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Towns of the Burdekin : Ayr & Home Hill

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The Burdekin region is located in the dry tropics of northern Queensland and was named by Ludwig Leichhardt after the woman who financed his expedition – Mary Burdekin.  The region considers itself to be the sugar capital of Australia, as it is the largest sugar producing region in Australia and one of the most productive areas in the world.  The 1.3 million tonnes of raw sugar produced by the Burdekin district each season is about one quarter of Australia’s total sugar production.  However, they may have to fight for the title of sugar capital, as Mackay fancies itself to be the epicentre.

 

The main towns in the area are Ayr and Home Hill, and they are separated by the Burdekin River. The Burdekin Bridge that spans the wide river was constructed in 1957 to replace the original low-level bridge that was impassable for much of the wet season because the river can rise by 11 metres.  Also known as the Silver Link, the Burdekin Bridge was constructed over a decade and is 1,103 metres long, making it longer than the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

 

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A popular community event celebrated in the Burdekin Shire is Toad Day Out, which occurs annually on the 29th of March.  It aims to reduce the spread of the dreaded cane toad, an introduced species that is wreaking havoc on our environment.  Toads that are captured are humanely destroyed, with prizes for the heaviest toad and the biggest catch.

 

Ayr

The big brother of the two towns, Ayr was named after a Scottish town and was established in 1883.  The main street of town is fitted with speakers that seem to emit the sounds of the local radio station.   The Queens Hotel in the centre of town offers super cheap meals ($6.90 crumbed steak on Thursdays) and there’s a lovely fountain sculpture outside the Burdekin Theatre.

 

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Near the information centre is Plantation Park, home to a giant carpet python named Gubullamunda.  It’s 60 metres long and was constructed in 2004 to promote indigenous culture.

 

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Home Hill

About 10km south of Ayr on the other side of the Burdekin River is Home Hill.  This little town was established in the early 1900s and was originally called Holme Hilll after a battle in the Crimean War.  Unfortunately, the signwriter wasn’t told how to spell Holme Hill and created a sign that read, ‘Welcome to Home Hill’.  Also, the town is not built on a hill… the closest hill is 10km away.

 

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The Comfort Stop

This is a traveller’s dream!  Hot showers, clean toilets, BBQs and undercover picnic area – all available for free to nomads that are passing through.  If you do stop by in Home Hill and use their facilities, the least you can do is grab a beer from one of the three pubs, do some shopping at the local Friendlies supermarket, or grab a coffee from the Home Hill Café.

 

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The Tablelands

The Tablelands – Part 1 : Ravenshoe to Mareeba

The Tablelands

 

We were absolutely thrilled when we hit the Tablelands.  The contrast in scenery from the dry, dusty outback to moist, green rolling hills was refreshing to our eyes, but also sparked nostalgia for the Victorian countryside.  Known as the ‘food bowl of the tropics’, the Tablelands has the perfect environment for dairy farming and growing crops like tropical fruit and coffee, so the gourmet food and wine trails are fantastic.  The natural beauty of the region is also undeniable and includes waterfall circuits, stunning rainforests, craters, lakes and unique wildlife.

 

The Tablelands was immediately put on our list of favourite places in Australia, and as we planned our travels, we were happy to realise that we’d be passing through the region twice!  This is our first instalment of the Tablelands, starting from Ravenshoe, and following the road north through Atherton and Mareeba.  Our next instalment will include Kuranda, Yungaburra, Malanda and Milla Milla – stay tuned.

 

Ravenshoe

It was too early in the morning for us to go exploring Ravenshoe, but we were still stoked about being in the highest town in Queensland.  This cute, little town sits at an altitude of 920m above sea level and is surrounded by World Heritage listed rainforest.  On our way out, we passed the highest pub in Queensland, and lamented that it was too early in the day for a bevy.

 

The Tablelands

 

Millstream Falls

This was our first stop from the west, and as we walked down the winding path to the falls, we sucked in the delicious forest air.  Millstream Falls is the widest single drop waterfall in the world.

 

Mount Hypipamee National Park

On the way to Atherton, we stopped in at Mount Hypipamee National Park to check out the crater of the same name, and Dinner Falls.  We were surrounded by lush foliage, bush turkeys scratching around in the undergrowth and the soothing scents of the forest.

