The first time we stayed in Tamworth was just before Christmas last year (2018). We had one night at the dog friendly Austin Tourist Park, which we liked, before walking the Tamworth Park Run. We have booked a cabin at the same place for several nights for the Tamworth Country Music Festival next January, and we intend to share it with our friends from Werribee, Barry and Sophia. We were keen to have a look at the cabin, or a similar one, if possible on this trip. We had booked a powered site for Monday night. The lady who took our booking suggested that, as we were traveling south along the New England Highway from Queensland, we should stop in at the Tenterfield Bakery.
So, we found a parking spot in a side street in Tenterfield for Katie and Dexter to wait while Ian checked out the bakery. There was a much wider range than usual on offer at this bakery, which explains why it was recommended to us. Ian bought apple slices for morning tea, interesting onion and salt bagels for lunch, and Turkish bread for tomorrow at home.
We drove out of Tenterfield, and stopped at an Apex Park in Deepwater to enjoy our delicious apple slices with spray cream for morning tea. Lunch was had at the Mother of Ducks free camping area in Guyra—ham and salad bagels and a cup of tea. We also emptied our toilet using the CMCA sponsored dump point at the camping area.
We arrived at the Austin Tourist Park around 3:30 pm. We were lucky to be able to inspect the actual cabin we have booked for the Country Music Festival. It has two bedrooms with double beds and one bedroom with two single beds, a bathroom with a toilet and a separate toilet, a well appointed kitchen, a lounge room with TV and sofa, and a table and chairs on the front deck. And it has air conditioning, which is essential in Tamworth in January. We should be comfortable!
Katie shouted out last dinner for the trip at the Nan Ping Chinese Restaurant in Peel Street. Katie ordered her favourite, chicken and cashews, while Ian ordered Mongolian lamb, as usual. The service was fast and the food was good. We ended up with leftovers from both dishes for the next day.
We watched our last Monday night Q&A in Matilda for a while.
At 4:30 am on Tuesday morning, the temperature in Matilda was 12 degrees, so for the third morning in a row, we put on the heater. We had a substantial breakfast so that we could drive straight through to home in 3 hours.
We had a brief rest stop at the Vietnam War Memorial at Muswellbrook, and we arrived home at The Sanctuary at 1:15 pm. We had our Chinese leftovers for lunch—lovely. Our house sitter, Isaac, had moved out, but his mother had made us some pumpkin soup from a pumpkin out of our own garden. We enjoyed the soup with Tenterfield Bakery Turkish bread for dinner.
In the afternoon we started unpacking Matilda. We wanted to start washing all of the clothes that we had taken away, but our washing machine, which was playing up just before we left home, had finally died. While Ian researched washing machines, Katie was lucky to get an emergency appointment to have her hair tended to late in the afternoon.
Dexter was very happy to be home, and immediately ran around the backyard collecting sticks. On inspection around the house and the yard, we were pleased that there were no major problems. Isaac had recently mowed the lawns, and the water tanks were full.
Since 4 May, we had driven 111 hours and a total of 6848 km on our road trip to Cooktown. Our average fuel consumption was 10.71 litres per 100 km, which we thought was pretty good.
Ian relaxed with a glass of port from his port barrel in the evening. We were thankful and relieved to be home safe, after a trip full of happy and memorable adventures. We will write one more post to summarise our thoughts on our Cooktown road trip.
Ian first heard of Stanthorpe from his friend and ex-work colleague, Nigel, from Brisbane. Ian was introducing Nigel to Hunter Valley wine, and Nigel said that Queensland produces good wine at Stanthorpe, which is also renown for being the coldest place in Queensland. Stanthorpe lies adjacent to the New England Highway just north of the New South Wales-Queensland border. Despite this, and us having driven to the Sunshine Coast via the New England Highway and Toowoomba a few years ago, we have never stopped at Stanthorpe to sample the wines. We were about to rectify that omission.
Stanthorpe’s chilly reputation is due to it lying at about 1000 m above sea level. When we arrived at the Information Centre early on Saturday afternoon, the Big Thermometer adjacent to Quartz Pot Creek showed 14.6 degrees. The people in the Information Centre were some of the most helpful we have encountered—reminds us of Information Centres in Broome and Rockhampton. We came out with lots of information about Stanthorpe and the region known as the Granite Belt, including lists of dog friendly attractions.
We checked into the Top of the Town Tourist Park, selected our flat, powered site with a clean, concrete slab, then had our lunch of pork pies and fruit. For our afternoon activity, we drove to the Granite Belt Brewery, which is also a resort and a restaurant. Well behaved dogs are allowed on the deck behind the restaurant, so that is where we headed. Ian tried a tasting paddle of four beers—the pale ale was OK, the IPA was a bit strange, but the pilsener and Irish red ale were quite good. Ian was keen to try the porter, which is appropriate for such a cool day, and then buy some cans to take away. However, another group of people arrived at the bar a few seconds before him. When it looked like they were going to fully occupy the single bar person’s attention forever, we left empty handed apart from a drink coaster. If we were to come back, it would be interesting to try the restaurant and a few more of the beer offerings.
It was too late by this stage to do any wine tasting, so we headed back to our caravan park. We booked a table at the Aussie Beef Steakhouse, which was walking distance across the road from our caravan park. As usual, we gave Dexter his dinner and settled him on the bed in Matilda, then walked over for dinner.
Our young waiter at the restaurant had no idea. We asked if the fish of the day was local, or at least coming from Queensland or northern NSW water. She had to ask someone in the kitchen, and came back saying that the fish of the day was Orange Roughy, which is the most unsustainable fish you can eat. We passed on the fish, but she said that the oysters were definitely local because they came from Tenterfield, which is on the New England Highway just over the border in NSW. Ian tactfully explained that was unlikely, as Tenterfield is about 200 km inland. Ian had a “pale ale” from another local brewery called Brass Monkey, but it was rubbish as it had no hops. However, the Heritage Estate Rabbit Fence Red wine was quite interesting, and not bad at all. Ian ended up with a medium rare steak, as it was supposed to be a steak restaurant, and he is pleased to report that it was very good—juicy, tender and tasty. All up, a mixed night, and a bit more expensive than we would expect from a restaurant that clearly skimps on training its staff or buying local seafood.
We woke to a crisp, clear Sunday morning. We had a simple breakfast of toast, then drove to the Stanthorpe Dairy for some serious cheese tasting. They are well set up for cheese tasting, and get very busy. The cheese is made on the premises from local milk. We were allowed to take Dexter onto the verandah where we had morning tea. Ian had a lovely milkshake, while Katie enjoyed a coffee. We bought up big with a variety of cheese.
Our next stop was Heritage Estate Wines, from where our red came from the previous evening. There are two cellar doors, but we stopped at the first one we came to, across the road from Vincenzo’s and the Big Apple. Ian did a full tasting, and found that all the wines were good. The Granite Belt wineries appear to promote a wide range of wines that are not generally grown in the more familiar wine regions. They call these Strange Birds. To be called a Strange Bird, a wine variety must represent no more than 1% of the total bearing vines in Australia. They did not have any of the Rabbit Fence Red available for sale, but Ian bought a mixed half dozen bottles, including a nice tawny port and a 2018 Wild Ferment Marsanne (one of the Strange Birds) that is expected to age beautifully over the next 5 years.
As it was coming up to lunch time, we parked at the Suttons Juice Factory in the hope of getting some food, trying some apple cider, and enjoying some apple pie for which this place is renown. Unfortunately, the place was packed with people with similar plans, and there were very few wait staff. After using the facilities, Ian worked out that it would be dinner time before we were able to get any attention, so for the second time in two days we left an establishment empty handed due to its inability to cope with customers.
