My mother always said, “Things happen for the best.” Perhaps that’s why we ended up at a little old Queensland pub 19 kms north of Mackay. We’d planned on staying in Mackay however the van park we’d booked was close to a tannery and the smell was pretty unpleasant. After checking our Wikicamps app, we moved on to a free camp next to The Leap Hotel.
The grounds were spacious and very pretty, landscaped with colourful, tropical plants. You can camp overnight for free. “Just buy a beer or a meal,” said the barmaid. This old Queenslander has a lot of character. The walls are filled with historic photos of the region and rusty artefacts. We noticed that there were several signs in the public bar stating, “NO PHOTOGRAPHS”. When David enquired as to why, he was told, “That only applies to Wednesday nights. That’s our topless night.” It’s Thursday. Sorry David!
Sitting on the verandah of the pub we struck up a conversation with a local old-timer who’d dropped in for a beer. He said, “Don’t spend too many nights at Airlie. It’s for backpackers. Go up into the hills! You’ll love it. Just drive down the road, take a rightee, nah, sorry, take a leftee and head up to Finch Hatton. Beautiful country!” So that’s exactly what we did! (The leftee, not the rightee).
On our journey into the hills we drove through a little sugar cane town called Marian. It was here in 1882 that a 20 year old girl came to live with her father who’d been contracted to build the town’s first sugar mill. That girl would later become the world renowned opera singer, Dame Nellie Melba. Nellie met her husband in Marian and spent her first year of married life there, giving birth to a son, her only child, in 1883. You can walk through the tiny cottage that her husband built for her. Whilst Marian is very proud that Nellie lived here, it’s common knowledge that she didn’t enjoy life amongst the cane fields. It was hot and humid, she had to bathe in the river and she also had to share her tiny home with the many tropical insects, animals and snakes common to the area – a far cry from her original home in Victoria. Dame Nellie left the area in late 1883 to further her career as an opera singer. I think the townsfolk of Marian forgave her for her distaste of life in the tropical north – they’re still very proud that she once called Marian home.
Driving on from Marian we headed to a rural village called Finch Hatton. The village has a pub, primary school, general store and a show ground where you can set up camp. The area around Finch Hatton is beautiful. Vivid green cane fields line both sides of the road. It’s fairly quiet except for the odd cane train that travels past carrying the freshly cut cane to the processing mill. The smell of sugar cane floats on the breeze. We’d been told about the beautiful Eungella National Park and in particular, Finch Hatton Gorge and its tropical rain forests, so this was our first destination for the afternoon. We weren’t disappointed. Stunningly beautiful, there are many walking trails to explore.
The Wheel of Fire waterhole. We wound our way through rainforest, crossed a creek over rocks (without falling in) and climbed quite a few steps to reach the waterhole. (2.1k one way) What a stunning spot! By now it was 4 o’clock and whilst the water looked inviting, and we were quite hot, the water temperature was too chilly for a swim (swimmers optional I was told). A sign at the waterhole warned young men that it was too dangerous to dive off or climb the surrounding rocks. Several deaths have occurred here and many injuries over the years The sun was already beginning to hide behind the hills so we hiked on to the Araluen Cascades.
The cascades are small but worth the 1.6km (one way) walk. The track winds it’s way through more rainforest until you reach the cascades which still managed a bit of a show despite the lack of recent rain.
I was impressed with how well Finch Hatton Gorge is maintained. It’s a great tropical rainforest experience. There are bush camps and boutique accommodation and dining options nearby, as well as platypus viewing and forest flying (flying fox). Slept well last night!
Today we explored more of the ‘Pioneer Valley’ and the Eungella National Park. Past the little town of Eungella, you drive on down to Broken River. There are a few nice walking tracks and viewing platforms of the valley on the way.
View of Pioneer Valley from the town of Eungella
At Broken River we stopped in the hope of spying some platypus. It was the middle of the day and these shy creatures are often only visible when they feed in the early morning or late afternoon. To my surprise there they were, feeding and diving in amongst tree roots and rocks in the murky water. It’s pretty special to see these little creatures. Another reason to visit Eungella National Park if you’re in Queensland!
I read the following on a signpost:
‘Recognising the value lying within the forest at a time when the surrounding area was being developed for farming, a small dedicated team in 1941 secured 48,000ha as Eungella National Park. The park has since grown to 53,000ha.
Naturalist John Muir appreciated the benefits of visiting natural sites like Eungella as early as 1901. He wrote: “…thousands of nerve-shaken people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home, that wilderness is a necessity, and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigation rivers, but as fountains of life.”
How wonderful that over 70 years ago some Australians had the foresight to preserve the beauty of this region. Off to the beautiful Airlie Beach tomorrow – Gateway to the Whitsundays.