A cold beer watching the sun go down over the sea followed by locally caught barramundi fish and chips was almost the perfect evening if such a thing exists.
We enjoyed relaxing because we have a few long driving days ahead. After Normanton, Highway 1 is gravel and no car hire company will let you drive long distances on gravel. For us, hiring a 4WD for this would be costly so we have to divert inland for a while and sample more of the outback. Carpentaria Shire describes itself as the Outback by the Sea.
We left the Karumba landscape behind, passing a couple of Brolgas en route.
After a fuel stop in Normanton we carried on south on this Route 83 which is also known as the Matilda Highway and runs from Karumba to the New South Wales border. It is another development road with some single lane sections and plenty of road trains. There were frequent signs warning of flooding and it must be impassable at some points in the wet season. After crossing the Flinders River, we passed through dry grassland with the large seed heads of grass blowing across the road reminiscent of tumbleweed. Burke and Wills Roadhouse at the junction with the Wills Development Road was a good coffee stop but also provides a lot more. I was slightly surprised to hear three men who were eating a huge plate of chips, chatting in Punjabi.
Continuing south, rocky outcrops and hills started to appear.
After crossing the Dugald River we passed a huge zinc mine which only achieved commercial production earlier this year. The road then passes by a few hills and descends into Cloncurry.
Cloncurry has been a town since 1884. Two of its claims to fame are as the birthplace of the Flying Doctor Service and the destination of the first Qantas flight. The surrounding area is mainly devoted to cattle farming now but between Cloncurry and Mount Isa is Mary Kathleen, the ruins of a uranium mine and community. Mount Isa is another town which grew up because of mineral deposits in the area; mainly lead, copper, silver and zinc. This lead to concerns about lead levels in children 10 years ago and now pollution is very closely monitored. The town is still dominated by the huge mine chimney. The bottle shop there is also the largest we have seen so far. The following morning we were back on the Barkly Highway, out of mining land and again in beef country. There was even a Drovers’ Museum in Camooweal, our coffee stop. The sign stated that the town was at 236m altitude and the population was 310. Shortly after Camooweal we drove into Northern Territory and gained 30 minutes due to the time difference. Here we were in dry grassland.
70km later we passed the first cyclist we had seen since leaving busier towns and the tourist zone. We had driven 276km before crossing a watercourse that had any water in it despite the road going over several rivers and creeks. Before we got to the Barkly Homestead Road House, the bush and termite mounds had reappeared. At the road house was a sign asking customers to forgive them for their higher prices. They explained that they had to generate their own power and it took 5,000 litres of diesel per day to do this. Standing there in sunshine and wind, I did wonder why they were not using solar/wind power.
We continued towards Tennant Creek. The roadside was littered with fragments of tyres and there were frequent skid marks. Some wrecked cars and lots of oil drums were left rusting by the road. We saw one more recent car that had left the road and were just wondering whether anyone was in it when we saw a notice: ‘police aware’.
Fairly close to our destination when we saw two dead cows by the roadside. Unlike other roadkill there were no crows or raptors feeding on them. I can only assume that the lack of water was responsible for the lack of birds. The total mileage for the last two days was 839 miles bringing the total so far to 3,895, a little more than the length of the Lincoln Highway we drove in 2016.
We left our motel in the rainforest and crossed the Daintree River on the ferry again. It runs from 6am to midnight.
There is no mains electricity north of the river and solar power and generators provide what is needed. Back on the road to Mossman we were accompanied by electricity cables. We took Highway 44 from Mossman to Mount Molloy, a road that winded uphill to Mowbray National Park. The first gap in the hills providing a viewpoint, also provided a gap for the power lines and had a plaque commemorating the date the gravel road was completely bitumen: in 1982. At the second viewpoint which had a somewhat better view, we met a guy walking his dog who said that this was the first cloudy day for months.
Mount Molloy was named after a farmer who found the copper out crop while searching for a stray bullock. We joined Highway 81 near here which is also known as the Mulligan Highway. The road was named after James Venture Mulligan who found many of the mining fields in Northern Queensland.