 

The Tablelands

 

The Mount Hypipamee Crater was very deep, with a manky, green pool at the bottom.  This crater is actually a diatreme, which is a volcanic pipe that was created by a gaseous explosion.  Dinner Falls was also a treat to see, and once we got back to the Troopy, it was time for breakfast.

 

The Tablelands

 

Atherton

Atherton is a great little town that was named after a bloke called John Atherton, who settled in the area in the 1870s.  It’s the ‘capital’ of the Tablelands and the population sits at around 7000 people.  There are two major supermarkets, a few parks that are perfect for picnics, and a central visitor information centre staffed by helpful locals. There are also several attractions in and around town that are definitely worth checking out.

 

The Crystal Caves and Fascinating Facets

An award-winning tourist attraction and we could see why.  The Crystal Caves are a fantasy wonderland located right on the main street of Atherton and would make any fossil fanatic or gemstone buff squeal with delight.  Fascinating Facets is almost like a museum on its own with a fabulous display of fossils, gemstones and jewellery, and you just have to try the chocolate – YUM!

 

The Crystal Caves

 

The Peanut Place

Queensland produces 95% of Australia’s peanuts, and considering that it’s the main ingredient n peanut butter, one of Juz’s favourite things, we had to check out the Peanut Place.

 

Despite the suspiciously shaped mascot standing at the front of the store, which also happens to be the Big Peanut, we found their variety of peanut products to be very impressive – sweet nuts, savoury nuts, nut butter, nut ice cream, boiled nuts, roasted, salted, the list goes on.  They were featured on the front cover of the local newspaper for their delicious chocolate peanut butter spread, and we also sampled the peanut ice cream.  As you can imagine, nearly everything they sell has peanuts in them so anaphylactics can wait in the car.

 

The Tablelands

 

Tinaroo Lake

This man-made dam is a great place for a family picnic.  There are picnic benches, shady trees, BBQs and a big playground, and you can even hire a boat for a paddle on the lake.

 

Mareeba

Another cute town in the Tablelands, they say that Mareeba is where the rainforest meets the outback.  The area is occupied by a variety of crops, such as mangoes, sugarcane, avocadoes, exotic fruits, as well as coffee plantations. There is also a fantastic Heritage Museum at the Visitor Centre that sheds light on the local tobacco and mining industries, aboriginal culture and pioneer history, with lots of historical memorabilia on display.  Entry is by gold coin donation – and it’s well worth it.

 

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Our day was to include a visit to Coffee Works, Mount Uncle Distillery and de Brueys Wines so we prepared for the day by visiting Curcio’s Drive-Thru Bakery to break the fast with chunky curry pies, and bacon–infused sausage rolls at very reasonable prices.

 

The Tablelands

 

Coffee Works

You could easily spend the whole day at Coffee Works.  While there is a colourful gift shop and café onsite, entry to Coffee World will take you on the ultimate coffee-lovers adventure.  Not only will you have unlimited access to their variety of coffees, teas, chocolate and liqueurs, but you will discover things about coffee that you never dreamed of in the museum.  Their collection of coffee paraphernalia is biggest in the world, with many being either one of a kind, or the last one remaining in the world.  Amazing…

 

Coffee Works

 

Mount Uncle’s Distillery

For those why love a bit of spirit, you can’t go past Mount Uncle’s Distillery.  Their vodka is pristine, their gin is sublime, and regardless of whether you’re a rum gulper or a whiskey sipper, you’ll enjoy the Iridium Gold Rum.

 

Mt Uncle Distillery

 

De Brueys Boutique Wines

Usually, wine and grapes go hand in hand but not at De Brueys.  Their wines, ports and liqueurs don’t contain grapes; instead they’re made from exotic fruits like mango, lychee and bush cherry.  They even have a wine made from jaboticaba, a cauliflora fruit from Brazil.  If you like Irish Cream, then you’ll love their Temptation Range.  While we really enjoyed Envy with its delicious honeydew melon flavour, the Coffee Temptation was our clear winner and we left with a bottle.

 

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As we made our way to camp, the sun was setting over the distant hills, and we drove past the Mareeba Wetlands just in time for the sky to burst with the colours of mangoes and bananas.

