Give me coffee to change the things I can, and the beach to accept the things I can’t.
This is the third and final stage of my quest to find the best beach in Queensland. I got to Cooktown and was riding back to Atherton on the long, hot Mulligan’s Highway. Realising there was a gap in my research. I needed to plan another adventure, at least that’s what I told my wife. Four years ago I wrote a blog post saying I believed Bowen had the best beaches in Queensland.
In the beginning……
How arrogant was that, I hadn’t been to all the beaches in Queensland. How would I really know if they were or not? It took about a year to make the plans and put them in place, during that time I bought a KLR 650 motorbike to take me on my travels. His name is Emu, if you have read any of my blog posts you will have met him. I had a couple of bucket list items that Emu and I had to tick off in the outback. Then we headed to South East Queensland to begin our quest. You can read about these bucket list items in the link titled Motorcycle tour of Queensland – 26 days on the road
On the first trip I had ridden through Outback Queensland to the NSW border. Then I rode up the coast from Coolangatta documenting as many coastal beaches as I could. But at Sarina I had gone inland again and come back to Townsville via Ravenswood. You can check out that adventure on the following link: Motorcycle tour of Queensland – 26 days on the road
My second adventure was from Townsville to Cooktown via the Bloomfield Track and the Daintree Rain Forest. This was a trip that took eight days in the middle of summer. Check out my post on the Bloomfield Track:Riding a motorbike across the Bloomfield Track to Cooktown
The final journey…..
This time I would attempt to fill the gap and ride from Townsville to Sarina. I was also looking for appropriate camping sites, for free camping while documenting as many beaches as I could. The following map highlights my final adventure in the best beach project:
We rode south out of Townsville along the Bruce Highway, it was early on a Monday morning and I was conscious of roos and road trains on the road. My son Liam had decided to join me for this first part of the trip, he would later turn round and ride home and I would continue to Bowen.
Cungulla Beach is a small fishing community about 45 minutes south of Townsville. It is perched between the Bowling Green National Park and the mouth of the Houghton River. Unlike many of the beach side fishing communities, Cungulla has an easily accessible beach front and free camping. The site is along the beach, and getting to it requires some sand riding experience.
To get there from Townsville, ride south down the Bruce Highway for about 40 minutes. Look out for the small sign on the left side of the road indicating the Australian Institute of Marine Science. Follow this road for about five kilometres over the salt flats and then turn right again onto the Cungulla Road. This road continues for about is 12 kilometres ending in a tee-intersection.
Which way to go
There are plenty of signs indicating where to go as well as some chalkboards for community communication. Turn left to find the boat ramp and access to the free camping area. Turn right and you go past some modern houses on your way to the beach front.
Cungulla Beach is a community with easy access to the beach for those wanting to explore. When the tide is in, it’s a great place for fishing, either in the Houghton River or across the mud flats and the creek estuary. Access in the estuary when the tide is out is challenging (see photo of the boat ramp above). After leaving Cungulla you turn left at the Bruce Highway towards Ayr. The ride down to Ayr is pleasant and fairly fast, in about 30 minutes you’re passing through Brandon and then Ayr itself.
Ayr is a sugar cane town, which is evident with sugar cane growing for as far as the eye can see. In the distance you will see the chimneys of the sugar crushing plants. The sugar mill towers billow grey and white clouds of steam during the crush. The town is perched in between the giant Burdekin River and the coast. The closest and only accessible beach to Ayr is Alva Beach.
This is a well established beach community, with some early 1920’s buildings, a lot of beach huts and quite a few newer houses. There is a caravan park here called the Yongala Caravan Park. It caters to back packers who want to dive the SS Yongala, the dive shop is next door. If you want to do a dive expedition to one of the top ten wreck dives in the world, this is where you will do it from. Yongala Dive runs trips out to the wreck on a regular basis. I dived there with my son a number of years ago, you can read about it at the following link:https://digitalswaggie.com.au/ship-wreck-ss-yongala-great-barrier-reef-diving-queensland
Alva Beach is a pleasant community, but I wouldn’t consider it to be one of the best beaches in Queensland. For those who fish and four wheel drive down beaches it has something for you. There is a lifesaving club in town. Once you leave Alva Beach you have a 1.5 hour ride south to Bowen. First you will ride back to Ayr, then over the Burdekin Bridge to Home Hill.
A long ride
There are a couple of fishing communities from Home Hill to Bowen, but these are communities of fishing huts that have been illegally assembled. It’s still worth a visit to some of these, all though more and more of them have locked gates to prevent access. This is usually because of a lease with the traditional owner . I ride on as the temperature starts to get hot, The Bruce Highway is full of trucks and in places it’s quite narrow, staying on the far left of the road provides me with some resistance. The trucks create a pressure wave that throw you around as a road train passes by.
