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.