the quiet walk through the forest, watching and listening to the birdlife and scurrying of lizards while hoping to catch a glimpse of a Cassowary.

There was a modicum of excitement the second night as a young couple arrived and asked about the bush fires burning just down the road, the police and fire authority were already on scene and so there was no real danger but, it was enough to make us think about the approaching bushfire season.

The girls made friends with a family from Townsville and it was wonderful watching them play together and then get some sandpaper and start to fashion small wooden bookmarks from timber offcuts left by a previous camper. They worked hard, sanding then oiling a number of gorgeously coloured bookmarks, maybe we have craftswomen in our midst.

On the morning of our departure, I discovered we had a flat tyre, it turned out to be a slow puncture but meant we needed to go into Cardwell to get it repaired before continuing up to Blencoe Falls. This proved a little frustrating trying to find a tyre repair shop but shortly after lunch we were on our way up the narrow winding goat track running up through the Kennedy Ranges.

The road signs were enough to dissuade all but the truly determined traveller, it certainly would not be much fun towing a caravan but was ok for us. There was evidence of recent bushfires with smouldering trees along about 20kms of the track, trees were down everywhere as a result and some half across the track. It was a slow drive, only about 75 kms but almost three hours by the time we arrived at the remote camping area.

We were the only people there and it was fantastic to be alone in the bush again although we were slightly worried by bushfire activity in the region.

As soon as we had setup camp the girls were in the river swimming and giggling, we had thrown in a water melon, to try and cool it down, but who would have imagined it would provide so much fun in the creek. Needless to say it didn’t really cool it down that much but we were all cool and refreshed after our swim.

Next day we set off mid-morning to walk to Blencoe Falls, it was hot and we really should have gone earlier in the day, we realised we were somewhat out of practice as we walked up and down some exposed hill sides to get to the lookout points, we had some fun along the way encouraging a group of cattle to leave the path but mostly we were just hot and sweaty.

Blencoe Falls

The views of the falls though are spectacular and the valley towards the coast equally impressive. We were glad to have made the walk although the walk back seemed longer and harder even though it was vaguely downhill. Once back at camp the girls were in the creek cooling down in the blink of an eye, quickly followed by Helen & me.

We had the place to ourselves, watched as an afternoon storm built up over the ranges, we had a little rain but nothing of note, then watched as the colours of the late afternoon sun created an ever changing palette of colour against the clouds and ranges. With a campfire to sit and watch into the evening it was a good end to a fulfilling day.

In the morning we packed and set off for our next destination, only 175kms away but would take us most of the day as we had to retrace our steps down the narrow goat track, this time having to manoeuvre around a freshly fallen, still smouldering tree across the road.

We met one other 4WD truck and trailer that had just come past the tree, they had tried and failed to shift it, broken a recovery strap in their efforts and damaged their trailer slightly passing the tree. Fortunately for us, their efforts and advice made it easier for us to pass and with an inch or two to spare we crept past the tree on the earth bank at the side of the road, it was a little tricky but no damage for us.

Tricky getting the truck and trailer past this fallen tree

Our destination was the Paradise Water Hole at Crystal Creek in the Paluma National Park, delightful names and perhaps the best swimming spot on our entire journey. Maybe, possibly. A little further up the creek was a set of natural rockslides created by the water course across some smooth granite boulders, amazingly the water course was just about body shaped and although there was only a little water running, the girls had great fun sliding down and into a clear pool at the base of the rocks.

Paradise Waterhole

Back at our campsite we were fortunate enough to see a Frill-Necked Lizard hiding in plain view on a tree trunk, chase the ever present Brush Turkeys around the campground and watch and listen to the birdlife all around. Then the mosquitos and midgies came out to play and so we retreated into the relative sanctuary of the tent to avoid being bitten mercilessly again.

Next day we were up and packed before one final swim and off to Townsville for a day or two, or three or four or five as it turned out. We knew that we should stop for a couple of days, we had a laptop that needed to be repaired and it would take a day or two to arrange, some more schoolwork for the girls to catch up with and a day trip to Magnetic Island to add to the list. Townsville also became the start of a medical mystery that was to shape the next few days, weeks and months to come.

