Category Archives: Airlie Beach and Whitsundays 2023
Bargara to Brisbane
Made it down to Bargara, on the coast out from Bundaberg, from the free camp beside the Calliope River in good time, despite a bit of a braking problem with the truck. The Big 4 at Bargara is very spacious with nice shady trees, it’s their ‘Breeze’ brand…..doesn’t quite live up to the ritzier Big 4s that have rows of huts blocking the views of mere vanners, along with jumping castles, water parks and hoards of kids running amoke. So it suits us fine, nice red cloud sunset before settling in for the night.
Allthego decided to drop into the local Isuzu dealer and get them to look at the brakes. Fortunately, they fitted us into their schedule, brakes got a going over and were fixed up satisfactorily to allow the journey to continue. Homealone put the parachute away, but it took up a day of our time in Bargara.
We have been around the Bundaberg region a few times now and little seems to change. Sugar cane, macadamias, tomatoes, strawberries and root vegetables. It is one of Queensland’s food bowls on rich volcanic soils. And of course it is home to the iconic Bundaberg Rum and Bundaberg Ginger Beer. Allthego is keen on the latter but the Rum is not really his scene, except for the banana and toffee infused liqueur version. Really good drizzled on a banana split!
A developing trend for caravan parks is to get the local food trucks to set up shop in the grounds on selected evenings. Generally, the usual sort of fast food stuff. The park here though has tied up the local South African food truck, in national colours, with some quite tasty pre and post diner nibbles. Especially, the samosas.
We had a short drive around the Burnett Heads area, this is where Bundaberg’s river meets the sea. An old area undergoing redevelopment, some nice houses along the sea front.
We have also had some in camp excitement with a python devouring a possum one evening next to our campsite. Could have trod on it when wandering off to the bathroom. It was not a big python, but it still cleaned the possum up quite quickly and then slipped away to digest it.
The sea here is supposed to be free of those jelly fish threats to life of more northern waters, so Allthego decided to go off and have a swim in the surf. Although they have been found further south on the inside of Fraser Island. Surf is a loose term as it was very gentle, the water lukewarm. A northerly was blowing , whipping the sea up a bit and as everyone knows brings in the blue bottles. A stray one latched onto Allthego causing some agitation.
Allthego, with the usual display of stoicism, made a quick return to camp for ice relief and some sympathy. Good as gold after an hour or two. I trust my readers will excuse the photo, just wanted it for the record! Things come in threes: brakes, snakes and blue bottles.
We are now back in Brisbane having stopped overnight at a free camp, near Gunalda, north of Gympie. Got to get the maps out now to see where we might be off to next. We have learnt one thing though on this trip, going north in February can be a little warm. Best we reckon to wait till towards the end of March or early April when things cool off .
Have had three nights at Clairview, succumbing to the van’s air conditioning at night to get a good sleep. Rather hot and humid here beside the sea, even with the sea breeze. Not a lot to do either, besides sitting and looking out through the trees and coconut palms watching the tide come in and out across the sand banks and also warding off the midges as the sun sets.
Clairview overlooks a shallow bay that is home to a large population of dugongs and we had hoped to see some up close. If conditions are favourable they can sometimes be seen from the shore in pods, a bit like whales. But we didn’t see any. Have to try again some other time.
After leaving Airlie Beach we made good time down to Mackay and headed out to the coal loaders at Hay Point for a gander at all the ships lined up out to sea. Unfortunately, the lookout was closed for some reason and the view from the breakwater was not good, either out to sea or of the port facilities. We continued down the coast road to Sarina Beach. This is another of those places we stayed at on that trip 43 years ago before kids. The motel still there, looking much the same. The view is certainly the same.
Nowhere for a quick late lunch though, so it was back on the road to Sarina. Pulled up there at an old milk bar type place that seemed to have every type of fast food one could want. Unfortunately, we settled for long hot chicken rolls and gravy, Homealone, had mayonnaise. Plus a serve of chips to share. No shortage of chips in these parts! Quite filling, left one with an oozie feeling in the belly which lasted all the way to Clairview and into the evening. An omelette was all that was necessary for dinner that night. Being eggs it was chicken again I suppose. The next night, chicken again! One of Allthego’s chicken and salami skewers, simple salad no chips.
The Barracrab Caravan Park is where we are, semi sardine like along the water front but overall not too bad, there is no one between us and the sea and not many behind. A couple of vap aficionados beside us puffing away, mid late 40s should know better!
