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Hidden treasures

Thursday, May 25, 2006
Two-and-a-half hours west of Cairns, Tyrconnell offers the special experience of stepping back in time to a piece of Australia's outback goldmining history. The rugged tree-studded hills were home to 10,000 people all hoping to strike it rich and Tyrconnell was the most famous mine on the Hodgkinson goldfield.

One-hundred and twenty years later, visitors can enjoy staying in the tranquil and beautiful surrounds in one of three solar-powered cottages or a seasonal campground run by Andrew Bell and Cate Harley.

The 45-hectare property gives an authentic outback experience while enjoying wonderful meals in Andy and Cate's miner's cottage. All cooking utensils, crockery and cutlery are provided, so you may prefer to prepare your own meals on the gas cooktop.

Guest accommodation is made up of a restored mine manager's cottage, rich in character. The timber and iron house has three bedrooms, bathroom, lounge, kitchen and verandah. The two new cottages have a central lounge/kitchen two bedrooms and ensuite bathrooms.

The campground is grassed and tiered with spacious timber and iron ablution blocks offering hot showers and flush toilets. It is unpowered, but has a central barbecue under shelter. Roomy canvas cabin tents are fully themed and beds have white linen, seagrass matting, drapery, bedside tables and toiletries. Meals are catered for under the stars or by the dam.

It's almost essential to try your hand at goldpanning in the numerous nearby creeks. Bushwalking, birdwatching, swimming in the two dams and star-gazing are other activities on offer, as are mine site tours and a walk through Thornborough cemetery.

Much of the local wildlife is nocturnal but can be spotted. Andy and Cate are registered wildlife carers and often have orphaned or injured animals they are nursing.

The Cumberland Group of islands in the Great Barrier Reef off Mackay is made up of St Bee’s, Keswick, Aspatria, Scawfell, Calder, Wigton and Cockermouth.

St Bee's is a quiet volcanic island, fringed with reefs, rainforests, eucalypt woodlands and dense grasslands. It has been the research point for two Queensland universities investigating the island's population of koalas.

The island has basic share accommodation in a solar-powered cottage which has hot showers and toilets. There are also basic camping options. The lack of creature comforts is more than compensated by having your own tropical beach where you can snorkel the reefs, fish in the lagoon or just relax under umbrellas of palm trees.

Keswick and St Bee's are separated by a narrow channel and the two could not be more different. Keswick is probably the last Whitsunday Island to be developed. It has home sites, villa apartments and resort accommodation options with superb water views which can never be built out. Its natural beauty, sensitive development and strict population cap offer an idyllic lifestyle.

Keswick's colourful coral gardens and myriads of tropical fish are amongst the Reef's best.

Mackay Water Taxi and Adventures run an 11.3-metre aluminium mono hull with twin Perkins diesels. It has four bunks in front and two fold down bunks on the rear deck. It has shower, toilet, galley and cooking facilities. There is generous deck space and a glass bottomed inflatable for easy beach access.

Mona Estate
Braidwood is a National Trust-listed town in the upper valley of the Shoalhaven River in New South Wales. Halfway between Canberra and Batemans Bay, its first white settlement was in the 1820s when farmers worked tracts of land with the help of convict labour.

The town boomed in the 1850s gold rush and while the odd speck of gold might be found in a stream, cattle and sheep farms are the main income for the area.

Many charming buildings from the boom days are still there —, hotels, houses, the post office and council chambers. There are many galleries and good eating places to enjoy and Braidwood has become a Mecca for quilters.

In 1827 Dr Thomas Braidwood Wilson was granted land in recognition of his services as a Naval Surgeon Superintendent. The first steam flour mill was built at Mona in the 1840s and in the 1850s a house was built for the miller. In 1903 it was expanded into a grand thirty-room mansion.

During the Depression, the house was halved but retained the original miller's house. This is pretty much how the home is today.

Kerry and Greg Schneider purchased Mona in 1994 and have done major renovations over the years. Particular attention has been lavished on the 4½ hectares of magnificent gardens which were inspired by the English landscaper, Lancelot Capability Brown. Formal gardens are outlined with oak, cottonwood, beech, cedar, ash, horse chestnut, linden and English elm.

Glorious seasonal changes bring carpets of bluebells in spring, fragrant roses in summer, fiery autumn colours and the magical frosts of winter.

A creek where old-fashioned punting takes place has a five-arch stone bridge. A three-kilometre walking trail with picnic spots has been laid.

Staying in the Mona Stables Villa or the newly restored 1903 Coachhouse entitles visitors to full use of the property. The stables has four bedrooms decorated in modern country style, full-size snooker table, juke box, television, video library and fireplace. The recently-completed Tuscan-inspired Coachouse has three king ensuite bedrooms.

There is a good-sized function centre, plunge pool and steam room, tennis court and croquet hoops.

Dinner (simple or gourmet) and lunch (picnic or sit-down) will be provided on request. Breakfast is included in Mona's tariff.

Smoky Cape Lighthouse
The Macleay Valley in the mid-north coast of New South Wales has a wonderful variety of beaches and scenery. Kempsey, the main town between Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour, served the farms of the valley and is generally where holidaymakers stop to stock up.

Generations of families have holidayed at the superb beaches of Crescent Head, Hat Head, South West Rocks, Trial Bay and Smoky Cape. They know the fish are biting, the sands are white and the waters are perfect for surfing, diving and exploring caves, reefs and bays.

There are lots of accommodation options for the holidaymaker — hotels, motels and camping grounds, but certainly one of the most special places is the Smoky Cape Lighthouse.

Smoky Cape was named in 1770 by Captain James Cook after seeing smoke rising from Aboriginal burn-off fires on the headlands.

The lighthouse, first proposed in 1886 to ensure safety for increasing coastal traffic, was opened in 1891. It has an unusual octagonal tower and is divided into two storeys with iron floors and staircases. The balcony's ornate gunmetal railing is stamped with Queen Victoria's mark. The lighthouse was automated in 1988 and de-manned in 1996.

Now heritage-listed, the head lighthouse keeper's house is a B&B. It has two queen bedrooms with four-poster beds and is a solidly constructed seven-room house, protected from weather by concrete walls. It is very comfortable, brightly painted and has attractive locally made furniture.

The two assistant lighthouse keepers' homes are fully self-contained, semi-detached cottages — one with three bedrooms, the other with two. They have all the comforts of home plus a barbecue and outdoor furniture and a veranda that runs around the buildings.


Queensland and New South Wales.


Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.

For further information

Tyrconnell Cottages
PO Box 41
Dimbulah Qld 4872
Ph: (07) 4093 5177

St Bee's and Keswick Islands
Mackay Qld 4740
Ph: (07) 4944 5888

Mackay Water Taxi & Adventures
24a Evans Avenue
Mackay Qld 4740
Ph: 0417 073 969

Little River Road
Braidwood NSW 2622
Ph/Fax: (02) 4842 1288

Smoky Cape Lighthouse
Lighthouse Road
South West Rocks NSW 2431
Ph: (02) 6566 6301

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