We drove through bushland which had been on fire very recently, some logs were still smoking. We passed Lake Mitchell and arrived in Mareeba. Appropriately it was coffee time. Mareeba has arabica coffee plantations and 70% of Australian coffee is grown here. It was also the place where the world’s first mechanical harvester was developed. The biggest crop used to be tobacco but now there are mango, banana, papaya and nut orchards and a liqueur distillery and a tea plantation. It has a reputation as a bit of a cowboy town and you can certainly buy all your gear here and attend the annual rodeo. The travel agent was advertising trips to Calgary Stampede. There were also a couple of holistic and natural therapy shops which might be bucking the trend.
At the southern end of the town we re-joined Highway 1 now the Kennedy Highway and continued to Atherton. It has a population of more than 7,000 and sits at 752 metres on the Atherton Tableland. Atherton was noted for production of timber and tin. At one point it had a large Chinese community who worked in gold mines in the late 19th century until the gold ran out. Some turned to timber and market gardens and their temple has been restored. The road continued climbing up the slopes of Mount Hypipamee and over passes at 1008m and 1113m. Just before Ravenshoe, we passed the appropriately named Windy Hill Wind Farm which we had seen in the distance earlier and the first we had seen in Australia. Ravenshoe is Queensland’s highest town at 913m. From here, Highway 1 is called Savannah Way. We were surrounded by bush littered with red rocks. At Mount Garnet we had lunch watched by a couple of magpies and these birds:
Further west the rocks were lighter and then black. Near Forty Mile Scrub we saw our first road train with three trailers. All the others we have seen so far, have had two trailers. At the junction with Highway 62 Highway 1 became Gulf Developmental Road. I had wondered what this was and soon discovered it. Our road soon began to have single lane sections.
Just before another one, we spotted a truck ahead, so we stopped at the end of the two-lane section and waited for him to pass. Just as well, as he was carrying explosives! The bush now had what looked like the tops of rock pinnacles sticking out of the grass.
Nearer to Karumba some of those near the road had been dressed with clothes or painted. The temperature had topped 34 degrees that day and our mileage so far had reached 2572 miles when we reached Georgetown where we were spending the night. This is just over the length of Route 66 driven five years ago. The next morning we woke to a blue sky and set out on a quiet road. We did not see another vehicle for the first 48 km. We did however, see a cow cross the road:
followed by several wallabies, an Australian Bustard and a snake. We also interrupted numerous raptors who were feeding on dead wallabies. We drove over the Gilbert River which was completely dry except for one small pool. Croydon was the coffee stop and it has some older buildings. Gold was discovered here in 1888 and there are said to be some deep seams that have never been excavated.
Further on we passed three guys rounding up cattle with motorbikes. Quad bikes would not get around the bush here. After crossing the railway we entered Carpentia County which has a population of only 2500. Normanton was a supply stop before lunch at Mutton Hole Wetlands. In the wet season numerous birds are here but the only water was on the river and some small pools. These crows watched us as we ate.
On the road to Karumba we were out of bush into grassland. A large folk of Brolgas were by a roadside ditch.
We soon found our motel by Karumba Beach.
The mileage today was 239 bringing the total to 2,701.
We were in Cardwell on a Friday and our hosts said that they always got fish and chips for the evening meal if we wanted to join in. We agreed and had a very pleasant meal with them (both New Zealanders) and another guy from New Zealand who was working in Australia. The next morning, we were back on the road through banana plantations. The bunches of fruit were all covered with plastic bags which we presumed were either to protect from pests or prevent them from ripening too early.
We passed Mount Bartle Frere which at 1622m is Queensland’s highest peak. In 1942 a USAAF plane returning to base at Charters Towers encountered a tropical storm and crashed on the mountain killing the seven crew. In Babinda, we could not resist following the sign for Babinda Boulders and there is a memorial for the crash there. Swimming is allowed at the first pool next to the carpark and there is a walk to a couple of viewpoints where swimming is forbidden.
