Chillagoe, Qld

From Cooktown we travelled 403km south west across the Great Dividing Range, through the Atherton Tablelands and west to Chillagoe.

We were held up by a grass fire for a while. There were a flock of large birds, not sure what, circling continuously in the smoke, so strange.

The 140km between Mareeba and Chillagoe is called  The Wheelbarrow Way Tourist Drive  …..  Late in the 1800’s when work was scarce and transportation was limited, miners often used to travel about the region using a wheelbarrow to carry all of their possessions. In 2004, as a tribute to these early pioneers and to honour their amazing trail-blazing feats, the road between Mareeba and Chillagoe was named the Wheelbarrow Way.


The road was good, even the 40km of dirt road that leads into Chillagoe, but cattle, horses and kangaroos were a constant hazard.

There are a few marble quarries around Chillagoe, noticeable by the large cubes of white marble piled in the bush, some the size of a caravan.

We stayed at the Chillagoe Observatory and Eco Lodge  (the sign out the front says Bush camp and Eco Lodge), which we would recommend as it was clean, well run and had a lot more shade trees than the other options. It also has a pool and runs movies on a big screen outdoors most nights. The observatory is open between April and November but due to cloud cover it was closed the nights we were there.

This little blue-faced honey eater (colloquially known as the banana bird), came to visit Tim while he was sitting outside one day, and stayed for a while.

In 1888 rich copper and zinc deposits were discovered in Chillagoe. Once a thriving mining town,  Chillagoe now has one small zinc mine and a few marble quarries. The Chillagoe caves have been a tourist attraction since first discovered in the late 1880s. When I was about 7 years old my family visited here, I have always remembered the smell of the carbine lanterns.

Apart from the large green mango trees through out the town, the only other green is the sports oval which is watered daily and mown by the kangaroos.

The railway has shut down but the hospital is still open.

You can buy petrol from Tom Prior’s place who is also a Ford enthusiast and has a Ford museum, a must see. He even has a Falcon XW GT car in an air bubble to keep it dust free, and has some wonderful tales to tell of pulling ‘modern’ cars out of bogs with his old ‘work horses’. Take the time to have a chat, he is quite a character, and has lived in Chillagoe all his life.

Some photos of the country side around Chillagoe. Lots of termite mounds.

The caves and other tourist attractions are all very close to the town, not more than a 15 minute drive (except Walsh River). We visited four caves in the Chillagoe Mungana National Park, three with a guide and one self guided. There are several other self guided caves available to explore.


‘Trezkinn Cave’ has lots of micro bats.

‘Royal Arch Cave’ is so named because on the outside there is a rock formation that sort of looks like Queen Victoria, but you need some imagination.

‘Donna Cave’ got its name because when you first enter it there is a figure of the Madonna, no imagination needed here. We thought this was by far the prettiest of all the caves.

‘The Archways’ is a self guided cave. Important to take a torch and water and be prepared to crawl through tunnels in the name of adventure.

There are two sites with Aboriginal art works, Mangana and Wullumba, both are interesting although there is not a great deal of art at either site.

Walsh River is about 30km out of Chillagoe on the road to Normanton. It’s a good spot for a swim if you don’t mind being watched by cattle who camouflage very well in the scrub. On the way out is a tree full of bras and undies, not sure why, just is.

Balancing Rock is another sight to see.

If there is any where that befits the saying ‘God forsaken country’ then the smelters is it. To think what life was like during its hey day with summer days well above 40o is almost unimaginable.

The size of the slag heap is gigantic (slag is what they call the waste products).

A footprint of the thickness and diameter of the chimney is embedded in the path.

The thing that stands out the most to me about this part of the country isn’t just the harshness or searing heat but the incredible beauty, the stillness and silence.

And so we leave Chillagoe and head to our next adventure at the Undara Lava Tubes.

Cheers, Helen and Tim