I’m on a mission to find the best beach on the Queensland coast. This is part two of my motorcycle tour of tropical Queensland. The southern section of the Queensland coast was highlighted in my blog post: https://digitalswaggie.com.au/riding-a-motorcycle-around-queensland-26-days-on-the-road. You can read about all the beaches from Coolangatta to Sarina.
Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universeAnatole France
In the first part of this motorcycle tour of tropical Queensland series, I rode from Townsville to Lucinda. I have now just past over an imaginary line. I’m no longer in the dry oppressive heat that typifies the dry tropics. But Instead, I am in wet oppressive heat of the wet tropics. Whichever way you look at it, it’s still hot. Somehow the wet oppressive heat seems kinder to me while I’m riding but less so when I’m camping.
If you have just dropped into this blog and would like to know how I got here, check out my previous blog post at the following link: https://digitalswaggie.com.au/touring-tropical-queensland-by-motorcycle-best-beach-project-townsville-to-lucinda-beach
I cross over the Burnett River, it reminds me of a stormy night when a car driver posted a video of a three metre salt water crocodile on this very bridge. It was flooded at the time, so it’s lucky for me it’s not raining yet. The sight of the bridge brings back thoughts of crocodiles everywhere. I reflect on how easy it is to become complacent about crocodiles in North Queensland. But they really are in every water hole and their numbers are growing.
It doesn’t take long once you ride out of Ingham to start climbing over the Cardwell Range. There’s an awesome lookout at the top. You can see Hinchinbrook Island and the famous Hinchinbrook Passage from it.
I see a curious site as I descend the other side of the range, in the trees and over the road are wire walkways, like some sort of scout jungle course. They are enclosed suspended walkways for wild life, to prevent them becoming road kill. I can’t help wondering how kangaroos climb the trees.
Cardwell is a small town at the top of the Hinchinbrook Passage. It was established in 1864 as a deep water port for the transportation of livestock. At the time it was considered as one of two possible North Queensland ports. However, Bowen was the favourite, due to an easier navigable channel and better access to the emerging mineral areas. Both Bowen and Cardwell had the only natural deep water access channels in North Queensland. But due to politics and money Townsville got the nod, even though Townsville still struggles with a 25 kilometre port access way today, requiring regular dredging.
Cardwell suffered significantly when it was hit by Cyclone Yasi in 2011, a category five cyclone with wind gusts up to 285 kilometres per hour. Yasi tore through the town ripping off roofs and generating a five metre storm surge that wiped out the foreshore. I heard from one local there are still big yachts in the mangroves that can’t be salvaged. The beach front has been completely rebuilt since then. There are some great cafe’s in town and a great bakery.
The beach front is spectacular, but has a reputation for giant crocodiles that swim out of the passage and sun bake on the beach.
As I ride further north, the landscape becomes more what I expect of the tropics. My motorcycle tour of tropical Queensland includes lush green rain forest hills, palm trees and pineapple plantations.
Taking time to look around
I take a right turn before Tully and head down a narrow road surrounded by sugar cane plantations. A small dog is sitting on the side of the road, I’m sure he’s planning an attack. I beep my horn and it startles him momentarily as I pass. He gains his composure and runs out on to the road barking. But it’s too late I’m gone.
I’d been past this point a number of times and was always in a hurry to get somewhere else. My best beaches project has forced me to take time to check out these places. As I slow down coming into the small beach side town there is a Cassowary on the road in front of me, about 10 metres away. I turn off the engine and fumble for my camera. I pull the camera up just as it disappears into the bush.
A master of camouflage, it has gone and I have nothing but a picture of a road and a bit of tropical bush. It difficult to shake the feeling that it’s watching me. Cassowaries can be dangerous, they have a reputation as being aggressive, especially when chicks are around. Their talons have been known to rip people a part and they deserve their fearsome reputation.
Tully Heads is a small beach side community that sits between the Tully and Hull Rivers. It has a population of approximately 324 people and provides a beach side area for those who live and work in the Tully area. Fishing is one of the draw cards to this area and access to the coral sea is via both inlets. There is a tavern in Tully Head and a coast guard facility at Hull Head. The beach itself is similar to other tropical beaches in that it is a straight line of golden orange sand from one head land to the other.
Making my way back onto the cane road, I pass the suicidal attack dog and get back onto the Bruce Highway. The Tully town centre is three kilometres down the road, it is a major support centre for both the cane growers and the sugar mill. It has the Australian record for the highest seasonal rain fall. There is a gum boot at the rest area highlighting the record levels. Tully is also home to one of the only places in Queensland to offer white water rafting experiences.
Exploring Mission Beach
Once you leave Tully it’s not long before you come across the southern entrance to Mission Beach. An Aboriginal Settlement was set up at what is now Wongaling Beach, in the pretext of keeping the Aboriginal people safe from Chinese farmers who were paying in opium. The term mission beach is wrongly attributed to this settlement, assuming it to be a Christian mission. It was named the “South Mission”, but it wasn’t until 1920 that a road was put through and then the town was established in 1940’s and 50’s.