 

Information & Accommodation

The Atherton Information Centre is located on the corner of Main & Silo Rd Atherton.  They are open daily from 9am to 5pm.  For more information, visit www.athertoninformationcentre.com.au

The Mareeba Heritage Museum & Tourist Information Centre is open daily from 8am to 4pm and is at 345 Byrnes Street, Mareeba.  To find out more, visit www.mareebaheritagecentre.com.au

 

Rifle Creek Rest Area

Just south of Mount Molloy is a spacious rest area.  Cold showers and toilets are provided, a small donation for the convenience is appreciated.

 

Rocky Creek Memorial Park

A few clicks north of Tolga, this war memorial park is right next door to a rest area that can get rather busy during peak season.  Phone reception and clean toilets are on offer, as well as the opportunity to give a small donation for the convenience.

 

The Tablelands

 

Stay tuned for The Tablelands – Part 2, which will include Kuranda, Yungaburra, Malanda and Millaa Millaa.

 

Mount Isa

City Profile : Mount Isa

Mount Isa
We rolled into Mount Isa quite early in the morning, so there wasn’t much open other than a coffee shop offering free Wi-Fi.  After a coffee, we strolled around town to get our bearings before heading to the information centre to get the lowdown on the town.

 

Fuel was fairly cheap in Mount Isa, with diesel sitting at around $1.57 when we were there.  As mentioned earlier, there are places around town that offer free Wi-Fi, including the library, which is a great place to hang out to escape the heat of the day.  Coles and Woolworths offer relatively cheap groceries, a dump point with access to drinking water is located by Buchanan Park and both Optus and Telstra reception are available.

 

After checking out a few points of interest, we visited several op shops and went to the post office to collect a package that our friend in Melbourne sent us for our birthdays.  Thanks for the gifts, Chris!  Juz did some work in the library while Dave replaced the front shocker rubbers on the Troopy, and we were on our way to camp by around 4pm.

 

History

As the usual story goes, someone found lead ore while in the Mount Isa region in 1923.  A lease was pegged on the area as soon as possible, which was also named after Mount Ida – a WA gold field.  As the news spread, there were 118 new leases by the end of 1923.

 

With the establishment of Mount Isa Mines in 1924, a town was required to service the workers of the mine.  It started off as a camp and slowly more accommodation and a pub was installed.  Then a hospital, courthouse and school were built before the State Government moved in to turn it into a real town.

 

In 1943, the mine started to mine for copper to cater for WW2, and in 1946, both lead and copper were mined.  By 1955, Mount Isa Mines was the largest mining company in Australia, which meant that Mount Isa was growing and so Lake Moondarra was constructed in 1958. The population boom was so great, that in 1968, Mount Isa town was declared a city.

 

Mount Isa

 

Fast Facts

  • Mount Isa’s population is around 23,000 people.
  • The main industry is mining, which is made obvious by the enormous mine in the centre of town. It is in the top two of the largest copper mining and smelting operations in Australia.  Mining of silver-lead-zinc is also done at the mine.
  • According to the locals, there are two sides of the city, the Mineside and the Townside.

 

Points of Interest

City Lookout

This spot provided great 360° views of the city, including the mine and the information centre.  A signpost gave the distance and direction of various capital cities, and there are picnic tables nearby for those who are looking for a picturesque location for lunch.

 

Mount Isa  

 

Riversleigh Fossil Centre

Located at the Outback In Isa Information Centre, the Riversleigh Fossil Centre displays various mammalian bones collected from the Riversleigh Fossil Fields, as well as dioramas of what life and the environment would have been like tens of thousands of years ago.  The displays include diprotodonts, the largest marsupial ever to have lived in Australia, as well as the skull of a fangaroo!  The entry fee is $12 for adults, or if you’re a member of YHA Australia, you get backpacker rates.

 

Mount Isa  

 

Clonclurry

Located about 120km south east from Mount Isa, Cloncurry is a small town with a big history.  It was the home of John Flynn, the guy who established the Royal Flying Doctors Service and earned the honour of having his face put on the Aussie $20 note.  There is a museum in town that commemorates his work.

 

Mary Kathleen Memorial Park includes the Information Centre and a shaded picnic area with free BBQs, as well as a great outdoor display.  Stroll through the various historical machinery that was used for farming and mining, and learn about Australia’s first rail ambulance, a unique 1941 Ford V8 converted to a rail ambulance that operated until 1971.  There is also a rock collection next to the Information Centre to peruse.  Mary Kathleen was a nearby mine, named after someone’s wife of course.

