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.

Outback Queensland – dust and dedication.

It’s hard to describe the region from Mt Isa to Rockhampton in an all-encompassing way, as it ranges from grazing to politics to the mining industry. Driving through Cloncurry and Winton, which are decent-sized, pretty towns, we made it about 20km from Longreach before setting up in the bush for the night.

Longreach is quite large and we admired the heritage train station before moving on. I would have liked to enjoyed some of their pioneer adventures and do the stagecoach ride, but due to Covid-19 it was not running. Another year!

An unexpected find this day was Ilfracombe. There is a substantial display along the main road, of old cars, tractors and machinery. Called the Lynn Cameron Machinery Mile, in recognition of his contribution which made the town what it is, the historical facts are recorded and it is fascinating. For example, there is a disused army tank from WWII that was converted to farm machinery.

Barcaldine was our lunch stop and what a beautiful place, buzzing with grey nomads on the move. Apart from some welcoming craft shops and eateries, the town is known for The Tree of Knowledge.

You can’t miss this structure and once inside it is hard to capture the dimensions.

In 1891, under the tree of knowledge, next to the train station, an organisation was formed that later became the Australian Labour Party. There is a statue, by Mylinda Rogers, to commemorate the shearer’s strike

The original tree was a ghost gum, that dies in 2006 so a monument was built by the Barcaldine Regional Council and a plaque explains that “the tree of knowledge monument, signifying protruding shear blades, is in recognition of the stalwart men and women of the west, who, through their courage, determination and dedication to the principles, ideals and objectives of the Union Movement, played a leading role in the formation of Australia’s Labour and Political Movement which emerged from beneath this Tree of Knowledge in 1891, and spearheaded the many reforms which were to result in a vastly improved way of life for Australians generally.”

There are other historical buildings in the town and a huge xylophone (?) that you can play.

We moved on and found a park in Emerald, which was much bigger than we had expected. Emerald is considered the richest coal and mineral centre of Australia so there’s plenty of work, people are on the move early in the morning and supermarkets are full. We visited the Botanic Gardens which are small but very pretty and used by many for fitness it seems.

A good playground in the Botanic Gardens

Ezmerald was chosen as our base to explore Blackdown National park, but I think there was a spot closer to the NP, Bluff, that we could have chosen, but didn’t know until passing it.

From Blackdown we went to Yeppoon, via Rockhampton. The latter has an unusual amount of bull statues! It looks substantial and attractive but we pressed on.

Mt. Isa

In the far northwest of Queensland, we survived a chilly Mt Isa night and set off for a day of discovery. Arriving at the lookout, the 360 degree view is dominated by the towers emitting smoke, and the density of high-viz clothing and 4WDs leaves you in no doubt that this is a mining town.

The original inhabitants of the area, the Kalkadoon, had fought to keep the area but were defeated by larger numbers and the fortifications. We found it hard to get any information about their culture and practices.In the 1920s a lone prospector found mineral-rich ore and thus began one of the most productive mines in the world, producing lead, silver, copper and zinc.

My husband posing in the display

There was a series of murals on the water tank at the lookout that are worth including , by artist David Houghton and two others.

Heading to Outback Experience at the Information Centre, we watched an informative 1970s film about the area. We did the self-guided tour which included the museum of artifacts and minerals, another film which was quite good and slightly more recent, then entry to the garden area.

The latter contained a small man-made waterfall, some attractive trees and benches to sit on for a moment of peace or to catch sight of the elusive birdlife. Overall it was overpriced.

The film upstairs did show us the underground hospital, created for the expected invasion in WWII, so we saw no need to go there, as planned. I liked seeing the experience of migrants to the area, as my father arrived in Australia after WWII and did labouring, alongside other European migrants. Mt Isa’s people believe they were multicultural before the word was being used, and when they started soccer teams in the 1950s, there were teams from many countries, but not Australia. A large contingent of Fins settled here, were called Huckleberries (as in Huckleberry Finn) and were known to be hard workers.

approaching the open cut
You can see two people on the bank, a quarter of the way down from centre

In the afternoon we made our way 53km to the Mary Kathleen mine, a disused uranium mine that opened in 1954 and closed in the 1980s, leaving a town of 1000 people with no work. The town is dismantled and some foundations remain but it is extraordinary to think of what we are capable. The mine is very impressive with colours and layers and a large pool of water at the base which also shines a rich turquoise hue. The road out is a bit rough and I wouldn’t try it with a 2WD (you can get a tour from Mt Isa). Many people brought their vans out and were staying the night in the site that was once the town, as it is free camping. You get a split in the road for each destination.

The history of Mary Kathleen, the town, erected in the old town square

Finally, we headed back to the lookout for sunset, missing the red reflection on the hills, but catching the calm shadows of the range against the colourful sky and the lights of the mine, like Christmas decorations.

It was very mild when we were there but Mt Isa can get extremely hot so take your hat and your water. There is a variety of water sports, due to the man-made lake, and the town is buzzing with activity. Most of the caravan parks were booked out and usually (non- COVID-19) mid-August is rodeo season, so you’d be advised to book ahead.

Safe travels.