Description and Itinerary: Packers’ Ghosts Trek


Arranged as a seven-day circuit, this walking trek visits five heritage North Queensland mining town sites. These towns, of which three are now ghost towns, and two are shadows of their former industrial might were once the heart of the Moffat mining empire. A team of pack donkeys will carry all the camping furniture, food and luggage, continuing the packing tradition of the North Queensland miners, pioneers and drovers.

01 Loading Mule Stannary Hills

Figure 1. Loading a Mule with Bags of Ore Stannary Hills District

Relive some of life at the turn of the century when horsepower meant Clydesdales, and pack teams of horses and mules carried everything from flour to stamper batteries. In the late 1880s the main towns of the area were Herberton, Montalbion, Stannary Hills and Watsonville. Each of these towns at some time probably had a population of 500 people or more. Herberton is the only surviving townnow with a population of 980 people and Watsonville, once with seven brass bands, has only some 330 residents scattered across the locality.


Day One. Starting at Kalunga, near where author Ion Idreiss worked a tin claim, we retrace an old wagon road and pack tracks that were established to convey traffic to the Palmer River Goldrush in 1874. We will detour to spend the night in Watsonville near the first ANZAC Memorial tree planted in 1917.

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Fig 2. The Watsonville Honour Board set under the Memorial Mango Tree Planted at the School in 1917.


Day Two. We will make our way back to the Cardwell Track with a opportunity to visit the Watsonville Pioneer Cemetery.  We will camp near the “Natural Bridge”, a geological curiosity on the Walsh River. We can enjoy swimming in the cool granite rock pools immediately below our campsite.

Day Three. We cross the Walsh River to continue along the “Cardwell Track” to the site of Rocky Bluffs anotherghost of the 19th Century mining boom.  We camp on a huge sandbank on the banks of the Walsh River. We will have time to explore the town and battery sites in the afternoon.

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Figure 3. Natural Bridge on Walsh River.

Note: Natural Bridge is on private property and permission is required to visit.

The Rocky Bluff Battery, tramway and township are significant as an expression of early-integrated development in North Queensland's mining industry. The combination of functions in one place is unique: steam tramway and terminus, rope incline tramway, battery, weir and settlement. In 1905 the small township of Rocky Bluffs had "some 200 inhabitants and ... a good hotel, store and provisional school". 

Because of its steep site the township had the reputation that no wheeled vehicle, cart, wagon or buggy ever got into the main street called Ruffasell Street. A postal receiving office operated from 1903 to 1907.

10 Rocky Bluff Battery and township ca. 1905

Fig 4. Rock Bluffs Township and Gravitational Railway Circa 1907


The battery and general work at Rocky Bluffs, the terminus of the Stannary Hills Tramline, gave employment to about 50 men in 1905. Ore was shipped in from surrounding mines including the Ivanhoe, Extended, Kitchener Eclipse and Arbouin Mines. An aerial ropeway carried ore from the Arbouin Mine to the tramline.

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Figure 5. Camp on the Banks of the Walsh River

Day Four. We climb the range to the terminus of the Stannary Hills Tramway, and then follow the disused tramway to the site of Stannary Hills, once a thriving tin mining community. We Camp on Eureka Creek (Stannary Hills) at the town weir. Our route intersects the BI-Centennial National Trail that extends 5360km from Cooktown to Healesville, mostly following the Great Dividing Range. Stannary Hills is one of the recommended stops on the Trail, part of which we will experience on Day Six.

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Figure 6. At The Stannary Hills Post Office Site

Day Five. We follow the line of the Stannary Hills to Irvinebank Tramway, passing many relics of the past mining era, including Montalbion. We will camp in the living ghost town of Irvinebank on the town common, opposite the Tavern. We can enjoy cold refreshment and pub grub here.

Those that wish to, can visit the Louden House Museum (own expense) and admire the many heritage listed buildings of this quaint town or walk up to the Vulcan Mine site for a vista over this important part of North Queensland’s heritage.

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Figure 7. The Qld National Bank Heritage Listed Building, Irvinebank

Day Six. We ascend The Dargo Range, rising to over 1400 m; this range is the highest part of the Great Dividing Range in North Queensland. We camp in Silver Valley, near the locality of Lancelot, once busy with silver mines. A number of weirs built by the German owned Lancelot Mining Company survive. These walls are notable for the quality of the stonemason’s work. These associated works and mines were confiscated at the start of WW1. The battery was reserected in 1955 to service independant miners. Ancient rock art sites and unusual geological are other features along the Dry River.

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Figure 8. View from the Dargo Range.

Day Seven. After viewing a rock art gallery, we climb above the Bluffs, then contour around Hammer Hill, named for an executive of the Lancelot Mining Company, to make our way to the Wild River for lunch at Bullocks Crossing. The final leg takes in reaches along the Wild River with possibility of seeing Platypus in their home. We return to Kalinvale mid afternoon to unsaddle and farewell our hardworking donkey companions.

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Figure 9. Rock art of Silver Valley


1.Total journey distance: approximately 120 km.

2.Meals included from Lunch Day one to Lunch Day Seven, less Dinner Day Five (Irvinebank Tavern).

3.Entry to Loudoun House Museum at own expense.(Aproximately $10.00 PP as at June 2016)