After our stay at Cobbold Gorge, we had a long day’s drive to Townsville via Einasleigh and The Lynd, much of it on gravel roads. It was pleasing finally to see the coast as we came down the Hervey Range into Townsville, six hours later. Castle Hill is in the centre of the photo with Magnetic Island off to the left.
We got a closer look at Magnetic Island when we finally got to Townsville and walked down the Strand that afternoon. A statue of a green sea turtle is in the foreground. Some green sea and fatback turtles do come ashore to nest on local beaches. Sea turtles exhibit a strong homing behavior to return to nest on beaches where they themselves hatched from eggs. A female turtle hatched in the Townsville region is highly likely to return to breed here again in 30 to 50 years when she matures.
The following morning we set off for a bracing walk up the Goat Track to Castle Hill. I’ve seen various suggestions as to how many steps there are anything from 1000 to 1300. I only counted about 800 but it’s a tough walk under any circumstances.
But as always the view from the top makes the climb worthwhile. The morning sunshine glistens down on Cleveland Bay next to the port where sailing boats for Magnetic Island jostle with big ships full of copper and zinc bound for China.
The view north is towards the airport and Cape Pallerenda, the latter where we would be headed for some walking trails later in the day.
But first we come back down the track to seek out a coffee in the city. Street art is becoming an important outlet for tourism in the city with council even putting out a street art trail. This massive goanna is on a wall in Ogden St. Belgian artist “ROA” said it was inspired by an encounter during a previous trip to Australia. “The last time I was in Australia I witnessed my friend Keith, who lives in the Pilbara region and is native to the land, catch a goanna to barbecue with his family. It was amazing to witness how he caught the lizard – he asked the goanna for permission to kill him and feed his family, all in his traditional language”.
After coffee we headed out to Cape Pallerenda. I’d been there before but was keen to do a trail I hadn’t done called the Freshwater Trail. It had an appealing setting between the hills and the wetlands.
The main reason we chose this trail was because it had two bird hides. The view was enchanting but sadly we didn’t see any birds at either hide. That was probably because we were doing the walk at midday but two young hoons driving their P-Plate car illegally down the vehicle-free track to the hide didn’t help.
Heading back to the carpark we looked out to the Town Common where in the distance we spotted brolgas (Grus rubicunda) and a black-necked stork (Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus). In northern Australia, the stork is traditionally called the Jabiru. It’s a beautiful word but Jabiru is not Indigenous It is a Tupi–Guaraní language name which refers to a totally different species of stork found in South and Central America. Brolga, however, is a genuine Indigenous word from the Kamilaroi language.
Back at the carpark there is a slice of history that feels bang up to date. The Cape Pallerenda quarantine station was built in 1915-16 to deal with diseased patients coming in to Australia from Townsville port. The 1918 flu epidemic did not get to Australia until January 1919 and it didn’t take long for it to arrive in the busy port. The Townsville Daily Bulletin of May 21,1919 said the population of the quarantine station was gradually increasing. “Two more cases, one mild and one suspicious were yesterday added from Wodonga,” the paper revealed.
After our walk we retired to the city for drinks and dinner. The following morning it was time to leave Townsville and head south. First stop was Bowen 200km south, a town I’ve written about before. The photo below is from the pier looking towards a hill behind the town.
Our destination was another two hours south at Cape Hillsborough, which I’ve also written about before. This is a beautiful spot on a peninsula 40km north of Mackay. Like many spots on the east coast it was named by James Cook, this place for Wills Hill, Earl of Hillsborough, secretary of state for the colonies. On June 2, 1770 Cook wrote “A pretty high Promontary which I named Cape Hillsborough bore W1/2N distant 7 Miles – the Mainland is here pretty much deversified with Mountains, Hills plains and Vallies and seems to be tolerably cloathed with wood and Verdure the Islands which lay parallel with the Coast and from 5 to 8 or 9 Leagues off are of Various extent both for height and circuit, hardly any exceeds 5 Leagues in circuit and many again are very small besides this chain of Islands which lay at a distance from the coast there are other small ones laying scatterd under the land. Some few smooks were seen on the Mainland.”
We were staying at the resort directly behind the beach, which as Cook noticed were “tolerably cloathed with wood” and reminded us more of south-east Asian beaches than Australian ones.
We set off on the Andrews Point walk which climbs over the Cape with five great lookouts including this one out to Wedge Island. Because it was low tide it meant we could later get out to the island and then return along the beach.
Butterflies like these patrolled the Cape in great swarms. These were Blue Tigers (Tirumala limniace) one of 25 species in the area. Blue Tigers are mostly a tropical butterfly seen nearly all year round in North Queensland. They fly south during spring and summer reaching southern Queensland, NSW and even Victoria. Their main larvae host plant is the Corky Milk Vine (Secamone elliptica) and the ability for lots of caterpillars to successfully pupate. Corky Milk Vine contains chemicals poisonous to many animals but not to the Blue Tiger larvae. When the larvae eat the vine, the poisonous chemicals get passed on to the pupae and adult butterflies. These toxins then work to protect adult Blue Tigers from being eaten by birds,
Cape Hillsborough was formed from a series of eruptions 30 million years ago, when lava flows covered the area creating the dramatic rhyolite rock and cave formations that book-end Casuarina Bay. Below is the view from the top of the Andrews Point track looking back to the beach.
We were stopped in our tracks by this little fellow. I almost trod on this green tree snake basking in the middle of the path in no hurry to move. The green tree is non-venomous but when threatened, this diurnal snake secretes a smelly oil from its vent glands. Found predominately in trees or shrubs, it will also inflate its throat to display blue skin between his scales. It will bite, but only as a last resort. I resorted to a stick to prod it and it made good its escape into the bush.
This was the view from Turtle Lookout looking back west towards the hills behind Belmunda.
Turtle Lookout did you say? Indeed there were turtles in the water below. Though I couldn’t be sure, I think this is a loggerhead turtle, named for their large heads that support powerful jaw muscles, allowing them to crush hard-shelled prey like clams and sea urchins. Loggerhead turtles are carnivorous, feeding mostly on shellfish, crabs, sea urchins and jellyfish. They live in Queensland and WA waters.
When we got over to explore Wedge Island, the birds were in full evening voice. More than 130 species of birds have been identified in the national park. These olive-backed sunbirds (Cinnyris jugularis) enjoyed the foliage with a sea view.
The following morning we were up at dawn to watch the kangaroos on the beach. The dawn was lovely and the kangaroos were a delight. But in truth there were more people than kangaroos and it didn’t seem right that someone was feeding them out of a bucket.
Later we took another walk to the mangrove boardwalk. Cook noticed “Some few smooks” on the mainland and the area was the home of the Yuwi people. The Yuwi were wiped out by settlers but evidence of their habitation can be seen today in numerous shell middens like this one.
There was further evidence of their practices on the Yuwi walk south of the Cape with this stone fish trap at Hidden Valley. A line of stones sealed two rock outcrops which could be collected from at low tide.
When we returned to Wedge Island later that day, the weather was turning. Dark grey clouds were about to land rain on us that would follow us all the way to Brisbane in the coming days. The sunbirds lived up to their name and were nowhere to be found as the rains came. Nonetheless Cape Hillsborough’s beauty shines through regardless of the weather. I’m sure I’ll be back someday again.