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 

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


Fraser Island – Sandblows, Beaches & 4 Wheeldriving!!

Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world and it was given world heritage listing in 1992 for its natural diversity.  It sits at the bottom of the Great Barrier Reef and boasts more marine and fish diversity than the reef itself.

After we drove off the barge onto Fraser Island, we charged up the beach for about 40 kms and found a nice camping spot with great beach views. The rain is still with us so we had a relaxing afternoon in the van. We saw a few dingoes on the way along the beach but were in a hurry so didn’t do any photos. In the end those were the only ones we saw. Dingoes are wild, predatory animals and a key wildlife feature of this island. Their conservation is of national significance as they may become one of the purest strains of wild dingo (since they have rarely interbred with domestic or feral dogs). Visitors are encouraged to read an 8 page brochure on how to be dingo-safe and reminded that a 9 yr old boy was killed here by dingoes in 2001. In 2010 a photographer was fined $40,000 and given a 9 month suspended sentence for feeding and attracting dingoes. Those dingoes became aggressive (savaged a child and cornered adults) so they had to be put down. Some campgrounds have dingo proof fences to keep them out. Visitors are advised to never feed them, lock away food and rubbish, walk in groups and carry a stick. Not a good place for a solitary beach jog (or any running). Of course bush walking is a key feature of the Island – should be interesting!

Our time on Fraser Island was intermittently sunny and rainy, lots of rain; but in spite of that we managed some nice walks, mostly on ‘sandblows’ – this means sand blown inland from the coast that engulfs vegetation in its path. The largest is called Knifeblade Sandblow and it stretches 3.5kms inland and advances >1meter each year.  They are interesting and impressive areas. We did a 4 km walk on Kirrar Sandblow and later a 6.5 km walk through Wan’gul Sandblow – it was huge and one could easily imagine being lost in the Simpson or Sahara deserts.

The island features over 100 freshwater lakes and we did some nice walks around a few of them.  Seeing the lakes requires driving inland on what I would call “challenging” 4 WD tracks.  Dick seems to enjoy those drives and does them well.  Even as a passenger I struggled with them!

Managed to find lots of lovely beach campsites and had them to ourselves. Lots of beach driving with our days planned to suit the tide. Some interesting history was learned at the Maheno Wreck – a luxury 420 person passenger liner built in 1905 in Scotland that sailed between NZ & Australia, then became a NZ government hospital ship from 1915-19 (operating in the Med, the English Channel and Australasia caring for >20,000 men), before returning to civilian cross-Tasman passenger services.  It was retired and sold to the Japanese for scrap in 1935.  On the journey to Japan the Maheno broke her tow in a winter cyclone and marooned on Fraser Island.  There is not much left of her now but it is still one of the most popular sights on the island.

Also learned how the island got its name when we visited Central Station, which was once the site of a 16 house village during the timber days, and is now a tourist spot with lots of stories about the history of the island including the story of the shipwreck of the Stirling Castle, which was captained by James Fraser and made famous by his wife, Eliza Fraser, who toured the world telling tales of her survival and his death whilst in the captivity of local aboriginals.

We visited Champagne Pools on a low tide, cloudy day and then on a  high tide, sunny day – looks like two different places.  Enjoyed a nice walk to Indian Head (named by captain Cook because he saw aboriginals there) which features magnificent views up and down the beach.

Some of my impressions from being here are: stunning beach scenery, great walks over the sandblows, and picturesque, private beach camps,  as well as difficult 4 Wheeldriving inland and around some of the beach rocks, and a constant concern about being attacked by dingoes (every toilet door has a new warning sign about dingo-safety).

As we left the island and before we took the barge back to the mainland, we visited Kingfisher Resort which seems to offer a non-camping alternative for people who want to see the island in style.


First beach camp on Fraser Island

Kirra Sandblow

Dick checking his heart rate as we hike Kirra sandblow

Footsteps in the sand blow


The wreck of The Maheno

The beach was like a car park for utes and planes in front of the Maheno wreck


Trying to watch for planes was not easy in the van


Driving inland on narrow trails with two way traffic


Lake Allom, on a rainy day

Colored sands and rock formations


Wan’gul Sandblow looking inland at the forest (see Dick in the distance)


Wan’gul sandblow looking towards the ocean

Met one other couple so we got a photo taken

The dingo fence around the campground

Ocean Lake at sunset (another campsite)

Champagne pools at low tide on a rainy day

Champagne pools at high tide on a sunny day

Indian headland (named by Captain Cook)

Lake Wabby



Lake MacKenzie


Another private beach camping site with great ocean views