Packers' Ghosts Trek - FNQ

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. View a Rainbow Serpent in a rock art gallery and 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. 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!

Price: $3295.00 per person (Twin Share)

Duration: 9 Nights/ 10 Days

Trek Ratings: Activity 2&3 / Conditions 3 / Accommodation 3 / Training/Preparation 4

Best Season: April – November

Country Visited: Australia

Trip Start: Cairns

Trip Ends: Cairns

Trip Route: Cairns – Kalunga – Watsonville  – Montalbion – Irvinebank – Lancelot – Rocky Bluffs – Kalinvale

Trip Style: Guided Trekking, pack free, Camp supported, Pack Donkeys

Activity: Trekking

Activity Per Day: Approximately 6-7 hr walking (total of 90kms covered)

Day 01 Cairns overnight

Day 02 Travel to Kalinvale, meet with Pack Donkeys and start trek – 9kms

Day 03 Watsonville – 9kms

Day 04 Natural Bridge – 10kms

Day 05 Rocky Bluffs – 9kms

Day 06 Jubilee Creek – 8kms

Day 07 Irvinebank – 17kms

Day 08 Rest day – Irvinebank

Day 09 Lancelot – 12kms

Day 10 Final day walk back to Kalinvale/Cairns – 18kms

Arrive at leisure today and check into your hotel.

The day is yours to spend as you like. About 5.00pm we will gather in the bar of our hotel to discuss the next days departure and how the trek will unfold.

Overnight at Hotel

No meals included

Day 02 Cairns pick up and travel to Kalinvale – 9kms
6.00AM Transfers to start of our trek at Kalinvale. The road trip between Cairns and Kalinvale Farm is about 2hrs.

8.00AM Meet and finalise the packing of the donkeys. The final packing of the donkey can take up to 90mins as we need to pack the gear, including the clients personal items. Persoanl itmes will be added to a pack bag (supplied) and then loaded onto the donkeys before any of the ancillary items and camp gear can be added. We will enjoy morning tea during the packing and anyone that is interested in joining in the preparations is most welcome. Depart via the NW boundary of Kalinvale to join the Tepon-Silver Valley Coach Rd to Western Creek for lunch. Overland to what was once “the Cardwell Track” to find our camp next to a solitary mining dam. Join a “walk through the stars “after a three-course dinner or enjoy a yarn beside the campfire.

Overnight at camp
Lunch and Dinner Included

Day 03 Kalinvale – Watsonville – 9kms

After breakfast and repacking the donkeys, continue cross country following the line of the Cardwell track crossing the Great Dividing Range enroute to Straight Shooter Creek- the scene of several murders and substantial alluvial tin mining for morning tea at a convenient dam. Continue along Gorge Creek to the Herberton-Petford Road and on to camp at the Community Centre in Watsonville, a prosperous mining town before WWI.

Overnight campsite
Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner Included

Day 04 Watsonville – Natural Bridge – 10 kms

Day Three. With an early start walk though town to the windmill and well to learn the story of this region, then through some streets to the Pioneer Cemetery to catch up with a few past locals including some of the well-known packs in the district.  Continue via Sandridge Road to “Picnic Cave” a shelter under a huge rock slab for morning tea. Continue to Natural Bridge on the Walsh River to camp and enjoy a swim in the clear rock pools before dinner and another view of the stars.

Overnight at campsite
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 05 Natural Bridge to Rocky Bluffs – 9kms
Another early start and perhaps a swim before breakfast then cross the Walsh River and continue along the “Cardwell Track” through rugged a landscape of huge granite slabs and boulders during which we again cross the Great Dividing Range with a break for morning tea at a convenient crest. After finding the original pack track into Rocky Bluffs Townsite we pitch camp on a large sandy beach on the bank of the Walsh River in time to explore the curious history of Rocky Bluffs smelters and town- Walk along Ruffashell Street and imagine life here at the turn of the Century.

Overnight at campsite

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 06 Rocky Bluffs – Jubilee Creek – 8km

Ford the Walsh River and zig zag our way out of the gorge then follow a steep 4WD track to The Gladstone Dam for lunch. With some tricky navigation we locate the parts of the Stannary HIlls Tramway and original wagon road to make our way into another mining town that has disappeared with few traces, to camp on Jubilee Creek in time to learn of the Stannary Hills Tramway and some of the district’s past before a hot shower and well deserved dinner.

Overnight campsite

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 07 Stannary HIlls to Irvinebank – 17kms

Today is a stomp to Irvinebank via the road and the heritage listed tramway alignment through Montalbion Cattle Station, with a pause at the Stannary Hills Cemetery and the deserted landmark of Hales Siding. Lunch in Bulldog Creek, then pitch camp on the Irvinebank Town Common, opposite the tavern. We dine out in the Tavern tonight; hot showers are available at the heritage listed School of Arts hall.

