Airlie Beach Queensland
Nature was at peace with the world when it brushed its hand over the land first seen by Captain James Cook as he sailed through a passage of glittering sea on Whit Sunday in June 1770.
Cook’s name of Whitsunday Passage, which has since been extended to cover the off-shore islands and coast, was apt because there is something distinctly divine about the panorama of lush green hills sweeping down to an azure sea.
That is the setting for the resort town of Airlie Beach, which, along with Whitsunday, Shute Haven and Cannonvale, is a major departure point for resort islands such as Hamilton, Hayman, South Molle, Hook, Daydream and, of course, Whitsunday. This Eden lies just a few kilometres off the Bruce Highway. Airlie Beach and The Whitsunday waters present a sailing paradise for old salts, novices and all levels of seamen in between.
This holiday town offers a beach, marina and major accommodation resorts with great facilities, loads of restaurants, cafes and shops for holiday makers.
Taking its name from the Scottish birthplace of the 1882 Queensland premier, the North Queensland sugar town of Ayr is separated from its twin, Home Hill, by the Burdekin River.
The twin towns are linked by the district’s most prominent landmark, the Silver Link bridge, which is half as long again as the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Ayr is only 10 kilometres from the coast where Alva Beach boasts the oldest surf lifesaving club in North Queensland.
The clock tower in the main street honours John Drysdale, who pioneered the method of injecting spears into the subsoil to tap into underground water reservoirs. The Ayr Nature Display is a unique wall made from 2,600 pieces of local rock, preserved insects, indigenous reptiles, fossils and shells.
Although sugar remains the primary crop in the Ayr region, the Burdekin catchment area now produces more mangoes than the so-called national mango capital, Bowen, 110 kilometres to the south.
Although Bowen might be regarded as a synonym for mangoes and tomatoes throughout eastern Australia, this town sitting halfway between Mackay and Townsville has more to offer than the fruits of its rich soils.
It is, in fact, North Queensland’s oldest town and, at one time, was a rival to Townsville as the northern capital. The signposted Golden Arrow tourist loop gives the visitor a historical perspective of the development of the town since Captain Henry Sinclair sailed the Santa Barbara into Port Denison in 1859.
Bowen’s pride is the chain of eight, unsullied, safe bay beaches which attract swimmers, fishermen and beachcombers. The beaches are within a 5 kilometre radius of the Post Office and many are fringed with inshore reefs. In fact snorkellers can swim to these reefs from the beaches on Horseshoe, Murray, Greys and Rose Bays.
Mullers Lagoon is a vast sanctuary for both waterfowl and birdwatchers. Coral trout, red emperor, sweetlip and other reef varieties await anglers on the inshore reefs of Bowen's most popular and accessible bay beaches.
Enthusiastic fossickers may be rewarded with sapphires, amethyst crystals or opalised wood for a sortie into the hinterland outcrops and hills round Binbee and Collinsville.
If you prefer your history in living colour, Bowen’s extraordinary wall paintings are right up your alley. The works began appearing in the streets in 1988 when the Bowen Shire Festival of Murals Society commissioned artists to decorate the town with a series of paintings reflecting watershed episodes in the region’s history.
A map tracing the mural walk through Herbert, Powell and George Streets is available at the central information centre. The Bowen Historical Museum offers a more conventional journey into the past, while a drive to Flagstaff Hill opens up a panoramic view to the Whitsunday Islands.
Purpose designed as a port in 1864 to ship Burdekin Valley produce to southern markets, Cardwell was regarded as the north Queensland capital until the faster-growing Townsville took over the mantle.
Blessed, however, by its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef, Hinchinbrook Island - the largest island national park in the world - and surrounding islands and their attendant snorkelling wonder worlds, Cardwell remains a thriving resort centre with superb views over Rockingham Bay.
Uninhabited save for a small resort at Cape Richards, Hinchinbrook Island abounds in native flora, fauna, crystal streams, palm-fringed beaches and mangrove stands.
