A SUNRISE coloured the sky fiery orange behind Hinchinbrook Island, accentuating the silhouette of the steep mountains of Australia’s largest island national park.
This article was first published in 4x4 Australia's April 2011 issue.
It was the start of another beautiful day in the friendly town of Cardwell, the gateway to Hinchinbrook Island. After our epic adventure through the Gulf Savannah from Borroloola in the Northern Territory to Georgetown in Queensland, it was a dramatic change in scenery.
From vast and dry savannah woodlands to lush tropical rainforest and beautiful beaches; it is easy to figure out why this part of Australia is called the Great Green Way. Our starting point was Cardwell, the first port to be settled in north Queensland.
The town’s history is preserved in the post office and telegraph station, which was built in 1870 and includes the old courthouse and gaol. You can make a number of day trips from Cardwell. An outing to Murray Falls is definitely not to be missed.
The roads are sealed, apart from the last 5km, and it is an enjoyable 45-minute drive past sugarcane fields and farms. The 300-metre river boardwalk takes you to two viewing platforms from which you can see the picturesque 30m drop.
There is a beautiful and shady campground close to the falls with easy access for camper trailers and caravans. Facilities include toilets, barbecues, picnic tables and taps as well as rubbish bins. This campground is packed over Christmas and Easter, when everyone wants to be close to the river to stay cool during the hot and humid wet season.
We enjoyed a picnic lunch at the Murray Falls campground and so did the kookaburras, because one of them managed to steal one of the kids’ peanut butter sandwiches! There used to be an adventurous day trip to Blencoe Falls, but recently the road to the falls was closed, with vehicle access now limited to the road out of Mt Garnet along the Savannah Way.
You can go to Hinchinbrook Island and try the Thorsborne Trail for an adventure of a different kind – a 32km walking trek that traverses the island’s east coast. To minimise human impact, only 40 people (in groups of up to six) are allowed on the track at any given time.
The trail is recommended for fit and experienced bushwalkers who are self-sufficient. A minimum of four days and three nights is required. On your way back to Cardwell, take the turn-off to Edmund Kennedy National Park. This park has tropical rainforest running right down to the beach.
Three kilometres of good walking tracks meander through mangroves, coastal rainforest, open forests and woodlands. As inviting as the water might look, crocodiles and box jellyfish make swimming unsafe. The park is named after explorer Edmund Kennedy, who was part of three explorations.
During his last journey to Cape York, he was speared by a group of hostile Aborigines. His Aboriginal guide, Jacky Jacky, held Kennedy in his arms until he died. Their supply ship was waiting for them only 36km away.
Every first Monday in May there is a Coral Sea Battle commemoration with dignitaries from the US and Australia attending to pay tribute to those who took part in the air and sea battle 800km off the coast. The Allied victory helped ensure the safety of Australia.
Make sure you head out on the Cardwell Forest Drive to visit Cardwell lookout. This 6km trip has short sections of unsealed road and you can choose to only visit the viewing platform with commanding views of Cardwell and the coastline.
If you don’t mind a steep climb, it is well worth doing the bushwalk to the other three lookouts, Hinchinbrook Channel, Hinchinbrook Island and Rockingham Bay. The views are phenomenal. The 26km Cardwell Forest Drive heads inland and takes you to Attie Creek, Dead Horse Creek and Spa Pool.
After the wet season these creeks flow and make for beautiful swimming spots, but during the dry there is hardly any water; it was also a bit of a challenge to find Attie and Dead Horse creeks due to a lack of signs.
There are plenty of other tracks along the drive that call for further exploration if you fancy some adventure; take care with navigation to avoid becoming lost. If you want a refreshing swim only 7km from Cardwell, drive out to Five Mile Swimming Hole and you will not be disappointed.
Even during the dry there is plenty of water in the creek and it’s so clear you can see the bottom. There are toilets and barbecues for a family picnic lunch, but camping is not allowed. Did I mention the fishing? Just about any kind of fishing experience is available, and the inland boat ramps make access easy.
Cardwell has a reputation for mud crab and the Hinchinbrook Channel is a fisherman’s haven with mangrove-lined creeks and inlets sheltering all kinds of sea creatures. If you are fortunate, like we were, you might even spot a dugong.
Port Hinchinbrook has a world-class marina at the southern end of town with waterfront dining and accommodation, and is also the place to go for boat trips to Hinchinbrook Island and the Great Barrier Reef. After the hustle and bustle of Cardwell we decided to seek solitude in the tropical rainforest of Broadwater State Forest.
Coming from Cardwell there is a turn-off 3km south of Ingham and from there it is 46km to the campground, with only the last 16km unsealed. It is an interesting drive that takes you past cane fields and at the right time of year you will see the cane trains and the impressive harvesters.
Suddenly, you leave the cane fields and find yourself driving through pine plantations with pockets of rainforest. There are lots of interesting-looking off-road tracks, but unfortunately they are all closed to the public, most likely because the pine plantations are privately owned.
