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City Profile : Mackay

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Our visit to Mackay was unfortunately brief but we believe we managed to see most of what the city had to offer, as well as the surrounding attractions.  We spent the morning to the west, exploring Eungella National Park before seeing the sights in Mackay and admiring their beautiful art deco buildings.  We then ventured south to Sarina to check out the Big Cane Toad before heading inland towards the Central Highlands.

 

Mackay sits on the Pioneer River about 970km north of Brisbane.  It’s considered to be the sugar capital of Australia because the region produces more than a third of Australia’s sugar cane, but the same can be said for the Burdekin Shire.  The city was named after John Mackay, who led an expedition through the valley in 1860.  Since then, Mackay has been hit with destructive cyclones, the deadly Bubonic plague, and severe flooding.  These days, its economy is based on coal mining, sugar cane and tourism, as it’s close to the Whitsundays, the Great Barrier Reef and Eungella National Park.

 

Things To See And Do

Bluewater Lagoon

This was our first stop in Mackay.  A free, three tiered swimming pool with a slide, BBQ facilities and no jelly fish.  It’s also the perfect opportunity to have a shower and clean up.

 

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Queens Park

We had a quick stroll through Queens Park, and watched a few kookaburras terrorise a sun bird.  Because it was the weekend, their Orchid House was closed, but we managed to peep through the cracks.

 

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Mackay Marina Village

Just north of the city is the Marina Village, a district with residential blocks, restaurants, cafes and pubs, as well as the Pine Islet Lighthouse.  This little kerosene lighthouse was constructed in 1885 and was operational for a hundred years in the Pine Isles. It was the last kerosene lighthouse to operate in Australia.

 

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Sarina

About 30 minutes south of Mackay is Sarina, a small town with a sugar mill and the Big Cane Toad.  This is one of the ugliest Big Things we have come across, and it sits right in the middle of the main street.

 

Eungella National Park & Finch Hatton Gorge

West from Mackay, the road passes through Marian and Mirani.  The Melba House in Marian is home to the visitor information centre, and was also the home of acclaimed opera singer Dame Nellie Melba (for one year in 1883).  We drove through on a Sunday and both towns were holding markets.  We stopped to see the local wares and scored a few fishing lures for cheap.

 

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By the time we completed the steep climb to Eungella, it was midday and we knew there was no chance of spotting a platypus, but we made the most of our time anyway.  Markets were on in Eungella town and after sampling some bliss balls and visiting the lookout, we went to check out the national park.

 

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Camping is available there, which is great if you want to catch the platypussies frolicking in the calm waters of the Broken River in the early hours of dawn or in the late afternoon.

 

On our way back to Mackay, we stopped by Finch-Hatton Gorge for a refreshing swim.  Unfortuantely, after the 1.4km walk to Araluen Falls, we discovered that the water was a little too refreshing.  Nobody likes getting their eyes poked out…

 

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Big Things : The Big Cane Toad, Sarina QLD

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The Big Cane Toad in Sarina, which is affectionately called Buffy, was built in 1983 out of Papier Mache for a float that participated in the Apex Sugar Festival Parade.  The toad was eventually set in fibreglass and now sits in the centre of town.  We reckon this might be the ugliest Big Thing we’ve seen!

 

The cane toad is an amphibian that was introduced to Australia in 1935 to control pest insects that were affecting the sugar cane industry.  As it turned out, the can toads were more interested in reproducing at a prolific rate than eating the pests, so by 1941, they had become a massive problem.  Their scientific name used to be bufo marinus, hence the name Buffy, but it has since changed to rhinella marina.

 

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Cape York

Experience : Cape York – Part 2

For Experience : Cape York – Part 1 – click here!

 

Bamaga Tavern

 

Day 5

Bamaga

We completed the rest of the 5 Beaches Track and made our way back to Bamaga.  When we took the Troopy out of 4WD, Dave noticed that one of the front spring mounts had snapped. Afraid that the other mount would snap too, we crawled to Bamaga and went straight to the wreckers.  A new mount was an easy $10 and Dave installed it in about 30 minutes.  We then met an inquisitive local named Mark, who worked in one of the aboriginal communities and was interested in hearing about Our Naked Australia.

 

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It was about lunchtime so we lingered around the Bamaga Tavern for a drink and a meal at the northernmost pub in Australia.

 

Seisia

To be honest, there isn’t much to see other than the wharf and jetty.  Fishermen of various ages were trying their luck with the massive schools of fish hanging about below the surface of the water.  One man was even spear fishing.

 

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DC3 Plane Crash Site

On the 5th of May 1945, a DC-3 VH-CXD aircraft that was operated by the RAAF, was flying from Brisbane to Port Moresby to deliver meat to troops.  It needed to refuel in Bamaga but due to foggy conditions, it clipped some trees and crashed about 3km short of its target.  All on board perished.

