Herberton to Chillagoe
This road is not suitable for caravans.
From Herberton follow the signs west for 28km to historic Irvinebank.The first 14km are bitumen where you pass through Watsonville which is famous for the windmill that stands in the middle of the road. At the top of the hill a track to the right leads to the Watsonville pioneer cemetery.
The road then becomes a well formed unsealed road to Irvinebank. During and immediately after the wet season, wild flowers bloom prolifically along this section, including the rare Purple Wattle and Glossy Grevillea, both grow only around Irvinebank and thrive where mining has disturbed the ground.
A large processing plant, just prior to entering the old tin mining town of Irvinebank prepares you for your 'step back in time'. This town was established in 1882 and has some wonderful old buildings including John Moffat's 116 year old home, reported as being the oldest high set building in North Queensland and is now a museum. There are toilet and barbeque facilities near the School of Arts Hall and several pleasant picnic spots under the huge 94 years old fig trees near the dam. Fuel and EFTPOS are available at the Tavern. The police station, Courtroom and old lockup is also open to the public.
Your next destination is Petford. (Zero your odometer). This is 45km of unsealed road and can be traversed by a conventional vehicle in the dry season, although the extra clearance of a 4WD gives peace of mind. There are a few turn-offs. Some are sign posted, but if you keep heading North you will be on the right track. Don't expect to average more than 50kph but the road is rather interesting and the slow speed does not present a problem. The vegetation is still quite thick and at times the road follows a running stream where you can picnic or swim. The landscape bares the many scars of the tin mining days where open cuts and piles of rubble are a constant source of interest. Some of the more prominent landmarks are: 7km out of Irvinebank and on the left is a slate mine, at 23km on the right is an open cut tin mine, at 28km on the right are the tailings from tin mining.
Petford (pop: <10) evolved simply because of the establishment of a hotel in the 1980's when it was known as Wadetown. Later, tin, silver and wolframite were found nearby and the area became known as the 'Lappa' field. There is a public phone at Petford.
From here the guide posts on the left are numbered and are referred to as GP#. You then reach a "T" intersection and a bitumen road. Chillagoe Cabins is to the left.
Although this is a good bitumen road, this has only been the case for the past 10 years or so and when you spot remnants of the old road you realise how arduous this journey must once have been. The road is unfenced so care must be taken in regard to cows and horses on the road as well as the native wildlife such as kangaroos, pigs, bustards and dingos. A keen eye will enable you to view many colourful parrots and if you are lucky may come across a Wedge Tailed Eagle feeding on a road kill.
Just out of Petford is the Cycad laden Lappa Range. At the top of the short climb and on the left is the Old Lappa Pub (GP). This is the site of a soak (spring) where camels watered on their journeys from the advancing rail head to the Chillagoe area. The railway reached here in 1901 and was then known as Lappa Junction. If you can spare 20 minutes and are interested in memorabilia, it is well worth the visit, but we warn you that this is a historic site only so don't expect cold beer or even toilets. For a small donation you can have an informal tour.
Just past Lappa on the left is the old railway line to Mt Garnet. This is an interesting route to Mt Garnet but is a 4WD, dry weather track. For the adventurous it is a captivating drive with interesting stonework and lovely views.
Between GP153 and GP154 on the right is a dirt track. If you turn up this track and then turn immediately right (almost a U turn) and go about 100 metres, you will come to the old Kooboora (aboriginal word for 'barren place') cemetery. At GP160 on the left is the remains of the Kooboora town site where tin was discovered in 1888.
Almaden (pop: <25) originated from a rail junction to Chillagoe in 1907. Almaden is commonly known as 'cow town'. As the town has no fire brigade it is unfenced to allow the cattle to keep the grass down. The town has a pub, fuel, railway station and public telephone and an interesting little cemetery.
Just out of town on the left is the Ootan turn off. This is another way to Mt Garnet and can usually be travelled by a conventional car in the dry season.
The road now becomes a well formed unsealed road with a couple of short stretches of bitumen. If it is raining, some of the small creeks may come up for an hour or so, but doesn't usually cause any problems. If you are not experienced in these types of crossings, do not attempt to cross, just wait until somebody with experience arrives.
At GP257 is the beginning of the Limestone bluffs that Chillagoe is so famous for and at GP263 and on the left is your first view of one of the many marble pits that dot the region.
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Chillagoe Cabins, Queen St, Chillagoe, North Queensland,
PO Box 9, Chillagoe Queensland 4871 Australia
Phone: +61 7 4094 7206