So we left Alice Springs at the start of our 2000 miles drive back to the coast as the sun came up revealing another beautiful blue sky. We have been so lucky with the weather and we do appreciate every gorgeous day we have, but we are coming to expect it and I’m sure one day we will have to dig out the umbrella.
We had decided to make the first two days pretty long ones in order get as far into the drive as possible. The main reason for this was that we had driven the first 750 miles already, part of it a couple of weeks before, and the rest five weeks ago. So other than a stop for lunch at The Devil’s Marbles, a very quick fuel stop at Tennant Creek, where Steve kept the engine running and Sarah ran in to pay! (Only joking!) and an over night stop at The Barkly Homestead, there was nothing out of the ordinary happening, we were just going over old ground.
During the long miles, on the almost deserted roads, we have passed the time in all sorts of different ways. Sarah’s latest idea was for us to learn all the Kings and Queens of England since the battle of Hastings in 1066. We did it in bite size chunks, a couple of hours each day, until we were both confident we had achieved the task. Steve was enjoying it so much he extended the list by learning the dates that each monarch reigned. “You’ll thank me one day when when I’m on a quiz programme winning a fortune because I know who was King in 1589”…. “Actually it was a Queen” said Sarah! 🙂
After a day and a half of driving we arrived back at the Queensland border. There has been an upswing in the number of Covid-19 cases in some States and certain borders have been closed again. Luckily the Northern Territory has almost escaped the virus altogether so we were confident the border would stay open. We filled out the relevant paperwork, answered the questions of the Police Inspector and were allowed back into Queensland. It was still a bit of a relief when we crossed over. As beautiful as the Northern Territory is, being stuck there indefinitely wasn’t part of our plan.
Soon after the border, if you can call 300 kilometres soon, we turned South East and headed on, what for us was, a new route and we made our first night back in Queensland a stay in the town of Mckinlay, population 178. Mckinlay is the home of The Walkabout Creek Hotel of ‘Crocodile Dundee’ fame. We couldn’t resist camping in the car park and ‘Blowing the froth off a couple’ in the pub. We had a great couple of hours looking at the photographs and memorabilia from the film, and they even had the original bar in a lock up outside. They also had a life size cartoon cut out of Paul Hogan in character with which Sarah had the obligatory photo.
We were chatting with the rest of the people in the bar when a truck driver walked in. He looked like he was an extra from the original film, with scruffy worn out boots with dirty old socks, a pair of shorts which he probably got for his birthday in the 1970’s, and an old vest (vests are part of the uniform in The Outback, sleeves aren’t allowed). The trucker walked up to the bar and said “G’day luv, you serving tucker?”. The landlady explained that they had stopped serving food because of Covid-19. “Anywhere close by doing tucker?” asked the trucker. “Yeah”, said the landlady, The Blue Heeler, about 75 kilometers further South” “Great”, said the trucker “Just round the corner, cheers mate, see ya”, and off he went happy as Larry! It shows how distances are seen differently out here, when 50 miles is ‘just round the corner’.
The first stop the following day involved a detour to a small billabong called ‘Combo Waterhole’. The significance of the billabong is that an incident is supposed to have happened here many years ago which led to a song being written by a guy called ‘Banjo’ Patterson. He titled the song ‘Waltzing Matilda’. You might have heard of it! It has become known as Australia’s unofficial National Anthem and it was first performed in public at a pub in the small town of Winton an hour or so South, so we made that our next stop.
Winton was a lovely little town, the nicest we had seen in many miles. It had proper shops and cafés and a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. Obviously it makes great use of its connection to the song and even has a brand new state of the art Waltzing Matilda museum. The town is also the birthplace of the Queensland and Northern Territory Airline Service, which some people refer to as QANTAS! It is also a big opal mining area and Sarah took the opportunity to get herself a new necklace while Steve took the opportunity to get himself a new cup of coffee while sitting down in a coffee shop watching the world “waltz” by….. simple things and simple minds I think is the expression!
We pushed on from Winton a couple of more hours through the town of Longreach which is home to the massive QANTAS museum. It is quite strange to be driving along and find a huge 747 aircraft parked right next to the road. Although these days aircraft do seem to be parked in strange places around the world.
We were beginning to realise that the boring drive through the outback was starting to become anything but boring. We really had not left enough time to do and see everything we wanted to. We could easily have filled another week or more before getting to the coast. “We are going to have to come back in the future and do all this slow time”, said Steve. “Count me in“, said Sarah.
Our final stop on the long road to the coast was near the small town of Mitchell which had a lovely Artesian Bath complex. One pool was fed straight from the ground at a steady 34 degrees centigrade, while the other pool was kept at a chilly 21 degrees. We spent a couple of hours between the two pools chatting to other travellers and enjoying the relaxation as the long drive started to near its end.