 

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If you have a chance to swing past and see this crash site, then definitely do.

 

Muttee Head

This was a great place to camp.  It’s right next to the beach, the camping permit is included with the ferry pass, and the sweet scent of fig trees perfumed the breeze.  It looked like someone thought it was a great place to live because there was a campsite with a makeshift sink and little garden.  Perhaps a recent bushfire had chased the beachside hermit away.

 

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Day 6

In the morning, we headed straight to the Jardine Ferry, but the ferryman hadn’t turned up yet.  It was still early so we hung around for 45 minutes with a bunch of other people waiting for the ferry to open.  The guy eventually turned up at 8:15am and got to work straight away.

 

Old Telegraph Track

Today we would complete the northern portion of the OTT, but because the road was closed from the Jardine River, we had to travel a few clicks before finding the side track in.  We checked out Eliot Falls, Twin Falls and Fruit Bat Falls, did a nerve-wrecking water crossing, and headed back to the southern portion of the OTT.  The Jardine Ferry ticket included camping at Bertie Creek so that’s where we spent the rest of the afternoon.

 

 

Day 7

After a quick wash in Bertie Creek, we decided to continue down the OTT instead of taking the Gunshot Bypass back to the main road. We usually avoid back tracking but we liked the OTT so much the first time, we were happy to do it again.

 

After a brief stop at Bramwell Junction Roadhouse to pump up the tyres and stock up on some more water, we went to Moreton Telegraph Station to book our campsite for that night in Iron Range National Park.  The lady at the station was really helpful and told us that Telstra customers can get a few bars of reception at Chilli Beach – if we wanted, we could book our site once we checked out the campgrounds.

 

Frenchmans Track

We took Frenchmans Track into Iron Range National Park, and found the track to be thoroughly unpleasant.  It alternated between unavoidable corrugations, soft sand and the occasional creek crossings.

 

 

There are two rivers that intersect with Frenchmans – Wenlock Crossing is fairly easy to navigate through but watch out for Pascoe Crossing.  It’s steep and rocky and you’ll definitely need a high-clearance 4WD vehicle to get through.  Unfortunately, the Troopy got hung up on a rock and while trying to get free, the brake booster blew.  Highly inconvenient – Dave had only one shot at guiding the Troopy down the steep rocky path into the river and he did a bloody good job.

 

The great views that followed the Pascoe Crossing were besmirched by the brake booster busting.  And to make matters worse, our water goon bag had bounced around in the back and tore on a bracket holding the curtains in place.  We dealt with the goon, ate a banana to cheer us up, and made an effort to appreciate our surroundings before continuing on.

 

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Kutini-Payamu (Iron Range) National Park

Once off the Frenchmans Track, we followed the tarmac road through the ranges to suddenly be surrounded by rainforest.  We even saw a cassowary hurry off into the bushes!  The road alternated between paved and gravel road, and the rain made it easy for Dave to see pot holes.  The smell of the forest was wonderful, and we were amazed at how thick the foliage was.

 

There are two camping areas in Iron Range.  The rainforest campsites are nice and shaded right amongst the rainforest, but Cooks Hut is the only site that forbids generators.  It’s a large communal clearing with picnic benches and toilets.  Chilli Beach is the other camping area.  While reception is available on the beach, you can actually pick up a signal from the highroad on the way in.  This is where we made our first Queensland campsite booking.  The guy on the other end was really friendly, but we still have to wonder whether this micromanagement of parkland campsites is really the way to go.

 

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Chilli Beach

The sun had set by the time we got to our designated camping spot.  Dave was so frazzled from the day that when he opened the back of the Troopy to find that the goon water had leaked all over the bed, he refused to have anything to do with it and sat down to relax.

 

Juz sorted out the wet sheets and cooked a quick dinner of chicken and broccoli on rice cakes.  We both felt a lot better after a meal so we went to the adjacent campsite and met our neighbours.  Palm Cove locals, Symon & Robyne were holidaying with their kids and while we were on our way south, they were heading to the Tip.  We shared tips, exchanged details, and agreed that it would be good to meet up for a drink once we got to Palm Cove.

 

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Day 8

Juz crawled out of the Troopy in time to catch the sunrise on Chilli Beach.  After 4 days of overcast skies, the sun was finally out.  Eventually Dave woke up too and we went for a walk along the beach, picking up shells, spotting beached jellyfish and terrorising coconuts that were still hanging from the tree.   We also did the short forest walk behind the campgrounds and spotted lizards and butterflies amongst the undergrowth.

 

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Portland Roads

A short drive from Chilli Beach is Portland Roads, a cute little seaside spot with a few holiday houses and the Out of the Blue Café.  If you’re in the vicinity, stop by and get some seafood and chips – amazing!  We were also lucky enough to walk away with a big soursop fruit from the garden, compliments of the chef.

