From Carnarvon Gorge to Cooktown-Platypus playtime!

 

This part of our journey has a bit of variety and lots of driving (1716 km’s in 7 days).  After leaving the Gorge, we headed for the Sapphire Gemfields west of Emerald in the Central Queensland Highlands.  In Rubyvale we did a walk-in underground sapphire mine tour and learned about how sapphires are formed in volcanoes and how they are mined by hand. We had a long chat with some jewellers/miners there, who shared ex-pat heritage and ages with us, and also directed us to an unknown free camp outside of town.  This area contains over 900 square kilometers of Sapphire bearing ground and is one of the largest such areas in the world.

We then drove to Eungella NP in the Mackay Highlands and arrived at Broken River camp at 5:15pm, just in time to see some platypus in the creek beside our camp.  Hurray!!  I saw my first platypus’ in the wild – very exciting.  Thanks to Suzanne and Andrew for recommending we stay there.  It was a great place to see animals.  I got up at 7am and saw a large turtle(dinnerplate size) in the river and a brillant blue kingfisher by the river.  I had the platypus viewing platform to myself, waited a while and then saw lots of platypus quite close up.  Decided platypus will be my symbol for this trip so I bought the platypus necklace and earrings made by a local craftsperson.  We visited a great lookout called Sky Window and did a 3 km walk in the sub-tropical rainforest to see the Tree Arch of strangler figs.  Reminded me of why I hate rainforest walks – it was muggy, muddy, dark and I got a leech on my leg inside my trousers. Returned to camp for more platypus viewing and also saw a mother and baby turtle and another blue kingfisher. It was a successful stop and I would recommend that campground.  Its still the most reliable place you can spot a platypus in the wild, and there are lots of other birds and animals and drives and walks, but our highlight and focus was the platypuses.  Also had a night time chat by the fire with our neighbors who were from Ireland and Scotland, so we got some tips for the next trip.

We set a record for us by leaving camp at 9:30am for the drive to Townsville, via Mackay and Proserpine. Interested to see if there was any visible damage in these areas as Cyclone Debbie hit them hard not long ago.  Mackay looked fine but when we stopped in Prosperpine for coffee we thought it looked very run down, until we realized that the cyclone damage was prevalent and in some blocks in the main street all the shops were under construction as the roofs were taken off by the cyclone.  Booked into an over 50’s CP in Townsville with a daily happy hour and a bonus of laundry basket with trolley.  Funny what little things can now give pleasure!  Had a catchup/stockup day in Townsville, did a quick drive around town and then drove up 3k ‘s to the top of Castle Hill with commanding views over the harbor, and with all the fit people in town running or walking up that hill.  Thanks Lesley for suggesting we do that.  Got takeaway Vietnamese for dinner as we don’t expect to get that kind of food up in Cape York.

Then for a complete change of pace, we drove to our friends, Chris and Christine, who live in Wonga Beach, north of Cairns.  It was like staying in a luxury resort with a full time gourmet cook and gardener.  We enjoyed a wonderful, relaxing time with them and they spoiled us.  We had to leave after two nights or we might have never left.

We drove the sealed road over the range (lots of curves) and through lush tropical rainforests to get to Cooktown, a small, historic coastal town.  This is where Captain James Cook grounded his ship ‘The Endeavour’ on a coral reef in 1770 during his voyage of discovery.  The Captain Cook Museum is excellant, with great displays featuring diary excerpts from Cook’s diary and from Bank’s diary, telling how they got off the reef, got safely ashore and repaired the boat so they could continue sailing on. One of Cook’s anchors was recovered from the reef in the 1980’s and is now on display in the museum along with one of their cannons. The displays also detailed their contact with the local aborigines (they called them Indians) and their surprise at seeing kangaroos (“animals that looked something like greyhounds but they hopped”).  It was very interesting since we were in that place.  There is a statute of Cook in the main street and a cairn marking the spot where they beached.  In two weeks they are having the annual re- enactment of Cook’s landing.  Too bad we’ll miss it!

We stocked up with fruit and veg at the local Saturday morning market, had a takeaway seafood lunch at the harbour, ate dinner in a historic hotel originally built in 1874, visited the lookout, botanic gardens and the Vera Scarth-Johnson Gallery.  That gallery contains the only collection of original botanical illustrations of flora from this region.  Vera Scarth-Johnson was a botanist, an artist and an avid conservationist who wanted to graphically record all the flowering plants in this region.  She donated her collection of completed works to the people of Cooktown.  Her works are stunningly beautiful and well displayed in an innovative building called ‘Nature’s Powerhouse’ located in the Botanic Gardens, which are lovely and were started in 1878.

In Cooktown we also met our friends who we are travelling with up to Cape York, Geoff and Liz, and we started the planning process for the trip. Overall we had a pleasant 3 nights in Cooktown, it felt like a friendly, welcoming town.

 

Mining for Sapphires, Rubyvale

 

Another free camp in the middle of nowhere, Rubyvale

 

Broken River, Eungella NP- where the platypus live

 

The first platypus sighting, early evening
My early morning sighting
And now for a close up
How’s this for a real close up!
The view from Sky Window lookout, Eungella NP
Tree Arch of strangler figs
Tree Arch of strangler figs
Walking in the rainforest

 

Castle Hill in Townsville

 

The view from Castle Hill, Townsville at sunset
It was a windy lookout

 

A lunch stop in Gordonvale where Nola hails from
A sign photo stop for Edmonton, Queensland (not Alberta) where Marguerite and Pat visited in 1975 on an under 25’s camping trip-those were the days!!!

