It was only 10 days or so ago, but “The Outback” now seems so far away. I didn’t manage to talk Ben into more dinosaur discoveries, so after Hughenden our last stop inland was Charters Towers, around 130kms west of Townsville, what a great place Charters Towers was. We unfortunately missed the country music festival that had been on the day before, so didn’t get to give our boot-scooting a whirl, but we stayed in a great caravan park on the eastern side of town called the Outback Oasis – really reasonable rates, super friendly service and they had a brilliant bush kitchen area where you were able to light a camp fire – the first we’d come across in a commercial park. In Charters Towers we also visited the Heritage Cottage and learned, among other things, how to pan for gold. The two men who ran the cottage were a wealth of information and really entertaining, both for young and old. We came away with our little stash of gold flakes that we managed to find.
Just out of Charters Towers, on the Burdekin River, there is a flood marker. It is absolutely amazing to imagine the water at the levels that it shows. Keeping in mind that the bottom of the marker marks the water level at about 13.5 meters above the usual flow of the river, all of the flood levels on that marker post are unbelievable. There was no marker for 2011, so we’re not too sure if the floods this year made the grade, but the 2009 floods were the second highest on the past (at 20.75 mts) and the highest were floods in 1946 (at 21.79 mts).
From Charters Towers we headed to the coast and made a run for Mackay, as we are going to have to back-track over this part of the coast we didn’t make any stops along the way. We stayed on the beach at Seaforth, which had been recommended to us, it was brilliant. Right on the beach, reasonable rates and 20c showers! We stayed there a few days, just hanging out, making a day trip into Mackay and generally being friendly with the wildlife!
The big downside of the beautiful water along the coast from here north are the stingers, although it is towards the end of the stinger season we are still too cautious to go swimming in the ocean, there are a few stinger netted areas, but the temptation of an ocean you can’t swim in does seem cruel!
You have no idea the extremes a person will go to to be able to swim in the beautiful blue waters of the Whitsundays! And we all got in the act, donning our stinger suits when on a cruise out to the islands to swim and snorkel… what a sight!
I think because it was a fairly dull cloudy day the coral and fish life were not as spectacular as we’d expected, which was a shame. The kids all really enjoyed it though and I was so proud of Indianna’s first attempt at snorkelling – she did a brilliant job and kept oohh’ing and aahh’ing through her snorkel at the sight of the fish coming so close.
Airlie Beach is as we had expected, a busy back-packer focussed town, but it doesn’t take long to get away from that to some of the more beautiful spots along the coast, we took a drive through the sugar cane fields out to Hydeaway Bay, a little north of Airlie Beach. This place was absolutely beautiful and it’s more remote location (a few kms of dirt road) meant that the beach was largely unspoilt. We had a delicious lunch at the beach side bar there, sitting at the water’s edge with our table in the sand… this is the life!
We left Airlie Beach on Mothers Day and had lunch at the place of Ben’s dreams – his own pub! Malpass Hotel is in Home Hill, just south of Ayr. Good food and great friendly service too.
The rainy weather and hugely expensive, unfriendly campground in Townsville meant that we stayed very briefly in the city, basically just one night to stock up on groceries and fuel and then moved on. A disappointment really as I’m sure with more favourable conditions we would have spent a lot longer here.
We were desperate for another fire-side camp now as we hadn’t had one since Winton (two weeks ago), so headed into Paluma National Park and camped at Big Crystal Creek. What a brilliant place, there was a crystal clear creek near the campground with really deep swimming holes and not a stinger in sight! Just up the road we figured was the inspiration for Wet ‘n’ Wild… natural rock water slides. Brilliant fun and again some deep, deep water holes that were perfect for jumping into from a great height!
We had a brilliant few days here swimming, exploring and finishing the week’s school work. Indianna especially loved all the tadpoles in the shallows of the creek and she made a new (big) friend with a 12 year old girl camped near us, it was all tears the morning we left!
We left Big Crystal Creek to wander up the coast until we found a good camp-spot, according to “Camps 5” there was no end of brilliant spots along this stretch of the coast, but “Camps 5” had been written in a time prior to Tropical Cyclone Yasi and we were to find that three months after Yasi some of the sites were not yet operational again, so we pressed on a little further than intended and have found ourselves a few kms north of Mission Beach at beautiful Bingil Bay. It’s like paradise here with the palm trees hanging over the sand. We’re camped right on the beach and Ben’s had the boat out fishing, although unfortunately has not returned with any dinner yet! We even have hot showers and flushing toilets!!! All for the grand sum of $100 a week, so we’ll be here for a week for sure! We still can’t swim in the ocean though (stingers), but there are fresh water creeks a short walk along the beach and stinger nets in Mission Beach, a short drive away if we really feel the need. Ben and I really like Mission Beach, it could even make it to the short list of places to return to.
Category 5 Cyclone Yasi crossed the coast very near Mission Beach on the 2nd February this year and naturally there is still a lot of evidence of the destruction it wrecked on houses and forests in the area, but there is also an amazing amount that has been done in the clean-up and recovery efforts. It’s difficult to really gauge the work done on buildings etc as we have no idea what was damaged and what was not. There are certainly a lot of buildings still covered in tarpaulins and several which have been abandoned and look as though they are waiting for demolition, but there is a lot of building work going on too. The resort on Dunk Island (just off Mission Beach) was totally destroyed, in fact the whole island National Park is still not accessible and they say that the resort may take two years to reopen. The beach area is a little rocky in places where I am sure there used to be a sand covered beach, but the forest around the area is remarkable in the way it has started to regrow. Apparently all of the trees which withstood the winds were stripped bare of their leaves and many of their branches, but to look now the forest is a definite shade of green, you can still make out all of the tree trunks which are usually hidden by their foliage, but what has grown is quite remarkable. Best of luck to everyone who still needs to repair their home, business and community.
Oh, but the way, we are officially in croc country now! Another reason we can’t swim in some places… in the words of Tobey – cruel, cruel world!
And we have now managed to see a cassowary either, although the area around Mission Bay is their main environment.