Bowen to Charters Towers 24 - 27 July 2012

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August 6th 2012
Published: August 14th 2012
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On the way out of Cape Hillingsborough National Park we stopped to undertake the Mangrove Swamp Walk and were rewarded with seeing numerous small and large birds but were also plagued with some nasty biting mozzies so did finish the walk quickier than we would have wanted to (at great speed actually!). Once out of the mangrove swamp we were surrounded by the spiky grass trees that seem to cover the bush all around this area. Before European settlement, the Yuipera Aborigines lived here and utilised its rich natural resources. Evidence can be found in numerous shell middens throughout the area and we came across a really noticeable one on the Diversity Boardwalk - a massive mound containing millions of used shells left where they had been dropped all those years ago. Middens were formed when shellfish were collected from nearby mangroves swamps, roasted over open fires, eaten and the shells discarded onto a pile. The ‘pile’ around this rocky outcrop was particularly large and you could visualize the tribe sitting here telling there ‘dreaming’ stories as they munched on the seafood. The undergrowth was covered in huge areas of rotting trees, the ideal conditions for the many different fungi that we saw on this interesting walk as well as lots of 'hidden' wildlife.

We headed out of the national park and straight away our satnav tried to take us down yet another unsealed road, so we had to ignore this, not much fun though without out any road signs anywhere......... We finally found a single track road which we thought led to the Bruce Highway and luckily enough it did but not before we stopped a few times as we noticed large flocks of Kites and one flock must have had over 100 soaring in the skies above the sugar cane fields - an amazing sight. Once on the highway we stopped at the Giant Mango thinking it was the Frosting Mango for Paul wanted to sample the delicious mango ice cream that he had so loved last year. However they are two differnt stopping places a few hundred kilometers apart.............It did have a good visitor centre......... not sure what the giant mango was about though...............

We continued to Bowen where we were going to meet up with Bronwyn and Alan and would you believe it as we pulled into the caravan park they were booking in just in front of us - could not have timed it better - we hid behind them and gave them both a huge hug. They had arrived via the north and we had arrived via the south and we had last seen them when they left us at their home in Melbourne in early May. It was great to see them both again and the travelling had obviously treated them well, they looked as tanned as us Poms now! Later we walked along the foreshore which was undergoing a ‘tourist face lift’ and there were many interesting signs depicting the rich and interesting history of the area. We would probably not have stopped in Bowen if we had not been meeting up with them but we were so glad we did. The Catalina Interpretive Centre is located beside the hardstand area where in World War 2, Catalina’s were maintained and serviced before being redeployed. Information about Bowen’s involvement in WW2 and images of the Catalinas are cleverly etched into large glass panels along the foreshore which when you looked through the panel gave the effect of the planes coming into land on the sea behind the panel.

Other plaques outlined the story of Bowen’s involvement in the filming of ‘Australia’ in 2007. The film hosted a cast and crew of hundreds, including Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. We had enjoyed watching this film on one of our recent flights and it was quite interesting to be in the place where it had been made - although one of the main hotel buildings did not quite live up to what we thought it would be - they should have kept it more in keeping with the film - the town is missing a trick here! As we strolled along chatting we came across several interesting murals on the sides of buildings and Bronwyn said that Bowen had many of these dotted around the town depicting interesting historical information.

The next morning we set off with Bronwyn and Alan to explore a little bit more of Bowen, our first port of call being the top of Flagstaff Hill. With views over the town of Bowen, mangrove swamps, mango orchards, and the idillic Whitsunday Islands. Bowen is on a peninsula, with ocean on three sides which gives it the benefit of many beaches all surrounding the town, namely Kings Beach, Queens Beach, Horseshoe Bay, Murrays Bay, Greys Bay, Rose Bay, and Front Beach. We are constantly amazed by the number of beaches these small ‘towns’ in Australia have. Alan drove us out to various view points and at the top of one we saw a magnificent Sea Eagle gliding back into its nest perched on the top of a telephone mast (they do seem to like these spots to build there nests). It had a superb 360 degree view all around Bowen and out to the islands in the distance. We wandered along one of the beaches and Bronwyn did manage to dip her feet into the ocean but the rest of us kept our feet was cold.