We were continuing on Highway 1 (The Bruce Highway) to stay with friends near Yarrabah, a 20km detour off the highway. Their house is right on the beach and we had a great walk and clamber over the boulders with them and their dogs before dinner. This was the first beach on the east coast that I have found sea glass on.
The next morning, we all had breakfast on Cairns esplanade. On the way there we passed numerous classic cars heading in the opposite direction for an event. There was a charity walk taking place on the esplanade, but we managed to find a quieter café eventually.Before leaving town, we stopped at Rusty’s market. Many of the stallholders are Hmong people from Laos. There is an amazing selection of fruit and vegetables and also jewellery and some crafts. I topped up my coffee supplies at this stall.
We then left Highway 1 to divert to the Daintree rainforest via the Captain Cook Highway to Mossman which for much of the way follows the coast. Just before Mossman we diverted to Port Douglas for lunch by the beach. Continuing north from Mossman there is eventually a turn for the Cape Tribulation Road and the Daintree Ferry. On the winding road to our destination there was a lookout (Walu Wugirrica) over the rainforest to the Alexandra Range.
We spent Monday exploring a little of what the Daintree National Park has to discover. The Discovery Centre was our first port of call. Elevated boardwalks run through different levels of the rainforest from the floor to the canopy. A 32m high tower gives the topmost views. and is also used to measure carbon flux by researchers at James Cook University.
The species of fig tree here (Ficus virgate) has very small fruit compared with my commercial variety Brown Turkey at home.
As we had a few longer driving days ahead we walked the nearby Jindalba (Kuku Yalanji for ‘foot of the mountain’) Long Loop trail which is 2.7km. There is a shorter boardwalk. The trail is way-marked and there are a lot of tree roots and rocks, plus a few fallen tree trunks to step over and some creeks to cross. There are a few short steep ascents and descents so sensible footwear is advised. Don’t go in your flip-flops. We were very pleased to get see an adult Cassowary and a youngster before they disappeared back into the foliage. Unlike most birds, once the Cassowary eggs have hatched, the male takes responsibility for caring for the young until they are 16 months old. I did not get a good shot of the adult but here is the youngster:
As we are almost at the end of the dry season there were a lot of fallen seeds and fruit on the ground and fungi on tree stumps. After finishing the trail, we drove to Cow Bay Beach for our picnic lunch. It was another almost deserted beach and this lizard was sitting on one of the trees. Saltwater crocodiles mean that going into the water is not allowed. I did some beachcombing while James rested, finding a couple of pieces of coral and looking at all the Bubble Crab holes on the sand. On other beaches I have seen them emerge in the evening.
There is so much more to see here but we had the press on with our journey the next day.
Leaving Townsville this morning, we passed the Australian Guitar Making School, which if you had asked me, I would have said it would be in one of the larger cities. The highway north of the city had an orange warning ‘caution’sign for the stretch up to Ingham. The only thing we could see that might have accounted for this was a little bit of smoke coming from the burnt bush on either side of the road. Many of the creeks we passed over were dry at this time of year and it does not take much to start a fire.
Tyto Wetlands are right on A1 on the south side of Ingham and a little oasis from the road. It is a 110 hectare area of lagoons which are home to 240 species of birds and wallabies. Walking tracks go around the area and there is a hide. You can go alone or on a guided tour. There is also an information centre which is very helpful not just on local things but the whole of Queensland. It was very quiet when we arrived, so we explored on our own and saw a few birds:
and one wallaby.
Afterwards we continued into the centre of Ingham for coffee. One of the town’s claims to fame is that the Lees Hotel was the place the poem by canecutter Dan Sheahan which inspired Slim Dusty’s 1957 hit ‘The Pub with No Beer’ was written. American soldiers in the town had drunk the place dry. Needless to say, it is no longer dry.
After Ingham which is inland, A1 swings back down to the coast to Cardwell on the Cassowary Coast. Before we got that far, we stopped at Hinchinbrook lookout. This gap in the Cardwell Range not only allows the road and railway to pass but also the power supply to Cardwell and provides good views.