Aside from dugongs Clairview is home to a good supply of mud and sand crabs. Barramundi are also supposed to inhabit the creeks. Hence the name of the park, Barracrab. As usual up this way at this time of year the sea can have those unpleasant jellyfish and warnings are aplenty. We didn’t see a barramundi or a crab, except on a crab sandwich at the camp bar. Rather good, lots of crab too!
Time to move on and we are now sitting beside the Calliope River at a free camp, about 10 km north of the Gladstone turnoff. Got here and set up around 3 pm before a vigorous thunderstorm. Now a pleasant drizzle and degrees cooler, no humidity! Why did they call this place Calliope? I don’t know. She was the Greek muse in charge of eloquence and poetry, so very fitting for a blog post!
We have made it to Airlie Beach, known as the Gateway to the Whitsundays. The Whitsundays is an area of the Great Barrier Reef dotted with islands and barely submerged reefs. The area has been inhabited by our indigenous peoples for thousands of years. It got its anglicised name from Captain Cook who cautiously navigated here on his voyage up the coastline in 1770. He came through on Whit Sunday, the 7th after Easter, and so named the area ‘Whitsundays’ (also being the feast day of Pentecost in the Christian calendar). Allthego go didn’t know that and thought he would share it with you. A little more, why ‘Whit’? Google tells me ‘Whit’ is derived from the anglo-Saxon word ‘wit’ meaning ‘understanding’. So, it was the day the disciples were filled with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.
After leaving Cape Hillsborough we dropped into some of the small villages nestled along the coastline to the near north. Basically, they seemed like retirement spots that get a boost during holiday times. We made our way back out to the Bruce Hwy and headed north to Proserpine where the turn off to Airlie is located.
In Airlie we are staying four nights with the Funnells, old friends from Brisbane and Gold Coast days, now residing in the sunny tropics on the side of a steep hill overlooking the town and islands. Nice spot indeed. The van is off by itself in a storage yard at Cannonvale on the Airlie outskirts. Solar keeping the fridge running along ok.
We have enjoyed our time here, wandering through the town and some drives into the surrounding countryside. Very green place, sugar cane everywhere. Great views from the top of the steep hills out over the coastline to the islands. Gives one an appreciation of how they are all so close together separated by narrow channels.
While out we stopped for a light lunch at Whitsunday Gold, a local coffee plantation. Also home to a great variety of caged birds of all sorts, they are nicely caged and cared for of course. Nearby the Proserpine Museum has interesting memorabilia from the old days. Good variety of stuff and not a mental overload to get through!
Sailing is big up here, yachts and boats of all shapes and sizes. Mark F has joined a local sailing group and is out Wednesday afternoons for the local sailing club race. We had a nice meal back at the clubhouse among the after race celebrations.
Cruise ships are well and truly back, three were in port on different days, emptying their passengers into the streets and excursions to the reef. Pacific Encounter, the ship we took to Melbourne for the 2022 cup, among them. It is now adorned with a big water slide and walkway that overhangs the side. Not into ships with water slides!
The vagaries of the coastal weather have also been experienced. Sun to cloud to cloud bursts and more extensive rainy white washouts of the view from the unit balcony.
The time has come to move on though and commence the return trip south back to Brisbane. Picked the van up from storage all ok and are headed for Clairview and maybe some dugong sightings.
We have moved on from Mackay and find ourselves at the Cape, about 60km north of Mackay. Like Eungella we were here some 43 years ago. It was somewhat different back then when we camped in a small tent among the trees just off the beachfront. There is a swimming pool here now, no need to dodge the various jellyfish dangers in the ocean at this time of year. Our van site overlooks the tent sites where we camped all those years ago. The tent sites today are almost palatial compared to when we did it, some have power and water.
Being a weekend the park was pretty full up, not only with Mackay locals but also quite a few Europeans out in their vans touring the country. The Cape is a big attraction for them because of the famous early morning beach and rock roaming kangaroos. Allthego dropped down one morning at 5.30am and there were about 5 kangaroos, 12 brush turkeys and 100 tourists all trying to get a look and photo op. All this supervised by one park ranger. Later in the day the kangaroos lay day under the trees and hopped around from time to time.
We have basically sat around the van enjoying the sea breeze and cooler temperatures. Allthego wandered off on a walk out across the causeway at low tide to Wedge Island. On the full tide the causeway is completely submerged, 43 years has seen no change there or in the general beach set up.
Another walk takes you to the top of the ridge behind the campground and out to Point Alexander with views back down to the beach and along the coast.
A plunge in the pool was a welcome relief upon the return to camp.
In tune with the reliving of the old days Allthego and Homealone have locked horns on a couple of occasions over a game of Squatter, the old sheep farming game that everyone played back in the 50 /60/70s.