We particularly enjoyed a short walk at Horseshoe Bay which was quite busy with both a tour group of children as well as quite a number of ‘oldies’ sitting on the beach watching the world go by. We were all going to go in for a snorkel in this idillic bay but decided to do the walk first which led through a rocky outcrop to a view point which looked out over the ocean with the magnificent Gloucester Island dominating the skyline right in front of us. Captain James Cook named Cape Gloucester on his voyage of exploration in 1770 thinking that it was a mainland cape, but it turned out to be its own island. We chatted to a local tour driver who gave us some tips on places to see further north. Bronwyn and Alan said the last time they were in Bowen they had clambered over rocks to get to this viewpoint. Now however there was a metal platform with a sharp incline to a secure lookout overlooking the islands. We returned to the beach but although we had lovely blue skies the temperatures and wind chill were a ‘tad’ too cold to take a dip - maybe next time........ We drove on and walked around a nearby lagoon where we spotted quite a few birds including the plain but nevertheless noticeable Bowerbird. We met up with some family members of Alan and Bronwyn’s, Kay and Richard who ran two businesses in Bowen. Kay a keen artist had a unique ‘browsing’ shop and next door her husband Richard was the local butcher. As we have not been able to find any ‘lovely British sausages’ in Australia Bronwyn said we should buy some from him as he was renowned for them in this area, so we purchased some Prime Pork and Cracked Pepper and Worcestershire Sauce ones to try on our next barbecue.

We headed back to the campsite for lunch before taking a meander around the marina where yet again the sky was full of kites (the bird ones) which seem to dominate the skies in this area. Later that evening we had a barbecue with Bronwyn and Alan and tried the sausages which were the best we had tasted since we left home, not to mention the best company that we have had in ages also. The next morning it was time to say goodbye to our hosts and ’friends’ and we just knew that we would meet up with them again in the not too distant future - somewhere.......Before we left Bowen we returned to see Richard at his butcher shop and purchased some more of his award winning sausages to take with us before heading inland to Charters Towers.

After a long journey we finally arrived in Charters Towers all away along the Flinders Highway we had seem more kites mostly feeding off road kill, of which there was plenty. We stopped several times on the side of the road to make coffee as there were no ‘coffee shops’!! We also collected some firewood as we were hoping to have a camp fires at our next few stops - making sure there were no ‘nasties’ in the wood before storing it in the boot of the van though. As we drove into town we noticed numerous old buildings on both sides of the wide street and we found an easy parking space for the van just outside the Town Hall.

Charters Towers was founded in the 1870s when gold was discovered by chance at Towers Hill on Christmas Eve 1871 by a 12-year old Aboriginal boy, Jupiter Mossman. Jupiter was with a small group of prospectors including Hugh Mosman, James Fraser and George Clarke. Their horses bolted after a flash of lightning. While he was searching Jupiter found both the horses and a nugget of gold in a creek at the base of Towers Hill and this was the start of the boom years between 1872 and 1899. The town even hosted its own Stock Exchange and became Queensland's largest city outside of Brisbane. It was known as 'The World' - as it was said that anything one might desire could be had in the 'Towers', leaving no reason to travel elsewhere......... It was short lived however as in 1917 gold mining became uneconomic as it did elsewhere in Australia and the town entered a long period of stagnation. Little development has occurred since although profitable mining operations have just commenced once again, so who knows. We had been aware of more mine workers around on this visit to the East Coast and were even having problems booking into campsites because workers were staying at local caravan parks.

The architecture Charter Towers town centre, known as the ‘one square mile’ was just astounding - so many heritage buildings all grouped together in one place and within easy walking distance. The most iconic were the Stock Exchange Arcade built in 1888 which was connected to the ‘world’ via telegraph. The ‘World’ Theatre, Post Office, Historic Ambulance Centre, City Hall, Miner’s Cottage and some interesting museums as well as the visitor centre itself which was housed in the original National Bank. The World Theatre had a unique facade of heritage architecture and was originally the Australia Bank of Commerce which was converted into a 660 seat performing arts theatre. On the outskirts of the town was The Venus Battery, an old crushing mill well worth a visit.

We drove to Tower Hill Lookout which was a great spot to oversee the town with the outback stretching for miles all around. Gold Mines had originally surrounded the hill and you could still look around one which was the Clarke Gold Mine and Battery but now just ruins. Extremely informative boards at the lookout outlined poignant stories from the past as you gazed into the town centre far below.

We had a barbecue supper before retiring to bed and whilst visiting the ladies bathrooms, I came across, literally down the toilet, a huge green and pink frog - I kid you not.......... Luckily though the campsite had another block although they were some walk away. There must be something about loos as the next day we were relaxing chatting to this couple from Mission Beach and the chap said there was a possum in the Gents loos - and sure enough there it was sleeping above the loos on a wall. I had a little stroke and she/he was so soft but then it woke up and the chap said to back off quickly as they were not too pleasant an animal - looked cute though.........We had been hoping to spot one but had not see any in the wild even though they are prolific throughout Australia and here we had found one up close in a loo.

