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.

Explorer’s and Barkly Highways

There are very long stretches of road in Australia, that in parts of the world would get you to another country or the other side of a country. But here, you can still be in the same State, in the middle of nowhere and have seen few towns.

Some of these stretches have variation and others do not. Notorious for the latter is the Hay plains, the Explorer’s Highway between Alice Springs and Tennant Creek and the Barkly Highway between Tennant Creek and Cloncurry. Luckily, it was not long after rain, so there was a variety of vegetation and we amused ourselves with spotting unusual cloud patterns to pass the 7 hours it took to get from Alice to Tennant Creek.

The explorer highway goes from Darwin to Adelaide and was mapped out by John Stuart. In fact, it’s correct name is Stuart Highway but, as it’s an iconic Australian drive, it got a nickname (of course). Although Tennant Creek is still on this, it’s also the start of the other highway.

Once we hit Tennant Creek we found somewhere safe for the evening, as it can be a bit wild there. We discovered later that there are 2 free camps about 20 minutes further on, that have good wiki camp reviews.

The Outback caravan park had some interesting artwork in the trees.

Torres straight islander, Aboriginal and Northern Territory flags
Main street, Tennant Creek

Leaving Tennant Creek the following morning, we had an 8 hour drive to Mt Isa. Again, the scenery only offers minor changes, but a pleasant distraction at one point was a cloud of small birds (finches?) swarming toward us, followed by another and more. I think they ‘attacked’ us for a stretch of 200km and hopefully the video will let you share the experience. You’ll get a few looks at my husband’s legs – sorry, we’re amateur.

If not, in the picture, what looks like leaves is actually the little birds, stopping to rest and chatter.

Barkley homestead is an oasis on the journey and you can stay there. They have an interesting display of old steam engines out the front, with which to amuse yourself as you have lunch.

As we neared Mt Isa we passed some places worth returning to, such as Gregory Creek and Lawn Hill, but those dirt roads would be major diversions.

There are plenty of frequent toilet spots that are usually kept very clean and can provide an emergency stop if you can handle the highway traffic.

Soon the chimney stack appeared and we made last minute arrangements for a caravan park.

I’ll do a separate post on Mt Isa as it is a large mining town, warranting some discussion.

Safe travels. Always, always carry lots of water and a roll of toilet paper!

Hamilton Island, Whitsundays

For our 30th wedding anniversary, we rewarded ourselves with a trip to the place we have found the most luxurious and beautiful in our travels around Australia.

There are 74 islands in the Whitsunday group, but not all are inhabited and not all can be visited, as many are National Parks. We chose Hamilton, as it is a good size, is close to Whitehaven Beach (voted one of the top ten in the world) and offers excellent off-shore snorkeling. There are other things to do here, but I’ll start by explaining what we did, in no particular order.

Hamilton Island airport

Travel from Adelaide involved two planes and a 4.15 am start. However, we landed in paradise around 11 am and were taken by free shuttle to our accommodation – Whitsunday Apartments, in Catseye Beach.  This is a nicely sized group where you can be remembered and not get lost.

view to the right 

Accommodation

There are many places to stay on the island, but they fall under four categories – holiday homes that you rent, apartments, bungalows or luxurious. We have stayed in a holiday home before, with our children, and it was absolutely beautiful. This time the two of us stayed in an apartment and it was perfect, with cooking facilities and in a good location.

view to the left

Transport

We walked most of the island for what we wanted to see and do, after taking the free Blue shuttle (every 40 minutes) tour of the island, to see what was there.

the free shuttle from the airport, in front of the Blue shuttle

The Green shuttle (also free) goes from the marina to Whitsunday Apartments and back, every 15 minutes, stopping at other accommodation. Signage along the way indicates where to get on and off.

Most locations concerning us were at the marina, the Resort Centre and One Tree Hill. The latter is steep and given the heat, we usually took the shuttle to a nearby stop and walked, for example when going to the Chapel for a service or to catch the bats after dark. Most information tells you there is a non-denominational service at the Chapel on a Sunday, but no-one showed up to conduct it and none of the attendees wanted to make a debut as a preacher.

the chapel, half way up One Tree Hill, is illuminated for some of the night

Let’s not forget the buggies. We used these when we stayed another time and had one, included with the Hamilton Holiday Home we rented, that seated 6. Maximum speed of 40km/h, so little chance of getting run over on the island. There are bays everywhere to park them and you only have to charge them at night. You can also hire them for various times and costs, if you don’t have one included in your deal. They also come with baby seats.

We headed, by foot, to the marina to pick up groceries. It was a fairly easy 7 minute walk with a couple of steep inclines or declines, but we could have taken a shuttle. There are delightful gardens along the way and a few shops to stop at, as well as the fitness centre.

