Exploring Queensland, July 2006. Part 10. Rainforests and Fossils - Ravenshoe to Dimbulah.

Thursday, Oct 26, 2006 at 20:05

Member - John and Val

Back in Ravenshoe after our damp night camped in the cyclone damaged rainforest we waited while our second tyre was repaired. We filled in the time looking at the old steam train that is being restored. It’s due to have a test run at the weekend, over 7kms of restored track. The caretaker showed us around the old station and we learned that the whole railway area is available for camping for a very modest fee – there are toilets but no showers. We filed this information away for future use.

Leaving Ravenshoe we set out towards Herberton, intending to take a detour to The Crater and Dinner Falls. But first we stopped to look at the wind farm where 20 turbines each 66m tall are set among lush green paddocks grazed by dairy cattle. Earlier in the day we had listened on the radio to locals saying how beneficial the towers had been, especially as they had become quite a tourist attraction. From the lookout the turbines were just audible.

Going on to The Crater we drove through a lovely patch of rainforest that lined either side of the road. The Crater is a huge hole with rock sides falling sheer to water maybe 100 meters below the lookout. Apparently it was a gas vent so no lava spewed out here, nor was any cinder cone formed. But it’s a reminder of the turbulent volcanic history of this area.

Our walk took in Dinner Falls on the headwaters of the Barron River. They are beautiful small falls and cascades, though the cyclone damage was much in evidence with many fallen trees and eroded paths.

Finally we headed towards Herberton with the country changing very quickly as the wet rainforests gave way to drier eucalypt forest. The country around there is hilly and rocky. Just west of Herberton on the Petford Road the bitumen ended and the gravel road quickly became quite rough. It is steep and winding in places and maybe doesn’t carry much traffic. The area that we travelled through has many abandoned mines – mining and the lure of mineral discoveries brought the early settlers into this tough country. The remaining towns are now quite small and some like Emuford have disappeared completely with just a few remnants of buildings to be found in the encroaching bush. We visited the small Montalbion Pioneer Cemetery containing about 70 graves, but about half were the graves of young children, reminding us of just how harsh life for the pioneers must have been.

Near Emuford we found a good spot to camp near a sandy creek-bed with plenty of firewood, and surrounded by big heaps of gravel left from dredging for tin. We learned this from a local who came by and stopped for a chat. The dredging had caused the creeks to sand up, and the water had become contaminated too.

The next morning was overcast so we had a slow start. Just as we were about to leave another local came by collecting leaves from which to distil oil. He told us of a collection of old vehicles and machinery back a little way so taking his advice we backtracked and spent a while looking over this reminder of times long gone.

Further along the road we came to a striking stack of granite boulders beside the creek that really required some exploration. We marvelled at the rock in the creek-bed that was worn smooth from the force of water rushing over it in the wet season.

Back on the bitumen heading towards Chillagoe the country became less interesting but there was an old pub to check out – no beer, but it had been set up as a museum of sorts. This day it had been taken over by a group driving motorhomes who were having a noisy “counter lunch”. The pub is right on the old railway line and there appeared to be some restoration work underway though trains don’t seem to run.

Further west we stared to see what appeared to be a limestone reef with very jagged rocks, and soon we were passing marble quarries with big white rectangular 22 ton blocks of marble that had been cut out. Marble is quarried at a number of locations and apparently comes in different colours although what we saw was all white.

We drove into The Ramparts section of the National Park just east of Chillagoe to have a closer look at the limestone that seems to be very extensive.

Arriving in town we went to The Hub, which is the tourist information centre, and boasts a good display of local attractions. There is a Country and Western Festival on over the weekend so the town is busy and full of visitors. We booked onto a cave tour for the following day and booked into Mary’s place out near the airport where we can camp in her big yard. We found our way out there, having a look at the local cemetery and collecting some firewood along the way.

Mary has an extensive collection of fossils and is very knowledgeable about the local area and its history. Seeing our interest in fossils and satisfying herself that we weren’t about to do anything destructive, she offered to show us some self drive tours where we can see more caves and fossils. This was a gesture that we really appreciated, so armed with this information we set off early next morning.

Our first stop was at the little market in the main street where we were able to get some more books to read at night and some local fruit. Our exploring took us west of the town, and although we got a bit confused following the directions that we had been given we found fossils anyway – crinoids and bivalves. We had a look at The Arches and decided to return the next day for a closer look. We saw a small amount of aboriginal art in one spot. The Mangana Cemetery was small but poignant and the limestone formations are truly amazing with their sharp edges and distinctive surface patterning.

After a quick lunch we headed back towards town for our tour of the Royal Arch Cave. These caves are not lit, instead the ranger provided battery packs and torches and instructions on how to use them. So we joined a group of a couple of dozen other people and set off after the ranger. Royal Arch is a dry cave with not many steps but some narrow and low passageways that revealed some lovely formations including cave coral. Some of the caves have partly collapsed roofs and were once used for weekend picnics when the mining was in full swing. Before airconditioning their pleasant coolness would have been a welcome retreat in the heat of summer. In one cave we switched off all the light to see how dark it really was. There were some bats and spiders with eyes that glistened in the torchlight. There are about 3 kilometres of passages here but our tour only went about 500 metres and just doing that small amount took an hour and a half.

After our cave walk we headed back to Mary’s place going via the old smelter viewed from a big level space on top of big slag heaps. Apart from the slag heaps there are some chimneys and some old machinery used to process ore. This impressed us by its small size compared to its modern counterparts.

The next morning we returned to the fossil sites and did find one that Mary had given us directions to. The limestone was outcropping across flat open ground and the rock in which the fossils were embedded was worn very smooth making the fossils easy to see and photograph. Unfortunately others had been there before us and had used a hammer to break off pieces of rock in an attempt to get the fossils. What they didn’t understand was that the broken crystalline rocks showed very little internal evidence of the fossils that were so plainly visible on the surface. We hoped they were ashamed of the damage they had done.

Some further exploring took us to some other mining sites, both current and long abandoned such as the big Red Dome excavation along a little used track. Then it was time to head east again, keeping an eye out for a suitable spot for our next overnight stay. Approaching Dimbulah we came to a roadside area beside a creek where several motor-homes were parked. We stopped to look around, were invited for a cuppa, and ended up staying there for the night. We had a refreshing swim and joined in a pot luck dinner around a communal campfire. There was much friendly after dinner chatter but it revealed a mindset, among these motor-home travellers at least, that was quite different from ours. Some of them won’t go off the bitumen, one could not change a tyre and moving on to explore new places was definitely not an imperative.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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