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Take a reef tour in the Hinchinbrook Channel

Top 5 ways to unwind with a reef tour from Cardwell

By Jocelyn Watts

If you’re looking a top spot to relax, far away from city crowds and office desks, the Hinchinbrook Channel near Cardwell is one of the best in Queensland.

Port of Call skipper Annette Swaine lives and breathes a boatie’s life, taking reef tours through the channel and helping people with their boating and fishing supplies.

“I’ve found my happy place,” she beamed.

I met Annette, affectionately known as ‘Swainie’, while recently visiting one of my sons, Steve, and his family in Tully where they now live and work, in paradise.  And I thought I was lucky just to visit!

When Steve suggested taking a reef tour through the Hinchinbrook Channel with Swainie, he didn’t have to twist my arm. The tour is listed on TripAdvisor as one of the best in the region. I quickly agreed.

Swainie was a terrific host, sharing lots of information throughout the four-hour trip on board Osprey, Port of Call’s Sailfish Cat.

Here are the top 5 things I learnt about the area that day:  

1. Crab fossils wash ashore at Ramsay Bay

Annette Swaine showing fossilised crabs found at Ramsay Bay

Annette Swaine shows fossilised crabs found at Ramsay Bay on Hinchinbrook Island, Queensland.

Taking us ashore at Ramsay Bay, Swainie showed us crab fossils that had washed onto the beach. The species was unknown. Could they be rare Fiddler Crabs?

The Discover Port Hinchinbrook website reads:

“Fossilised crabs, including a species of Fiddler Crab (6000 years old) are found in the creeks of the Island and on the shore of Ramsay Bay.

“There are only two other places (Southern California and the Panama Canal) in the world where fossilised Fiddler Crabs have been found.”

Alas, Dr Marissa McNamara, Queensland Museum Collection Manager Crustacea, said this fossil was not a Fiddler Crab.

“It is a crab, but unfortunately the species cannot be determined from the photograph,” Dr McNamara said. 

“This crab specimen is termed a subfossil. It is probably 5000 to 8000 years old, and as such represents one of the same species that we see living in the area today.

“Subfossils are often casts of crabs that have been in their burrows and gotten smothered with a heavy load of siltation from a flood.

“Generally soft-muddy bottom inshore or mangrove species are found, like mud crabs or sentinel crabs.

“Fiddler Crabs are not typically represented.

“Often fossils like this are deposited during times when the sea level was somewhat higher, and that is why they can get washed out of river banks or mangroves during cyclones or any change to the path of creek channels.

“They often turn up around the mouth of the Brisbane River, and Magnetic is another hot spot, but they can be found in many places, including Hinchinbrook Island.”

2. Hinchinbrook Channel is a nature photographer’s paradise

Sea creature at Ramsay Bay

Sea creatures can be found on the beach of Ramsay Bay.

Heavy fog blanketed Cardwell as we set off about 8 am but soon we were beyond the fog and cruising across the tranquil waterway towards Hinchinbrook Island.

A few nautical miles out, eagle-eyed Swainie spotted a saltwater crocodile in an area they liked to frequent. She said crocs were regularly sighted there.

Saltwater crocodiles can be found from the tip of Cape York to as far south as Gladstone, and sometimes even further.

Queensland Department of Environment and Science records show crocodile sightings were reported at Burrum Heads and Toogoom as recently as April 2020.  

Swainie said Hinchinbrook Channel was a major feeding ground for dugongs.

“Dolphins, green turtles and a wide variety of fish and crustaceans also live in the waterway,” she said.

Fishing wasn’t on our agenda but I was able to photograph garfish as they skimmed across the water’s surface. It was a photo opportunity too good to miss.

The area also supports a rich diversity of birdlife, including Torresian Imperial Pigeons, Torres Strait Pigeons (Ducula spilorrhoa) or nutmeg pigeons.

While ashore at Ramsay Bay, we were on the lookout for the vulnerable beach thick-knees (Burhinus neglectus), but we weren’t that lucky.

