Mount Fox is an extinct volcano South-west of Ingham, not too far away from Townsville but well off the beaten track. I have been hearing about it from time to time ever since arriving in Townsville but had never actually been there until I finally indulged my curiosity last weekend.
The drive from Ingham (see map) takes you through the canefields towards the rampart of the Great Dividing Range and then winds up to the crest, with a couple of spectacular lookouts on the way, and gradually down the drier inland side. It’s much like the more familiar road up to Paluma and down to Hidden Valley, and in fact there is a back road from Mt Fox to Hidden Valley (but I would recommend asking a local before tackling it in a conventional vehicle).
The way in to the small Mount Fox National Park centred on the crater was not difficult except that it wasn’t obvious. The only sign on the road was a brown-and-white finger-post (so old that it was really brown-and-brown) saying “Mt Fox Crater”, pointing to a road blocked by a gate. The sign on the gate only said “GATE” – which I thought was unhelpfully redundant – but it was the only road in anywhere near the right location (I drove a bit further to check) so I opened the gate, drove in, closed it and drove a few kilometres to another “GATE” and (thankfully) better National Parks signage confirming I was in the right place. Another few kilometres of dirt track took me to the foot of the volcanic cone.
The cone is the result of a relatively recent eruption, 100,000 or 560,000 years ago, according to the National Parks site or Volcanoworld respectively (the latter is worth visiting for a nice aerial photo). It is a pile of ejected rubble rather than solid rock, and the surface is composed of rocks from pebbles up to car size, with just enough dirt between them to support grass and thin scrubby vegetation.
The mountain rises 120 metres above the surrounding plain, so climbing it is a worthwhile but eminently achievable challenge: it is steep and strenuous but straightforward, and there is no possibility whatsoever of getting lost. The crater, when you get there, is just a shallow bowl which is obviously swampy after rain and must be a significant water resource for the wildlife of this dry country. The major rewards of the climb are the spectacular views from the top:
I was also delighted by close views of a trio of Wedge-tailed Eagles (Aquila audax) circling around the peak.
The foot-track to the top is so rough that I chose to pick my own way down (it was not much more difficult) to go closer to one of the vine thickets that break the bare slopes. In the end I opted not to explore the tangled scrub, in spite of the possibility of discovering dozens of new species of invertebrates – isolated pockets of habitat are great for this.
Intending visitors need to be aware that there are no facilities at all in the National Park and (most of the year) no water at all. In these days of taken-for-granted mobile phones, I should probably also warn urbanites that there is no mobile coverage in the area. Once you get over the crest of the range, anywhere in North Queensland, you’re in a different world. It’s an unforgiving world, but one whose challenges are balanced by freedom and a wonderful sense of limitless space.