Tuesday morning I continued my drive to the West. The landscape West of Croydon is pretty flat. Hence, all the water from the rainy season is still in the flood plains, which is a paradise for mosquitoes, as I’ve discovered the night before. I briefly stopped at Black Bull siding, a former water refilling point of the Gulflander locomotive, nowadays it’s only a breakfast morning stop, if the train would operate. The railway just goes straight and follows the road…or vice versa, not clue which one was first. At the railway bridge across the Norman river, I spotted two crocodiles. The first was pretty sure a freshie, the second disappeared to fast that I could spot it precisely. When I went back to Normanton, I finally finished my circumnavigation of Australia!, which I did in four stages:
It’s probably a very uncommon place to finish a circumnavigation of Australia, but as I already expected, the road to Burketown and further on to the NT border was still closed. I guess during that time, still due to the flooding due to the cyclone, which went through a few weeks earlier.
I met again the woman from the Croydon visitor centre near the Norman River. She was with Kenny the train driver from the Gulflander looking for the river. We had a short chat before I went to Karumba in the afternoon, the end of the road to the North, as the gravel road to Chillagoe was also still closed due to the rainy seson. In Karumba I visited the Barramundi breeding center, where the young woman gave me a nice overview of their work, which basically is to stock up the Barramundi in various waters, in order to keep the numbers up so that recreational and commercial fishing can continue. After a short walk through the town along the waterfront with the prawn boats, I went to Karumba point to finally see the ocean again. This area was first sailed to by Jan Carstensz already in 1623 (almost 150 years before Cook went to the other side of the Cape York Peninsula, and 20 years before Abel Tasman went to Tasmania and discovered New Zealand) from Ambon. During that voyage he sighted also the highest mountain of the Australian continent, which is now situated in West Papua and belongs to Indonesia, and named “Carstensz Pyramid”. Back in the days, nobody wanted to believe him, that this peak was covered with a glacier. Nowadays, this glacier is almost gone. The first ascent was made by Heinrich Harrer in 1962 together with three other climbers (yes, he also did this first successful ascent of the Eiger North Face, and went 7 years to Tibet).
Monday morning two weeks ago I went into Forsayth and had a walk through the small community. Forsayth is basically only the final destination of the railway line from Cairns. The main purpose was to serve the smelter in Chillagoe with ore. That’s why the railway line ended here and not 40km further north in Georgetown. Anyway these days are long gone. The last mine closed in the 1950’s, and also the cattle is transported nowadays mainly via road trains and no longer with the railway. Hence, the last ordinary train departed in Forsayth in 1988. But as the railway track was put under heritage listing, it’s still maintained by Queensland Railway and operated once a week by the Savannahlander…in theory. In practise the train didn’t reach Forsayth this year yet. I walked down to the Delaney river, and forded it, as it had some over the road. There were some kites flying around and chasing prey. I observed them for a while, until I returned to the pub and had a soft drink there. Back in Georgetown I went to the visitor centre. The lady there told me, that the gravel sections of the road from Forsayth to Einasleigh are in fact even better than the ones on the road between Georgetown and Forsayth. The Copperfield gorge in Einasleigh is now full of water as the Einasleigh river is still running. Well unfortunately, that information came to me too late. I stopped at the Cumberland dam with an old chimney from a former shelter, which was once the largest smelter in Queensland. The Cumberland lake is now a paradise for birds, due to all the water. In Croydon the nice lady in the visitor center (of French origin) gave me some tips for a walk through the town and outside. She showed me also a short introductory video of the town history, which is as several towns in the North based on a gold rush. I passed some old wodden buildings, which were converted to some kind of museum, but where still closed due to low season. Hence, I headed on to the railway station. Croydon is the final destination of the railway line from Normanton. But due to severe flooding this year, the railway track was damaged about 15km behind Normanton. As there’s a bus three times a week from Cairns to Karumba, it’s pretty easy to bridge the gap between Georgetown and Croydon, and the missing 40km from Georgetown to Forsayth should be somehow doable with hitchhiking, as there was some local traffic on that road. I continued my walk through the town and went to a former open pit gold mine, directly at the town border. This open pit was probably closed 20 years ago or so, and is now partly filled with rain water. I drove out of town to Lake Belmore and had a walk along the dam. The lake is onle for recreational purposes and the water supply for the town. They had some facilities there, including a free shower after a warm day. During day temperatures easily reaching high 30’s, but it’s pretty dry. Hence, it’s much more pleasant than along the northern East Coast with the high humidity.
Sunday morning two weeks ago I went to the Undara experience. It was their first day of normal operation, in mid March, after the raining season, which reminds me of my visit to the zebra rocks mine at the NT border by the end of September, which was their last day of operation before the rainy season. The Undara volcano erupted 190,000 years ago, which is quite new in geological time frames. It lead to a lava stream in North-West direction which is longer than 100 km, that’s the longest lava stream of a single volcano world wide. And due to the flat surroundings, there were lava tubes created during the eruption process, which is estimated to have lasted for several months (3-18 months, scientists are not completely sure). The tubes were created, while the top lava cooled down and got stuck, whereas the inner lava was still liquid. The top lava even created some kind of insulation, which kept the inner lava longer warm (up to 1,200°C). The lava followed creeks, which were formed by earlier eruptions of other volcanoes. Hence, due to the high temperature it melted even the old layers (up to 5-6 of former eruptions) and digged its stream even deeper. Once, the eruption ceased, the remaining fluid plug just flowed out, and let the empty tube behind. During the last 190,000 years, a lot of erosion took place (well in slow motion for humans). But nevertheless, some roofs collapsed, and some sections of the tube eventually filled with dust and soil, creating a natural barrier between each section. The collapsed sections created a microclimate for dry rainforest, which is much greener and more densely populated than the surrounding savannah area. I was the only guest of that day, so in essence I got a two hours private tour with my guide Liz through three sections of the tubes. Afterwards I went to the Kalkani crater and had a wlk around the crater rim, which gave a nice impression of the surrounding landscape. I could even spot some patches of dark green dry rainforest, which are the collapsed roof sections of the tube system. This expands for about 60(?) km further to the north-west.
