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Monday, 27 March 2017

HEADING OUTBACK WITH BILLY TEA SAFARIS

SEE IT ALL IN ONE DAY!


When you think of Cairns in Tropical North Queensland you think of Palm trees and all things "tropical". You think of lush rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef... right? Of course snorkeling and diving the reef and taking a walk through rainforest is a major draw card for the area (especially the Daintree Rainforest & Great Barrier Reef both being World Heritage Listed) and Cairns is the gateway to both. 

Most visitors to Australia don't realise that the real "Outback" is not just exclusive to the Northern Territory where Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon are. Many don't have time to fit this into their intineraries (Australia is massive, you know!) and what I bet you didn't know is that we have beautiful Outback easily accessible from Cairns in one day! There are so many tour options to do in and around Cairns it can be overwhelming however this adventure day tour is unique and different to all the rest. It really stands out and is different to any day tour I have written about thus far.

Let me enlighten you!

Billy Tea Safaris are a tour company running since 1981 and the tour to the Outback is one of it's kind and only available with Billy Tea. We were to be collected at our accomodations in Cairns before heading up over the Great Dividing Range away from the Tropical Coast to a real red earth experience!

As luck would have it, we were a small group on this day. Usually you are on the 4WD small buses.


Our friendly guide told us all about the different landscapes we passed through and the vegetation and history of the area. We left the Tropical Coast behind as we ascended up the Mcallistar Ranges to an area outside the country town of Mareeba. Our first stop of the day was Jabiru Safari Lodge. The Lodge is situated by wetlands where we were going to join a bird watching wetlands nature cruise . The Lodge is closed in the wet season and only opens for Billy Tea. Otherwise it is open to the public most of the year offering the cruise and more extensive bird watching and nature tours/experiences with accomodation.

We were greeted by a mob of Emus on arrival which made for some great photos and then moved inside to grab some morning tea. 

Emus, morning tea at the Lodge.

After pouring ourselves a local tea or coffee (this part of the world is known for growing good tea and coffee as it is the perfect environment for those crops) and scooping up a hand made biscuit we boarded the small vessel for our half hour tour on the water. It was a warm still morning with clear blue skies. Our guide told us all about how and why the wetlands are there and about various bird species. We spotted some native Black Swans taking flight on the other side of the lake. So peaceful and tranquil.
The beautiful tranquil wetlands at Jabiru Lodge.

The next part of the tour was pretty exciting! It was time for a real off road bush experience. We were to take the Douglas Track off the property which can only be done in a 4WD (and generally not in Wet Season so we were very lucky) however I will not lie and say I wasn't gritting my teeth at times and laughing nervously when we drove through mushy wet areas of the track. I know from my tour guiding days what it's like to get bogged (stuck) and I wasn't up for that! The scenery was stunning. Scattered throughout the drive were large termite mounds and for what is usually very dry and earthy there was a lot of tall grass from recent rains. You'll have to check out my movie on my Youtube channel to check out the drive on the track (the link is at the end of this blog).
Giant Termite mounds along the Douglas track.

Phew! We got through in one piece! What a super exciting real Outback experience. The scenery continued as we travelled through small country towns on route to our destination, the small town of Chillagoe. There was never a dull moment out the window with ever changing landscapes. The roads were also a mix of highway and small country bitumen roads to gravel compacted roads to complete read earth tracks. Always changing, always different. The 90 minutes of driving flew past, especially with all the commentary our guide gave about the areas we were passing through.

As we neared Chillagoe (our main stop for the day, a small country town around 200kms from Cairns) we came across quarries of large white rocks, well, these 'aint any normal rocks, they were marble. Magnifico! Chillagoe was once a large thriving mining town. In our census in 2011, there was 197 people residing there (yup... now a tiny town). Nowadays there is only the Marble quarries and a small Zinc Mine. 
Chillagoe Marble.

The main buildings of interest in the centre of town is the Information Centre (The Hub), Old Post Office (now a guest house) Town hall, General Store and historical Post office Pub. We stopped here to have a look around and check out some large marble up close while our guide organised our tickets for our afternoon's entertainment. 

We didn't come all this way just to see a quaint 'ole Aussie Country town..noooooo. The highlight of this tour was what we were to see just outside the town in the Chillagoe-Mungana National Park. We were going to visit the famous Chillagoe Caves. Yeeessssss!

