Cairns and gold dust went hand-in-hand in early pioneering days. In fact Cairns might not be here at all without the precious metal. Prospectors found rich seams that kick started development. You could strike gold on your luxury Cairns holiday too with a bit of luck, although this may just be a trace because the dust is largely panned out.
We have ship’s commander J.S.C. Mein to thank for getting us into the Sydney papers in 1866. Although he was really only reporting on his bêche-de-mer sea cucumber processing plant on Green Island not far out to sea. Perhaps Chinese indentured labourers were pining for their favorite delicacy in Sydney. But that’s how happy coincidences begin in our tropical paradise on the edge of the warm Coral Sea, and the Great Barrier Reef,
Where Opportunities to Strike Gold on Your Luxury Cairns Holiday Began
Four years after J.S.C. Mein’s visit, an intrepid stock farmer-cum-explorer named William Hain commanded an expedition to the Palmer River far inland. This flows down from the Great Dividing Range before joining other rivers and eventually finding the ocean on the west side of North Queensland. More importantly, he found an extensive field of alluvial deposits waiting for prospectors to literally shovel them out the sand.
Cairns owes its origin to the prospectors that followed the discovery, and began a stampede to strike gold themselves. They needed a suitable harbour, and supply points where they could find what they wanted. Cairns became the obvious choice after a surveyor reported “an excellent anchorage and watering point” in Trinity Bay where Cairns Esplanade reaches down to the sea.
“I believe very little engineering difficulty will be encountered in forming the necessary wharves on deep water,” he added. And, from the appearance of the ranges, I do not anticipate any difficulty in obtaining a passable road over them to the interior.” And so it was that gold mining began in Far North Queensland, and opened up this part of the country and its glorious natural wonders.
Tens of Thousands of People Flock to Our Part of the World
Nowadays we get several hundred thousand tourists visiting Cairns annually because it is such a wonderful place to holiday. Back then, the tens of thousands of prospectors would have overwhelmed the few hundred residents if they arrived at the same time which they luckily did not. They arrived in a small fleet of ships some of which only just made it, or so it seems from this pic. They were brave pioneers, desperate to get a leg up from nature’s bounty in days when it was ‘every man for himself’.
Rules of the Game for Fossicking in Queensland
The Far North Queensland gold mines all closed within a few decades after the seams mined out. They are largely abandoned and stripped of anything of scrap value. Fossickers are about the only visitors going there nowadays. Fossicking is a term from Cornwall, England for rummaging through old mining tailings for recreational fun, not profit. Anybody fossicking in Australia needs a license from the state authority.
The Australian government defines fossicking as, “the gathering of minerals as a recreation; and without any intention to sell the minerals or to utilise them for a commercial purpose”. Hence these activities fall outside the Mining Act. You can purchase fossicking licenses and fossicking camping permits for Queensland online at this link. Prices are reasonable. For example a family license for a month could set you back AU$11.55.
You Could Strike Gold in Georgetown North of Cairns
The first profitable reef found was at Georgetown 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of Cairns. The scenery is spectacular, and they still find topaz, quartz, spinel, garnet, caringorn, aquamarine, and sapphire precious stones there. The odd nugget of gold still occasionally turns up too. As recently as 2002, a fossicker found a 1.2 kilogram crystallized gold nugget with a metal detector. It was lying under just 45 centimetres (17 inches) of earth.
There are a few fossicking sites outside Georgetown that supply camping sites with toilets and showers, and good chances of uncovering a few topaz stones and other semi-precious gems. Fossicking requires a permit as does overnight camping. Before you try to strike gold on your luxury cairns holiday on private land, remember to ask the farmer first and agree how to share any finds. The Georgetown population is around 250, but they do have a camping/caravan park, public library, tourist information centre, racecourse, and swimming pool.
The Next Big Find Was 80 Kilometres (50 Miles) North of Cairns
The Hodgkinson Minerals Area was the big one that put Cairns on the map a few years later, and spawned another 21 towns. Ten thousand avid prospectors stormed into the area through the gateway of Mareeba mainly following rough-hewn tracks through the bush. The task that lay before them was tougher this time, because the gold was in quartz veins running underground. Nowadays, the area is largely deserted with many towns having closed.
Just a handful of people remain, gleaning a living from fossickers arriving by rugged 4×4 vehicles. The Tyreconnell Gold Mine is a popular destination with some interesting mine relics. Gold panning is possible in a local river, and the views are quite spectacular. The area largely belongs to the state. Who knows what you might find here with patience and good luck. Certainly people who went before you did.
That’s Far North Queensland in a Nutshell Really
You are never going to get mega wealthy fossicking for gold on the Atherton Tableland west of Cairns. In fact, you may never strike gold on your luxury Cairns holiday at all. But you will encounter a generous quantity of what Australians call “mateship’. This is the sense of equality, loyalty, and friendship between like minded people doing things together. You may travel together deep into unpopulated areas, with mile after mile of bush and the occasional friendly overnight accommodation and fossicking tips.
That’s Far North Queensland in a nutshell really. Vast open spaces where hardly anybody goes. In the midst of this we have fabulous waterfalls, wonderful beaches, and one of the seven wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef just offshore in the Coral Sea. We’re not promising you will strike gold on your luxury Cairns holiday. But we are promising you memories that will bring you back again.
Speaking of Which, Let’s Talk About Our Holiday Accommodation in Cairns
We’ll let you into a little secret. You are not going to spend your entire holiday endlessly fossicking in the Far North Queensland bush. You are going to spend a day out there, possibly strike gold on your luxury Cairns holiday, and spend a night sleeping under the stars. Then you will want to head back to take in the myriad of awesome Cairns attractions. But this time you will find the allure of big number hotels and resorts is gone. You will want your own private space after a day in the crowds. Somewhere you can kick your shoes off and put your feet up. Somewhere where the only sounds you hear at night are the sounds of the forest.
We have two luxury villas on the edge of Cairns, where the fringes of the suburbs merge into heritage rain forest. You can read more here about the exceptional luxury of the place, and the exclusive standards we maintain. A FlipKey review confirms, “From the moment you walk in to Wanggulay you feel a sense of peace and welcome. The decorations of this extraordinary home are tasteful and relaxing… The rainforest surrounds are just incredible, providing a sense of opulence that you can literally enjoy with the deep plunge pool/hot tub. Plenty of room to spread out and enjoy time with friends!” Need we say more …