Far northern exposure

Road Trip

Family road trip offers the chance to explore North Queensland and educate the unwilling.

Mountain biking at Mission Beach.
A mountain biker rides along palm-fringed Mission Beach.

For many visitors to tropical north Queensland, Townsville is a place you fly over on the way to Cairns.

But for the curious traveller who swaps the cabin of a Boeing for something fourwheeled, the 350km road route between Cairns and Townsville offers ample rewards.

My wife, teenage daughters and I were in the right frame of mind for such a drive, having spent a week enjoying the beach, restaurants, and resort pools at Palm Cove, north of Cairns.

But as I squeezed the last of our luggage into the boot of our Hyundai i30 hatch, the prophetic words of best-selling author Tom Lichtenheld sprang to mind. According to Lichtenheld, “A road trip is a way for the whole family to spend time together and annoy each other in interesting and new places”.

Perhaps, but in this instance the “bonus” annoyance for my daughters was that Dad would get to play tour guide, pointing out the highlights of a region that was a key part of his own fickle youth.

Heading back through Cairns the first Griswold-like highlight towered over the roadside in the form of a slightly dilapidated 10m-high statue of Captain James Cook.

I explained to my iPhone-obsessed offspring that Cook’s statue once stood proudly and more freshly painted in a different location and it was a game for my siblings and I to see who could spot it first on our own holiday road trips.

“Really Dad? Please tell us more about the great navigator,” I don’t believe I heard them say.

Beyond the city limits the Bruce Highway plunges immediately into a sea of gently waving sugar cane, the verdant vista interspersed by lines of cane bins on narrow-gauge tracks, the haul-out tractors kicking up red dust in the paddocks.

To the west, the hulking shape of misty, cloud-draped mountains seemed to track our progress. I interrupted the music streaming momentarily to explain to my unimpressed daughters how the twin peaks of Mt Bartle Frere and Mt Bellenden Kerr are Queensland’s highest and second highest peaks, respectively. 

“Really Dad? Please do tell us more about the volcanic geography of the region,” I never heard them utter.

Devil's Pool at the Babina Boulders.

Devil's Pool at the Babinda Boulders.

With more time and a slightly more engaged audience, we might have detoured for a dip at the Babinda Boulders, or headed towards the coast to wander along palm-fringed Mission Beach. 

But with Netflix and an internet connection beckoning in Townsville, I was urged to press on.

It isn’t until the sleepy township of Cardwell that the Bruce Highway emerges from the cane fields and eucalypts to briefly kiss the coastline.

This is a popular halfway stopover for motorists, with mud crab sandwiches a sought-after local delicacy.

If you’re here at the right time of day, Rob Jesse’s distinctive yellow pie van on the town’s southern outskirts serves more hearty fare.

Rob and his family have been making and selling their delicious crusty delights here for more than 30 years and trust me when I tell you his pies are worth stopping for.

The pie man at Cardwell.

Rob Jesse with a tray of his famous pies in  Cardwell.

Bundling back into the i30, we’re soon working the little 2.0-litre hard, climbing up and over the dense rainforest-clad Cardwell Range.

Like the Bruce Highway more generally, the range was once a serious challenge for motorists and truckies to negotiate safely, but these days it’s easy driving thanks to a major upgrade in 2013.

It’s also worth the short detour here to the Hinchinbrook Lookout, with its stunning views out over the rainforest and mangrove swamps to the cloud-piercing granite peaks of Hinchinbrook Island.

Back in the car and dropping down into the Herbert River valley, the township of Ingham sits surrounded by some of the richest and most fertile sugar growing country in Australia.

If you happen to be passing through in August, you might catch the annual Australian-Italian Festival.

Otherwise, Ingham is the jump-off point for myriad natural attractions including Wallaman Falls, Australia’s tallest permanent waterfall.

The sparse, scrubby landscape between Ingham and Townsville is hardly the most attractive part of the trip, but if you’re up for the steep and winding detour into the Paluma Range National Park, it’s

worth the effort for its idyllic swimming spots and the misty upland rainforest-fringed town of Paluma.

No such detours were permitted on our watch though, with one child known to release the contents of her stomach at the sight of a twisty road, and the other making pressing social arrangements with her Townsville cousins for the moment we arrive.

View to Magnetic Island from The Ville Resort Townsville

The view from The Ville Resort Casino looking towards Magnetic Island.

Which we duly do, beelining for the 4.5-star The Ville Resort Casino, located on the Townsville Breakwater with its panoramic views over the CBD, Castle Hill, and seaward to Magnetic Island.

The place is buzzing with revellers pouring into the hotel’s restaurants and gaming area, but we’re more interested in escaping the tropical humidity and getting to our Ocean View room.

With the air set to a comfortable chill, a welcoming fruit platter on the table and the view to the twinkling lights of Magnetic Island perfectly framed by the expansive windows, I ponder the washup of our little family road trip.

I’m unsure if my kids saw or learnt anything, but I at least enjoyed reacquainting myself with this special part of the world… and I have a new appreciation for both Lichtenheld and airline travel.

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The information in this article has been prepared for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal advice or specific advice to any particular person. Any advice contained in the document is general advice, not intended as legal advice or professional advice and does not take into account any person’s particular circumstances. Before acting on anything based on this advice you should consider its appropriateness to you, having regard to your objectives and needs.