Tully is an attractive little town nestled at the foot of Mount Tyson, between it and Mt Mackay to the east, on the Bruce Highway between Cairns and Townsville. If it wasn’t for the tropical climate and vegetation, it could almost be an alpine village in the Snowy Mountains foothills.
- The Town
- Tully Sugar Mill
- Golden Gumboot and other icons
- Rainforest, Mt. Tyson climb and other activities
Tully is almost always warm and humid. During the wet season, visitors from colder climates often see the mist and clouds from their air-conditioned cars and suffer from momentary disorientation when hit with warm air instead of the half-expected cold and brisk mountain air.
Tully is a thriving rural town with a population of around 2500. There are also a number of smaller settlements quite close such as Feluga, Silky Oak and Euramo that effectively add to Tully’s population.
During the sugar cane crushing season, Tully is dominated by the large sugar mill. Crushing extends from June to September and sometimes later, depending on the crop, weather and success of the “crush”.
Bananas are harvested year-round, with the peak occurring between January and May.
Tully is popular with backpackers, attracted by the prospect of well-paid work on the banana plantations. Like many other tree-borne fruit, banana harvesting is not very highly mechanised and requires a lot of manual labour, especially during harvest times.
To get to the town, you need to turn west off the Bruce Highway at the traffic lights. There are ample sized turning lanes for both North-bound and South-bound traffic but you need to keep a sharp lookout otherwise you’ll drive past. Don’t be fooled by the number of businesses like car yards and petrol stations to the east of the highway, the main town is to the west, effectively hidden from view by the railway line and it’s verge and the vegetation on the banks of Banyan creek. Watch for the signs pointing to the Business District and be prepared to turn off the highway using the slip-lanes.
(Zoom to see more detail)
The main street
Tully’s main street is Butler St. and it’s the street you’re on after you turn from the highway. As you travel from the highway west up Butler St. toward Tully, you first cross the Railway line, the Centenary Banyan Creek Bridge, then past the Bowls club to your left and the football ground to your right. There’s free camping available adjacent to the football ground, accessible from Butler St.
As you continue up the street, you’ll pass the heavy vehicle entrance to the Mill to your left on the roundabout and then continue up Butler St.
The Hort St. crossing marks the start of the business district, with many different kinds of shops, banks, real estate agents and two large hotels ranged up the Butler St. shopping strip.
Butler St. is one-way after it crosses Hort St. but there’s plenty of clearance up to the top of the strip if you choose to go that far. Be prepared to stop and wait for cars trying to park though as one (alternating) side of the street has reverse-angle parking and you might have to wait for cars to reverse into the parking spaces.
There’s quite a lot of industry in Tully as it’s the regional farming hub, where many of the business activities are geared for agricultural support.
Much of the industry is geared to support the Mill, which is one of the highest-capacity sugar Mills in the country with an annual crush capacity of over 2 million tonnes in a good year. The Mill has quite extensive maintenance requirements, much of which is contracted out to local business.
Other businesses provide support for the banana industry.
Art Deco Architecture
There are some fine examples of Art Deco architecture in Tully and a slow drive through the town will reward the visitor with some fine examples with the centrepiece being the Tully Nurses home on Cook St., just up from the hospital outpatients.
Tully Nurses Home, Cook St.
Tully got a hiding during the ferocious cyclone “Yasi” but thanks to a great spirit shown by the townsfolk and local businesses and with the help of various government bodies, the town has recovered well.
Like many rural communities, there isn’t much after-hours life around the place but there are two hotels in town and a leagues club that are open during normal licensing hours. The ‘Top’ Pub or Hotel Tully has a lively young crowd reflecting its largely backpacker guests whereas the ‘Bottom’ Pub (Mount Tyson Hotel has a relatively quiet restaurant behind the main bar, reflecting its target of a more mature hotel guest.
Both hotels often hold special events like live bands and trivia nights. Ask at the bar.
Tully has a large Leagues Club that is run by the local Football club. It is open for lunch from 12.00pm to 2.00pm 7 days a week. Dinner is served from Wednesday to Saturday and Monday from 6.00pm to 8.30pm.
Of the two main crops in the district, cane is the one that visitors will see if they don’t venture far out of town. There’s a large network of rail lines in the surrounding area that carts the cane form the local cane farms to the mill during the cane season.
The mill has unique site tours that are conducted during the ‘crush’ so that visitors can see the mill in operation. You can organise your mill tour from the local visitors centre on the Bruce highway just to the south of the turn off from the highway to the town centre.
Cane became very important post WW I when the banana supply chain to the markets in the populous southern cities like Sydney and Melbourne was disrupted by a shortage of shipping transport due to the war effort.
Desperate growers turned to cain and, when the Sugar Mill was built, the industry took off and has remained a critical part of agricultural endeavour in The Far North.
Some of Australia’s biggest banana growers are based in Tully, part of the Innisfail-Tully district, which today produces around 90 percent of Australia’s banana crop.
You can see some of the large banana farms as you drive up the Jarra Creek road before you cross the Tully River and on up the Cardstone road past the rapids in the Tully River.
Other Tropical Fruit
A number of farmers grow other fruit such as Mangos, mangosteens, jackfruit and other exotic plants.
Tully Sugar Mill
You’ll see the Tully Sugar Mill as you drive up Butler St. from the Highway.
During “the crush”, the Mill operates 24/7 except for downtime for maintenance.
The mill is proudly ‘green’ as it uses bagasse (a cane fibre by-product) as fuel. The Mill is effectively carbon-neutral because the bagasse is grown locally and, being plant matter, it uses up virtually the same quantity of carbon dioxide while growing as it gives off when burnt.
