After many years of living in North Queensland, we finally decided to do a road trip to Chillagoe to see this special little town known for its limestone caves, a balancing rock and some old smelter ruins. Of course there was so much more to discover. We were kept busy for three days having camped there for two nights. In saying that, we still did not see everything.
If you are interested in photography of this place, it pays to do some research beforehand and look at some maps. There is a lot of information on the internet about Chillagoe and its history.
Chillagoe is located about 205km west of Cairns, or if you are on the Tablelands, about 1 – 2 hours’ drive from Mareeba.
The road is mostly bitumen and is suitable for conventional vehicles. There is just a few kilometres of dirt road – just slow down here and take your time.
We decided to do the slow drive out, stopping to visit all the little towns with railway stations. This had special significance for me as my grandfather was involved in the establishment of the tobacco industry in the Mareeba district in the 1930’s. He travelled along this railway line giving out plants to each of the townships trying to establish the best place to grow tobacco.
Our first part of the journey was through many fruit farms near Mutchilba. Mangoes, sugar cane, lychees and avocadoes are grown here using irrigated water from Tinaroo Dam.
As luck would have it, the Savannahlander rail motor was on a tour that day. We were able to get ahead of the train, stop and take photos then went on to meet it at Dimbulah. Ah the things we do for a photo!
The railway line was completed in 1900. I think the only transport along the line today are the tourist rail motors. The line stops now at Almaden and passengers are bussed to Chillagoe from there. The line does continue in another direction to Forsythe.
Then it was onto Petford. Not much to see there, not even a railway station, but they did have this little “railway” siding that I am sure everyone who passes through here, stops for photos.
A fine example of an old Aussie house built out of corrugated iron. Perfect with modern day satellite dish!
Our friend who was travelling with us suggested we check out Lappa Junction. Not quite on the tourist map but we decided to have a quick look. Yes there was a railway station (not even sure the rail motor stops there).
Anyway, some old buildings piqued our interest so we popped inside to see what looked like a museum. What a surprise – This had actually been a hotel and there was a fully set up bar and lots of interesting things to see. Just mind the floorboards and the steps. What a crazy find.
So much history here.
Arriving in Almaden, we hoped to again see the Savannahlander but we were too early. We spoke to the “stationmaster” whose job it was to meet the trains and make the station look neat.
Most small towns of course have a pub or two (often named the Railway Hotel or Post Office Hotel).
We visited the old cemetery and had a quick drive around town before the final drive into Chillagoe.
The landscape itself was amazing. For anyone new to the Australian bush, this is a really picturesque drive.
Take care on the patches of dirt, wait for traffic at the “one-way” bridges and perhaps stop to view some of the rivers and creeks (most were dry at this time of the year).
Check out the interesting signs along the road as well.
The sight of limestone outcrops assured us we were almost at our destination. We also saw big blocks of marble in the bush (another of Chillagoe’s industries).
The first stop for most people is “The Hub” , the Visitor’s Centre where we confirmed the bookings on our cave tours. Point to note here – you should always check the availability of these tours before your trip, especially in current times when numbers have been reduced due to Covid. Friendly service with a smile and lots of helpful advice. Got our must-have map of the area with places to see.
Our accommodation was a campsite at the Eco Lodge just outside town.
Great spot with clean amenities and those special “Aussie” touches of the Bush dunny and showers.
If staying there, take the time to walk around the grounds discovering lots of interesting “stuff”.
Walking around the town we discovered several historic buildings.
The Heritage Centre is housed in the old courthouse and has free entry. Well worth a visit.
The courthouse setup was so well done and very clean. A credit to those who run it.
History of the region can be read on the many posters like these.
Beside the Hub, you will find the old bank vault built in 1900. One can only imagine the amount of gold and cash that would have been stored there.
The original Post Office is now a guesthouse, and the local Catholic church is iconically Australian. Not sure of the history of the bell tower but it looks to have a “mining” feel about it.
The Post Office Hotel dates back to early 1900’s.
It may not be your thing to enter a public bar, but it is well worth a look for its décor. Firstly the bar is made from different examples of local marble and the walls are covered in autographs of travellers. The bar staff were super friendly and everyone is always happy to have a chat.
Outside is an old hitching rail that was used for the horses while their riders popped into the bar for a drink or two.
Relating to the mining history, I just loved this poster on the wall.
We had a quick look at the town weir but most of the creeks in the area are quite low or even dry at this time of the year.
There are some amazing limestone outcrops right in town.
Finally we visited the Chillagoe railway station, the end of my grandfather’s journey. No longer in use, it has been restored for a museum I believe.
Chillagoe has so much to offer tourists. I have made two more posts featuring the major tourist attractions (Balancing Rock and the Smelters), and of course the Caves of the Mungana National Park.
If you are a local of the Tablelands or the Cairns District, or just visiting North Queensland and have never been to Chillagoe, make sure you get out there for a visit. What a great place.
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