Nature, culture and history
The rocky hills and shores of Cape Hillsborough are the dramatic remnants of an ancient volcano, which exploded there about 34 million years ago. It was the first of a line of volcanoes that erupted down the eastern side of Australia from 34 to six million years ago, as the Australian crustal plate drifted northwards over a stationary ‘hot-spot’ in the Earth’s mantle below.
Its earliest lavas were of black basalt, some of which can be seen on the north side of Andrews Point and just south of Cape Hillsborough itself. Later the lava type changed to rhyolite, which is very sticky and gas-rich, and commonly gives explosive eruptions. Fine ash, or tuff, and coarser cobble and boulder agglomerate from early eruptions can be seen in prominent white layers above Beachcombers Bay. Other chaotic beds of large blocks may have resulted from slumping down the side of the volcano. Later, flows of light purple-grey rhyolite lava were erupted; some were very sticky and became broken up as they flowed along. These can be seen at Division Rocks and on the Andrews Point track above the resort. Boulders of all these rock types have been thrown up on to the beaches by storm waves and are fascinating to explore.
All the volcanic strata seen on the hillsides are clearly sloping to the south, suggesting we are now seeing only the southern flank of the volcano, the northern part of which has been eroded away.
Some of the older rocks on which the volcano rests can be seen on the tidal causeway linking Wedge Island. They are impure limestones with shell fragments that accumulated in a narrow, elongate fresh-water basin (the Hillsborough Basin) between 65 and 55 million years ago.
The sands of the beaches are notable for their shimmering flakes of mica. They have been washed northwards from the mouth of the Pioneer River, which drains granite country where mica is common. There is little mica in the rocks at Cape Hillsborough itself.
The nearby peaks of Mount Jukes and Mount Blackwood are the same age as the Cape Hillsborough volcano. They represent plugs of magma beneath a second nearby volcano whose upper parts have been entirely removed by erosion. Pinnacle Peak is also a plug of rhyolite magma.
The park preserves a small but spectacular length of coastline with wide sandy beaches, steep rocky headlands and a dense cover of hoop pines. It has much in common with the landscapes of the Whitsunday islands, which were joined to the mainland at one time.
Plants and plant communities
The park conserves a range of plant communities representative of the Central Mackay Coast biogeographic region. Ten plant communities have been recorded in the park, including tall closed rainforest, littoral rainforest (growing just above the high-tide mark), tall closed forest dominated by hoop pines, melaleuca woodland, eucalyptus/casuarina woodland, and mangroves and saltpans. More than 500 species of plants have been identified at Cape Hillsborough, a remarkable number for an area of just over 1000 ha.
Animals and habitats
Approximately 140 birds, 22 mammals, 25 reptiles and eight amphibians have been identified in the park.
Six species of kangaroos and wallabies are found in the park, including eastern grey kangaroos, agile wallabies, whiptail wallabies, unadorned rock-wallabies, swamp wallabies, and red-legged pademelons. The park is a significant refuge for these species as other habitats in the area have been cleared.
Many tropical birds reach the southern limit of their natural distribution in the area between Mackay and Shoalwater Bay. Most of these are associated with tropical rainforest communities like those protected in the park. Species found in the park include the orange-footed scrubfowl, pied imperial-pigeons, metallic starlings, buff-breasted paradise-kingfishers, and rufous owls.
Before European settlement, the Yuibera people lived in this area and used its natural resources. Shellfish were collected from nearby mangroves and roasted over open fires, with the discarded shells piled into middens, which still dot the park today. Other signs of Indigenous occupation of Cape Hillsborough include archaeological remains of a stone fish trap, stone fireplaces, pieces of ochre apparently brought from other areas, and artefacts such as stone axe heads. The spiritual connection of the Yuibera people continues today.
Explorer James Cook named Cape Hillsborough and the nearby Cape Palmerston and Cape Conway during his voyage up the Queensland coast in 1770. Cape Hillsborough was named after the Earl of Hillsborough, a member of the English and Irish parliaments who also served as Secretary of State for the American colonies.
European settlement of the area began in 1867 when settlers McBryde and Finlayson selected 4000 ha near the cape for breeding cattle.
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