We found our beachfront motel and settled in before having a walk along the promenade. There was a guy metal detecting, various dog walkers and the odd cyclist. Several homes along the sea front were for sale. Cardwell was significantly damaged by the Cyclone Yasi, a category 5 cyclone, in February 2011 and most homes had to be re-roofed and the pier re-built. You cannot go into the sea near the motel as there are crocodiles here, so far, we have not seen one.
Today we woke before dawn and watched the sun rise over the sea in front of our motel room. After breakfast we had to drive back into the centre of Sarina for fuel and to see the Cane Toad statue in the middle of town. Back home, Moffat has a sheep and Rockhampton where we stayed the previous night, has several statues of bulls.
Cane Toads are native to Central and South America. They were introduced in 1935 to control insects which were detrimental to sugar cane production and to reduce the use of pesticides. They did not control the insects however and proliferated beyond Queensland where they were introduced. They exude poison from glands on their shoulders and can be fatal to domestic pets which eat them, although some birds have mastered the art of catching and eating them without triggering the poison. There have been debates about how and whether they should be eliminated but not all methods utilised have been successful. The Cane Toad has been listed by the National Trust of Queensland as a state icon of Queensland, along with the Great Barrier Reef, and past icons, the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the backyard mango tree (also an introduced species). Local school children gave this toad the name Buffy.
Continuing north on Highway 1 towards Mackay, I noticed on the map that a range of mountains southwest of the city are called The Blue Mountains. I am familiar with the Blue Mountains in New South Wales but did not know there were others elsewhere. Coffs Harbour has a big banana, but Bowen has a big mango, illustrating one particular variety introduced and grown here.
Bowen also has a number of murals in the town centre, reminiscent of some American towns we have driven through. However, they are not in such vibrant colours as some of the American ones but they do illustrate the history of the town.
A must in Bowen is a drive to the top of Flagstaff Hill which gives 360 degree views. The interpretive centre is closed having been damaged in the most recent cyclone to hit the area.
There were a number of birds hanging around, this magpie obviously regularly perches on this street light.
After Bowen the surrounding area is much drier. At 1pm the temperature got up to 30 degrees. After lunch at a rest area we continued towards Townsville and again entered sugarcane territory.
We had to stop at a level crossing for a cane train to pass and counted 216 trucks.
In Townsville it was pretty windy on the strand and the beach was quiet with the lifeguards hanging around with not much to do.
Walking along the strand I spotted this sculpture: Bazza and Shazza by Jan Hynes in 2004.
A large number of helicopters kept passing over during late afternoon and early evening. A couple of them were obviously military but there were several others. I hope they stop before we need to sleep. 280 miles today brings the trip total to date to 1957 miles.
Leaving Rockhampton centre we passed several malls and garages. I was amused to see this sigh outside a car wash. Our dog used to hate having a bath and one of us had to hold her while the other scrubbed. I can see why it is DIY.
Once we had left the town behind A1 had the waterpipe on the left and the railway on the right. Today’s first diversion was to Capricorn Caves which lie a few kilometres off the highway north of Rockhampton. The caves were discovered in the 19th century by explorers and have been a tourist attraction since then. At one point the owners’ supplemented their income by extracting guano left by the many bats which roost in the caves. This eventually ceased. Unlike limestone caves anywhere else that we have visited, these are dry caves. Only in the wet season does any water enter them. Hence the stalagmites and stalactites are very small. Usually in Australia things are bigger than in the UK and Europe but this is one exception.
Tree roots make their way into the cave.
We chose to do the one-hour tour as we had a couple of hundred miles to drive today. The guide was very informative and the acoustics in the space known as the cathedral were tremendous. They even hold operas here in November, Carol concerts in December and weddings in the dry season. After squeezing through a narrow passage, we crossed a couple of bridges and were out.
While having our coffee, a Brush Turkey who was busy constructing his nest came to have a look at us.
