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24 hours in Etty Bay

How long does one need to spend in one place? A very open ended question with an answer dependent on many things, I know.

As a British lad I am not shy of fast paced hustle and bustle. However, make me drive long distances - let’s say more than three or so hours - and you will soon see me turn into a fidgety, festering kerfuffle, no matter how comfy the front seat. At that point I will happily take at least a couple of nights on a beach as a break before setting out on the road again.

Surely you can forgive me, though. For you see, in the same distance and time as covered by a leisurely holiday drive through Queensland I could almost drive from my old home in London to the glorious French capital, Paris. Spoiler alert: your country is HUGE!!!

Aussies on the other hand… Well, you guys seem to get yourselves across the Nullarbor and call it a casual Sunday morning cruise.

Overlooking the swim nets, cabins and campground at Etty Bay

So, despite the fact that one could spend an inordinate amount of time unwinding on the picture postcard beaches of Etty Bay, let's assume that some of you out there are looking at stopping over for no more than a single night on your journeys home or away.

In my mind I am picturing you as travelling from your final destination up North back down to home in the South. That seemed to be the direction people were usually flocking: like some sort of mass migration of mildly tipsy wildlife, with bellies full of self-caught reef fish. But, of course, feel free to reverse this itinerary if your route is the opposite.

With all that in mind, what is there for you guys to do with just one night at a picturesque overnight stop?

24 Hours in Etty Bay

The First Feed:

Before you even get to the secluded wonders of Etty Bay the delights will begin. Understandably, having heard just how nice it is, you’ve made sure to make it to the area in a timely fashion. But OH NO! You’ve found yourself rather peckish.

In actual fact this is no “oh no” moment. This is in fact great news!

Elevenses, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, whatever it is you want to call the meal at whenever it is you’re arriving, you simply must take the turning off the Bruce Highway towards Millaa Millaa, just as you’re coming into Innisfail, so you can stop in at Mungalli Creek Dairy Cafe. This is a gem that will cater to your belly rumbles with large, small, sweet and savoury.

If the food you order isn’t made with ingredients grown on the farm itself then you can be sure it includes local produce. There are cheese platters, meat pies, veggie options, ice cream and famous cheesecakes. But I can’t stop there… Yes, call me cliche, but I have an almost insatiable penchant for scones, cream and jam. And the ones you’ll find served up here are some of the most delectable that I have had in Australia. Do yourself a favour and make yourself smile by eating at this cute little spot.

The Refreshment:

With the hunger cravings now dealt with, it’s time to make the most of that energy (or pander to the ensuing food coma). From the cafe, continue heading just a short way further towards the tablelands. Before long you will see a turning on the right for the waterfall circuit. Take this route and you have your pick of three glorious spots to swim or chill.

Left to right: Zillie Falls, Millaa Milla Falls and Ellinjaa Falls.

Credit: Tourism & Events Qld.

Millaa Millaa falls is potentially the best known, most likely due to its large, swimmable plunge pool and open, sun-soaked grass area - prime for a nap. However, Zillie Falls and Ellinjaa Falls are, very much, prettier in my opinion. What these two lack in open space and accessibility they make up for in tropical beauty and seclusion. It is safe to swim in all the pools (well, as safe as any water can be in the Far North) and all-my-days is it a perfect refresher from that Queensland heat.

The Recuperation:

As the kaleidoscope of sun rays pouring through gaps in the leaves begins to fade, so it is time to head to the sleeping spot for the night.

Credit: @sabinearnold

Etty Bay Caravan Park and Cabins is a short twenty minute drive south of Innisfail. The route to it starts off completely unassuming. Toward journey’s end, though, it becomes clear that one is arriving somewhere special.

The road begins to wind up the coastal hill, through dense rainforest. If arriving around twilight you might just be lucky enough to creep past a cassowary scouring for its final morsels before nesting for the night, or a carpet python slithering gingerly across the road.

As the road crests the top, the gaps in the trees offer glimpses down to the bay below and out to the horizon in the distance. On the final descent the road winds sharply round to the left before stretching out at the very end, past the SLSC (who watch over the beach every weekend), to the petite caravan park worth calling home on this night.

Once you’re checked in and have completed the obligatory site and beach exploration, you might have noticed the beachside BBQs, ripe for cooking yet more tasty food. Or, even better, you’ll have spotted Etty Bay Kitchen. This independent beach cafe serves up succulent, locally caught spanish mackerel and chips, among other things, so’s a great way to finish off a decadent day. Yum.

