After putting up the camper in the dark and the rain in Townsville's Rowes Bay Beachfront Holiday Park we went out immediately to see some sights. The Strand was close by so we did mainies in the 80 (translation: we drove up and down the main street in our car) before deciding on the pub for dinner. Being a wet Sunday night there were a few people about and it took us a while to find a parking spot. Good meal, good beer and we were soon headed home.
We woke to our first morning in Townsville and it was warm and sunny. Luckily about the sunny part as we have no way to charge the camper off 240V so we were relying on solar panels. We needed to do some washing but once that was on the line we set off exploring the town Glen spent a weekend in a couple of years ago thanks to the AFL. Ever since then Glen and Ashley have been unable to mention Townsville or Magnetic Island to Julie. Not for much longer as soon Julie would be on Magnetic Island and all will be forgiven!
First stop was the lookout at Castle Hill. It's only 265m high but because everything is so flat you get an excellent view of the city and the island just 7km off shore. It was certainly easier driving up than walking as Glen had done last time. Back to The Strand and lunch (prawns and fresh bread rolls by the water) a walk along the boardwalk, ticking off another Top 101 Beach on the way to Juliette's Gelato and Coffee. We enjoyed 2 scoops each and a latte overlooking the ocean, Magnetic Island and a turtle in the water. Because of the stingers lots of towns have man made lagoons to swim in and Townsville is no exception. We went for a walk around what they call the Rock Pool. We found a lost ball in the water…thank you we'll have that to play with and of course Glen had a go on the flying fox and spinning pole in the kids playground then we played handball with our new toy, Julie winning every game. We even played with the ball on the long walk back to the car. On the way back to the CVP Glen stopped the car and had another climb on the kids playground. At the CVP we hit the pool, which we had to ourselves, a BBQ dinner then a movie on the computer rounded off a great day.
MI Day dawned sunny and bright and we packed light and headed for the wharf. Just enough time for a coffee to be made and we took it up to the fly bridge for the 20min trip to Magnetic Island. We chose the bus ticket with our ferry ticket rather than the topless hire car and when we arrived jumped on the bus headed west for a 10 minute stop over at Picnic Bay. At the advice of a local our next stop was the opposite end of the island at Horseshoe Bay because it was supposedly the best place for lunch options and the bus also has a lunch break so we were going to be stranded wherever we went for an hour and a half. We went for a swim at the beach and they were getting ready to put out the stinger nets. After our swim in murky thigh deep water we went across the road to check out this variety of choices for lunch. Somebody forgot to tell the local that Tuesday is when almost every eatery in Horseshoe Bay is closed. Pub it is then…
After lunch we went back to our towels at the beach but they were winching the nets in place so while we waited we were chatting to a lady from a boat moored in the bay. 7 years sailing around, tiny fuel bill due to sail and no caravan park fees. Too bad Glen gets sea sick. She told us about 3 days in 100km/h wind and 25m seas and that was pretty much it. The bus came so we caught it to Alma Bay. Could have spent all day in the water here. Clean, warm and a small wave. All too soon it was time to head back. What a great day we had.
We left Townsville the next day headed inland. Our first stop was the lookout at Mount Stuart. Stupidly Glen started the 10km climb with the air conditioner on and the car got really hot - 103 degrees C. We don't know if the viscous hub fan is working properly as sitting still with the engine revving lightly didn't cool it at all. We needed to lift the bonnet as well and then it cooled quickly. We continued up the tared road marvelling at the downhill mountain bike tracks on either side of the road. As a council maintained facility it must be a legal nightmare as the steepness, jumps and sheer drop offs had us in awe of anyone who could ride it. From the top it was an amazing view.
Driving further along the Flinders Highway we stopped at a rest area for lunch and discovered a 1 cent piece from 1967 that someone had obviously found on the ground there. It surprises Glen when we come cross things on the ground that have been there for years. It's not that unusual to come across the old ring pulls from cans, some even with the tab still attached to the ring part. All the things that just got thrown away over the years that will be there still long after we are dead and buried. Camped at a free camp called Macrossan Park outside Charters Towers. The council roadside rest areas seem to be more important for towns now and while this one was fairly old (and according to an ex-local who is now on the road but was camped there is no longer maintained as it once was with extensive mown grass by the river. It's just weeds and toilet paper down there now so travellers too lazy to do the right thing, even though there is a toilet and showers provided, are partly responsible) and set up for travellers who didn't make it into town today's overnight rest areas are right next to the town as they know people who aren't spending big on accommodation spend more in the town and the town survives. Babinda is a case in point. There is an excellent free camp right on the highway at the town turn off. $4 coin in the slot hot showers, choice of grass or tar to set up on, the river is great for a swim.
so lots of people every night. Since you need to drive through town to go to their only attraction, Babinda Boulders, many would stop and spend money on something in town. Even if they don't go to the Boulders at least they got them to stop at the turn off to the town. It's only a short walk to the pub too. Many of these also have fire places or free electric barbeques and power points available. Anyway back to our immediate travels…
We stopped in Charters Towers for a coffee and a wee. Impressively restored old buildings including Target Country in the old Stan Pollard Mercer and Draper building with it's lead light walk around display cabinets out front and the ornate awning with skylights. Stan obviously wasn't short of a quid as that was only one of Stan's businesses. His name appeared all over the place around town. On our way out of town we passed a sign for windscreen repairs and not 100m further down the road a council lawn mower threw a rock and we ended up with a large chip in our windscreen. All the kilometres we've travelled on dirt and not an issue then we do one on the tar. Turned back but the windscreen place couldn't repair it (chip too big) and didn't have our windscreen in stock.