There’s a look out about 10 kilometres out of Home Hill on the only mountain peak in the district, its called Inkerman Hill and it’s definitely worth visiting. It’s very steep but once you get to the top it provides spectacular views over the Burdekin Cane district.
Back on the road, I come across a little sign that says “Wanjunga Community”. I’ve passed this sign every Saturday for 10 years as I took my son to the Burdekin to play soccer, but never once went to have a look. I’ve always thought it was an aboriginal community, so I’ve stayed away.
I’m on my bike and I can go where I like so today is the day I decide to go out to Wanjunga, I wasn’t expecting a beach. In fact I don’t really know what I was expecting except maybe a run down community with stray dogs and snotty nosed children. The ride out to Wanjunga is more interesting than I had first thought it would be, most of the road was gravel for a start, which was a welcome relief.
The gravel was interspersed with concrete causeways, that criss-crossed a wetland. The bird life in the wet land was immense. I had not expected so much bird life in an area hidden away from the main road. I was hoping to see the occasional crocodile, but I guess the water wasn’t deep enough. When I got closer to the community I could see houses in the background and a number of tracks leading to the beach. I chose one and road up the deep sand until I found a place to park Emu. From there I walked onto the beach.
The beach was long and flat, ideal for driving your four wheel drive or for launching your boat. I left my tranquil beach spot in search of somewhere to pull up for morning tea, Not long past this first road I came across a caravan park, it had a strange name “Funny Dunny Caravan Park”, I would come back to explore this before I left. But for now I wanted to see what this community was all about.
Just past the caravan park the road became tar as it rose steeply to the first house in the community. I couldn’t get the sound of dueling banjos out of my mind. There was something strange about this community. The community was perched on the edge of a small bluff that led down onto the beach. There was a mix of old and new housing. Mostly old, but unlike some the communities I’ve been to, this one seemed closed off and very dry. A part from the occasional dog barking and people peering out of their window I couldn’t see much activity.
In most communities I have visited up the coast of Queensland there is usually a toilet block and a picnic table. I was desperately looking for somewhere to boil a billy and take in the atmosphere of this small community and sit looking out over the water. Unfortunately, there was no place for me to stop and up pack the bike. I decided to go back to the caravan park, have a look and then continue on my journey towards Bowen.
Funny Dunny Park
With a name like “Funny Dunny Park” there has to be a story, so I rode into the park, past an unusual toilet perched on a concrete block. At first, apart from the toilet, all seemed normal. There were large flat sandy camp sites and a path through the beach scrub to the long expansive beach front. A few grey nomads peered out of their vans to look at me. I must admit Emu is not the quietest bike, with his Yoshimirra pipe, thumping single 650 piston and his all black appearance, he sounds like he means business.
At the time I was riding with my black jeans, black mesh and leather jacket, so I guess I completed the image perfectly. We got some angry looks as I rode past a couple of vans, clearly disturbing someone’s mid morning sleep. Or may be they though I was the scout for a much larger “Hell’s Angle” gang confluence.
I hit the kill switch to appease the caravaners and looked around the site. This old dude wondered up to me and starting asking questions about the bike and where I had come from. It turns out he was the caretaker for the park, his name was Jim and he lived in his caravan with his best mate “Digit”. Jim was a resourceful dude who not only looked after the park but sold hardware and other important caravanning products like duct tape, fuses, matches, lighters and pretty much anything you might run out of. It was after all a long drive to the nearest supermarket.
For those who are not familiar with the great Aussie colloquialism “Dunny” it means toilet. Remember I said I was surprised that Wanjunga didn’t have a toilet block, well the council thought this was a problem as well. So they called the town together to ask where they thought the toilet should go. No body in the town wanted the toilet anywhere near the town.
They were concerned it might attract the wrong sort of people, so the decision was made to have it located about 500 metres before the town. Jim regales in the story of how the Funny Dunny came to pass. The toilet at the time was built on a platform to prevent it from being flooded during the wet season. When the council decided to allocate some land for a camping ground they chose the site of the toilet rather than having to deal with the locals again.
The Dunny offends sensitivities
While the toilet had survived for about eight years, when the camp ground was built around it, tourists from all over Australia came to stay and used the toilet (not just to use the toilet of course, that would be strange). Then one day a grey nomad couple from Melbourne arrived.
