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This trek is named for the packers and drivers of the thousands of horses, mules and bullocks that plied the “Back O’Cairns” between 1872 and the turn of the century.
This trek commences from Kalinvale Farm, Kalunga some 10km south of Herberton where the donkeys are agisted. This trek visits the once populous and busy mining centres of Watsonville, Rocky Bluffs, Montalbion, Irvinebank and Lancelot, a circuit of some 90km. Walk Ruffashell Street, the main street of Rocky Bluffs where the rough terrains permitted only wheelbarrows access, swim in the clear water of the Walsh River at the geological curiosity of Natural Bridge, contemplate the fate of those pioneers now resting in the cemeteries at Watsonville and Stannary Hills, admire the views from the Dargo Range before plummeting into Silver Valley -the site of the first discovery of silver in Australia. There will be time to quench thirsts at the Irvinebank Tavern and visit Loudoun House which is now a museum but was once the family home of John Moffat, North Queensland’s own mining magnate. Look for platypus along the Wild River during the final leg.
A team of pack donkeys carry your luggage, food and camping gear, exercising the skills and heritage of Australia’s many packers and drovers. You will be involved with the donkeys in many ways – leading, loading, unloading and care at the end of the day, all of which will add significantly to the physical challenge.
Your donkey will respond to your treatment of it – this is true teamwork! You will find that the additional requirements, above and beyond trekking, will add to your experience – also helping you sleep soundly at night!
Sleep under the stars on a bed in an insect proof “Mossie dome” tent. Fully guided with a carefully researched commentary on the geology, flora, fauna and pioneer histories that we pass. Good food including three course dinners cooked over an open fire and even a glass or two of wine with dinner!
Cairns, Queensland, Australia
This morning we will collect you from your hotel accommodation and travel in air conditioned comfort to Kalunga on the Atherton Tablelands. This is where the donkeys who will support our trek are agisted, and on arrival we will spend some time getting to know them and learning a little about how to saddle and load.
Once we are loaded, we will have a thorough pre trek safety briefing, before setting off to start our trek. Today is a relatively short day to our campsite, to ensure we all – two and four legged participants! – settle into our experience gently.
On arrival, we take care of our donkey team before setting up camp and enjoying the first of our 3-course dinners. And when it’s time to hit the hay, we get to enjoy a million star experience!
After a great night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, we set out along the Cardwell Track towards Straight Shooter Creek. This was the scene of substantial alluvial tin mining – and several murders! Tin mining sure was a tough gig back in the day…
Our trek continues about 3km along Gorge Creek through temperate and savannah rainforest areas. Up a gentle range for morning tea with a view, before hitting the Herberton Road and on to our campsite at Watsonville.
A challenging but lovely day today, trekking through some varied terrain from Watsonville.
We begin by visiting a few well known previous locals at Pioneer Cemetery; it is sobering to read about those who died at relatively young ages, including of course infants and young children. From here we trek to ‘Picnic Cave’ for morning tea, before continuing along cattle pads and tracks, mainly undercover.
We are exposed to the elements, which does add to the challenges, however our reward tonight is a beautiful campsite on the Walsh River, with clear rock swimming pools to cool off in.
We have to make time to visit Natural Bridge, a stunning rock formation just a short walk from our campsite. Nature really is incredible!
Swim before breakfast anyone?
We begin by crossing Walsh River and tackling the Great Dividing Range. And when we say crossing the river, that takes on a whole new challenge with donkeys – who traditionally don’t like the water. Cajoling and persuading works for some, others need a little more forceful encouragement with a bit of a push from behind!
We continue on an original pack track to the beautiful Rocky Bluffs campsite on a large sandy beach.
Again we have the opportunity for a walk a short distance from the campsite, learning about the history of the smelters here at the turn of the century. There are remains of some buildings here, along with abandoned ore trucks and chimneys. This provides a fascinating glimpse into our history and how tough life must have been for our early settlers.
A challenging trek today as we follow steep and winding tracks out of the gorge and along to Gladstone Dam. Again, we are exposed for a good part of the day – the proper gear and hydration is really essential on this trek.
Highlights today include parts of the Stannary Hills Tramway and original wagon road.
Our campsite is on Jubilee Creek at Stannary Hills. This is a lovely treed area, with plenty of room for spread out tents and a tethering area for our donkey friends. We can swim if we choose, or simply lie under the trees, relaxing with a book, or simply enjoying nature.
Another wonderful dinner to be enjoyed, cooked over the campfire, following by some relaxation time chatting with our fellow trekkers.
If possible, we will trek through Montalbion Cattle Station, alternatively we will follow the local road. Enroute we visit Stannary Hills Cemetery, Hales Siding and Bulldog Creek.
A memorial at Stannary Hills provides some insights into the families who came to this area looking to make lives for themselves and their families. Many arrived from the Palmer Goldfields before settling in this area looking to try their luck in the tin mines.
We arrive in Irvinebank to another beautiful shady campsite, this time in the town, directly across from the Irvinebank Hotel. What a treat to enjoy a hot shower and clean up before making our way across the road for a bit of pub grub. (note – hotel is not open every day)
We will pack up our campsite this morning, and wave goodbye to our donkey friends as they board their transport for home.
Our bus will take us back through Watsonville, Herberton, Atherton and Mareeba, and finally to our hotel in Cairns.