Back on the highway it eventually descends and rejoins the coast at Kalarka. We have seen a lot of dead wallabies by the road but today spotted a live one feeding on the grass verge. We found our motel on Sarina Beach mid-afternoon giving me some time for beachcombing before sunset at 6.00pm.
There are a lot more shells, pieces of coral, branches etc on the high tide line than on other beaches we have visited on this coast so far. There is also not very much plastic rubbish visible although I suspect microfibres and very small pieces will be here like they are in many places. We probably will not have time to go out to the Barrier Reef on this trip, so I collected a small piece of coral and a couple of tiny shells for my collection. Sarina Town has a huge cane sugar mill and distillery producing ethanol. The other major industry is farming (cattle and sugar cane) and just north of the town is a very large coal distribution point. We saw a long train carrying trucks of coal heading south. The beach is pleasantly quiet at this time of year. Yesterday’s mileage was 263 miles and todays 200. The total mileage for the trip so far is 1677.
Back on the Bruce Highway heading north, our first stop was at a garage to pick up some supplies. Outside was a stall selling pig ears and roo tails for dogs to chew. At Childers, a town with several 19th century buildings, the road became parallel to the railway which stayed with us much of the way into Rockingham. The earth became redder and there were many more sugarcane plantations with warning signs of large trucks emerging on to the highway. I could not resist a stop at a town called Gin Gin and it was coffee time.
The Travellers’ Rest not only serves good coffee but has also won several awards in The Great Australian Pie Competition. James could not resist buying a Sea Scallop pie, not one we could find at any of our local markets’ pie stalls. Continuing, we encountered yet another set of road works; many sections of the two-lane A1 are currently being widened.
To keep us awake there were yet more trivia questions, only one of which we got right. North of Miriam Vale, smoke suddenly appeared behind us and a fire service van was making its way towards it. We had not noticed anything when we passed that point a little earlier. Lunch was at a rest stop near Benaraby where you can camp for 20 hours, allowing an overnight stop which many of those further south do not permit. Drinking water is available, toilets and a shower. The stop is on the banks of the River Boyne which made James feel at home. Past Caliope, more smoke drifted over the highway. The temperature reached 29 degrees today. Just outside Rockingham was a sign warning that some trucks were carrying explosives. We found our motel very easily after passing two bull statues (there are seven in the town) in under a mile. After checking in we wandered down to Fitzroy River. It is the largest river in Queensland and is still tidal at Rockhampton. The town was founded in the mid 19th century and gold, then beef cattle have ensured its prosperity. In the city centre and riverside there are several 19th century buildings.
There is even one with a sheep statue on top to counteract all the bulls.
The riverside has been turned into a place for walks, there is a children’s playground and some sculptures and water features.
Trains run on a track down the middle of one of the roads in town with nothing to separate them from vehicles or people.
We had an aperitif in an Irish pub which was very quiet other than three motorcyclists and another couple who came in. The man was on his phone and I very quickly picked up a Northern Ireland accent although modified a little with Australian. When he had finished his call and we were on our way out, we asked him where he was from and he answered; ‘County Down 48 years ago’. He and James new several places they had in common. He and his wife were on a slightly shorter journey than ours, but we parted wishing each other well with our travels. There is a bookshop in town called ‘All Variety Books’. It was still open when we passed so we popped in. Although outside it said they sold new and secondhand, the majority of the books on display were second hand paperbacks. Most were fiction, categorised into male & female authors, sci fi, fantasy and paranormal. There were very hardback or non-fiction books and i did not find anything that grabbed my attention.
We had our evening meal at the Great Western Hotel, a couple of blocks away on the recommendation of the motel owner. Steak was a must in this town and the room was decorated with mounted cattle heads and video footage of bull riding which takes place twice a week. There are more than 2.5 million cattle within 250km raduis of Rockhampton.
We are now on the Tropic of Capricorn. One of the things I find most disorientating about being in the southern hemisphere is not cultural or language differences or the landscape but the sky. I still find the emptier southern skies slightly strange, despite having seen them numerous times but tonight’s crescent moon was even more striking with the crescent appearing at the underside of the sphere, not at the side.