The Specials

You may be wondering what a 70s / 80s ska and two-tone band from the industrial heart of England has to do with a road trip in North Queensland. You’ll have to carry on reading if you want to find out, it is worth it, honest. If you really can’t be bothered you can entertain yourself by listening to ‘Ghost Town’, one of their most famous hits.

From Airlie Beach we drove 290 km north to Townsville. On the way we had to stop at Bowen to see the Big Mango. We’re fans of the ‘Big Things’ you find dotted along the highway in Australia. Our favourite is The Big Pineapple in Nambour and although the Mango was impressive it didn’t quite live up to that. You couldn’t climb up inside it for a start.

We’d booked an AirBnB in Townsville so we could be close to the city centre and the Magnetic Island Ferry. We’ve always had good experiences with AirBnB and would recommend you give it a go if you haven’t yet. You can try it out and get $55 credit towards a booking by following this link. We were staying at Stephens place, which turned out to be a fabulous unit; beautifully renovated and very well located. First stop in Townsville was to drive to the top of Castle Hill where you get a fabulous panorama of the city.

View from Castle Hill Townsville

Just off the coast at Townsville is Magnetic Island. Yet another place which retains a name bestowed by Captain Cook, this time because apparently his ship’s compass went haywire as it approached the island. We took the ferry from Townsville over for a day trip. The classic way to explore the island is by hiring a topless mini moke, which are plentiful. However, we took the budget option of the bus. A day pass was a bargain at $7.20 per adult and the buses were regular, taking you to all the main sights.

We chose to do the Forts Walk before it got too hot. The walk is a 5 km return track taking you to the remains of a second world war installation which had been built to protect against a potential Japanese threat. Another major reason for taking this walk was that it was supposed to be a good place to see koalas in the wild. After eight years living in Australia, we’d yet to see this iconic animal outside of a wildlife sanctuary so this would be a big wildlife tick for us. However, we weren’t too expectant so were surprised to see one within 15 minutes, and then another at the top near the Forts. It was another fabulous experience for us and added to our list of sightings of Australian wildlife.

During the rest of the day we used the bus to explore other parts of the island including Horsehoe Bay and Picnic Bay. Picnic Bay was the site of the original jetty where the ferries moored and it dates from 1959. When the new harbour at Nelly Bay was constructed the intention was to demolish it but a public campaign saved it. It has since been restored and is now on the Heritage Register. We could have spent a few days on ‘Maggie’ but come late afternoon it was time to catch our ferry back to Townsville.

Picnic Bay Magnetic Island

Our visit to Townsville was only a short stop en route to meet our 4WD Tagalong tour up Cape York peninsula. Nonetheless, before we left we visited the Perc Tucker Regional Art Gallery which had a superb exhibition by Australian artist Richard Dunlop. We also found out about the Townsville Street Art trail so before leaving, had a wander through the CBD admiring the spray can art.

Townsville street art

After Townsville, our next destination was Forrest Beach near Ingham, which is home of the original pub with no beer. We camped for a couple of nights out the back of Forrest Beach Pub and had stunning ocean views across to Hinchinbrook Island. We were lucky enough to see some humpback whales in the distance playing around. Whilst at Forrest Beach, we took the opportunity to drive 50 km west of Ingham to Girringun National Park to see Wallaman Falls, the longest single drop waterfall in Australia. Another pretty exhilarating drive up a mountain was rewarded with awesome views of the falls. Even in the dry season they were magnificent so we imagined they’d be even more spectacular after some rain. Also, our jeep, OTIS, made a friend in the car park.

From Forrest Beach, we made our way another 250 km to Cairns, stopping only to admire the Golden Gumboot at Tully. This ‘big thing’ commemorates the fact that Tully is one of the wettest places in Australia. It’s height of 7.9 metres equals the most rain recorded in a year, back in 1950. The gumboot impressed us as you could walk up inside it for a great view of the neighbouring sugar mill.

It’s time to talk about The Specials, and yes it’s another excuse to squeeze in a music reference where one really shouldn’t be. At the start of our trip we had dinner at The Lightbox in Gladstone. Andy had the Taco Tuesday special and at $4 a Taco it was a bargain. We therefore vowed that we would always take advantage of daily specials if they were available when we were eating out. This commitment certainly paid off in this part of our trip. In Townsville we visited The Townsville Brewery which is located in The Old Post Office. We’d gone primarily to try their great range of beers but couldn’t go past the Monster Monday Nacho special; $18 for half a metre of nachos plus a beer – fabulous. As you can see from the picture, we certainly got our money’s worth.

Then, when in Forrest Beach, our neighbouring campers let us know that as we were there on a Thursday, it was specials night at the pub with a rump steak or chicken schnitzel for $10. We couldn’t pass it up but were glad we arrived early. Specials night was obviously well known locally as there was only one unreserved table. The meals were excellent, perfectly cooked and hunger busting portions. Quite often, the steak on specials night is a poor cousin of the regular menu offering, but not in this case. We had a bargain meal once again and this reinforced our determination to always make the most of The Specials.

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