On the way to Winton we detoured to Porcupine Gorge and spent the night there then in the morning Glen flew the drone into the gorge before we walked it and had a swim at the bottom. There were some pretty big fish there. Into Winton that afternoon and camped at a free camp called Long Waterhole. Glen changed the oil and topped up the grease on the trailer bearings. The flies were pretty bad until sunset but at night there were millions of little green bugs attracted to our light. Didn't matter if it was white, yellow, red, green, or citronella candle light they flocked to it and we ended up retreating inside pretty early - some bugs made it inside with us. Next morning the flies relieved the green bugs by reporting for their shift at sunrise so we could be bothered by bugs continuously.
As we were doing the dinosaur stampede tracks and it was an hour and a half each way down the road we were on we were in two minds about whether to stay another night but ended up packing up and doing a lap of the town before heading out. The Lark Quarry Conservation Park has fossilised tracks of over 300 dinosaurs. The tracks were all made within a few minutes and show two species of small dinosaur trying to escape from one large dinosaur. Incredible to see these tracks from a moment in time some 95 million years before. Had a swim in a dam on the way back then camped by the road between Winton and Longreach. The night bugs there were the little green bugs from last night and a larger grey beetle kind of thing. They were everywhere. You couldn't even use the toilet the next day because they were everywhere in there. They were all over the bowl and where the water flushes into the urinal they were caked 2 cm deep on top of each other in a 15cm triangle. It was gross.
Into Longreach and we were wondering what all the chairs were doing lined up outside the railway station as we drove to the Qantas Founders Museum. Inside we had a latte as we decided what level of tour we would do. Deciding on the guided tour of the 707 (which was their first 707 and once ferried Michael Jackson) and the 747 that they have parked there as well as the self-guided museum tour. Going through the planes actually turned out to be really interesting and informative and I think next time we fly will be a bit more clued up about the aircraft and even know what arm and cross check the doors actually means. We also found out why the chairs were out - after 100 years of operation they were finally officially opening the railway station. Also that afternoon at 3 they were having a street parade and a market. After lunch we lined up with the 80 or so people lining the main street to watch half a dozen groups walk or drive down the street. Some were throwing lollies to the people. Far more lollies than people. Not much at the markets either. Spent the night at the Lions Park free camp near town and spent most of the next day at the pool swimming, catching up on some writing and had a hot shower before placing a few bets for tomorrow's Melbourne Cup and setting out for Barcaldine and the Tree of Knowledge. Sadly we hit a roo at dusk. Broke a blinker on the bullbar but the roo died instantly.
Barcaldine, or Barky as the locals know it, has a monument to the shearers and The Tree of Knowledge and The Australian Workers Heritage Centre. The Tree of Knowledge was where Shearers formed a union and after a big strike were the union leaders were gaoled the Labor Party was formed. The actual tree was poisoned in 1992 - how stupid are some people, probably the same type of idiot that had removed the names of the politicians from a brass plaque at a rest area commemorating the tarring of the road over the mountains near there. Lot of work to try to remove raised brass letters and you could still work out it was Joh's name anyway. The tree monument is now far more moving than a single old tree and extensively visited so it's probably exactly the opposite effect from that intended by the moron who poisoned it.
The monument consists of the remains of the trunk and above is a sculpture made up of thousands of pieces of wood that leave a negative space where the tree once was. So worth a visit at night to get the full effect.
Barcaldine also earns our respect as a town with the most pubs in the shortest distance, excluding The Rocks. In just 300m there were 5 pubs. Not bad with a population of under 1000 from the looks of it. Set up as the rain started at a free camp and checked out the weather. Thunderstorms lasting 3 days over the outback dirt roads we intended to travel on. We had to change our route as we had experienced what a little rain can do to outback roads and it may have been foolish to travel the roads with the amount of rain we saw on the radar and forecasts of plenty more of the same.
Bright sunshine and dry canvas the next day but the weather app was still predicting bad weather over our route. We went into Barky only to find it was a local public holiday and not even the Visitor Information Centre was open. With almost 2 hours to kill until the Australian Workers Heritage Centre opened we decided to cut our losses and head to our new destination of Emerald.
Lobbed at the Emerald Hotel in time for the running of the 2016 Melbourne Cup - the race for the trophy we held during our visit to Croydon. Obviously holding the cup gave us no insight as we didn't have a single win or place. Eli's ticket came closest with his Mystery Trifecta having the first and third horses correct but being 13 instead of 12 for the second place horse. Would have been worth about $15 so it wasn't a cry into your beer moment. The Emerald Botanic Gardens is that town's free camp. The tracks through here are extensive and would take a few hours to explore even on a bike. Wonderful asset.
Still hot and dry with none of the forecast rain so we headed up the Gregory Development Road and across the Bowen Development Road where we camped the night with the bugs. Rain around but none on us. Continuing on through Collinsville and past the coal mine we arrived at the coast at Bowen. Firstly Queens Beach then snorkelled at Greys Bay and Horseshoe Bay. Well Glen snorkelled and saw lots of large, colourful fish, Julie set up the inflatable lounge on the beach and read. Moving on we stayed at Miowera - $5 per head per night and for an extra $5 you get dinner. Pretty good set up really for a small slashed paddock with the highway on one side and the railway line on the other. Some of the backpackers were mowing, setting up the fire or helping to cook. There's only one toilet and it's in the same room as the shower but it all seems friendly and relaxed. There's even a dope plant in the vegie patch. We can't decide if we'll move on in the morning or use this as a base.