Locations and activities

The marina has an IGA (supermarket), shops, post office, restaurants, cruise companies, private yachts and boats, ice-creamery, cafes, bars and other water sport organisations. It is not very long or wide. The IGA had similar prices to what we would pay at home, which was unexpected. The only things that seemed expensive were the mangoes and avocados, which I thought came from this region.

With water at about 27C and clear green, it is idyllic. Lounges are free on the beach if you can find one unoccupied, so warming up in the cool breeze after swimming is comfortable, under the palms. We had brought our snorkels and masks, so when the tide was low we went out to the reef. This is not very far and the water quite shallow for non-swimmers. We saw three turtles, one of which was nearly 1m wide and close enough to touch (we didn’t and you shouldn’t). When they come up for air, you do, too, and get a face-off. We saw a variety of coral, sea plants and fish, including a black and white zebra fish laying her eggs. Another morning I saw 3 stingrays and 2 lemon sharks moving along the foreshore in the small waves. They are more afraid of us than we of them, so they move if you enter the water.

Other water sports are possible, at a cost, including catamaran lessons, snorkel hire for non-hotel guests, dinghy hire, jet ski tours. Parasailing, windsurfing, kayak and SUP hire.

lessons and hire

SUPs, kayaks, cats for hire at reasonable prices

There are public pools and some for use by patrons of resorts or hotels, only. At this time of the year – warm to hot – stingers, or jellyfish can be in shallow water and their sting can be lethal, so other options are provided.

Other wildlife on the island includes currawongs, stone beach curlews that wail at night and in the early morning, wallabies grazing on the fringe of the beach, grasshoppers, butterflies, Sulphur crested cockatoos and, for a special experience, the koalas in the wildlife park.

Cyclone Owen was on the other side of the peninsula, creating predictions of a storm, so we joined the beach bingo at one of the resorts and had our faith in numeracy restored, if not our luck. There are many activities on the island and a booklet is available with the free and the paid recreation, for each day. They’re very good for planning by the minute, as weather changes. Nothing can beat the Hamilton Island Ap on your phone.

Around 6 at One Tree Hill, cocktails are served while you snap the beautiful view, hoping for some sunset colour. 

We walked back, enjoying the bats and trying to get some good shots of Catseye Beach, where we were staying, and then took the turnoff to All Saints chapel. We had been here about 9 years ago and wanted to take a shot from the same window.

Defying gathering clouds and light drizzle, we went on three of the bush walks. The first started at Resort Lookout Trail Entrance, using the Hamilton Ap., and went to Flat Top Hill lookout, passing Quad bikes at Resort Lookout junction, then veering to Saddle Junction, from which we took the Scenic Trail back to Catseye Beach. Another day we went to Hideaway Bay, via Scenic Trail and spent about 30 minutes on the beach. Again, the going was pretty easy, but I wouldn’t do it in rubber thongs and was glad of hiking sandals, as the rubble is slippery. The views are quite good.

Hideaway Bay
good paths but slippery
views

We booked a tour of Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet, as we had visited Whitehaven previously, snorkeling, so thought we’d like to see something different. Some of the tours we might have preferred did not run on some days or were unsuitable, given the rainy conditions. The half Day Hill Inlet tour, with Explore, is for 4 hours and includes 2 hours on Whitehaven, walking to the Hill Inlet Lookout, where you could see swirling patterns in the right conditions. Whitehaven is considered one of the top ten beaches in the world. A stinger suit (protection against irukanji jellyfish, commonly called stingers) was provided and was surprisingly comfortable.

The Hill Inlet is popular as it affords views of the patterns made by the water on the silicon sand. As it had been raining, the patterns on that day were brown, but at least it made it obvious.

I can recommend the Jetryder Half-day Snorkeling and Whitehaven Tour, for a fast and memorable experience for teens and up, the guided kayak trip for teens and upwards, capable of paddling. We did these with our kids and they also did some of the more adrenalin-pumping water activities. Tours from a variety of providers, offering full and half-day activities, vary in cost. It’s a good idea to check them all, as days they run are different and costs, as well as the size of the sailing vessel if you suffer from seasickness

There are many restaurants and eateries on the island, from take-away to casual to silver service. On both occasions, we chose accommodation that enabled us to cook, to keep costs down and maintain a good diet. We ate at the Marina tavern on the marina and had schnitzels and barramundi for pub prices. They were both cooked well and the service was good, as were the sunset views.

So, who would I recommend Hamilton Island to? There were a lot of families, comprised of over 60s down to newborns, and couples of varying ages. I think you’d have to like tropical climate, if not water activities and walking. A niece was in Bali at the same time and doing similar things available there, for much the same cost. It is accommodation that is pricey on Hamilton, with flights cheaper (for Australians). So all-in-all, about the same cost, but perhaps without the crowds and hype.

It is very beautiful and we will probably go back again.