Allthego thinks the game has changed a bit, you now get bonuses for having environmentally favourable and sustainable farming practices. In the original game Allthego thinks you got bonuses for land clearing, maximum stocking ratios etc. Times change. After two rounds, Homealone is still searching for that elusive combination of sound financial planning and farming luck. There will be another opportunity for her on the run back to Brisbane.
We now move on to Airlie Beach where will be storing the van for a few nights and taking up lodgings with our old friends the Funnells who moved there 15 months or so ago.
Here we are in Mackay and it is hot. We are at the Discovery Park in North Mackay not far from the Marina. Not much shade and little breeze. Good excuse to get out in the car and have a drive around in the air conditioning. This is what we have done over the past couple of days.
Coming down from Eungella we stopped off in Marian, the Mackay Sugar Mill is here, and had morning tea at Melba House. In this cottage, Dame Nellie Melba lived for about 8 months before she up and left her husband; took their son with her. Nellie was Australia’s first world renowned opera singer, late 1800s early 1900s. She spent most of her time in London and Paris, didn’t think us Aussies appreciated her. Well, we now do because she is on, or was on, our $100 note. Not sure because I haven’t seen one for a long time. Anyway the Marian locals really work the 8 month connection in this old plantation house, one small room dedicated to Nellie and the rest crammed with craft works and souvenirs for sale, plus the coffee shop.
On our previous journeys up and down the coast we have never stopped in at Mackay, it seems to be that sort of distance between stops that allows one to amble by on the way elsewhere. Missing its delights. Mackay is a small city spread out on the flood plain of the Pioneer River and bordered by cane fields in almost every direction. Sugar cane was the reason for its foundation in the 19th century. It was also the main ‘beneficiary’ of the organised ‘black birding’ of south sea islanders to work for little reward on the plantations, Australia’s little known slave trade. The city has a large south sea islander descendent population. Many in the town are engaged in the coal mining industry. If the boats tied up in the marina are any indication the town is prosperous.
Although the CBD area was very quiet, with numerous empty shop fronts. Seems that there is some rejuvenation going on with big box type places, such as Bunnings, Harvey Norman, Caneland Shopping Centre etc setting up on the city’s fringe perhaps killing off the small old time family retailers and CBD stores.
Not a lot of people around, maybe inside out of the heat instead of wandering around looking at old buildings and gardens.
Had a great plate of fish n chips at the pub perched on the headland at Eimeo. One could look out over the Coral Sea and see many of the islands just off the coast. Also 30 plus coal ships at anchor awaiting loads of coal at the Hay Point terminal to the south of Mackay. The fish n chips lasted on board well into the evening, only needed some crackers for dinner.
After lunch we dropped in at Blacks Beach for a wander on the sand, one sensed it was low tide, it was a long way to the water. Allthego not tempted to have a swim.
On our last day we were looking for a light lunch and not wanting a repeat fish n chips experience, like out at the pub at Eimeo. Settled for a prawn pizza to share at the Lighthouse Hotel at the Marina. Hit the spot and Allthego is going to add it to his menu at home. Prawn, avocado, spring onion and roasted garlic cloves. Excellent.
Our campground has one redeeming feature, a really nice swimming pool to cool off in at the end of the day. And that is where we ended up before dinner.
Our next stop is Cape Hillsborough NP about 60 km north.
We have learnt how to pronounce Eungella. It seems you don’t worry about the ‘e’s. Others prefer ‘Young-gah -lah’. Eungella is 500m up in the hinterland behind Mackay in the Clark Ranges, 700m above sea level. At the end of the Pioneer Valley there is a very steep winding road up to the top. Currently, one way only with a stop light at the bottom and top to control the traffic. Lengthy wait. Recent land slips are being rectified. Once at the top there are great views looking back down the valley.
Eungella means ‘land of the cloud’, we had 3 nights in the National Park beside Broken River. There always seemed to be mist and low cloud about, particularly in the mornings. It was damp also, being one of the wettest places in Queensland. We were last here nearly 44 years ago, before kids.
We have come again to see a platypus or two. The place is famous for them. Homealone, finds the camp ground familiar and recalls walking down to the river from our tent to have a look for a platypus. We saw one back then. But this time it was more than one and over the 3 days there were many great sightings of the little fellows splashing around.
The bird life was also prolific. The Eastern Yellow Robin was very friendly around the camp and a lone Azure Kingfisher a regular visitor.
Much cooler too and less humid, light blanket was needed at night. Allthego went off on a couple of rainforest walks while Homealone rested at camp with some craft catchup.