Eventually we started to close in on the big city lights of Brisbane and The Gold Coast. As you approach, it does gradually get more and more populated but before long civilization hits you head on like a sledgehammer. It seems a long, long time since we were last in a big city, probably almost six months ago (Cairns and Darwin are realy just decent sized towns so they don’t count). We were both struck by the density of it all with fast food outlets on every corner, neon advertising signs selling everything you could want and many things you don’t, three lane highways full of vehicles, traffic lights, and people everywhere. It was an assault on the senses. At one point we were stopped at a set of traffic lights and Steve said “I can see more cars on the road around us here than we have seen in total since leaving Darwin”. It’s amazing how quickly you can become used to being quite isolated.
We found our campsite and to be fair, although it was a big commercial operation, they had done a good job of landscaping it and protecting it from the busy road outside. We settled into a quiet area of the site and got straight on with our number one priority of washing our clothes. We were both starting to run out of clean ones and Steve had even resorted to finding his least dirty shorts to wear on the last couple of days! So with everything washed, including ourselves, we set off for the main reason for coming here and that was to visit our friend Glen and the promise of a lamb roast, wine and beer!
We met Glen in South America at the begining of last year and he is a top bloke. He works as a school teacher on The Gold Coast, and his main job is coaching rugby league or football as they call it here. He is as keen as mustard with his team and by all accounts he is a bit of a task master but his methods seem to reap rewards. He took us for a look around back in January and his office is filled with trophies, press cuttings and photographs of his stars of the past. Some have gone on to play at the highest level and some have even made it over to the UK to play with the top clubs there.
We went around to his house and he was up to his elbows in cooking. His wife Kellie was there and after some hugs and kisses it felt like we were regular visitors there and we had known each other for years. We had a great evening eating Glens lamb roast, chatting away and drinking wine and beer. Luckily we had gone on our bikes so it was an easy three mile cycle back to the campsite at the end of the evening.
The following morning Glen and Kellie picked us up from the campsite, nice and early, and gave us a tour of the hinterland. Within 15 minutes drive we were away from the hustle and bustle of Surfers Paradise and winding our way up and up along twisting roads into thick rainforest. Steve was just a little frustrated that he wasn’t on his bike. “ I’m coming back here to cycle this road”, was his comment as we continued up.
Our first stop was for coffee at a coffee plantation. One thing we have learned on our travels is that you go somewhere because it is well known for one thing or another but sometimes if you look a little bit deeper there are things around you just don’t expect. Coffee plantations on The Gold Coast being one.
Next it was onto a walking trail through the rainforest to a waterfall before pulling into the town of Mount Tambourine, another unexpected place. It was all about quaint shops selling all kinds of things from cheese, to handmade crafts to unusual clothing and the place had a bit of a ‘hippie’ feel to it without going too far. It would have been easy to walk around for a few hours, but we had a lunch appointment to make.
Glen had booked lunch at The Fox and Hounds, a ‘traditional English country pub’. Immediately we feared the worst. An Aussie perception of an English pub ….. this could be weird. On pulling into the car park the outside of the pub looked authentic enough and it would have comfortably fitted into The New Forest or The South Downs. Then we went inside and, to be honest, the place was pretty good. We could have easily been back in The UK. Every room was authentically decorated right down to the various bits of memorabilia, photographs and signs. Steve went for a wander around and ended up chatting to one of the staff. It transpired that the owners had worked in England and decided to come back to Australia and set up a pub. So they completely stripped out a pub in West Sussex, transported it to Australia and reassembled it in the original style. Impressive. The food was pretty decent too and after stuffing ourselves on Beef and Guiness pie and Toad in the Hole, and washing it down with some Kilkenny bitter it was time to end the day.
Our final morning with Glen and Kellie was Sunday breakfast overlooking the estuary at Southport. A fabulous setting with sun, blue skies, a tree lined park, and all the Sunday morning activities passing by including joggers, walkers, cyclists, rowers and people heading out for the day in their boats of every shape and size.
We said goodbye after a great weekend with the promise of catching up again in a few weeks time when we plan to pass through on our way down to Sydney. So off we went back in the campervan heading North.
To be honest, by now we were both feeling pretty tired. It had been a fantastic five weeks flying around The Northern Territory and outback Queensland, seeing everything we could fit in, driving ridiculous mileage, doing some fabulous but quite tough walks and generally pushing ourselves on and on. It was time to chill out and relax a little, so we set a course for our old favourite of Noosa Heads and two hours later we were pulling into town. We found a car park right at The Spit where we could reverse in, open the back doors and almost jump out onto the beach.
We spent the best part of the next four days in that exact spot, only returning to a campsite to shower and sleep. We would pull up in the morning, Steve would go off on his bike and Sarah would sit on the beach, or on the bed of the campervan reading. We would have lunch on the beach, go for a walk in the afternoon and watch the crowds gather around us in the evening to watch the sun go down.
Steve got chating to a guy who was also turning up everyday and where Steve was cycling, he was fishing. “I wouldn’t mind having a go at that fishing lark”, said Steve. “It looks like a good cover for sitting around doing nothing”.
After four days in Noosa we decided that before we got too comfortable we had better pack up and continue our progress up the coast. “Let’s go to Hervey Bay and see some whales”, was Sarah’s idea. “Let’s go to town and buy a fishing rod”, was Steve’s….. So we set off for Hervey Bay in search of whales!