Overnight campsite

Breakfast, Lunch (dinner at own expense)

Day 08 Rest day at Irvinebank – local walks and strolls only

A rest day and opportunity to visit a selection of heritage sites around Irvinebank: Louden House Museum, The Vulcan Mine, the station, cemetery and Perkes collection of machinery are amongst the choices. The donkey team will enjoy a day’s rest with a feed of hay that has been positioned for them. Lunch and dinner at the tavern and time to attend to personal chores.

Overnight campsite

Breakfast, Lunch ( dinner at own costs)

Day 09 Irvinebank to Dry River camp – 12kms

An early start as today the 1100m Dargo Range a section of the Great Dividing Range is to be ascended, then zig-zag the escarpment of Silver Valley to the Dry River to Camp near Lancelot, the final ghost town of this trek. Lots of mining history along the way.

Overnight campsite
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 10 Final day return to Kalinvale/Cairns – 18kms

We reload the donkeys with nearly empty packbags then visit the distinctive Bluffs formed by an ancient pyroclastic eruption, to view a rock art gallery. The Aboriginal custodians of this site perished from measles and other introduced diseases and were pronounced extinct at the turn of the Century. Their interpretation has been lost but the images remain. Return to the Wild River for lunch, following cattle pads across country then complete the final leg back to Kalinvale along the River. Farewell the donkeys and departure for Cairns or alternatively stay in Herberton/ Atherton overnight and explore some places of interest whilst on the Atherton Tablelands.

Breakfast, Lunch

Minimum numbers of 4 required, maximum numbers of 12, please contact us for more details or if you have a private group

2020 Departures

Oct 16 – 25, 2020

Cost Includes

9 Day fully escorted tour
All transfers to and from Cairns
Cairns accommodation – Hotel ( 1 night pre trek) accommodation only
Trek accommodation – tents (twin share)
Meals as indicated
Detailed Risk Management Plan
Public Liability Insurance

Cost Does not Include

International and Australian domestic flights
Airport transfers
Travel insurance ( Domestic Travel Insurance recommended)
All items of a personal nature, including trekking equipment
Meals other than those specified on itinerary
Any others expenses which are not mentioned on ‘Price Includes’ section.

Recommended Equipment


 Jacket, breathable with hood
 Soft Jacket, fleece or soft-shell
 Long Sleeve Shirt
 Short Sleeve Shirt
 Hiking Pants or shorts
Skins (optional)
Underwear, briefs (moisture-wicking fabric recommended)
Gaiters or Spats (optional)
Afternoon / Evening Clothes
 One lightweight set of non-walking clothes. These are the clothes you will change into after the days walk.
 Polar Fleece or one warm woolen jumper (not too bulky) and long pants. These are to protect against mosquitoes at dusk, and cold at night.


 1 – Brimmed Hat, for sun protection, Sunglasses
 1 – Bandana (optional)


 1 – Hiking Boots/walking shoes with spare laces
 1 – Gym Shoes/sandals/thongs, to wear at camp (optional)
 3 – Socks, comfortable


 Camel pack / Water bladder. This is mandatory as it is critical that you maintain hydration at all times.
 Water bottles for spare capacity and to mix up supplements. We recommend total water capacity to be around 2 – 3 litres
 Backpack Cover, waterproof (optional)
 Poncho, during rainy season (optional)
 Towel, lightweight, quick-dry (optional)
 Plastic Bags, various sizes, to keep gear dry and separate

 Trekking Poles (optional)
 Head lamp, with extra batteries
 Daypack, for you to carry your personal gear while trekking


 Prescriptions and basic first aid kit for blisters, bites etc.
 Lip Balm
 Hand Sanitiser, Insect Repellent
 Toilet Paper
 Snacks, light-weight, high calorie, high energy (optional) we provide snacks and biscuits.
 Camera, with extra batteries (optional)

What level of fitness do I require?

Your experience is directly related to your level of fitness!!  It is very important to prepare yourself for the challenge ahead.  We have a recommended training schedule on our website, this is a guide only.

Please contact us for information on training walks in Melbourne, Adelaide and Cairns.

Fatigue, overheating and dehydration are conditions that you need to avoid and be aware of on the trek. Lots of fluid with re‐hydration formulas such as Gastrolyte will help. You must train in the clothes that you intend to wear whilst trekking! It is also very important to make sure that you have good walking boots.

Good footwear is important for a successful trek. Prior preparation is the key to a successful trek.

Getaway Trekking reserves the right to refuse participation or retire any trekker/s if they are deemed to be unfit or unprepared to complete the journey.

What should I wear on the plane?

Wear appropriate clothing; if you are travelling from a cold environment carry a lightweight set in your hand luggage that you can change into when you arrive.

Can I stay a little longer?

Getaway Trekking includes in your trek price pre trek  accommodation in Cairns. If you require extra nights’ accommodation please let us know and we can book this for you.

Do I need travel insurance for this trek?