We drove south, past the centre of Stanthorpe, and came across the Jam Works. This has a fenced verandah where you can sit with a dog. We had a haloumi burger (Ian) and a beef burger (Katie) with chips for what had become a somewhat late lunch, and we felt quite satisfied. Surprised at the lack of local brews, Ian tried an Old Man Pale Ale from Victoria, which wasn’t bad (at least you could taste hops). This place had a well organised system to cope with a huge influx of tourists wanting lunch—service was fast, and the people were helpful. Ian wonders why some places struggle to service their customers? He is also perplexed why tourist oriented places like this do not co-operate with other local businesses and sell some local drinks rather than going to all the hassle of importing from interstate?
Back at the Top of the Town, all three of us had an afternoon snooze on the bed. We were still full after our substantial lunch, so we knocked off some cheese and biscuit leftovers in lieu of dinner. We watched TV, and for the first time on the trip had some of the hot drinking chocolate that we had taken away.
The temperature dropped to 10 degrees on early Monday morning, so the heater went on again. We had cereal for breakfast, and then left the caravan park a little after 9:00 am. We filled up with fuel, and then bought some lunch material from Stanthorpe’s Aldi supermarket.
We headed south down the New England Highway towards home, but we decided to have one last night away—in Tamworth, NSW.
We had two objectives for spending some time in Toowoomba. Firstly, Ian wanted to check out Winjana RV, a small company that makes relatively small fifth wheelers. As we own a D-Max ute, it would be possible to remove the canopy, install a mount in the tub, and tow a fifth wheeler. Fifth wheelers are rare in Australia, but we believe they are very popular in North America. Most fifth wheelers you see are large, and some huge with triple axles and towed by trucks. Many horse trailers are fifth wheelers. They are supposed to be easier to tow than a caravan, and the attachment over the rear axle of the tow vehicle (rather than via a towbar behind the tow vehicle) means that any tow vehicle can legally tow a heavier fifth wheeler than a caravan.
We have found that Matilda the motorhome has been a fairly comfortable mobile home while we have been travelling on sealed roads between home and Cooktown. We are mindful that long lengths of unsealed roads would stress the vehicle significantly, and we have found that loose surfaces combined with uphills are challenging, if not dangerous. A fifth wheeler made for Australian rough roads, and our D-Max would not have these issues, and we would have the added advantage of being able to uncouple the fifth wheeler while we explore an area in the ute.
The second objective was to catch up with a colleague that we both knew from the Geological Survey of NSW in the 1980s. Rob Barnes retired shortly before Ian returned to the Geological Survey in 2011. Rob and his wife lived only a few kilometres away from us near Maitland in the Lower Hunter Valley. However, shortly after we bought our house, Rob moved away to Toowoomba to be closer to family.
We aimed to camp for two nights in the Toowoomba Showground. However, we also scheduled to drop into Winjana RV in North Toowoomba early on Thursday afternoon to have a look at their smallest model—the Strzelecki 550. There are four main models ranging from 5.95 m long to 8 m long. The Strzelecki 550 is at the smaller end of the spectrum, and the model number refers to an internal length of 5.50 m. It has a single axle and the tare weight is 1800 kg.
At Winjana RV we met Louise, who Ian had spoken with on the phone. She was expecting us, and showed us several fifth wheelers, including a secondhand Strzelecki 550, and a Strzelecki 550 that was being built. It appears that each fifth wheeler is custom made in terms of layout and features. They are entirely made on site by two blokes—Royce and Andrew—and we also spoke with Royce.
By this stage of our travels, Ian believes that a small fifth wheeler would be the ideal vehicle in which to complete our lap of Australia. We took a few photos and went away with an invitation to provide a sketch of our required layout.
At the Toowoomba Showground, we found a good powered site near the lake. Ian arranged to meet up with Rob Barnes the next day.
Ian spoke with a couple parked near us with a Ford Ranger ute and a large, twin-axle fibreglass fifth wheeler. They were in the process of having a second, lazy axle installed on their ute, as they felt that their fifth wheeler was too heavy for the ute’s current single axle. This meant removing the tub from the ute and installing a tray to accommodate the second axle. Sounded like a big job, but we were not going to be around to see the result.
We enjoyed minestrone soup fortified with pumpkin and feta ravioli, and sparkling shiraz for dinner. We did not have any TV reception, probably due to being in a low spot, so we played some music before hitting the sack.
On Friday morning, Rob Barnes tracked us down in his maroon 80 Series Landcruiser which he has owned for over 20 years. We showed him over the motorhome and had a good chat. Rob made a comment along the lines that we had a big kitchen on wheels. Katie volunteered to stay back with Dexter and work on our travel blog, while Ian went out with Rob for a drive around the Toowoomba area.
Toowoomba sits on the Great Dividing Range at 600-700 m above sea level. On a cloudy, sometimes drizzly day, Ian got to see the new privately built international airport, the new motorway through the Great Dividing Range, and Picnic Point with a view towards Brisbane. Older parts of Toowoomba have heritage houses like Rob’s. The city is still growing, with several new developments like we have in the Maitland area. Toowoomba appears to have a fair amount of local industry to support employment and avoid the need for commuting to Brisbane. The central business district has numerous cafes, but Rob laments the lack of restaurants and misses those in the Hunter Valley.
We stopped at Aromas for coffee and cakes, and we then returned to Matilda, Katie and Dexter. Rob headed home, and Katie and I went off shopping at nearby Woolworths.
Back at the Showground, we met Lyn and Barry who helped Ian fill the water tank. They kindly gave Ian one of their spare keys for the water door—ours has fallen down the back of a bulkhead and is irretrievable, along with the key to the external shower. They also opened the external shower door with a key marked CH751, which we should be able to pick up from a locksmith. This was another special encounter with top people.
We had chicken schnitzel and coleslaw for dinner, then another early night.
It was a cold night, so Ian turned on the heater around 4:00 am on Saturday morning. We both showered in Matilda, then enjoyed a breakfast of fried eggs and tomato on wholemeal English muffins. Having achieved both of our objectives for Toowoomba, we left the Showground, a little later than planned, and headed down the New England Highway for Stanthorpe in the chilly Granite Belt of Queensland.
We had booked a powered site at the Ups N Downs Farmstay, which is on the Carnarvon Developmental Road 5 km north of Roma. When we arrived in the afternoon, we could see that it was very dry. Robby Taylor runs this property with his wife, and we understand that it is up for sale. We set up camp and had a look around.
The bathroom facilities are clean and functional. There are 4 small bathrooms, each with a shower and a toilet. There is a fire pit and a rough but functional camp kitchen.
The place is littered with old trucks. One was turned into a simple water feature, and anther held up a sign, but we felt that they could have been presented in a more interesting way. If our friend Grant is interested in acquiring another old truck, this could be the place to go.
One of the more attractive features of the place was a large fuel tank painted on both sides with fabulous murals. One depicts horse racing, and the other is of a B-double fuel tanker presumably owned by Robby Taylor. Perhaps the murals are painted on one of the tanks of that truck?
At 4:30 pm, a bell is rung to signal that happy hour has commenced. Ian suggested that we should start doing that at our place, but Katie wasn’t too sure. Happy hour is held around a fire pit in front of the camp kitchen. We prepared a plate of nibbles and brought it along to share, but apparently this is not done—people are meant to just bring themselves and a drink, and an optional snack for themselves only. We had a very convivial happy hour around only the second open fire we had experienced on our trip.
