Ingham – art, waterfalls and more.

Proud enough of its history to paint the walls with it, this quaint country town has a great feeling. Artistic, cultural and well-maintained, Ingham is a farming area, with sugar and dairy thriving in this tropical area.

JK’s delicatessan mural

Let’s start with a coffee, and there were a few choices, but we chose JK’s delicatessen. In Adelaide, that wouldn’t be an unusual name, but way out east it’s very unusal, as the first white settlers were predominantly from the UK and they have ‘milk bars’ and now cafes. A good selection of coffees, teas and vegan sweets and it was very large.

As we travelled, many people told us we had to stop in Ingham, as it had a strong Italian ‘flavour’ and this wasn’t a big draw card, but then we found the Mercer Lane Mosaic.

The Rainbow Serpent, acknowldging the traditional owners’ dreamtime story about the area’s history.

A project that was co-ordinated by Karen Venables, it involved about 2000 locals and visitors who created mosaics to represent the history and diversity of the Hinchinbrook Shire.

Local artist, Kate Carr, did most of them and they are mosaics because it’s quick to learn and represented a popular artform of Italy, from where the greater percentage of the population come (https://www.hinchinbrookway.com.au/do/mercer-lane). Merceer Lane is 50m of cultural celebration and commemoration. There are even columns with family history, which fascinated me and I thought every town should do it.

We made our way to an economical campsite, on a farm, set up and left the van so that we could explore Wallaman Falls.

It was a beautiful 50km drive through sugar cane and cattle farms to Girringun National Park.

The falls, Australia’s highest single drop waterfall, are impressive and after viewing from the top, we decided to do the walk to the bottom which was steep, but easy on the way down.

Alan clambered over rocks to get as close as possible to the Falls , but I stayed back, unsure of the path he had taken and cautious after seeing a black snake.

the view as you near the bottom

The walk back was pretty demanding, nearly all uphill and steep. The falls are about 250km high and all in all we were there about 2 hours, including lunch.

We made it back to our campsite, only to be told that we couldn’t stay because we didn’t have a shower in our van. We had thought self-contained meant having our own toilet, but we were told we had to have a shower, by council regs. and would have to leave. This may be a Queensland thing, but other travellers we spoke to had not heard of it. In fast-approaching dark we were eaten by mozzies as we packed and, in the dark, we headed for the town caravan park, which was very welcoming and had drive-through sites.

The next morning we went to the TYTO wetlands, named after an endangered owl of the area. The wetlands are home to over 200 birds, and we thought we’d get a peaceful walk in before travelling on.

It is a very picturesque park and the paths are lovely and level. However, from the birdwatching gazebo, top right, above, I took a shot of what I thought was a log. As we continued, we saw a sign that said there’d been recent crocodile sightings, and we joked about whether my log was actually a croc, as you do.

Well, every rustle in the grass, interspersed by long tunnels of flattened reeds, had us jumping nervously. We decided to head back to the car and, as we travelled along, I put on my glasses and went through the photos. You’ve probably guessed by now…

Across the river had been no log.

Travel safe, take water, hat and your glasses. Ingham is well worth a visit.

Airlie Beach

We were returning after a 20-year absence, full of good memories and expectation of a backpacker ambiance. The town disappointed but the caravan park was so full of promise, we booked an extra night on the spot.

Nothing beats a tropical location.

More famous for Shute Harbour – the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands, we drove down there to discover some major renovations and expansion.

major construction and expansion

Back in town, there were cafes and eateries that faced the beach but we found it hard to get a park, so continued on a little to the lagoon, where patrons are protected from stingers by the presence of nets and patrols, in a landscaped garden setting.

Airlie Beach lagoon pool

If you’re hanging out in Airlie Beach and not taking a cruise somewhere, this is a great free activity / venue and there are plenty of shops nearby for fast food, icecream, nicknacks or diversion. An abundance of chemists line the main street, for suncream, moisturizer, bags or whatever, and there is a supermarket in the heart of town with regular-priced goods.

We couldn’t wait to get back to the Big4 Tropical Eco Resort caravan park and the great pool, where we lazed in the cool water while watching the metallic starlings, with their red eyes, glossy plumage and hanging communal nesting habit.

Everyone kept asking if we were southerners, as they thought the water was cold, for August, but our beaches have water that’s straight off the Antarctic – that’s cold!

Many travellers don’t want to stay at Big4 parks, as they are geared for families and children and they no longer need those facilities. We, however, like to remenisce and support the places we were able to take our kids to. The facilities are always very clean and safe, too.

Safe travels. Take a hat and water and your swimming gear.

Mackay Botanical Gardens

Mackay, pronounced Mack-eye, is about half way along the coast of Queensland, and referred to as both northern and central, as a result. It is a huge sugar-producing area, responsible for about a third of the country’s total sugar. For people who come from a much drier state, the sight of the green fields is wonderful, and when they are set alight at night it’s impressive, if the smell of smoke takes a while to ignore.

cane fields, Mackay region

The very specific farm equipment, too, was fascinating and we didn’t mind when we had to stop and wait while a train went through.

However, when you search things to do in Mackay, the return list is quite brief. Fortunatley, the Botanical Gardens is mentoined, so we stopped there en route to our next destination.

water feature, Mackay Botanical Gardens

The small carpark shouldn’t put you off, as the many ways in, via attractive walking paths, herald plenty of street parking. The entrance is wide and clearly signed, and sunny enough to bring in some local pythons. I wouldn’t have noticed them if people weren’t walking around, casually pointing them out. It appears that they are very common in people’s yards up here.

I think that’s a smile?