Domestic Travel Insurance is a policy that provides cover for travel to Australian states, territories and islands within its maritime borders. It can provide cover for cancellation due to illness or injury, lost, stolen or damaged luggage, cancelled flights, rental vehicle insurance excess, personal liability and other unexpected circumstances.

Insurance does NOT cover any medical expenses when you are travelling within Australia. When you are in Australia, any medical costs would need to be covered by Medicare, your private health insurance or out of your own pocket.

It is actually legislated by the Australian Government that travel insurance companies are unable to provide cover for medical expenses within Australia for Australian residents and citizens, who are eligible for Australian Medicare. The intention is for any medical costs to remain under Medicare or Private Health.

Please note that ambulance services are state run services and Medicare does not necessarily cover you for ambulance trips.

Whilst a domestic travel insurance policy does not provide cover for medical expenses, it can provide cover for Cancellation due to a medical situation

What is the accommodation like?

Tent camping (twin share)

All camp furniture, tents, kitchen utensils, crockery and cutlery supplied.

When is the trek briefing?

Your Trek Leader will run a briefing at your hotel the night before your trek. This informative session is designed to let you know of departure times, changes, ask questions etc. It also allows you to get acquainted with the rest of the group if you’re not already.

Do I need money on the trek?

Yes, opportunities are available to make purchases at the end of each day!

Personal Expenditure and carriage of cash. Clients may wish to carry some cash for use when in Irvinebank (PM Day 6, all of day 7) to purchase refreshments and dinner and entry to museums and displays (Loudon House $7,00 adult, $5.00 concession, $2.00 child others are coin donation). Irvinebank will be the only opportunities for spending as all the other destinations do not have any commercial outlets.

Are there Communications on the trek?

We carry a satellite phone on our treks.  The purpose of the satellite phone is for emergency use only. It is used to ring in to the office with updates, GPS position or used in an emergency.

As there is no electricity along the trek we cannot charge the battery.  The Trek Leader may only switch the phone on a couple of times a day (to save the battery).  The battery is fully charged before the trek starts.

The satellite phone is not to be used by our trekkers for personal use.

If a trekker wants to keep in touch with family or work whilst they are trekking they need to bring their own satellite phone.

Standard Mobile phone coverage is weak and may not be available during high wind or bad weather.

How can I be contacted if there is an emergency at home?

If an emergency requires your attention the following procedures should be followed. It must be understood that communications in these areas is not guaranteed due to weather and other environmental conditions.

  1. Your family member contacts our office (who will assess if it is a genuine emergency; a sick cat would not fit this criteria!) The sat phone is required for “on track” emergencies and battery life is limited.
  2. Our office will text a message to the satellite phone; when the trek leader initialises the phone at 6.00pm each night, he / she will receive the message and immediately contact the office for instructions.

What happens with food?

Food and Menu

Food and Meals. Due to the duration of this trip main meals will be wet type dishes and will be made from dried ingredients such as freeze-dried meats, pulses and pastas. Dinners during our visit to Irvinebank will be at the Tavern at own expense. All other meals are included in the fare. Any menu preferences or dietary requirements should be advised when booking to enable us to procure the ingredients.

Vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and other dietary options available (please ask in advance). We require at least 2 weeks notice of speical food requirements.

Should I take electrolytes and how much water is enough?

You will need to carry a minimum of 2 litres of water on you. It is essential you hydrate in this environment. Your Trek Leader will advise the best places to fill up your water. It is essential that you take electrolytes/Gastrolyte/Hydrolyte etc with you.

Dehydration can become a major issue in all hot environments.  It is very important to keep drinking fluids on the trek. Because of the higher level of activity, temperature and humidity you will tend to sweat more. With the increased fluid intake and sweating you also tend to flush out of your system essential minerals, salts etc. This is why it is important to use electrolytes, salt replacements and Glucose type products. Water will be available to refill bladders/bottles in camp each day.

Part of the essential equipment carried by the kitchen donkey is a gravity feed water filter. All drinking water taken from river and ground sources will be filtered through this device to remove bacteria and micro-organisms. The filter will be deployed at morning tea, lunch and once the evening camp is pitched for individual to replenish the contents of water bottles and bladders. Water for hot beverages will be boiled at mealtimes and morning teas.

Water purifying tablets should also be taken as a precaution. With the different environments, conditions, food and water, upset stomachs, vomiting and diarrhea can occur. Please ensure you bring adequate medication as per our personnel first aid kit.

Are there opportunities for me to shower?

On the nights we camp near the rivers we will have opportunities to swim and wash. On other nights we suggest you carry wet ones or baby wipes to refresh yourself!

Are we supported on this trek?

A team of pack donkeys carry your luggage, food and camping gear, exercising the skills and heritage of Australia’s many packers and drovers. 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.

All personal luggage will be carried in supplied packs that fit on the donkey pack saddles. Please limit your personal gear that you do not wish to carry to no more than 10kgs. This does not include your sleeping gear, ie bags, mats, tents.

Donkeys are allocated 1 per 2 trekkers