The road north to Mackay

In my previous post I wrote about my recent drive from Mount Isa to Brisbane. After a week in town, the highlight of which was a visit to the Gold Coast to see David Byrne in concert, it was time to head north again, this time up the coast. My drive up the Bruce Highway was punctuated by fires in the distance. These fires got worse later that week causing evacuations and road closures. The closest I came was seeing them in the distance such as this one at Deepwater National Park near 1770 seen from the road south of Miriam Vale. The fire burned 20,000 hectares over a week and destroyed at least four homes in the Baffle Creek area.

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I kept going and checked into a motel in Rockhampton. In the afternoon I drove out to the Capricorn Coast, first stop Emu Park. Pride of place overlooking Keppel Bay is the Singing Ship, commissioned in 1970 on the bicentenary in 1970 of Lt James Cook’s his exploration of the bay in May, 1770. The memorial represents the billowing 12m sail, mast and rigging of his ship Endeavour. It doesn’t “sing” but concealed organ pipes use the sea breezes to create music.

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Further north on the Capricorn Coast drive is the Causeway Lake. The Lake is a human-made feature formed by the bridge crossing Mulambin Creek, which allows
fresh salt water in on the high tide.

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Below is the view from the top of Bluff’s Point south back to Mulambin Beach with the Causeway Lake on the right. The 2.3km Bluff’s Point circuit is a lovely walk at all times of year especially looking on all the islands of Keppel Bay, all of which were part of the mainland until the sea levels rose about 10,000 years ago.

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Below is the almost Rio-like view north from Bluff’s Point to Rosslyn Bay and Yeppoon and the hills of Byfield State Forest further on. The whole area is the remnant of an extinct volcano.

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Nestled under Double Head, Rosslyn Bay is the dropping off point for ferries for one of favourite spots Great Keppel Island. It is also the home of Keppel Bay Marina, built in 1996.

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Below is Fan Rock at Rosslyn Bay. The rock formations were formed over 63 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous Age when the Australian plate was moving north and weak spots in the Earth’s crust passed over an area of deep heat. Molten lava forced its way through layers of rock creating a chain of volcanoes. Geologists say Fan Rock’s hexagonal columns were formed by thick lava lowly cooling before solidifying, shrinking and cracking. The surface cracks grew deeper as the rocks below cooled forming columns that fanned out from the centre of the volcano. Over time wind and water eroded the surface lava, ash and soft rock. This exposed the resistant trachyte plug leading to striking fan effect.

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Next is the entrance to Ross Creek at the bottom end of Yeppoon beach. Yeppoon is the main town on the Capricorn Coast with a population of 18,000. Ross Creek was named for the family who first settled in the Yeppoon area in 1865. The Capricorn Coast was part of the traditional lands of the Darumbal Aboriginal people.  The word Yeppoon is derived from an Aboriginal word describing a place where waters join – Yeppen Lagoon in nearby Rockhampton has the same meaning.

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The following morning I was back on the road. There is precious little distractions on the 300km stretch between Rockhampton and Sarina. The only small town Marlborough is off the highway and barely worth the detour. The only highlight is Clairview, one of just a couple of spots (the other is at Bowen) where the Pacific Ocean is visible from the Bruce Highway. Clairview is a beautifully quiet spot – not so much sleepy as comatose. Its sands are apparently famous for crabbing and its waters are a protected sanctuary for the endangered dugong.

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Koumala is a small settlement 30km south of Sarina on the highway. It was too early for a beer as I came though but I had to stop to take a photo of the hotel’s symbol, a massive saltwater crocodile. The presence of large salties is the reason it’s not safe to go swimming at Clairview beach, no matter how idyllic it looks, or most other beaches along the North Queensland coast. The town name, Koumala, is not Aboriginal as it might seem. Instead it harks back to the indentured Pacific Islanders who harvested the sugar cane in this region in the early 20th century and comes from a Fijian word meaning sweet potato.

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