Mackay is a city on the edge of the Coral Sea, known by the media as ‘sugar city’ because the main industry in the area has been growing and milling sugar cane. Frankly, driving past endless tracts of very tall grass is… well, let’s be honest, boring.
But drive inland for an hour and you’ll reach a section of the east coast’s Great Dividing Range, where you’ll encounter a twisting, winding roadway which will take you up into the rainforest and the small town of Eungella. (It’s pronounced YOUNG-Gull-a.) From there, you’ll find sweeping views of the Pioneer Valley and on a clear day you may see a hint of the coast past Mackay. Clear days are rare.
Here’s a picture we took from one of the walks in the forest. You’ll see that road snaking up the mountainside.
We’d been up here several times before but wanted to come back because it’s a lovely part of the world and also because we’d seen reports during the 2018 Black Summer bushfires that parts of the area had been destroyed. Here’s an ABC report from that time. To have rain forest burnt out is unheard of and very worrying. However, detailed studies of what actually happened up there indicate the natural, undisturbed rainforest did not burn. The Queensland Royal Society prepared a report, released in 2020, entitled The extent and severity of the Mackay highlands 2018 Wildfires and the potential impact on natural values, particularly in the Mesic forests of the Eungella- Crediton area. [source] It’s a dense, technical document but the important bit in this context is “It appears that much of the rainforest that burnt was previously logged.” Logged areas had reduced canopy and weed plants like lantana had taken root, making those places much more susceptible to fire.
Driving up the road to the plateau we saw dead trees and regrowth on trees that had been burnt, as you would expect in any Australian sclerophyll forest. In fact, we encountered tractors cutting back the long grass growing beside the road. In a fire, that would go up in an instant – and it did in 2018.
But on the plateau the forested areas we walked through appeared to be untouched. The platypuses still live in their parts of Broken River. We visited the pools but platypuses are shy and elusive and only venture out early in the morning or late in the afternoon. That said, I saw one here the first time we visited years ago. This time we had to settle for an Australian wood duck and her chicks. Not quite the same thing but cute all the same.
We had coffee and cake at the Eungella Chalet which affords a wonderful view of the Pioneer Valley (see above).
That finished, we headed down to Finch Hatton gorge on the meandering Broken River. It’s an easy drive through the cane fields to an unmade road through the forest with several shallow river crossings, to the car park.
From there you can walk 1.6km to the first cascades. That’s beyond our capabilities these days, but this website will tell you all about it. On that first visit years ago, Peter went for a swim. He told me the water was f***ing freezing.
When we started off on our day’s travels there was hardly a cloud in the sky. But as the day wore on, clouds gathered over the mountains. By the time we were heading back into town, it was clear one of those storm cells was coming our way.
Peter and I had been looking for a restaurant for dinner that evening but decided it might be wise to get the car under cover.
After the storm rolled on we walked down to the local pub for dinner. Nothing caught our fancy so we went back to Pizza Hut, where we bought that appalling ‘gourmet’ pizza to eat in our room. We won’t do that again.
Tomorrow we’d be heading for home with a stopover at the Capricorn Caves.
But before you go, here’s a very excellent analysis of the current situation in Ukraine, written by American analyst, Fiona Hill. It’s written as an interview, comprehensive but easy to read. Peter found it and sent it to me, saying ‘she sounds just like you’ – except, of course, she has much better credentials. It’s quite long but do take the time. Yes he would: Fiona Hill on Putin and Nukes.
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