If you look at a map, Chillagoe Caves in Queensland is slap bang in the middle of nowhere. So we went there on a camping trip with relatively few expectations and discovered there’s actually more to do there than you might imagine.
In addition to the amazing landscape, travellers who enjoy camping in the outback with a bit of local history thrown in, will find plenty to justify the trip.
Steeped in outback history, Chillagoe has over 600 caves and a vast national park to explore.
Camping in Chillagoe
Rather than stay in the main campground we decided to book into the Chillagoe Creek Homestead, a small property backing on to the Creek. We had heard about it from some campers on another trip and when we got there it felt like we had landed the jackpot.
The creek was like a landscape straight out of an Arthur Streeton or Frederick McCubbin painting.
Paperbark trees lined the creek, overhanging and casting their reflection in the water, while the creek gently wound its way between the trees.
To be honest, I was expecting to idle our weekend away swimming, kayaking and looking for turtles in the creek, but as it turned out there was a lot more to do that I thought.
Here’s the rundown of what we did:
1. chillagoe caves
The Chillagoe Caves are the main reason for people visiting Chillagoe.
It may be hours inland but, believe it or not, Chillagoe was once a coral reef and the whole region is made up of limestone bluffs with over 600 caves.
By far the most popular cave is the Donna Cave, which can only be explored as a paid tour with a guide, but there are many other caves and natural attractions you can explore on your own.
There are also indigenous rock paintings.
2. star gazing
In the middle of the Australian Outback where there’s no light pollution you can get a completed uninterrupted view of the galaxies, so star-gazing is a must-do activity. Night shows are held at the Chillagoe Observatory & Eco Lodge with talks on the constellations, Dreamtime stories and a look through the enormous telescope.
This was definitely a highlight of our trip.
3. fossicking for fossils
Mary Bolam, the owner of Chillagoe Creek Homestead has a great collection of fossils that were found within the region.
She drew us a map of an area just out of town where we could go searching for fossils and, while we didn’t find any museum pieces, we did leave with a few rocks showing fossilised coral and shell imprints.
4. visit the old smelters
If you like history the Chillagoe Smelters is worth a visit to learn about the once booming mining town.
While you can’t actually wander around the old ruins due to safety reasons, there are man-made paths with plaques and lookout vantage points to see where copper, gold, silver and lead were once smelted.
5. the weir
The Weir is a great swimming hole and also a nice, quiet and picturesque spot for a picnic lunch. Generally not crowded, it is only a few minutes drive from the centre of town (the turnoff is on the road to the airport).
6. tom prior’s ford museum
Whether you are a car-fanatic or not, the Ford Museum is an interesting if slightly bizarre place to find in the middle of the outback.
Tom Ford is a local character who is happy to chat about his lovingly restored range of different Fords that are displayed in a few large sheds.
travel nq fast facts:
- Chillagoe Caves is about 215 km (3 hours drive) from Cairns
- The Chillagoe-Mungana region has more than 75 bird species, 11 different species of butterfly and various wallabies, bats and other wildlife
- For more information contact The Chillagoe Hub Information Centre on (07) 4094-7111 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org