The Allsops discover a relaxed bush camping experience in western Queensland.
After 1100km of single-lane bitumen roads, it was both a relief and a small disappointment to hit double-lane roads with a central white line again. The 400km-trip from Thargomindah to Charleville, Qld, passed quite quickly.
Charleville has a population of around 3300 people and has all the services you should need. There are two IGA supermarkets, a good liquor outlet, two hardware stores, a chemist and a Ford/Nissan dealer, as well as a variety of other businesses.
A PARK WITH A DIFFERENCE
For some time, we had been hearing about the Charleville Bush Caravan Park, built and owned by Graham and Deb Reid, so we decided to take a look. We think this park is unique, as the brochure states it takes only non-smokers, no pets, and that the park is unsuitable for children, although kids are not banned entirely. There is no children’s playground or pool and there is no camp kitchen, further discouraging backpackers and whizz-bangs.
The park is only 2km out of town and is situated on 62 acres in a quiet bush setting. There are two pleasant, stylish unisex amenities blocks that contain toilets and showers, as well as two accessible bathrooms. There is also a dump point in the van park. Sites are large, drive-through, will take big rigs, and most have shade. Power, town water and sullage are provided beside each site and, while we had excellent internet and mobile coverage, we had poor TV reception.
The laundry is modern, and there is an undercover barbecue with seats and tables. Camp ovens are available to borrow, and a central fire pit is lit each evening. Most nights, Graham gives a short talk on the area or other topics of interest. There are also pizza nights (buy your own and they cook it) and sometimes a damper is cooked in the coals.
The emphasis at Charleville Bush Caravan Park is on a quiet, country experience, and the park has a variety of native animals and birds. Denyse and I saw a pair of bustards close-up in the park one afternoon.
Graham and Deb have built a completely separate, unpowered bush camping park for self-contained RVs a short walk away from the main camping area, and this has town water, a dump point, rubbish bins and a central fire pit. Costs are kept low, at $5 per person, per night for bush camping, compared to $28 per night in the caravan park. There are no EFTPOS or credit card facilities. There is a 15km exclusion zone around the town for free camping so with the good facilities and good prices at this park, why would you risk free camping?
Graham and Deb run a two-hour bus tour of the town from the park ($10 for park guests), as well as an eight-day, 4WD tag-along (motel accommodation) outback tour to Birdsville, Innamincka, Corner Country and Tibooburra with free van parking at Charleville while you are on tour. We took the two-hour town tour and thought it was good value. Graham told us a lot of the history of Charleville including the various town floods.
The park was pretty full each night we were there and the vanners we spoke to liked the park’s concept. Maybe this is the way of the future?
INTO THE COSMOS
The local visitor information centre is now based at the Cosmos Centre, which houses the Cosmos Observatory. The observatory is open for daytime viewings of the sun as well as night viewing of the stars, planets and moon with informative, dedicated staff. Larger, more powerful telescopes have been set up since our last visit.
We did the sun viewing late morning with Elton who set up a powerful telescope with a special filter to protect our eyes. We could see a massive solar flare that would be about 26,000km long plus some dark, cooler spots; merely 4000°C, compared to the rest of the surface at 8000°C! This was quite a mind-boggling experience. We had a toasted sandwich and coffee at the centre while we were there, and enjoyed the little star-shaped pieces of cheese in the salad and the star stickers and toothpicks – you can see how keen and motivated the staff at the Cosmos Centre is!
That afternoon, we took the WWII Convoy Tour conducted by Monique, who we first met years ago when she owned the Jundah Hotel and campground. We found this tour much more appealing and interesting than the name suggests.
We hadn’t realised that Charleville was on the ‘Brisbane Line’ and that it was the marshalling base for the Battle of the Coral Sea. There were 3500 American airmen stationed in Charleville during the war, with 250 Flying Fortresses, and we were shown the three remaining wartime buildings at the airport and several other relics plus an ultra-secret piece of wartime equipment recently brought back to Charleville by Jane Morgan, the dedicated manager of the Cosmos Centre.
Denyse and I returned to the Cosmos Centre at 6.30pm to listen to a talk by Aboriginal elder Shelley on her background and how the Aboriginal people used stars for seasons and to navigate. The highlight for us was the 7.30pm session of stargazing through the four powerful telescopes. The telescopes are computer-controlled, and just swing around to fix on a planet at the touch of a button. This session was finished at 8.45pm, while a later session commences at 9pm. Bookings are essential.
We were shown different planets and stars, including Saturn and its rings, Jupiter and its moons and some stars outside our galaxy. It is completely impossible to get your head around how far away these stars are, but one light year is 9.5 trillion kilometres. Last time we were there it was full moon and we were lucky enough to view that, but the lack of a moon this time made the Milky Way appear much brighter.
The Cosmos Centre sells souvenirs as well as great coffee, cakes and toasted sandwiches, and has information on all the attractions in Charleville and the surrounds. Manager Jane and her staff could not be more pleasant and helpful and can advise on appropriate tours.
There is a captive breeding program in Charleville for the endangered bilby and there are two ways to see this remarkable Australian animal. An evening session commences at 6pm or you can organise a personal experience during daylight hours. We chose the latter. You can book these through the Cosmos Centre and bookings are essential. Unfortunately, on this trip, we were not permitted to take any images or video.
We spent some time wandering in the Graham Andrews Parklands and checked out the signs describing the different trees on the Native Timber Walk. The lake had a lot of birdlife, and we found the story of the Vortex rain-making guns interesting. The Warrego River Walk is also a good way to stretch your legs.
The Murweh Shire Council has built an impressive complex incorporating a reception centre with a grandstand, race track, pony club facilities and gym, which we saw on Graham’s town tour. In town are many interesting old buildings, including the beautifully restored Queenslander known as the Historic House Museum, built in 1888, where you can see a replica Cobb and Co coach and many other exhibits. Unfortunately, the very large and grand Corones Hotel was in receivership when we called. The new Royal Flying Doctor buildings are open for inspection, and you can visit the School of Distance Education unit.
Next time we visit, we would like to go to Woolabra Station to see the various birds including brolgas, bustards and many others. Although we have been to Charleville several times, we spent four days there, and could have stayed longer.
For a small town, it punches well above its weight in the quality of its tourist attractions and the enthusiasm and dedication of the locals, who ooze pride in their town. Our decision to stay at the Charleville Bush Camp was a good one, as we enjoyed the bush experience, space, and the peace and quiet sometimes not found in town parks.
Charleville is 740km west of Brisbane and about 400km north-east of Thargomindah.
The full feature appeared in Caravan World #546 January 2016. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!