Road Trip Diaries # 9 – Bowen: Murals, Beaches, Gray Nomads and Imelda Marcos
We checked out of Bowen Caravan Park first thing in the morning, as Charles didn’t want to linger there – although it wasn’t actually too bad, it wasn’t really a place you’d choose to hang out longer than you have to. So around 7:30 in the morning, right after packing up the camper van, we drove straight to Flagstaff Hill for a 360-degree view of “Bowenwood”, a monicker Bowen has been capitalizing on after parts of the movie “Australia” were shot here in lieu of Darwin. They even have a “Bowenwood” spelled out in large letters on a nearby hill, Hollywood style.
Brekky at Flagstaff Hill
The place is a typical small countryside town but it still boasts a nice bay walk near its Marina, a lagoon filled with birdlife and some nice beaches. Bowen isn’t like the usual touristy areas that people flock to in North Queensland, but it was on our way so we reckoned it was worth checking out the attractions it had to offer. A visit to its tourism office the previous day yielded an honest answer from the lady that there isn’t much to see in Bowen aside from what was already on our list.
A stretch of beach viewed from Flagstaff Hill
The souvenir shop slash cafe
We had our breakfast on top of the hill overlooking a lighthouse in the middle of a small island. Cozy breakfast with a beautiful view minus the price of fancy hotels was one of the things I love about camper vanning. We spotted a few butcherbirds talking to each other in their melodious whistle, a stretch of beach and the beautiful harbour from the hill. From Flagstaff Hill, we stopped by the marina and walked along its wharf. It wasn’t a pretty sight at that time because it was a vast stretch of mud flat at low-tide so we set off to the main attraction of the town – Horseshoe Bay after quick stop here.
The use of the beach was free and the parking was free as well. I was glad that we didn’t skip this place. The beach at the touristy town of Airlie Beach was more packed with tourists but it wasn’t as nice as the beach here. Instead of beautifully tanned backpackers, the beach here was filled with gray nomads lazing on the beach and further wrinkling their skin. It had been windy for a couple of days previously and it was the first time the weather had been nice and sunny which probably brought everyone out from hibernation. But the water was still as cold as the water in the Whitsundays during our snorkelling.
I walked towards the end of the beach with an umbrella in one hand and a camera in the other and met some friendly gray nomads who had asked me if I was sick or something. They were curious perhaps why this crazy Asian was carrying an umbrella on the effin beach while they were freaking toasting themselves under the sun. I just told them “Oh I’m done with my tanning for now and I think it will last for a long time with a grin” and it brought a smile to everyone saying, “Lucky you, ours last for a few days only”.
Charles got his snorkel and braved the cold water. It was sunny and all but the water was still cold. I was expecting it to be warmer already since we were getting closer to the northern part of Queensland, which was more like Philippines in terms of temperature. True enough, a few minutes of swimming and Charles was lying on the sand defrosting himself. Not a very encouraging sight for me to brave the waters. Whiling away time under the tree, I met a Kiwi couple who was having breakfast by the beach. They were also on a few months road trip around Australia and just stopping for a side-trip at Bowen.
Of all the people who would make an impression on them, it was Imelda who came to their mind when they learned I was a Pinay. Brilliant isn’t it? And they have heard about the damn shoes too!
The Kiwi couple
After a while, we climbed up the Rotary Lookout through a well-established trail passing some interesting rock formations. A few minutes of walk and the amazing view of Horseshoe Bay unfolded in front of us. It looks spectacular from the lookout. The stretch of the sand was now filled with more sun worshippers while a few more had braved the clear blue waters. After a quick lunch of sandwich in the car park, we went to Rose Bay. The beach was as beautiful as the one in Horseshoe Bay but less crowded. There were only two couples on the beach when we got there. Instead of swimming, Charles headed straight to the rocks and tested some for bouldering, while I looked for a private spot to tan myself (leaving no tan marks ☺)
Trail to the lookout
View of Horseshoe Bay from the lookout
We were supposed to leave for Townsville around 3 in the afternoon before it got dark. But starting early gave us a lot time to see more sights in the town. We strolled through the shady park near the lagoon and did a bit of bird watching. There were many lorikeets, sea gulls, pewees, and cockatoos, the usual birds species common all over Australia. We also saw some pelicans in the middle of the lagoon and two new birds species we have not seen before. The lagoon is home to hundreds of species of birds and is one of the main attractions of Bowen. After bird-watching, we drove through the main thoroughfares of the town to check out its popular murals .
Some Pelicans and other species of birds at Bowen Lagoon
Joining the royalties for some tea
One of the Murals on the street walls
The town also claims to be the Mural Capital of Australia. Murals were painted on street walls, government structures and even commercial buildings, mostly about the early times of British occupation and history of the town. After a whole day of exploring, a slice of carrot cake, and ice-cold Bundaberg Ginger Beer in one of the cafés, we hurried on our way to Townsville – our longest drive so far. After a stopover at the town of Home Hill and a unplanned detour to a fishing village after a wrong turn on the road, we finally reached the biggest town in North Queensland. It was already dark when we reached Townsville so we went straight to Rowes Bay Caravan Park and hurriedly set the camp for the night.
(This is part of our 6-week North Queensland Road Trip Series, which took place July- August 2010)