 

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Lockart River

If you need fuel, go to the local aboriginal community of Lockhart River.  It’s only $1.89 for diesel but remember – no photos while in the community. There isn’t much to photograph there anyway.

 

On the way out of Iron Range, we noticed rising smoke in the distance.  A bushfire was slowly burning through the dry scrub, and Juz told Dave to drive faster because the heat was too intense.

 

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Archer River Roadhouse

This was the last stop before the Quarantine checkpoint so we ate the entire soursop fruit for an afternoon snack.  Turns out, the quarantine checkpoint was closed anyway, but no matter – the fruit was delicious.  It was green and prickly on the outside with white flesh full of big black seeds like watermelon but five times bigger.  The flesh is stringy like pineapple or mango, and the flavour is slightly tart/sour.

 

Back in Coen

We got back to Coen just before dinnertime and had two long-awaited drinks at the SExchange.  We spend the night at the Bend again, and it was wonderful to have a wash in the fresh, croc-free water.

 

Day 9

We had another morning wash in the river before heading out to Lakefield National Park.  It was going to be a short day of driving because of the shot brake booster and poor quality fuel, so after swinging past Lotusbird Lodge, gazing at the flowers at Red Lily Lagoon and spying a kookaburra at White Lily Lagoon, we got to Kalpowar Crossing and relaxed.

 

 

Because of the croc-infested river, we had a cold shower in the toilet block and spent the rest of the afternoon reading.  Once the sun went down, we noticed that the ground was moving and found tiny little frogs everywhere… as well as big ugly cane toads.

 

Day 10

Because we didn’t have a boat for fishing on the river, there was nothing else to do at Kalpowar so we set off early for Cooktown.  This would be the final destination of our Cape York adventure, and what was supposed to be a two day stop ended up stretching to 10 days because of an unexpected Helpx invitation.

 

Overall, we enjoyed our time at Cape York.  The two biggest highlights were definitely being at the northern most point of mainland Australia and four-wheel driving along the Old Telegraph Track.

 

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Australia Day Cane Toads!

Wildlife : The Cane Toad

Australia Day Cane Toads!

 

Name: Cane Toad

Scientific name: Bufo marinus

Location: they are found mainly in Queensland but are spreading south into New South Wales and west through the Northern Territory to Western Australia.  There have been sightings as far west as Broome.

 

Australia is the home of four native families of frog.  There is only one ‘frog’ that isn’t native and that’s the pesky cane toad.  Originating from Central and South America, the cane toad was introduced to Australia after the apparent success of beetle control on sugarcane plantations in Puerto Rico.  About 3000 cane toads were introduced in 1935 and another 60,000 in 1937 and while they have spread like a virus, they have been unsuccessful in reducing the number of beetles.  In the meantime, any animals that eat cane toads are poisoned and sometimes die.

 

Fast Facts:

  • Cane toads don’t have any natural predators
  • They will eat pet food if left outside.
  • Cane toads are venomous and excrete a mixture of toxins from the parotoid glands behind the toad’s ears.  Their milky toxin affects heart function.
  • They are a major threat to native animals because of their toxic secretions.
  • Eradication efforts include asking residents to help collect and dispose of them.

 

If you plan on joining a Toad Buster group, it’s important that you don’t get cane toads confused with native frogs.  Cane toads are big and stocky with dry warty skin that can feel like sandpaper.  They have an ugly, bony face with a distinct M shape over their nose, and they don’t have any suckers on their toes.  Their eggs and tadpoles are jet black.

 

The best way to kill a cane toad

There is a lot of argument on how to kill a cane toad because many fight for a humane ‘disposal’.  Here are a few methods that are considered ‘humane’:

  • Putting cane toads into a bag and freezing them overnight before burying them.  When you bury cane toads, make sure you put rocks on them before filling the hole to prevent animals from digging them up.
  • There is a product called HopStop, a spray that kills toads in about an hour.
  • You can also stun and decapitate cane toads, provided that you are confident and experienced in performing this form of execution.
  • Prolonged exposure to carbon dioxide is another method.  Put the toads into a plastic bag and fill it with CO2.

 

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Our Encounter

We first heard about cane toads nearby when we were in Kununurra.  They had a Toad Buster group that would go out and collect cane toads.  While we didn’t participate, as we headed further west, the threat of the toad grew.

 

Juz saw her first cane toad on a night out with some friends in Darwin.  There it was, just hopping across the road.  She approached it for a closer look but it was too dark to see it in any great detail.  The next time she saw one was with Dave on Australia Day.  They were holding cane toad races at the Nightcliff Sports Club and it was the first time we got the opportunity to see one up close.  They are truly ugly creatures.

 

In Katherine, we saw plenty of cane toads – in the national parks and at the caravan park too!

 

A cane toad at Lorella Springs