Now to digress slightly. Four years ago, although it does not seem that long, we did our tag-along trip to the Kimberleys. Our preparations for that trip included buying a packet of dehydrated lamb casserole with mashed potatoes to eat as emergency rations if we got stuck somewhere. It is the sort of meal you would take on an overnight hike across the Bogong High Plains or Cradle Mountain. Needless to say, we did not need it, and it travelled home with us. We have taken it with us on more recent, shorter trips, including to Fraser Island, and always brought it home. It had gone with us on this trip in Matilda, and Ian felt that we should try it to see what we had been missing. We cooked it up according to the instructions on the packet—add hot water and wait a bit—and accompanied the reconstituted lamb casserole and mashed potatoes with real zucchini from Yungaburra. “Very reasonable” was Katie’s verdict. We did have some other food we could have cooked up if necessary, but we felt quite satisfied with our hiking tucker.
At Happy Hour, we learned about Bentley the pet pig. It had been raised on the farm from a piglet, and it was presumably very friendly despite being a razorback, or coming from feral stock. On Thursday morning, Ian took Dexter for a walk in search of Bentley. We found him in his own paddock, and indeed he was very friendly. Dexter was very keen to have a play. However, his tusks made him look rather fearsome, so Ian decided against giving him a pat.
We got away about 8:00 am, which is quite early for us. We filled up Matilda with delicious diesel in Roma, and set off for Toowoomba in an easterly direction along the Warrego Highway. It was a bright sunny day, but a strong, cold headwind noticeably increased our fuel consumption. We noticed that the road surface improved as we entered southeast Queensland.
We had originally planned to drive the Gregory Developmental Road from Charters Towers to Emerald and find a caravan park or cheap stopover in Emerald for one night. However, a couple we met at the roast dinner the previous night recommended a caravan park a little past Emerald on the shores of Lake Maraboon. Until then, we had not heard of that lake.
On Monday morning, we left Charters Towers and drove through grassy woodland. It then became drier as we proceeded south. Ian noted the lack of rest areas on this road, despite it obviously being a popular route for long distance travellers. The land greened up again around Clermont and Capella, which is a coal mining area. We stopped briefly for a driving break just north of Clermont, then stopped again at Clermont itself for a pie and the use of good toilet facilities. While there, we booked a night at the Lake Maraboon Holiday Village.
We stopped at Emerald for fuel after having driven 474 km from the previous night’s caravan park. It was only another 18 km or so until we saw the impressive Lake Maraboon and drove across the Fairbairn Dam wall. We reached our destination in time to book a table at the licensed restaurant at the caravan park. Although we had planned to cook, the idea of sitting in a restaurant instead was very attractive after a long drive. We had to pick from the menu at the same time as booking, so Ian chose the Red Claw pad Thai while Katie chose the sweet and sour chicken.
We set up camp and fed Dexter, then settled Dexter on the bed in Matilda while we walked up to the restaurant. Ian had some Red Claw beer from the tap, which was nothing to rave about. Both of our meals were big and delicious, but Katie could not finish hers. The restaurant was packed. The large holiday village is about 20 km south of Emerald, where the nearest shops and presumably restaurants are, so with a reputation of good food, the restaurant is bound to do well.
As you can see from the above sign and offerings in the restaurant, Maraboon Lake is renowned for Red Clay Crayfish. This is a relatively large fresh water crayfish that is native to tropical Queensland, the Northern Territory and south-eastern PNG, but it is tolerant to a broad temperature range that has facilitated its range spreading to all other parts of Australia except Tasmania. Signs near the lake indicate that the species is considered invasive in this water body, and therefore you do not need a fishing licence to catch them and there is no minimum size limit. However, somewhat inconsistently, there is a bag limit of 40. We understand that there are also commercial Redclaw fisheries. It is a pity that carp are not as tasty.
Back in Matilda after dinner, we could not get any TV reception. We decided two things: (1) We would stay another night and have a rest day tomorrow—cannot get too much rest! (2) We would complain about the TV reception as we had just missed the ABC’s Q&A for the first Monday night of the trip. We had a cup of tea and an apple turnover we bought at Clermont, and hit the sack earlier than usual.
On Tuesday morning, Dexter enjoyed his first swim for quite a long time. Lake Maraboon water was brown, but Dexter didn’t mind. Katie made breakfast for a change—grilled avocado, tomato and cheese on toast.
We sorted photos and did some chores in the morning. Ian was able to borrow a TV coaxial cable to plug a TV into so we could access the TV network in the park, which was a first for us.
We had lunch of leftover lamb kebabs with couscous. Some noisy birds would hang around and stir up Dexter, but we forgot to ask the locals what they were. Since originally posting this, one reader, Sharon, identified them for us as Apostle Birds. The name arises from them commonly hanging out in groups of 12. They are also known as CWA birds because of their constant noisy chatter, which is very apt. Thank you Sharon.
In the afternoon, Dexter went for another swim, and this time Katie came down to the lake for a walk.
After playing guitar for a half an hour, we sat outside and relaxed with a drink. It was nice to watch the different vehicles enter the park for the first time. We noted that most motorhomes were towing another vehicle, either on an A-frame or on a car trailer. Readers may find this next bit hard to believe, but it is true–you just can’t make this stuff up! We recalled that we had made a very considered decision to tow nothing behind Matilda, and we were thankful for that decision. However, Ian commented that if he was going to tow anything, the ideal vehicle to tow would be a Mini Moke. A few minutes later, a large Jayco motorhome pulled in with a bright green Californian Moke with full canvas covers on a car trailer. Ian could not help but go over to speak with the couple who owned it, once they had some time to set up camp.
There was an enthusiastic discussion about Mokes, our adventure on Magnetic Island, and how RV manufacturers are generally terrible at providing service to their customers when they are travelling. The Moke’s owners’ one year old Jayco motorhome had stopped charging the house batteries, so they were now dependent on powered sites. It was probably going to be a challenge to get this fixed on the road. This would have certainly taken the gloss off our trip if it had happened to us.
Ian’s new friends also mentioned that they had stayed at a farmstay near Roma on the previous evening, and recommended it. They said that they liked supporting the farmers who also accommodate travellers, and their traditional farming business was being challenged with the drought.
Ian put his mind onto options for accommodation the next evening at Roma. The farmstay mentioned by the Moke owners was about 10 km out of the way, but another farmstay called Ups N Downs was on the Carnarvon Developmental Road 5 km north of Roma. A quick phone call to Ups N Downs received a positive response, so that was sorted.
We made pumpkin and feta pasta with garlic, zucchini, pine nuts and olive oil for dinner. This went down beautifully with the rest of the Hope Estate Cracker.
Like the caravan park at Charters Towers, this place organises functions during some evenings. Tonight was to be a guitarist and singer performing in the camp kitchen. We intended to go along, but Ian was rather tired after a big “rest” day, and Katie was keen to focus on writing up our travel blog. Dexter was also exhausted after two swims. We did hear him from within Matilda, where it was also a bit warmer. We watched some TV using the coaxial cable, which worked fine.
We got away after 9:00 am on Wednesday morning and made a detour to have another look at Fairbairn Dam. We found a great lookout not far from the caravan park, so we did not have to go much out of our way. We talked about coming back here to try our luck at fishing and catching some Redclaw.
The above three photos are looking south, from east to west.
Back to the main road, we turned Matilda’s bonnet south towards Roma and closer to home.
We had decided to head home to the Lower Hunter Valley via an inland route that passed through Charters Towers, Emerald, Roma, Toowoomba, then along the New England Highway through Stanthorpe and Tamworth. After we left Mena Creek, we had to backtrack along the Bruce Highway from just south of Innisfail to Townsville, but we then turned southwest to Charters Towers. Between Mena Creek and Townsville we passed lots of flowering sugarcane fields and banana plantations. The landscape became drier as we drove inland.