Our campground was just on the edge of town at the Riverside Convention Centre, it proved to be a great base to do some exploring locally, get schoolwork done with decent power and internet connections and watch the start of mango season as the Magpie Geese would come through and eat any fallen mangoes.

The Fruit bats (aka Flying Foxes) would come through at night and feast on a combination of almost ripe mangoes and other flowering trees nearby, they make a peculiar noise when squabbling in the trees and flap around at night making you think you are in a horror movie.

Townsville saw us exposed to both the best and worst of street entertainers while we were in town, the Sunday markets were wonderful and I sat enthralled, listening to a guitarist/singer restoring our faith in free, top quality entertainment. The singer we had endured on Friday evening was obviously still in her formative years, with a song list really beyond her capabilities and no escape for us as we waited to collect our fish and chips.

In-between our musical adventures we took the truck across to Magnetic Island for a day trip, and as part of Zoe’s school work she created a blog entry to describe our day so I don’t have to.

Sunday morning saw us exploring the markets, listening to great quality music and enjoying a friendly relaxed atmosphere in the sun. We then went up to the lookout at Castle Hills, a short but steep drive to amazing views over the region and out towards Magnetic Island. We took a few pictures before heading down to the northern end of the Strand for a quick swim in the rock pool, often the safest place to swim rather than braving the beaches with their sharks, crocodiles and marine stingers.

View from Castle Hill looking over Townsville to Magnetic Island

Zoe, Sophie and I were brave enough to hop in, the wind was blowing off the ocean providing a “cooling” breeze, the pool is fed by sea water into a concrete pool. It was good fun but soon after getting in, Zoe was complaining about being uncomfortable and sore so Helen quickly found a 24/7 GP service for us to visit and get things checked out. A quick doctors visit, some anti-biotics and we were on our way again, things were a little complicated as we needed to get test results later in the week and we would be somewhere else; so started a game of hide & seek between we travellers, and the Queensland Health services, that kept going through Bowen, Mackay and finally Hervey Bay a couple of weeks later.

You might think it’s quite tricky to get to health services when you are on holiday, we found it almost impossible as we were travelling and never quite sure where we were going to be or for how long. Making an appointment with a specialist when you have no fixed abode is a conundrum.

Anyway, we headed out of town on Monday morning towards Bowen and some fabled, excellent fishing opportunities. And the Big Mango. Bowen is the spiritual home of the mango in Australia, I have happy memories when first coming to Australia waiting for the Bowen mangoes to appear just before Christmas, large trays of juicy, cheap, excellent Bowen mangoes. We were too early so there were none available, so we had to make do with a picture of the Big Mango.

We walked about a bit, did some schoolwork, chased more Brush Turkeys and tried our hand at fishing. However, as usual we proved to be somewhat unsuccessful at catching much of anything, even though I walked to the end of the long jetty and also fished off the rocks walls around the marina. The scenery was fantastic though and the girls had a blast in the free water park along the water’s edge.

There was a small disaster in Bowen as Zoe’s Crocs suffered terminal failure, and shopping for girls shoes proved to be a challenge so all we ended up with was a $4 pair of cheap nasty thongs (flip flops to the poms out there). On a more positive note the thongs have lasted and performed admirably from Bowen all the way home.

We spent another few hours with the Queensland Health service getting some lab test results (or not as it turned out as they couldn’t find anything) so Zoe then was forced to drink a litre of water quickly and have an ultrasound, results to be available in Mackay after the weekend of course.

We had a reference letter from the GP to get to a specialist but of course that proved impossible without a PH.D. in astrophysics. Incredibly (and kudos to the Queensland Health Service) someone did call us back and tell us it would be best to take our reference letter and “present ourselves to the Accident & Emergency” department at Mackay Base Hospital. We decided to wait until Monday morning as Zoe was full of energy and it seemed more likely to get treatment on a weekday than the weekend.

