Following the Big Wet - 2011 Trip – Part 19: Atherton Tablelands to Clermont.

Friday, Nov 25, 2011 at 18:26


After a week with friends on the Atherton Tablelands we left their home feeling relaxed and refreshed. Troopy was clean and tidy with fresh oil and a new fusible link installed. We were sorry to be leaving, though we had extracted a promise from our friends that they would take a trip south and spend some time with us.

At Atherton we refuelled and restocked before heading south on the winding, often hilly road through the beautiful green Atherton tablelands country.There were patches of rainforest clinging to the often steep hillsides, and inviting signs beckoning to walks and waterfalls. We have been to many of these places previously so this time we were intent on moving south, if only a little way. At Ravenshoe we had a quick look around the town and camping area at the railway station (there seemed to be some uncertainty as to whether it was still available for camping) and recalled a freezing night that we spent there on a previous trip. Then it was out to Millstream falls for lunch, and reminders of the WWII military history associated with that area.

By early afternoon we had arrived at Innot Hot Springs,one of our very favourite places. We checked in, set up, and in no time were soaking in the warm pools – sheer bliss. There were only a few other campers but the pools are always a good place for a chat and exchanging travellers tales. After dinner we sat around with another couple and continued more tale-sharing making for an enjoyable if rather cool evening.

We spent the next day there soaking in the pools, walking around the lake and doing a bit of local exploring on foot. The pools were still enticing the following morning so we had a final soak before packing up and reluctantly moving on. We had an unscheduled stop at Mt Garnett where we found a strong phone signal, so we pulled out the laptop and checked emails and did a few other online chores.

The road south was sealed, although with single lane sections and some roadwork, but there was not much traffic. Nor was there much to see as we were travelling through undulating country covered with open woodland. We did notice that as we came east that there were different species of gum trees and individually they were becoming greener and thicker. We stopped for lunch somewhere near The Lynd, and had a brief stop to see what was happening to an old railway line – the blue metal ballast was being reclaimed into big stockpiles.

Our aim for the day was to reach the Fletchers Creek free camp area, which is about 50km north of Charters Towers. When we arrived there we were quite astonished by what we found. The site covers many hectares on either side of the road, and there is a toilet block with cold showers. There were perhaps 30 or 40 vans, some clustered around the amenities block, the rest strung out along the pretty Fletchers Creek which was cold and fast flowing. Tracks led away from the main camping area down towards the Burdekin River. Being always curious we did a bit of exploring along these tracks and found a few more campers settled down in quiet spots. Others were hunting for firewood. Finally we opted for a spot beside the creek and the sound of fast flowing water. Our neighbours had been catching redclaw from the bank. Others told us that this area becomes very busy with some people using the area for extended stays. Just how extended could be judged by the patches of well-watered lawn and gardens beside some caravans.

After a foggy start, the next day we drove the 50km into Charters Towers, a town that we had read a bit about in Geoffrey Blainey’s informative book about mining, “The Rush that Never Ended”. Gold was discovered in the 1870s and over the next half century about 200 tonnes (yes, tonnes) of gold was extracted but by WWI mining was in decline. The gold bodies were very rich and the many lavish buildings reflected the town’s wealth. Today these buildings line the main street, standing as a reminder of the town’s glory days. There was even an elegant stock exchange building, which served as the entertainment and social hub as well as the place where mining deals were done. Today it is a small arcade with information panels depicting the town’s history. At the rear is a small mining museum in the building that was once the gold assay laboratory.

We spent a while looking around the town centre, although more time would be required for a thorough look. We planned to go east before turning south to the Burdekin Dam, there to cross and head south on back roads. We got as far as Mingela before finding signs indicating that the road was closed at the dam, so we retraced our track and went south on the Clermont road. This road too offered little beyond a continual vista of trees, but there was little traffic and it was good 2 lane bitumen.

Camps Australia showed a campsite about 100kms south of Charters Towers but road works had made it unsuitable. We checked out a couple of other possible spots but as the road is mostly fenced on both sides there were very few opportunities to tuck into the bush. So we ended the day at Belyando Crossing Roadhouse where we joined a couple of dozen other rigs pulled in for the night - it had been a hot day and the showers were very welcome.

During the night we heard a few spots of rain and the morning was hot and humid as we got back on the road. Our destination was Theresa Dam near Clermont. Gradually the walls of scrub opened out to agricultural areas where sorghum and cotton seemed to be the main crops. Suddenly there was a different kind of production where massive heaps of rock and overburden surrounded the big coal mines (Blair Athol and Clermont mines) and their associated railways and conveyors.

By the time we reached Clermont it was raining heavily with occasional thunder and lightning, not auspicious for camping. The rain eased as we found the road out to Theresa Creek Dam.
It was sealed all the way so we were not surprised to find that there was a small township of caravans there, and plenty of boats out on the water. There were only a handful of tents and camper trailers and we quickly felt that it wasn’t really our sort of place at all. We have found that some (but by no means all!!!) caravanners in fee-paying sites seem reluctant to fraternise with those who look a bit different – and our Troopy rig is certainly different! Our undoubted prejudices were confirmed as we watched a couple of big vans and their occupants manouvre into an adjoining space, pull out the awnings so they were almost touching, then settle in under their awnings where they spent the rest of the day. Not even a nod or a wave to the neighbours!

So resigning ourselves to being outsiders, we set up camp and went for an exploratory walk. There were a couple of shower blocks, a few toilets and plenty of well maintained grass running down to the water making this a comfortable place where people come to fish and stay put for a while. There were some nice views over the water and friendly lorikeets looking for a handout. By dusk there was a chorus of generators and the flicker of TVs. We settled in over the laptop to finalise the rest of our route home.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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