We arrived at the Big 4 Aussie Outback Oasis Holiday Park in Charters Towers at 2:50 pm, which was nice an early. We generally aimed to arrive at our destination by 4:00 pm so we had plenty of time to settle in before dark.
We set up on our large, flat site, then relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. We joined up for the $15 per person roast dinner that the staff put on in the Bushman’s Kitchen. It was also time for Game 2 of the State of Origin, and there was a large screen set up on which to project the game. We had our first fire of the trip, our last bottle of Hope Estate Cracker was cracked, and we were set for a good night.
The roast was excellent, and Ian went back for seconds on both the main and dessert. Awesome value! The first half of the State of Origin was very exciting. Recall that in Game 1, NSW started well, but as is so often the case, Queensland came back in the second half to win convincingly. We were hoping that NSW would be able to keep up the momentum throughout the whole of Game 2, and we were not disappointed. In the first half, NSW would not let Queensland out of their own half. Although we were sitting right beside the open fire, it was a very cold night, so at half time we retired to Matilda to watch the second half in bed with Dexter between us. NSW ended up thrashing Queensland—a rare spectacle!
On Monday morning we had smashed avocado and cheese on toast for breakfast, then got away from the Aussie Outback Oasis around 9:20 am. We would strongly recommend this caravan park, and would stay there again anytime. We were in for a long drive to Emerald, with the aim of checking out a caravan park at Lake Maraboon that a couple recommended to us on the previous evening.
Paronella Park is well signposted. We approached from the north, passed the entrance, crossed Mena Creek and stopped just past the Mena Creek Hotel according to instructions Ian received on the phone. We had already bought tickets to Paronella Park on Wednesday, and these included one night camping in the grounds behind the hotel called the Paddock. We rang up while stopped at the gate, and were directed to powered site number 8, the last of the powered sites. We had an almost level, grassy spot. The Paddock campground is huge, with some areas set up with drive through sites, but most of the area was just grass. There are no facilities, so vehicles are expected to be self-contained. We understand that there is another caravan park adjacent to Paronella Park with more facilities, but this was full when we rang a few days earlier. We ended up getting the last of the eight powered sites at the Paddock.
As it was about noon, we quickly set up camp, left Dexter in his pen, and went to the hotel for lunch. Our Site 8 was next to the back gate to the hotel, which was very convenient.
For lunch, Ian had kransky, sauerkraut, mash and salad, which was a bit unusual, but OK. There were two beers on tap from the Red Dragon Brewery in Cairns. The Pale Ale was not a pale ale at all—it had no detectable hops. The Mena Premium Lager was better, even though Ian generally finds lager rather bland.
After lunch, all three of us walked down to the entrance of Paronella Park, about 250 m away from the hotel. There is an impressive suspension bridge over Mena Creek. This was built by the Army as an engineering exercise. Ian was very keen to walk across it, Katie was not quite as enthusiastic, and Dexter would not have a bar of it, so we crossed the road bridge instead.
We met Mark Evans, one of the owners of Paronella Park, on the front deck. The arrangement was that we could take Dexter and leave him to be looked after on the front deck while we toured the park. Mark was welcoming, and Dexter didn’t seem to mind as he nicely sat on a mat while we went inside to register.
We registered for the next daylight tour, and were also allocated to an evening tour which was part of the package. The receptionist even booked a table for us for dinner back at the hotel after the evening tour. Paronella Park and the Mena Creek Hotel are owned by the same people, so there is a lot of co-operation between the two businesses.
We had some time to fill before our 2:00 pm tour, so we had coffee ((an) and tea (Katie). Both were local products, and as the tea was particularly good, we bought some leaves to take away.
Our guide for the afternoon was Yana. She related the story of Paronella Park as we were taken around the site. We also learned that Mena Creek is named after someone called Philomena.
The story of Paronella Park in brief:
José Paronella left his homeland in Catalonia, Spain and arrived in the town of Innisfail in Queensland in 1913. He planned to create a splendid life for himself and his fiancée Matilda, who was back in Spain. He worked hard for 11 years in the sugar cane industry and prospered. While travelling he discovered a virgin forest alongside spectacular Mena Creek Falls and instantly believed this was a perfect place for his dream. On returning to Spain, he found that Matilda had already married someone else, so he sailed back to Australia with Matilda’s younger sister, Margarita, as his bride.
By 1929, José had purchased 13 acres (5 hectares) of beautiful forest near Mena Creek to start building his dream Spanish castle. Initially, a 47 step staircase was built to shift building materials between the lower and upper level. The staircase is still used to provide access between the two levels by visitors. A cottage to live in was hand built out of stone.
José Paronella’s main Castle was inspired by childhood memories of Catalonian castles. Over time, he constructed an entertainment area, a movie theatre that transformed into a ballroom, tennis courts, a picnic area by the falls, a pavilion with turret-topped balconies with views to the falls, refreshment rooms, changing facilities for swimmers, and the Tunnel of Love as a shortcut to Teresa Falls. More than 7,000 trees were planted including an avenue of Kauris surrounding the Paronella family’s home. A museum with a collection of coins, pistols, dolls, timbers and interesting keepsakes was also established.
José constructed North Queensland’s first hydro-electric generator to power the park in 1933, and the castle grounds were opened to the public in 1935.
Unfortunately, Paronella Park has suffered the effects of floods, storms and fires. In 1946, a flood brought a mass of logs through the park, destroying the refreshment rooms. The Paronellas repaired the damage, and the park re-opened six months later.
José passed away in 1948, leaving Margarita, daughter Teresa and son Joe. José‘s wife and descendants ran the park until 1977, when it was sold outside the family. In 1979, a fire swept through the Castle, leaving only the walls and the turret. In 1986, Cyclone Winifred hit the park and caused further damage.
In 1993, Mark and Judy Evans bought the park with the view of reviving José’s dream. They did a lot of work to repair aspects of the park, but Cyclone Larry in 2006 set them back. The hydro generator was refurbished in 2009 and is still used to satisfy all the park’s power requirements. Cyclone Yasi hit in 2011, but the dream continues more strongly than ever under Mark and Judy’s ownership.
In 2017, Paronella Park won the People’s Choice and the Gold Tourist Attraction in the Queensland Tourism Awards. Paronella Park is also ECO certified for Advanced Ecotourism, it is a Green Travel Leader, and a Climate Action Business. Rather than trying to refurbish the old, crumbling buildings, which would ultimately be futile, the focus today is on conservation of the buildings and other features of José’s dream.
At the end of the tour, we were left to ourselves, and we went to all the water sites and fed the eels, black bream, jungle perch and turtles with fish food we were given. Ian couldn’t believe the amount of fish in Mena Creek.
We went back to the front deck and had a sneak peak of Dexter, who looked very relaxed. We greeted him, and spoke with a woman who had taken over from Mark. It might have been Mark’s wife, Judy. She said that Dexter was the best dog she has had on the deck for a long time. It is hard to resist bragging about our boy!
We walked back to our campsite and whiled away a couple of hours. We fed Dexter and settled him in Matilda, then caught the shuttle bus outside the hotel for the 250 m ride back to Paronella Park for our evening tour. Our tour guide this time was a Canadian called Lexus. He projected his voice particularly well. We were each given a small torch. There were a lot of people touring at night at the same time, but it was very well co-ordinated. We went around all the places that we had went on the daytime tour, but the lights provided a very different experience. The falls looked particularly spectacular. At a couple of places away from the lighting we were able to see fireflies in the treetops when all the torches were switched off.