 

Cloncurry

 

Information & Accommodation

Outback In Isa Information Centre is a great place to start to get information about the surrounding area.  Visit the Riversleigh Fossil Centre and Historical Museum, or book a tour through the Hard Times Mine.  There’s a café, gift shop and art gallery as well.

 

Mount Isa

 

Fountain Springs Rest Area – 60km E from Mt Isa. This rest area is about halfway between Cloncurry and Mount Isa and includes flushing toilets, fire pits and bins.  If you’re lucky, you can get some Telstra reception but make sure you get there early as the rest area can get a little crowded.

 

WW2 Airfield Rest Area – about 50kms W from Mt Isa, this spacious rest area offers overnight stays with toilets, bins, picnic benches and plenty of space.

 

Mount Isa

Springs Road Rest Area

Camping : Rest Areas

We’ve travelled from one side of the country to the other and we have seen many rest areas on the way.  Some are barren and dry with nothing but a bush to separate you from the noisy highway while others are utopias with shelter, picnic facilities, bins and BBQs.  There might even be a pub across the road, like in Tantanoola.

 

There are some great rest areas in Western Australia.  Some of the best include the ones at Moore River, Cliff Head North, and Galena Bridge next to Kalbarri National Park.

 

Moore River Rest Area (-31.303424,115.555304)

Right next to Indian Ocean Drive about an hour south of Cervantes is a fully equipped rest area with BBQs, toilets and the Moore River.

 

Cliff Head North (-29.517361,114.996332)

About 30 minutes south of Dongara is Cliff Head North, a great camp spot for a few nights.   There are toilets at the entrance but you can get a more secluded experience further down the track.

 

 

Galena Bridge Rest Area (-27.827463,114.690442)

About 13km north of the Kalbarri turnoff on the North West Coastal Hwy – this is a great rest area right next to the Murchison River.  There are picnic benches, fire places that can be used outside of the fire ban season, and drop toilets.

 

 

Springs Road Rest Area, South Australia (-37.213705,139.887806)

A rest area just south of Robe on the Princes Hwy, while lacking in facilities, ended up being a great place to stop.  We arrived about an hour before sundown and shared the area with two German girls in their camper van.  We polished off a bottle of Dal Zotto Elena dessert wine as we watched the sun set and cast golden light over the field of rabbit tail grass.

 

 

 

The worst rest area was the one just outside of Port Augusta.  We pulled up and sat at the picnic bench but made sure our feet were up because there were bull ants everywhere!  We had to listen to a couple arguing in the distance and we assume we heard a puppy being a victim of the anger.  Then, as we tried to get to sleep in the Troopy, a refrigerated road train pulled up next to us and had their noisy cooler system running.  We felt like we were sleeping next to a generator.  It wasn’t until we realised that the truck was hauling explosives that we decided to move the Troopy to the other side of the rest area.  Worst night ever!

 

 

Tuart Drive Rest Area near Busselton

At the end of the day, rest areas suffice.  They provide free accommodation for self contained units and a few cater for tents as well, and many are equipped with conveniences like chairs or a bin.  It’s important to make sure that you’re alert when driving so if you have been driving for long periods of time, make use of rest areas and stay alive.

 

 

 

The Big Camera

Big Things : The Big Camera, Meckering

Located about 133km east of Perth, the Big Camera is a museum of photography and has a huge range of cameras and video recorders.  The guy who runs the place is super friendly and has even put up a place where you can prop your camera and set the timer so you can be in a picture next to the Big Camera.

 

The Big Camera

 

Meckering

This little town was flattened by an earthquake in 1968 that lasted 40 seconds and measured 6.9 on the Richter Scale.  It destroyed buildings, the railway line, infrastructure, and major roads.  Miraculously, no one was killed, and we got to hear about the amazing story of the Salisbury ruins.  When the earthquake hit, the family’s 17 month old baby Debbie was sleeping in the lounge room and after the house collapsed, the baby was found completely unharmed and still asleep!  The guy at the Big Camera has a picture of the family about 20 years later and Debbie grew up to be quite a babe!

 

 

We stayed overnight in Meckering by the rosy Memorial Park, which to Juz’s terror was more like Jumanji Park because of the enormous webs that were built by hideous looking spiders.  Juz was strolling around the park and when she realised she was surrounded, she bolted back to the Troopy.  Later in the evening, we watched as a spider caught dozens of flies in its beautiful web, crawling out to investigate before bunjeeing back to the centre.  It was really fascinating.