Cardwell's natural attractions also embrace the vast Edmund Kennedy National Park, famed for its teeming bird life, which includes herons, egrets, orioles, scrub turkeys, wrens and the magnificent brolga.
Cardwell is within comfortable driving distance of Townsville and Magnetic Island, Tully Gorge and Wallaman Falls which boasts Australia's longest single-drop fall. Reef and gamefishing cruises operate out of Cardwell.
Gold is the currency that built Charters Towers into what was, at one time, the second-largest city in Queensland. Within a couple of years of the discovery of gold the population numbered over 30,000.
Between 1872 and 1916 total gold production was 6,800,000 ounces. It also boasted one of Australia’s first few regional stock exchanges. Restored in 1972, the exchange stands among some imposing colonial architecture, which pays mute testament to the generous diggers who built the town out of gold dust and nuggets.
Modern methods of gold extraction have led to a second boom, and the city celebrated the 21st century with a new wave of wealth and prosperity. About 135 kilometres south-west of Townsville, Charters Towers has so much of historical interest to offer. Take a look at the Venus Battery ore crushing mill, owned and run by the Charters Towers City Council, which is just one of 29 that operated here in the boom times. There's a wealth of history and romance locked into the chapel of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. The restored building is still known among the locals as Pfeiffer House, built in 1882 as a love nest for his new bride, Mary Donovan, by itinerant German miner Frederick Pfeiffer. Pfeiffer had spent more than 17 luckless years digging on countless gold fields in New Zealand and Australia before he struck it rich in 1875. His homestead stands near the remains of the mine that made Pfeiffer a rich and influential Charters Towers burgher.
Eighty-two kilometres south-west of Bowen, Collinsville and the bush communities on a first-class road offer travellers a striking scenic contrast to the tropical coastline. Shortly after leaving the Bruce Highway, the road passes small crop farms bordering the Don River before departing the plains to enter rolling cattle country and the village of Binbee with its Dingo’s Boudoir - an old church which has been converted into a repository of restored antiques. About another 30km on is Collinsville, a town of 2,500 citizens whose destiny has been shaped by coal, the 'black gold'. A Peter Lawson mural dominates the main street, and a tour of the Scottville mine reveals all about open-cut mining. The rocky outcrops and hills in the Collinsville-Binbee hinterland are famous for their sapphires, amethyst crystals and opalised woods and attract a constant flow of dedicated fossickers.
Hinchinbrook Island Queensland
Hinchinbrook Island is Australia's largest island National Park. It lies between Ingham and Cardwell in North Queensland and is separated from the mainland by Hinchinbrook Channel.The island, some 52 km long and 10 km wide, is dominated by Mount Bowen which stands guard over a rich diversity of wilderness. The island is home to a huge variety of flora and fauna. In the seas surrounding the island there are dugongs, particularly around Missionary Bay, now a protected dugong habitat. On land, you may see turtles grazing or one of the many types of skink or frog. Many types of bird have also been seen on the island.At Cape Richards at the northern end of the island there is a small eco-friendly resort, where guests are accommodated in tree houses connected by timber walkways. There is a range of activities for resort guests, including the use of canoes, surf skis, snorkelling gear and fishing equipment. There are a number of walks from the resort which range in their length and degree of difficulty.Day trippers and campers are also able to visit the island by ferry. The main camping site on Hinchinbrook Island can be accessed directly by the ferry, so you don't have to carry your camping gear too far once on the island.
Separated from its sister of Ayr on the northern banks of the Burdekin River by the 1097m Silver Link bridge, Home Hill is a memorial in name to a Colonel Home who served in the Crimean War. Dependent, like so many coastal Queensland towns, on sugar, Home Hill and Ayr have also invested their heritage in tourism, and the Lions Diorama Museum at the southern end of the bridge pays tribute to the pioneers of the Burdekin district, which now produces more mangoes than Bowen, long recognised as the nation's Mango Capital.