The climax of the tour was a fabulous concert by three of the four members of the String Family in front of the Lower Refreshment Rooms. The family comprises Joel (Dad) on cello, Sarah (Mum) on violin and vocals, Heath on cello and Ashleigh on violin. They play a wide range of music, and on the night they played one of Sarah’s own compositions. Unfortunately, Joel had a fall and hit his head a little while ago. He came onsite for one musical piece with the aid of a walking stick. We were told later that he has just started playing music again. We bought a CD of the String Family playing Celtic music.
As we handed back our torches at the end of the night tour, Mark gave everyone a little pink bag with a small piece of José Paronella’s Castle. It is concrete that was hand mixed by José in 1930, and part of a wall that came down in Cyclone Larry in 2006. Quite unexpected, as was the whole Paronella Park experience.
We were also given a ticket for us to have free admission to Paronella Park for the next two years, and one night’s free camping in the next 12 months. We immediately had thoughts of dropping in next year if we head north for the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s landings in Queensland. We would definitely do the tour of the hydro-electric plant if we come back.
We took the shuttle bus back up the hill to the hotel, and checked on Dexter. We had a table booked, which is just as well because the pub was full on the Saturday night, especially with what appeared to be a hen’s party down one end. We were well looked after by Christie from Hong Kong. Ian had the Mena burger, while Katie had an Asian basket—both went down well after another big day of adventures. The party girls kept the jukebox going with classic rock music, so it was an enjoyable Saturday night at the pub.
On Sunday morning, we managed to get away after breakfast around 9:00 am. Our route took us back to the coast just south of Innisfail, then south to Townsville. We had stopped again at Cardwell beach for coffee, and Dexter had another brief paddle in the water. A guy came up and told Ian that a couple of Labradors had been swimming there recently, retrieving sticks thrown by their owner, but one dog was taken by a crocodile. The water was muddy anyway, so after Dexter had his feet wiped, we resumed our drive to Charters Towers.
The Atherton Tablelands is the hinterland west of Cairns in tropical North Queensland, centred on the town of Atherton. We visited the area twice. The first visit was on a trip from picking up Dexter in Cairns, through Kuranda and Mareeba (one night), on the way north to Cooktown on 12 and 13 June. The second visit was immediately after Cooktown on our way south when we stayed four nights at Atherton from 18 June.
On Wednesday 12 June, we stopped briefly at Kuranda to pick up some groceries at the IGA. We visited Kuranda and its famous market way back on our honeymoon in 1991, and we remember taking a very scenic, historic train from Cairns up to Kuranda. There is now a cable car called the Skyrail, so it would be awesome to take the train from Cairns up the range in the morning and the cable car down in the afternoon. Kuranda is a place we would like to explore more in the future.
Our objective on that Wednesday was the Kerribee Rodeo Campground just outside Mareeba. We had to get there by 4:00 pm to catch the people who run it. This was a nice, big grassy area with many powered sites. There were good facilities, including a dump point, but drinking water was limited. It was surprising that there were several dozen RVs camped there. We spent our first night back in Matilda after a week in our motel room at Port Douglas.
On his morning walk on Thursday, Ian let Dexter off the lead to play ball, but when Dexter got the scent of kangaroos he had to go back on the lead. We are not confident that Dexter would obey us and not chase kangaroos if he was off lead.
We drove a little back to Mareeba and stopped at Elgas, where Ronnie the manager confirmed that one of our gas bottles was empty. He put 4 kg of gas in it for only $13—much cheaper than at Bowen where we last filled a gas bottle. Ronnie even installed the gas bottle back in its place—great service!
With at least one full gas bottle, we headed north to Cooktown, which is the subject of the previous two posts.
On our way back from Cooktown on Tuesday 18 June, we again stopped at Elgas in Mareeba to fill the other gas bottle. Ronnie was there and again looked after us well.
At Ronnie’s suggestion, we stopped at Coffee Works in the hope of trying and picking up some local coffee. It was late in the day, but we were able to squeeze in a coffee, tea, chocolate and liqueur tasting. There is an amazing museum on coffee. We wanted to get to our caravan park in Atherton before dark, so we could not linger, but this is really worth stopping at. We bought some local coffee and tea, two types of chocolates, and a bottle of luscious Cocoa Crème Liqueur before resuming our drive south.
We checked into the Atherton NRMA Big 4 Woodland Caravan Park, and were given a top spot—nice and level, easy to reverse into, and a long way from neighbours. We had kanga bangers on Cooktown sourdough rolls for dinner, and Ian enjoyed a Cassegrain 2018 Sangiovese. We noticed the significantly cooler weather compared to Cooktown.
On Wednesday, we had a very slow day, being a bit tired after our travelling from Cooktown. We planned the next few days. Ian took Dexter to an off-lead dog park across the road from the caravan park. It had lots of balls available, as well as an agility course, but it was very difficult to get Dexter to focus on the agility equipment. We played fetching the ball, soccer and tug-o-war. Ian also checked out a roadside stall that had red papayas. We made pumpkin risotto from dinner—another culinary success! We took the opportunity to work on our travel blog.
After a good night’s sleep, we felt a lot brighter on Thursday. We checked out the How Wang Chinese Temple, which was just 500 m away from the caravan park. For $10 we were given a guided tour of the temple and old Chinese village by Lucy, who is a retired local teacher. Dexter was made welcome by Lucy. The temple is the last remaining building of a Chinese village called Cedar Camp, which was the precursor of the town of Atherton. The temple was built in 1903. Most of the artefacts in the temple came from China. Most of the Chinese moved away in 1920, but the land was eventually bought by a group of Chinese families. In 1979, the land and building were donated to the National Trust of Queensland.
The temple has a connection with Hong Kong, which brought memories of our attempt to visit the Wong Tai Sin Temple there. Yang Liang Chieh was the bodyguard commander to the last Emperor of the Southern Song Dynasty in China (1127 to 1280 AD). When the army fled Kowloon, Yang remained to organise defences. He died before the attack, but was later ranked among the gods for his courage and given the title Hou Wang, which can be translated as Prince Marquis. So, he was regarded as a god like Wong Tai Sin. The Hou Wang Temple is generally considered to be a Daoist temple, with Confucian and Buddhist influences.
Apart from the main building which was used to honour Hou Wang, other gods and ancestors, there is a community hall, a kitchen and a store. There is also a fascinating earth oven a short distance away—this was used to roast succulent pigs to feed large numbers of people attending major celebrations, for which the Chinese are generally renowned.
We lingered much longer at the Hou Wang Temple than we expected, so we had lunch at the adjacent Station Café. This appears to be an old railway station, and a train provides much of the seating. It was nice that Dexter was also welcome aboard the train, although he was not allowed on the timber veranda for some unexplained reason. Our curried pie (Ian) and chicken and mushroom pie (Katie) were made on the premises and were definitely First Class, while the coffee was beautifully hot.
We decided to go for a drive to nearby Herberton, which was an old tin mining area. We came across the Herberton Historic Village, and this became our third and last stop of the day. Also for the third time today, Dexter was welcome.
The historic village is a huge collection of buildings that have been brought together from all over the place to resemble an old town. We understand that there was a tin mine on the site, and there are some remnants of this. There is so much to see, you would need at least two days to see everything properly and have lunch at one of the old buildings. Ian has never seen so many old trucks, steam engines and cars. There is a huge working windmill that pumps water to a large tank.
We went into a library that was packed with old books. There were also boxes of records, and Ian pulled out one record at random. We had recently bought a T-shirt for Katie that depicts Star Wars Meets Abbey Road with four Stormtroopers on the pedestrian crossing. We could barely believe that this was an original Abbey Road album, and the record appeared to be in very good condition. Unfortunately, not for sale!