You can enter via the cafe and opt for a tour or go straight through to the information board, looking out over the wetlands and letting you know that the Gardens are still in a developmental stage.

the view over the wetlands, and the information board
a pretty array of cups in the cafe

There are two main directions to take, left or right, and we took the right, only to find there were further choices as we went along. Many people were using the paths for exercise and arriving from outside the Gardens. It wouldn’t matter which way you went, as the gardens are very pretty and accessible.

There’s a variety of birdlife and plants and the path is easy and accessible for wheelchairs.

deep into their laughter, heads thrown back

A very pleasant place to visit and lots of shade, but always take a hat and water.

Cape Palmerston

Recommendations are constantly made, when you are on the road, about good, cheap places to stay. One such suggestion we received was for Cape Palmerston. We were told it was beautiful and, as part of Queensland’s national parks, the rate to camp is $6.50pp/night. It was unforgettable.

How hard could it be? The road to Palmerston was dirt off the highway, which was now sugar cane country, but reviews were good and nothing to indicate any special skills or vans, apart from ‘recommended with a 4WD’. So off the highway we ventured and tentatively followed signs until the final turn-off, where we saw two people inflating their tyres. Uh-oh. We stopped and had a conversation, during which they advised driving over the hill, keeping well to the left, following in others’ tracks, unless we could ride their rise, stay well away from the water, watch the tide so we did’t get caught in quicksand (did she say ‘quicksand’?) and we should make it to the first camp. Stay there.

It would be accurate to say we had some reservations and the woman suggested some sand driving would stand us in good stead. Over the rise we drove and saw some other cars, to either side, well back from the beach. We decided to have lunch and then head back where we had come, then forward in our journey, but when one couple came over and said they were moving on and we could have their spot for a camp…well, we moved in.

I’m still uncertain that Queensland Parks intended this spot for a camp, but I got online and paid our fee, and soon we were exploring the beach.

The tide was about 40 m out from our camp and receding. We had taken maybe 30 steps when a movement on the sand caught my eye. Crabs! But no ordinary crabs; these were travelling forward (not sideways) and carrying bulbous blue heads/bodies .

If we approached them, they stopped and spun themselves under the sand in a second. They travelled in groups, alone, in a line and in any direction. The sand was alive!

The entertainment having lasted a good hour, we explored some more and found very unusual jellyfish nested in the sand (waiting for unsuspecting tucker?)

then tucked into dinner. As the sun set, our neighbours fished at the water’s edge, our cameras s clicked and we noticed the waters beginning to return towards us. No cause for alarm, the signs of last night’s high tide were at least a metre from our door. And the others were in a tent, further forward, so any cries of alarm would alert us in time.

Sunrise was lovely and, although we had both spent some of the night listening to waves lap near our door, we awoke high and dry. A little trouble with midgies, which were also new to us.

Plenty of cars had taken to the sand trail the day before, during the late afternoon and early evening, speeding off in other people’s tracks or on their rise, way off to the point, where we hoped they avoided the quicksand and made it around to the first campsite.

An unforgettable experience, nonetheless. Sorry Queensland National Parks if we took a liberty. Cape Palmerston is for the more adventurous and experienced and by all accounts is excellent for fishing and beaching.

Take your hate, sunscreen, water and 4WD manual.

Side of the road

When travelling in Australia, you can find free or cheap ‘side of the road’ overnight stops. Some people use Wiki Camps, Camp10, tourist atlases, or a mixture.

Generally, we have found the amenities (if they are present) are very clean, but most people carry toilet paper to be on the safe side. If water is provided, you can’t assume it is safe to drink, and many have signs saying boil first, or not for drinking. A portable toilet gives you more options but some sites in Qld that say you must be self contained, mean you must have a fixed and permanent toilet and shower.

If you are right beside the road, you will possibly not get a good night’s sleep, as trucks travel 24 hours a day and sometimes train lines are close. We use reviews to guide us and try to have planned the stop before we begin the day’s journey.

Some of the best ones look like this and provide a lot of choice about where to set up your ‘rig’.

Unspoken rule – don’t crowd others, or have a generator. Most people are asleep early and depart near sunrise, unless they like the spot enough to stay more than one night. Don’t park in a truck stop!

If you park in a national park, pay the fee online and display your details as directed.

Safe travels! Take enough water with you. Carry a rubbish bag.

Blackdown National Park

After a cold night in Emerald, we headed off early for Blackdown National Park. The reason we had chosen Emerald was its proximity to the park, as the other, nearer, towns had bad reviews. On passing through Bluff, however, we saw a popular free site at which you could leave your van.

The road was good at first and then winding and finally dirt and corrugated, with some potholes. Cows wander close to the road in some parts.

We took about 2 hours to get there, with roadworks, and began following the loop, starting at Yaddamen Dhina lookout,

but missed a stop at Mook Mook so went on to Gudda Gumoo lookout and gorge walk. This leads 240 steps downward to the falls. As the falls weren’t gushing with water, it was easy to get around the rocks and levels and climb to various spots for a look. Very picturesque, with tall fern walls and rocks of so many colours.

Mook Mook lookout displays a massive panorama and the best thing was the sounds of the birds chirping in this huge expanse.

We really enjoyed the treks and although the loop drive is said to be 1.5 hours long, we spent about 3.5 hours there, doing walks and taking photos and listening to the park, which the Ghungalu people advise.

If you have a compact camping style, then you can camp here at a cost set by National Parks of Queensland, which at the time of writing is $6.50 per person per night.

Take a hat and plenty of water. Wear swimming gear if you intend to get wet and attend to signs.

Safe travels.