It looks like the land of the hobbits, was once a thriving mining town and is home to magnificent limestone caves and ancient Aboriginal rock art. This is Chillagoe - claimed by scientists to have the most diverse geology in the world.
Situated 140km west of Mareeba, Chillagoe was named after William Atherton’s (of Tablelands fame) pastoral property and comes from an old sea shanty: ‘ikey, crikey, psyke, mikey, chillagoe, wallabadorie’. It’s fitting that this playful line inspired the name of a town in the midst of this savannah landscape, dotted with massive limestone towers and striking limestone karsts. With the discovery of copper in the late nineteenth century, a large smelting plant was opened in Chillagoe in 1901, remaining in production for 40 or so years. The chimneys still stand, adding to the mystique of this surreal landscape.
Chillagoe is a real outback town with a variety of historic and geological attractions and abundant wildlife. It’s easily accessed via the Wheelbarrow Way from Mareeba, so called to honour the gold mining pioneers who trudged out this way with all their worldly goods packed into a wheelbarrow. An annual foot race with wheelbarrows on this road between Chillagoe and Mareeba commemorates the ‘wheelbarrow pioneers’ each May. A metal sculpture of a man with a wheelbarrow is an eye-catching and fitting town tribute to these hardy souls.
There is much to see in and around Chillagoe, so it’s worth planning to stay for more than one night. Visit the Chilllagoe Visitor Information and Interpretive Centre, known as ‘The Hub’ to find out what to see and where to stay.
Don’t leave town without exploring the Chillagoe Smelters, a fascinating, well-preserved ruin with a drive-around museum complete with interpretive storyboards. Follow the walking tracks and take advantage of the viewing areas with informative plaques to appreciate this unique heritage site.
Getting to chillagoes
Chillagoe is 215km from Cairns, via Mareeba. along the Burke Developmental Road. There are some unsealed sections on the last 32km, but it is suitable for 2WDs. It’s a 130km trip from Herberton via the Herberton-Petford Road and Burke Developmental Road. While there are some unsealed sections, it is suitable for 2WDs. The 200km from Undara via a mostly unsealed road is recommended for 4WDs only.
Or why not sit back and let someone else do the driving? The Savannahlander from Cairns will get you to Chillagoe for cave tours and an overnight stay. This iconic train departs Cairns early on Wednesday mornings.
Those taking the cave tours leave the train on Wednesday after lunch to be bussed to the Chillagoe-Mungana Caves and then to Chillagoe for the night before rejoining the train for more sight-seeing on Thursday morning. Travel in style while enjoying the scenery and the many attractions visited each day at a leisurely (and indulgent!) pace in this classic 1960 rail motor.
Go to www.savannahlander.com.au for tour information and prices.