Leaving Freshwater presented some difficulties. First, as we pulled the caravan out onto the street the power cable pulled out of the back of the car and had to be lengthened (a few days before I had shortened it to what we believed to be the correct length), then, a block from our house-sit we realised we did not have the towing mirrors on and could not remember where we had stowed them. Back we went. The towing mirrors, however, were soon located, installed, and around midday, after five months in Cairns we resumed life on the road.
The route west of Cairns to Mareeba on the Kennedy Highway was, of course, very familiar now. Stopping for lunch in Mareeba made sense, but somehow was a let down as we had only been travelling for an hour. The country west of Mareeba on the Burke Development Road was all new to us and we looked around with interest as we drove up onto the height of land on the Great Dividing Range (just over 500 metres) at the rolling hills, sporadic rock outcrops and eucalpyptus forests. Farmland soon gave way to ranching country. The settlements out this way are small, although Dinbulah, with a few shops and a post office was bigger than I expected. West of Lappa, near the old Mountain Maid Mine, we found a gravel road and pulled off into a camping spot by a small watercourse under eucalpytus trees and went walking along the gravel road as far as the Sunny Mountain Station. The setting sun coloured the forest purple and pink, and, after living in suburbia for five months, the solitude was delightful. Unfortunately, the hand pump, which, unbeknownst to us, had clogged with salt deposits during our stay in Cairns broke.
Next morning, we drove into Chillagoe, population 310, which is spread around a few blocks either side of Queen Street and called in at “The Hub” an information centre with way too much interpretive information. I paid 10 cents for a town map and had to endure the spiel complete with scribbling pen marks (no highlighter!) from the retired gent behind the counter. We pulled into the Chillagoe Tourist Village (CTV) – a reasonable enough caravan park, although “village” might be hyperbolic – had breakfast and made a packed lunch.
West of Chillagoe, on a good gravel road, is the Mungana Section of Chillagoe National Park. Here there are some fairly recent aboriginal paintings under a small overhang and also The Arches cave. Back in the early days of settlement, aborigines who were not working for white land-owners were rounded up and shipped off to either Palm Island or Yarrabah – little wonder a century later there was rioting on Palm Island.
Fig Tree at The Arches
Walking around The Arches cave site – a tall limestone cave that you enter at ground-level and which has many different chambers, most open to the sky with fig trees and satin ash sprouting up – all I could think about was how great it would be to get our Hilti drill out of storage and put up a bunch of climbing routes. The limestone is reminiscent of the Black and Tan Wall at St George in Utah, and supremely grippy.
On the way back to town, we stopped at another big cave by the road side and I identified more new routes. Near town, the old smelter site is a “tourist attraction” complete with “Slag Heap Lookout” - I have a picture to prove it. The view from the old mine Superintendent's home site is actually quite lovely, looking out over the lightly forested Walsh Creek Valley with The Featherbed Range behind.
Slag Heap Lookout
We also drove down to parking area for two “tourist” caves and two “self-explore caves.” Getting into the Bauhinia Cave is via a slippery down climb, and, once down there, you can scramble and crawl around in the dark among some interlocking tunnels and caverns. Pompeii Cave has an easy downclimb to get in and has only a couple of short tunnels. You can walk along to Balancing Rock from the parking lot where there is potential for yet more new routes!
Grippy Chillagoe Limestone
Our second morning in Chillagoe, I drove down to Royal Arches Cave and walked back to CTV via a couple of different trails. Bizarrely enough, the hiking trail between Royal Arches and Balancing Rock was closed due to “wet weather.” Yeah, the grass was wet, what a hazard! I did some bouldering on the way home, but, it was hard to find any bouldering problems that were just the right degree of difficulty. All the ones I did were way too easy.
From Chillagoe, we had to drive right back to Mareeba as we didn't feel confident taking the caravan down the Petford to Herberton Road, particularly after all the recent rain. At Herberton, we tried to find a spot in the bush to camp for free, but the whole area is heavily populated and we ended up at the caravan park in Herberton. In order to prevent any further rain, we put up our new tarp over the door of the caravan, and, no sooner had Doug fixed the broken hand pump, than our water tap broke.