Prepare for a white-knuckle ride if you want a beer at the Lion’s Den Hotel.
Tropical North Queensland’s monsoon season was still under the influence of El Nino and the final creek crossing on the legendary Bloomfield Track was more like a grade-three rapid than a well-graded road.
It was April. It was hot. The pub was on the other side of the creek. And long story short is – I was thirstier than I was scared.
I handed the keys to the most experienced driver in the group, kicked off my shoes and took the less risky option; chancing a bare-foot foxtrot with a hungry croc over flooding the engine and having to push the car through thigh-deep water.
The token bloke conquered the creek like Michael Schumacher and I hobbled to the other side a wounded version of Edmund Hilary.
Our beer was now in sight.
The Lion’s Den Hotel, located on the northern end of the Bloomfield Track, is one of those rustic Aussie pubs that have dotted the outback since white settlers first arrived.
Built in 1875 and made of corrugated iron with broad, shady awnings, it attracts a motley crew of visitors, from sandal-clad backpackers to local hippies and passing grey nomads. It’s perfect for a quick thirst quencher, but for those wanting an extended weekend of music (of which there are several a year), the seven hectares of grounds also offer onsite camping, dongas and some fairly swish safari tents.
The famous travel writer Bill Bryson once wrote that Queenslanders are a bit like cut snakes and the further north you go, the madder they get. The day we rocked up The Den looked like a crazy ZZ Top convention. Laid-back locals sporting long white beards cooled off under a massive mango tree and chewed the political fat. Apparently some ‘clown in council’ had closed the single road past the pub, and these fellas had a bit of time spare before getting to their next job.
Inside a couple of shaggy-haired youngsters scribbled on the wall, marking their presence over decades of graffiti and thousands of ditties written by other travellers.
At one end of the pub is an old shop, its shelves filled with years of local artefacts like a shot put-sized chunk of tin found in the local mine, bar stools from the 1950s, pre-aerosol mozzie sprays and jars of preserved snakes, each one more deadly than the other.
But it’s the other end of the pub that’s the real drawcard. Here a traditional pub counter made of a solid slab of wood wraps its way around a lineup of beer taps. There may be tin in them there hills, but there’s gold in these here taps. And I was ready to strike the mother lode.
I pull up a chair, order Queensland’s favourite drop – a thirst quenching XXXX bitter made from pure Queensland cane sugar, malt and barley – and toast to my co-adventurers and Queensland’s cutest pub to date.