The afternoon was getting on, so we had little time to explore. We managed to speak with a guy who has restored and maintained a large amount of old printing equipment. We were impressed at the enormous amount of labour required to print a newspaper in the 1800s. We were told we could come back the next day, but we may drop in next time we are in the area.
All three of us had had a huge day, and dinner for Katie and Ian was a simple one of toast and jam, and a red papaya we bought from the roadside stall across the road.
After Dexter’s Friday morning constitutional, Ian bought coffees for a change from a van in the caravan park. The coffee was particularly good. The guy said he would be at Yungaburra Markets the next morning from 8:00 am, so that gave Ian the idea of making a small detour via Yungaburra on the way to Paronella Park. At Cooktown Caravan Park, we met a couple in a motorhome who were heading to Yungaburra, which they said was a particularly nice place to stay.
We had an easy day and looked after some chores and the travel blog. In the afternoon, Ian road the Trek mountain bike a total of 16 km along the Atherton Rail Trail to Tolga. This was an almost perfectly flat ride. Parking around Woolies was checked out during the ride.
After the ride, we drove into the Atherton CBD. At Pets to Pamper, we bought some frozen kangaroo tail for Dexter. We parked near Woolworths and did some substantial shopping. Back at camp, for dinner we had some mint and rosemary kebabs that we bought from a butcher outside Woolies, and pumpkin couscous. We realised that we were eating better on this camping trip than we usually do at home.
On Saturday, we were able to get away by 8:30 am by not having any coffee with breakfast. We found that Yungaburra is an RV Friendly town with marked RV parking along the road. However, after we parked, we found that the rest of the space assigned to RVs quickly filled up with conventional vehicles.
Yungaburra Markets are huge—definitely the largest we have seen for many years. After walking around the whole site, we failed to find our coffee guy from the Atherton caravan park. We ended up getting locally grown coffee from the Ulysses Coffee van. We have seen a few things marketed as Ulysses—this is a large blue butterfly that is common in tropical North Queensland and further north. The markets had abundant locally grown food, and we loaded up with zucchinis and bananas
We have been known to occasionally buy some art on our travels. On our trip to Venice in the mid 1990s, we bought a glass and gold artwork from Murano and were worried whether it would make it home in the post in one piece. More recently, we bought a large Aboriginal painting from Mowanjum near Derby in the Kimberleys, and we had similar worries. In both cases, our worries were unfounded, and we have this artwork proudly displayed in our home. We managed to avoid buying any paintings that were strongly marketed on our two cruises this year and last year, but at Yungaburra, Katie could not resist some copper art from Tony Batten the Copa Guy. She was particularly keen on two pieces that each included two mirrors, but Ian preferred a piece depicting a frog and G’day that he thought would look good in our entrance. There was some haggling, but we ended up walking away with all three pieces.
We dragged ourselves away from the Yungaburra Markets, although we could have stayed all morning, and headed south from the Atherton Tablelands for Mena Creek and Paronella Park.
The re-enactment of Cook’s landing at what is today Cooktown was scheduled for 10:00 am. We expected there would be a big crowd, so we were up for early showers. We had had our third and last night in the RV Rest Area, and tonight we had a site booked in one of the caravan parks. We drove into town, bought some bread rolls from the bakery, and found a level parking spot on the main road almost straight across from the site of the re-enactment. We had our breakfast inside Matilda—cereal and coffee for Katie and Ian, My Dog, apple and yogurt for Dexter.
We took out our folding chairs and set ourselves up in a very good position in front of the stage where the re-enactment was to take place. The stage was a depiction of the HMB Endeavour. We wore our 1770 Festival singlets that we bought a few weeks ago from the town of 1770, and it attracted the attention of the lady in period costume shown in the fourth last photo in the previous post. While we waited for the re-enactment to start, the announcer tried hard to encourage audience participation by getting us to sing the chorus of a traditional sea shanty called A-Roving (The Maid of Amsterdam):
A rovin’, a rovin’
Since rovin’s been by ru-i-in
I’ll go no more a rovin’
With you fair maid.
Dexter was sitting nicely beside Ian with his harness and lead on, and people sat around us in chairs or on the ground.
The re-enactment was a serious production that took over an hour to cover the 48 days that James Cook and the crew of the Endeavour spent ashore. There were over 50 actors and production staff. Here is a summary of the story that was told to us, with some details taken from the booklets Historical Endeavours and 48 Days A Shared History purchased from the James Cook Museum in Cooktown:
On 29 April 1770, Captain Cook and His Majesty’s Bark Endeavour arrived at what is now Botany Bay in NSW. The ship departed 8 days later without making contact with the indigenous people.
HMB Endeavour anchored in Bustard Bay near what is now the town of 1770 in Queensland on 23 May. The name of the bay came from the shooting of a 17 pound “bustard” bird by the landing party and eaten. The bird was an Australian Bustard or Plains Turkey. The crew slept one night on the ship, and Endeavour left.
There were three more brief landings in Queensland. Then, around 11:00 pm on a clear moonlit night of 10 June, the Endeavour struck a reef and stuck fast. She was severely damaged on what was to become known as Endeavour Reef. To lighten the ship, the crew threw overboard six cannons, casks, anchors and stores—50 tons or more. On the high tide the next evening, the Endeavour was floated off the reef.
Everyone on board, including Cook and Banks, took turns at manning the pumps to remove water flowing in from the breached hull. A midshipman suggested a temporary repair called fothering, in which a sail was used to make a type of pillow, filling it with dung, wool and other stuff, and the pillow was placed against the hole. This slowed the water intake significantly, and it took another week to find safety in what is now Endeavour River, or Waalumbaal Birri in the local Aboriginal language.
On 17 June 1770, 86 men along with livestock and stores came ashore in the area that is now Bicentennial Park. The Endeavour was beached up against the shore, and the hole was found to have been partially plugged by a large piece of coral. It only took a few days to repair the ship, but adverse wind and tides made refloating her difficult.
Unlike at Botany Bay, there was significant contact between the Europeans and the local Aboriginal people, or bama. Six meetings occurred with the bama, all initiated by the bama. The first was on 10 July. There were friendly encounters, and then a dispute arose over turtles that had been taken by the Europeans on board for food at a time that all the bama knew was outside the turtle hunting season. The last meeting was on 19 July and was the first recorded reconciliation between Indigenous Australians and Europeans. Sydney Parkinson, an artist brought along by Banks, recorded 132 words and phrases of the local languages. The re-enactment portrays several of these meetings, and is a fascinating story in itself involving kangaroos and turtles.
The Endeavour was eventually refloated, and it crossed the moth of the Endeavour River on 4 August. However, she had to wait outside the harbour due to unfavourable winds until she departed on 10 August.
There were another seven landings made before Cook left Australian waters for a refit in Batavia, at the time a Dutch colony, now called Jakarta.
The re-enactment production team did a great job portraying the story of the landing of the Endeavour and the adventures of its crew over the next 48 days. The Marines fired real rifles, and the loudness of the shots was unexpected for everyone. The first time it happened, Dexter escaped from his harness into the people sitting on the ground around us. The second time the guns were fired, Dexter darted off again and sought refuge among the Aboriginal elders who were sitting in reserved seating behind us. Everyone was very good about this, and Ian got help to put Dexter back into his harness. When someone said that the guns were to be fired again, Ian led Dexter back to the motorhome, and locked him inside with a window open as it was starting to warm up. Ian ended up missing a fair bit of the re-enactment. When the re-enactment was over, we returned to Matilda and Ian was worried that Dexter might have jumped through the open window during several more gun shots. We found Dexter cowering in the cabin behind our seats, traumatised. Katie went off to find food, and Ian heard “Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole!”, then another blast nearby that was louder than all the guns fired together. This was from a canon that had been fired immediately across the road from where Matilda was parked. That upset Dexter again, but thankfully that was the last blast we were to experience.