And therefore it seemed only natural to head up into the Great Dividing Range again, this time to Eungella National Park and try and spot some more platypus swimming in the wild. We were treated to awesome views as we snaked up the mountain road with views over the coastal plains and Pacific Ocean, then soon onto a small 4WD track to our camping site for the next couple of days.

It was great to be up and in the cooler air again, and away from the constant wind found in Bowen at this time of year (November), we collected wood for camp fires, walked along the small creek and enjoyed the forest campground with a few other campers.

We completed a few short walks in the area the next day, spotted platypus & turtles in the river, listened and watched (even identified the Spectacled Monarch and Eastern Yellow Robin) some amazing birdlife in the mountains and generally relaxed in the mountains.

Eastern Yellow Robin

The campground seemed to have a few resident Lace Monitor Lizards hanging around and they were a joy to watch, as was the arrival of a small flock of Red Browed Finches, an Azure Kingfisher and the many Honeyeaters in the area.

Lace Monitor lizard - aka Goanna's

We really enjoyed the short time at our campsite, Sunday evening we were lucky enough to have the place to ourselves. Monday morning arrived and our tent was damp with a heavy overnight dew, so we attached the trailer to the truck, picked up the tent and with Helen driving very slowly we moved into the sunshine to dry off before heading down into Mackay. It would have looked bizarre if anyone had been there to witness our slightly mad Monday moment.

Eungella - The Diggings Campground

There was also a moment of good luck as Helen spotted a potential problem with the trailer suspension, a spring hanger had almost broken through and would need replacing urgently, so we limped slowly out of the camping area via the 4WD track back to the mountain road, travelling almost as slow as we could remember anywhere along the journey but eventually we arrived back at the bitumen.

It was also my birthday. Monday 5th November, turning 42 again. Happy Birthday me.

Onwards and back down the mountain into Mackay, past the Sugar Cane fields and found the Base Hospital where there was no parking with the trailer on, so Helen and the girls jumped out and set off for their date with A&E, and I went to get the trailer fixed – seemed like a good use of time. I quickly found a Trailer repair shop, they took one look and said “no problem”, so I was able to drop the trailer and leave it to be repaired on the spot, the mechanics were excellent and said it would be easy and only take a couple of hours, music to my ears.

Off I went to join Helen and the girls for the long long wait at the hospital. As I said, trying to get anything done when you are on the move is a challenge, and it seemed more so that day. Eventually we spent 5 days in Mackay and a good deal of that time was hanging around the hospital, waiting waiting waiting, the less said the better but it was not until Friday mid-morning we were able to leave Mackay and head to Hervey Bay and our rendezvous with Steve and Kerri who were driving up from Sydney for a few days on Fraser Island.

There was a bright spot in our Mackay malaise, we managed to catch up with Michael, Vicki and Katie who were passing through and staying close by, so a happy afternoon of chatting and a cold beer was hastily arranged and the three girls played happily in the warm sunshine out at Mackay Marina.

Smiles on our faces after an odd week in Mackay, we were happy to be leaving but with a long drive ahead and knowing we would now have to bypass Rockhampton and would also be unable to catch up with Glen & Alison (we had met in Tasmania back in February at Puddleduck). We had pre-booked the ferry weeks ago when it seemed we would have time to do many more things on our trip down the coast, so with 700+kms to travel and only a day to do so we set off down the Bruce Highway.

Only in Australia can I imagine a major highway being called Bruce J

A quick overnight roadside stop near the wonderfully named town of Gin Gin, and then midday the next day, there we were, in Hervey Bay putting up the tent and waiting for Steve and Kerri to arrive after their mammoth drive (@ 1200kms) north from Sydney.

We had thoughts of going out and fishing along the pier that afternoon but soon dissolved as we realised we needed to shop for five nights on Fraser Island for more people than normal. So a trip to the supermarket was about all we managed before Steve and Kerri arrived and then the evening disappeared in catch up conversation over a BBQ dinner and a glass or two of suitable refreshments.

And that is way more than enough for this part of the blog, the next installment will be along soon

Regards Roy, Helen, Sophie & Zoe

131 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All