The Wake Up:

Those of you with children who like to act as your premature alarm clock, or those who are luckily naturally predisposed to rising both like and with the sun, should capitalise on this phenomenon. For you see: the sun rises pointing directly at the campsite, the birds begin to sing and the bushes begin to bustle.

And bustle they will do loudly when a cassowary joins you for breakfast at precisely this time.

Many of us have heard of fantastical happenings, such as the teddy bears having their picnic. But little is as glorious as waking up to a prehistoric bird striding proudly, confidently, majestically out of one of the oldest rainforests on the planet.

This is an almost daily occurrence at Etty Bay, when the rumbles in the stomachs of these great birds bring them to search for prizes dropped from the various fruit trees planted there when it was an officer’s base in the second world war. Although don’t try yourself to feed them, because if they get suspicious about you only giving out rations they will be duly disappointed and come searching you for more.

Should you not be the type who enjoys an early rise, never fear. Cassowaries roam their territories from dawn until dusk and, with as many as five different cassowaries in the area, you stand a better chance of seeing one at any time of day here than you will almost anywhere else in Australia. Simply keep your eyes peeled and ears to the wind - almost as much for congregations and excited wails of holiday goers as for the birds themselves - and you’ll stand a good chance.

The Seclusion:

Etty Bay is undoubtedly a secluded and scenic spot as far as most people would be concerned. Nevertheless, it is popular and some people want even a little more of the peace and quiet on one of their precious layovers.

Choose from lux cabins, family cabins with ensuite, powered sites and unpowered sites.

As such, whilst enjoying a few hours of morning rest before rushing off, walk north along the beach to the bush at the end. Here you will find a little path taking you down to the rocks of the headland and waters edge, where the waves are more akin to ripples in a glass than those of an ocean swell. Should the water be a tad high and should you have the legs then pick a route over the rocks to the far side. Otherwise, maybe wait until the tide is a little lower and walk round through the no-more-than-ankle-deep water (provided it is not stinger season).

Once you make it to the other side you won’t be surprised to see that you have made it to… dun, dun, duuuunnnn… another beach. Only this beach is far less frequently trodden, bequeathing those who take this adventure with an enhanced tranquility and an FNQ beach view sparing no gems.

The Onward Journey:

Of course we all knew the time would come when leaving this place was necessary.

If you can resist extending your booking for another night then I wouldn’t blame you for only wanting to pop down the road to stay at Mission Beach Camping and Caravan Park at this point. On the short stretch of road down there are some bonus great things to do.

Why not stop in at Murdering Point Winery to take away a tipple with added exoticism. You know, a little something that really compliments the location of your nightcap - or daycap for that matter. Maybe you go for a tropical fruit wine made with lychee, mango, jaboticaba, or passionfruit. Or even one made with the good ol’ classic bush tucker fruit, Davidson Plum. However fabulous you feel there will certainly be something to glam up your evening.

A little closer to Mission Beach you will also find Charley’s Chocolate Factory. Australia’s only cocoa bean to bar experience, this place grows some of the world’s finest cocoa. I wrote about this place in the 48 hours in Mission Beach article, and this is what I had to say:

Charley’s is a small scale, privately owned cocoa farm, producing some of the worlds finest cocoa. And don’t just take my word for it, it has genuinely placed exceptionally highly in official world rankings. Australia’s only bean to bar experience tours run Thursdays and Sundays, offering a walk around of the facilities and the all important tasters - I know you were already thinking about them. You won’t have to worry about filling empty bellies with nothing but chocolate either (would anyone actually mind though?) since lunch is included. All this is finished off with the obligatory opportunity to purchase tantalisingly tasty chocolate in many a wondrous flavour.

But if you’re so inclined as to make a good dent into the remainder of your journey then may I suggest a bite to eat, or at least something for the road? Good. In that case, head briefly back to Innisfail (don’t worry it’s worth it). Amongst the menagerie of same same fast food restaurants found in every highway town is a delicious little deli known as Oliveri’s, which you might have seen signs for on your way in.

Oliveri’s creates beautifully prepared paninis, wraps and sandwiches made to order with fresh ingredients straight from the deli counter. A glance at their menu will prepare you for the tantalising, European inspired combinations and, make no mistake, they are as tasty as the reviews and word of mouth would lead one to expect. Or at least from my experience that is the case.

And now I shall leave you to be on your way. Do enjoy all that FNQ has to offer and we look forward to seeing you soon.

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