Katie returned fried rice and dumplings from the market for an early lunch in Matilda. We intended to buy some fresh tropical fruit from a stall that we saw on Saturday, but that stall was not there on the Sunday. We checked into the Cooktown Caravan Park and booked an additional night, then spent the rest of the afternoon doing the normal motorhome chores. We had light and healthy salmon and salad rolls for dinner, and Cornetto ice creams for dessert (not quite so healthy, but nice).
On Monday, we visited the Cooktown IGA and did some substantial shopping. We then parked in a shady spot opposite the James Cook Museum.
The James Cook Museum at Cooktown is one of the National Trust’s most important museums, and they also sponsored the Cooktown Discovery Festival. Entry on the previous Saturday was free, but we could not fit it into our day. We did not know what to expect, as Ian does not generally like museums. Katie stayed in the motorhome to look after Dexter, and Ian went into the museum—it is $10 entry for seniors. This museum is worth every cent, and more. The building was originally a Catholic convent and a girls’ school. There is still a very narrow spiral staircase used by the students. Ian joined a tour and learned about the convent’s beginnings—the nuns from Ireland had a hard life in tropical Cooktown.
Ian learned more about Cook’s landing, and the Chinese people who came to work the Palmer River Goldfields. One of the Endeavour’s five anchors and one of its six canons are on display, having been recovered from the Endeavour Reef. Meanwhile, the shadow that was covering Matilda moved, and it became too warm inside the motorhome for Katie and Dexter. After Ian’s museum visit, we found another shady spot near the RV dump point and water supply, and we had lunch of ham and salad sourdough rolls. The rolls from the Cooktown Bakery were lovely!
In the afternoon, Ian dropped Katie off at the museum for her turn. She was fascinated by the story of the early Chinese settlement at Palmer River.
Ian then headed to the Cooktown cemetery with Dexter on the advice of several of our friends. Ian looked for the oldest grave, the youngest grave, and the most interesting grave. The oldest grave belonged to a lady called Elizabeth Cooper. She and two other people drowned off St Patrick’s Point on 16 August 1874, but only Elizabeth’s grave is marked. The cutter Platypus, with eleven people aboard, capsized during a reef trip. There was later controversy about whether enough was done by the other eight people to save those who drowned. The site of the grave is also a mystery because the grave is well away from the main part of the cemetery. Maybe, this was the main part of the cemetery in those days.
Ian also found the Chinese Shrine. Over 300 Chinese people were buried in this area between 1873 and 1920. The shrine was built in 1887. Chinese emigrants feared they might die, never to return to the land of their ancestors. Most of those initially buried here were later exhumed and returned to China. The three characters on the shrine, written in ancient script, read Tjin Ju Tsai, which means, Respect the dead as if they are present.
We had a very interesting day in Cooktown, but not too strenuous or traumatic. We enjoyed a satisfying dinner of crumbed lamb cutlets, new potatoes and Greek salad.
On Monday morning, we packed up and were out of the caravan park by about 9:30 am. We stopped at the Bakery to get more of those wonderful sourdough rolls that we loved, then headed for Atherton.
We had three stops, the first at Black Mountain. Although this looks like a hill of basalt, it is actually made of granite. The mountain is a significant and respected place for Aboriginal traditional owners of the area. Known as Kalkajaka, meaning place of the spear, Black Mountain is the focus of several Dreamtime stories. The granite is 260 million years old. The top of the pluton developed a jointing pattern, which led to fracturing. Water penetrated the network of fractures and facilitated weathering when the top of the pluton was exposed by erosion. The dark appearance of the rocks is due to a film of lichens and other small encrusting plants growing on the rock surfaces.
Our next stop was the iconic Lion’s Den Hotel, which you would pass by if you drove to Cooktown from Mossman via Cape Tribulation along the Bloomfield Road. It was a bit early for a beer, so we had some tea and coffee, and we ate some goodies we bought from the Cooktown Bakery as the hotel did not have any morning tea food. The Hotel has an adjacent, riverside camping ground, which was lovely and green when we were there. It is certainly worth considering for an overnight stop next time we are up this way.
Where the hotel is located used to be a thriving tin mining area, which later became known as Helenvale. The hotel was established in 1875. The hotel’s name came from the name of a tin mine in the mountain opposite the hotel.
Our third stop was the Byerstown Range rest area that we found on the way north.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Cooktown, and felt that we should seriously consider coming back next year for the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s landing there, but we would leave Dexter behind.
When we reached Cooktown on the afternoon of Thursday 13 June, we had driven a total of 3,888 kilometres from home, The Sanctuary, at Rutherford in the Hunter Valley of NSW over 40 days. Except for the last segment from the Atherton Tableland to Cooktown, we had hugged the east coast of Australia. There is a coastal route from Mossman, just north of Port Douglas, to Cooktown, but the Bloomfield Track north of Cape Tribulation is for four-wheel drive vehicles only. The road from Mareeba to Cooktown is longer, but sealed all the way, and that is the one we took Matilda over.
Since Port Douglas, we had discussed our trip so far, and considered whether we wanted to continue with the next leg to Normanton and Kurumba in the Gulf of Carpentaria, and then the following leg to the Top End of the Northern Territory. We agreed that all three of us had had a wonderful trip full of adventures so far, but Ian and Katie were longing for the comforts of our home in the Hunter. Dexter, on the other hand, just seemed to live for each day. The thought of several more thousand kilometres of driving, with generally longer distances each day, was a bit daunting for Katie and Ian. Ian was having pain in his neck from driving, and we were unsure whether we would be able to get the awning fixed on the way. Otherwise, Matilda was going well, and we were all quite happy.
Ultimately we decided to head home after Cooktown, taking mostly an inland route through Toowoomba where we wanted to catch up with another Rob who was a work colleague from the Geological Survey, and Ian wanted to check out fifth wheelers at Winjana RV. We would still go to Victoria in October for the CMCA annual rally and then drop south to see friends in Melbourne, but the Top End, Lake Argyle, the WA coast, Margaret River, and the Nullabor Plan could wait for next year.
We really appreciate those readers and followers of our travel blog. We hope you enjoyed reading about our adventures as much as we have enjoyed reporting them.
We came to Cooktown for two reasons. Firstly, it is the most northerly town on the east coast of Australia that you can drive to by staying on the bitumen. Secondly, Ian wanted to learn about James Cook’s landing there in 1770 to repair the Endeavour after running aground on the Great Barrier Reef. Ian wanted to immerse himself in the history of the event. Be warned however, we have posted a lot on Cooktown as this place ended up greatly surpassing our expectations, and we stayed much longer than planned. We have broken Cooktown into two parts. This is Part 1 from Thursday to Saturday. Part 2 from Sunday to Tuesday follows.
We left Kerribee Rodeo Campground at Mareeba early in the morning, and after refilling a gas bottle at Elgas, headed north. We stopped at the Byerstown Range Lookout for lunch. It was a grey day, and there was not much of a view. The toilet was good, and there were some hanging signs with lots of interesting information about the area.
