Hughenden

Australian Age of Dinosaurs website offers a suggested itinerary of 9 days, 3 each in Winton, Hughenden, and Richmond. I managed to condense that to the 2 days and nights we had in Winton and 3 nights in Hughenden allowing for a day trip to Richmond. At times today we wondered if I might have condensed it further.

As usual we were up and away around 8:00 am, gaining an hour on what I had planned in the itinerary. The road out of Winton passed through country  dotted with mesa (flat top hills) formations but that soon transitioned to plains with just occasional trees or shrubs, many of them apparently dead. Some areas had visible grass and there were occasional groups of cattle or sheep to be seen but most of the countryside was bone dry and much of it appeared to be bare stony earth. It is difficult to reconcile its appearance with the historic stories of millions of sheep producing wool. The current drought surely accounts for the worst of the conditions but perhaps there has been historic damage to a fragile ecosystem too.

About an hour (80 km) up the road we came to Corfield where our friend, Warwick Dingle, grew up. The family home that served as post office and more has gone and has apparently been replaced by Telstra equipment providing an oasis of 4G connectivity in the technological desert we had been driving through. The next door tennis courts where Warwick had played are still standing but with new durable surfacing and lighting. We paused there for photos and to send our greetings to Warwick, then drove on toward Hughenden.

Majella was driving and had remarked early in the day on the absence of other traffic. On the 2 1/2 hour drive between Winton and Hughenden we were overtaken just once and passed only 14 vehicles coming toward us, half of which were caravans or campers.

The paddocks of largely bare soil continued as we drove north from Corfield though there were some that seemed to have more grass. A few small groups of sheep or cattle foraged for the few remaining scraps of grass.

About 50 km short of Hughenden a low flat top range appeared on the horizon. Another 20 km further on we began to pass more trees, enough to think the area was lightly forested, and there were some low hills that put some undulation in our otherwise flat road.

By 10:30 am we had found a centre park in the town centre of Hughenden just around the corner from the Flinders Discovery Centre, our dinosaur destination for today. We made coffee before walking around the corner to present our passes and enter the museum. The centre is also the tourist information centre for the area so on the way in we asked about things to do and collected maps and other information to guide us.

The museum had a replica skeleton of Muttaburrasaurus and a collection of  fossils and rocks along with some informative signage. We watched an audiovisual presentation about Porcupine Gorge which is on our itinerary for Tuesday. The geological history of the site is complex and the presentation should help with appreciating the layers visible in the gorge. The other feature of the museum was a substantial display about the pastoral history of the region covering exploration, sheep and wool, shearers’ strikes, and cattle across more than a century. 

After we left the museum we sat for a while in a shelter set between two large Comet windmill fans. They had been donated and the signage told something of the history of Comet windmills which were large enough to pump water from deep wells with just 3 moving parts to minimise maintenance. The sign mentioned the even larger (10 m diameter) example by the riverbank which we had seen as we drove into the town centre.

A shopping expedition for fresh bread was unsuccessful, probably unsurprising for Sunday lunch time, so we drove across the bridge over the dry sandy river bed and parked in the shade. Majella worked her magic and produced celery soup (brought frozen from home) with the last of our week old bread fried. We ate that at a shaded picnic table in the park before taking a stroll along the eco-walk by the river. Its major feature was 150 trees planted by school children as part of the 150 year celebration of Queensland in 2009.

Our informant at the Flinders Discovery Centre had told us about a lake on the edge of town that offered a pleasant walk around its shore. We found the lake and enjoyed a short walk to a garden of bougainvilleas covering around what disguised an artificial waterfall on the lakeshore. We skipped the walk around the lake in the warm sunshine.

Majella had spotted a large building in the distance from the lakeside so she drove us in that direction to see what it might be. It was just a shed but on the way there we had seen a sign indicating the turnoff to Mount Walker in 1 km. The turnoff was at the shed location and the sign there indicated Mount Walker Lookout was 8 km away so we pressed on.

When I checked the local information we had collected it indicated that the road to Mount Walker was suitable for most vehicles but not those towing because of a 16% grade. As we approached the mountain we could see the road was steep but when we arrived at the foot of the steep ascent Majella almost turned back. After a moment of hesitation she found first gear and we were soon up the mountain. The flat top of the mountain has not one but 6 lookouts with descriptive signage looking in different directions. The signage, two shelters with BBQs, and new toilet block were evidently a Queensland Government project intended to provide support for communities in drought. For those who can get past the steep hill it is a site worth visiting.

By then it was approaching 3:00 pm so we headed for the van park where I had booked a site for our 3 nights in Hughenden. We were soon checked and parked. Majella went off to do some laundry while I completed setting up. When she returned we set up the table and chairs in the shade of the van and enjoyed relief from the 28ºC heat with some afternoon refreshment before a light dinner in the van.