With the greater part of the Savannah Way covered, as detailed last issue, the next portion of our trip would take us towards the coast, and the first town was Croydon, just 155km east of Normanton. The sealed road basically runs parallel with the rail line taken by the Gulflander.
Croydon is a great little town with a wonderful park right in the main street and this is where we had our lunch stop. Although it was quite early, there are some places that are just too hard to pass by. There are a couple of historic buildings in the town such as the Club Hotel, which dates from 1887, and the old hospital on the other side of the road.
During our very enjoyable lunch break, we consulted Camps Australia Wide and decided to check on a site just outside Georgetown. With only 128km ahead of us, we set out for the old Cumberland mine site. Arriving early in the afternoon we thought we would be some of the first campers in. Wrong! There were so many people already set up that we were lucky to get a spot at all. As soon as we saw the lagoon covered in water lilies and birds, we understood why this spot is so popular. There must have been about 15 campers already set up, including a few fairly large vans.
I didn’t waste any time grabbing my camera and heading for the lagoon. On my way back to the van, my path was blocked by a very large goanna, who stood on his hind legs and hissed to let me know who was in charge here – and I wasn’t about to argue with him. I just snapped a couple of shots of him and beat a hasty retreat back up the track.
OUR FAVOURITE TOWN
The next morning, on our way through Georgetown, we called in to see the TerrEstrial Mineral Collection and can highly recommend it. We then headed towards Ravenshoe, about 260km north-east of Georgetown.
Several campers had said Archer Creek, just outside Ravenshoe, was a good spot to stay but, due to the fact that it was very well-occupied and right on the main road, we opted to continue on to Ravenshoe. We did stop at the campground in Archer Creek and took a stroll down to the creek, where our dog, Murphy, had a swim in the lovely clear water, before we headed off.
On arriving in Ravenshoe, we saw vans and campers set up on a grassed area right in the main street. It turned out that this was the free camp site for the town. It’s not often that you come across a free camp located so close to shops and services. We really only wanted to park so we could call in to the chemist but, after being greeted by one of the guests already staying there, we thought we might as well stay for the night. The happy hours there were some of the most enjoyable we have had the pleasure of attending.
Ravenshoe is one of the best little towns we have visited and has so much going for it. It is the highest town in Queensland, has the highest pub and the bakery is way too tempting.
The Atherton Tablelands is a tropical oasis after the red dirt of the Savannah Way and we loved the freshness of the rolling green hills and the drop in temperature was remarkable. There are so many quaint little towns in the region that it was hard to decide where to base ourselves. Our choice was the dairy town of Malanda, 45km north of Ravenshoe, as it is fairly central and quite close to the waterfalls that are one of the attractions in the area. We stayed at the Malanda Falls Caravan Park and it was like camping in a rainforest. Shady grass sites bordered tall, vine-covered trees that were full of birds and the shy little tree kangaroos. We felt very lucky to spot some of these little marsupials the first afternoon we were there.
After calling into the information centre to collect some maps, we drove 25km south back to Millaa Millaa to visit the waterfall circuit. Our day was filled with short walks to see some spectacular falls and a visit to the Nerada tea plantation. Another place worth calling into while in the region is the Gallo dairy to sample some cheeses and yummy chocolate. No wonder the Tablelands is famous for its variety of gourmet foods.
Our next stop was Mareeba, about 50km north of Malanda, where we stayed at the rodeo grounds just to the west of the town. It was very reasonable at $15 per night for a powered site, the sites were grassed and very large, and pets are allowed. From there, it’s just a short drive to the market town of Kuranda and on to Cairns.
