Winter in the Tropics
The southern states have their moments, but once that mercury starts to drop around June, most of us can't argue with the prospect of escaping the winter blues and heading north up to the Sunshine State.
Denied the opportunity of flying our original itinerary across to WA in July due to Covid, we quickly threw together a new route, where we suspected the days would be warm and the flying sensational. Hello Queensland!!
A few of us have a soft spot for Cooktown, which of course is halfway up Cape York Peninsula, seriously immersed in the tropics. With that as our most northerly waypoint, we were glad to be flying in late July to avoid the associated hot and wildly unstable weather that the summer months can deliver. We were also keen to get a mix of outback and coastal flying so the clockwise route you can see on the map is what we agreed on.
Each of our overnight stops was carefully considered, as usual, before making it onto the short list. There are so many things to think about … suitable airstrip, affordable and comfortable accommodation, transfers to and from the strip, adequate catering, activities to keep us busy … and a big one for me personally: hosts who have the time and inclination to share with us a little of what it's like to live in these far-flung destinations.
One standout example is the tiny town of Hungerford, way outback on the Qld-NSW border. We fell in love with Hungerford a dozen years ago, and now it's a pretty mandatory first night stop whenever we're heading north.
Tracking further north on day 2 we're shedding layers like there's no tomorrow. Yay! What's not to love about Queensland in winter? By the time we get to Winton, it's shorts and t-shirts for the next two weeks.
This favourite outback Queensland gem of a town once again didn't disappoint. On prior trips, we'd flown into nearby Lark Quarry, where a very dramatic dinosaur stampede has been recreated from pretty impressive fossil evidence and a visit to their installation is an afternoon well spent. This time we booked a tour from town out to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs - fantastic. Tattersalls pub for dinner, the old North Gregory pub for happy hour ... you won't be shy of locals and visitors to share a beer with. Check out everything we love about Winton here.
Still blessed with fantastic winter sunshine, and consistent tailwinds, our little fleet navigates its way north into the strip at the small town of Forsayth. This is the nearest airstrip to access the spectacular Cobbold Gorge.
To give us a lay day here, we stayed two nights, and did the morning bush walk & boat tour along the gorge – excellent. The main lodge and pool/bar/dining area is open for all meals and you’re going to want to allow some time supervising that beautiful view overlooking the dam. Sitting on a working cattle station, you’ll find plenty of four-legged friends on the many walking trails around the village. Definitely worth a stopover.
We’ve made it to the top. As we’ve tracked north and across to the coast today, we’ve seen the terrain change to a decidedly tropical canvas. Hello white sand and leaning palms!
With bags thrown unceremoniously into our rooms at the Sovereign Motel, our exploring is all done on foot, with the exception of a brilliant sunset cruise on our second night here. I can highly recommend Riverbend Tours with Captain Nick at the helm. He’s nailed it with just the right amount of commentary, excellent layout of the boat, fabulous locally sourced cheese platter, and a dress circle view of a memorable Queensland sunset from the water.
The Tom Kha Gai at Jackey Jackey Thai restaurant is life changing, and the coffee and breakfast menu at the Driftwood Café next morning will set you up for the whole day.
On our lay day here, my bloody mate, Kate, dragged me kicking and screaming, over the other side of the lookout hill on a hike they said was 800m. More like 800 miles. Seriously, bring me her head on a plate. But I have to say, the magnificent, untouched surf beach of Cherry Tree Bay that we finally tumbled out onto saved her hide. Head to the Cooktown museum for a dose of settlement history then just take a load off and head for the pool. You’re on holidays.
Mount Mulligan Lodge
Oh, be still my beating heart. The 18km long sandstone escarpment of Mount Mulligan comes into view about 35nm north-west of Mareeba in far north Queensland. This one was new to us all and after two nights here, none of us wanted to leave.
The newly opened lodge and the four accommodation pavilions (max 16 guests) are a luxurious take on the pastoral landscape of their surrounding 28,000 hectare cattle station. The location, staff, rooms, locally sourced seasonal food and fantastic activities will make you wish you’d booked two weeks, not two nights. Yes, you pay for the luxury, but when you dot the rest of your itinerary with cheap and cheerful accommodation, the pain is slight, and worth every cent.
Mount Mulligan Lodge has its own private airstrip; in fact we were their first fly-in guests. They appreciated chatting with us about some improvements we suggested for the strip and parking area but none of us had a problem in our C182, Mooney or Falco.
This place is now firmly entrenched in my top three outback lodges in Australia. Check out Mount Mulligan Lodge here.
Leaving Mount Mulligan, we refuelled at Mareeba, and then tracked down the coast. After vacating Cairns CTA, we flew south via the stunning Hinchinbrook Channel, through Townsville CTA and on to Hamilton Is.
What a treat to land on a tropical island! Securing your landing and multi-night parking permission on Hamilton takes a bit of paperwork, but once that’s out of the way, all other ops at this Class D airport are as normal. And despite having a dedicated VTC, air traffic was particularly quiet during our visit, with just the odd scenic heli and fixed wing flights touring the Whitsunday Islands.
It really is staggeringly beautiful flying around Hamilton, Hayman, South Molle, Daydream Islands, and of course the iconic Whitehaven Beach looks like a postcard from the air. On our departure, we did a clockwise route around all these, before hitting the coastline again and heading back inland to the outback for our last couple of nights.
So, Covid deprived us of Western Australia, but it’ll be there next year and, after some hurried planning, the Sunshine State ended up delivering the highlights in spades. Now, where's that diary of yours? Time to get that leave pass organised.