North Australia is unlike anything you can possibly imagine. Theres the endless stretch of scrub, the blazing sun, the dry red dust.. if this combination doesn’t make you crazy, the flies sure will. But more than anything, there’s the heat. Just before sunrise, a calm breeze would dance through camp as if tormenting us, because once that sun rose, it would set fire to the land and suffocate us in a blazing inferno of heat. Welcome to Chillagoe, Far North Queensland.
Chillagoe is a small town 3 hours from Cairns. The drive will take you through dry and remote country, filling you with an overwhelming feeling that you are about to explore a land filled with historic sentiments.
We camped at local show grounds for almost nothing (see the town Visitor Centre to pay a small fee). This is a small empty field with a tap/dump point and toilet/shower shed. We camped in the rear corner, and I much preferred setting up a makeshift outdoor shower over using the germ-pit provided, out of fear of falling through the floor. But the camp experience was not why anyone comes to Chillagoe. Let me share some ideas on what to do in Chillagoe.
We were here to explore the Chillagoe caves, fish the Walsh River, visit the ruins, and sneak around the Australian scrub looking for whatever wildlife we could find.
What to do in Chillagoe
Say G’day to Old Tom
This guy’s a bloody legend, and famous for his unique Ford car collection. If you’re lucky, he’ll let you take a seat in his gleaming red and white 1965 Shelby Mustang in the open garage- it gets the girls, he says. Drop a donation to get him closer to driving his 1958 green 18cwt Freighter around Australia. Well worth the morning visit listening to his passion explode from within.
Get to the Chillagoe Rodeo
May 8-9. You don’t know Queensland if you haven’t experienced a rodeo in the West. The best $25 you will ever spend. Make sure to book the camp grounds as the Chillagoe rodeo brings folks from far and wide. We were bummed to miss out on the rodeo when we visited in September, but it sure makes Chillagoe come alive.
See the Chillagoe Caves
These are the main attraction to Chillagoe, as theres nothing quite like it in North Queensland. You can self-explore the smaller caves if you have the right footwear and lights, however to see the three big guys, you must do a tour with a Ranger. A 3-cave tour will set you back about $50, but there’s cheaper options for the budget-wise fellas like us. By camping at the grounds we could afford to do a two-cave tour and it was definably worth it. Other walking tracks around the area are best to do in the early morning and offer insight to Australian life on the land.
Check out the Balancing Rock
Yep, nestled along a walking track in the Australian bush you will discover Chillagoe’s Balancing Rock. If you’re running out of ideas on what to do in Chillagoe, go for a walk. Not only is the raw coloured landscape a photographers delight, the unique rock formations formed from Volcanic activity will blow your mind.
Visit the ruins
Growing up in Cairns you are more than likely to have a school excursion and camp-out to learn about the rich history of Chillagoe and the mining boom that put it on the map. Prospecting is still a huge drawcard to visitors to Chillagoe, and you are still likely to find things from old medicine bottles in dried out creek beds to unique gemstones in clay walls. If scurrying around the scrub in blazing heat isn’t for you, then head to the old Smelters to learn a little more about the old mine. The scale of infrastructure for that era is incredible, not to mention this place feels as if it is in the middle of nowhere! History aside, the ruins makes for some pretty incredible photo-ops. If you’re a budding photographer and running out ideas on what do do in Chillagoe, then I highly recommend heading out to the ruins at night and watch the stars light up the land.
During our two-day stay we met some of the most unique and interesting locals and travellers alike, from crazy bushmen, talkative grey nomads, and 4wd enthusiasts on their way towards the famous Telegraph Track. I advise you to be prepared for Mars-like conditions and you will fall in love with this cute town. Step out of your zone and have a chat with a stranger, they may even share some insight for finding gemstones, or ways to get to the secret fishing spots. Sit down, enjoy a cold brew, and reflect on the harsh country that is the wild west of Queensland.