A few kilometres upriver, the towns of Clare, Millaroo and Dalbeg are centres of soldier settlements set up after World War II to produce tobacco. Tobacco, however, proved a pipedream, and it wasn't until 1964 when the struggling farmers were granted sugar quotas that the district blossomed. The cultural heart of the region is the Burdekin Theatre with its eye-catching Living Lagoon sculptures which adorn the entrance approach. Using granite and bronze, sculptor Stephen Walker has created a stunning tableau of native flora and fauna.
Ingham, a large, tropical town of gardens on the Herbert River, is set apart from other sugar centres of the north by its distinctive Mediterranean flavour - a legacy of an influx of Italians, Basques and Spaniards who migrated in the twilight of the 19th century to work in the canefields.
The major town in Hinchinbrook Shire, Ingham is recognised as the gateway to the wet tropics and it is surrounded by World Heritage-listed wilderness. Visitors can sample that wilderness with a 45km drive to the mountain setting of the Abergowrie State Forest or, closer to hand, explore stunning Hinchinbrook Island - the world’s biggest island national park.
Part of the Abergowie complex, Broadwater State Forest Park is surrounded by a mosaic of pine plantations, native bush and rainforest. The park has picnic and camping facilities and the clear flowing creek waters offer swimming and fishing opportunities.
To the west of Ingham are Wallaman Falls on Stony Creek, which drop 305m down a vertical rock gorge as the waters make their way to the Herbert River. A lookout off the access road provides stunning vews of the falls.
With the rain gauge regularly recording about 4200mm a year, Innisfail claims to be the wettest town in Australia. Tully, 45km south, challenges that title, but, whichever gets the nod, they are both lush green standard-bearers for the wet tropics. Built at the junction of the North and South Johnstone rivers, Innisfail is an attractive town of about 8000 people, blessed with some delightful riverside parks and picnic areas.
The town has a historical museum, and a Chinese joss house is a link to Innisfail’s colourful, multicultural past. The Johnstone River Crocodile Farm is only 8km out of town. Innisfail, in fact, is a comfortable base from which to explore the surrounding national parks, ocean shoreline and the Great Barrier Reef islands. Both the Far North Queensland capital, Cairns, and the scenic gems of the Atherton Tableland are within an hour's drive of Innisfail where you can book yourself a berth aboard a cruiser for some reef and big game fishing.
Just 30km north east of Tully lies the town of Mission Beach. In fact, the name may be used more loosely for a number of small localities scattered along the beach.
The hills behind the beach are covered with rainforest and peppered with holiday homes, while the beach itself is fringed with coconut palms. It is one of the few remaining places in North Queensland where the rainforest reaches the ocean. The rainforest is a refuge for that giant flightless bird, the cassowary, but your only sighting may be in town at the Big Cassowary. There are numerous walks through the rainforest including the Luff Hill Trail, a challenging walk which rewards with spectacular coastal views.
Mission Beach offers boat trips and transfers to many nearby islands, particularly Dunk Island. There is plenty to do locally, including whitewater rafting, kayaking, parachuting, scuba diving, guided rainforest walks, birdwatching, wildlife watching and Aboriginal tours.
Tully is up in Far North Queensland, and its dubious claim to fame is that it is the wettest place in Australia, for which it receives the annual Golden Gumboot award. In the shadow of Mount Tyson, this town gets a massive 4400mm or so dropped on it each year, so it’s no Gobi Desert. Nevertheless, the sugar cane which, as predicted by explorer George Dalrymple on his second expedition in 1873, thrives in the region - along with bananas and tea crops - seem to take great benefit from the seemingly incessant rain.
The favourite challenge up Tully way now is the whitewater rafting on the Tully River, for which people descend on the place from around the world. Just to the east of Tully lies Mission Beach looking out across the Coral Sea to Dunk Island whose palm-fringed shores were first imprinted on our minds in E.J. Banfield's Confessions of a Beachcomber which was first published in 1908. Dunk is now part of the Family Islands National Park.