As you get closer to the campground at Broadwater, there is more rainforest and a number of one-lane concrete causeways with sparkling water flowing in the creek. The campground is simply beautiful; a tropical rainforest retreat for campers, with flush toilets, cold showers, taps, picnic tables, barbecues, fireplaces and a place to get rid of your rubbish.
The birdlife is amazing, and nearby Broadwater Creek is a great place for swimming. The sites are spacious and give lots of shade and privacy. It is a fantastic place for kids, with ample space to run around in and ride a bike. After setting up the camper trailer we spotted our first goanna, which hid from us by climbing a tree.
The bush turkeys ran around everywhere, but were wild enough that they stayed away from our tent. Kookaburras perched on a branch overlooking our tent just in case we dropped some food. The kids also spotted a couple of wallabies and Chris almost put his tripod on top of a long copper-coloured snake that was curled up under tree roots close to the creek.
From there, we made a day trip to the World Heritage-listed Wallaman Falls, Australia’s longest permanent sheer-drop waterfall, spilling 305m into a sparkling rock pool. The 55km drive (one way) is sealed most of the way, with good gravel for the last 10km. Most travellers make the 51km trip from Ingham.
The road to Wallaman Falls is very steep and windy with stunning views of the surrounding countryside; towing a caravan is not recommended. A breathtaking sight, the falls can be viewed through a rainbow-fringed cloud of early morning mist or, for a different viewpoint, a strenuous 4km return track leads to their base.
If you don’t want to make the trip down, you can walk 300m to the lookout over the Herbert River valley, which is well worth it. There is also a campground 2km from the lookout, but it only caters for walk-in camping. Facilities include toilets, cold showers, taps, picnic tables and barbecues.
The absence of rubbish bins is a reminder to take your trash out with you. From Wallaman Falls, you can drive to Mt Fox, a dormant volcano in Girringun NP, 75km south-west of Ingham. Having erupted violently, the volcanic crater is a spectacle atop the mountain, but it is a climb only for the very fit.
Explore more of Queensland
There are no set tracks and experienced walkers can manage the 2km hike to the top and back in around 90 minutes. The well-formed crater is about 10m deep and covered with sparse grasses and stunted trees.
Back at Broadwater campground, we enjoyed a campfire (bring your own wood), which the kids thought was fantastic. The sky was clear, the rainforest was alive with nightlife and we simply sat there and marvelled at the beauty of the place.
Our trip started with a majestic sunrise overlooking Hinchinbrook Island and finished with a campfire under a star-filled sky in the rainforest at Broadwater. The area between Ingham and Cardwell truly is nature’s adventure playground.
THE ANCIENT FORESTS
The Wet Tropics World Heritage Area covers 900,000 hectares and is renowned for the spectacular rainforests that cloak its rugged mountain ranges and sweep down to white sandy beaches and coral reefs. They are the oldest continually surviving rainforests on earth.
The breathtaking, rugged landscape of mountain peaks, deep gorges, fast-flowing rivers and waterfalls is a hotspot for biodiversity and home to many rare and endemic plant and animal species. The Wet Tropics received the highest possible heritage honours when it was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1988.
This area contains the largest tract of remaining rainforest in Australia. While the Wet Tropics cover only one thousandth of the Australian landmass, it contains a third of the nation’s marsupials, three-fifths of our butterflies, a fifth of our birds, a third of our frogs, a quarter of our reptiles, two-thirds of our bats and two-fifths of our plant species.
Cardwell is 160km north of Townsville, in far north Queensland. Ingham is 50km south of Cardwell, along the Bruce Highway.
There are four caravan parks in Cardwell and one in Ingham. Bush camping is possible at Murray Falls, Wallaman Falls and Broadwater campground. These campsites must be pre-booked by phoning 13 13 04 or visiting qld.gov.au/camping. Camping fees apply ($5 pp/night). Park facilities include toilets, cold showers, taps, picnic tables, barbecues, rubbish bins. Dogs and generators are not permitted.
WHAT TO TAKE
If you intend to go bush camping, bring a shower tent and drinking water.
SUPPLIES AND FACILITIES
Cardwell and Ingham have large supermarkets and the main services.
All the main roads are sealed, apart from the last sections to Murray Falls (5km), Broadwater campground (16km) and Wallaman Falls (5km). Murray Falls and Broadwater are suitable for caravans; Wallaman Falls is suitable for camper trailers, but caravans are not recommended.
MAPS AND GUIDES
Hema’s North Queensland regional map (or similar). In addition, the Cardwell Reef and Rainforest Information Centre has plenty of maps and leaflets to help you find your way around.
RESTRICTIONS AND PERMITS
Permits are required for bush camping at Murray Falls, Wallaman Falls and Broadwater. Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service prefers you to book online before your trip. There is no separate charge for visiting a national park in Queensland.