Gayle Beveridge is a past winner of the Boroondara Literary Awards and her work has appeared in Award Winning Australian Writing. Gayle is passionate about family, writing, photography, and with Victoria’s beautiful Bass Coast which she now calls home.
Published September 17th 2021
Sugar Cane, Platypus, Beaches, Coal and Rail Yards
Although Sarina is only 34 kilometres south of Mackay, we drove down from Townsville; it was part of a longer road trip. This is sugar cane country. We passed fields of sugar cane for hundreds of miles. Some of the cane was as high as houses. Most of the creeks we crossed did have water in them, a stark contrast to our travels in Western Queensland.
Sarina is a coastal town of between five and six thousand people in sugar cane territory. It is the home of Wilmar International's Plane Creek sugar mill which is a major supplier of ethanol. From our cabin in the evening, we could smell the sweet scent of sugar from the Mill, which was originally opened in 1896.
Cane fields alongside the Bruce Highway en route to Sarina - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
The town is a great place to learn about the sugar industry with the Sugar Shed tours and about the coal industry through the Hay Point Ports and the Jilalan Railyards. It is also a quiet place with beautiful beaches. There are many reasons to visit the area. Here are my top five.
Sugar Shed Tour
We took the 9.30 tour at the Sarina Sugar Shed, a miniature sugar mill and distillery. The tour started with a video showing paddock to port sugar production. We were surprised to learn there is no wastage from sugar production, everything is reused. Some are processed into sugar byproducts like ethanol, some are returned to the cane farmers as fertilizer and the pulp after crushing is burned at the mills to produce power. Job well-done sugar industry!
Crushing sugar cane in Bill the Mill Jnr at the Sugar Shed Boutique Distillery in Sarina - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
After the video, we grabbed umbrellas, because yes, it was raining. Outside are examples of machinery used in past sugar cane harvesting. At a mini cane field, we saw a nine-month-old cane already tall yet halfway to maturity and our guide explained how the cane is planted. Then we went inside to the miniature mill and distillery. It was not harvest season when we visited, but our guide crushed some washed cane in a miniature mill called Bill the Mill Jnr.
Fibrous sugar cane after being crushed in Bill the Mill Jnr at the Sugar Shed Boutique Distillery in Sarina - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
We taste the syrup as she explained the sugar production process. There were small jars with samples of each stage of the process. All the machinery has quaint names, Clarry the Clarifier, Effie the Effet, Peter the Pan, Derek the Dryer, Victor the Vat, and Stan the Still.
Inside the Sugar Shed - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
We tasted molasses, treacle, and golden syrup, each one sweeter than the last. We also tasted relishes and sauces. My husband tried their chilli sauce, HTIS (Hell this is Serious). The Sugar Shed also makes Rum and samples are stacked on the bar. My husband tried a lime rum called NOI (Nice over Ice).
In the gift shop, we bought T-shirts as gifts for children. We got one for a four-year-old boy with bloody red holes ripped down the side and the caption, 'I survived a croc attack in Sarina.' For other boys, we bought glow in the dark shirts and for a girl, one with a lovely Ulysses Butterfly motif.
Wilmar Sugar Bioethanol Distillery (Left) and Plane Creek Mill (Right) - Photo Copyright Gayle Beveridge
The Sugar Shed is at Field of Dreams Parkland, Railway Square, Sarina. They can be contacted on (07) 4943 2801, by email on email@example.com of click here to visit their website for more details, tour times and pricing.
We went to the Thirsty Sound Beach Bar and Grill at Sarina Beach for lunch, about 12kms from town. Sarina Beach is a surprise. As well as expansive sand beaches there is a rocky area with an amazing array of rock types and colours, not to mention shells and living shellfish in the rock pools. The tide was going out when we visited. We spent about an hour and a half exploring, but given the time, I could have spent a day there.
A rocky area at Sarina Beach - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
There is a carpark for the beach next to a park and picnic area with a BBQ, at the intersection of Owen Jenkins Drive and Crichton Street, next to the Thirsty Sound Beach Bar and Grill. The beach is patrolled by lifesavers in season and is also a popular spot for fishing.
