About 40km north of Charters Towers is Fletcher Creek. It is a popular camp site with Grey Nomads and families alike. Being school holiday time there were a lot of families there. Either side of the main road along the creek is huge areas for camping. I reckon there were at least 60 to 80 vans, motorhomes and camper trailers there. It was a good place to spend a couple of days.
Mount Surprise was, well, a surprise! You sort of expect the town to take its name from one of the volcanic mountains in the area but no, the town was actually named after an event. Pioneer and first settler Ezra Firth in 1864 so named it after arriving and the local indigenous tribe were surprised in the middle of a feast by the rattle of his dray on the basalt and the sight of white people. They subsequently fled into the scrub.
The railway precinct in town is worth a wander around with its open museum. The area is kept in pristine condition. The station still hosts The Savannahlander Train on it’s weekly trip to Forsayth. Although only a tiny town, it has 3 caravan parks and I chose the middle one which had a complete coverage of grass thanks to the permanent water table below ground. Russell, the sole owner and chef does a nightly special of grilled barramundi, chips and salad for $25. It was the best barramundi that I have ever tasted. He said he gets it from a mate who is a professional fisherman at Karumba. His hamburgers were also excellent.
The main attraction is the nearby Undara Lava Tubes. The $60 2 hour guided tour was a highlight. They have accommodation and camping on site which is about 50km from town. With Covid19 restrictions easing and being school holidays it was very busy and getting on a tour took a few days but it was worth the wait. I have seen a number of caves over the years but this one is a bit different as it was formed through the flow of lava from the many volcanos in the area. There is also a volcano crater nearby that you can climb up to and walk around the rim. Cobalt Gorge is a popular tourist destination about 130km from Mount Surprise but I was advised the road was pretty rough in places so decided not to go there.
Heading west out of Mount Surprise is a turnoff to the south to Einsleigh and Copper Gorge. It is well worth the 45km good dirt road detour. The Einsleigh Hotel is an iconic pub in FNQ and a beer – albeit ginger for me at 11am – is a must. The new Lessee had just taken over the pub a few days earlier. He was wanting a change from his life managing cattle stations. The town has a race meeting over Easter (not this year) that rivals Birdsville. With an airfield right next to the track, people fly in from all over the country. Across the road from the pub is Copper Gorge. I would imagine it is a popular swimming hole at the right time of the year.
Halfway between Mount Surprise and Georgetown I had a front drivers side tyre blowout. Because of a ridge I couldn’t get completely off the road but far enough to be relatively safe. Unfortunately there was no phone reception there so had to get a lift into Georgetown to call my roadside assistance. Thanks to a misunderstanding on my suppliers part, it was 4 hours later before the tyre was changed and I was able to drive into town just on dark. Of course Georgetown Tyres didn’t stock my size tyres so had to wait 3 days before a couple of tyres arrived up from Cairns. The caravan park I booked into was quite nice with brand new amenities.
Georgetown Information Centre also houses a gem and rock display to rival any in the country. Over 4,500 specimens of every conceivable type of rock or precious metal. There is also a Peace Garden at the rear of the premises and the lookout at the town water supply tanks is worth a visit.
As I didn’t get going until mid afternoon, I stopped the next night at Gilbert River. No facilities and very dry and dusty with about 3 or 4 others there that night.
Next stop was Croydon. Another goldmining town from yesteryear. Quite a bit of history in the walk around town. It is always good to see towns that have restored their old historical buildings. I also went out to the town cemetery as I often do in the towns I visit. This one had a number of graves dating back to the 1880’s and ’90’s. It also had a number of Chinese graves which was unusual for the time as many were returned to their homeland.