 

Driving to Wonga Beach on the scenic Captain Cook Hwy
Staying with Chris & Christine in their tropical resort home
Enjoying the lovely pool and gardens
An impressive wall in the Captain Cook Museum
The recovered anchor and cannon from Cook’s ship, on display in the museum
Captain Cook statute – overlooking the harbor near his 1770 landing place (or two sailors!)

 

Cooktown and harbor from Grassy Hill Lookout

 

Planning for the Cape York trip in the Lestervan

 

Carnarvon Gorge-‘Gorge-ous’ and great walks!

We got the 2pm barge from Fraser Island so we had time to wash the Lestervan in a car wash in Hervey Bay.  After all that beach driving and the inland sand tracks, it needed a good cleaning job for both the sand and the salt water.  Eventually we managed to find an underbody carwash that could fit our 3.1 meter height.  Then we drove to Maryborough for our two night catchup/stockup stay and found a Caravan Park (CP) with an ensuite.  That was a treat after Fraser Island and we also treated ourselves to a belated anniversary dinner at the best restaurant in town.

I was attracted to Maryborough when I read that they have a statute of Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane beside the 135 year old bank building where her creator, PL Travers, was born in 1889.  The bank building is currently covered in scaffolding as it is being renovated to become a Mary Poppins museum.  We were too early for the Mary Poppins Festival, June 23-July 2, which celebrates the art of storytelling.  Maryborough also has a Woolworths and a Bunnings so we had all we needed.

To break the drive to Carnarvon Gorge we stopped at Cania Gorge, thanks to Chris Lowe for the suggestion.  We got in a couple of short walks, late afternoon and in the morning, so got some exercise and enjoyed seeing parts of the gorge and stayed in a nice, quiet CP.  Then we had about a 6 hour drive to Carnarvon Gorge and arrived in time to catch most of the presentation on the gorge given at 5pm every day at Takarakka Bush Resort where we stayed for two nights.

Carnarvon Gorge has been compared to an oasis in the desert since its rainforest, creeks, cliffs, moss garden, Aboriginal rock art and abundant bird and plant life are in stark contrast to the surrounding dry plains.  With 27 kms of graded walking tracks through the towering cliffs, colored gorges, endemic fan palms and ancient cycads; this place is a walkers paradise and everyone here seems to be doing the walks, and although not all seem well-equipped, all seem to enjoy the scenery.  We followed the general advice given and did the 14 km main gorge walking track to Art Gallery (aboriginal art site), then visited Amphitheatre, and Moss Garden on the way back.  It was a gorgeous sunny day and we enjoyed all that we saw (and photographed!) in the six hours. We then attended an excellant presentation/ slide show on the history and geology of the gorge, as well as info on the walking tracks and tours.

Enjoyed the showers and water at Takarakka but we were reasonably close to our neighbors so we moved for night 3 to the newly opened Sandstone Park, which is located next door and boasts 360 degree views of Carnarvon Gorge and the Great Dividing Range. It only caters for self-sufficient travellers (no water or power), and allows campfires and pets, so is catering for a niche market.

We had another walking day, this time without the sun, and tackled the hardest walk under 20k’s in the gorge – Bolimba Bluff, Class 4, 7.5k’s, 3.5 hours and 200 meters elevation change.  Lots of steps and ladders but we took it slowly and were fine.  Stunning panorama at the top, even on a cloudy day. This area is called ‘The Roof of Queensland’ and ‘The Home of the Rivers’ since many of Australia’s major river systems start here, including the Warrego and the Barcoo which flow into the Murray Darling Basin and Lake Eyre respectively.  After lunch we did the 3k Mickey’s Creek walk so had a reasonable walking day and lucked out as it started raining just when we finished walking.

 

 

My new friend, Mary Poppins, in Maryborough

 

 

Getting ready to take off…..
Cania Gorge from the lookout

 

Entering Carnarvon Gorge…like seeing an oasis

 

Lots of ferns and palms as we walked along the creek

 

One of the over 12 water crossings for the day

 

Towering cliffs in the background

 

The Art Gallery – over 2000 engravings, ochre stencils and free-hand paintings.

 

A significant Aboriginal site, 62 meter long sandstone wall and some of the best examples of stencil art in Australia.

 

Getting into the Amphitheatre
Dick coming into the Amphitheatre
Inside the Amphitheatre
Looking up from inside the Amphitheatre

 

Both safely down….

 

Walking along the main gorge track
Moss Garden was a real treat
Water dripping constantly from the sandstone sustains this lush green carpet of mosses
Couldn’t resist another photo here..

 

Bolimba Bluff – the start of the tough stuff

 

Starting the climb
Dick checking his heart rate, as he did many, many times on this walk.

 

We did a lot of climbing
Some amazing root systems
The stairs went on forever….
The reward at the top

 

Great vista
Good spot for the kissing photo (handy self-timer)