In the afternoon I headed further to the west. I stopped in Mount Surprise at the railway station, which is an overnight stop of the Savannahlander train. But as Liz told me, the train only operated halfway to Almaden near Chillagoe for the time being. So, even as the operation of the Savannahlander started in March, it never made it to Mount Surprise this year. The Einasleigh river beyond Mount Surprise was flooding, and hence the shortcut road to Einasleigh was closed, but that would had been suitable to 4WD probably anyway. So I continued to Georgetown, in several sections the road deteriorated to a single lane bitumen road. But as there was almost no traffic, and especially no road trains pushing you of the sealed sections, that wasn’t an issue. In Georgetown I had a swim in the free pool in the late afternoon, before I headed off the town to make a detour into the direction to Forsayth.
Saturday morning two weeks ago I drove across the ridge to Herberton. There’s a “historic village”, which is some kind of living museum. It was closed anyway, but would have been pretty expensive. So I took a walk through the old tin mining area. There’re several small shafts remaining, including the gully shaft, which was the first tin mine of the area and that’s actually the reason why Cairns eventually developed into the tourist centre of FNQ, and not Port Douglas or Cooktown…just because the railway, which was the main supply line back in the days, was built from Cairns eventually to Ravenshoe. Some of the tin mines operated until the 1950’s, but nowadays the shafts are all flooded with rain water. The forest in the area already starts to change. It’s evident that this area is much drier throughout the year. The trees stand further aparat and it’s no longer rainforest. I continued my drive further to the south across the highest street of Queensland and eventually stopped at the former highest railway station in Queensland in Tumoulin. Nowadays the track is covered with hip high grass, and the last ordinary train operated on the line in 1989…not too long ago. But without financial support from the state also the volunteer steam locomotive ceased operation. In Ravenshoe is the end of railway line and an old steam locomotive is on display in a shed. I would be surprised if that gets reactivated in the future. I guess that part of history is gone. The Millstream Falls NP just outside of Ravenshoe, used to be the widest single drop waterfall in Australia. Well each waterfall needs to have an own type of superlative, but it’s a nice area around the Millstream river. I went to Woodleigh Station. They’ve nice camping area along the Millstream river, but only one bloke camped there. There was nobody around the station, so I just parked my car and took a walk along the Millstream River until the Wild River from Herberton joined, and forms the long Herbert river, which eventually discharges into the Coral Sea near Ingham. I briefly stopped at the Innot hot springs, but that’s just another tourist trap, but luckily it was off season and hence its still closed. They want to have 10$ entrance fee, just to lay on the bank of a murky creek, with the hot springs on the other side of the creek. So I continued to to Mount Garent, which is an old mining town, and had a walk to the creek where some boys enjoyed a refreshing splash in the afternoon near the remains of the former railway bridge of the branch line from Lappa, before I went to the local pub for a coke. Shortly before sunset I briefly stopped at the Forty Mile Scrub NP and had a short walk through the dry rainforest, which was impacted by some bush fire last year. After leaving Mount Garent I was back in the savannah outback. The towns are now pretty far away from each other. I stayed at the junction of Kennedy Highway and Gulf development road, with an altitude of about 800 m directly on top of the Great Dividing range, the night went pretty chilly, but with the advantage that not much flies and no mosquitoes were around.
Friday two weeks ago early in the morning, just a few minutes before dawn, I started to hike up Walsh’s pyramid. It was an easy walk, you can’t miss the track. For the 900 m altitude difference I needed 1:40 hours to get up and 1:15 hours down with a 40 min break, while I was enjoying the view on top. After I returned to my car I had my second breakfast and started heading west into the mountains in the late morning. Directly after reaching the mountain ridge I turned into the Danbulla road which leads around lake Tinaroo. This is an artifical lake, which was created in 1958 by damming the Barron river…yes, it’s the same river as in Kuranda with the Barron falls. My first stop was at Cathedral fig tree. That’s a big example of a tree, which consists only of vines. The original host tree is long gone and completely decomposed, and what’s left is now only the fig tree, which probably emerged long time ago just from one leaf. I continued the road and had a short walk around Mobo Creek Crater in essence it’s not a real crater, it’s just the end of some old lava flow, which forced to suddenly change the flowing direction of the creek and eventually formed a large recirculation area, which looks nowadays like a crater. Finally I stopped at the dam, which is the starting point of a large irrigation scheme across the Atherton tablelands. The irrigation system even extends to Walsh creek across the Great dividing range, Walsh creek eventually flows into the Mitchell River and finally discharges into the Gulf of Carpentaria, whereas the Barron river discharges in Cairns into the Pacific ocean.