As part of our Drive Around Australia series, Natalie Gruzlewski takes us from Rockhampton, 640km north of Brisbane, to Cairns.
The drive began in Rockhampton, which has a population of 60,000 people and more than two million cattle within a 250km radius. The Fitzroy River, Queensland's largest, runs through the town and offers excellent fishing, particularly barramundi. Quay Street is the longest National Trust Heritage listed street in Australia. Architecture is mostly Victorian, dating back to the wealthy days of the goldrush.
After a good look around Rocky, the crew headed 230km north for a refreshing stop at Flaggy Rock Exotic Fruit Garden. For some it's a nostalgic stop, as this little gem has been serving ice cream, preserves and other delights for many years. They grow their own fruit and the garden by the lagoon is a peaceful place to relax and enjoy your fruity treats.
The next big town is Mackay, 110km from Flaggy Rock. This is the gateway to the Whitsundays, has 31 beaches within coo-ee, rainforests, coral reefs, tropical islands and lots of bush. It is the major servicing centre for the mineral-rich Bowen Basin.
With a schedule to stick to, the crew left Mackay for Cape Hillsborough National Park, just 50km north. Nestled on a narrow neck of land, the area was formed by volcanic activity 30 million years ago and is where the rainforest meets the sea. It's full of wildlife and there are some beautiful walking paths. Juipera Trail is an easy self-guided walk exploring lowland rainforest plants used by the Juipera people for food and medicine.
Cape Hillsborough Nature Resort offers a wide range of accommodation and has a bar and relaxed open-air restaurant. It also has a pool with tropical landscaped garden and barbecue facilities.
After a relaxing stay, it was 170km further on to Bowen, a lazy, tropical town. If you have time to explore, the Whitsunday Islands are just off the coast, but there's plenty of snorkelling, fishing and sailing right there. Natalie met up with a local who was pleased to show her around, explore some of the coral reefs and then stop for a tropical feast at the Horseshoe Bay Café.
It was time to hit the road again, this time to Magnetic Island, a World Heritage island within the Great Barrier Reef, half of which is national park.
Plenty of wildlife such as koalas, cockatoos, lorikeets, eagles and rock wallabies live here with just over 3000 human residents. It has some exciting bush trails and unlimited water activities. It is easy to reach by the car and passenger ferry barge which takes around 40 minutes.
Horseshoe Bay on the far side of Magnetic has a sandy beach, large granite outcrops and is always a contender for friendliest beach. Natalie tried her hand at jet skiing and joined some people riding horses on the beach.
Townsville, 205km away, was calling. Queensland's third-largest town is the main centre in the north and the port for agricultural and mining production in the vast inland. It is a major armed forces base, the site of James Cook University and start of the main route to the Northern Territory.
The crew travelled through sugarcane country to Ingham, 113km on. This lies on the south bank of the Herbert River, set in sugarcane fields, bordered by waterfalls and adjacent to the beautiful Hinchinbrook Channel.
Sugar growing began in the area in the 1880s and attracted a large number of Italians. Each May there is a huge festival celebrating their heritage. The nearby Wallaman Falls in Lumholtz National Park is a tributary of the Herbert River, cascading 305 metres, creating Australia's longest single-drop falls. They can usually be reached by conventional vehicle, but beware of wandering cassowaries!
Natalie decided to head to the safety of her overnight accommodation, the Hotel Noorla Resort. Built in the 1920s as a boarding house for cane cutters, it offers the old world atmosphere of a grand Italian hotel, north Queensland style. It has many antiques and collectibles, wide verandahs overlooking sculptured gardens, a pool, excellent cuisine and two wonderful rooms for mingling with other guests. It has been beautifully restored many of the town's residents pitched in to help.
Guest rooms are designed for comfort and privacy and decorated in period style with antique furniture. There are backpacker dorms and shady areas for campervans and an area where travellers on the Great Green Way can compare notes.
With just one leg of the journey left, Natalie contemplated a couple of well-worth-seeing things close by.
Hinchinbrook Island is one of the world's most diversely beautiful wilderness areas. Just 39.3 square kilometres, it is Australia's largest island national park. It has a rich Aboriginal history and the 1142 metre Mt Bowen towers over its rainforest wilderness, mangrove-lined shores and enticing golden beaches. A modern eco-resort at Cape Richards is its only settlement and offers splendid isolation.
Another tempting side trip is Paronella Park, the dream of Spaniard Jose Paronella who in the 1930s built a Spanish castle for his wife. The stunning buildings and amazing 7000 trees which he planted are totally captivating. Most buildings have been badly affected by decades of flood and fire, but the Park retains a magical air. Its owners offer Devonshire teas at The Cottage and there are plenty of picnic spots, indigenous cultural performances and bush tucker walks.
Time got the better of temptation and the crew headed the remaining 240km north to Cairns. A city that survives and thrives on tourism, it is surrounded by mangrove swamps to the north and south and while swimming is done mainly in hotel pools, this is a good base for discovering the Great Barrier Reef, heritage rainforests, Atherton Tablelands, Gulf Savannah and Bellenden Ker ranges.
For our other great Aussie drives:
Melbourne to Sydney
Sydney to Brisbane
Adelaide to Alice.
Mt Isa to Darwin.
Perth to Monkey Mia.
For other great drives, visit australia.com.