We left Mount Isa after visiting the library and the pool, and headed down the highway towards the east coast. We were headed–had been heading for days–to meet a friend in Townsville, still another 904 kilometres. I sat shotgun, studying Wikicamps and the map and the Camps Book and after about forty-five minutes, I said to Lee, “Turn off here—let’s check out this free camp.”
“But we’ve only gone 57 kilometres.”
“I know,” I said. “We’ll just have a look.” We found this spacious free camp at Corella Dam.
There were people camped for weeks, and you could see why. Four baby lapwings greeted us as we pulled in. Our neighbour went out to find firewood for us. We watched the pelicans fish. We saw the sun set over the dam.
And then the wind started. It was gale-force. Wind and tents don’t mix—we learned that on the west coast. The noisy flapping kept Lee and R and I up most of the night. The next day, we packed up and got on the road.
Our next stop was a farm stay in Nelia, population 10. It was like something out of a children’s book. K wrote in her journal:
Goats on the table
Chickens on the roof
Cow in the kitchen
Mozzies eating us alive!!!
The farm stay was on Main Street, sandwiched between the old post office and the railroad track that runs sulphuric acid and copper from the mine in Mount Isa to Townsville.Eric, a friendly talkative man, runs the farm with his partner, who was away. Eric grew up in Nelia and his mum ran the post office until it closed. The town used to be bigger, but now Eric’s got just one neighbour across the road, whom he doesn’t get on with.
The girls loved getting to water the pigs and feed the chickens. They were sad to say goodbye to Bo Bo the goat and Millie the cow, but off we went. I went early, cycling against the wind.
We stopped in Richmond to see a museum full of prehistoric fossils from the area. K’s favourite was a plesiosaur that, several decades ago, two boys found while playing in the creek behind their house. Scientists and volunteers are still digging in the area. I dream of coming back here with K and joining the dig as a volunteer.
That afternoon we drove for hours along that dry flat desolate road. At some point the name changed from the Barkly Highway to the Flinders, but the road was the same. That night we camped for free behind a pub in the small outback town of Pentland. With a grassy site, toilets (complete with green tree frogs) and showers, this was a bargain.
The next day we drove on through the flat arid landscape that seemed never to end. And then, it changed! All of a sudden there were rolling green hills and green as far as you could see. We were getting close to the east coast.
At Charters Towers, we hit traffic for the first time since we left Perth on a Friday afternoon in April.
In Townsville the sea greeted us, and so did our dear friend, Katrina. She works for Aboriginal and Torres Straight Island Legal Service (ATSILS). We stayed with Katrina in her lovely flat and were pampered with great food and good wine. Thank you, Auntie Katrina!
I’ve only seen a handful of friends from Sydney since we started the journey. My friend Jenny flew up to Darwin in July, which was magic. It’s so nice to catch up with Sydney friends, though I don’t think I miss anything else about the city!
On Saturday we took our bikes on the boat to Magnetic Island. The weather was cloudy and blustery, so I didn’t have to worry about sunscreen for once.
After three beautiful days with Katrina, we headed north—not very far—to Crystal Creek. There’s a natural waterside here in the rocks, complete with just enough algae to make you go fast. Magic.
We were fortunate to meet up with some friends that we made in Cape Arid National Park in WA, six months previously. Lu and Bede are newly retired, and doing a lap, just like us. They’re over sixty, but fitter than most forty-year-olds. At K’s request, they went down the rock slides, too. It’s the eighth time we’ve met up with them along the way.
K wanted to stay at the sliding rocks indefinitely, but after two nights we headed north, hoping to get to the Tablelands. We hadn’t counted on road works.
Or the fact that I like to stop at every single roadside fruit stand.
At around four in the afternoon, we still hadn’t gotten to the turn off that would take us to Yungaburra. Our fridge was warming up and we realised we needed to plug in–we needed a caravan park, and soon. I was driving; it was hot; I had a headache. When I saw that Cairns was only another fifty kilometres, I looked at Lee.
“You want to go to Cairns?”
His eyes lit up. As a backpacker, nearly twenty years ago, Cairns was the first place in Australia Lee came to. He flew from the dull and dreary UK to this tropical paradise. When he landed here in June 1997, it was 27 degrees and sunny in the middle of “winter”. The beer was cheap, the palms swayed in the breeze and I think he thought he’d died and gone to heaven. He went to the Wool Shed every night and drank until he danced on the tables.
Needless to say, times have changed. As I write this, it’s 8:45 in the evening and he’s fallen asleep while putting the girls to bed.
So, we came to Cairns, along with about a million other tourists. This is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and it is a lovely tropical setting, albeit very touristy. We’re here for one more night before heading into the bush again.
Today, Lee and K took a boat to Green Island, where they snorkelled the Great Barrier Reef, alive with huge sea turtles, colourful fish and giant clams. What a life.