The next day we were going do something different and had booked on a tour to see some Texas Longhorn Cattle (no we are still in Oz and not Texas). We drove out through the bush to a farm in the middle of nowhere and after travelling a few kilometers down a track entered through these huge white paddock gates into Leahton Park.

We parked the van and walked around the station (large farm) where we were met by Michael and Linda Bethal who own the land. We enjoyed a ‘billy tea’ brewed on the campfire (well I had squash) with freshly baked damper, anzac biscuits and chocolate brownies - delicious food (Linda gave me the recipe for the damper which was divine especially with the golden syrup on top). Michael and Linda were tremendous hosts and told tales about the outback and their journey to this farm just outside Charters Towers. The food and drink were served from a 1866 replica of a chuck wagon (mobile kitchen) made in Texas by a traditional wagon maker from various types of wood. In our group were a local couple celebrating the wife’s birthday. Her husband (Tidley) who was 85 was an old drover from the area and he as well as Michael entertained us throughout the tour with their tales of life in the Outback.

After ‘breakfast’ we ‘boarded’ a traditional wagon and harness which was handmade at Leahton Park by Michael together with two huge horses and set off into the bush. All around us kangaroos kept ‘popping up’ through the grasses, all you could see were their heads and ears (a bit like meerkats peeking above the plains). At the bottom of the grasslands we came across a herd of Longhorn cattle and soon spotted Johnny Reb or JR as he is known in the paddock. JR is a world famous Longhorn steer raised on the farm and recently certified by the Guiness World Records to have the longest horns measuring tip to tip, of all cattle in the world. His horns now exceed 9 feet 1 inch, Michael said that when he was born he was such a little fellow but his horns did not seem to stop growing and so amazed his owners - as you can see from the picture. As horns continue to grow over the entire life of the animal, it's possible JR could break his own record again in the years to come - not sure how this critter though is going to be able to carry these huge appendages around with him. Michael said that sometimes he sees him lying down in the grass and he think he had died but he just seems to be exhausted! It was quite strange watching this astonishing Longhorn wander in the bush with his horns bigger that his whole body and when he sat down all you could see were the horns weaving in amongst the grasses.

The farm is home to the largest purebred herd of Texas Longhorns in Australia and these cattle are direct descendants of the millions of Texas Longhorns that walked the great trail herds out of Texas in the 1800‘s. We rode on the back of the wagon through the bush listening to the yarns and stories of the area as well as learning of the history of this iconic breed of cattle. It was like being part of the film set of Wagon Train for those of you that can remember this on the TV. We headed back to the farm through the tall grasses and were amazed at how comfortable the wagon was. Back at the station we were shown around their renowned Saddlery, Michael made handmade saddles and sold them all around the world. A saddle take about a week to make and he has a waiting list of one year at present, the cost varies from around about $5000 for his made to measure designs. They are all made for the individual person as well as the horse or horses that are going to be ridden........Apparently most Americans like them made with ornately decorated designs whereas Ozzies like theirs just plain leather.

Michael and Linda steers live a natural lifespan and when they die naturally they have their horns and sculls mounted and displayed in their showroom and I suppose JR will be there one day (although they will have to build an extension to fit his horns in!!!!) They had several sad horned cattle on display that had died because of their horns. We had not realised that the horns do not always grow correctly and sometimes cattle in the wild die from their horns growing abnormally back into their sculls as the ones in the photo - these were found in the wild. If they had not the horns could have been cut and therefore the animal would have survived. It was a great tour but it was time to go and we left the station via the same way we had arrived, shutting the white paddock gate with the longhorn emblem above on our way out. We thought what an idillic lifestyle Linda and Michael had but again were unsure whether we would want to live so far away from everyone else even in these lovely peaceful surroundings. The next morning we packed up the van and left early for our long journey north along the Gregory Development Road to Undara see you there.

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14th August 2012

One upmanship!
Hi you two. Great picture of the frog in the loo - I guess that betters our experience of a frog in a mug in the sink! Think I prefer them in the sink though! Keep enjoying your adventure.
15th August 2012

Hello Sheila and Paul
Hi Sheila and Paul - I knew I would find you! It was great to spend time with you on the Coral Princess Cruise (can't wait to read that blog post!). Love the blog - and the photos are superb! Enjoy your travels The Haymans

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