Camping in Chillagoe
The ‘winter of camping’ continued last week with a one-night stay in Chillagoe. It’s an amazing place to visit, so I thoroughly recommend it to anybody who hasn’t been. Located in outback Queensland, the drive from Port Douglas takes about 2hr40 if you don’t stop, so we left at about 9am.
We stopped off once in a little town called Dimbulah to stretch our legs and get a coffee at a quirky little cafe called Camp 64. Not only is the coffee good, but there’s lots of interesting memorabilia to look at. The hilarious toilet signs are reason enough to visit.
We continued on our way, and shortly after the dirt turned that signature shade of red, and the skies above were clear and vibrantly blue – a sure sign that we had reached the Australian outback. The road into Chillagoe is a pretty terrible gravel road, so it’s not exactly a comfortable ride for the last ten minutes or so, but it is worth it.
We stayed at the Chillagoe observatory and eco lodge in an unpowered campsite which cost $10 per person per night, however that also have powered sites and cabins. There’s a camp kitchen, bush showers, and a bush dunny for campers to use. Unfortunately the observatory is closed at the moment due to social distancing measures, but usually you can book a session with a guide.
There’s a large unpowered area to choose a campsite in, with fire pits scattered around. We chose an area with partial shade from some trees just by a fire pit, and set up camp. After having lunch we set out to explore some caves.
There are three caves that you can explore without booking a guided tour – two are in the same place, and one is in the other direction, so we headed to the first two. We reached Bauhinia cave first and, armed with our head torches, we began to make our way in. This cave is rated difficult, and it was pretty clear why. To get into the cave you have to climb down big boulders through narrow gaps. At this point I decided that my claustrophobia couldn’t take it, and that I would sit this one out, but the others enjoyed it.
Next on the list was Pompeii Cave, also rated difficult. This one is slightly easier to enter, however once inside it does require a steep scramble down the rocks to the dark passage with interesting formations. It’s also brighter and more open, making it more suitable for the claustrophobics.
After the caves we decided it was time for a beer, so we headed to the Post Office Hotel. It has all the cool, chilled vibes of a small town Australian pub, complete with old photos and messages from previous visitors on the walls. The beer is cheap, the staff are friendly, and the beer garden is a delight.
At this point in the afternoon it was boiling hot, so we headed to the creek for a swim, after seeing many beautiful photos of it online. Unfortunately, being dry season, it was stagnant, so we jumped into the pool to cool off instead, before heading back to the camp.
It was starting to get a little colder now, so we got the fire going, had showers, and changed into some warmer clothes. Whilst it does get very chilly at night in the outback, we were all fine with some warm layers and the fire. After dinner and a few drinks, with some wallabies hopping around, we headed to bed.
We had been very excited to see flocks of galah parrots and other birds on the first day, but we fell somewhat out of love with them when they gave us an early wake up call – these birds are very loud! Once we were out of bed, we went to the balancing rock before breakfast. It’s a short, scenic stroll from the Donna Carpark, and the balancing rock itself is pretty impressive, as well as the views when you stand by it.
After our walk we made our way back to the campsite for coffee and a fry up, before packing up the car. Next, we went to visit The Archways – the third self-guided cave, rated easy. This cave was my favourite one. It was open and bright, with no scrambling over rocks required. There was interesting plant life inside the cave too, as well as some St. Andrew’s Cross Spiders.
After The Archways, we went to see a rock art site. We expected there to be more rock art, but it was still cool to see. Our final stop before leaving was The Smelters. In its heydey, there were 50,000 workers at the plant. It’s hard to imagine it now as you look out across the baron ruins. It’s fascinating to read the information and to see the remains.
After this we headed home, although I would have loved to stay for a week. There are more walks that you could do if you were staying for longer, as well as guided tours of the other caves. Overall it’s one of my favourite Queensland holidays, so I would definitely recommend visiting Chillagoe, and all of the activities that we did.
Hopefully the winter of camping will continue next week, we just haven’t decided where yet.