The nearly 7,000km of Queensland’s coastline gets an awful lot of (worthwhile) attention from travellers and migrating locals alike, however, 65% of the Sunshine State belongs to pure Aussie, red dust outback that remains undiscovered to the majority of Queensland’s visiting beachgoers. These roads less travelled are riddled with rocky adventure and unparalleled nature. At the top of this outback list is the inimitable Mount Mulligan (or Ngarrabullgan), with a landscape almost 10 times the size of Uluru that stretches across dense forest and craggly sandstone cliffs.
The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for this weekend’s road-trip, Mount Mulligan Lodge, is accessible by only two modes of transport, so if you’re not taking the chopper, you should be taking the Brand-New Mazda BT-50 for a solid 4WD expedition that will last anywhere from three hours (driving direct from Cairns), to six or more if you’re making the journey from Townsville.
The impressive fuel economy of the BT-50 (from 7.7-litres/100km) plays a crucial role in a trip into the outback like this one, though driving north-west from both cities, there are a handful of service stations and pit stops along the way. Void of the ocean dips you’re usually privy to along the coast, the only refreshments you’ll be able to settle on is a Bubble-O-Bill and the ice-cold dual-zone climate control to keep you comfortable at 18 degrees inside the cabin. Any second thought about leaving the beach is quickly left as far behind as the coastline itself.
Passing rows and rows of mango-laden trees, the last 45 minutes of the drive towards Mount Mulligan is on unsealed, dirt roads; signalling the end of mobile phone service and the beginning of a 4WD adventure into a deep, majestic Queensland that you’ll unlikely be familiar with.
Arriving mid afternoon, Mount Mulligan Lodge will stop you in your red sandy tracks. Located on an entirely private 28,000-hectare heritage site, it sits in humble luxury on the banks of a casually flowing weir, and under the shadow of its namesake mountain.
The lodge accommodates just 16 guests at a time (the level of quiet here is a luxury in itself), and each ‘room’ is a spacious, outback-chic retreat decked out in neutral colours, natural timbers, and buttery leathers. This place is goddamn gorgeous.
As tempting as it is to spend the rest of the afternoon by the pool, the lodge offers scenic helicopter flights for its guests, and the chance to witness Mount Mulligan from above is too good to resist (especially after the off-road car ride to get here). The landscape from above will leave you bewildered at the sheer scale of your surroundings. Returning to the lodge before the sun has set, the biggest decision you’ll need to make is whether to choose a kayak or SUP to explore the sparkling weir as you lose count of the wallabies grazing by the banks.
Wake with the birds and begin the day with a meal fit for royalty. The all-inclusive nature of a stay at Mount Mulligan Lodge means access to a daily-changing menu that showcases a bounty of locally-sourced fresh food. Wattleseed pancakes for breakfast will provide the energy boost you need for the packed day ahead.
With a range of signature and bespoke experiences available to guests of Mount Mulligan Lodge, you can find yourself exploring gold mines from the 1870’s, mustering cattle with local farmers (seasonally applicable), or jumping on one the lodge’s ATVs and seeing how much of the 28,000 hectares you can cover on four wheels. If you choose the latter, an exhilarating morning can be spent exploring boulder-strewn creeks and navigating some pretty hairy outback tracks; where occasional outback traffic lights pop up in the form of snakes casually crossing your ‘roads’. With a freshly baked picnic packed from the lodge, the tour ends with morning tea under a shady, river-side knoll. Your favourite city cafe has nothing on this set-up.
Returning to the lodge covered with a light coating of dirt and dust, flying off the lodge’s rope swing into the river feels like a pretty apt way of showering off the morning’s activities. Alternatively, a dip in the pool or a soak in your private outdoor bath with a good book will hit the spot equally as effectively.
One of the most astounding things about the Outback – the ceiling of stars you are presented with each night. Watching them arrive into the sky from Mulligan Lodge’s own Sunset Bar, with an expertly made sundowner to go with it is absolutely unreal. Much like your favourite cafe back home, your favourite city bar has nothing on this set-up either and is the perfect precursor to a specially organised seven-course degustation dinner under the stars. The sommelier matched wines from the lodge’s reserves are paired perfectly to each carefully curated course. This is a meal that you won’t soon forget, but if you’re looking for something a little less filling, The Lodge team can hook you up with a blanket, a gourmet cheese board and a guided telescopic tour of the night sky to conclude your evening.
Once again, the options for activities in this place are delightfully overwhelming. If there is a way to spend a year here rather than a weekend, we’d like to know about it. So before a lengthy drive home, opting for a good stretch of the legs will take you through lush vegetation and scrambling over those boulders too large for your ATV, before opening up the very swimmable and very refreshing gorge.
A little less full-body is one of the guided nature walks that the Lodge team offers, spotting dozens of wildlife species amongst the trees and a few freshwater turtles cutting laps in the weir. A Sunday morning as incredibly well spent as this one brings on mixed emotions of contentment and devastation that the time to leave Mount Mulligan Lodge has arrived so soon. The one sweetener of an almost-tearful farewell – the 4WD out of there. With new-found knowledge of your surroundings and the all-round off-road capability of the BT-50, you may even have the confidence to take a couple of wrong turns in search of more unsealed fun before finally hitting the bitumen.
If you’re still a little thirsty for adventure, or have more time up your sleeve, the beautiful Barron Gorge National Park is only 20 minutes from the centre of Cairns and offers some of the most thrilling rapids around. There is no experience necessary before boarding your raft and snaking down the Barron River as it heads out to the Coral Sea. As far as pit-stops go, this one might even trump your Bubble-O-Bill at the servo.
This article is part of a series, proudly presented in partnership with the Brand-New Mazda BT-50. Thank you for supporting the brands who support Boss Hunting.
Feature image courtesy of Wilson Archer Photography.