The Picnic Area on Own Jenkins Drive, Sarina Beach - Image from Google Maps
Hay Point had always been on our agenda. It is 21 kilometres from Sarina via the Bruce Highway and Hay Point Road, and just over 30 kilometres south of Mackay, but we set off along Grasstree Beach Road as Judy at the Caravan Park had shown us a lovely scenic route to take instead of the highway. We passed cane fields that seemed endless, cattle farms and orchards. At Alligator Creek, we came upon a quaint general store.
Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal at Port of Hay Point, one of the largest coal export ports in the world - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
There is a public viewing gallery in the Port Administration building overlooking two coal terminals, the Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal and the Hay Point Services Coal Terminal. The Port of Hay Point is one of the largest coal export ports in the world. Its two terminals have a handling capacity of around 130 million tonnes per annum, can service 900 ships per year and can accommodate bulk carriers of up to 230,000 tonnes.
Hay Point Coal Terminals - Photo Copyright Gayle Beveridge
Only in seeing it can the scope of it be understood. We were at the public viewing area looking over the whole complex. There is a telescope there that allows everything to be seen clearly. It was, unfortunately, overcast the day we were there, but through binoculars, we counted over twenty ships out to sea, waiting their turn. The port operates twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
The Port of Hay can be contacted on (07) 4969 0700. Click here to visit their website for more of the techy stuff.
Sugar Cane as tall as houses - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
We took the scenic route toward town and headed south to see the Jilalan Rail Yard which can be viewed from a public lookout. We arrived as a train started to pull in. This train now holds the record as the longest we have ever seen. We saw three diesel engines spaced amongst the trucks and by the time it stopped, none of these were in view. We could not see the front of the train, nor could we see the back. The yards have a capacity of 42 trains per day, carrying 130 million tonnes per annum.
Jilalan Rail Yards at Sarina - a small section of a very long train - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
The Jilalan Rail Yard's public lookout shelter sits in a strip of parkland and has an information board about the rail yards, the coal ports and about Aurizon, the company that runs the rail yard. The Yard provides maintenance and service to the coal haulage trains operating across a coal supply chain stretching from the Bowen Basin mines in Central Queensland to the Hay Point Coal Terminals. The Yards are of significant size employing up to 500 locals and carrying, on average, more than 200,000 tonnes of coal per day.
The Jilalan Rail Yard public lookout is 3 kilometres south of Sarina on Armstrong Beach Road via the Bruce Highway.
Jilalan Rail Yard from the public lookout - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
We took the Platypus and Rainforest Eco Tour to Eungella (pronounced Yn-g-la) National Park which runs out of Mackay. On the way to Eungella, we passed the Mackay Sugar Mills and travelled along a road fringed by sugar cane fields, all to an informed narrative from our friendly tour guide.
Behind the cane fields is Eungella National Park, shrouded in clouds - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
At Eungella, we took a 2.8 kilometre return walk to Araluen Cascades, a picturesque waterfall in the Finch Hatton Gorge. The highlight of the tour was the platypus viewing at Broken River. The boardwalk to Broken River is edged by the rainforest. A rock wallaby jumped past as we walked. The view was chocolate box beautiful. Near a bridge, we spotted turtles in the water.
Close to 5 pm, when the platypus are likely to be out of their burrows feeding, we saw, swimming toward the bank, a lone platypus. Then there were more, a half a dozen or so of these intriguing creatures. It was the first time I had seen them in the wild. Next to me, some girls were squealing their excitement and who could blame them.
A platypus at Eungella National Park - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
For more details about the tour click here to for a full review in my Weekend Notes article 'Platypus and Rainforest Eco Safari' or click here to visit the tour operator's website.
Getting There, Accommodation and Visitor Information
Sarina is 34 kilometres south of Mackay on the Bruce Highway. Flights are available from Brisbane to Mackay, where there are bus services to Sarina. There is a train service from Brisbane to Sarina. Click here for all the transport options or click here for travel options to nearby Mackay.
Landscaping at Sarina Palms Caravan Park - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
We stayed at in a cabin at the Sarina Palms Caravan Village at 31 Anzac Street. The caravan park is magnificently landscaped with animal statues throughout–an elephant, rhinoceros, emu, kangaroo, and goanna. Other accommodation options in town include the Tropicana Caravan Park,Sarina Beach Motel and Sarina Motor Inn. Additionally, there is a wide variety of places to stay close by in Mackay and surrounding areas. Click here to visit the accommodation page of the Mackay Region website.
Hay Point - Port of Hay Coal Terminals - Photo Copyright Gayle Beveridge