The area is the traditional lands of the Djiru people who got along well with the first European settlers in the first instance. In 1870 European’s started cutting Cedar and clearing land for bananas, mangoes, pineapples and coffee. The treatment of the Djiru people was pretty bad and they were used as labourers. Conflict broke out between the aboriginal labourers and the European squatters. The Chinese started paying the labourers in Opium, which the Government objected to. Because of this the Hull River Aboriginal Settlement was established. However, after a cyclone destroyed the settlement the remaining occupants were sent to the Great Palm Island mission.
From rain forest to the Great Barrier Reef
As you ride into the Mission Beach area you are confronted with signs warning of Cassowaries. According to the research people at Mission Beach there are 45 breading Cassowaries in the area. However, there are 47 warning signs, strange fact. While Cassowaries are considered rare, I found one walking through one of the local caravan parks, apparently he is a regular here and turns up at 5.0 pm everyday.
The town is surrounded by rain forest which literally goes down to the beach. Mission Beach is comprised of Wongaling Beach (South Mission), Mission Beach and Bingil Bay in the north. I arrived fairly late in the afternoon and set about trying to find a place to stay. Previously I had camped at the big four at Wongaling Beach, but at $50.0 per site I wasn’t in the mood, instead I would look at Mission Beach or a small camp ground at Bingil Bay I found on my last adventure here. If you’re motorcycle touring tropical Queensland you should plan to stop here at Mission Beach. It is a spectacular place and is typical of the image of a tropical island.
Wongaling Beach is at the southern part of the township of Mission Beach, it winds around to the Hull River headland. It is point at which the ill-fated exploration of Edmun Kennedy and his party of 12 adventurers landed on their way to Cape York in 1848. A monument exists to recognise this historic landing.
The party got as far as Weymouth Bay on the Cape York Peninsula, However, after one of his part accidentally shot himself, Kennedy continued on with a smaller party of four to join up with their supply ship. Of the thirteen explorers that landed on the 24th May, 1848 only Jacky Jacky an aboriginal tracker, W. Carran and W. Goddard survived.
Kennedy had got as far as the Swamp River when he and three others were killed in a confrontation with local aboriginal people. Jacky Jacky continued on and met up with their supply ship the Arial and guided them back to where the final three of the small party were camped, all had died. Upon return to Weymouth Bay only Goddard and Carran had survived.
Dunk Island is just off the coast, it was a five star resort until severely damaged by Cyclone Yasi. It is now making its way back. There are a number of ways to get there, you can fly or take a water taxi from Wongaling Beach. South Mission Beach is a continuation of this beach area you follow a walking track. This track takes you closer to the Hull River Headland.
Riding to Mission Beach you go back towards Tully until you get to a small shopping centre with a supermarket, hotel and another caravan park. Ride north until a t-intersection, then turn right towards the beach.
It’s starting to get more humid as the clouds form and I expect to be rained on for the first time on my motorcycle tour of tropical Queensland.
Mission Beach is world famous as the place where the rain forest meets the Great Barrier Reef. In reality there are many places where the rain forest meets the Great Barrier Reef. However, Mission Beach has done a great job of marketing itself. The town is a bit of a let down as it is devoid of shops or restaurants to live up to its international reputation. It is more of a laid back village than sophisticated international destination.
The beach is spectacular and on the right day it is the absolute picture post card of Tropical Queensland. I pulled up at the beach side camping ground, which was $35.0 per night and a little expensive for the small exposed position they recommended.
But I knew of a smaller camping ground about 30 minutes north of the Mission Beach village, at a bay called Bingil Bay. The actual name is thought to be Aboriginal for a good camping place, and it’s easy to see why. There are lust tropical rain forest that goes straight onto the beach. Finding the perfect place to camp for the night is part of the fun during this motorcycle tour of tropical Queensland.
Bingil Bay was originally a farm developed by Frederick, Leonard, Sydney and James Cutten in the 1880’s. They grew coffee, mangoes, bananas and other tropical fruit. The export their goods by a small boat (the only way to access the bay at the time). It wasn’t until 1921 that a track was to El Arish. In 1930 a road was built. They brothers got into strife with the Government when they started paying the aboriginal labourers in Rum. This caused significant unrest and along with the Chinese paying in Opium the Government stepped in to protect the Aboriginal People by building the mission. Although in reality it was to control the local aboriginal groups and protect the farmers.
It was getting late and I was considering a couple of stealth camping sites. As luck would have it, the caretaker of the grounds found a small flat spot near a walkway for me. It was starting to rain as I put my tent up and I quickly got Emu and my gear under cover.
The camp ground was amazing with awesome views out over the bay as the moon rose, it cast a golden reflection in the water. There are times when you are traveling that take your breath away. I had stopped at the hotel on the way here and purchased a bottle of red wine. As I sat in the vestibule of my tent, drops of rain ran off the side and the sound of the small wave crashing on the beach made for a relaxing end to my chaotic day.
Waking to the tropical heat
In the morning the clouds disappeared, the sun came out and the humidity rose. I packed up slowly, took the opportunity to take a picture of myself and Emu on the beach. Then after 15 minutes of digging myself out of the sand, I continued on my way.
Bingil Bay would have to be on the top five list of the best beaches in Queensland, it is secluded, tropical with palm and coconut trees, tropical rain forest and fresh water creeks. There’s even a cafe up the hill as you go out of the village. The road continues north and then turns west towards the Bruce Highway. In the next part of this motorcycle tour of tropical Queensland, I visit the beaches near Innisfail before traveling through Cairns to Ellis Beach.