We arrived at Cooktown and were surprised to find that all caravan parks were full because we arrived just before the weekend of the annual Cooktown Discovery Festival held during 14 to 16 June. This year marks the 40th staging of the event that highlights Cooktown’s unique environment, heritage and culture, and commemorates James Cook’s landing and 48 day stay in 1770. We could not believe our luck, having also arrived a few weeks earlier in the town of 1770 in time for a similar event—the 1770 Festival. A re-enactment of Cook’s time here was scheduled for Sunday morning. When we let Grant and Jacqui know what happened, Jacqui recommended that we stay for that as she had seen it and was impressed.
We enquired at the Cooktown Caravan Park, where the manager indicated that a vacancy for a powered site for a motorhome will come up on Sunday 16 June. We had already found online a RV Rest Area at the local racecourse where we could stay for up to 3 nights for a donation to the amateur jockey club. We booked 16 June at the caravan park, and headed off for the racecourse, which was only a couple of kilometres from town. The RV Rest Area was quite full of vehicles, but there were some boggy areas. We found a spot that was high and dry, and we set up our camp with chairs, the table and the dog pen. Cooktown Council staff came around to check on campers to ensure that they do not overstay. They were friendly and helpful, gave us a program for the festival. They said that the RV Rest Area was likely to get packed over the weekend.
The program mentioned a cruise on the Endeavour River the next morning with a botanist from James Cook University of North Queensland. Ian was very interested, so Katie gave her permission for Ian to go, and she would stay onshore and look after Dexter. Ian made a phone enquiry, was told that the cruise was dog friendly—there was already another dog booked. It was a warm night with light drizzle at the RV Rest Area. We enjoyed Thai red curried prawns with pumpkin and coconut rice for dinner.
What a pleasant surprise to Katie when she stepped out from Matilda on Friday morning to see a beautiful rainbow at our campsite.
We laid out our table, chairs and Dexter’s pen to mark out our site at the RV Rest Area in the hope that we would still have a place to park when we returned in the afternoon after our river cruise. We parked at the wharf precinct, and met Nick from Riverbend Tours, Darryn Crane from James Cook University, and Sally the chocolate Labrador. The cruise boat was full, and we had a total of 29 people and 2 dogs.
Darryn led the Botanical Cruise up the Endeavour River, spoke about Joseph Banks and Dr Daniel Solander who explored the area when they landed in 1170. Joseph Banks financed the scientific team on Cook’s voyage around the world. He took with him Swedish botanist Dr Daniel Solander. They did a 3-day long boat trip up the Endeavour River, which was named by Cook. During their 48 days onshore in the Cooktown area, Banks and Solander collected 325 species of plants, but surprisingly no mangroves, which are the most common plant along the Endeavour River. Darryn indicated that the journals of Banks and Cook are available online.
Darryn mentioned that now Australia has 22 of the world’s 70 species of mangroves. Mangroves are grown in the intertidal zone of estuaries, are therefore flushed twice a day with seawater. They can cope with low oxygen and high salinity. Mangroves are an essential component of ecosystems that are the ultimate source of much of our seafood. Mangroves are also world champions at sequestering carbon dioxide—better than the same area of rain forests, although rainforests cover a much larger area of the world.
An interesting fact is that Solander and Banks did not see any coconuts during their time despite specifically searching for them. We are confident that coconuts were introduced into Australia from elsewhere. However, Australia has fossil coconuts 10 million years old.
We searched for evidence of crocodiles in the river, which reminded me of our fruitless crocodile search in the Daintree River on our honeymoon. We found tracks that are most likely to have been made by a crocodile, but we did not see any live crocs.
We had morning tea of blue berry muffins and feta and sundried tomato pesto tarts from the Driftwood Café with our tea and coffee. Dexter and Sally also enjoyed the cruise. This was a novel experience for Dexter, who Ian had to restrain to stop him diving into the water.
During the cruise, Darryn mentioned that he was also leading a botanically themed bushwalk the next morning. This was to start at Grassy Hill and finish in the Botanic Gardens. We met Tony Roberts, the curator of the Gardens, and asked him if we could take Dexter. Normally, dogs are not allowed in the conservation reserve, but he was prepared to turn a blind eye this time. It seemed that both Dexter and Sally were keen to go.
After the cruise, we walked around the main town centre and it was quite quiet. Stalls were setting up for the market. Ian was able to get a haircut in one of the hairdressing shops.
While we were walking around the parks near the riverbank, we met a young lady called Shadia from Chile who liked Dexter and wanted to play soccer with him. We enjoyed watching Shadia interact with Dexter. She is obviously a good soccer player. Katie took a short video and posted it on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/eitaknai/videos/2568067893204874/?t=42 .
Back at the RV Rest Area, our camp setup had not been touched, so we were able to slip back into our spot. That night, there were less RVs than the previous night, which was a bit surprising.
We were up early on Saturday morning, skipped breakfast, and met the shuttle bus to take us into the Botanic Gardens for our bushwalk. The driver had no problems with having Dexter on board, and Dexter behaved beautifully. We were pleased to be able to leave Matilda at the RV Rest Area so we were assured of keeping our camping spot. Eventually a crowd congregated at the Gardens, including Sally the chocolate Lab. Darryn and Tony arrived, and the shuttle bus took us in two groups to the lookout on the summit of Grassy Hill for photos. We understand that James Cook and Joseph Banks climbed the hill several times to get a good view of the coast and to help plan a safe route out through the reef.
We walked down the road to the start of the track to Cherry Tree Bay. There we found yet another useful plaque that depicted the HMB Endeavour beached against the bank of the river for repairs. We were happy that Cooktown proudly displayed its history to visitors.
After our briefing, Darryn led the walk while Tony backed up the rear. Darryn told us that Joseph Banks funded a scientific team of 10, including a geologist. This was particularly interesting to Ian who is a retired geologist. As the plaque at the start of the track depicts, the English befriended the Aborigines whom they called “Indians”. We would learn the full story at the re-enactment the next day. We made lots of stops to look at interesting plants.
When we arrived at the beach at Cherry Tree Bay, Dexter pulled Ian towards the water and had a splash at the water’s edge.
We then had a very steep uphill section at the start of the walk back to the Botanic Gardens. One old fellow struggled, and Tony stayed with him and saw him safely to the end. The main group also stopped at one spot, but we decided to walk ahead. We were caught in a light shower, but the activity kept us warm. We were the first ones to arrive back at the Gardens. We took the shuttle bus back to the town centre which was well alive with festival activities. We were so hungry and couldn’t resist the temptation of coffee and steaming hot donuts with zero nutritional value. Probably not the healthiest breakfast choice we could have made, but we deserved a reward after our three-hour strenuous bushwalk! We also ate the doughnuts while sheltering in the Navy stall during another shower.
We watched the street parade which was very entertaining. It was far from glamorous, but the people involved obviously enjoyed themselves. Unfortunately, we missed the street parade in the 1170 Festival.
We went to the Sovereign Hotel for lunch. There was no local brew, and Ian found the 150 Lashes was yuck—what is it that pubs do to make a good beer taste off? He had a glass of not bad chardonnay with a barramundi burger. while Katie had avocado quiche and salad. This was the bottom pub, and they had put on some local entertainers. The top pub featured more prominently in the festival program, but a clear sign out front indicated that dogs were not welcome at all. A sign at the Sovereign Hotel indicated that dogs were not allowed on the premises past it, but this left two tables in front of the sign, so that’s where we sat while Dexter slept under the table and nobody said a thing.
After lunch, we caught the shuttle bus back to the RV Rest Area where all three of us crashed for the rest of the afternoon. We have no recollection of what we did for dinner—we were probably too pooped to care! We settled in for our third and last night at the RV Rest Area, and again, to our surprise, there were fewer RVs than the previous night despite being in the middle of the festival.