With close to a month of time spent here in Australia, we’ve come across countless tales of adventure that follow those who choose to drive across the vast Australian outback.
A few days ago, we got the chance to do a scaled-down version of just that. We piled into the vans with our tents and packs in tow, setting off for a miniature road trip to Chillagoe National Park. From the window, I watched the landscape whip by, transforming from the lush green rainforest of the tropics to the sparse savannah. We were entertained by both a blaring throwback playlist and a scavenger hunt that included characteristic outback road signs, such as one that declared the next fuel station 590 kilometers away.
When we arrived, I hopped out of the air-conditioned van and got a full blast of the scorching Chillagoe heat. Armed with sunscreen, we set up camp and headed to a local waterfall to cool off. All of the swimming sites we’ve visited in Australia, from the crater lakes to this little Chillagoe pond, have been almost beyond belief, with serene water surrounded by lush foliage, looking like a scene that normally only exists in the imagination or on postcards.
After rumbles of thunder we reluctantly withdrew from the water to dry off and change clothing for a cave excursion. We met up with a ranger from Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service who took us on a guided tour of one of the limestone caves. With headlights and lamp belts in tow, we got to see and listen to stories about the different geologic formations, human impacts, flora attempting to grow in the cool climate, and cave-dwelling wildlife.
For the remainder of the afternoon, we explored the area during field lectures. One of the encompassing goals of the trip was to understand the interconnectedness of the landscape. Unsustainable land use in Chillagoe has repercussions across the country, impacting the Atherton Tablelands and the Great Barrier Reef.
When we returned to our campsite, we were greeted by a heavy rainstorm, an event unusual to the dry Chillagoe region. The creek bed that was dry upon our arrival flooded and we enjoyed our barbecue dinner while huddled in our rain jackets. After some puddle jumping, attempts at rain dances, some rowdy card games, and a few made up stories, we returned to our tents, exhausted. Our mini road trip was the perfect way to get a glimpse of the borderlands that connect our Australian home in the Tablelands to the legends of the Outback.