6-9 August: Unexpected UFOs and escaping more lockdowns

Author: Mrs A

Location: Cardwell and Tully Heads, Queensland, Australia

Leaving Ingham we continued on our journey north, marvelling at the magnificent tropical views both inland and offshore. This is a truly spectacular coastline, and despite having travelled this way before, it felt like we were seeing it all through new eyes.

Our destination was Cardwell. A good friend in France had introduced us virtually to Gabi, an author, documentary maker and narrator who has now settled into life in this small town. We agreed to catch up with her and decided to stop for two nights.

Welcome to Cardwell

When we arrived in town, we were surprised to see cut outs of aliens lining the streets and welcoming us to our campground. Mark checked us in and returned clutching a leaflet. It turned out the weekend we had selected was the 2021 Cardwell UFO Festival!

We anticipated a few strange antics in our future given the conspiracy theorists were in town!

We met Gabbi at the Beachcomber’s Restaurant, located along the waterfront, with commanding views of Hinchinbrook Island a short way off the coast. With not a breath of wind, the water was a glassy ice blue, the hazard-reduction fires burning on the island (cool winter burning to prevent a more devastating hot summer burn) only serving to add more atmosphere to the scene.

Dusk falls as we walk to dinner. Fires on the island make the atmosphere all the more mysterious

We had booked dinner for 6pm at the insistence of Gabbi, which we thought was rather early, until we realised this is pretty normal for these parts – early to eat and early to bed. The food and company was excellent, Gabbi has led a fascinating life and is full of great stories. We’d definitely recommend the restaurant to anyone passing through Cardwell.

Concluding our delicious meal with cocktails

Did I say early to bed? Oh it seems not. Most of the town was all safely asleep by 11pm, but not anyone in our campsite…a house across the road was having a rather loud alcohol fuelled domestic argument and nobody could sleep. Mark ended up calling the police at 2am to have it shut down! Couple that with the Bruce Highway’s road trains roaring past every few minutes, and it wasn’t a quality night’s rest…but it was alien-free!

We finally managed to get some sleep and the following morning took a short drive up into Girringun National Park to check out views. From high up above the town Hinchinbrook Island (named Pouandai by First Nations people) looms mysteriously off the coast, its craggy peaks looking enticingly wild and rugged.

Eighteen thousand years ago the island was part of a rugged coastal range. After the last ice-age , sea levels rose and created the island. The island was home to the Biyaygiri people who lived there and along this coastline for many thousands of years. In the early 1870s a huge slaughter (initiated by the white settlers and police) wiped out all the indigenous residents of the island.

This area forms part of the ‘Girroo Gurril’ creation story. Known as ‘the first surveyor’ to local, Girramay Aboriginal people, Girroo Gurril rose out of the ocean near Hinchinbrook Island, part man, mostly eel and gazed around the newly made countryside. He pronounced his name loudly, then plunged into the sea and came out on top of the mountain at the back of Cardwell. He saw a freshwater lake surrounded by mangroves and he called it Girringun Lake.

Today Cardwell is home to the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation which represents the interests of traditional owners in the region, maintaining areas of cultural significance and educating young people. They largely work in partnership with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife service and would be responsible for the hazard-reduction burning we could see offshore on the island.

We would like to recognise and thank the Biyaygiri and Girramay people for their custodianship of this land we visited.

A fine view point
Fires still burning
Green Tree Ants are the locals which make their nests by weaving together leaves with silk up on tree branches. They do bite, but don’t have a sting. Their green abdomen tastes of lemon and indigenous people would boil them up to make a lemon tea.

There is a shared pathway along the coast, and after a bite of lunch we decided to go for a walk. There is no denying this is a picturesque coastline and it was hard to walk far without taking several photographs.

Given the gruesome treatment of the first residents of the area it’s no wonder that many of the information boards along the coast walk blatantly ignore the indigenous history, choosing instead to start with the arrival of white settlers.

It’s hard to get a bad viewpoint
Cardwell Jetty stretches out into the shallow bay
Cardwell Jetty
More views of Pouandai Island
Picture perfect beaches
The coastal walk

On Saturday night Cardwell held a big concert to conclude the UFO festival, with a cover band playing Aussie 70s and 80s music and classics from the same era around the world. We didn’t have the energy to go along, but could quite clearly hear the events from our caravan – they drowned out the road trains quite nicely!

Before we departed on Sunday morning we paid a visit to the market, picking up a few things we didn’t know we wanted, and farewelled Gabbi who was busy serving sugared donuts for the Cardwell Lions Club.

Cardwell Market

We moved on up the coast less than an hour to a quiet campsite just south of Mission Beach near the heads of the Tully and Hull Rivers and on the edge of the Hull River National Park . We checked in for three nights, looking forward to a few peaceful evenings finally away from the Bruce Highway.

After getting all our washing done we had a look around the neighbourhood. We drove first to the Hull River estuary, a wide expanse of sandbanks and swirling water, with the coastal ranges stretching off into the horizon.

Hull River Estuary, part of the Hull River National Park

The National Park has been designated part of the Coastal Wet Tropic Important Bird Area listing for its preservation of wetland habitat essential for lowland birds including Cassowaries, Stone Curlews, owls, robins and a variety of honeyeaters.

At low tide the birds are a long way away and hard to spot
Stunning scenery
Empty beaches looking pristine

We then had a look at the Tully River estuary – regular readers might recall our white-water kayaking adventures higher up this river on our last visit in 2018. Looking out at the water we wondered at the tiny scraps of our DNA that might still be present here after our multiple dunking episodes on the rapids!

We were looking forward to spending a couple of days exploring this region but soon realised that wasn’t the best idea. The news broke that a taxi driver had been infectious with Covid-19 in Cairns for 10 days so the city was locking down for three days. It didn’t bode well and we couldn’t imagine that he hadn’t spread the virus to others, especially when we heard rumours of a mass exodus of travellers from Cairns – surely one of those had caught the virus and spread it?

Even more than our exploration of this area we were excited about spending time in the Daintree Rainforest, north of Cairns, and really didn’t want to miss the opportunity to stay there.

So after our little taster of this area, we packed up the following morning and did a dash north.