Wandering in rainforests in summer requires one to keep eyes open along the track, Joe Blakes can be out and about. Sure enough one was lying along the track, a suspected green tree snake of some sort. Allthego doesn’t really care what snake it is and prefers to let them slither off of their own accord. This approach was applied again and green Joe slid away.
Back in camp it was pack up time to return to the low lands and warmer weather. One of the interesting things about our stopover at Broken River was that we were camped up with three couples from the Netherlands, one of which had two small children, on extended tours of Australia in Maui Campervans headed for all parts before going home. They were all enjoying their trip greatly and said we (Aussies) had a great country and we’re very friendly people. Something we should remember!
Mackay is the next stop for a couple of days in the big smoke.
Leaving Duraringa we did a quick sweep of the town’s historical buildings trail. As with a lot of these trails in small rural towns most of the buildings are long gone and what we have is a vacant block of land with a fading photo or artist’s drawing on a plaque showing what the spot looked like in the 1880s. This is the case with Duaringa’s trail except there are a couple of buildings left, including the old cinema. It is now for sale with the old shop beside it! A bargain renovators delight, what ghosts wander these walls?
We resist the temptation and head for Nebo, this is a longish drive through mostly grazing country and scrub. The Nebo campground is a welcome stopover for a couple of nights. The historic Nebo Hotel is here of course, beside Nebo Creek.
It is a popular watering hole for the locals. The hotel has its own miner’s camp out the back and they are regular patrons it seems. We managed to get a seat next to a local family birthday party gathering of about 20 people. Allthego partook of a seafood basket, which was a little disappointing. It seemed like a big plate of breadcrumbs with tails and fins sticking out among the chips.
Homealone, had some poisonous looking chicken Kiev, quite tasty but plenty of it. There was no compelling reason to go back the next night!
Nebo’s main attraction is about 35k out of town at Mt Britton. This is where there was, in the late 1880/90s, a thriving township of 1500 people. It was a short lived gold town. There is nothing there now except for skeletons of a couple of buildings and a few pieces of old machinery.
The Council has laid out its streetscape, with some plaques and those old photos. It is an attractive spot surrounded by the mountains, perhaps volcanic remnants. There would be plenty of ghosts wandering around here at night. Prospectors still frequent the area and there are a couple of camp set ups in the hills near the old gold mine. The town only lasted about 5 years before the gold ran out and people abandoned the place.
Next morning we were back on the road headed for Mirani, in the Pioneer Valley west of Mackay. A short trip of about 80 km. We had lunch at another famous hotel. The Pinnacle Hotel claims to be world famous for its meat pies, chips and gravy. Allthego, suspects this is true after testing the steak, bacon and mushroom version. One could come again!
We had stopped at the hotel on the way for an afternoon walk at Finch Hatton Gorge. The walk was 2.8 km return, a gentle uphill slope with a few steps to navigate. It was hot and humid though and a bit energy sapping. Allthego felt the pie moving around.
At the end was the promise of a dip in the swimming pool, aka rock pool at the base of waterfalls. Navigating an entry to the pool was a little tricky, we were also warned by plentiful signs not to dive in off the cliff walls. There have been a number of deaths.
Water was a little chilly on entry but once in it was cool and refreshing. The walk back to the car was downhill, with the sun lower in the sky it was also cooler.
We next head higher up into the hills to Eungella NP to try to see some platypus.
We have now made it to Duaringa, a small village more or less midway between Rockhampton and Emerald on the Capricorn Hwy. We stayed here in the McKenzie Park free camp a few years ago, much the same today. Still like a donation of $10 which is quite ok, nice setting and good facilities. Since leaving Theodore we have tracked the Dawson River as it flows north, nearby it joins the McKenzie River and so becomes the Fitzroy River.
After Theodore we had a night in Moura, beside the Dawson. This is where Mouraites cut loose on the river in their power boats. Some more sedately than others. As soon as the sun sets they head off and it is a very peaceful spot. Moura is where there were three major coal mine disasters in the 1980s early 90s, some 36 miners died in the events. The old Moura mines are now known as the Dawson mines. In the centre of town there is a memorial to each of the lives lost in the disasters, as well a good number of ones off deaths over the years down and around the mine areas. A stark reminder of the danger ever present in underground mines. All mining these days in the Dawson mines is above ground. Nearby the memorial is the water tower mural.
Leaving Moura for Biloela, we stopped in at the miner’s memorial garden near one of the coal mines. Quite impressive little spot, nearby the mining rumbles on. Quite a hole in the ground and footprint on the environment. It seems these things will go like the dinosaurs in the years ahead, replaced by mighty wind farms and solar arrays.