But first, time to visit the ghost town that once was one of those busy mineral mines back in the  day, the old Copper Smelter. It was in operation in the early 1900's. In 1901 the railway to Chillagoe was completed which bought industry and wealth to the area and at times the mines, railway and smelter offered employment to around 1000 workers. The conditions for them at the smelter were horrific and slavery was rife. There is information panels at the site and your guide will give you loads of information about it's hey days. The Smelter closed in 1943 and equipment actioned off in 1950. The buildings  over time slowly weathered away and crumbled (making great pics for budding photographers). Billy Tea is the only tour that come here (unless you drive yourself). The place has a certain eerie feel to it, you can feel the history oozing from the smelter's walls and tall chimney stacks. You can hardly fathom the loss of life from such squalid working conditions today as it lays so peaceful. The landscape surrounding the smelter (which was built into a hill) is that very deep red rich mineral earth which is a stunning contrast to the bright blue sky in your photo's. It's a very pretty place. You have time to have a look around and check out the look outs. Unfortunately you cannot go into the buildings as it was not so long ago discovered to have some asbestos there.
Chillagoe Smelter. 

Time to visit a classic country pub for lunch! We had already pre-ordered our meals (on this day a choice of Barramundi & chips or beef burger) and could buy a wine/beer from the bar. Like most country pubs they are usually a little quirky and a tourist attraction within themselves. The Post Office Pub was no exception... my crumbed Barramundi was  delicious tucker as well.
A classic delicious Outback pub lunch. 
Heading out on dirt road slightly further west we gear up for our cave adventure. There are 3 main caves in the Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National park and 3 smaller ones. You must pay for your ticket and book a tour for the 3 main caves back at the visitors centre (The Hub) in Chillagoe. The smaller ones you can explore on your own. The 3 caves are lit differently so you can visit all 3 in one day and experience something unique in each one. One cave is lit with coloured lights, another cave is viewed by hand held torches and the cave we were to visit, Donna Cave had LED white lighting to guide us. Donna Cave has an awesome steep staircase straight down into the main cavern. The cave has 440 all up including some ladder-style stairs so you have to be comfortable and have enough mobility to be able to do this. There are also areas you need to crouch down and mind your head. They classify this tour a moderate fitness level. We visited Donna on this day because a re-firbishment was being done on another cave Billy Tea visits, so expect any of the caves to be included in your day.


Images from the National Park & Donna Cave.

So there is one area of the caves I got a pic of myself that is... well... it will either make you laugh or scratch your head. I let you decide!!!

After and hour it was time to unfortunately move on. The cave was beautiful and the stories and information from the guides intriguing and informative. If you don't come with Billy Tea Safaris and drive yourself, these guys will run a cave tour even for 1 person (run by National Parks).

After the cave experience we made a quick stop at an ancient indigenous classroom to look at some rock paintings. This is where the elders taught their children through art. The wall adjoins a rock shelter where there is evidence of a camp with a fire as there is soot stains on the roof. You don't always have time to visit the art so we were very fortunate.
Paintings, The camp & National Park.

The rest of the day was spent driving back to Cairns. We were supposed to have an afternoon stop at Mount Uncle Distillery and sample some local spirits however they were closed on this day so we missed out on the booze (boooooooo!). We stopped at a park in Mareeba to have some afternoon tea before descending back down the Range back to the coastal tropics to Cairns.

I highly recommend Billy Tea Safaris to Chillagoe. Dedicated passionate informative guides, interesting scenery, wonderful stories and a darn good 4WD in the Outback. We were a very small group (even their bigger vehicles are classified a "small group") so you get a very personal service and a lot of one-on-one time with your guide if you have any questions. This is a nature lovers paradise! Throughout the day we spotted many different bird species (Kites, Kookaburra's, Emus, Swans, Jabirus, 2 Black Necked Storks... that was rare to see, a Spoonbill and more). We spotted a couple of Frilled-Neck Lizards (and tried very hard to not run them over) and checked out the Termites. You're almost guaranteed to spot something cool nature wise and your guide will be able to tell you all about it. Billy Tea Safaris is a must do... I absolutely loved it!


Want to see more? Check out my movie on my Youtube channel! It's awesome!!!>>>


Want to book this tour??? Head to the Reef Information Centre in Cairns (part of the Hilton building) or jump online our website to book>>>http://www.reefinfo.com.au



HARD FACTS…

Visit time:
Whole day trip

Times:
07:00am  to around 6:00pm (varies depending on your hotel location)

Suitable for: 
  • Nature lovers & bird watchers.
  • Those who hold an interest in learning about our history & geography of the region
  • Not suitable for those clostophobic (because of the caves).
  • If you bring children, it's best they are already good travellers and won't talk aver the commentary. Not suitable for young children.
Fitness level (out of 5):
  •  💪   
Time of year:
  • All year round (subject to possible disruptions in wet season, December until April).
Price:

  • $230/Adult 
  • $220/Pensioner
  • $175/Child 
  • $675/Family 
*Prices my change as of the 1st of April 2017

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