We finished the day on schedule, despite an early start and having completed the first activity I had planned for today yesterday afternoon. The extra time was filled with activities suggested by friends who are following our progress from a distance.
My plan for today had been loose. It allowed a couple of hours in the morning to explore the Chillagoe caves, followed by a couple of hours to drive as far as Atherton, bypassing Mareeba unless we had a reason to return there, and then on via a national park (or two) to Innot Hot Springs which I knew, based on our NZ experience last year, Majella would enjoy.
Now that the first 2 hours in Chillagoe were unnecessary there would be time to take up the suggestions from friends and explore Herberton rather than Atherton and then complete the day as planned.
We were on the road by 8:00 am and made a couple of quick stops just out of Chillagoe for photos of limestone outcrops. There was an array of wonderfully strange shapes rising out of the otherwise relatively flat ground. Majella was driving so stops were in her control and we paused again as we entered Almaden because she thought we should have a photo of one of the many fields of ant mounds we have been passing.
The inbuilt navigation system in the van had been suggesting a route that was substantially shorter than the one suggested by Apple Maps, Google Maps, or Maps.me, all of which I had checked for confirmation. As we approached Petford it became evident that the suggested route would take the Petford to Herberton Road which I later discovered was recommended for 4WD only.
About that time, Majella noticed that the fuel gauge was down to a quarter full. I had noticed it was just below half full yesterday afternoon and said that we should top up before leaving Chillagoe. We forgot to do that. Although we probably had enough to make the 80 km to Herberton, the low level and the (then) unknown quality of the road was enough to deter us. We skipped the turn, drove on, found diesel in Dimbulah and filled up.
Our route to Herberton bypassed Mareeba, and went through an area with irrigation canals brimming with water from Tinaroo Dam. It passed Lotus Glen correctional centre and a new wind farm on the hills behind Tolga and Atherton. Along the way we discovered that there is a Tablelands sugar mill which would be handling the cane we saw growing around Dimbulah and along our track this morning. That explained the trailers of cane billets we had seen yesterday and this morning but left us wondering about those we saw heading down the range on Friday. There were also banana plantations, but the biggest crop of all was mangoes. There were large plantings of those and the regular shape of the trees suggested that they were machine harvested or at least pruned to keep the tops low and level.
At Herberton we visited the Historic Village. It is a privately owned and operated attraction on the banks of the Wild River with an extensive collection of historic objects presented in a large number of historic buildings, most of which have been moved to the site, some over considerable distances. Cec Pedersen had been keen for us to see it because the Bakerville Hotel which is now on the site had been established by his grandmother and his father had been born in the building. The village also has a saddlery display in honour of Cec’s father who was a saddler. We enjoyed a couple of hours wandering through the various displays.
From there we went on to the Herberton Mining Museum. We asked about Bob Whittaker’s brother-in-law who volunteers there but the woman we spoke with informed us that she was covering for him on his day off. The museum had some interesting displays about early life in Herberton as well as the local mining industry. One of the volunteers assured us that there was plenty of tin still to be mined if only the government bureaucracy would let him.
We did find the Spy and Camera museum but by then it was after 1:00 pm and we had not yet eaten. We drove on to the next stop on my planned itinerary, Mount Hypipamee National Park. Majella made scrambled eggs with mushroom and onion for lunch. Afterwards we went for a walk to the crater and the falls on the upper Barron River. The crater is impressively deep – about 60 m to the water level and 70 m of water. The falls were also impressive with three sets of falls within a short distance.
Further on our route we saw a wind farm and a sign indicating a view point. We discovered that the Windy Hill wind farm was the first in Australia, operating from 2000 with an expected life of 25 years. It produces enough power for Atherton and Mareeba but that is fed into the grid and distributed as needed. The blades were turning in a fair breeze today and making noise that did not appear to bother cattle in the fields but might become annoying if you lived with it.
Our last stop for the day was at Millstream Falls National Park. We walked the 340 m to the viewing point. The path seemed well graded on the way down but there was some effort in getting back up.
We arrived at Innot Hot Springs on schedule at 4:00 pm. The office was closed but we were able to checkin at the hotel across the bridge. We spent about 30 minutes luxuriating in the hot water (about 40ºC) spa before returning to our van to relax with cheese, crackers, and a little wine. Dinner was tacos with papaw for dessert.