Biloela is a larger town and has more than ‘one of everything’. Stayed here a couple of nights in the Discovery Caravan Park, aka miner’s camp. Enough said about this place, except that the pool was very welcome. Allthego had a couple of cooling off plunges in the late afternoon.
More coal mining here in the nearby Callide Valley, and there is the associated power station that supplies a significant proportion of Queensland’s grid. Big place! The town’s water tank also has the now required mural. A little different in that it tells the area’s history from the perspective of women.
So, we have moved on and are sitting under the awning at Duaringa as rain patters down. Some dark skies earlier as the storm approached. The flocks of corellas, galahs and sulphur crested cockatoos got quite exited.
Next stop is Nebo.
Theodore is a small town, about 500 people. It seems to be just big enough to have one of the things you need. There is one service station, one newsagent, one cafe, one pub, one of those old regional department stores (this one has been owned by the same family since it was established in 1924), one supermarket, one post office, one gym, one laundromat, one historical museum (thank goodness!) and one camping ground at the local Show Grounds.No bakery and of course NO BANK. Happy hunting ground for the ACCC! The only area where there is any competition is in churches; RCs, Anglicans and Lutherans as well as a Pentecostal mob.
Theodore sits on a wedge of land between the Dawson River and one of its tributaries, Castle Creek. So, it has had a lot of floods over the years. It is a big irrigation area, canals running everywhere. Cotton and grains are the big crops. And coal is also big around these parts.
Allthego wants to fill you in though on the three unusual, unique or just plain different things in the Theodore area.
Firstly, there is the Post Office and apart from selling all the usual bits and pieces it also sells fresh fruit and vegetables, diversification for you!
Then there is the Dawson River. It is unusual, it flows in a different direction to that of its tributary, Castle Creek. It flows backwards against the waters entering it from Castle Creek, rather than merging and flowing together in the same direction. Hope you follow! It seems this is because some time ago the Dawson River changed its direction of flow, due to land movement. Today, the Dawson River ends up in the Fitzroy River and empties into the Pacific out from Rockhampton. Back in the very old days, when it flowed the other way, it would have been further south near Bundaberg, or perhaps not at all. Instead, heading south west and joining the Murray Darling system.
There, how is that for unusual.
The last thing that is a bit unique, at least for Queensland, is that the Theodore Hotel is owned by the towns folk, via a cooperative arrangement. It was established in 1949 and remains a cooperative today. The only one in Queensland. We had a burger there for lunch, not bad. It had carrot and beetroot, unusual these days.
Theodore is also the spot from which you can head out to the western end of Isla Gorge NP. This is about a 95 km round trip and somewhat remote. But out there is a piece of Queensland colonial history and so is a must do spot for nomads onthego to visit.
It was out here that a 150 metre section of the road, track perhaps a better word, that linked Roma to the port at Rockhampton was constructed in 1863. In the steepest part of the section up the Dawson Range the track was paved with stone, it took the stonemasons 6 weeks. Must have been a back breaking task. Wagons of wool were dragged up the section by teams of 20 bullocks. The stone paved road is still there today, a little eroded. Amazing piece of engineering for the time. It was last used around 1930 when a toll road at Toowoomba was opened that allowed wool to go to the Port of Brisbane instead.
Allthego has waxed on here too long and needs to finish off. But before doing so he recalls that when we had dinner at the hotel in Cracow, chips were not available, you could have mash or potato bake. They hadn’t been able to get chips in for a month! So, Homealone has had a creative surge and penned a ditti on the subject and I leave you with it until next time. It is sung to the famous old tune ‘A Pub with no Beer’.
“It’s a good get away on the caravan trail
The campers head off for a local pub ale
Reading the menu and licking their lips
Only to find, the pubs got no chips!”
Off to Airlie Beach
We have today set off for Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays,getting away from Brisbane at 8am; somewhat earlier than usual. The route has taken us up through the Brisbane Valley, past Esk and Nanango to Gayndah. We are in a free camp beside the river. Thankfully, in the shade and 42C. It has now dawned on us why we don’t usually go touring north in summer. Thunderstorm expected this afternoon.
On the way we couldn’t resist stopping at the Fernvale bakery for breakfast. Allthego was into a tasty bacon and egg sandwich, Homealone a ham and cheese croissant. It was tempting to use this trip to find out where the best bacon and egg sandwiches can be found. This was quickly rethought.
We had originally planned to stop short of Gayndah at a place called Ban Ban Springs, a special place for the Wakka Wakka people. Apparently, a dream time spot where the Rainbow Serpent surfaced. The free camp area was a little barren with little shade so we moved on.
Tomorrow we head a little further north to the old gold mining centre of Cracow, only the pub remains and some mining relics.