On Hinchinbrook Island, the tropical habitat also provides refuge for many endangered species including the giant tree frog.  

3. You can get closer to nature on the Thorsborne Trail

Hinchinbrook Island, Queensland.

The Thorsborne Trail winds its way along the eastern edge of Hinchinbrook Island.

A few days earlier, Swainie had dropped off some backpackers at Ramsay Bay as they set off to hike the Thorsborne Trail (commonly known as the East Coast Trail).

The Discover Port Hinchinbrook website lists the Thorsborne Trail as one of the world’s best backpacking adventures.

“This 32km trail winds its way along the eastern edge of the magnificent island in the shadow of the rugged Mt Bowen,” it reads.

“It snakes its way through a tropical wilderness, along spectacular ocean beaches and crosses numerous crystal clear mountain streams.

“Campsites are on beautiful beaches, beside freshwater streams or near magnificent mountain stream waterfalls.”

As part of our reef tour, Swainie picked up the backpackers from George Point on the island’s southern end and ferried them back to Cardwell, all with cameras holding hundreds of photos of their adventure.

4. Charter a boat and go fishing   

Port of Call Boating and Fishing Supplies at Cardwell

Fishing is a popular pastime at Cardwell and Hinchinbrook Island in North Queensland. 

 Throwing a line in the water might have provided us with a dinner of fish that night, except this was an impromptu trip.

With some forward planning, things might have been different. 

Swainie said North Queensland was internationally renowned as one of Australia’s tourism destinations.

“The Hinchinbrook Channel with its tranquil waters is an angler’s paradise,” she said.

“On the reef, you can fish for coral trout, mackerel, giant trevally or nannygai. Barramundi and mangrove jack can be found in the estuaries and rivers.”

5. Research history

Rugged mountains on Hinchinbrook Island

A warplane that crashed in the rugged mountains of Hinchinbrook Island in 1941 remains scattered at the site.

 If you’re into researching history, there’s no shortage of topics with which to while away the hours in the Hinchinbrook Island and Cardwell areas.

After picking up the backpackers from George Point, we headed back to Cardwell. On the way, Swainie pointed to where the wreckage of a World War II plane still lies.

A Queensland Government website that’s dedicated to World War II history reports (in part) that on 18 December 1941, a USAAF Liberator bomber known as ‘Texas Terror’ lifted off from Garbutt airbase, Townsville, for Iron Range on Cape York Peninsula but soon disappeared.

Searches were made but no trace of the plane was found until two Aborigines searching the gullies on Hinchinbrook Island for alluvial tin reported finding some burned US currency in the creeks at the base of Mount Straloch.

In early 1944, searchers found the wreckage on the southern flank of Mount Straloch. The aircraft had struck the face of the mountain some 150 to 180 metres below the summit, killing all 12 people on board.

The wreckage remains scattered over the area.

For more information on the wreckage, visit https://wanderstories.space/mt-straloch/ 

A return trip is on our bucket list

Our impromptu reef tour with Port of Call skipper Swainie gave us a preview of what we could see and do, in and around the Hinchinbrook Channel. A return trip is definitely on our bucket list.

Port of Call Boating and Fishing is located at Port Hinchinbrook, Cardwell. For more information visit https://portofcallshop.com.au/about-us/%20

Details on Hinchinbrook Island can be found at www.porthinchinbrook.com.au and https://parks.des.qld.gov.au/parks/hinchinbrook

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Charlie’s Chocolate Factory

Is chocolate really a fruit?

Chocolate lovers rejoice – the love of your life is a fruit! Well, that is according to Chris and Lynn Jahnke’s light-hearted theory.

“Chocolate is made from seeds of cocoa fruit, so in my mind, that clearly makes chocolate a fruit,” joked Chris.

“And are we not encouraged to eat more fruit?” he asked of the 24 people visiting a Charley’s Chocolate Factory tour in April 2018.   

They all nodded in agreement and chuckled as if hoping his theory was actually true.

What is true is that chocolate is produced from cocoa beans, which come from the husked and ground seeds of Theobroma cocoa fruit.

