View back to Cardwell from the Kirrima Range road
Cardwell is a quiet little town that clings to the Coral Sea coast just off the northern tip of Hinchinbrook island which dominates the seascape off the town.
Cardwell is the oldest European settlement in the far North of Queensland, first settled in 1864. It is the original settlement in the far north having been established as the port from which timber and beef from the inland were to be exported.
At first called Port Hinchinbrook, Cardwell was subsequently named after Edward Cardwell the then Secretary of State for the Colonies. Cardwell is the southernmost town of the Far North region of Queensland and , marks the start of the region as one travels up the coast from Townsville.
The town’s rich heritage ensures that there are a number of significant buildings there, including the Far North’s original telegraph office and the post office, now home of the local historical society.
The foreshore has been extensively rebuilt following damage caused by Cyclone ‘Yasi’ and the town presents a fresh new face to the visitor
Cardwell is approximately half-way between Townsville and Cairns and the Australian traveller will find it a convenient place to break the drive between these two cities.
It’s also a pleasant place to pause and take time to explore, especially parts of the surrounding areas which are replete with National Parks and spectacular scenery.
The National highway (Bruce Highway) passes through the town, skirting the shoreline of the Coral Sea. In fact, Cardwell is the only place along the Bruce Highway where that road passes along the shore of the sea. Visitors are rewarded with a unique view from the highway out to the “Family Islands”.
(Zoom to see more detail)
This proximity to the shore was almost the highway’s downfall because during cyclone Yasi, the foreshore was extensively damaged and the road was almost washed away, such was the ferocity of the storm and associated surge. You might find it difficult to image the ferocity of that giant storm as you gaze out on the normally calm tropical coastline.
Approaching from the north, the first indication of the proximity of the sea is the glimpses you get as you see the water at the end of the streets to your left. The view soon opens up and you will see the mountains of Hinchinbrook just offshore to the South East. The first significant ‘seamark’ is the pier. which is well worth a visit as you explore the foreshore.
Cardwell pier and reconstructed foreshore
Size and Surroundings
Cardwell is a small town of around 1000 people, many of whom have settled there because of its quiet nature and extensive amenities. People live in Cardwell and work in larger towns nearby like Ingham and Tully.
Cardwell boasts one of the best Visitors centres in the region with extensive displays and a large collection of material for the visitor to collect. The centre is easy to find as it is just north of the pier on the sea side of the highway. There’s plenty of parking to allow you easy access to the facility.
At the southern edge of the town lies Port Hinchinbrook.
This is a modern development with many luxurious houses and lots of vacant blocks. Development was severely affected by the GFC and the resort has not yet fully recovered. This means however that there are many good value properties available both to rent and buy. The resort is home to the Marina which is effectively the gateway to Hinchinbrook Island. Be aware that you need a permit to visit the island as it is a National Park of high conservation value and visitor numbers are strictly managed.
Offshore to the South East of the town lies the massive and distinctive bulk of Hinchinbrook Island, Australia’s largest island National Park.
From the south of Cardwell, as you cross the Cardwell range between Cardwell and Ingham on the highway, you can get spectacular views of Hinchinbrook from the Hinchinbrook lookout. There is easy access to this lookout from the highway as you travel either way. If you are a little adventurous, there’s a well paved path around to the east from the main lookout. Provided you’ve administered plenty of sunblock and insect repellant, you’ll be rewarded by a fantastic view of Hinchinbrook, uninterrupted by power lines, from this vantage.
View of Hinchinbrook Island from Cardwell Range lookout
The Island has a private lodge that allows visitors to stay on the island without a permit. The Lodge has been refurbished and reopened since it was repaired after the cyclone.
Cardwell Forest Drive
The forest drive is short, mainly dirt road loop inland from Cardwell that takes you to some beautiful scenery, easily accessed by foot from the road.
If you drive from Brasenose street (just South of the Information Centre) the first detour worth taking off the forest drive is the Cardwell Lookout. You can drive right up to this lookout and park adjacent to it. The lookout provides a spectacular view to the North East, showing off Cardwell and its surrounds.
For the more active, there is a well-signposted track that takes you to the other side of the lookout hill and gives great views of the Hinchinbrook Channel and Hinchinbrook Island.
Attie Creek sports a nice shady pool and, half a kilometre away, the 25m drop Attie falls with a nice deep swimming hole.
Dead Horse Creek
Further along the Forest Drive is the turnoff to Dead Horse Creek which, despite its name is a pleasant and scenic stream that cuts through a series of steep gorges. We advise taking ample supplies of insect repellent as the insects are typically very friendly. Be prepared for some strenuous walking and rock climbing as you negotiate your way along the creek.
The Spa Pool
The Spa Pool gets its name from the way the water bubbles like a spa bath. This is caused by the contour of the creek bed and the way the water flows through it.
Naturally, the more water flowing through the pool, the better the effect, so it’s at its most spectacular during the wet season.
Five Mile Swimming Hole
Just 8k (5 miles) from Cardwell is the Five mile swimming hole. There is ample parking here and a nice grassy area where you can spread out and relax. There are toilet facilities and of course, the main attraction is the swimming hole.
This is nice and deep and provided you are careful you can jump in to the beautiful clear water from the landing area. There is a ladder for you to access the water and the swim is very refreshing after a hot day spent exploring on foot.
The beauty of the swimming hole is that it is only a few paces from where you park your car so it’s easily accessible.
Kirrama Range Road
CAUTION: Check at the Visitors Centre Cardwell before you drive this road.
One of the more spectacular drives around Cardwell can be accessed from Kennedy, 10k north of the town along the highway.
Turn to the west along the Kennedy Creek Road at Kennedy and you will come to an intersection with a dirt road heading to the north.
This road takes you into the Cardwell State Forest and into the Kirrama Range. The road is quite narrow and subject to weathering but if you drive carefully you will be rewarded with a spectacular trip up to the Blencoe Falls and beyond.