A TASTE OF SPAIN
We retraced our steps back through Atherton and across to the coast via the Palmerston Highway, coming out near Innisfail. We had booked to stay at Paronella Park and had been looking forward to visiting this place for quite a while. Paronella Park sits on five hectares of lush land and is home to a Spanish castle, landscaped gardens, and other historic buildings built by a Spanish canecutter who came to Australia in the early 20th century to build a castle for the woman he loved. It is listed as the RACQ’s number one ‘must do’ attraction and, after visiting it, we would have to agree. We certainly have never seen anything quite like it. We both enjoyed a long walk around the grounds in the afternoon and I went on the guided night tour. Both views were excellent, but the night visit was spectacular as they played music and lit up the main castle building – it was just beautiful and quite dreamlike. The waterfall and rock cliffs were lit up and had a very different feel from the daytime views. Early the next morning, I went back to watch the sunrise and see yet another side of this amazing sanctuary.
Our next drive was a very short one of about 40km to Bingil Bay. This little bay is just what you would expect from a deserted tropical island. It’s a quiet crescent of sand, fringed with palm trees and cool blue water lapping quietly against the shore. The best bit: there are only eight small sites right on the beach and we got the last one. Large vans and motorhomes don’t fit in the fairly small sites so, for once, it was an advantage not to have a bigger rig.
Many people whom we met had told us to stay at Carmila Beach if we were driving between Mackay and Rockhampton and that was enough reason for us to call in and have a look. We had no set deadlines and that’s just the way we like it, so we took the Carmila Beach Road off the Bruce Highway out to the coast. It suited us perfectly as the sites are right above the beach and are spread out over a fairly large area. The first couple of areas could accommodate larger vans and access was fairly easy, so consequently they were nearly all full. The further we ventured along the sandy access road, the smaller the sites became and the deeper the sand leading into them, so there were fewer vans. It didn’t take long to reverse the van in under the overhanging trees and take up our position overlooking the sea. We really do live in the lucky country, having places like this to enjoy our gorgeous natural landscape.
There are a couple of sets of composting toilets, but no other amenities, so you must be pretty self-sufficient to stay here. With fishing on the agenda and glorious sunrises each day, what more could we want? When we did finally drag ourselves away from Carmila Beach, we were feeling very relaxed and ready to head a little further south.
Our final stop was at the little country town of Gin Gin, just to the west of Bundaberg. The showgrounds there offer good powered and unpowered sites at very reasonable rates and they are all on lush green grass. Murphy was welcome, too – on a leash, of course. From there, we easily completed the last stage of our trip the next day and arrived at our son’s home near Bribie Island just after lunch.
The trip saw us clock up just under 6000km and took us to some very exciting locations. The bonus for us was to fulfill our ambition to drive the entire Savannah Way and what a great drive it was. The driving was fun and the camping gave us a wonderful sense of freedom. We had no difficulty finding places to stay with our new travel companion Murphy, so I guess it’s nearly time to plan our next journey. There must be some other blank spots on that travel map of ours...
- Croydon is in the heart of the Gulf Savannah, 562km west of Cairns.
- Georgetown is home to the TerrEstrial Mineral Collection, one of the most comprehensive mineral collections in the world. It is open 8am-5pm, seven days a week (Apr to Sept) and 8.30am-4.30pm, Mon-Fri (Oct to Mar). It is located on Low Street, Georgetown. It is also the town’s information centre. Visit www.terrestrialgeorgetown.com.au
- At 920m above sea level, Ravenshoe is Queensland’s highest town and is surrounded by World Heritage-listed rainforest. The visitor centre is at 24 Moore Street and is open from 9am-4pm, October to April, and 9am-5pm, May to October.
- Malanda is a great base from which to explore the Waterfall Way. The new information centre has fantastic displays and information. Visit www.malandafalls.com for more details.
- Malanda Falls Caravan Park: 38 Park Avenue, Malanda, (07) 4096 5314,
- Paronella Park is a heritage-listed and National Trust-listed property located at 1671 Innisfail Japoon Road, Mena Creek, (07) 4065 0000, www.paronellapark.com.au. You can stay at the caravan park adjacent to the park and the cost for one night is included in the admission charge.
Originally published in Caravan World #513, April/May 2013