The two main stacks in the mill vent mainly condensate (water vapour) which is why the plume disappears quickly after it leaves the stack. The plume would disappear more quickly if the atmosphere in Tully was drier but as the wettest town in Australia, humidity is generally quite high, meaning the water droplets take longer to evaporate. Locals can always tell when there’s a dry spell because the plume disappears quickly.
Mill tours (seasonal only)
The Mill is one of the few in Australia that conducts visitor tours during the crushing season. It’s well worth a visit but you’ll have to book. You can get tickets at the Tully visitor centre on the highway to the South West of the Butler St. turnoff.
Tully has a local commercial Caravan Park and a free-parking area which is adjacent to the football ground.
Book for the free parking at the Tully Visitor Centre. There are only a few spaces available and facilities are restricted so you should book early.
The Council has a policy on camping outside designated areas (illegal camping) here.
“Tilt Train” cuts through the hills just north of djarawong, a few kilometres from Tully.
Tully is a stop for the passenger trains travelling between Cairns and Brisbane. Train travel is relatively leisurely both because the line is narrow gauge and because it is impossible to keep the line clear for the 1700 km between Brisbane and Cairns. The extreme rainfall that occurs in the North Tropical Coast means that the trains are speed-restricted quite severely on this stretch. The pace provides passengers with a close look at the uniquely lush countryside in the Far North.
There is a limited service travelling twice a week. This ’tilt train’ has an available club car providing light meals and refreshments.
Travel – bus
There is a motel on the highway, about 200 metres to the south of the turn off to the business centre, on the opposite (eastern) side of the road.
The Hotels offer accommodation for tourists and business visitors.
There are many engineering works that basically support the sugar cane and banana industries, both of which have some quite specialist requirements.
Maintenance works for the mill provide a large part of the demand for these support industries.
The ‘Golden’ Gumboot and other icons
The folks in Tully seem to have a liking for, dare we use the word, “icons”. These are concentrated at the entrance to the town, after the footy ground and Mill turnoff, before you drive up the main shopping strip.
Right up there in weird town symbology, along with the Big Banana, the Giant Prawn and the Big Cod is the Golden Gumboot.
The gumboot’s significance is that it is equal in height with the rainfall recorded in 1950, a mere 7.893 metres! (almost 26 feet for UK and US visitors).
The gumboot is a hollow fibreglass structure that you can climb up using the spiral staircase inside the boot and take a look around the viewing platform in the top of the structure.
There’s a bit of local amusement about the boot’s new paintjob because it’s not really golden but the harsh sun has literally scorched attempts to use a golden paint and what you see is the best approximation.
There’s also a couple of tasteful depictions of early pioneers. ‘Hearts full of hope’ which commemorates early Italian cane growers and the very tastefully executed depiction of a horse-drawn cane tram.
Lastly, there’s a wooden carving depicting a cassowary which stands a bit apart from the rest, next to the football ground.
Mount Tyson climb
Apart from the Golden Gumboot and Pioneer display sculptures around the Lions Park and the Mill during the crush, the nearest tourist activity that you can indulge in is the hike to the top of Mount Tyson. Scouts rock provides a great vista of the town (see introductory photo). The rock is a few metres short of the summit but provides a natural lookout that shows, on a clear day, the cassowary coast from Hinchinbrook to the south to the hills of the Tam O Shanter state forest to the north.
Clear weather means, the views are spectacular (and well worth the effort) but it is a steep 900 metre climb on a path that still has debris from the last cyclone. Climbers should register at the local 5 Star supermarket on the corner of Butler Street and Bryant Street before the climb and remember to check back in on their return. This is a precaution against climbers getting lost and is not a frivolous requirement.
Climbers should remember to take adequate water supplies and apply insect repellent as it can be hot and the mosquitoes are plentiful and ferocious.
Tully provides an excellent base for some spectacular bush walks nearby. As always, make sure you let someone know where you’re going and how long you intend to be. Take plenty of water and don’t forget the insect repellent! Finally, avoid cassowarys, snakes and feral pigs.
This isn’t really a hiking trip but it gives visitors a chance to cool off in a lovely mountain stream. There’s a car park nearby with various facilities. No camping, just swimming and cooling-off. You’ll find it by heading North up Murray Street and following the signs when you reach the tee intersection, about 10 minutes out of Tully.
Tully Gorge camping area
This is a pleasant, well maintained camping area near the Tully river. It is easily accessible by conventional vehicles and is located just off the Jarra Creek Road/Cardstone Road about 41km east of Tully.
This is a great place to see the beautiful Ulysses butterfly when they’re about and there are often other equally colourful if not quite so spectacular butterflies here.
Crocodiles have been known to come upstream this far and be aware of the potential dangers should you camp too close to the water.
Cochable Creek camping area
This camping area, a trailhead for the Koolmoon Creek track and Cannabullen Creek track is on the bank of Cochable Creek. It is part of the Misty Mountains wilderness tracks.
From this camping area you have a number of options for further exploration. A spectacular view of the Elizabeth Grant falls can be seen from a lookout. The falls are across the gorge and are inaccessible but you can get an idea of their majesty from the lookout. Be aware though that you’ll only see the top 2/3 of the drop.
This camping ground is an excellent base for many hikes unique to the area
White water rafting activities are featured in the area.
The Tully river is world-renowned for its white-water rafting. It is classified as Class IV, with over 45 close-set rapids that are negotated in quick succession. It is generally regarded as the best white water rafting experience in Australia The river has a reservoir upstream which has contracted with the rafting companies to release water every day thus having a guaranteed flow of water so that no matter what the season, you can be assured of a great rafting experience.