But it’s the high fat and sugar content of chocolate as we know it that lowers its reputation as a healthy food.

Obesity and high blood pressure are just two of the medical issues associated with the high consumption of chocolate.

It’s not all bad news for lovers of the popular treat, however.

According to a study published in The Journal of Nutrition, eating dark chocolate may lower bad cholesterol, prevent cognitive decline and reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems.

I learnt this and many other fascinating facts about chocolate on a ‘Cocoa Tree to Chocolate Bar’ tour at Charley’s Chocolate Factory last week.

Owners Chris and Lynn are “walking encyclopaedias” on the subject.

They’ve become deeply entrenched in the industry since moving from Melbourne to rural Queensland and buying their 400 acres at Mission Beach.

“We first came to Queensland in 1994 to escape the cold winters,” Chris said.

“We loved it and kept coming back year after year during winter and eventually came across this property at Mt Edna.

“It was a banana farm back then. We bought the place but didn’t want to grow bananas so we removed them and set up to run beef cattle but there wasn’t enough land for a full-time venture.

“After a few years commuting between Melbourne and North Queensland, we sold our inner-city apartment and business and moved here permanently.

“We looked at growing other fruit crops from macadamias and mangoes to lychees but most took too many years to bear fruit and I’m a bit impatient!

“Then I watch an ABC Landline show on cocoa. I knew chocolate was made from cocoa and chocolate is ‘moderately’ popular!  The rest, as they say, is history.”

Today Chris and Lynn successfully grow cocoa on Mt Edna and turn it into award-winning chocolate.

They also take guests on regular tours of their nursery, plantation and factory at 388 Cassowary Drive, Mission Beach, North Queensland.

For more information and booking details phone 4068 5011, email ask@charleys.com.au or visit www.charleys.com.au

Ancient people were chocolate lovers too

Traces of cocoa have been found in drinking vessels carbon-dated to 3800 years ago, said Lynn Jahnke at Charley’s Chocolate Factory.

“The earliest civilisation associated with the drink is the Olmecs of southern Mexico.

“It’s thought the Olmecs watched animals crack open the cocoa pods but they spat out the part that’s now used to make chocolate.

“What they wanted was the sweet, sticky lining that protects the seeds.

“The Olmecs opened the pods, extracted the seeds and left them to ferment. They then let them dry in the sun, then lit fires and roasted the beans.

“They cracked the beans open and extracted the nibs, which they pound into a powder-like substance to make a beautiful and nutritious drink.

“How did they know to do that 3800 years ago? They didn’t have the technology, food science, and chemistry as we do today. They just knew instinctively what to do.”

Lynn said that throughout most of its history, cocoa was a drink until English chocolate maker Joseph Frye made the first solid bar in 1847.

Today, 83 billion US dollars worth of chocolate are eaten worldwide every year and it takes five million tonnes of cocoa per year to make that much, said Chris Jahnke.

“Seventy per cent of those five million tonnes of cocoa is grown in West African countries such as Nigeria and Ghana.”

Statista figures show that in 2015 Switzerland had the highest per capita consumption of chocolate worldwide at 8.8 kilograms in that year. China ranked the lowest at only 200 grams per capita.

Chris said more recent studies ranked Australia at No. 7 in the world, just behind the United States at No. 6.

“Cocoa is a tropical tree that’s fussy about where it’s grown,” he said.

“It likes hot, humid conditions with lots of rain.

“Worldwide, cocoa grows most successfully within 15 degrees to the north and south of the Equator, provided the local conditions of high humidity and rainfall are also present.

“To grow cocoa in Australia, the best areas are in North Queensland near the coast between Tully and Mossman.”

Where is Charlie’s Chocolate Factory?

Mission Beach is located between Tully and Mossman. At Charley’s Chocolate Factory, the plants are grown from seed and the chocolate is manufactured onsite.

Among their accolades, the Charley’s Chocolate Factory won the 2017 International Cocoa Award under the Cocoa of Excellence Program.

For more information visit www.charleys.com.au

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