I had the opportunity to spend an extra couple of weeks in Cairns thanks to the generosity of a Lion I met at the Mareeba Convention in early October. With the combination of a Home Hill Lion allowing me to house my bus, I took the opportunity to sample The Sprit of Queensland, the daily rail service that operates between Brisbane and Cairns. I had forgotten how good rail travel can be and the Queensland Government do it exceptionally well with this service. It is affordable and very relaxing. Travelling on my own as I do, having the luxury of staring out the window without having to avert my eyes back to the road every few seconds was wonderful. Far North Queensland has some amazing scenery and the windows on the train were large and clean and the seats very comfortable with more than ample legroom.
It was an eight hour trip from Home Hill to Cairns with plenty of changing scenery to keep me occupied. I packed a lot into the time I was in Cairns. Had a drive out to Yarrabah, an Indigenous Community about half an hour out of Cairns. It is situated on the south side of Trinity Bay and is an idyllic part of the coast. I also spent a day along the northern beaches, including Thala Beach Nature Reserve, the beautiful Kewarra Beach and Palm Cove. The beaches along this part of the coast are stunning. There are stinger nets at many of the beaches but with a mix of stingers and crocodiles always in the back of your mind I didn’t venture into the water at all.
A visit to Gordonvale Museum, about 20km south of Cairns was a worthwhile stop as was a visit further south to Josephine Falls. On my trip past this area in Rhonda I had chosen not to stop here as I had Wallerman Falls as a higher priority but I am glad I had the opportunity to see Josephine Falls. They are easily accessible and not very far off the Bruce Highway. There are 3 different viewing platforms (lookouts) at various levels, with swimming available at the lowest level. They are very picturesque. Also went to the Golden Hole nearby at Biggs Recreational Reserve on the Russell River but the March flies won the battle there. This area is at the foot of Queensland’s highest mountain, Mount Bartle Frere which has an elevation of 1,611 metres. It is part of the Bellenden Ker Range and is entirely covered by rainforest. The summit is rarely able to be seen from below due to cloud cover.
When I was up on the Atherton Tablelands last month I visited Herberton but not the nearby town of Ravenshoe so this time I paid a visit here. With a population of less than 1,000, it sits at an elevation of 930 metres, making Ravenshoe the highest town in Queensland. It also claims fame to the highest pub in Queensland so couldn’t resist a beer at the Ravenshoe Hotel. Nearby is Mount Hypipamee National Park which houses The Crater and Dinner Falls. The crater is a huge diatreme. For those that can’t be bothered googling “diatreme”, it is a volcanic pipe formed by gaseous explosion. The Crater is 61 metres in diameter and 82 metres deep. The water surface is covered in duck weed so looks like a horrible green soup. The nearby Dinner Falls is at the head of the Barron River Gorge. This small waterfall is at the start of the Barron River which at 165km long, feeds into Lake Tinaroo and eventually empties into the Coral Sea near Smithfield, north of Cairns.
140km west of Mareeba along the Burke Development Road is the old mining town of Chillagoe. Once a thriving mining town of a range of minerals it now has a population in the vicinity of 200 persons. I found the locals very friendly here and met some great characters. Nowadays the town is reduced to a small zinc mine and some marble quarries. It survives on Tourism as there are some 600 to 1,000 caves in the area. There are 3 main caves open to the public with guided tours. These are the Donna, Trezkinn and Royal Arch caves. We did all 3 limestone caves and all were very different to each other and each spectacular. The first 2 were lit by natural (white) lights while in Royal Arch we were given headlamps to explore with. This gave it a very personal experience of exploring and our guide Steve, a local Indigenous man, was very personable and knowledgeable. There are also other self guided caves available in the area to explore. At less than $50 for a 3 cave tour it was exceptional value for money and I would recommend doing all 3 caves. Many just do the first one and then leave town. The caves didn’t have the crass commercialism that I remember the Yellingup/Margaret River caves in South West Western Australia having.
On the outskirts of Chillagoe are the heritage listed Chillagoe Smelters. The smelters operated from 1901 until 1943 under the control of the State Government and provided work for up to 1,000 men. During it’s 40 year lifetime the smelter treated thousands of tonnes of ore, copper, lead, silver and gold. The slag dump is the largest remaining in Queensland.
I really enjoyed my trip out to Chillagoe. It’s not a place I would choose to live in myself but the limestone caves, together with the character of the town and the townspeople made it an appealing place to visit.
I was also able to attend a combined meeting of the Cairns Host Lions Club and the newly formed Cairns Marlin Coast Lions Club. It was held at the Rydges Hotel in Cairns and they had a guest speaker, Leichardt Federal MP Warren Entsch. Having first been elected to Parliament in 1996, he is a larger than life character who has had an interesting life including as a crocodile farmer and bull catcher amongst other interesting occupations. I also attended a Lions Zone social day of Ten Pin Bowling. Not only was I on the overall winning team of the day, I also picked up the prize for highest average score for a male. Not bad for someone that hasn’t bowled for probably 10 years. It was a fun day and made some new friends.
Mahjong was never a game I took much interest in but I had the opportunity to learn the rules and after quickly picking up the basics I attended a few “mah-jong mornings” at a local PCYC Centre and also at a local café. Made some more friends here and am now on the lookout to buy a set of my own. I am sure there are other travellers out there that play Mahjong.
Being shown around an unfamiliar place by a local enabled me to see and experience places that I would be totally unaware of under normal circumstances. There is much to be said for “local knowledge” as a traveller but it is the people we meet along the way that truly enrich our lives and make travel such a wonderful experience.