CHILLIN IN CHILLAGOE
Before I step away from Far North Queensland, I wanted to let you all know of a beautiful country town that I fell in love with hidden beyond the mountains.
As you leave the serene beaches of Cairns, drive through the majestic rainforest around Kuranda, over the Atherton Tablelands and into the outback, a good 3 hour drive will take you onto the Burke-Developmental Road and to the sleepy town of Chillagoe.
Once a thriving mining town this community, now with a population of less than 200, have kept their town going largely due to Tourism at the surrounding caves and the marble quarries scattered along the one road in and out-of-town.
There’s still evidence of the scale that the mining industry had on Chillagoe by way of the old Smeltering Chimneys. The last time they were sent smoking was back in the 80’s when they would burn a pile of truck, tractor, car, whatever, tyres on New Years Day to bring in the new year. Well, as you can imagine environmental reasons have stopped that bit of fun!
ANYONE OUT THERE??
There’s not much holding the main street together with one Pub, a General Store, the Laundry/Gift shop, and the Hub. A great little tourism information office that has been run loyally and lovingly by the sweet husband and wife team for well over a decade now.
Chillagoe runs at a gentle pace. This is outback time. Where the Dawn and Dusk are the times to be getting out and making the most of the day. As when the sun is shining high above you spend your time looking for some shade.
I was drawn to Chillagoe when I read about an Observatory there. I love watching the stars, especially when I’m out camping. Here in Far North Queensland you get one of the best night skies, something to do with the right latitude. But honestly, the Milky way looks like a highway its just so bright!!
I’d also just recently discovered a great App called “SkyGuide”so I was eager to have someone explain the stars further to me and getting to an observatory to take a closer look has always been a keen interest of mine.
TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE STAR
The location at theChillagoe Observatory Lodge was spectacular. The bluest of skies so open and wide above the reddest of dirt and the sparse green trees of the outback below. Plus the camp ground had a Huge outdoor screen for movies under the stars, pool to cool down in, campfire facilities, and all the other camping needs all for the reasonable rate of $10 per night.
Unfortunately, the larger telescope was reserved for the Astronomer who wasn’t there when I visited. But the caretaker was considerate enough to give me a look in the smaller telescope (which was still wider and bigger than my 5 feet whatever inches frame). It was Brilliant!!
The night sky just exploded with all its wonders. Saturn was revealed with her rings, lying on her side. And the Jewel Box was uncovered nestled under an arm of the Southern Cross. Magic on a Celestial Stage!
But what I really fell in love with in Chillagoe was the OutBack. The lands here had once been the site of an ancient coral reef and when the seas receded massive limestone bluffs were left behind. There outers blackened over time with caves and passaged etched deep within.
There is 3 main caves that you can book guided tours for at the Hub. Donna cave, The Royal Arch cave and the Trezkin cave are all well worth the visit.
They’re spectacular to walk through, some with illuminated pathways, others with head torches that are provided by the guide to light the way. The guides are all local and with a wealth of information to the surrounding caves and an insight into the indigenous culture of the area.
Around this cave system you’ll also find caves that you can self guide. There’s the deep and narrow Bauhinia Cave and the big as a cathedral Pompeii Cave.
Heading further out of town you’ll find the Mungana Archways Cave. You can also take a tour on your own through this site. They’re more open to the elements than caves but it still impressive to walk. Just before you get to the caves you’ll come across the Mungana Art Cave with Aboriginal artwork left by the people of times long gone by.
There are hundreds of cave and networks that stretch for kilometres and others that are etched with graffiti back in the convict days. Most of these are off limits, and with good reasons, it’s easy to get lost down there, losing your sense of direction. But there are those in the Chillagoe Caving Club that once a month head down under the dirt and go exploring through new and old sites.
One well friendly local that I had the pleasure to meet was Tom Prior, Ford car enthusiast through and through!! Having worked in the Trucking industry most of his life, he never stop making the time to restore his beautiful collection of vintage Ford automobiles. With his workshop packed full of ex Army trucks, Utes, a Mustang here and a GT there!! It’s an impressive showcase of Ford restoration by one man. He’s been offered by Ford Detroit to go see the factory. “But who would look after the cars??” replied Tom. It was great sitting back with this classic Aussie character and listening to his stories of the days gone by. Seeing the love he had for his work, his face would light up like a child when he’d start up one of the engines and send her roaring!! I wish I could have trailed off into the sunset with one of Tom’s classic utes, but these cars are staying safe and sound resting under Tom’s shed.
This part of Queensland is definitely rugged, with cattle roaming the roads and the open lands, with long forgotten towns fading into the dust. But its Beauty and its Colours are just so rich, so vivid. It calls for our attention. And when you start looking INTO it, rather than just AT it, you’ll start to see the natural wonders that this stunning country holds for us all!!