The Melbourne lady in her gold and perl necklace was convinced that a peeping tom could crawl under the toilet and watch while she did her thing. So convinced was she that this had actually occurred that she contacted the police and the council. According to Jim the actual words were “That Funny Dunny at Wanjunga is dangerous and attracts deviants”.
The council not wanting to attract more deviants especially those from Melbourne decided to pull down the offending dunny and build a more robust modern version. Hence the name and the unusual out house that stands there today.
I could have listened to Jim’s stories all day, he is typical of some of the amazing characters you meet when riding around Australia. Unfortunately, it was time to move on again and find a place for morning tea. I rode out across the wet land and back on to the Bruce Highway, definately a place to visit if you like the beach and a restful camping spot.
Riding south down the Bruce Highway from Home Hill to Bowen there are a number of small communities Gumlu is a small farming community that has a lot of small crop farms. There is an awesome fruit stall on the left side of the road if you want to collect some fresh local produce. If you turn right across the highway you will come across the Gumlu Caravan Park and the small Gumlu community centre.
However, if you are looking for a unique place to stay you can continue out of Gumlu by about 500 metres you will ride over the Molongle Creek bridge and directly on your is a sign that says Molongle Beach. You can follow this road past large white packing sheds and crops of melons with the occasional mango tree orchard. Before long you arrive at the Molongle Creek Caravan Park.
The Molongle Creek Caravan Park is owned by the Molongle Creek Boat Club. There is a council boat ramp and small dredged estuary that leads out into the ocean. Just off the coast is Cape Upstart, which dominates the sea scape. There are approximately 200 houses on Cape Upstart and the only way of accessing them is via boat. The Molongle Creek boat ramp plays an important part in providing this access. The caravan park has a Facebook site that highlights some of the fish caught in the area and is worth having a look at: https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=molongle%20creek%20caravan%20Park
Because of its location Molongle Creek enables people to launch their boats and undertake ocean fishing expeditions without having to go to Townsville or Bowen. This makes the caravan park popular during the winter with locals and tourists. The park is run by Amanda and her partner Drew. Check out the Molongle Creek Boat club face book page for more details: https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=molongle%20creek%20boat%20club
It’s starting to get hot now with the heat of the tropical sun bearing down on the tar surface of the Bruce Highway. There’s a lot of truck traffic on this road, at least during summer the caravans of the grey nomads are parked at home.
I can’t say I like riding this road in the summer time, there seems to be very little respite from the heat and humidity. It’s one of those typical highways in Queensland, that have continuous roadworks, at least when your riding the wind blows through your jacket and cools your sweat, but once you stop the heat soon over powers you. Emu is water cooled, but even he starts to get hot is sitting too long in traffic.
Once I’ve ridden around the park and the ample parking area, I make my way back to the Bruce Highway. About 20 minutes south of Gumlu is Guthalungra. This is the only petrol station between Home Hill and Bowen. It is also a place that has a number of well maintained and clean public toilets. The area adjacent to the petrol station permits free camping. For tent people it’s best to camp in the middle of the park, but just beware there’s little ant piles all over the grass area, so select your camp site well. Vans and car travellers can find a carpark around the edges.
Shaded tables and giant trees
I usually stop here and make a coffee under one of the shaded huts, this time I strip down to my tee shirt and riding pants, it’s a relief to pull my boots off, it helps reduce the heat. I’m about about 30 minutes from Bowen so it’s a good place to pull up for a rest.
The last section of the ride brings me closer to the coast, about 20 minutes of riding and I’m passing the turn off to the Abbot Point Coal Terminal and then I’m in the town of Merinda. There are mango trees lining the highway and before long I’m crossing the Don River Bridge at the northern end of the Bowen Airport. I turn left and head to Bowen’s southern entry and the road to my first Bowen Beach, Queens Beach.
Camping on the beach
There are plenty of camping grounds in Bowen, but if you want to camp for free you would have to be stealthy to wild camp. There are private and council parks, but they can be expensive and don’t really cater to the solo, tent camping fraternity. The council are draconian about how they treat back packers and solo travellers. There are signs warning of fines of up to $4500.00 for camping in town.To say that Bowen is unfriendly to travellers is an understatement.
My ride today will end just south of Bowen where I will camp on the beach at a friends place in Brisk Bay. In the next post I will explore Bowen in more detail. After all it is here that I made the grand statement that has led to my “Best Beach Quest”. It is only fitting that I re-evaluate the beaches here, now that I have ridden most of the coast.
I hope you enjoyed this post if so, please make comments in the comments section below. I’d love to hear your views on what is the best beach in Queensland. Safe riding…………..:)